The Mount Rushmore of Gator computing pioneers

August 2, 2016
Paul Bernard
computing, personal computer, IBM 5150, pioneers,

August 12, 1981: Ronald Reagan was halfway through his first year as president, MTV was less than two weeks old, and the IBM 5150 – arguably the first widely successful personal computer and the first to be called a “PC” – was introduced at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York City.

Its retail price was $1,565 – equivalent to more than $4,000 today.

As the computer world marks the 35th anniversary of that historic occasion, some may not know there was a University of Florida connection.

Courtesy: IBM

The chief architect in the development was UF alumnus and Jacksonville native Philip Donald “Don” Estridge. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the UF College of Engineering in 1959, Estridge worked for the Army and eventually became the acting lab director at IBM in Boca Raton, Fla.

The fruits of his team’s labor, the 5150, included a system unit, keyboard and color/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter and application packages — including one for text processing. From these fairly modest beginnings, the personal computer industry exploded into a multibillion dollar juggernaut.

(Courtesy: IBM)

Sadly, Estridge would live to see only a small portion of the impact he made on the world. He and his wife, Mary Ann, died in a plane crash in 1985. Friends, family, business associates and colleagues contributed to create the Phillip D. and Mary Ann Estridge Scholarship Fund that continues to honor their memory.

But other Gators — both before and after Don Estridge — also have earned a page in the book of computer history. They include:


John Atanasoff – Created the first electronic digital computer, known as the ABC, between 1939 and 1942. At the time, he was a faculty member in physics and mathematics at Iowa State University. The son of a Bulgarian immigrant, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at UF in 1925. When submitting the manuscript detailing the invention that he and Iowa State graduate student Cliff Berry developed, he described it as “a computing machine for the solution of large systems of linear algebraic equations.”

Atanasoff (far left) in 1925 UF yearbook

The ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) was an electrical computer that used vacuum tubes for digital computation, including binary math and Boolean logic and had no CPU. Only two years earlier, its design existed only on a cocktail napkin.

Manuel A. “Manny” Fernandez Jr. – Moved with his father from Cuba to Daytona Beach, Fla. in 1959. He graduated from UF in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering and earned his master’s degree in solid-state engineering from UF two years later.

Fernandez founded the Gavilan Computer Corporation, which developed the first portable computer marketed as a "laptop” in 1983. He would later go on to become chairman, president and CEO of Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and consulting company, as well as chairman of UF’s Board of Trustees.

James “Jim” Edward Allchin – An American computer scientist, philanthropist and musician. After growing up on a Florida orange grove farm, he earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from UF in 1973.

Ten years later, he joined Banyan Systems, an early leader in networking software and servers, eventually becoming senior vice president and chief technology officer. Allchin later joined Microsoft, where he led the Platforms division. He is perhaps best known for building Microsoft’s server business into a multibillion dollar operation. Allchin is now a recording artist, widely renowned for his guitar skills. His accomplishments as a computing pioneer earmed him the University of Florida Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015.

Chris Malachowsky – A recognized authority on integrated-circuit design and methodology, and author of nearly 40 patents. After earning his bachelor’s in electrical and computer engineering from UF in 1983, he held engineering and technical leadership positions at HP and Sun Microsystems. In 1993, Malachowsky co-founded the visual computing company NVIDIA, which currently dominates the gaming and virtual reality markets. In 2011, UF honored him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Global Impact

UF receives record $724 million in research funding in FY 2015-16

August 2, 2016
Joe Kays

Research focused on Alzheimer’s disease, agricultural pests and economic development was among the thousands of projects funded with a record $724 million in research awards to the University of Florida last fiscal year.

The new total is a 2.4 percent increase over the previous record of $706.8 million set in fiscal year 2015. Over the last decade, awards are up 24 percent.

“I applaud our dedicated faculty members for continuing to raise the bar with this new record in research funding,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “The competition for this funding is intense, so this record demonstrates their research excellence while adding to UF’s growing stature as one of the nation’s great public research universities.”

About $451 million of the funding came from federal agencies, led by the National Institutes of Health with $178.6 million, a 17 percent increase over last year’s NIH total.

U.S. Department of Agriculture funding was at $68 million; funding from the National Science Foundation was up nearly 35 percent to $63.3 million; and funding from the U.S. Department of Education more than doubled to $25.7 million.

The state of Florida provided another $50 million, up nearly 29 percent over 2015; and foundations and non-profits provided $110 million in support, a 21 percent increase over the previous year. Industry, local governments and other sources funded the remaining $113 million.

“The diversity of our research portfolio has kept us on an upward trajectory for many years,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “Our faculty continue to be very strategic at pursuing funding from the source that is the best fit for their science – government agency, industry or foundation.”

UF’s College of Medicine in Gainesville and Jacksonville brought in $298 million; the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, received $140 million; the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering was at $75 million; and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences received $40 million. The remaining colleges had a combined $171 million.

Notable NIH grants include $4 million to the Institute on Aging to develop strategies to address low-grade chronic inflammation and movement disabilities in the elderly; $3.6 million to the Diabetes Institute to continue its research on type 1 diabetes; and nearly $3 million to the Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease to establish an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“Research grants from the NIH are among the most prestigious recognitions of excellence that biomedical scientists can receive. Competition for NIH grants is a demanding process in which the innovation and excellence of one’s research is assessed by scientific peers against a limited budget,” said David Guzick, UF’s senior vice president for health affairs. “The growing success by UF’s faculty in winning competitive research grants from the NIH is therefore a tremendous testimony to the esteem in which they are held by the scientific community.”

Major U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to IFAS included $4.4 million to develop turfgrass with improved drought resistance; $3.4 million to try to stem the impact of laurel wilt on avocados; and $3.4 million to combat a bacterial disease damaging tomatoes.

“A record year for research awards to IFAS is important in two ways. It means we can accelerate our search for solutions to the challenges faced by farmers, families and all Floridians,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and the leader of IFAS. “The awards also signal that the USDA and other funding agencies recognize the quality of our science and the impact our faculty make by improving people’s lives.”

Other federal awards included more than $8 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration for Phase II of the Florida Innovation Hub and $5 million from the Department of Education to expand the College of Education CEEDAR Center’s work with teachers and public school leaders who serve students with disabilities.

The 50,000-square-foot expansion of the Innovation Hub will provide much-needed space for technology startups near UF, said director Jane Muir.

“Several companies in the Florida Innovation Hub are projecting significant growth in the near future and will need expansion space that is not readily available in Gainesville,” Muir said. “In addition, Phase I is operating at capacity and needs additional space to accommodate demand.”

