Harn Museum brings Frida into focus

July 7, 2016
UF News
Harn Museum, Frida Kahlo, photography

The intensity of Frida Kahlo’s gaze made her one of the most photographed women of her generation.

Now the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida has gathered 57 of those images by more than two dozen photographers, from professionals such as Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston to family and friends.

Kahlo at 18, photographed by her father.

A photo taken by her father after a 1932 bus accident that left her with lifelong pain inspired the famed Mexican painter to adopt her trademark stare.

Looking at the photo, “I knew that a battlefield of suffering was in my eyes,” she once said. “From then on, I started looking straight at the lens, unflinching, unsmiling, determined to show that I was a good fighter to the end.”

The exhibition Mirror, Mirror … Portraits of Frida Kahlo runs through Nov. 27 and includes photographs on loan from Throckmorton Fine Art, Hillary Craven James and Christopher James and Hector Puig. The photographs portray both the crafted façade and rare candid moments.

The exhibition includes a drawing and painting by Kahlo, the PBS film “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” and ancient and contemporary Mexican ceramics and sculpture from a local collector and the Harn’s collection. The ceramic works and sculpture represent her love for collecting similar works, which can be seen in the backgrounds of several photographs in the exhibition. Exhibition information and wall labels are also available in Spanish. For the full schedule of gallery talks, family programs and tours, including programs in Spanish, visit http://www.harn.ufl.edu/fridakahlo.

Admission to the museum and the exhibition is free.

Society & Culture

Most Americans believe we should have gun regulation; here’s why those who don’t are winning the debate.

July 5, 2016
Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand

Ann Christiano, Frank Karel chair in public interest communications at the University of Florida, and UF Ph.D. candidate in sociology Annie Neimand ask the question: Can two such disparate groups come to agreement on the issue of gun control?

There is a segment of the American population who believes passionately that guns are critical for personal protection against both violent individuals and governmental intrusion. They believe nothing should prevent them from getting the guns they need to do that.

There is another, larger group of Americans who believes passionately that we have created an environment that makes it far too easy for those who intend to kill to have access to all the firepower they want.

How could groups who hold these disparate views ever agree?

What’s more: If most Americans believe we should have some gun regulation, why are those who don’t winning the debate?

People on each side agree the threat from violence is real, but support different responses to that threat – either regulate the sale of guns or make sure a gun is in the hand of every good guy.

Winning hearts and minds

According to Pew Research Center, “50 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership, just slightly more than the 47 percent who say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.” However, 92 percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks for gun buyers. These numbers reveal a country deeply conflicted about the role guns play in keeping us safe.

No one wants to see more lives lost, and both sides make a case for public safety. Yet the discussion in support of commonsense gun laws tends to be shrouded in numbers, infographics, case studies and stories of lives lost, while those opposed make their case with powerful messages about threats to personal safety and liberty – messages that tap into cultural significance they associate with guns, as well as how they see themselves and their world.

Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, says in his book The Righteous Mind that people form beliefs not through careful consideration of evidence but with gut emotional reactions to experience. They seek facts that justify their beliefs.

This means that people’s beliefs about gun control are founded not in their careful consideration of available data, but in how they see the world.

At the University of Florida, we’re building a curriculum and an emerging discipline called public interest communications that will help movement builders do their work more effectively. We bring together scholars, change makers and funders at an annual gathering called frank where people share the best of what they know about how to drive positive social change that reflects what the science tells us is in the public’s interest.

Effective, strategic communication in the public’s interest must be based in research. We spend our time digging for the best science that can help people driving change do so better.

One of the major themes that we have found in literature across a range of disciplines is the importance of cultural worldviews in building support for an issue.

Moral and social psychologists have studied how worldviews – cultural values, norms and how an individual sees the world – affect people’s perspectives on politically charged issues like gun control. What they are finding is that your worldviews – more than your race, your gender, if and how you pray, how much money you have, where you’re from or how you vote – are the single most accurate predictor of how you feel about guns.

Different worldviews

Researchers have discovered that people who are more liberal tend to support solutions framed with language of equality and protection from harm.

People who are more conservative tend to support solutions when they are presented in the context of protection for themselves and their families, respect for authority and preserving what is sacred.

This gulf isn’t limited to gun control. It holds up across a range of issues from climate change to marriage equality to health care.

In one study, Donald Braman and Dan Kahan wanted to see if cultural worldviews influenced beliefs about who should have access to guns.

They built two scales to measure participants’ worldviews:

The first assessed how much participants were inclined toward

• a hierarchical worldview, defined by deference to and respect for authority, or
• an egalitarian worldview, defined by distrust of social hierarchies and support for social equality.

The second scale assessed how inclined participants were toward

• an individualist worldview, defined by reverence for individual self-reliance, or
• a solidaric worldview, defined by valuing the good of a community over individual opportunity.

Once they understood participants’ worldviews, the researchers examined the influence of those views, as well as factors like religion and geography, on their attitudes toward gun control. They asked questions like whether participants supported a law that would require people to get permits before they could buy guns.

Not surprisingly, those who were more egalitarian and solidaric were more likely to support gun control. Those who were more respectful of authority were twice as likely to oppose gun control. Those who were more individualistic were four times as likely to oppose gun control.

Here is the important part: the participants’ views on authority or their individualism were three times more significant than their faith, fear of crime or where they were from. And cultural worldviews were four times more powerful than political affiliation.

While cultural worldviews are not the sole predictor of gun control beliefs, they may influence them more than anything else does. What’s important here is that we cannot make assumptions that people who oppose gun control belong to a particular faith, religion, politics or region. Looking at cultural worldviews offers a more promising approach.

In another study from Braman and Kahan, they make the case that arguments based in empirical claims for public safety are destined to fail because they don’t tap into the symbolic meaning people associate with guns.

They write:

Guns (at least for some) resonate as symbols of ‘freedom’ and ‘self-reliance,’ associations that make opposition to gun control cohere with an individualist orientation … While control opponents see guns as celebrating individual self-sufficiency, control supporters see them as denigrating solidarity: guns are often equated with a hyper masculine or ‘macho’ personal style that many individuals, male as well as female, resent.

In other words, the gun debate is destined to stagnate as long as those waving their empirical evidence in the air continue to ignore the symbolic meaning guns have for so many Americans.

A positive example

Here’s an example of how one cause got it right: When Brian Sheehan, director of Ireland’s Gay Lesbian Equality Network, developed a strategy that led Ireland to be the first country to support marriage equality, he and his team didn’t root their message in the values of the people who already supported the issue – values like equality, fairness and social justice. Instead, they built a campaign for a particular audience that would be fundamental to passing the marriage equality referendum: middle-aged, straight men. They crafted a message centered in this particular group’s values of equal citizenship and family. Last May, Irish voters passed marriage equality by nearly two to one, making marriage equality real in a country where – just a decade earlier – it was a crime.

Imagine what the world could be like if we approached change by understanding the mindset of those who we hope to affect and engage them by talking about what matters to them. Could such an approach allow us to move forward as a society on the issues that will define us – even one as controversial and emotional as gun control?
This article originally appeared in The Conversation on July 4, 2016.

Society & Culture

What really killed the dinosaurs?

July 5, 2016
Gigi Marino

UF researcher looks at ancient temperatures to resolve a scientific debate

University of Florida geochemist Andrea Dutton and colleagues at the University of Michigan have utilized a new technique of analysis to reconstruct Antarctic ocean temperatures that support the idea that the combined impacts of volcanic eruptions and an asteroid impact brought about one of Earth’s biggest mass extinctions 66 million years ago.

