/articles/2016/04/uf-fsu-to-merge.php

UF, FSU to merge

April 1, 2016
UF News

After decades of bitter rivalry and heated competition, the University of Florida and Florida State University are merging to create a single school that will build on the two universities’ strengths while bringing peace and harmony to households from Pensacola to Key West, according to the Independent Florida Alligator.

alligator front page

‌‌Read the Alligator story.

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/touch-tours-bring-art-to-the-visually-impaired.php

Touch tours bring art to the visually impaired

April 2, 2016
Cecilia Mazanec
accessibility, art, harn

Gyula L. Szilagyi walked through the Harn Museum of Art, stopping in front of works made by local and University of Florida artists. But unlike other visitors, he wasn’t looking at the art. Szilagyi has been blind for 42 years.

On March 12, the museum hosted “Access Art: Touch Tours,” the second annual event that provided visitors with or without visual impairments to experience art through senses other than sight.

Twenty artists displayed touchable works, describing them to visitors who approached their tables.

Artists sitting behind tables at the Harn Museum of Art show their touchable artwork to visually impaired visitors.

Standing next to a volunteer guide, Szilagyi slowly moved his hands across the displays.

He grinned as his fingers followed intersecting threads to the center of a mixed-media piece by UF student Karli Mogen.

Szilagyi has been to the event before and said he loved the way the art makes him feel. He also liked it, he said, when artists asked him what he thought their pieces depicted.

“Each artist is special, and each has a story to tell,” he said.

In the second component of the event, guides led tours of four pieces of art in the Harn’s “Framing Nature” exhibition in the center of the museum. A table near each piece held a touchable replica of the artwork created by Kimberly Crowell, a UF museum studies graduate student and Harn intern.

A photo of a beach scene and a tactile reproduction of the photo using sandpaper and cotton

In her version of a beach scene by Massimo Vitali, she used sandpaper to give the texture of sand. She painted raised dots on the horizon line to feel like people in the distance.

Visitors could call a number on their cellphone to hear a verbal description of each work. Reginald Howard listened to the description of a Japanese wood block print called Wisteria at Kameido by Kobayashi Kiyochika. After feeling the replica, a guide walked with him to the original work where the pair stood in silence.

He came to the event last year, he said, but this year, it was even better.

“If I had a chance to do this every day,” Howard said, “I would.”

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/thirty-four-named-uf-research-foundation-professors.php

Thirty-four named UF Research Foundation professors

April 1, 2016
Joe Kays
UF Research Foundation

The University of Florida Research Foundation has named 34 faculty members as UFRF Professors for 2016-2019.

The recognition goes to faculty who have a distinguished current record of research and a strong research agenda that is likely to lead to continuing distinction in their fields.

The UFRF Professors were recommended by their college deans based on nominations from their department chairs, a personal statement and an evaluation of their recent research accomplishments as evidenced by publications in scholarly journals, external funding, honors and awards, development of intellectual property and other measures appropriate to their field of expertise. In many colleges, the selection process is conducted by a special faculty committee.

“Since the professorships were created in 1997, nearly 600 UF faculty have been named UFRF Professors in recognition of their successful research performance during the previous five years and a strong research agenda that is likely to lead to continuing distinction in the future,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “Many UFRF Professors have gone on to spectacular success, earning multi-million dollar grants; publishing in the leading journals in their field; assuming leadership positions within the university; and commercializing their discoveries for the benefit of society.”

The three-year award includes a $5,000 annual salary supplement and a one-time $3,000 grant. The professorships are funded from the university’s share of royalty and licensing income on UF-generated products.

This year’s UFRF Professors are listed below:

College of the Arts

Melissa Hyde, Professor of Art and Art History

Warrington College of Business

Hsing Kenneth Cheng, Higdon Eminent Scholar in Information Systems and Operations Management

College of Dentistry

Luciana Shaddox, Associate Professor of Periodontology

College of Design, Construction and Planning

Abdol R. Chini, Holland Professor of Construction Management

College of Education

Albert D. Ritzhaupt, Associate Professor of Educational Technology

Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering

David P. Arnold, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Benjamin J. Fregly, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
My T. Thai, Professor of Computer and Information Science and Engineering

Florida Museum of Natural History

Bruce J. MacFadden, Distinguished Professor and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology

College of Health and Human Performance

Evangelos A. Christou, Associate Professor of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Senthold Asseng, Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Liwei Gu, Associate Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition
A. Mark Settles, Professor of Horticultural Sciences
Wilfred Vermerris, Associate Professor of Microbiology & Cell Science
Nian Wang, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Cell Science
P. Chris Wilson, Professor of Soil and Water Science

College of Journalism and Communications

Jon D. Morris, Professor of Advertising

College of Law

D. Daniel Sokol, Professor of Law

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

David J. Daegling, Professor of Anthropology
Ryan Duffy, Associate Professor of Psychology
Guido Mueller, Professor of Physics
Adrian E. Roitberg, Professor of Chemistry
Gonda Van Steen, Cassas Professor in Greek Studies
Luise White, Professor of History

College of Medicine

Yuqing Li, Professor of Neurology
Clayton Mathews, Professor of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine
Arshag D. Mooradian, Professor of Medicine – Jacksonville
Leonid L. Moroz, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience
Laura P.W. Ranum, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
John R. Wingard, Professor of Medicine

College of Nursing

Saunjoo "Sunny" Yoon, Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Nursing Science

College of Pharmacy

Hartmut Derendorf, Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutics

College of Public Health and Health Professions

David D. Fuller, Professor of Physical Therapy

College of Veterinary Medicine

Daniel D. Lewis, Professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/uf-alum-headed-to-england-after-receiving-gates-cambridge-scholarship.php

UF alum headed to England after receiving Gates Cambridge Scholarship

April 6, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann

For University of Florida alum Yevgen Sautin, near-misses have proved the best teacher. Sautin, 25, was a finalist for the coveted Truman Scholarship his junior year at UF and a Rhodes Scholar nominee his senior year, but he walked away from both contests empty-handed.

And then in 2012, he graduated from UF with a triple degree in history, economics and political science. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago followed by a stint at National Taiwan University as a Boren Fellow.

Now, Sautin, who works for the U.S. Bank in Washington, D.C., as a strategic risk analyst, is the recipient of a prestigious 2016 Gates Cambridge Scholarship. The prize was bestowed this year to only 35 applicants from a pool of more than 800.

Awarded for superior academic excellence, leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others, it will take Sautin to Cambridge, where he will spend three years working toward a Ph.D. in modern Chinese history.

None of his success would be possible, Sautin reflected, without the foundation he received at UF, particularly in the UF Honors Program.

“The University of Florida gave me tremendous opportunities, without which I would not be where I am today,” he said. “I was in a perfect environment to thrive and figure out what sort of subsequent career and academic path I wanted to take.”

Looking ahead, Sautin said he hopes to work in foreign policy development, but he’s open to whatever comes next.

“When facing choices, you should go with what’s most interesting,” he said. “Not the most prestigious, but what you enjoy doing.”

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/recording-history-before-its-lost.php

Recording history before it’s lost

April 6, 2016
Claire Campbell

Dating back to 1957, the University of Florida's Historic Preservation Program is one of the oldest in the country.

But as more and more ancient sites throughout the world fall prey to destruction in the wake of war-torn conflict, the program’s focus on historic documentation couldn’t be more timely. And so the program launched Envision Heritage in 2012.

Since then, Envision Heritage, housed at UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, has documented areas from Miami to Iraq. Using a 3D laser scanner to quickly and accurately record the physical design and conditions of historic buildings and sites, UF researchers and students are preserving for future generations rich cultural detail that otherwise would be lost.

At the request of the World Monuments Fund, a UF team took raw data of the Ishtar Gate in Iraq and created multiple 3D images and a video. The team forwarded the images to the World Monuments Fund and kept a copy for its archives.

Not all of Envision Heritage’s efforts focus on areas at risk of destruction.

Preservation Institute Nantucket, launched in 1972, gives students the opportunity to study and record more than 100 sites on Nantucket during a six-week, onsite immersion program. Participants get hands-on heritage management experience while they help document, research, conserve and interpret the island’s remarkable history.

Still, preserving the history of at-risk areas is crucial to Envision Heritage’s mission, said Morris Hylton III, the program’s director.

“There is an increasing urgency, given the destruction of historic places due to development pressures, conflict, and sea level rise,” Hylton said. “Harnessing technology like 3D laser scanning is vital to the recording of heritage before it is lost.”

Unfortunately, he added, his team didn’t have the opportunity to document the city of Palmyra prior to its destruction in 2015.

“There’s now no record of what was really there,” he said.

Global Impact
/articles/2016/04/can-i-trust-my-robot-can-my-robot-trust-me.php

Can I trust my robot? Can my robot trust me?

April 11, 2016
Ricardo Bevilacqua

If we are serious about long-term human presence in space, such as manned bases on the moon or Mars, we must figure out how to streamline human-robot interactions.

Right now, even the most basic of robots seem to have impenetrable brains. When I bought an autonomous vacuum cleaner, one that roams the house on its own, I thought I was going to save time and be able to enjoy a book or a movie, or play longer with the kids. I ended up robot-proofing every room, making sure wires and cables are out of the way, closing doors, placing electronic signposts for the robot to follow and much more – often daily. I cannot fully understand or predict what the system will do, so I don’t trust it. As a result, I play it safe, and spend time doing things to accommodate the needs I imagine the robot might have.

As a space roboticist, I think about this sort of problem happening in orbit. Imagine an astronaut on a spacewalk, working on repairing something damaged on the outside of the spacecraft. Several tools might be needed, and parts to mend or replace others. An autonomous spacecraft could serve as a floating toolbox, holding parts and tools until they’re needed, and staying close to the astronaut as she moves around the area needing to be fixed. Another robot could be clamping parts together before they are permanently fastened.

How will these robots know where they’ll be needed to go next, to be useful but not in the way? How will the astronaut know whether the robots are planning to move to the place she actually needs? What if something comes loose unexpectedly – can the person and the machinery figure out how to stay out of each other’s way while handling the situation efficiently? In weightless space, spatial orientation is difficult and the dynamics of moving around one another are not intuitive.

Problems around effective communication between people and their machines – particularly about actions and intentions – arise throughout the field of robotics. They must be solved if we are to fully take advantage of the potential robots enable for us.