The largest non-governmental grant was $7.6 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, for the OneFlorida Clinical Research Consortium to continue to expand a statewide network that links UF with other universities, health systems and patients around the state to address health challenges like concussion, hypertension and teen smoking.

Maddie’s Fund, a pet rescue foundation, awarded the College of Veterinary Medicine nearly $4.2 million to continue to grow the college’s shelter medicine program. The foundation has provided $11 million in support to UF’s program since it was founded in 2008.

Campus Life

UF Health Shands Hospital tied for top in state in 2016 U.S. News hospital rankings

August 3, 2016
Morgan Sherburne

University of Florida Health Shands Hospital is now tied for top adult hospital in Florida, according to the 2016-2017 U.S. News & World Report adult specialty rankings of the nation’s hospitals, released today (Aug. 2).

UF Health has been ranked nationally in eight medical specialties, up from seven in the 2015-2016 rankings.

Earlier this summer U.S. News also recognized UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital as one of the nation’s best hospitals for children in nine medical specialties, seven of which are the highest-ranked in Florida.

“These rankings reflect our unwavering dedication to providing high-quality care for our patients, and our focus on continually evolving our standard of care,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “Our continued rise in the rankings validates the work that our physicians, nurses and staff do every day.”

U.S. News & World Report assessed 16 adult medical specialties ranging from cancer to urology in approximately 5,000 hospitals.

“As ever, it is UF Health’s goal to develop a health care system centered around our patients’ needs,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “Our faculty and staff’s attention to providing positive outcomes for our patients is reflected in these rankings.”

Nephrology, tied for 11th, is the highest-ranking UF Health specialty. Also ranked are neurology and neurosurgery (21st), pulmonology (25th), gynecology (29th), geriatrics (33rd), urology (42nd), diabetes and endocrinology (tied for 48th) and cancer (49th). Neurology and neurosurgery jumped to 21st from last year’s 40th place. Of these, UF Health is highest-ranked in Florida in four specialties — gynecology, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, and pulmonology.

Mark Segal, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of nephrology, hypertension and renal transplantation within the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine, credits nephrology’s ranking in part to an effort to provide a range of specialty services to patients from across the state. In 2010, the division began a campaign to provide subspecialty care for complicated kidney diseases, providing a place for referring physicians from across the state to send patients.

“We have to give patients a really great reason to travel five hours to come see us. By having these subspecialty clinics, we feel they receive great, specialized clinical care for their investment in time, and these subspecialty clinics have enhanced our reputation among referring physicians in Florida,” Segal said. “To be tied for 11th is a real honor.”

UF Health was also rated as “high performing” in three specialties: cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and gastrointestinal surgery, and orthopedics.

The specialty rankings are based on three dimensions of health care: patient safety and survival; resources related to patient care, such as the hospital’s volume and nurse staffing; and the hospital’s reputation among specialists for developing and sustaining the delivery of high-quality care for patients who have the most challenging conditions or need difficult procedures.

While the specialty rankings focus on patients with complicated diseases that come to UF Health, many people still need routine care — and U.S. News & World Report has also begun evaluating these procedures. Among these, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, aortic valve surgery, colon cancer surgery, hip replacement, lung cancer surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure were given a “high performing” rating at UF Health.

“At UF Health, we focus on care not only for patients with rare conditions, but also the everyday health conditions that plague us all,” said Ed Jimenez, chief executive officer of UF Health Shands. “These rankings and ratings show that our physicians, nurses and staff represent a range of expertise, and are fully equipped to take good care of not only patients here in Gainesville, but patients who travel across the state and country to find care here as well.”

UF Health Jacksonville was also recognized for excellence in patient care, ranked No. 3 in the Jacksonville metro area and tied for No. 18 overall among 255 health care organizations in the state. UF Health Jacksonville was singled out for its treatment in several areas of patient care, receiving high-performing marks in the specialties of nephrology and urology, and high-performing marks for procedures in heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Of the nearly 5,000 hospitals assessed, 153 were ranked in at least one specialty and 1,628 received a high-performing rating in one or more specialties, procedures or conditions.

In June, U.S. News & World Report recognized the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in nine medical specialties. The children’s hospital was ranked in diabetes and endocrinology (tied for 18th), cancer (22nd), neonatology (23rd), cardiology and heart surgery (24th), pulmonology (27th), nephrology (tied for 32nd), gastroenterology and gastrointestinal surgery (40th), urology (40th) and neurology and neurosurgery (46th).

The new hospital rankings and methodology are available at http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals.

Science & Wellness

What to consider before you toss your floss

August 4, 2016
Alisson Clark
dental floss, periodontist, dentist, flossing

You might be rejoicing at the news that flossing’s effectiveness remains unproven, but don’t toss your floss just yet. Our dental experts say you might want to keep flossing – or, ahem, start – despite the lack of evidence that it prevents cavities and disease. Here’s why:

Lack of evidence ≠ lack of effectiveness.

It’s not like dentists didn’t know the evidence was scarce when they recommended flossing, says Dr. Scott Tomar, a University of Florida dentistry professor and the editor of the Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice. “It's no secret,” said Tomar, who also chairs the oral health section of the American Public Health Association. But lack of evidence doesn’t mean flossing isn’t effective, he said.

“People have misinterpreted the lack of evidence as evidence that it doesn’t work, which isn’t the same,” he said. “There are certainly short-term benefits, and I would err on side of saying it does have longer-term benefit.”


Why is the evidence so scarce?

Getting hard evidence from a longitudinal study would be challenging, maybe impossible, Tomar says.

“Could you really randomize adults to floss for next three to five years and expect them to stick with it? Could you guarantee that the ones who aren’t supposed to floss would never floss, even when they get steak stuck between their teeth? It would be a nightmare,” he said.

Lots of other variables would also affect the outcome, starting with the bacterial composition of your dental plaque (ew).

“Dental plaque – or biofilm, as it is called nowadays – is a very complex matrix of multiple types of bacteria,” said Dr. Ikramuddin Aukhil, chairman of UF’s periodontology department.

Some bacteria are destructive to the tissues around them; others aren’t. The body’s response to the bacteria also varies from person to person, as does the spacing and alignment of their teeth, which affects how well they can floss, Aukhil explained.

Add to that the varying levels of skill and commitment people bring to flossing, and it’s hard to imagine anyone taking on such a study, especially when it would cost millions.


It’s 2016. Isn’t there some kind of 21st-century alternative to flossing?

Yes and no.

Chemical mouth rinses containing chlorhexidine are effective at cleaning between teeth, but they’re not a long-term solution, Aukhil said, because of their price and side effects, which can include discolored teeth and changes to your sense of taste.

Why should I floss if I’m not sure it helps?

One thing that’s not in doubt is the relationship between biofilm and gingivitis, which has been convincingly established since the 1960s, Aukhil said.