Their research, published in the journal “Nature Communications,” used a recently developed technique called the carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometer to analyze the chemical composition of fossil shells in the Antarctic Ocean. This analysis shows that ocean temperatures rose approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and links these findings to two previously documented warming events that occurred near the end of the Cretaceous Period: one related to volcanic eruptions in India, and the other, tied to the impact of an asteroid or comet on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

To create their new temperature record, which spans 3.5 million years at the end of the Cretaceous and the start of the Paleogene Period, the researchers analyzed the isotopic composition of 29 remarkably well-preserved shells of clam-like bivalves collected on Antarctica's Seymour Island.

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg.) boundary is widely associated with the mass extinction that occurred 66 million years ago. It is actually a physical boundary usually marked by a thin band of rock found in geological structures all around the world. Scientists have shown that the K-Pg boundary contains iridium, also found in asteroids, meteorites and comets, bolstering the theory that an asteroid killed most of the creatures of the Cretaceous Period.

As a graduate student herself at the University of Michigan, Dutton studied the fossilized remains of Seymour Island bivalves with the hope of reconstructing past climate change across this critical interval of time. However, the only experimental evidence available at the time revealed a combined signal of temperature and salinity of the coastal waters, without being able to isolate the temperature signal on its own.

“Now, years later, everyone is using this new tool called clumped isotope paleothermometery, which is a bit different than the traditional method,” said Dutton. “This technique is only a function of temperature. Salinity has nothing to do with it. We’re looking at the clumping of oxygen isotopes rather than the relative amount of oxygen isotopes in the shell, and this is helping us re-interpret the data.”

The data show two significant temperature spikes. The first corresponds to the eruption of the Deccan traps flood basalts. The other lines up exactly with the asteroid impact, which, in turn, may have sparked a renewed phase of volcanism in India. Intriguingly, both events are associated with extinction events of nearly equal magnitude on Seymour Island, Antarctica.

“…We have evidence on this site on Seymour Island in Antarctica that climate change is linked to both of these extinction events, right before the boundary and right at the boundary,” said Dutton. “If you look at what types of species that went extinct during the first extinction pulse, they’re different than the types that went extinct during the second pulse. That indicates that it may have been a different kill mechanism for those two different extinction pulses. It’s quite likely both the volcanism and the asteroid were to blame for the ultimate mass extinction. The Deccan Traps weakened the ecosystems before the asteroid slammed into the Earth— it’s consistent with an idea called the press-pulse hypothesis: a ‘one-two punch’ that proved devastating for life on Earth.”

Science & Wellness

A record-breaking year for moving UF technologies to market

July 6, 2016
Meghan Meyer

The University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing signed a record 122 licenses and options and launched 17 startup companies in fiscal year 2015-16, topping last year’s total of 85 licenses by 43 percent. Officials cited a favorable economic climate, more than $700 million in university research and hard work by an experienced tech transfer staff as reasons for the increase.

“Our top-ranked tech transfer operation is driving economic development and cycling royalty dollars back into research,” said David Norton, vice president for research. “More importantly, it’s moving the research out of the lab and into the world.”

It was a big year for UF startups, including the gene-therapy company AGTC, which UF’s technology transfer staff helped found nearly two decades ago. Back then, big pharmaceutical companies didn’t see the financial upside to researcher Nicholas Muzyczka’s adeno-associated virus technology. A smaller startup company needed to show the technology’s potential before patients could benefit. In July, the NASDAQ-listed company, based in Alachua, became the first UF startup to land a billion-dollar deal when it announced a collaboration with the global biotech company Biogen to further develop gene-based therapies for rare eye diseases.

Other startups, such as Banyan Biomarkers, made news as well. Banyan is on the cusp of bringing a blood test for traumatic brain injury to emergency rooms, which could make diagnosis of concussions as standard as that of a heart attack. Earlier this year, the company entered a joint development agreement with Royal Philips to develop and commercialize the test.

“The success of our startups is a huge validation of UF’s efforts in science and of technology transfer,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “Research discoveries don’t just automatically become therapies that save lives or products that improve our standard of living. It takes research excellence, superb tech transfer professionals and the right commercial partners. We’re fortunate to have that winning combination at UF.”

According to the most recent statistics from the Association of University Technology Managers, UF ranked eighth in the nation for startups in the 2013-14 fiscal year (16), and seventh for licenses and options completed with companies commercializing researchers’ discoveries (147 – includes agreements by UF OTL and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences). The organization has not yet compiled data for the past fiscal year.

“This is an astonishing set of numbers that far surpasses our previous high-water mark,” said David Day, UF Assistant Vice President and Director of the Office of Technology Licensing. “It is a credit to the outstanding people at the University of Florida: the brilliant scientists and the best tech transfer team in the world.”

About UF OTL

The Office of Technology Licensing at the University of Florida was established in 1985 to work with inventors to facilitate the transfer of technologies created at UF to industry partners who turn the discoveries into products that are changing the world. Technology licensing staff work with UF faculty members who disclose an average of 300-plus new discoveries generated from more than $700 million in research annually.

See more UF startups at http://research.ufl.edu/otl/for-investors-and-entrepreneurs/engage-with-uf-startups.html

Global Impact

Setting the Gold Standard

July 6, 2016
Rachel Wayne

UF chemistry professor is first to use light to make gold crystal nanoparticles

A team of University of Florida researchers has figured out how gold can be used in crystals grown by light to create nanoparticles, a discovery that has major implications for industry and cancer treatment and could improve the function of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and solar panels.

Nanoparticles can be “grown” in crystal formations with special use of light, in a process called plasmon-driven synthesis. However, scientists have had limited control unless they used silver, but silver limits the uses for medical technology. The team is the first to successfully use gold, which works well within the human body, with this process.

“How does light actually play a role in the synthesis? [This knowledge] was not well developed,” said David Wei, an associate professor of chemistry who led the research team. “Gold was the model system to demonstrate this.”

Gold is highly desired for nanotechnology because it is malleable, does not react with oxygen and conducts heat well. Those properties make gold an ideal material for nanoparticles, especially those that will be placed in the body.

When polyvinylpyrrolidone, or PVP, a substance commonly found in pharmaceutical tablets, is used in the plasmon-driven synthesis, it enables scientists to better control the growth of crystals. In Wei’s research, PVP surprised the team by showing its potential to relay light-generated “hot” electrons to a gold surface to grow the crystals.

The research describes the first plasmonic synthesis strategy that can make high-yield gold nanoprisms. Even more exciting, the team has demonstrated that visible-range and low-power light can be used in the synthesis. Combined with nanoparticles being used in solar photovoltaic devices, this method can even harness solar energy for chemical synthesis, to make nanomaterials or for general applications in chemistry.

Wei has spent the last decade working in nanotechnology. He is intrigued by its applications in photochemistry and biomedicine, especially in targeted drug delivery and photothermal therapeutics, which is crucial to cancer treatment. His team includes collaborators from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where he has worked as a visiting scholar, and Brookhaven National Laboratory. In addition, the project has provided an educational opportunity for chemistry students: one high school student (through UF’s Student Science Training Program), two University scholars who also funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, five graduate students and two postdocs.

The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Science Research and National Science Foundation. The findings were published online on July 4 in Nature Materials.

Science & Wellness

Cicadas are the Barry White of the insect world

July 11, 2016
UF News
entomology, cicadas, Florida Museum of Natural History, biodiversity

Summer days resonate with the sound of cicadas trying to make a love connection. But like a lot of singles, male cicadas don’t always attract the kind of mates they’re hoping for.

Cicada calls, it turns out, attract not just female cicadas, but sarcophagid flies in the mood for love, according to a study by Brian J. Stucky, a post-doctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

Here’s where it gets weird. The love song also attracts pregnant sarcophagid flies looking to deposit maggots that burrow into the cicada and feed on its insides until they eat their way out. The cicada, as you might expect, does not survive.