Feeling safe crossing the road

Understanding robots is already an increasing problem here on Earth. One day I found myself walking down a California road where autonomous cars are tested. I asked myself, “How would I know if a driverless vehicle is going to stop at the crosswalk?” I have always relied on eye contact and cues from the driver, but those options may be soon gone.

Robots have trouble understanding us, too. I recently read of an autonomous car unable to process a situation where a bicycle rider balanced himself for some time at an intersection, without putting his feet down. The onboard algorithms could not determine if the biker was going or staying.

When we look at space exploration and defense, we find similar problems. NASA has not used the full abilities of some of its Mars rovers, simply because the engineers could not be sure what would happen if the metallic pets were free to explore and investigate the Red Planet on their own. The humans didn’t trust the machines, so they prevented them from doing as much as they could.

The Department of Defense often uses crews of 10 or more trained personnel to support a single unmanned aerial vehicle up in the sky. Is such a drone really autonomous? Does it require the people, or do the people need it? In any case, how do they interact?

What is “autonomy,” really?

While “autonomy” means “self-governance” (from Greek), no man is an island; the same appears to be valid for our robotic creations. Today we see robots as agents able to operate independently – like my vacuum cleaner – but still part of a team – the family’s efforts to keep the house clean. If they are truly working with us, rather than instead of us, then communication is key, as well as the ability to infer intent. We may go solo for most duties, but sooner or later we will need to be able to connect with the rest of the team.

The problem is that autonomous machines and humans do not fully understand each other, and often speak in languages each other does not know – and has not yet started to learn.

The question for the future is how we transmit intent between humans and robots, in both directions. How do we learn to understand – and then to trust – machines? How do they learn to trust us? What cues might each offer the other? Understanding intentions and trusting our fellow humans is already a bumpy ride, but at least we have known cues we can rely on – like pedestrian-driver eye contact at a crosswalk. We need to find new ways to read robots' minds, the same way they need to be able to understand ours.

Perhaps an astronaut could be given a specialized display to show what the helper spacecraft’s intentions are, much like the gauges in an airplane cockpit show the plane’s status to the pilot. Maybe the displays would be embedded in a helmet visor, or enhanced by sounds that have specific meanings. But what information would they transmit, and how would they know it?

These questions are open ground for new work, the type of learning we’ll need to find to unlock an exciting future of unimaginable exploration in which a new species, the robot, can lead us farther than ever before.

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

Global Impact
/articles/2016/04/penn-state-architectural-engineer-named-ufs-next-dcp-dean.php

Penn State architectural engineer named UF's next DCP dean

April 11, 2016
Steve Orlando

An architectural engineer at Pennsylvania State University has been named the next dean of the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning.

Chimay Anumba, a professor and head of Penn State’s department of architectural engineering, will assume his new position effective August 1. He succeeds Christopher Silver.

Anumba’s research interests are in the fields of construction engineering and management, advanced engineering informatics, collaborative approaches to project delivery, knowledge management, integrated systems and distributed communications.

“Professor Anumba’s international reputation combined with his highly regarded leadership ability make him an ideal fit for the College of Design, Construction and Planning,” UF Provost Joe Glover said. “His expertise lies in areas that involve some of the most pressing issues in both developed and developing nations today.”

Anumba has served as head of the department for the past eight years. Before that, he was director of the Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Engineering and director of research in the department of civil and building engineering at Loughborough University in England.

He has won numerous recognitions/awards for his work including an honorary doctorate from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands for outstanding scientific contributions to building and construction engineering. In July 2012, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (the UK’s National Academy of Engineering). He also has been a visiting professor/scholar at more than 10 universities in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa – including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, UF and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Anumba received his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, his doctor of science from Loughborough University, also in the United Kingdom, for outstanding and sustained original contributions to construction engineering and informatics, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Jos in Nigeria.

“The College of Design, Construction and Planning at UF is very well positioned to be a national and global leader in proffering creative solutions to the major challenges facing the built and natural environment – urbanization, water, energy, climate change, resilient buildings and infrastructure, etc.” Anumba said. “I look forward to working with the highly talented faculty, students, staff and alumni to move the College to this next level of leadership.”

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/its-not-me-it-really-is-you.php

It's not me, it really is you

April 11, 2016
Michelle Neeley

New study shows potential mates' negative traits far overshadow positives

Attractive and smart but unlucky in love? New research suggests you might not have luck to blame but rather your own negative traits.

Researchers found that when evaluating potential mates, people give more weight to negative qualities than to positive ones. That is, even if someone has a number of positive qualities, one or two negative qualities can be enough for others to avoid pursuing romantic relationships with them.

The study, published in the December issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, was conducted by researchers from the University of Florida, Western Sydney University, Indiana University, Singapore Management University and Rutgers University. It examined the effect of relationship deal breakers on the formation of romantic or sexual relationships to determine the value that people place on them, in comparison to deal makers.

“We have a general tendency to attend more closely to negative information than we do to positive information,” said Gregory Webster, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of psychology at UF.

Using information from six independent studies, the researchers determined the top deal breakers for people who were making decisions about potential partners. Using those deal breakers, they were able to determine what effect age and gender have on determining which qualities are seen as deal breakers for different people.

The deal breakers are, in no particular order:

  • unattractiveness
  • unhealthy lifestyle
  • undesirable personality traits
  • differing religious beliefs
  • limited social status
  • differing mating strategies
  • differing relationship goals

They also found that the effect of deal breakers is stronger for women and people in committed relationships.

Webster said it’s important to note that a deal breaker for one person may be a dealmaker for another.

For example, if a person is impulsive, some will be attracted to that quality and think of it as a dealmaker, while others who prefer people who are predictable may not look so kindly on that trait.

The researchers also evaluated deal breakers in non-romantic relationships. The effect of negative traits in friendship is not as strong as in romantic relationships, but some deal breakers, like dishonesty, are avoided consistently in all situations.

Although people typically think about potential mates in terms of their positive traits, Webster said that’s because people subconsciously weed out those with undesirable traits from their pool of eligible mates.

“A lot of times, just by avoiding negative traits, people will probably be fairly well off —maybe even more well off — than if they were trying to optimize the best potential partner,” Webster said.

The study’s findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative serves as a survival function.

“Things that can harm are generally more important [to pay attention to] than things that can help you,” Webster said.

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/george-washingtons-little-buttercup.php

George Washington’s little buttercup

April 11, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
Florida Museum of Natural History

How an extinct ancestor of buttercups and poppies is helping solve Darwin’s “abominable mystery”

Two men set out on the Potomac River in 1892 looking for fossil plants from the days when dinosaurs roamed the Atlantic Coast nibbling on conifer leaves and ferns. Their paddling came to a halt when up ahead in a bluff on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, a section of chocolate-colored stone caught the eye of paleobotanist Lester Ward and volunteer Victor Mason. Within minutes of digging, 105-million-year-old branches, leaves and seeds spilled from the mudstone, known for preserving fine details—a plant scientist’s gold mine. Scraps of partial fossils littered their findings. Among them was a tiny, seemingly insignificant leaf, thus beginning the modern history of George Washington’s little buttercup.

Except for a brief mention in Ward’s 1905 book, the leaf sat unstudied in a drawer at the Smithsonian Institution for the next 118 years. Then on a spring day in 2013, University of Florida paleobotanist Nathan Jud stumbled upon it while rifling through a drawer labeled “ferns.” He wasn’t looking for ferns, however.

The postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus has an eye and a passion for spotting misidentified flowering plants. He has created a list of 14 characteristics that crack the code for distinguishing the leaves of flowering plants from those of non-flowering plants. What’s so important about fossil flowers? Jud says they are the key to solving one of the most famous scientific enigmas of all time—Charles Darwin’s “abominable mystery.”

Twenty years after publishing his “On the Origins of Species,” finding the answer to how flowering plants, or angiosperms, managed their sudden takeover of the planet still plagued Darwin. Writing to his friend Joseph Hooker, he called the rapid development an “abominable mystery.” More than a century later, scientists like Jud are still searching for answers.

Removing a thin layer of dust from the fossil leaf, Jud quickly realized it was actually an ancestral herb related to buttercups and poppies—not a fern at all.

"Sometimes the complex leaf shapes of herbs can look superficially like ferns, but I had recently developed a set of features for distinguishing between ferns and flowers,” Jud said. “I looked at details like the leaf’s teeth and tips of its lobes. Ferns never have this particular type of gland at the tips of the teeth, but flowering plants often do. That was the key thing that jumped out at me right away.”

The new genus and species Vernifolium tenuiloba described online this month in the journal Cretaceous Research is a new piece to the nearly complete puzzle that will finally lay Darwin’s conundrum to rest, said Jud, lead author of the study.

“The new species adds to an emerging picture that shows the appearance of flowering plants was more gradual than Darwin thought, but still quick by geological standards,” Jud said. “The ancestors of flowering plants were thought to be trees, but turns out many of the extinct ancestral forms, like our leaf fossil, were actually small herbs that rarely preserve well. The rarity of these fossils contributed to the impression that flowering plants diversified more suddenly than what actually occurred.” 

Solving the mystery of exactly when and how angiosperms appeared will provide scientists with a better understanding of the characteristics and environments that allowed them to thrive. This knowledge could help predict how these plants, which provide the majority of our food and oxygen, might react to climate change and other threats, as well as their influence on our own evolution and that of biodiversity worldwide, Jud said.

Jud’s leaf is also revealing new information about the simultaneous diversification of flowering plants and insects.

A closer look at V. tenuiloba revealed damage to the leaf resembling the kind inflicted by insects. Jud immediately took the fossil to study co-author and entomologist Jae-Cheon Sohn with the Smithsonian Institution who identified the damage as that of leaf-mining flies.

Leaf mines occur when mother flies lay eggs and the larvae eat the leaf’s insides, leaving a distinct trail. Based on the age of the Cretaceous rock from which the fossil was pulled, the two scientists confirmed V. tenuiloba holds the oldest-known evidence for leaf-mining flies, extending their fossil record 40 million years.

“Fossil evidence of plant and insect interaction in general is rare, so damage like this is a great source of evidence for the parallel diversification of the two groups,” Jud said. “One of the interesting things about flowering plants is the relationships they have with insects, and that includes herbivores, pollinators and disbursers. We want to understand how those relationships have evolved, which relates directly to modern issues in things like agriculture and conservation,” Jud said.