While there’s no guarantee that brushing and flossing alone will take care of plaque completely, he said, it’s still worthwhile.

“Despite the limitations of flossing, it remains the method of choice in preventing periodontal diseases in the long run.”

Tomar agrees.

“It’s really low cost and there are virtually no documented adverse effects: You have to really try to cause damage by flossing. It comes down to weighing risks and benefits. We have to make the best decision we can with the information available, and to me, that still points to flossing every night.”

Science & Wellness

Bloom and bust: Algae takes a heavy toll on Florida tourism

August 4, 2016
UF News

The harmful algae bloom affecting some South Florida beaches has driven away half of people considering visiting the Sunshine State and could deter nearly three-fourths of those thinking of traveling to the affected counties, a new study shows.

The study, conducted by Black Hills State University and the University of Florida’s Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, or TCMI, shows more than half of potential visitors are concerned enough with the outbreak of harmful algae blooms, or HAB, to consider delaying travel to Florida.  Among those who plan to visit Florida in the next three months, more than 70 percent would avoid traveling to an area that has been declared a “state of emergency.”

As a result of the bloom, Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties.

Half of those who indicated they would change their travel plans have indeed postponed their travel, while 32 percent went to other destinations in Florida

Researchers surveyed 611 potential domestic visitors who planned to go to Florida within the next six months during the second week of July. The study also found that over three-fourths of respondents lack knowledge of algae blooms, and that two in every five respondents thought that HAB and red tide are the same thing.

“This lack of knowledge of HAB increases the perception of risk, which is likely to result in a greater amount of travel avoidance,” said Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto of Black Hills State, lead researcher of the study and affiliate researcher at TCMI.

Cahyanto also pointed out that that lack of knowledge of geographical areas affected by the outbreak may exacerbate perceptions of risk. The study found that more than half of the potential visitors think that Florida’s Treasure Coast would be a bad choice for a family vacation right now, followed by Southwest Florida (45 percent) and Southeast Florida (37 percent).

The study also revealed that people would most likely turn to lifeguards first for HAB related safety information at the beaches (73 percent), followed by asking their local tourism organizations (66.5 percent).

“The findings highlight the important role of involving lifeguards and the local tourism organization in ensuring the safety of visitors, as well as combating the misperception of the HAB that visitors might have, one such misperception being that all beaches in Palm Beach County have been closed due to the outbreak,” Cahyanto said.

As for the tourism industry, Cahyanto suggests that timely information about closed areas and health risks of the blooms have the impending contribution to marketing strategies to counter losses linked to the perceived risk of algae blooms outbreak. Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, reinforced the importance of integrated communication programs that direct people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites for health-related information, as well as city- and county-level sites that provide up-to-date, clear messages on areas which are open and areas which are closed.

Society & Culture

Why Brazil’s post-Olympics hangover will hit so hard

August 4, 2016
Terry L. McCoy

UF professor emeritus of Latin American Studies Terry L. McCoy explains why Brazilians’ respite from a perfect storm of recession, corruption and political dysfunction won’t last long.

On the eve of the Rio Olympic Games, host Brazil is struggling through one of the deepest crises in its history.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

In 2009, when the 2016 Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was on a roll. President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva proclaimed:

“Now we are going to show the world we can be a great country.”

And for a time, that almost seemed true for Brazil as its economy bounded ahead and social benefits reached much of the population. Long derided as “the country of the future … and always will be,” Brazil seemed to be finally living up to its potential and global aspirations.

The contrast between 2009 and 2016 is stunning, especially given how rapidly Brazil reversed course. While the Olympics may provide a respite from the unremitting flow of bad news, any relief will be short-lived.

Unfortunately, there is no easy or quick exit from the trifecta of interrelated problems that constitute Brazil’s perfect storm: a deep recession, a massive corruption scandal and dysfunctional politics.

As a Latin American specialist, I am well-schooled in Brazil’s history of boom and bust and have witnessed several cycles up close as a regular visitor. In 2009, I joined many in thinking Brazil had finally “turned the corner,” but it’s now painfully evident that this conclusion was premature.

What went wrong?

Glory days

An impressive economic performance was key to Brazil gaining credibility on the world stage.

After years of stagnation and high inflation, the economy began a period of sustained growth with low inflation in the early 2000s. The high prices for Brazilian exports fueled by a global commodity boom were crucial to this growth. So too were the policies adopted by three successive governments to stabilize and open the economy.

Sustained growth produced significant social gains. It generated good jobs. And the government took measures to share the prosperity: increasing the minimum wage, expanding consumer credit and implementing a conditional cash transfer program (bolsa familia) for poor women and children. These and others lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty into the middle class.

For its accomplishments, Brazil – along with China, India and Russia – was anointed a leading emerging market, or one of the “BRICs.” The credit rating agencies conferred their coveted investment grade ranking on Brazil, making it a favored destination for foreign investment.

In his two terms (2003-2011), President Lula actively pushed his country into leadership positions in international organizations. Being selected host for both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics seemed to confirm Brazil’s arrival as a “great country.”

All downhill

Since 2010, however, Brazil’s economic trajectory has been downhill.

Today it is in the second year of a deep recession, with only a painfully slow recovery on the horizon. Falling commodity prices are an important cause of the downturn, but so are government missteps.

Inflation (currently 9.23 percent) persistently exceeds the targeted rate, which forces the Central Bank to maintain one of the highest benchmark interest rates (14.25 percent) in the world. In 2015, based on negative growth, high inflation and growing debt and deficits, the rating agencies downgraded Brazilian debt to junk status.

The economic downturn is beginning to erode the social advances of the previous decade. Unemployment, which reached a historic low in 2013, now stands at 10.9 percent. Consumer credit is drying up; household debt is skyrocketing.

The economic downturn and its social costs alone would be catastrophic, but there is more: the corruption scandal.

Massive corruption

Corruption is embedded in Brazilian culture as in most emerging economies. But the current scandal, which centers on the national oil company, Petrobras, is above and beyond.

Estimates are that the bribes to public officials in return for sweetheart deals for private contractors total over US$5 billion. The resulting loss to Petrobras is a drag on the economy and contributes to a growing fiscal deficit.

The scandal has reached the top echelons of business and government. The good news is that in contrast to the past, the perpetrators are going to jail. Thanks to an independent, activist judiciary, the heretofore untouchables are doing the “perp walk” on the nightly news. The bad news is that there is still no light at the end of the corruption tunnel.

One of the reasons Brazilians turned to Lula – who ran for the fourth time in 2002 – was the belief that he and his blue-collar Workers Party (PT) would break with the corrupt politics of the traditional political class. Instead the PT administrations of Lula and his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, have turned out just as bad if not worse.