Previous studies have found that female parasitic flies sometimes use sound to find their hosts, but Stucky was surprised to find that both female and male flies were attracted to cicada calls. He investigated the role sound played by broadcasting cicada calls, then observing flies arriving and hanging out. Some of the female arrivals were pregnant, but many were not, so finding a host for their larvae was not the only goal. Indeed, males and females both demonstrated they had procreation in mind. Males repeatedly attempted to mate with other arriving flies, including other males, and some managed to do so with females.

Stucky reaffirmed his observations by catching and counting flies that responded to the cicada calls in three different traps, with varying durations and volumes of the cicada signals. All told, he captured 110 flies, about 75 percent of which were females, including several that were not carrying larvae and thus not looking to find a host. He reasoned that the flies had come to mate when they heard and flew to the cicada sound. Otherwise, the trip would have been a waste of time and energy.

The study suggests that hearing plays a more complicated role in insects than researchers might have thought, Stucky said.

"Hearing may have originated as a means of finding a host but has become useful in another way as well."

Science & Wellness

A Mixed Response: Floodwaters return to the Colorado River but can release greenhouse gases

July 7, 2016
UF News

Deliberately flooding riverbeds left parched by dams has great potential to restore wetlands, but may also have a significant unintended consequence: the release of greenhouse gases.

Despite the findings, the pros of returning rivers to their natural courses and flows generally outweigh the cons, but government officials should consider the research when deciding when and how to alter river flows, said Thomas S. Bianchi, a professor of geological sciences at University of Florida and lead author on the study.

“We need to understand this as it relates to the global carbon budget,” Bianchi said.

If you've ever seen an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and can imagine 52,000 of them, you might begin to appreciate the amount of water that was released into the dried-out lower river delta of the Colorado River, as part of an agreement between the U.S and Mexico.  Although this may sound like a lot of water, it is still less than 1 percent of what used to flow down the Colorado before all the dams were built on it.

The overall flooding experiment was supported by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey), International Boundary and Water Commission/ Comisión Internacional de Límites y Agua (IBWC/CILA), and many foundations and donors. Dr. Thomas S. Bianchi, professor at UF, worked in coordination with Dr. Karl Flessa and his graduate student Hector Zamora at the University of Arizona, who led the sampling effort over the eight-week experiment. Bianchi’s group, funded by National Science Foundation- Hydrological Sciences, which included his graduate student Rory Kates and postdocs Drs. Nicholas Ward and Ana Arellano, along with Dr. David Butman at the University of Washington, and Dr. Peter Raymond at Yale University, focused on how the chemistry of the floodwaters changed over time. They found that re-wetting the dried riverbed contributed to the release of dissolved carbon and greenhouse gases (CH4 [methane] CO2 [carbon] dioxide) to the floodwaters. These increases were largely attributed to the release of these gases from the dry riverbed to the floodwaters and presumably to the atmosphere. The age of dissolved carbon coming out from the riverbed was also established using radiometric carbon dating, and indicated that some of carbon may have been stored belowground for thousands of years, and now released by the infiltration of floodwaters.

River management is conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation and IBWC/CILA and the pulse flow was released pursuant to Minute 319 of the U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty of 1944. Bianchi and his team examined how the rapid and controlled release of 130 million cubic meters of water, from the Colorado River at the Morelos Dam on the border of the United States and Mexico, mobilized carbon. The “pulse” of water temporarily flooded the delta, which had been dry for decades.

The Colorado River currently supplies water to 40 million people living in the rivershed. Heavy demand for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes has drained the river, which now only rarely reaches the ocean. This drainage created a dry delta near the U.S.–Mexican border, which allowed invasive plants to edge out native flora and disturbed wildlife habitat. The wetlands of the delta have been reduced to 5 percent of their original size since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Restoring water and sediments to the delta would help restore biodiversity to the region, supply water for agriculture, and rebuild the delta, which could help mitigate storm erosion along the coast.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, help to trap the heat on Earth from natural radiation of the sun. Increasing levels of this atmospheric carbon have contributed to global warming. Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by about 30 percent and 50 percent, respectively, since the industrial revolution. So, there remains considerable interest in understanding what controls the cycles of these gases.

Carbon dioxide is one type of inorganic carbon compound: when dissolved in water, it forms carbonic acid, which is known for its use in soda water and sparkling juice, but environmentally, contributes to ocean acidification when high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolve into the seas. Methane, an organic carbon compound, is trapped in water but easily dissipates as a gas produced by decaying organic matter.

When a large dry riverbed is flooded, these greenhouse gases are released into the water, and presumably to the atmosphere. However, re-wetting the delta may support the growth of native plants, which typically are better able to absorb and store carbon than invasive species, and may offset the carbon dioxide and methane released by flooding.

In short, Bianchi’s team and other scientists working on rivers are interested in assessing the costs and benefits of floods and droughts on natural ecosystems, particularly in a world where the climate and water cycles have become more unpredictable, in part due to global warming. Future research may examine how the duration of the flood affects water chemistry, how controlled flooding may support coastal stability and local fisheries, and how flood pulses compare to establishing a steady minimum water flow to the delta.

Science & Wellness

Extortion extinction: Researchers develop a way to stop ransomware

July 7, 2016
Steve Orlando

Ransomware – what hackers use to encrypt your computer files and demand money in exchange for freeing those contents – is an exploding global problem with few solutions, but a team of University of Florida researchers says it has developed a way to stop it dead in its tracks.

The answer, they say, lies not in keeping it out of a computer but rather in confronting it once it’s there and, counterintuitively, actually letting it lock up a few files before clamping down on it.

“Our system is more of an early-warning system. It doesn’t prevent the ransomware from starting ... it prevents the ransomware from completing its task … so you lose only a couple of pictures or a couple of documents rather than everything that’s on your hard drive, and it relieves you of the burden of having to pay the ransom,” said Nolen Scaife, a UF doctoral student and founding member of UF’s Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research.

Scaife is part of the team that has come up with the ransomware solution, which it calls CryptoDrop.

Ransomware attacks have become one of the most urgent problems in the digital world. The FBI issued a warning in May saying the number of attacks has doubled in the past year and is expected to grow even more rapidly this year.

It said it received more than 2,400 complaints last year and estimated losses from such attacks at $24 million last year for individuals and businesses.

Attackers are typically shadowy figures from other countries lurking on the Dark Web and difficult, if not impossible, to find. Victims include not only individuals but also governments, industry, health care providers, educational institutions and financials entities.

Attacks most often show up in the form of an email that appears to be from someone familiar. The recipient clicks on a link in the email and unknowingly unleashes malware that encrypts his or her data. The next thing to appear is a message demanding the ransom, typically anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

“It’s an incredibly easy way to monetize a bad use of software,” said Patrick Traynor, an associate professor in UF’s department of  computer and information science and engineering at UF and also a member of the Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research. He and Scaife worked together on developing CryptoDrop.

Some companies have simply resigned themselves to that inevitability and budgeted money to cover ransoms, which usually must be paid in Bitcoin, a digital currency that defies tracing.

Ransomware attacks are effective because, quite simply, they work.

Antivirus software is successful at stopping them when it recognizes ransomware malware, but therein lies the problem.

“These attacks are tailored and unique every time they get installed on someone’s system,” Scaife said. “Antivirus is really good at stopping things it’s seen before … That’s where our solution is better than traditional anti-viruses. If something that’s benign starts to behave maliciously, then what we can do is take action against that based on what we see is happening to your data. So we can stop, for example, all of your pictures form being encrypted.”

Scaife, Traynor and colleagues Kevin Butler at UF and Henry Carter at Villanova University lay out the solution in a paper accepted for publication at the IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems and presented June 29 in Nara, Japan.

The results, they said, were impressive.