Nathan Jud shows a cycad with damage from leaf-mining flies.‌Modern leaf-mining flies eat mostly the leaves of two groups: buttercups and their close relatives, and sunflowers and their close relatives. By testing the DNA of modern species, previous researchers concluded that the flies first evolved to eat sunflowers and their relatives, and later some acquired the ability to eat buttercups. The new buttercup ancestor has reversed that theory, demonstrating that flies were mining the leaves of buttercups and their extinct relatives long before the sunflower group had evolved, Jud said.

“It’s not all about genetics,” he said. “You need the fossil data to answer deep questions—deep in terms of time. We can’t access the DNA of extinct organisms, so sometimes fossils can tell us surprising things.”

Sohn said the new fossil shows collaborations between scientists studying living organisms and those studying extinct ones are critical for illuminating ancient and modern ecological interactions.

Scientists like Jud and Sohn strive to reconstruct the history of life and unravel its mysteries. As they do, “each new fossil discovery, especially from early time periods, like when flowering plants first appeared, can contain a lot of information to help piece together that story,” Jud said. 

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/uf-arts-professor-awarded-national-prize-for-excellence.php

UF arts professor awarded national prize for excellence

April 12, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann

University of Florida professor and Andrew Banks Family Endowed Chair Coco Fusco is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Greenfield Prize in visual art.

Made possible by a partnership between the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation and the Hermitage Artist Retreat, the award is given to individuals whose past works and future prospects position them to create art that will have an impact on the broader culture.

Fusco will use the $30,000 prize to make a documentary about Cuban artist Juan Carlos Cremata-Malberti, whose work has been suppressed in his native country.

“I had already done these other pieces about the relationship between intellectuals and the state, and then this happens with Cremata, and both of us want to tell his story,” Fusco said. “Both of us feel very strongly that the best response to that kind of action is to turn that material into a film.”

Fusco will make the documentary in Cuba, where she has worked extensively for the past few years. Outraged that Cremata-Malberti found his work curtailed by the state, which determined his staging of the Ionesco play Exit the King was an allusion to the Castro brothers, Fusco decided to use the case to explore the history of artistic repression in Cuba.

She will spend two years completing the work, which will be presented at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in spring 2018.

“Coco Fusco’s accomplishment will contribute to the School of Art + Art History and the College of the Arts’ mission of fostering creativity, innovation and scholarly and artistic excellence,” said Lucinda Lavelli, dean of the College of the Arts. “Her work will showcase the global impact of the arts at the University of Florida.”

An interdisciplinary artist and writer, Fusco, 55, joined UF’s School of Art + Art History in January. She has performed, lectured, exhibited and curated around the world for nearly three decades. Her work explores the politics of gender, race, war and identity through a variety of formats.

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/has-haitis-cholera-epidemic-become-a-permanent-problem.php

Has Haiti's cholera epidemic become a permanent problem?

April 13, 2016
Alex Weppelmann

On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing thousands of people and displacing millions more.

Ten months later the country was stricken with an outbreak of cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease. Though the number of cholera cases has decreased from a peak of approximately 25,000 cases per month, it is likely that thousands of people are still falling ill with the disease.

Moreover, there are now worrying signs that cholera has transitioned from an outbreak to an endemic disease. This means that cholera could join the list of infectious diseases that regularly occur in Haiti.

My colleagues and I at the University of Florida have developed mathematical models to help understand cholera transmission in Haiti and provide insights into how it might be stopped. Unless drinking water and sanitation infrastructure are improved, cholera could remain in Haiti indefinitely, an unwelcome development for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

What is cholera?

Cholera is a waterborne disease, caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. People become infected when they consume food or water contaminated by this pathogen. Once ingested, the bacteria colonize the small intestine, releasing a toxin that disrupts the movement of water.

The results are devastating: acute, watery diarrhea that can result in the loss of one liter of fluid per hour and death by dehydration in less than a day. However, lifesaving treatment in the form of oral rehydration salts, a simple mixture of electrolytes and water, can prevent death in up to 80 percent of cases.

Though largely a forgotten disease in most developed countries, cholera was once a major source of illness and death. Before the advent of modern water and sanitation practices, cholera was found in much of the world and remains endemic in Bangladesh, India and parts of Africa. It is estimated that 1 to 4 million people become infected per year worldwide, and between 28,000 and 140,000 will die from this disease.

The earthquake created ideal conditions for water-borne diseases

After the earthquake in Haiti, millions of people were living in temporary camps without access to improved water or sewage systems, and crowded into very unhygienic circumstances. These are ideal conditions for the transmission of cholera.

In October 2010, a cluster of cholera cases was detected along the Artibonite River, the longest and most important waterway in Haiti. The cases were traced back to a tributary of the river, bordered by a garrison of Nepalese soldiers that were sent by the United Nations (U.N.) to help keep the peace in the aftermath of the earthquake. Like the majority of people infected with cholera, the soldiers were asymptomatic and unaware that they carried the bacteria.

The garrison discharged untreated sewage directly into a river that many people were relying on for drinking water. Once the river was contaminated, the spread of cholera was explosive.

By December 2010, cholera had spread throughout all 10 departments of Haiti, causing over 100,000 cases and thousands of deaths.

The outbreak continued to grow

In the year that followed, over 350,000 cases were reported, making Haiti the scene of the largest national cholera outbreak in recent history. The international community was, once again, mobilized to help Haiti with this new crisis.

By early 2014 it seemed as if the cholera epidemic was coming under control. The number of cases dropped to approximately 200 cases per week, with signs that the increase in access to cholera treatment centers, along with interventions in sanitation and hygiene, were working.

After a few consecutive weeks during the summer of 2014 when no new cholera cases were reported in Haiti, it appeared that the epidemic was finally finished and the international community started to close many of the cholera treatment centers in Haiti.

Cholera returns – and lingers

But in the fall of 2014, cholera transmission returned at a rate of around 2,000 cases per week and remains elevated at approximately 1,000 cases per week. Perhaps the disease returned because fewer treatment centers were available for those infected to receive treatment. Or maybe the acquired immunity in people who survived the infection started to wane.

However, it is also possible that the underlying dynamics of cholera transmission in Haiti had changed. Cholera is transmitted via two main routes. The first is person-to-person transmission within households by food, water or surfaces directly contaminated by fecal material from infected people. The second is environment-to-person transmission from the consumption of surface water that contains free-living populations of the bacteria in the absence of fecal contamination.

Cholera outbreaks and epidemics are typically characterized by person-to-person transmission. But if the causative bacterium, V. cholerae, has established reservoirs in the environment, then the disease may have become endemic.

Epidemiologists often use mathematical models to predict the course that outbreaks will take. For cholera, these models typically incorporate the number of people who have acquired temporary immunity after being infected and how long the bacterium can survive in the environment. Most models of cholera outbreaks assume that V. cholerae only survives in the environment for up to a few weeks and then dies.

Based on this reasoning, if all of the active cases can be treated and enough time passes for the V. cholerae in the environment to become noninfectious, no new infections occur and the epidemic will become extinct. This is likely why cholera treatment centers began to close when the cases approached zero.

However, given the right conditions, such as the warm tropical waters of Haiti, V. cholerae originally shed in the feces of cholera patients can survive for months or years in surface water. Environmental reservoirs of V. cholera can lead to recurrent seasonal outbreaks even after years without reported cases. This natural phenomenon is commonly observed in countries such as India or Bangladesh, where cholera remains endemic.

A growing body of evidence now suggests that this has happened in Haiti. My research group at the University of Florida noticed that despite a decrease in cholera cases in the summer of 2014, the isolation frequency of V. cholerae in the surface waters of the Ouest Department, Haiti’s largest administrative area, was actually increasing. This suggested that reservoirs had been established and cholera could have gained a permanent foothold in Haiti.

Can Haiti eliminate cholera?

If V. cholerae has established reservoirs in the environment, what will it take for Haiti to stop cholera transmission? We developed a new model to shed some light on this.

Like traditional models for cholera transmission, we considered the number of people who have acquired temporary immunity because they survived the infection. But instead of assuming that V. cholerae decays in the environment after a few weeks, our model assumes that it can not only survive for prolonged periods, but can proliferate in response to environmental factors.

Combined with information about recent pilot vaccinations trials in Haiti, we can estimate the effects that these interventions, as well as any improvements to drinking water and sanitation, will have.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that sanitation systems or access to clean drinking water have improved in Haiti since 2010. Given these conditions, we believe that mass vaccination with oral cholera vaccines might be the only intervention available to stop transmission of the disease.

We are currently investigating how many people would need to be vaccinated, how quickly oral cholera vaccines would need to be administered and how effective the vaccine would need to be in order to halt cholera transmission in Haiti. Our preliminary results suggest that controlling cholera transmission with oral vaccines could be possible in Haiti, but would require significant financial and logistical support from the international community.

The World Health Organization considers cholera endemic in countries that have had confirmed cases in three of the last five years. By that definition cholera is now endemic in Haiti. The question is, how long will it remain that way?

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on April 11, 2016.

Global Impact
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UF Online Learning Institute expands into new research lab

April 13, 2016
Claire Campbell

The University of Florida community got its first glimpse earlier this month of a new 1,600-square-foot research space where faculty and students will study how to use technology to create effective and engaging online learning experiences.

For months, collaborating researchers from the colleges of Education, Engineering, Journalism and Communications and the College of the Arts and its Digital Worlds Institute have been exploring personalized e-learning techniques as members of the UF Online Learning Institute. Now, the researchers will have the benefit of a dedicated space in Yon Hall that will house cutting-edge technology including eye-tracking, brain monitoring equipment and virtual reality.

“We will be staffing the space and getting equipment to do research on innovative technologies for learning,” said UF College of Education professor Carole R. Beal, who arrived in August 2014 from the University of Arizona’s School of Information to head up the Online Learning Institute.

Possibilities include tailoring instruction in response to students' keystrokes, teaching through gaming, searching a semester's worth of video lectures with a single keyword, and apps to open textbooks and connect to tutoring from a smartphone.

Beal said she and her colleagues Kristy Boyer, Sriram Kalyanaraman and Angelos Barmpoutis will be able to ramp up their investigations into how to attract, hold and measure the attention of online learners so they can determine the most effective ways for educators to present information through technology.

Boyer, an associate professor in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering who joined the team last fall, said she is enthusiastic about the new space because it affords interdisciplinary scholars the opportunity to work together in a conducive environment.

“I think it will make a huge difference in how we generate ideas and build on each other’s ideas,” Boyer said. “This is where our ‘together’ happens, which is a major component of our vision for future work.”