It now falls on a discredited political class and government to revive the economy and prosecute the scandal to a satisfactory conclusion. As if these challenges were not enough, they must first pull off a successful Olympics under increasing security concerns and the Zika threat.

A dysfunctional political class

The political crisis is the final dimension of Brazil’s perfect storm.

Lula delivered economic prosperity for all Brazilians and gave them pride in their country. His popularity initially carried over to Dilma Rousseff. Although she had never held elected office, she was a trusted member of his inner circle.

Rousseff easily won the 2010 election. But her popularity declined as the economy deteriorated and corruption became an issue. She squeaked through for a second term in 2014, but her public support plummeted in the first year. By the end of 2015, her approval ratings dropped into the low teens. There were street demonstrations demanding her impeachment. The parties allied with the PT in Congress abandoned her.

On April 17, the Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Rousseff. As specified in the constitution, her vice president and one-time ally, Michel Temer, became the acting president. The markets responded favorably to the change with both the stock market and currency making big gains, but the new government does not inspire confidence in its ability to roll back the perfect storm.

The uncertain path ahead

To begin with, Temer may not hold office for long. Should the Senate fail to convict Rousseff next month, she would immediately resume the presidency.

She and her PT supporters insist that the case against her – budgetary mismanagement, not corruption – is not an impeachable offense, that she was the victim of a conservative coup.

Should Rousseff be convicted, Temer would serve out the remaining two years of her term. Despite the positive market reaction, his would be a weak, lame duck administration.

His centrist PMBD party is deeply implicated in the Petrobras scandal. Three members of his cabinet resigned because of allegations of corruption. The PMBD president of the lower house, who led the drive against Dilma, was forced to step down because of bribery allegations.

A recent poll found that only 13 percent of the public rated the Temer government good or excellent, not significantly higher than Rousseff. Most Brazilians would like to see national elections now, but they will have wait until the next scheduled election in October 2018 since the constitution does not provide for a special election.

The post-Olympic Games hangover

The Rio Olympics were supposed to showcase Brazil’s accomplishments. Instead of a breakthrough, they come amid another boom-bust cycle with no end in sight for the bust.

As for the Olympics themselves, most Brazilians now expect the impact to be negative. That being said, Brazilians will use any excuse to throw a party, which they will surely do for themselves and their visitors.

Their post-games hangover, however, will be formidable.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on July 31, 2016.

Global Impact

Why ‘Sharknado 4’ matters: Do climate disaster movies hurt the climate cause?

August 4, 2016
Lauren Griffin and Ann Christiano

Climate disaster films are an emerging genre that reflect people's desire to cope with a changing planet through art. UF professors Lauren Griffin and Ann Christiano ask: How will they affect public attitudes on climate change?

Given that 2016 is expected to be the hottest year on record, with several months that not only surpassed old heat records but did so by increasingly large margins, it stands to reason climate change should be an issue we as a nation are rushing to address. But we’re not, exactly. Instead, climate scientists are subject to political attacks and lawsuits, and debate over whether climate change even exists roils the United States Senate. A reasonable person could be left wondering how the hell we got here.

Social scientists have made great strides in determining what factors influence climate denier attitudes and what kinds of messages have the potential to combat denial. Indeed, a burgeoning movement of academics and communicators are taking on the problem of climate denial with gusto, working nonstop to produce empirically based strategies for getting the message out to the public.

Despite these efforts, researchers have paid less attention to how we’re talking about climate change in a larger cultural sense.

Enter “Sharknado.” On July 31, the fourth installment of the “Sharknado” film series airs on SyFy. The low-budget films are a surprise smash hit, breaking records in 2013 with the original “Sharknado.” It’s led to a series of movies and a variety of media spin-offs, including a video game and companion book.

If you’ve missed this cultural phenomenon, worry not: The film’s title tells you most of what you need to know. Major American cities are suddenly beset with waterspouts flinging man-eating sharks – sharknados – through the air at 300 miles per hour, while characters attempt to survive. The plots are predictably ridiculous and the special effects – particularly in the first “Sharknado” – are about what you would expect from a B-movie.

At their heart, however, the “Sharknado” films are stories about climate change, albeit in a way that is scientifically flawed to a comical degree. It’s a genre – climate disaster films – we decided to explore as an emerging mode of communication in society.

Fiction helps us understand reality

It’s explained in the original “Sharknado” that climate change has created an unusually strong tropical cyclone approaching Southern California. The sequels backed away from that explanation, whether out of a desire to avoid courting political controversy or simply because the creators felt that sharknados needed no explanation, we can’t be sure. But casting climate change as a catalyst for extreme, globally threatening natural disasters is a move characteristic of a small but growing genre of climate disaster films.

With a few notable exceptions (“The Day After Tomorrow” and “Snowpiercer” come to mind), climate disaster films tend to be low-budget, made-for-television creatures. Silly as they may seem, they represent the first drops in what is sure to be a storm of fictional depictions of climate change as the issue gains more traction in the public consciousness. In a very real sense, these films are the product of a society attempting to grapple with a massive social threat unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Climate fiction films are important for their potential impact on the public. Climate change itself is difficult to observe for those not trained in environmental sciences; typically people don’t notice small changes that happen over time, and carbon dioxide emissions are invisible to the naked eye. Meteorological and climatological records are regularly questioned by climate deniers, some of whom hold political office. Even personal experience may not sway opinions: Research suggests that a person’s political leanings can even affect whether he or she perceives unusual weather patterns to be out of the ordinary.

Some scholars hypothesize that this is where fiction comes in. As researcher David Kirby puts it, fiction can serve as a “virtual witnessing tool” that lets us see the scientific process. Literary scholars tout science fiction’s ability to show us futures that have not yet come to pass without having to live through them. Indeed, one of fiction’s power is this ability to let us explore scenarios and situations in a safe way, without real risk to life or property.

Consider, for instance, the prevalence of fiction about nuclear war during the Cold War. These stories were widely credited with helping society envision the future after a nuclear exchange even as political leaders worked to prevent such an event. Books (and later film adaptations) like “Fail-Safe” and “On the Beach” shaped society’s understanding of the consequences of nuclear war. Television shows like the “Twilight Zone” featured stories – and warnings – about nuclear weapons prominently in their plots. President Ronald Reagan even noted in his journal the television movie “The Day After” had a profound effect on him.

Medium for misinformation?

What does this mean for climate change? Like nuclear war, a future in which humanity has undertaken no effort to combat climate change is one we hope to never see. Can fiction play a role in shaping our attitudes and beliefs about climate change and encourage the public to take the threat seriously before it’s too late?