“We ran our detector against several hundred ransomware samples that were live,” Scaife said, “and in those case it detected 100 percent of those malware samples and it did so after only a median of 10 files were encrypted.”

And CryptoDrop works seamlessly with antivirus software.

“About one-tenth of 1 percent of the files were lost,” Traynor said, “but the advantage is that it’s flexible. We don’t have to wait for that anti-virus update. If you have a new version of your ransomware, our system can detect that.”

The team currently has a functioning prototype that works with Windows-based systems and is seeking a partner to commercialize it and make it available publicly.

Science & Wellness

Are Florida’s utilities ready for the next big storm?

July 8, 2016
Public Utility Research Center
hurricanes, Florida, storm preparedness, utilities

As the director of energy studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, Ted Kury helps utility providers and policymakers decide how to best prepare for severe storms. With the first storm of the 2016 hurricane season in the books, Kury weighed in on how well utility companies have prepared, what homeowners can do and why we don’t just put all of our power lines underground.

How would you rate Florida utilities’ preparedness for a major hurricane?

Given the uncertainty that’s out there, I would say they are as prepared as they can be. I don’t really know that there is anything more that we can do from a preparedness standpoint. The utilities have been reporting to the Public Service Commission, which regulates Florida utilities, every year for the last 10 years now. They just finished their review of their new storm hardening plans for this season and they always complete it before storm season starts. They’re ready.

What precautions have the state or state’s utilities taken to prepare for the next major hurricane?

Following the hurricane season in 2004 and 2005, the state Public Service Commission convened a workshop involving utilities, consumer advocates and stakeholders around the state in order to establish what can and what should be done to better prepare Florida for the future. As a result of the series of workshops, the Public Service Commission issued an order that basically established a procedure that utilities would have to follow, data that they were going to have to make available for the commission, and reports that they were going to have to give to the commission. They also established an annual proceeding where the utilities would come to Tallahassee to talk to each other and the commission about the steps they have taken in the past year, how effective those steps were, and what they plan for the future. The utilities also formed a collaborative group that would work together to address some of the questions that were maybe difficult for the utilities to address by themselves. That is most of the work that PURC is centered on. We have been the centerpiece for that collaborative effort.

How will these precautions help utility consumers?

Well, they are going to help utility consumers in a couple ways: First, to make the system more resilient so that people will see either fewer outages, or when outages occur they will be shorter. So people will benefit primarily through improved service in storm times; however; there is an insulator benefit as well. By running everything through the regulator, the utilities are assured that the improvements that they are making to the system are cost effective for the benefits that the customers are receiving. You could make the system a lot more resilient by spending a lot more money, but this may not provide value to the customer.

In your research on the viability of different methods of storm hardening, what was most surprising?

I think it might be surprising to anyone but an economist, who tends to see two sides of any issue. The major finding was that there are no easy answers. I think maybe we always suspected that but the research really proves that out. There is no one strategy that works all the time; there is no one tactic that you could employ that is foolproof in any situation. Every tool that you employ has strengths associated with it and weaknesses associated with it. That is why it is so important that the regulator and the utilities always consider the cost and benefit of the action because they both want the same thing: to provide the best possible service at the most reasonable costs to the end consumer. To that end there isn’t one thing that always works. There are lots of things you can do. We have held workshops on refining vegetation management practices and learned a lot about the ways utilities maintain their system. We have done a lot of work on undergrounding of electricity lines and learned a lot about the costs and benefits of those tactics. There isn’t one of them that is a silver bullet for the problem, they are all tools that can be used to mitigate risks, but they don’t eliminate it.

A major debate is whether or not to underground electric wires, a topic you have researched heavily. What are the pros and cons of that move?

The major advantage of undergrounding your electricity lines is that it better insulates the system from damage from wind-related events; however, that is not the only threat to the system. So while mitigating the potential damage from wind related events, that’s important. We have to remember that in hurricanes there are other types of damages as well. Hurricanes also cause storm surge, they cause flooding. So relocating your distribution lines underground, while it may help prevent it from wind-related damage, it makes it more vulnerable to water incursion from flooding and from storm surge and it comes at a cost. So you want to make sure that when you are undergrounding lines, you are undergrounding lines in places where wind damage is more of a concern, flooding and storm surge is less of a concern because what you are trying to do is provide the best possible service you can at the lowest possible cost. So you don’t go around just undergrounding everything because that would certainly increase cost and, depending on where you are, it might actually decrease the reliably of your service. There are no easy answers. The one thing we learned from all the research is that it really depends. The viability of an undergrounding project depends heavily on where it is, what types of measures are you taking, and what are the threats to the system. 

How would moving Florida’s wires underground impact consumers?

The most obvious way it is going to impact them is it is going to make service more expensive. So it is important that if you are going to increase costs to consumers you better make sure it is going to  increase reliability and that the increase in reliability is worth it to the customer. The utility and the regulators are always working on that balance. You can increase reliability but it increases costs.  So what translates to actual value for the customer?

What can homeowners do to reduce power outages during hurricane season?

Consumers can maintain their vegetation and make sure it is not a threat to nearby utility equipment. The utilities themselves may not have the rights or the ability to maintain some of the vegetation around their equipment. So in areas where that’s true, the customer should do all that they can do to maintain it. That is the surest way to ensure that you are doing everything you can to help your own utility service.

Global Impact

Money magazine ranks UF 6th among publics in annual Best Colleges list

July 12, 2016
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida has jumped significantly from last year in Money magazine’s ranking of “Best Colleges for Your Money,” coming in at sixth among public institutions and 15th overall among publics and privates.

Last year, UF ranked eighth among public and 30th overall.

“I am pleased to see that the University of Florida has been recognized once again for not only being such an excellent value, but also for providing an outstanding education,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “We are clearly in good company, and our students, faculty, staff and alumni have much to be proud of.”

Public universities that ranked higher than UF were:

  • University of Michigan (1)
  • University of California, Berkeley (2)
  • University of Virginia (3)
  • Texas A&M (4)
  • University of California, San Diego (5)

UF was also the highest ranked university in Florida. Other Florida schools and their ranks were:

  • Florida State University (197)
  • University of South Florida (356)
  • University of Central Florida (408)
  • University of North Florida (564)
  • Florida International University (572)
  • University of West Florida (616)

Money listed 705 schools that it ranked on 24 factors that included in three categories, each carrying one-third weighting:

  • Quality of education – graduation rates, instructor quality, peer quality
  • Affordability – Net price of degree, debt, value
  • Outcomes – Graduate earnings, career services, job meaning

Money magazine reporter Kim Clark singled out UF in her story, writing:

“Low debt is one reason the University of Florida ranks No. 15 this year. Its students graduated with an average debt of $15,000—$8,000 less than is average for other schools on the list and $15,000 less than the typical college grad.”

Campus Life

Hungry parents may feed their kids more, UF study finds

July 12, 2016
Jill Pease

The hungrier parents are at mealtimes, a new study shows, the more they may feed their young children, which could have implications for childhood obesity.

In a small pilot study of 29 children ages 3 to 6 and their mothers, University of Florida researchers asked the mothers to rate their hunger as well as their child’s hunger prior to a meal. Among women who were overweight or obese, those who rated their own hunger higher also perceived their child’s hunger as higher, and in turn, served their child larger portions of food. The findings appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Because young children have difficulty recognizing when they are full, the more food they are presented at mealtime, the more they are likely to eat,” said lead investigator Sarah Stromberg, a clinical psychology doctoral student in the department of clinical and health psychology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, part of UF Health.

The study was designed to determine what factors might impact how much food parents are serving their young children.

“If we can start to identify those factors we might be able intervene to help parents develop more appropriate portion sizes for younger kids, which hopefully can lead to a longer life of healthy eating habits,” said senior author David Janicke, Ph.D., a professor of clinical and health psychology.