With enrollment in web-based courses soaring nationwide, research-based methods for how to deliver online education remains a work in progress, a situation that has prompted the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering to identify personalized learning via the internet a global challenge and a top research priority.

This sense of urgency was a motivating factor that led UF to establish the UF Online Learning Institute as the research and development arm of UF Online, a fully online baccalaureate degree program for students who are either first time in college or transfer, in state or out of state.

But the new lab will provide research opportunities for colleges and units beyond the Online Learning Institute, Beal said. The research being conducted by the UF Online Learning Institute extends beyond traditional online education to include work on health education, technology-based learning for K-12 schools and resources for students with special needs.

“People may have questions about how to promote learning with technology, and they might want to use our lab or partner with us on projects,” Beal said. “So this will be a resource for the entire campus.”

College of Education dean Glenn Good views the Online Learning Institute as a vital component of the future of technology-assisted instruction worldwide.

“If we hope to serve the state and the nation with high-quality online and hybrid course and degrees that attract large numbers of students, this effort is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Good said. “We are in a position to take a national leadership role in creating and disseminating models for top quality and effective delivery of courses and degrees online.”

The new dedicated research space will get UF researchers there that much more quickly, Good said.

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/paleontologists-find-first-fossil-monkey-in-north-america--but-how-did-it-get-here.php

Paleontologists find first fossil monkey in North America – but how did it get here?

April 20, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
fossil, florida museum

Seven tiny teeth tell the story of an ancient monkey that made a 100-mile ocean crossing between North and South America into modern-day Panama – the first fossil evidence for the existence of monkeys in North America.

The find provides the oldest fossil evidence for the interchange of mammals between South and North America and challenges long-held views of South America as an island continent that evolved in isolation before the Isthmus of Panama was formed and animals began crossing between the continents about 3.5 million years ago, said Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus. Study findings are detailed online today in the journal Nature.

Scientists uncovered the teeth belonging to the 21-million-year-old forest-dwelling primate during recent excavations related to the expansion of the Panama Canal. The new genus and species, dubbed Panamacebus transitus, received its name from the Latin word transit, meaning crossing.

It is somewhat of a mystery how P. transitus traveled across the sea dividing North and South America during the early Miocene. It may have swum across, but this would have required covering a distance of more than 100 miles, a difficult feat for even the most talented long-distance swimmers. It’s more likely P. transitus unintentionally rafted across on mats of vegetation, much like their ancestors who probably made their way from Africa to the New World in a similar fashion, Bloch said.

The unearthing of P. transitus – which probably looked a lot like a capuchin or “organ grinder” monkey – adds a new chapter to the “utterly bizarre” history of New World monkeys, Bloch said.

“Somehow they made a transoceanic journey from Africa, then they dispersed throughout South America,” Bloch said. “Now we see that they, as far as we know, are the only mammal that successfully crossed the early Miocene Central American Seaway into present day Panama. So how were monkeys able to do this? Hopefully future fossil discoveries will help us better understand this extraordinary history.”

The ocean-faring monkey suggests the modern diversification of New World monkeys happened in the ancient tropics. The surprising discovery of the first fossil monkey from North America extends the record for the beginning of the modern diversification of New World monkeys by more than 5 million years, Bloch said.

 “Uncovering a monkey this old in Central America, at the southern-most point of the North American landmass, is similar in some ways to finding Homo erectus, an extinct human ancestor known only from Africa and Asia, in Australia,” Bloch said

It also provides fossil evidence for a pattern previously documented by molecular scientists who have suggested for some time that a variety of animals, including amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fishes and insects made ocean crossings between North and South America during the early Miocene.

New World monkeys today are restricted to tropical forests from Brazil to southern Mexico, but during the early Miocene they were found throughout South America, including some of the continent’s highest latitudes. The new primate raises the question of why these monkeys are not found farther north once they crossed the seaway into Panama, said study co-author Aaron Wood, who discovered the first teeth belonging to P. transitus as a Florida Museum postdoctoral researcher in 2012.

“While the fossil mammals found with P. transitus include horses, camels and squirrels that look like what paleontologists have found in the early Miocene of Mexico, Texas and Florida, the new monkey was limited to the southernmost point of the continent,” said Wood, now a paleontologist with Iowa State University. “The ancient South American-derived forests found in Panama were absent in northern Central America at the time, preventing monkeys from moving north, even though climate and geographic barriers like oceans did not wholly restrict their northward movements.”

Bloch said maybe acorns in the northern forests just weren’t particularly tasty to a South American monkey used to eating tropical fruit.

But the same dense jungles that provide monkeys with the fruits and habitats they enjoy today also make it difficult to find fossils in the tropics, Bloch said.

“We hope to find more monkey fossils, but time is definitely a factor,” Bloch said. “We’re fighting against the forest that wants to grow over the rocks again. The expansion of the Panama Canal provides a once-in-a-century opportunity for these kinds of exciting discoveries. But we can’t assume we’ll always be able access these rock exposures.”

Micro-CT scans of the fossil specimens are available for viewing in 3-D or for 3-D printing at the following website: http://morphosource.org/index.php

Study co-authors include Douglas Jones, Nathan Jud, Bruce MacFadden, Aldo Rincon and Emily Woodruff with the Florida Museum; David Foster with UF's Department Geological Sciences; Arianna Harrington, Duke University; Carlos Jaramillo, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama; Camilo Montes, Universidad de los Andes in Colombia; Gary Morgan, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science; Aaron R. Wood, Iowa State University, Ames.

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/uf-disney-team-up-to-protect-butterflies-sea-turtles.php

UF, Disney team up to protect butterflies, sea turtles

April 19, 2016
Alisson Clark
Disney, sea turtles, butterflies, Florida Museum of Natural History

When your life’s work is protecting endangered species, progress is often marked in incremental victories. But the efforts of University of Florida researchers are taking a major leap forward through a Disney Conservation Fund initiative that aims to save threatened species from extinction.

Partners in the 10-year initiative announced today include the Jane Goodall Institute, the National Park Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy. UF – the only university in the network – will focus on sea turtles and butterflies.

The Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time initiative celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Disney Conservation Fund, which has contributed $40 million to projects in 115 countries since its creation. The 10-year time frame opens the door to projects with a lasting impact, said Alan Bolten, associate director of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research. With Disney’s support, Bolten and the center’s director, Karen Bjorndal, have mapped out a strategy to help sea turtles on both sides of the Atlantic.

“It's a game changer,” Bolten said. “A lot of agencies are interested in short-term results. Disney really does understand the long-term time horizon for these major conservation research initiatives.”

The turtle team’s work focuses on five species of endangered and threatened sea turtles in Florida, working to understand and reduce threats from commercial fishing, habitat loss and climate change. They’ll gather data to help monitor populations, work to increase public awareness and partner with groups around the state to restore marine habitat and beach nesting areas. Because Florida turtles can travel thousands of miles through the ocean, the effort extends from the Azores to the Bahamas, Bjorndal said.

UF’s butterfly project, led by Jaret Daniels of UF’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, is similarly far-reaching. Along with governmental and nonprofit partners in Florida and California, Daniels is working to identify the most threatened species in both states, developing a plan for habitat restoration, captive breeding and reintroduction.

Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team will work with UF to help protect the species and their habitats, many of which are near Disney parks. Other teams will work to protect elephants, coral reefs, monkeys, great apes, sharks and rays, cranes, rhinos and tigers, while a second component of the initiative aims to increase the time kids spend in nature.

“Wildlife and wild places have always been an inspiration to Disney, and we take pride in instilling that same inspiration in kids and families,” said Beth Stevens, senior vice president for corporate citizenship for The Walt Disney Company. “We believe that conservation and caring for the planet are more than just good ideas—they are core to who we are as a company. With the Disney Conservation Fund’s new initiative, it is our hope that our actions will help protect some of nature’s most precious habitats and ensure the health of our planet for generations to come.”

Global Impact
/articles/2016/04/lower-carb-diet-slows-growth-of-aggressive-brain-tumor-in-mouse-models.php

Lower-carb diet slows growth of aggressive brain tumor in mouse models

April 14, 2016
Doug Bennett

University of Florida Health researchers have slowed a notoriously aggressive type of brain tumor in mouse models by using a low-carbohydrate diet.

A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that included a coconut oil derivative helped reduce the growth of glioblastoma tumor cells and extended lifespan in mouse models by 50 percent, researchers found. The results were published recently in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor in adults, has no effective long-term treatment and on average, patients live for 12 to 15 months after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The findings are a new twist on an old idea: The so-called ketogenic diet has been used for nearly 90 years to help reduce epileptic seizures. Now, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate version of the ketogenic diet has been shown to slow glioblastoma tumors by cutting back on the energy supply they need to thrive, said Brent Reynolds, Ph.D., a professor in the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery. A glioblastoma tumor requires large amounts of energy as it grows, and the dietary intervention works by drastically limiting the tumor’s supply of glucose, Reynolds said.

“While this is an effective treatment in our preclinical animal models, it is not a cure. However, our results are promising enough that the next step is to test this in humans,” Reynolds said.

The modified diet tested by Reynolds’ group included a coconut oil derivative known as a medium-chain triglyceride, which plays a crucial role because it replaces some carbohydrates as an energy source.

Reynolds said the modified high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet also has another distinct advantage: Cancer patients could potentially find it more palatable because they can eat more carbohydrates and protein than they could on a classic ketogenic diet.

“When you’re sick, you need as many comforts in your life as you can get and food is a huge comfort. That’s the idea: Could we develop a beneficial diet but make it much easier for patients?” Reynolds said.

Using human-derived glioblastoma cells in a mouse models, researchers found that the modified high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet increased life expectancy by 50 percent while also reducing tumor progression by a similar amount. In addition to diminishing the tumor’s energy supply, the diet slows the growth of glioblastoma cells by altering a cellular-signaling pathway that commonly occurs in cancers, according to the researchers. The modified diet provided just 10 percent of its calories from carbohydrates, compared with 55 percent of calories from carbohydrates in a control group.

While both the ketogenic and modified high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets showed similar effectiveness against tumors in the mouse models, Reynolds said the latter is more nutritionally complete and potentially more appealing to cancer patients because it offers more food choices.

Although researchers don’t yet know exactly why it was effective, Reynolds said preliminary data show that the modified diet also appears to make glioblastoma tumors more sensitive to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. He sees the diet as a supplemental therapy that could complement chemotherapy and radiation.

While more research is needed, the diet could also be a potentially effective secondary treatment for other cancers, such as those affecting the breast, lung and pancreas, he said.