A handful of studies were conducted around the release of “The Day After Tomorrow.” Similar studies were also conducted on the docudrama “The Age of Stupid” and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But these studies typically examine only blockbuster films and do not address disaster films as a whole.

The studies generally suggest that fictional depictions of climate change can have an effect on audiences – at least in the short term. Seeing clips of these films tends to raise levels of environmental concern and, in some cases, cause people to be more supportive of action to meet the climate threat.

To get a better sense of how fictional disaster films shape environmental attitudes, I (Lauren) conducted an in-depth analysis of 18 disaster films featuring climate change. The results of my research show that most of these films make only tenuous connections between climate change and natural disasters, which affects how people react to them.

Terminology related to climate change and extreme weather is often misused, and it’s not uncommon to see films that use the term “climate change” or “global warming” to refer to completely different phenomena – some of which are physically impossible and could happen in no world. For example, one film uses climate change to discuss a buildup of methane gas in the atmosphere that is predicted to ignite, incinerating all life on Earth.

The results from focus groups I held with participants who watched one of three representative disaster films confirm that these scientifically dubious depictions of climate change dilute any perceived environmental message in climate disaster films. Most participants were unconvinced – often with good reason – that anything shown in the films could happen in the real world and did not see much of an environmental message.

More worrisome is the possibility for climate fiction films to distribute misinformation. Because many films draw on real terminology used by climatologists and atmospheric scientists to add a sense of realism to their films, audiences may find themselves confused where fiction ends and facts begin.

Here to stay

There is some precedence for these concerns. Research on historical fiction films suggests that people often remember misinformation presented in fictional narratives and then attribute these “facts” to authoritative sources like textbooks. This has been observed even when participants are warned ahead of time that they will be seeing a dramatization of a historical event that contains inaccuracies.

As society struggles to envision a future shaped by climate change, we will continue to produce works of fiction that depict these futures. Climate disaster films are only one facet of this phenomenon, and more are sure to come.

Follow-up studies examining the effects of “The Day After Tomorrow” on public attitudes toward climate change hint at possible changes.

In the short term, audiences were more concerned about climate change after viewing the film and were more willing to take some political action to combat the threat. Long term, the film seemed to clue audiences in to the problems of climate change, and provided something of a cultural script with which to discuss it.

It’s worth noting, however, that “The Day After Tomorrow” was an exception within the larger climate disaster film genre, both in terms of its production value and its (relatively) detailed discussion of climate change. Low-budget films like “Sharknado,” which stray very far afield from climate science, likely pose different possibilities for both misinformation and engagement with climate change. The question, then, is how to best tap into this potential while avoiding the pitfalls.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation on July 29.

Global Impact

UF Foundation buys Leonardo’s property

August 4, 2016
Steve Orlando

The University of Florida Foundation has purchased property that is home to a Gainesville institution: Leonardo’s By the Slice, a move the university and the business owner say is mutually beneficial.

The deal, initiated by Leonardo’s owner Steve Solomon, requires Leonardo’s to stay open until at least the summer of 2017. The university is currently studying the best use for the property, said Lee Nelson, UF’s real estate director.

The 0.4-acre parcel, located on West University Avenue just east of Southwest 13th Street, has been the home of Leonardo’s since 1973. The Foundation purchased the property and building from Maviro Corp., which has offices in Buffalo, N.Y., and St. Petersburg, and had owned the building since 1976

Solomon, 69, said he and the property owner approached the university about buying the property several months ago after he began to consider scaling back his long-time business commitments.

“The university is facilitating what we want to happen,” Solomon said. “We’ve always had a great relationship with the university. We’ve been collaborating with the university for 43 years. It makes me feel really good to do this with them.”

Nelson echoed Solomon’s sentiments.

“This is a transaction that’s good for Leonardo’s, good for the university and allows everyone to achieve their goals,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure we have an influence on the neighborhoods surrounding the university, and the strategic development plan on which the university has been working has recognized the importance of this intersection.”

The UF Foundation already owns the Kangaroo Express gas station and convenience store next door to Leonardo’s on the southeast corner of Southwest 13th Street and West University Avenue. UF also owns a vacant lot immediately south of the Kangaroo station.

Solomon said several factors influenced his decision, among them increased competition, students’ changing tastes and the growing effort of maintaining multiple locations.

“Things change,” he said. “It’s getting harder to stay open. All of that weighs heavily on my mind.”

Solomon said he plans to focus more of his attention on Leonardo‘s 706 at 706 W. University Ave., which was the original site of Leonardo’s By the Slice. As for what will happen to Leonardo’s By the Slice and the adjacent Bistro 1245, which he also owns, Solomon said he’s considering integrating those operations to Leonardo’s 706.

“We’ll see how things look a year from now,” he said.

Campus Life

The hidden cost of helping your co-workers

August 5, 2016
Milenko Martinovich
management, work, co-workers, business

If you’re an employee who takes pride in helping others at work, you likely feel good after assisting a colleague.

But are those good feelings coming at a price?

New research from University of Florida management professor Klodiana Lanaj explores the cost of helping co-workers, notably how the helper’s own productivity can suffer. These themes are explored in two recent articles published by Lanaj, who in May was one of 10 professors to receive the university’s Excellence Awards for Assistant Professors, which recognizes junior faculty for their research.

Lanaj breaks down some of the studies’ major findings and offers advice for helpers and “helpees.”

What motivated these two studies?

If you look at the research done on pro-social behavior — being helpful at work — the majority of research shows that helping is really good. When you help others, the individual benefits, the group benefits, and the organization benefits as well. But there was very little emphasis on what happens to the person who helps. You won’t find this as part of your job description, but if you don’t help, your boss will probably look down on you.

What were the major findings in your research?

When you help others, people think of you as a good person, you think of yourself as a good person, and you experience more positive emotions. But, at the same time, it actually interferes with the extent of the progress you can make on your own goals. What happens is you feel exhausted from the help. So it has this dual effect.

Whenever we pay attention, try to change the way we think, feel or behave, we draw from an internal pool of resources. So when you help, that pool — which is fixed — becomes depleted.

Think of it as running a race. The first couple of miles, you don’t feel anything — you may even feel energized. But as you run, say, a marathon, you become depleted at an increasing rate. It’s the same with helping. Helping once a day doesn’t make a big difference, but the more times you help, the more depleted you become.

What was the most surprising finding?

Going into the research we thought pro-socially motivated people — people who have a tendency to help more — would not be depleted because they help regularly and they enjoy doing it. What we find is it’s actually worse for them. I think the reason is because people who are pro-socially motivated — good, kind, altruistic people — they really invest. When you go to them for help, they really want to make a difference. So they invest a lot of resources which makes helping particularly depleting for them.