Stromberg and Janicke said that because of the small sample size, their study findings are preliminary. Future research should be conducted with a larger group of participants and should track the calories consumed by children throughout the day, not just at one meal, as was done in the UF study. In addition, researchers should observe parents and children in a home environment eating the foods they normally serve, rather than the free, buffet-style meal offered by the researchers.

“I think this study was a good starting point and ultimately if we’re able to see these findings replicated we can intervene with knowledge, awareness and strategies to help parents and kids work together to limit how much kids are being served,” Janicke said.

Previous research has found that parents with depression and anxiety may be more likely to believe that their children are experiencing the same psychological symptoms. Stromberg and Janicke wanted to examine whether that kind of “projecting” of parents’ feelings onto their children might hold true for perceptions of hunger.

For the study, mother-child pairs were asked to participate in a study of their interactions during play time and a lunch or dinner meal. After 10 minutes of a play activity at a UF lab, mothers were asked to complete a questionnaire that collected demographic information and asked the mother to rate her own hunger and her child’s hunger on a seven-point scale, where 1 was not hungry at all and 7 was extremely hungry. Researchers also collected participants’ height and weight.

Next, researchers brought in a selection of food and drinks and asked the mother to serve her child and herself. The options were chosen for their palatability in young children and included baby carrots, apple slices, cheese slices, crackers, cookies, macaroni and cheese, vegetable lasagna, chicken nuggets, water, 1 percent milk and apple juice. All items were weighed by researchers prior to serving. Throughout the meal, trained coders observed participants through a one-way mirror and recorded the amount of food served and consumed.

Researchers found that for mothers who were heavier, higher ratings of their personal hunger were related to rating their child’s hunger as higher. Those mothers also tended to dish out more food to their children than mothers who were in a healthy weight range.

The researchers also discovered that regardless of a mother’s weight or perceptions of hunger, most of the participants served their child portions that were larger than recommended daily allowances. Mothers served 573 calories, on average, to their child, with children consuming an average of 445 calories. The suggested daily intake for children in the 3- to 6-year-old range is 1,000 to 1,400 calories. Ideally, one meal for a child that age would not exceed 400 calories, Stromberg said.

Resources such as choosemyplate.gov can help parents determine how many calories their children should consume, she said.

“Using those recommendations can help parents be objective when serving their kids and not base portion sizes on their own hunger or how much they are serving themselves,” Stromberg said.

Janicke also suggests that parents let their children help guide them in knowing if their child has had enough to eat.

“Parents decide what to serve their kids and when, but kids still should have a reasonable amount of control over how much they eat,” he said. “If kids eat an appropriate serving size and are still hungry they can ask for more.”

Science & Wellness

Beauty and the beets: Curbing our obsession with perfect produce

July 13, 2016
Alisson Clark
food waste, ugly fruit, produce, UF/IFAS

When Jeff Brecht was five, a hailstorm left marks on the plums growing on his uncle’s farm in California. The plums were edible – in fact, they tasted wonderful – but no store would buy them.

Brecht, now a plant physiologist at the University of Florida, studies the best ways to get produce from farm to fork in good condition. The hailstorm was his first encounter with the waste created by the demand for perfect-looking produce, but it certainly wasn’t his last.

Waste happens at farms, where vegetables with less-than-ideal shapes or colors go unpicked. It happens when grocery stores choose fruit that’s uniformly ripe instead of offering a range of ripeness. And it happens in our homes, when we discover that much of the produce we purchased looks better than it tastes. (Had a Red Delicious apple lately? Chances are it was red, but not delicious.)

So how can you avoid wasting food and money? Brecht offers five tips:

Choose varieties bred for taste

“For generations, breeders chose disease-resistance over flavor,” said Brecht, the director of the Center for Food Distribution & Retailing in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “I firmly believe that if modern produce varieties tasted better, people would eat more of them.”

Beauty can be the enemy of flavor: The color synthesis that creates a deep red apple, for instance, undermines the aromatics that make it taste good. But a delicious Red Delicious isn’t extinct. Look for the streaked strains of the variety grown in Michigan, North Carolina and New York, Brecht says. Customer demand for flavor-first products can shape stores’ decisions, as demonstrated by the success of the UF-developed Tasti-Lee tomato, which was bred to return vine-ripened flavor to grocery-store shelves.

Go ugly

Cosmetic defects cause up to 20 percent of the fruit and vegetable United States harvest to go to waste. If that bothers you, try shopping closer to the farm. Farms and farmers’ markets might even give you a discount on fruit that tastes better than it looks. Some European grocery stores have begun selling ugly fruit at discount prices, and the California-based chain Raley’s debuted a similar pilot program. It couldn’t hurt to make a request at your local market, Brecht says. “If there are enough people saying they wouldn’t mind buying ugly fruit, some retail chains might try it.”

Appreciate fleeting flavors

The quest for perfection extends to the shopping experience – retailers want to provide the items customers are looking for wherever and whenever they want them. But better flavor can mean reduced availability. (If you want produce that tastes the way you remember it, you might have to accept that you probably won’t get great-tasting cherries in January.) Retailers also like to provide predictability from store to store, meaning they gravitate to suppliers who can send a massive shipment of similar produce to an entire region. Some stores, such as Publix, are embracing limited-availability items, enabling them to buy smaller batches of produce that’s particularly tasty even if it supplies 100 stores instead of 1,000. So instead of being annoyed when you can’t find tree-ripened peaches every time you shop, you might want to thank the produce manager for having them at all.

Watch your waste

Because Americans spend such a small percentage of their income on food relative to other countries, we tend to discard it without feeling much guilt: We know we can buy better, fresher produce inexpensively. The next time you’re about to toss produce that’s looking a little shriveled or overripe, consider tossing it into a smoothie instead of the trash. Tracking how much food you waste can also be eye-opening: The USDA estimates that about 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten.

Buy closer to home

Buying produce grown in your area can provide better-tasting food with less waste. That’s partly because food that travels a long way to get to market is often picked before it’s ripe, which doesn’t deliver the best flavor.

“Peaches from Chile, for example, have been on a boat for weeks before they get to you. That requires that the fruit spend less time on the tree, when photosynthesis would normally be sending sugar from the leaves to the fruit,” Brecht explains.

And while suppliers try to control the temperature of the produce from field to store, fruit that gets too warm or cool might not be at its best. A melon that’s been chilled too much won’t produce the aroma volatiles that contribute to its taste. (A dead give-away: If a melon doesn’t have melon aroma at the store, it will never taste good. The same goes for peaches.) A shorter supply chain reduces the likelihood that temperature damage will cause the produce to spoil early or lose its flavor.

“When you buy something the day it’s harvested, cooling doesn’t matter so much,” Brecht said. It will also last longer once you bring it home than produce that’s been on a world tour – meaning you’re more likely to enjoy it before it’s past its prime.

Global Impact

Comic Relief

July 15, 2016
UF News

Welcome to Jim Liversidge’s world, where Superman is a villain, a twice-defeated presidential contender is a hero and American history can be gleaned from Disney characters.

Liversidge is curator of the Suzy Covey Comic Book Collection at the University of Florida’s Smathers Library. The small (10,000 pieces) but growing collection directly supports the Comic Studies Program in UF’s Department of English.

“Comic books are important,” Liversidge said, “because they reflect our culture. They reflect our society. They reflect our history.”

Campus Life

Finding Dory: UF researchers discover first-ever method to farm Pacific blue tang

July 20, 2016
Beverly James

Finally, it may be possible for regular folks to find their own Dory.

Researchers with the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin have for the first time successfully raised in captivity the Pacific blue tang, the colorful fish that now stars in a Disney movie. The breakthrough means aquarium hobbyists and marine life exhibits may soon have a source for blue tangs that doesn’t rely on wild captured fish.