“This simple dietary approach may be able to reduce tumor progression and enhance standard of care treatments in cancers that are highly metabolically active,” Reynolds said.

Next, Reynolds wants to start testing the modified high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet in a clinical trial. It typically takes many years to initiate such trials because of the stringent safety testing that must be done before testing in humans begins, but Reynolds said it may be possible to move faster as the therapy only involves modifying a patient’s dietary intake and supplementing with a medium-chain triglyceride oil, both of which have no known side effects.

Funding for the research was provided by the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida, UF’s Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery, the Florida Center for Brain Tumor Research, the National Brain Tumor Society, the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/feminist-sure-just-dont-call-me-one.php

Feminist? Sure, just don’t call me one

April 18, 2016
Alisson Clark
feminism, psychology

Why do some people who believe in gender equality say they’re not feminists?

It turns out that the way you feel about prototypical feminists has a lot to do with your willingness to take on that label.

“People can have gender-equality beliefs and go either way on using the term ‘feminism’ to describe themselves,” said University of Florida researcher Liz Redford, a lead author on a new study in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. “Sometimes their belief about what a feminist is can lead them to believe they don’t want to identify as one.”

Past studies on the subject have asked participants direct questions about their beliefs and feelings. Redford and her colleagues used an Implicit Association Test to evaluate gut feelings about feminist prototypes – “the central, representative feminist that comes to mind when they think of feminists as a group.”

Variations of the web-based test are used to reveal biases based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. In the feminism study, participants were shown icons such as Rosie the Riveter and asked to switch between sorting them with positive images (such as a smiley face) or with negative ones (such as a hissing snake), working as rapidly as possible. If you can quickly sort feminist images with happy ones but have a harder time sorting them with negative ones, the thinking goes, you likely have a positive implicit attitude about feminists, while if the opposite is true, you likely have a negative implicit attitude.

The test can reveal feelings that people may not voice directly – either because they don’t know about them or because they’re concerned about how they’ll be perceived, says co-author Jennifer Howell, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio University.

“Implicit measures can get at that first association – their gut reaction,” Howell said. “It predicts behavior quite well.”

The researchers found that even when they controlled for the beliefs and attitudes that participants openly expressed, implicit attitudes had their own effects, predicting how strongly a person identifies as a feminist. 

But who says you have to identify as a feminist to act on your gender-equality beliefs? Doesn’t believing in feminist principles achieve the same ends?

Actually, it doesn’t. In a second part of the study, Redford’s results showed a strong correlation between identification and willingness to act on their beliefs in ways like joining a group or bringing up feminist issues in conversation.

And when the researchers gave 735 participants a chance to distribute $50 between four charities, those who identified as feminists were more likely to give money to a feminist foundation than those who held feminist beliefs but stopped short of identification.

“Identification matters,” Redford said. “It’s related to important outcomes.”

While the study stops short of showing causation, it could mean that people working to create positive prototypes – those “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts, or Beyoncé at the VMAs – are on the right track to spur feminist action, Redford said.

“The results imply that if we can change implicit attitudes, we can change identification and behavior.” 

Society & Culture
/articles/2016/04/uf-students-research-shines-a-light-on-brazilian-ecosystems.php

UF student's research shines a light on Brazilian ecosystems

April 19, 2016
UF News

Roads and freeways, paved or dirt, can be more than a thoroughfare for moving humans from one place to another.

As UF researchers working in Brazil are learning and documenting, an unintended and ironic consequence of building roads for agricultural expansion is that roads can create the ideal habitat for insects that can be major agricultural pests.

Ernane Vieira-Neto, a Ph.D. candidate in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a student in UF’s Tropical Conservation and Development Program, is among biologists worldwide who are concerned about the effects on biodiversity of roads that are cutting into the heart of previously inaccessible wilderness areas.

His research, based on four years of field study, focuses on leaf-cutter ants. One of the most iconic and ecologically important species of Latin America, when leaf-cutter populations expand into farmers’ fields, they can cause millions of dollars in crop losses each year despite widespread application of highly toxic pesticides.

In a study slated for publication this month in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Vieira-Neto and colleagues from UF’s Center for Latin American Studies and Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Uberlandia – Emilio Bruna and Heraldo Vasconcelos – noted an explosion in population of leaf-cutter ants along roadsides in the Brazilian savanna ecosystem known as the Cerrado.

A global diversity hotspot about 10 times the size of Florida, this region is responsible for Brazil’s emergence as an agricultural superpower, with approximately 4,600 miles of roads slated for construction in the next two decades.

In the paper, titled “Roads Increase Population Growth Rates of a Native Leaf-cutter Ant in Neotropical Savannahs,” Vieira-Neto and colleagues present data from field surveys demonstrating that the number of ant colonies next to roads increases dramatically when compared to nearby areas of native vegetation. The researchers used mathematical models to show roadsides are the ideal habitat for queens to start their new colonies, which grow very rapidly.

“For population growth, every individual colony and life stage is important,” said Vieira-Neto. “But events that occur so early in the life cycle of a leaf-cutter ant colony, such as successful colony foundation by the ant queen and colony survival as a juvenile, are more prevalent near roads and have relatively more importance for the population than late-life events.”

The researchers predicts that the increasing numbers along new roads of one of the biggest agricultural pests farmers have ever encountered could have major economic effects. In addition, because these insects also are major ecological engineers, their increased numbers will have consequences for other plant and animal species and ecosystems such as nutrient cycling.

“No matter where they are built, roads have unintended consequences for native plants and animals,” Bruna said. “Our results suggest that the impacts of roads on native biodiversity can have not only ecological impacts on other plants and animals, but potentially unexpected economic ones as well.”

Global Impact
/articles/2016/04/uf-archaeologist-named-to-american-academy-of-arts-and-sciences.php

UF archaeologist named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

April 20, 2016
UF News

A University of Florida archaeologist is among the 213 new members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the academy announced today.

Kathleen Deagan is Distinguished Research Curator of Archaeology and an adjunct professor of anthropology and history at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. She received her doctorate in 1974 from the University of Florida, and after teaching at Florida State University’s anthropology department for eight years, she joined the UF faculty in 1982.

Her research has focused on the archaeology of the Spanish colonial period in Florida and the Caribbean. She has conducted excavations in St. Augustine since 1972, including the identification and excavations of Fort. Mose, America’s first free black community, and Florida’s first Spanish settlement.

Since 1980, she has worked at Spanish colonial sites in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She has directed excavations in collaboration with Jose M. Cruxent at Christopher Colombus’s first town in America, La Isabela, and has also directed archaeological programs at Concepcion de la Vega in the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Real, Haiti.

Deagan has also worked since 1984 at the site of En Bas Saline, Haiti, a large Taino town thought to have been the location of La Navidad, Columbus’s first fort, in 1492. She has been a consultant on historic preservation and archaeology in Spain, Venezuela, Panama. Peru, Jamaica, and Honduras.

Deagan is the author of eight books and more than 65 scientific papers. She was named an Alumna of Outstanding Distinction by the University of Florida in 1998, and is a recipient of the Society for Historical Archaeology’s J.C. Harrington Award for Lifetime Distinction in Historical Archaeology. She was awarded the “Order of La Florida” by the City of St. Augustine in 2007 for distinguished service to the city.

The list of the 236th class of new members is located at www.amacad.org/members.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 8 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world. Current academy research focuses on higher education, the humanities and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. The academy’s work is advanced by its elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/uf-health-researchers-develop-unique-model-for-studying-als.php

UF Health researchers develop unique model for studying ALS

April 21, 2016
Doug Bennett

University of Florida Health researchers have developed a unique mouse model that will allow researchers around the world to better study the genetic origins and potential treatments for a neurodegenerative brain disease that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and frontotemporal dementia.

The new mouse model is significant because it closely replicates the symptoms and gene expression patterns found in people who have the most common genetic cause of ALS and frontotemporal dementia. The findings were published today (April 21) in the journal Neuron.

Having a mouse model that replicates how these two conditions affect nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord is crucial to understanding what triggers disease in people and for developing treatments, said Laura P.W. Ranum, Ph.D., director of the UF Center for NeuroGenetics, a faculty member of the UF Genetics Institute and a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of molecular genetics and microbiology.

The study’s lead author, Yuanjing Liu, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the UF interdisciplinary program in biomedical sciences, worked closely with graduate student Amrutha Pattamatta and other UF researchers to generate and characterize the mice. The team spent nearly four years developing the mouse model, which has an expansion mutation in the C9orf72 gene. This mutation is the most common genetic cause of ALS and accounts for up to 40 percent of all familial cases of the disease, according to The ALS Association.

ALS kills nerve cells that stretch from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to muscles, causing muscle wasting, paralysis and death. An estimated 30,000 people in the United States have the disease at any given time and life expectancy is usually two to five years. This mutation is also a common cause of inherited dementia.

While other scientists have developed mouse models focusing on different ALS-related genes, the UF Health researchers are the first to cultivate one that focuses on the C9orf72 gene that closely mimics features of both ALS and frontotemporal dementia, including paralysis and dementia. The new mouse model will allow researchers to understand how the same genetic mutation causes paralysis in some patients and cognitive and behavioral problems in others, and how some people escape disease altogether. These mice showed the accumulation of problematic RNA and protein clumps suspected of helping the diseases to progress.

Because ALS and frontotemporal dementia belong to a genetically complex disease spectrum that isn’t easily studied in humans, the mouse models will enable researchers to tease apart exactly how the gene mutation causes disease. The C9orf72 gene produces at least eight different mutant products. Having the mouse model will help researchers understand which ones are the most important in terms of causing disease. It should also allow them to learn more about what takes place in a particular region of the brain where healthy cells exist next to ones that have died.

“I am excited because one of the two mutant RNAs produced by the mutation accumulates in neurons that are vulnerable to the disease and die. This gives us an important clue for future studies aimed at developing therapies for people,” Liu said.

Likewise, Ranum is intrigued by the 20 percent of the mice that have the mutated gene but do not develop ALS or frontotemporal dementia. Similarly, a subset of people who carry the C9orf72 mutation do not develop the disease. This suggests there is some protective element at work that, if understood, could be exploited to prevent disease onset, she said.

Ranum said her group is already making use of the new mouse model. That includes collaborations with private industry on research aimed at reversing or preventing the disease.

The research was funded by Target ALS, The ALS Association, the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research and the University of Florida.