We also find that when you help and it’s beneficial to others, you get energized. But pro-social people get less out of this too. We think this might be because they’re so used to providing high-quality help that they’re used to people benefiting from that help. So when someone says, “Thank you so much. That was really helpful,” it doesn’t stand out because it’s a normal thing they see all the time.

What advice do you have for pro-social employees and “helpees”?

If you are someone who needs help at work, first try to figure it out on your own. You can do that by checking a manual or for resources online. If you do have to ask for help, I think it’s really important to express gratitude.

Managers should be aware that helping can be beneficial and come at a cost. Therefore, people should allocate their time accordingly. For example, if you have a deadline for an important project coming up, it’s okay to say, “I can’t really take time now to help you. I need to figure this thing first. Why don’t you come later.” Managers can be more strategic about when they help others. I think a lot of managers expect their employees to help all the time. It’s okay to expect employees to say no or take a break sometimes because responding to help requests has negative consequences.

Lanaj’s studies “When Lending a Hand Depletes the Will: The Daily Costs and Benefits of Helping” (co-authored by UF management professor Mo Wang) and “Integrating the Bright and Dark Sides of OCB: A Daily Investigation of the Benefits and Costs of Helping Others” appear in the Journal of Applied Psychology and the Academy of Management Journal, respectively.

Society & Culture

UF’s Innovation Academy graduates inaugural class

August 7, 2016
Kelli Kaufmann

Shoes shined, dress ironed and cap secured, the gold ribbon supporting her Innovation Academy medallion gleaming against her graduation robe, Sarah Harper stood ready Aug. 5 to walk across the stage and into her future.

After spending four years at the academy, a program UF launched in 2012 as a community of students at work on more than 30 majors united by ideals of teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship, Harper is heading for Paris and an internship as a communications consultant with the United Nations Environmental Programme.

The 22-year-old political science major, one of 330 students who represent the academy’s first graduating class, credits IA, and her role as a founding member of the IA Ambassador and Innovation Leadership Programs, for her success.

“IA helped me find my place at UF,” Harper said.

Another member of IA’s inaugural class, Rey Pierre, an information systems and technology major, also attributes his success to the program.

“I look forward to being able to show how grateful I am for these four years,” he said. “When I make it big, I will most definitely come back.”

Pierre said his experience as an IA Ambassador and the opportunity to start his own campus organization have prepared him to achieve his goal of earning a master’s degree at UF and pursuing an entrepreneurial venture.

Successes like Harper’s and Pierre’s have been the academy’s driving force over the past four years, said Ayesha Mian, IA assistant director.

“The program is far better than it was when we started, and it’s all because of our students,” she said.

Hailed as one of the nation’s most forward-looking undergraduate programs, IA allows students to attend classes during the spring and summer semesters and pursue study abroad programs and internship opportunities in the fall semester.

Feedback from the inaugural class has enabled IA to expand programs for academic coursework, build a speaker series and create an annual event called Catalyst that encourages students to showcase inventions conceived in their first year in the program.

Students’ efforts also have led to added majors and opportunities within IA, including the ability to hold campus leadership positions.

To celebrate their accomplishments, students and families were invited to the first summer “Summit” event. Eligible graduates, including Harper and Pierre, were honored and awarded the Innovation Minor Medallion.

For Mian, the graduation of the inaugural class is validation of UF’s forward thinking.

“This is not just a pilot program,” she said. “Our students are revolutionizing industries. I know that they’re going to be significant contributors to society and to improving processes around the world.”

For information about the Innovation Academy, visit http://innovationacademy.ufl.edu/.

Campus Life

Business grad lends marketing might to Hyperloop team

August 8, 2016
Warrington College of Business

Grace Everitt is helping University of Florida engineering students participate in SpaceX’s Hyperloop competition. She isn’t doing it for course credit or because it will look good on her résumé.

She believes she’s a part of something special.

Said Everitt: “It’s human history in the making.”

Everitt, who received a bachelor’s degree in marketing (Magna Cum Laude) from Warrington at Saturday’s Commencement, serves as the Marketing, Public Relations and Sponsorship Lead for Gatorloop, UF’s entry in Hyperloop. Out of a field of more than 1,500 teams worldwide, Gatorloop is one of only 29 entrants to advance to the final round.

Hyperloop is the brainchild of SpaceX and Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, whose vision is to build a high-speed, ground transportation system run almost entirely on solar power. Passengers and cargo would travel in pods at transonic velocities. The speeds are so great it would, for example, reduce a six-hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 30 minutes.

Everitt heard about Gatorloop in the fall, but her studies and other commitments kept her from participating. She came aboard in the spring when she noticed the team’s GoFundMe page had stalled around $1,200. Fortuitously, Everitt was enrolled in Professor Dennis DiPasquale’s Sales Management course, which centers on a semester-long fundraising project, and believed she could apply some of the tactics she learned to help Gatorloop.

Since Everitt took over Gatorloop’s fundraising duties, donations have quintupled and have reached $6,000-plus. But costs to purchase parts and manufacture the pod are steep, so Everitt’s new goal is to raise $20,000 before the competition scheduled for January 2017.

Relying on the tactics she learned in Sales Management, Everitt sought out smaller donations from a large pool of supporters to give an immediate boost to the fund. But with the competition a few months away and approximately $14,000 still to be raised, Everitt is shifting her focus to the corporate sector in hopes of attaining larger-size gifts.

“This has been a great opportunity to flex my skills, and practically apply what I’ve learned,” Everitt said.

Everitt’s enthusiasm for Gatorloop and space transport and exploration is palpable. While some may view ideas like Hyperloop as lofty and unattainable, Everitt said these types of projects are closer to becoming reality than most might think. She also has an affinity for Musk, not only for his grandiose vision but because he comes from the South African province of Transvaal, where Everitt’s family has roots.

“When you go see a movie like ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon, that’s not fantasy,” Everitt said. “We’re definitely moving in a direction where that’s a real possibility.”

Everitt said her work with the Gatorloop team has impacted her career aspirations as well.

“I always assumed that there wasn’t room for me in the space exploration industry because I wasn’t a STEM person, but that’s simply not true, and I want to share this awareness with other business students who also might have varied interests,” Everitt said.

Campus Life

Don’t let the scale fool you: Why you could still be at risk for diabetes

August 8, 2016
Arch Mainous

Diabetes afflicts nearly 30 million people in the U.S., but 86 million more are pre-diabetic. UF professor of public health Arch Mainous discusses effective ways to screen individuals who sometimes are left out of the screening process: those who are not overweight or obese.

Type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 29 million people in the U.S. having the disease and another 86 million considered prediabetic. With an estimated cost of US$245 billion, prevention becomes critically important to stem the tide of increasing diabetes prevalence.