“We worked with Rising Tide Conservation and the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to find a way to successfully breed Pacific blue tangs. It was a delicate, time-intensive endeavor, but one that has paid off,” said Craig Watson, director of the UF Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, which is part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The project began about six years ago, when Watson was approached by Judy St. Leger from Rising Tide Conservation, Watson said. The program’s primary goal is to develop production technologies for key marine ornamental species, including Pacific blue tang, he said.

Over the next six years, Rising Tide Conservation assembled a team of scientists from the UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center and the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University to get the fish to survive past a week.

 “Without the support of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and the overall pet industry, the advances of Rising Tide would not be possible,” St. Leger said. “We chose these program researchers because they showed commitment to advancing culture of the most difficult fish.”

The scientists placed newly hatched Pacific blue tang — which are just over 1 millimeter long, transparent and have no eyes or mouth – in a tank for three days while the fish larvae absorbed their yolk.

“During that first three days, the Pacific blue tangs develop eyes and a mouth. If the food for the parents isn’t just right, the yolk won’t be enough, or of the right consistency to carry the larvae through,” Watson explained. “Water quality, including temperature, is critical, and if anything goes wrong they can be dead in hours.”

The survival rate to Day Four reached as high as 80 percent, Watson said.

“We were very excited to get past that first crucial stage,” he said. But in the past, the fish ultimately would die before the week was out. “The best we achieved was to get a single Blue Tang to survive 21 days post hatch,” Watson said.

In late 2015, Chad Callan and his team in Hawaii successfully raised the first yellow tangs. UF sent biologist Kevin Barden to see first-hand how the Hawaii team reached success, Watson said.

Barden returned to UF and worked with colleagues Eric Cassiano, Matthew DiMaggio and Cortney Ohs to devise a strategy to replicate the procedures done in Hawaii. In May, just weeks before “Finding Dory” hit movie theaters nationwide, the researchers started a run at raising the first ever captive-bred Pacific blue tangs.

“As the weeks ticked by, the fish started behaving and growing like nothing seen before,” Watson said. “And, on Day 52, the first baby “Dory” was photographed with 26 siblings in a greenhouse in Ruskin, Florida. It had finally developed the blue and black color and was thriving in the tank.”

The next step is to help commercial producers replicate UF’s success, Watson said. “Our industry partners are ready to gear up.”

Science & Wellness

Living in a chaotic world: how to keep anxiety at bay

July 21, 2016
David Cheshire

With shootings and explosions and a coup in recent weeks, it's only natural that anxiety would besiege us. David Cheshire, associate professor and licensed psychologist at UF’s College of Medicine, discusses research-tested ways that can help us deal with it.

Ella Fitzgerald sang that “into each life some rain must fall,” but it has felt like torrents of grief have fallen upon us in recent months. We all experience hardships and stress, and we are all very well-acquainted with that pit that forms in our stomach when nervousness takes hold. Many of us are feeling that pit as we process world and national news.

Demands from our personal and professional lives compete for our attention, and all too often the pressures of the day require more than we have to give.

Recent violence and tragedies such as police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Nice truck killings and the attempted coup in Turkey seem to keep mounting. How do we deal with the resulting fear and anxiety? As a psychologist who has spent a great deal of my professional career studying the effects of trauma and grief, I have some knowledge of how to help people deal with the resulting anxiety.

Anxiety can turn debilitating

When the general public discusses the term “anxiety,” the usual meaning is one of unpleasantness related to having some arduous task that will require our resources at the expense of doing something that would bring us more enjoyment, such as sleeping late on the weekend, taking in a movie, or spending time with loved ones.

When the mental health community talks about anxiety, they are generally referring to a more disabling condition where a person’s individual ability to cope with stress becomes overwhelmed, leaving a person paralyzed and incapable of functioning effectively with life’s demands.

Where does this sense of anxiety come from? Is it more prevalent now, in the wake of so many tragedies before our eyes? Though the questions seem so simple, the answers may be extraordinarily difficult to uncover.

Growing tension

Major events, such as a terrorist attack, domestic shootings or natural disaster can exceed our psychological resources and lead to mental health fallout in the form of post-traumatic stress. It is also common for anxiety to be more insidious, with daily stressors slowly mounting over time, gradually becoming so cumbersome and convoluted, that no single episode can account for where the anxiety is originating. Such is also the case with repeated violent events shown in the media; with tragedy after tragedy, cumulative stress builds up incrementally over time, eroding our sense of safety.

In each case, the individual experience of anxiety can range from mildly inconvenient to completely debilitating. The experience of anxiety is an individual phenomenon, based on a multitude of factors, including coping skills, social resources and personality variables.

For people who are working to manage anxiety, additional life stress can be particularly problematic. Imagine a family that is struggling to make ends meet, but each month somehow they are capable of just barely paying all of the bills. Then one day the family car stops working, and the family must weigh the options of putting money into fixing the car at the expense of paying some other bill, or risk not being able to drive to work and risk losing their source of income.

For a family with means, paying for an auto repair may be nothing more than an inconvenience; for a family without means, it may be the difference in being able to stay out of home foreclosure.

In similar fashion, the experience of anxiety is particular to the resources an individual is able to bring forward to cope with distress. For people with adequate coping strategies to meet a demand, which may come in the form of family, friends, spiritual resources, financial resources, etc., the effects of anxiety will likely be much more mitigating versus a person who has few coping resources.

Nonstop news, with much of it bad

Certainly our world has changed with regard to the number of stressful situations to which we are exposed. With a 24-hour news cycle and a public that is hungry for graphic and sensational stories, it is increasingly difficult to shelter ourselves from disturbing news and images.

After 9/11, for example, it simply was not possible to escape the onslaught of information about the terrible events. For people who had little room left in their psychological resources to cope with hardship, 9/11 may very likely have placed them at risk for a full-blown anxiety attack.

The specific symptoms of anxiety vary from one person to the next, but the general pattern is a feeling of unease and worry, an inability to relax often accompanied by sleep disturbance, irritability and edginess. In more extreme examples of anxiety, panic attacks may result, characterized by feelings of racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, cold sweats and terror.

A pivotal study deepened our understanding of protective factors when it comes to life events and our ability to cope with anxiety.

The researchers identified three protective factors for individuals facing life adversity: individual factors, family factors and community factors. Individual factors include such things as personality variables, such as cheerfulness and friendliness. Family factors included having a close bond with at least one caregiver, as well as emotionally healthy environments that provided emotional encouragement and independence.

Community variables included things like supportive schools, churches and neighbors.

The research also found that even when youths are affected adversely by life events, most are able to right the proverbial ship by adulthood and live healthy, productive lives.

Weathering the storm

What then can individuals do to ward off the ill effects associated with anxiety? There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Consider the following ideas to get started with developing a stress-reduction plan:

• Give yourself a break. It is actually okay not be plugged in on the latest atrocity that has happened. If you find yourself reacting negatively to what you see on the news, give yourself permission to turn the television off.

• Plan ahead and keep things realistic. So much of anxiety has to do with ambiguity and uncertainty. Alleviate this by developing a game plan. For example, if your particular brand of anxiety seems to stem when considering finances, actually write down a household budget. You might surprise yourself by being able to come up with creative solutions when everything is laid out in front of you. Remind yourself that the world is generally a safe and friendly place, and don’t isolate yourself from connecting with family, friends and loved ones.

• Stay connected to others. Negative feelings can foster isolation, and isolated people lose the protective factors associated with community. Reach out to others and accept their help if they are willing and able to provide it.

• Keep things simple. Remember, one step at a time. When things get too big and unwieldy, they become unmanageable and seemingly impossible. Any progress is good progress, and focus on your successes when you have them.

• Plan for something fun. Give yourself permission to feel good and enjoy the things in life that make life worth living.