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/at-uf-the-worlds-first-brain-controlled-drone-race.php

At UF, the world’s first brain-controlled drone race

April 22, 2016
Steve Orlando

  

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/uf-sustainability-nrotc-graduates-ready-to-make-greener-impacts-on-the-future.php

UF Sustainability, NROTC graduates ready to make greener impacts on the future

April 25, 2016
Emily Buchanan

Four soon-to-be graduates of the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning are taking sustainability to sea – and beyond – as they begin active duty in the United States Navy.

Sustainability and the built environment students Adam Campbell, George Andrew Davis, Jr., Gerardo Contreras and David Bailey, have been involved with the Navy ROTC unit on campus since their freshman year and will become officers once they graduate this April.

Sustainability is increasingly recognized as essential. By definition, it is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

While Campbell, Davis and Contreras began as engineering students and switched to sustainability later in their academic careers, Bailey has been a sustainability student from the get-go.

Bailey received an internship with the UF Office of Sustainability and has been heavily involved with the Gator Gears initiative, a bike rental program for students and faculty on campus.

For Bailey’s research project, he retrieved data from universities across the country to determine what strategies are being used to increase the use of bicycles on campus.

Although there are several campus-wide green initiatives, Campbell was drawn to the sustainability and the built environment program to see first-hand how the design process worked.

“I really enjoyed seeing a project go from the planning phase all the way to the finished product,” he said. “Then having that aspect of making it more energy efficient. Not just going with the conventional practice, but actually going with the innovative practice. It’s a kind of trending towards the future instead of sticking with the past.”

Davis’ research hit closer to home as he created an assessment of the ROTC’s home base on UF’s campus, Van Fleet Hall. The project determined ways to reduce energy and water consumption in the building.

Since its start in 2008, UF’s sustainability and the built environment program has grown to over 100 students, said program director Margaret Carr.

Last year, the program had its first NROTC graduate. And in addition to this year’s four seniors, the program has two lower-division students involved in NROTC as well.

“We believe our major is providing an important grounding for students entering the military because when armed with sustainability principles and techniques, they have great opportunities to influence the future,” she said.

Captain Jim Morgan, commanding officer of UF’s NROTC, agreed with Carr. He said future officers with degrees in sustainability directly contribute to the Department of Navy’s overall strategy of reducing its dependency on fossil fuels through increased use of renewable energy.

“It was not that long ago, maybe five to ten years ago, that the Navy’s annual fuel bill to power our ships was in the billions of dollars,” Morgan said.

As a result, U.S Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus made increasing the use of alternative sources of energy within the Navy a priority.

Among other green initiatives, Morgan added that in May 2014, Mabus chartered the Navy’s Renewable Energy Program Office to produce or procure one gigawatt of renewable energy generation capacity by the end of 2015.

“This was part of an overall Navy goal of having 50 percent of total Navy energy consumption coming from alternative sources by 2020,” he said. “The end goal is developing cost-effective, long-term alternative energy projects that help increase our energy security while at the same time preserving the environment for future generations.”

On April 30, Campbell, Davis, Bailey and Contreras will receive their diplomas and shake President Kent Fuchs’ hand at commencement. A few months later, their active duty tours begin.

Bailey will be stationed in Pearl Harbor and has selected a ship that’s part of the Navy’s Great Green Fleet, a group of ships that employ a number of energy and water saving techniques in their operation.

“She’s one of the first vessels in the Navy to operate off a mixture of biofuels and traditional fuels for the Navy,” he said. “It’s a big push and big point of observation for the Navy to see how effective that is.”

Campbell will also be going to Hawaii, but has selected a different ship than Bailey.

“I joined the Navy to see the world,” he said. “And what better way to start than in Hawaii.”

Contreras will be serving his first tour of duty in Japan, and Davis will be going to flight school in Pensacola to pursue his dream of being a Navy pilot.

Campus Life
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Cross Campus Greenway opens May 7 with ceremony

April 25, 2016
Paul Bernard

A ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Cross Campus Greenway is scheduled May 7 on the University of Florida campus at Bartram Carr Woods, across from the new Harrell Medical Education Building on Newell Drive.

The event is expected to begin at 10 a.m.

The new bike and pedestrian trail runs from Southwest 34th Street at Hull Road to the intersection of Newell Drive and Southwest Archer Road. The recently completed project was funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

The opening of the greenway coincides with the completion of the Depot Trail upgrade and new portions of the Archer Braid Trail, all of which are part of a cross-county trail from Archer to Hawthorne with spurs through Innovation Square and to Gainesville Regional Airport

The event is coordinated with the city of Gainesville’s celebratory bicycle ride that will depart from the Bo Diddley Plaza downtown at 9 a.m. traveling along the trail. Riders are expected to arrive on campus at 10 a.m. for the ribbon cutting and then proceed to the eastern end point of the future Southwest 30th Avenue overpass across I-75.

The events also recognize May as National Bike Month.

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/zika-present-in-americas-longer-than-previously-thought.php

Zika present in Americas longer than previously thought

April 26, 2016
Evan Barton
EPI

The Zika virus was present in Haiti several months before the first Zika cases were identified in Brazil, according to new research by infectious-disease specialists at the University of Florida.

This finding confirms that the Zika virus was present in the Americas prior to March 2015, when the virus was first identified in Brazil, and suggests that the spread of Zika virus in the Americas was likely more complicated than early theories presumed.

“We know that the virus was present in Haiti in December of 2014,” said Dr. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine and the director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. “And, based on molecular studies, it may have been present in Haiti even before that date.”

Although the findings suggest that the Zika virus was circulating in the Americas prior to 2015, what remains unclear is exactly what confluence of factors caused the virus to take off in Brazil.

The findings were published Monday in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Researchers hope further inquiry will shed light on the factors that led to the proliferation of Zika virus in Brazil as well as the sharp rise in the number of birth defects in that nation in cases where pregnant women were infected with the then-uncommon flavivirus.

Scientists from UF’s environmental and global health department and the Emerging Pathogens Institute isolated the Zika virus from three patients while studying the transmission of dengue and chikungunya in Haiti in 2014. School children exhibiting febrile illness within the Gressier/Leogane region of Haiti were taken to a free outpatient clinic, where blood samples were drawn and screened for dengue, chikungunya and malaria.

Upon isolation, the viruses were first considered “mystery” viruses, as PCR-based tests indicated they were neither dengue nor chikungunya viruses, and little attention had been paid to the possibility that Zika virus might be present in the Caribbean. Using a sophisticated RT-PCR based method that potentially amplifies any RNA, the researchers produced PCR amplicons that were subsequently sequenced and identified as Zika virus sequences. The plasma samples that yielded Zika virus were taken three months before March 2015, when Brazilian scientists first confirmed via genetic analysis that Zika virus was present in Brazil and causing a significant disease burden in the South American nation.

The Zika virus was virtually unknown outside of public health circles prior to the 2007 outbreak in the Yap Islands, a small group of islands in Micronesia where an estimated 73 percent of residents 3 years of age and older were infected with the virus. Questions still remain regarding how it came to the Americas.

“The Brazilian and Haitian strains are genetically similar,” said John Lednicky, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health and an associate researcher at the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Lednicky designed the project’s virus isolation work and identified and sequenced the Haitian Zika virus isolates. Lednicky said the genetic sequences of the Haitian isolates from 2014 are more similar to those of the French Polynesian strains than to many of the Brazilian Zika virus strains. Lednicky thinks this may be because the Haitian 2014 strain is slightly older than the isolates from Brazil in 2015.

Morris echoed Lednicky’s suggestion that Zika virus had been in the Americas for a period of time before it began causing a noticeable level of illness.

“There is a possibility that this virus had been moving around the Caribbean before it hit the right combination of conditions in Brazil and took off,” Morris said. “By using the sophisticated culturing and sequencing capabilities that we have here at the Emerging Pathogens Institute, we were able to begin to fill in some of the unknown areas in the history of the Zika virus, leading us toward a better understanding of what caused this outbreak to suddenly occur at the magnitude that it did in Brazil.”

Science & Wellness
/articles/2016/04/saving-the-treasures-of-a-sunken-world.php

Saving the treasures of a sunken world

April 27, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
Bahamas, national parks, Florida Museum of Natural History

A new national park protects the past, future of the Bahamas’ blue holes

An underwater graveyard of prehistoric mega-reptiles has long been a trove of scientific discovery. Now that these flooded caves in the Bahamas have gained national protection, they could be a key to restoring the islands’ biodiversity.

For four years, scientists – including University of Florida ornithologist David Steadman and Bahamian research diver Brian Kakuk – campaigned for a national park to protect flooded caves known as blue holes. The Bahamian government recently accepted the proposal to create the 34,000-acre South Abaco Blue Holes Park, along with 14 other new marine and land parks in the Bahamas, for a total of more than 2 million acres.

Kakuk’s first fossil finds led to discoveries that changed what scientists thought they knew about the Bahamas. Probing the contours of some of the world’s most dangerous underwater caves, Kakuk found the Bahamas’ oldest crocodile, tortoise and even human remains — remnants of a sunken world.

“There’s nothing like the Bahamas’ blue holes on the rest of the planet,” said Kakuk, a dive instructor and former Navy diver based on Great Abaco Island.

A diver negotiates the Badlands of Dan's Cave on Great Abaco Island. Abaco’s earliest people frequented the much drier cave systems beginning 1,000 years ago, as many species of birds, mammals and large reptiles had for thousands of years before. But as sea levels rose after the last ice age, the caves became submerged. Now, 10,000-year-old fossils pulled from Abaco’s blue holes like Sawmill Sink and Dan’s Cave — where one can find the world’s longest underwater passage — are giving scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus a better understanding of the impact of human and climate-driven change on island species.

 “No other site portrays the Bahamas’ environmental heritage in more detail than Sawmill Sink,” said Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum. “We can go back in time clear to the last ice age 15,000 years ago and examine plants and animals that are extinct on the island today.”

The cave systems that Kakuk navigates in his search for fossils create formations like “Fang Horn Forest” in Dan’s Cave, where divers have just enough room to move through a passage riddled with stalactites and stalagmites like a bed of nails on the top and bottom.

Although these fossils are protected by a labyrinth of cave passages and preserved thanks to a unique water chemistry found in the Bahamas, they could have been vulnerable to commercial land development and pollution without the protection of the national park.

“If the water became more acidic, or full of organic pollutants, it would not only degrade the water quality…it would degrade the fossils,” Steadman said.

Kakuk said the pristine condition of many fossils and bones pulled from the blue holes is what draws researchers from various fields.