Diabetes is a chronic, treatable disease, but there are no cures. Weight loss surgery has been shown to help in some individuals, and medication can help. Identifying individuals at high risk for development of diabetes, adults with prediabetes, and then providing treatment to them is an effective strategy to slow or eliminate its progression.

The prevailing wisdom and screening and treatment recommendations begin with the starting point that adults who are overweight or obese are the ones who are likely to have prediabetes. Weight loss for those individuals is the primary recommended lifestyle intervention. Exercise and eating healthy foods are part of that.

As someone who has studied diabetes, I have discovered recently with colleagues that we may be missing millions of adults with prediabetes. Our screening systems in the U.S. are focusing only on these individuals who are overweight or obese.

Our studies suggest it may not be as simple as classifying people as overweight or obese versus healthy. Our thinking of risk and screening should also consider body composition.

A hidden danger

In an analysis of nationally representative data looking at 18 year trends in prediabetes among healthy weight adults, in 2012, 33 percent of adults 45 and older at “healthy weight” in the United States had prediabetes, defined as a Hemoglobin A1c of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent. The proportion of adults at healthy weight with prediabetes had shown a significant rise over time. This is particularly troubling because the health care authorities have told this group that they are “healthy,” and we are not looking for diabetes in them.

The screening recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force suggests screening for abnormal blood glucose (prediabetes and diabetes) only in adults who are overweight or obese. Based upon these guidelines, millions may be leaving their doctor’s offices with an unidentified risk for one of the most debilitating and expensive chronic illnesses in the U.S.

Moreover, since these adults are what we would consider to be a healthy weight, the usual strategy of calorie restriction and weight loss is called into question as an appropriate prevention strategy.

These findings make us wonder whether we need to shift our thinking about what may predispose one to prediabetes and how to prevent and delay progression to diabetes in this high-risk population.

Instead of looking only at weight, we should think in terms of a healthy body composition represented by the proportion of lean body mass to fat. People at healthy weight but poor body composition that is, someone with low weight but also low muscle mass in proportion to their body fat, what some have termed “skinny fat."

We think a healthy body composition is more important than weight. Body composition refers to the proportion of lean body mass to fat. Over time, that proportion changes, as some muscle loss is inevitable from aging.

We may not be able to see this change in in our bodies or on the scale. A 55-year-old man, for example, who still weighs close to what he weighed at 25 will have a different proportion of lean body mass to fat, with more fat most likely.

Although some lean muscle mass loss is inevitable as we age, exercise can counteract some of the loss. Unfortunately for us, as our industrialized society moves to a sedentary lifestyle, getting that exercise becomes more of a challenge.

Just as society has shifted in our activity levels, we may have to shift our thinking about health. We may be working with a false dichotomy that of overweight and obese versus healthy.

Getting a grip can help

We have conducted several studies that suggest there may be a simple way to screen for lean muscle mass. We can test grip strength, as measured by a hand grip dynamometer, an instrument that measures the strength of hand and forearm muscles. This could be done in a doctor’s office in a very non-intrusive way in about 30 seconds.

We found that among individuals at healthy weight, lower grip strength is associated not only with undiagnosed diabetes in adults but also prediabetes. Thus, by focusing on muscle and body composition, we can distinguish individuals in the healthy weight category who have abnormal blood glucose, an indicator of prediabetes or diabetes.

We haven’t established the cut-points, or measurements, of grip strength for use in practice with different patient populations (e.g., young men, old women, tall men), but that is where we need to go in future studies.

This helps us to rethink not only how we view the illness but also who may be at risk. Further, it also helps us think of potential strategies to deal with this problem.

For example, what are the next steps for individuals who are at a healthy weight? They are already at a suggested healthy weight, but that is providing a misleading assurance of health for many of these adults. To avoid missing these people, should we consider expanding the current Preventive Services Task Force recommendations of screening for abnormal blood glucose to include adults at healthy weight as well as those who are overweight or obese?

It is unclear whether that type of expansion would be cost effective. Would it be better to focus on refining our measures of body composition among individuals at healthy weight to select those at the highest risk?

It is still premature to recommend specific interventions for individuals at healthy weight to prevent diabetes. It may, however, be worthwhile to emphasize resistance exercise in a healthy lifestyle rather than having individuals focus on what the scales say about their weight. Think body composition, not just thin.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on Aug. 3, 2016.

Science & Wellness

Gators in the National Parks

August 15, 2016
Alisson Clark
national parks centennial, national parks, NPS, Gator Good

Global Impact

Distinguished scientist addresses UF Ph.D. grads

August 5, 2016
UF News

Linda Bartoshuk is the Bushnell Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. She has served as president for the Association for Psychological Science and in many other scientific and academic leadership roles. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Below is her speech.

Good afternoon and congratulations!

I’ve never given a commencement address before, so I did some reading including commencement addresses by people I admire.  I particularly liked the address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005.  He started by saying that he wanted to tell three stories from his life.  “That’s it.  No big deal.  Just three stories.” 

I will modify that just a bit and tell you four stories.  These stories are loosely related to the advice I will pass on, but in case that relation is too loose, let me give you that message right now.

In the popular imagination, scientists are supposed to solve problems and make discoveries.  But while I have done a bit of that over the course of my career, I have also hit plenty of dead ends, both professionally and scientifically.  I’ve learned from those experiences that when finding a way out looks impossible, you have to keep an open mind.  You can sometimes change direction and find a solution where no one was looking.

On to the stories. 

I was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, a small prairie town with a population of about 25,000.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer.  In junior high we had a career night.  Each of us wrote on a 3-by-5 card what we wanted to be, and the school promised to find us someone in that profession to interview.  I wrote down that I wanted to be an astronomer.  The school scheduled me to interview a secretary.

Fast forward a bit.  In high school we had to have the list of courses we wanted to take approved by a guidance counselor.  I wanted to take algebra, trigonometry, chemistry and physics.  My counselor suggested that these were unrealistic for me.  Subtext: As a girl I would have no use for such subjects.  I bargained.  I was ultimately allowed to take those courses, but I had to take bookkeeping and typing as well.  Actually, the typing wasn’t a bad idea; it’s come in handy.

Fast forward a bit more.  College.  I went to Carleton College and they had an astronomy major.  Hallelujah!  I was studying astronomy.   I loved it.  But I discovered at the beginning of my junior year that women were not allowed to use the big telescopes.  Apparently, they were a little too tricky for our fragile minds and bodies.

That was the first time I remember being really pissed off.  My college roommate and I sat down and looked over the Carleton catalogue to see what other majors I might be able to switch to.   Amazing!   Psychology would give me credit for all the math and science I had taken and I could just barely get the psychology requirements covered during my junior and senior years.  I had never taken a psychology course but I was game.