• Consult an expert. There may be people out there who can guide you even if things seem out of control right now. This includes mental health professionals who can help you to build coping resources and learn to relax and let go of the burdens of anxiety.

Unfortunately for all of us in today’s modern world, there’s no shortage of reasons to feel stressed or anxious. But at least there are some simple steps, founded in research, to help us.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on July 21, 2016.

Science & Wellness

The Momentum to Make a Difference

July 26, 2016
UF News

The University of Florida raises a record $402 million for the greater good

Gift commitments to the University of Florida from alumni and friends reached a record $402 million this year, surpassing last year’s record of $315 million and broadening opportunities for students and faculty to have a state, national and global impact.  

The construction of state-of-the-art chemistry and engineering facilities, enhanced access to healthier food on campus, expanded opportunities for UF students to study abroad and medical care for sea turtles are just a few of the reasons donors supported UF programs during the record-breaking fundraising year, which ended June 30.

The unprecedented support from donors is critical to the university’s 10-year strategic plan to strengthen its ability to impact lives across the globe through discovery, service and the endeavors of alumni.

“The Decade Ahead plan, which was adopted by the university’s Board of Trustees this year, outlines our goal to be one of America’s top public research universities,” said Bill Heavener, chair of the UF Board of Trustees. “Private resources will make it possible for us to hire distinguished faculty, recruit the brightest and best students and address the grand challenges facing our state, our nation and our world.”

Since UF President Kent Fuchs officially joined UF in January 2015, fundraising activity has seen steady growth, which Fuchs credits in part to UF Preeminence, a three-year, $800 million initiative to boost faculty and student support, address society’s most pressing issues, and elevate UF programs to even higher prominence and influence.

“The enormous success of the UF Preeminence initiative will help advance our aspiration to achieve the stature of a top-ranking university,” Fuchs said. “Gifts from alumni and friends combined with support from the state of Florida through this private-public partnership will move UF to a new level of academic excellence.”

Many of UF’s distinguished faculty are addressing some of our biggest global challenges, and students are benefiting from academic and experiential opportunities made possible by private investments and donor commitments.

  • Outstanding international students will be invited to attend UF, and UF students will have opportunities to intern at Chinese companies, thanks to a $3 million gift from UF alumna and COO of CTrip.com, Jane Sun, and her husband, John Wu.

  • Chemistry faculty, students and staff will have enhanced opportunities in a new facility supported by a $10 million gift from biotech entrepreneur and UF alumnus Joe Hernandez. He is the youngest donor to make a gift of this size, which will seed innovation, capture timely opportunities and stimulate cross-functional teams.

  • For the nearly 10 percent of UF’s student and staff experiencing food insecurity, the Field and Fork campus food pantry will be expanded and offer healthier food options as a result of support from UF alumnus Alan Hitchcock and his wife, Cathy, former owners of Hitchcock’s Markets.

  • Cisco Kid, a green sea turtle gravely affected by fibropappilomatosis tumors, which plague these endangered creatures, was treated and released back into the sea at Marineland, thanks to the gift of a carbon-dioxide laser from the Nancy Condron family, passionate supporters of UF’s Sea Turtle Hospital at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine.

  • Engineering students will benefit from exceptional teaching and learning facilities and increased faculty and program development because of a transformational $50 million gift to the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering by the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation.

“The passion, commitment and generosity of the UF family never ceases to amaze me. UF alumni and friends recognize that supporting education at UF is an investment that has tremendous returns.  In sharing our resources, we directly see the impact that UF makes on the greater good.” said Beth McCague, chair of the UF Foundation Board.

“Fundraising activity at UF is growing at far beyond the national average. The $3 billion campaign working goal, which seemed ambitious at first blush, now seems well within reach as engaged alumni and friends across The Gator Nation pledge their support,” she said. 

UF is Florida’s flagship university serving more than 50,000 students from 50 states and 131 countries.  With five professional schools and more than 170 research, service and education centers, bureaus and institutes on one contiguous 2,000-acre campus, UF offers educational opportunities matched by only five universities worldwide. Almost 400,000 UF alumni represent The Gator Nation globally.

Global Impact

A 30-minute ‘me’ break can make you a better worker, study shows

July 26, 2016
Michelle Neeley
health, workplace, stress

If there are crumbs on your desk from countless lunches spent responding to emails and attending to other job-related responsibilities, it may be time to clean up and take a step back.

New research suggests that detaching from work during a lunch break can boost energy and help you to better respond to the demands of the day.

That’s the message behind a new study that finds early-career doctors -- and the rest of us -- can be better at our jobs if we simply set aside as little as 30 minutes a day for some “me” time.

The alternative, the study finds, is a scenario in which the patient may suffer.

The study, conducted by University of Florida and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga researchers and published in Psychology, Health & Medicine Journal’s third issue in 2016, found that active recovery activities like exercising and volunteering can help employees recover quickly and respond better to their jobs’ demands.

Researchers focused on the work and rest patterns of 38 early-career physicians from a teaching hospital in the Southeast. Of the participants, 63.2 percent were male and the median age was 29. The typical physician can average an 80-hour work week, leaving little opportunity for leisure and sleep.

“Residents are a very unique population, the stressors that they engage with throughout the day are a lot more significant than those of the average American. Therefore, these moments of replenishment are that much more important,” said Nicole Cranley, the study’s lead researcher. Cranley did the research while a doctoral candidate in UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study assessed the time early-career physicians spend at work versus the time they spent on sleep and leisure, their ability to detach from work during non-work hours and whether they engaged in active or passive recovery activities.

Physicians ranked activities they engaged in at home and at work for how draining or energy boosting they were.

The results showed that the time early-career physicians spent on work exceeded the time they spent on sleep and leisure activities combined -- and although eating was the most highly ranked at-work activity, even lunch breaks were consumed by work.

“They grab things and go, or they are eating while they are in conference or listening to a lecture. There really isn’t that time when they are not doing something related to work,” Cranley said.

Researchers also found that the participants had trouble psychologically detaching from work and that they engaged in more passive forms of recovery in their non-work time. While passive recovery, like watching television, is not necessarily harmful, it also does not help to boost energy levels beyond the baseline like active recovery activities can. 

These patterns of working without taking time to recover fully can lead to burnout.

“Burnout is a serious issue,” said Cranley, “It’s usually related to the fact that you’re not taking enough time for self-care or engaging in activities that help you gain back some of those resources.”

Higher levels of burnout, she said, lead to higher rates of poor-quality patient care.

“You can only effectively care for someone if you are in a good state of mind. You have to be in a good place to be able to give your all to someone else,” she said.

One way to replenish resources is engaging in active recovery activities outside of work, no matter how little time is available to engage in those activities.

“It doesn’t matter if you only have 45 minutes to go to the gym -- you take those 45 minutes for yourself,” Cranley said.

She said the study’s findings provide the groundwork to improve physician self-care and medical education.

“It’s a very unique situation that residents are in because they are expected to have all of the answers, when oftentimes they don’t,” she said.

She said the goal of the research is to help medical schools and hospitals recognize the nature of the stressors that the early career physician population faces and equip them with skills to deal with stress and recognize signs of burnout in themselves.

“I think where we are missing the mark is in medical education -- it is a culture issue and we need to reassure our health professionals that it’s okay to need self-care,” Cranley said. “Everybody’s valuable, everybody needs to take care of themselves sometimes. We can’t all be 100 percent all the time.”

Science & Wellness

Even presidential candidates need sleep

July 27, 2016
Michael Jaffee

Sleep is essential for good executive functioning and for good general health. So how do candidates keep up the grueling demands of their schedules? Michael S. Jaffee, vice chair of UF’s Department of Neurology, weighs in.