“A lot of people, when they go to look at bird or crocodile fossils, they’re usually looking at a small piece and trying to interpret what it was,” Kakuk said. “We’re giving them the entire animal.”

The park will also protect a forest of endemic pine trees that grow on land above the caves and only exist on four Bahamian islands, opening the door to more land-based tourism on Abaco. The areas are also key to the survival of several endemic species, said Janet Franklin, a professor of geography at Arizona State University whose work has addressed the impacts of human-caused change on island plant communities.

David Steadman has reconstructed the ancient food web of the Bahamian island of Abaco thanks to fossils of mega-reptiles, including the Cuban Crocodile, pulled from underwater cave systems. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen GraceSteadman and colleagues have recovered thousands of fossils from Sawmill Sink that show human activities such as habitat destruction pose a greater threat to island species than modern human-driven climate change. Among the 39 species that no longer exist on Abaco, 17 species of birds likely fell victim to huge changes in climate and rising sea levels around the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Twenty-two other species of reptiles, birds and mammals persisted through those dramatic environmental changes only to vanish after humans arrived on the island 1,000 years ago.

The new national parks offer Steadman and his colleagues the opportunity to begin introducing species, including rock iguanas and tortoises, back into the Bahamas from other places where they still survive.

“We know that every island in the Bahamas used to have tortoises and that they are now extinct, but we have close relatives still living on the South American mainland,” Steadman said.

There’s growing scientific evidence that tortoises make excellent seed dispersers, so the introduction of red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises could do wonders for plant life on the islands, Steadman said.

“Abaco has gone 900 years without tortoises — I’d love to see what it would look like 40 or 50 years after they are reintroduced,” Steadman said. “The new park is an area that can really inform the future and help us make it a little more natural than it is right now.”

Global Impact
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Festival connects students to local food

April 27, 2016
Aileen Mack

As the sun started to set over the Field and Fork Gardens, students sampled food made from local produce and enjoyed demonstrations by local chefs while others planted corn with the Gator Gardening Club.

The first event of its kind, Fresh Off The Farm allowed students to learn about eating local and how to use fresh produce. The April 8 event – a collaboration between Field and Fork Pantry, Student Government, the Culinary Arts Student Union and Gator Gardening Club – included local farmers selling produce, garden tours and musical performances.

The Culinary Arts Student Union offered samples of five courses that used produce donated by the farmers, such as tempeh buttercup-lettuce wraps and beet radish spring salad.

Steven Che, CASU founder and culinary director, said people often think they don’t like vegetables because they’re getting produce grown in mass production, where the focus isn’t on taste, and eating vegetables that are out of season, which are no longer at the peak of flavor, he said. The festival showed off fresh, local alternatives.

“We just really wanted people to appreciate local foods, local chefs, local produce and local farmers,” he said.

Interacting with farmers gives you an appreciation for and allows you to be a part of your local community, said Joselin Padron-Rasines, UF’s student government president.

From a farmer’s perspective, community support keeps them running, growing and expanding to other areas, said Katie McNamara, a Frog Song Organics employee. Buying local also reduces the fuel used transporting produce to market. 

Students often don’t buy local because of convenience, McNamara said. They’re concerned about classes, on tight budgets and can be intimidated about buying local when comparing the prices to Publix.

“If you get used to buying in season, then it can be extremely affordable, but that’s not the way that we’re grown up in America,” she said. “They just don’t know that buying strawberries out of season can be not the most affordable option so that deters them from buying locally.”

The biggest barrier to students buying local is they don’t know that it exists, McNamara said.

“Now that this event happened and things like that continue to go down on campus,” she said, “they’ll learn more about it and be able to use those services,” she said. 

Campus Life
/articles/2016/04/the-murky-ethics-of-gay-taleses-the-voyeurs-motel.php

The murky ethics of Gay Talese's 'The Voyeur's Motel'

April 27, 2016
Kim Walsh-Childers

Journalism professor Kim Walsh-Childers comments for The Conversation on a recent story published in The New Yorker and the murky ethics involved in writer Gay Talese’s reporting.

Imagine yourself being observed, without your knowledge, while having sex. Have you been harmed?

The answer, I would argue, is yes. Your privacy has been violated. The voyeur has taken something from you without your consent.

Then, if a journalist tells the voyeur’s story years later, is he contributing to that harm? That’s the issue in Gay Talese’s story about the Manor House Motel.

(Here is the backstory: In order to report on a motel-owning voyeur who, for years, secretly spied on guests having sex, writer Gay Talese agreed to not identify the motelier, Gerald Foos. Talese even signed a confidentiality agreement that Foos had prepared.

With this agreement in place, Talese got access. He visited the motel, witnessed the motel sex from the voyeur’s secret viewing perch and would go on to interview and correspond with Foos for years. In 2013, after 23 years, Foos waived the confidentiality agreement; last week, The New Yorker ran Talese’s “The Voyeur’s Motel.”

The story is gripping and salacious. But since its publication, some readers have expressed uneasiness with both the content and the measures taken to report on – and protect – Foos. The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, has defended the article, writing “the New Yorker does not believe that Talese or it violated any legal or ethical boundaries in presenting Foos’ account.”)

In my opinion, Talese was complicit in Gerald Foos' violation of his guests’ privacy, and not only because in the initial reporting of the story, he climbed into the motel attic with its owner and watched a young couple having sex. By failing to report Foos’ actions – either in an immediate story or to authorities – Talese enabled Foos' unethical and, indeed, illegal action to continue unabated for at least 15 years longer.

Signing Foos’ confidentiality agreement – in effect agreeing to protect Foos’ privacy even as Foos violated the privacy of his guests – left Talese in an ethical bind. Revealing Foos' activity meant breaking his promise. Keeping that promise allowed Foos to subject hundreds, perhaps even thousands, more guests to his voyeurism, judgment and scorn.

In addition, through his continued correspondence, Talese provided affirmation of Foos’ activity, helping him maintain the myth that his actions served some higher purpose, some noble societal goal, rather than simply gratifying his own sexual desire.

But even if the initial voyeurism had caused no harm, Talese’s approach to telling the story after gaining Foos’ consent did. First, the story contains details from Foos’ notes that, while titillating, are not necessary to what is presumably the story’s purpose: helping us understand the mind of the voyeur. Second, telling the story with Foos' blessing no doubt satisfies the voyeur’s need to feel that he is important, that he has accomplished something noteworthy.

In that way, it’s much like the decision to publish or broadcast the rants of someone like Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof or Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho.

Finally, and in some ways, most troubling, Talese’s story offers a primer to others who might want to copy Foos' voyeuristic ways. He details exactly how the motel’s viewing platform was constructed and how successful it was in hiding Foos' behavior.

It’s one of many aspects of the story that, I suspect, will have journalism ethics professors discussing it – as an example of behavior to avoid – for years to come.

Kim Walsh-Childers was one of three journalism professors asked by The Conversation to give their take on the “The Voyeur’s Motel, Talese’s reporting and the ethics involved. You can read the full story, published in The Conversation on April 14, 2016, at https://theconversation.com/the-murky-ethics-of-gay-taleses-the-voyeurs-motel-57614.

To see all commentary published in The Conversation by UF faculty members, go to https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-florida.

Society & Culture
/articles/2016/04/noted-poet-addresses-uf-phd-grads.php

Noted poet addresses UF Ph.D. grads

April 29, 2016
UF NEWS

William Logan is an Alumni Professor and Distinguished Teaching Scholar in the University of Florida department of English. The author of 10 books of poems and six books of criticism, he is a regular critic of poetry for the New York Times Book Review. Professor Logan was the speaker for UF’s spring doctoral commencement ceremony on April 28, 2016. Below is his speech in its entirety.

My address this evening is titled “The Groves of Academe.”  The phrase refers, as many of you know, to the olive grove, outside the walls of Athens, where Plato taught, and by descent to wherever the learnèd gather—the groves of academe.  It sounds like a trendy Manhattan bar.  When you leave the groves, where will you go?  As Americans might say, you’ll hightail it out of the swamps, perhaps to the fields beyond, perhaps to other groves, where you too will talk, and teach.  I’m not, by nature, an academic—indeed, apart from being a poet, and a growly sort of critic, I don’t know how Linnaeus or Darwin would classify me.  Perhaps as a portmanteau creature, part this, part that.

My argument this evening—and commencement speeches are always arguments of one sort or another—is that you should try to be not merely one thing, but a multitude, sometimes in concert, sometimes at odds.  As a parting gift—the big kiss-off, as they say in detective novels—let me offer some of the stray wisdom that has come my way over the past forty years.  As Newton was said to have said, long after his discovery of calculus and the law of gravity, “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”  Or, as I might say, in a long life even a stray dog will occasionally pick up a stick.

I stand before you as a teacher, in a cracked and cranky way, a teacher created by teachers.  In 1972, when I wore little but Levis, tie-dyed T-shirts, and something called Earth Shoes, when I was protesting a war and upset even at peace, I had the overpoweringly vague desire to be a poet.  Unfortunately, I’d already taken too many poetry workshops run by gentle, cigarillo-smoking, beret-wearing poetic types who could have hit me with a claw hammer without teaching me a thing.  Fortunately, in my last semester I had two radically different professors who in a few weeks invented me.

The first was Richard Howard, who had already won a Pulitzer Prize in poetry.  He taught me that imagination is compelled by restriction.  He gave us various infuriating, torturous assignments.  After I finished the first, I realized I’d been going about poetry the wrong way.  I’d thought—like the poet Sir Philip Sidney—that you looked into your heart and wrote.  Howard taught me that the imagination reacts when bound and gagged.  Poetry turned out to be problem solving, and problem solving—having, until seventeen, been a calc and chem geek—I knew how to do.

The second teacher—he was a novelist—showed how character is formed in the tensions of language, how plot is a calculus of discovered necessities.  As a student he’d been a darling of the Yale English Department, and at twenty-six he was hanging around Yale teaching small seminars for a pittance.  Like Richard Howard, he taught by talking, talking, and talking, a skill I’ve never quite learned.  He was at work on a never-to-be finished trilogy of novels; but his great talent as a writer—apart from a genius for analysis—was for dialogue.  His name was David Milch, and later he created NYPD Blue and Deadwood.