The demands of being a presidential candidate take a toll on sleep. And the demands are not likely to lessen for whomever is elected.

President Obama says he schedules six hours of sleep a night but that is not always possible, and Bill Clinton reported getting five to six hours. How much sleep is needed for senior executives such as our president to have optimal function?

This is also an important question to ask as the candidates for president move into full campaign mode. Does sleep affect their functioning? And just how do they keep up their grueling schedules? Can sleep deprivation contribute to some of the mistakes and gaffes?

As a neurologist who has studied sleep for many years, I know that sleep affects our functioning and health. While a very small percentage of people can function with four or five hours of sleep a night, most of us need much more.

Scientific research has yet to lead to a “grand unified theory” for the evolutionary purpose and function of sleep, but studies have shown several important functions sleep has on our body and brain. Based on a meta-analysis of medical research literature, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society jointly released a consensus statement last year recommending that adults receive at least seven hours a night to maintain optimal health. This recommendation was based on a systematic review of former studies. It also said that getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night on a regular basis is six or fewer hours per night “is inadequate to sustain health.”

Sleep stages and their function

Our sleep occurs in cycles of stages to include Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-REM sleep. REM sleep is the stage of sleep when we have the most vivid dreams. Non-REM sleep has been further described as light sleep (stages N1 and N2) and deep slow-wave sleep (stage N3). Slow-wave sleep is thought to be particularly important for physical recovery and health due to its function in cellular maintenance and recovery.

We need normal functioning of both REM and NREM sleep to ensure a well-functioning memory. REM sleep is the stage of sleep important for memory consolidation, especially for procedural and spatial memory. NREM slow-wave sleep enables information processing and memory consolidation particularly of declarative memory recall of facts and events.

Our brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other through synapses, which are junctions that connect neurons through chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters. Slow-wave sleep is necessary to prune and refine these networks and connections. This refinement is needed to preserve strong connections and to eliminate weaker connections as part of consolidating items into memory.

Over the past several years, there has been emerging evidence illustrating the importance of sleep in diminishing age-related memory loss and progression to mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Animal studies have shown that sleep allows clearance from the brain of waste products such as amyloid. An accumulation of amyloid plaques is considered one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s dementia. There is much interest in this recently recognized sleep-related “brain washing” function of removing toxic products from the brain.

Cognitive effects of sleep deprivation

There are countless research studies that demonstrate decreased performance on a variety of brain cognitive measures following sleep deprivation. These have included measures of attention, emotional regulation, learning and memory, and “executive functions."

In these studies, executive function refers to the ability to multitask and organize complicated sequences. It can also refer to the ability to self-regulate and filter our behavior and speech to avoid inappropriate comments.

Of these functions, the cognitive measures of attention is the most affected by sleep deprivation, with moderate effects seen on complex attention and working memory. Thankfully, research has shown that simple reasoning ability remains intact with sleep deprivation. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common disorder of sleep quality, has been shown to affect the part of the brain most responsible for maintaining executive functions.

As we have learned more about the importance of sleep and its role in cognitive performance, duty rules have been changed to limit how many hours a person can work and guidelines to monitor and prevent mistakes from sleep deprivation in professionals such as medical residents and airline pilots.

Physical effects of sleep deprivation

There are a number of physical effects that have been reported from lack of sleep, from chronic inadequate sleep to include weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression and increased risks of heart disease and stroke as well as increased risk of death. There have also been associations between insufficient sleep and decreased immune function and increased perception of pain.

The American Sleep Foundation periodically conducts its Sleep in America poll. There are data showing that 40 percent of respondents reported getting fewer than seven hours of sleep at night. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2020, an initiative to improve the nation’s health, has identified the goal to “increase the proportion of adults who get sufficient sleep."

There also have been a number of studies that demonstrate increased errors and increased driving accidents associated with sleep deprivation. Given the relationship between sleep and performance, there have actually been studies demonstrating an improvement in performance of elite athletes through a practice of sleep extension extending the amount of hours of sleep at night. There are now many professional sports teams who utilize a sleep expert to help maximize performance of their athletes.

How to combat sleep deprivation

  • Caffeine: The longer we are awake, there is an accumulation of a chemical in the frontal lobes of our brain known as adenosine that correlates with an urge to sleep. It so happens that caffeine blocks these receptors, temporarily preventing the accumulation of adenosine and diminishing the drive for sleep.

  • Naps: There is evidence that suggests that brief naps (ideally no longer than 20 minutes) can enhance alertness and performance. There has been a trend for some executives to utilize these “power naps.“ Having a place in the office or workspace free of interruption where a brief power nap can be utilized for those spare minutes between meetings can be helpful. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are several presidents who tried to regularly utilize afternoon naps. These include John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

  • Organization aids: There is an increased reliance in our society for the use of smart phones and electronic devices to help organize our schedule and provide important reminders as well as to access important information when needed. These at one time were referred to by some as “peripheral brains.”

A senior executive often has a staff that helps organize the myriad functions and communications necessary for regular operations as well as managing problems or crises as they emerge. This speaks to the importance of having a large enough capable staff (some of whom are not sleep-deprived) who can help serve as an “organizing brain.”

In theory, a president could manage sleep deprivation by utilizing a combination of these strategies. Maybe that is how the candidates survive, too.

This article first appeared in The Conversation on July 27, 2016.

Science & Wellness

Florida consumer sentiment up in July, reversing a three-month slide

July 29, 2016
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians increased in July to 93.7, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

This reading is four points higher than June’s revised figure of 89.7, turning upward after three straight months of declines and marking the second-highest reading over the past year.

Of the five components that make up the index, four increased and one decreased.

Perception of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago increased three points, from 83.5 to 86.5. Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item like an appliance or car rose by 7.4 points, from 96.5 to 103.9.

“The upturn in these two components suggests that Floridians’ opinions about current economic conditions have improved considerably despite the uncertainty experienced recently due to the U.S. presidential campaigns and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR).

“Furthermore, these perceptions are also a consequence of the economic recovery experienced in Florida, particularly in the labor market, despite the weak wage growth within the state,” Sandoval said.

Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose 3.6 points to 87.4, while views of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years decreased slightly by 1.2 points to 81.9.

Expectations of personal finance a year from now showed the greatest increase, from 101.4 to 109, a 7.6-point jump from last month.

Sandoval said the increases in both the expectation of personal finance a year from now and whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item together account for around two-thirds of the observed change in consumer sentiment between June and July. These perceptions are shared by almost all Floridians independent of their age, gender or income level.

While the national unemployment rate rose slightly in June from 4.7 to 4.9 percent, the unemployment rate in Florida remained unchanged at 4.7 percent. Moreover, the number of jobs added in June statewide was 244,500, a 3 percent increase compared with last year. The industry sector gaining the most jobs in Florida was professional and business services, followed by education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and transportation and utilities.

Many experts think that both the U.S. and Florida have experienced an important economic recovery: As Gov. Rick Scott recently told an audience at Port Tampa Bay, “Our annual job growth rate has outpaced the nation for more than 50 consecutive months.”

Sandoval said, “The optimistic short-run expectations about the U.S. economy combined with the favorable local economic climate will likely have a positive effect on the Florida economy and consumer sentiment in the following months, although some fluctuations are expected as a consequence of the uncertainty that typically arises from the presidential campaigns.”

BEBR Director Christopher McCarty observed, “Over the past month, stock prices have hit record highs, housing prices in Florida have remained strong, interest rates are low and gas prices continue to decline given oversupply. From the viewpoint of many Florida consumers, the economy is looking up. There are still concerns at the national level by persistently low inflation, tepid growth in GDP, low labor force participation and low productivity. However, the U.S. economy is in far better shape than most countries and is therefore seen as a safe location for investment.”

Conducted July 1-24, the UF study reflects the responses of 401 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

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