Having teachers, I became a teacher.  Twenty-five years ago, one of my graduate students buttonholed me before our final class and with some excitement confided that he’d had a dream in which I explained the Seven Last Things, what poets needed to know before they went out into the world.  I took that as a challenge, and every year or two I find seven new last things with which to bedevil or entertain my students.  I’m fond of minor traditions that give minor order to the world.  I won’t claim that these seven snippets of wisdom will be a compass when you’re lost in a trackless waste, or your North Star when you’re drifting through the middle latitudes of the Pacific.  Perhaps they’ll bear contemplation only when you arrive at your North Pole, the North Star directly above and no help at all.  There, whatever direction you choose will be South.

Here are the Seven Last Things for 2016:

(1) Language

I said “hightail it” at the outset.  “Hightail” is a good American verb, referring to a deer in flight.  It’s not all that old—it goes back only to Teddy Roosevelt’s day.  “Language,” said Emerson, “is fossil poetry.”  He meant that many of our words derive from metaphor.  When we say we’re “hogtied,” the metaphor is plain—you hogtie something by binding all four feet.  Indeed, most of our language has a long history, words and phrases we use carelessly or by the way.  When we say that someone is “on the wagon,” what do we mean?  You have to go back to the first uses in the nineteenth century to realize the phrase has lost something.  Originally it was “on the water wagon”—we still use it to mean someone no longer drinking the hard stuff.  What was a water wagon?  It sprinkled the dirt streets to lay the dust, as they used to say.

The language of wagons permeates modern English.  Early automobiles were built by wagonmakers like Studebaker, which manufactured cars into the 1960s.  Where is the speedometer located?  On the dashboard, the front board of a wagon, the board that kept mud from splashing the driver.  What do we call it when someone follows us too closely?  Tailgating.  The tail gate was the hinged board at the rear of the wagon.  Hence—I hear you thinking—having a picnic on the tail gate of a car, perhaps a station wagon.  Station wagon?  The horse-drawn wagon that took freight and passengers from the train station.  And of course we still measure our cars in horse power.  Language is fossil poetry, and life is fossil language.  We’re the sum of all we have said, and all we didn’t say.  When you speak, use your words as carefully as a chemist titrating sulphuric acid. 

(2) Pencils

Our thoughts are like words drawn in sand as the tide roars in.  The best ideas may flit like mayflies across the imagination.  The odd network of association and beleaguered memory that causes us to think something new may minutes later be entirely forgotten, along with that pointed insight, that deft poetic phrase.  A surveyor once had to carry his theodolite and dumpy level, his Philadelphia rod and Jacob’s staff.  George Washington’s kind of surveying is now digital, but a surveyor of the mental world still needs a pencil.

Remember that the German chemist Friedrich Kekulé [KAAK-oo-laY], after years of studying benzene, saw in a daydream a snake seizing its own tail, and realized the chemical structure that had eluded him was simply a ring.  Elias Howe, trying to build a better sewing machine, dreamed that warriors were attacking him with spears, each weapon with a hole in the spearhead.  Until then, sewing machine needles had their eyes at the tail, not the tip.  Visual ideas are hard to forget; but ideas cast in language, those we need to write down.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t forget your pencil and your scrap of paper.  Why not use a smart phone?  One, history.  Pencils are legacy tech, more than four hundred years old.  Two, they never run out of power, just out of lead.  Why “lead” pencils, by the way?  Because graphite was originally thought a kind of lead.

Don’t be too fond of your digital devices, like the young man who tried to drive me across Lubbock, Texas, and took a long hour, because highway underpasses were blocked off and his GPS was confused, though the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger kept rising from the dash, warning him, “Go back, go back!”  I made up the last part.

(3) Misfortune

Some years ago, a man I knew, a partner at a law firm, was fired.  He didn’t like working for that firm; but there were bills to pay, children to raise, and later alimony.  When he was fired, he cast about for something new and in two weeks had his dream job, working as in-house counsel for a small pharmaceutical company.  That would not have been my dream, but it was his; and he’d never have fulfilled it if not for the misfortune of being fired.  Ten years later, when that job ended, he got another dream job.  Just as he was getting used to a desk the size of the Titanic, he heard on the morning news that his new company was caught in the middle of an environmental disaster.  Sometimes the hard proves easy, and the easy, hard.  You can’t take out insurance against slings and arrows—sometimes you just have to leap.  And hope. 

(4) Arleigh Burke

Arleigh Burke, known as “31-Knot” Burke, was a naval officer during World War II, commanding groups of destroyers in the Pacific.  He believed that the worst sin of the Navy early in the war was . . . hesitation, and that at the Battle of Blackett Strait he’d made a mistake not ordering his ship to fire when the radar operator first made contact with the enemy.  His standing orders to his destroyers afterward were to attack the enemy without seeking permission.  “The difference between a good officer and a poor one,” Burke later said, “is about ten seconds.”  The Navy’s modern class of destroyers is named after him.  The frontiersman Davy Crockett would have understood.  His motto was “Be sure you’re right.  Then go ahead.”

(5) One Liners

You want to be, not the person who has to say two thousand words to get to the point, but the person who can condense to a sentence or an equation what has never been thought before.  There’s an old anecdote about Sidney Morganbesser, a philosopher who taught at Columbia.  The famous Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin had come to New York to give a paper about the structure of language.  Everyone knows there are positives and negatives, he declared, and that in English a double negative was a positive.  In no language, however, was a double positive a negative.  There was silence, then from the back of the hall Morganbesser’s voice rang out: “Yeah, yeah."

(6) Education

The university, you may be surprised to hear, is not the place where you get an education—it’s where you learn to educate yourself.  The fiction is that you enter the great maw of American schools when you’re six or so, and you exit twelve, or sixteen, or twenty-two years later with whatever you need to know as an adult.  As my father used to say, “Hardy-har-har.”  All sorts of things, like taking out a mortgage or changing your oil, aren’t covered in college.  What you’re really being taught is how to read and how to think, so that faced with any problem, from disabling your track pad to building a kite, you’re able to teach yourself . . . sometimes with the help of YouTube.

A true reader, a true seeker, doesn’t need the university afterward.  The university may prepare you, may save you time; but then you go out and . . . and learn.  And the main way to learn deeply, freshly, radically, is to read.  Fresh ideas come far afield—applying the unknown known to the known unknown.  What should I read, you say?  Follow your instincts, letting each book lead you to the next—no matter how far.  I read while I’m shaving—I get through fifty or sixty poetry books a year that way.  I read while walking.

(7) Last Words

Those are the words we utter when death is at the door.  Some deathbed speeches are probably composed in advance—worse, most are apocryphal.  My advice is to live your lives, not as if you’ll never have to say last words (wouldn’t that be nice?), but so that when you come to that hour you’ll have already said, to those you love and those you don’t, all that needed to be said.  Still, if you want to say something memorable, take these examples—with a grain of salt.

Kit Carson, the brutal frontiersman and scout: “I just wish I had time for one more bowl of chili.”  The philosopher Voltaire, when a priest asked him to renounce Satan: “My good man, this isn’t the time to make enemies.”  Drummer Buddy Rich, as he was prepped for the surgery he did not survive.  The nurse asked, “Is there anything you can’t take?”  Rich replied, “Yeah, country music.”

Oscar Wilde, dying in a horribly over-decorated hotel room: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death.  One or the other of us has to go.”  Those weren’t his last words—only his last interesting words.  It would be lovely if, as is sometimes reported, Emily Dickinson’s last words were “I must go in.  The fog is rising”—but those misquote a letter she wrote two years before she died.  Let me leave you with the epitaph on a gravestone in Kansas, seen by the writer William Least Heat-Moon, “Thanks for stopping by.  See you later.”

Now, before I hightail it, before I release you back to your lives, to your parents, your friends, your lovers, and to the strangers you will one day meet—to you who are philosophers, historians, mathematicians, growlers, buccaneers: whatever you choose to do, don’t waste the hours before you.  Live passionately, live as if no one had lived that life before—because no one has.  “Be sure you’re right.  Then go ahead.”  Davy Crockett also said, “You can all go to hell.  I’ll go to Texas.”  Doctors, congratulations.

Download William Logan's speech

Campus Life
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April drop in Florida consumer sentiment: widespread concern over future

April 29, 2016
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment fell 3.5 points in April to 90.6, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

The reading is the lowest since October and lower than the previous 12-month average. Of the five components that make up the index, four decreased and only one increased.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago show the greatest decline in this month’s reading, a 5.8-point change from 84.2 to 78.4.

“The decline in the perception of personal finances explains around one-third of the overall change in the index. The biggest drop was in those 60 and older, but this lower perception is shared in general by all Floridians.” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Perceptions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item, such as an automobile or appliance, inched up seven-tenths of a point to 102.1. Expectations of personal finances a year from now went down by 4.2 points to 101.5.

Both short- and long-run outlooks on the U.S. economy showed signs of deterioration. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year decreased 3.3 points to 86.2, while expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years dropped 5.1 points, from 90 to 84.9.

“Most of the pessimism in April stems from expectations about future conditions, which account for 70 percent of the drop in the consumer sentiment index,” Sandoval said. While unfavorable views of the future were shared by all Floridians independent of their gender, age, and income level, the sharpest declines were seen among those 60 and older and those with income under $50,000.

The gloomy future outlook of those 60 and older may be influenced by the flurry of recent news stories about today’s deadline for Social Security changes enacted by Congress last fall. While few seniors are directly affected by closing the file-and-suspend loophole, many find it unsettling to realize that Congress can make changes to the bedrock of retiree income.

The unemployment rate in Florida declined again in March from 5.0 to 4.9 percent according to the latest employment report. The number of jobs added in March statewide was 234,300 compared to a year ago, but that figure was only up 3,000 compared to the previous month.

“Notably, this is the smallest monthly gain since May 2012,” Sandoval said.

The industry gaining the most jobs was professional and business services, followed by education and health services, and the trade, transportation and utilities industry.

In the week ending April 16, the number of people in the U.S. filing for unemployment insurance fell to its lowest level since November 1973. The latest information for Florida also shows an important reduction in the initial claim of unemployment benefits during April. Furthermore, the four-week moving average, which smooths the weekly variation, displays the same pattern. The weekly claims of unemployment insurance typically reflect what is presently going on in the economy.

“Labor market conditions in Florida continue to be favorable in general, hence the expectation was for a slight increase in consumer sentiment rather than a reversal,” Sandoval said.

Conducted April 1-24, the UF study reflects the responses of 417 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data

Society & Culture
/articles/2016/04/commencement-2016-endings-and-beginnings.php

Commencement 2016: Endings and beginnings

April 29, 2016
Alisson Clark

Campus Life

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