Carleton had a very sophisticated psychology major, and in my intro course I learned about psychophysics - the study of human sensory experiences.  I learned that study of the perception of the brightness of stars actually led to our current understanding of the size of the universe.

Let me explain that.  Think about looking at stars.  The farther away a star is, the dimmer it will appear.  If we knew the absolute brightness of a star, we could figure out its distance from Earth.  But how could we ever figure out the absolute brightness of a star?  Turns out that some stars pulse; they periodically get brighter and dimmer.   There is a link between the timing of the pulsation and the absolute magnitude of the star.  Suddenly we knew how far the pulsing stars were from the Earth.  We knew the size of the universe.

I was enchanted.  Even though we are isolated, for now, in our solar system, we can use our brains to deduce what is happening in worlds far away that we cannot directly experience.

The beauty of this intellectual feat has driven my entire career as a scientist, always reminding me of the power of our human reasoning.   If someone tells you something cannot be known, they may really be saying it cannot be known in their world.  Find a new way.  Don’t look for the ladder over the wall if it doesn’t exist.  Build your own ladder.

On to my second story in graduate school.

I enrolled at Brown University.  My mentor at Carleton, my academic father, if you like family trees, had also studied at Brown.  I was to study with his academic father.  Thus my academic father would also be my academic grandfather.  There’s a country-western song in there somewhere.

Brown University is in Providence, Rhode Island.  I had never been that far east.  I had never seen the Atlantic Ocean and I had never been to an East Coast deli.  I remember asking for a pastrami sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise.  The counterman wouldn’t give it to me.

The wonder of this new world came crashing down when my prospective mentor, Carl Pfaffmann, told me he did not want women in his laboratory. 

I had no way forward, but when I told one of his male students what had happened, he took me into his lab and taught me how to record from single-taste nerve fibers.  Pfaffmann had been the first to ever do this and was world famous for it.  He returned from a trip, found me recording from taste nerves and relented.  I was in the lab of my dreams.

However, the dream did not last long.  My mentor gave me an appallingly hard problem.  I tried.  And I failed.  I took a deep breath, marshaled the evidence for why the problem was not solvable and went to see Pfaffmann. 

After our conversation I assumed I would be leaving Brown and asked another faculty member if he would write me a recommendation for a new school.  But Pfaffmann called me into his office, told me he had looked at my record, discovered I was a good student and decided he had been too hard on me.  So I could stay at Brown and work on a manageable problem.  I loved graduate school, but I didn’t forgive Pfaffmann.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.  Especially don’t believe it if they base that belief on your gender or race.  Create your own solution, but take advantage of help from others. 

Pfaffmann also plays a role in my third story.

I got my PhD.  After some years working on basic problems, I began to study patients with taste disorders.  Pfaffmann and I stayed in touch, but the relationship was chilly.  Then I got an amazing phone call.  Pfaffmann had suffered a severe

attack of Ramsey-Hunt Syndrome.  This is caused by the chicken pox virus.  The virus can lay dormant in the body for years only to reactivate and damage the auditory nerve.  The taste nerves are nearby and can be damaged as well.  

Pfaffmann was puzzled because his taste sensations seemed normal.  We embarked on what was to be a three-year adventure.  When I tested him, we were both surprised to find that he had no taste at all on his left side, the side of the Ramsey-Hunt attack, but taste on his right, if anything, was more intense than normal. We tested at least monthly, and as taste slowly returned to his left, taste on the right began to decline.  Ultimately both sides returned to normal. 

We had discovered inhibition between the two sides of the tongue.  This was actually a very important discovery and has served as the basis for a variety of subsequent clinical insights. 

However, the conversations Pfaffmann and I had while running all those tests were equally important to me.  I finally worked up the nerve to ask him why he had been so hard on me.  He indignantly denied any memory of any such thing.  I think he did remember.  I think he had watched his daughter become a lawyer and changed his mind about the potential of women.  But I let it go.  I realized that I had begun to like Pfaffmann very much during our study of his taste problem and the anger remaining from my early days as his student faded away.

From a scientific perspective, I had been taught that we can’t learn anything from a single case, and I agreed to test Pfaffmann not expecting any scientific value from the enterprise.  However, my experience with Pfaffmann taught me the value of the right case.   Sometimes we can gain new insights from unexpected sources.  The key is to be skeptical, to question, to keep searching and to see a new idea when it pops up in front of you.

My fourth story concerns some of the most fun I have had in science.

Some time ago I moved to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences here at UF.  I’m part of the Food Flavor Division, and our goal is to make healthy fruits and vegetables maximally palatable.

Foods stimulate both taste and smell.  These two senses are integrated in the brain into flavor.  These interactions are very important to The Plant Innovation Center at UF.  This is where we study how to breed plants to provide the flavors that are most preferred by consumers. 

We were doing a study on tomatoes.  Tomatoes are mostly sugars, acids and volatiles.  Volatiles are the chemicals that create the aroma of the tomato.  But something did not add up. 

The sweetness of the tomatoes was not directly predicted by the sugar content.  Turns out that some of the volatiles in the tomatoes were enhancing the sweet signal in the brain.  We identified those volatiles and found that the tomatoes with the highest concentrations were two to three times as sweet as the other tomatoes.   

With subsequent research on strawberries and oranges, we have now identified more than 80 volatiles that can enhance sweetness.  We can use this information to breed sweeter fruit.  Imagine grapefruit so sweet that they don’t need added sugar. 

Can we take these volatiles out of the plants that produced them and add them to foods?  The answer is yes.  We can use these volatiles to reduce sugar in any foods. 

It seemed obvious to a lot of people that the sweetness of fruit was due to sugar.  Questioning the obvious led us to a very exciting result.  Don’t accept conventional wisdom.  We wanted to sweeten things without adding more sugar or using artificial sweeteners.  We found another way to do it.

The science I’ve learned to love is about evidence.  What constitutes evidence can change over time as we get smarter, but scientists learn to insist on evidence for any conclusions.  It’s a good idea to do the same in daily life. We face many issues that require action, and we need to examine the best evidence we can find. 

And so we come to my advice.  Have healthy skepticism about assumptions, ideas, people, and so forth and also be ready to propose and to try new solutions.  Your education has started you on the road to recognizing nonsense and using evidence.  You can learn more about our world this way – and you can create new and better worlds.

Again, congratulations, and best wishes for your lives and careers ahead!  Thank you!

Campus Life

Some good news on opioid epidemic: Treatment options are expanding

August 11, 2016
William Greene and Lisa J. Merlo-Greene

UF psychiatry professors William Greene and Lisa J. Merlo-Greene write that while health care claims for an opioid dependence diagnosis rose more than 3,000 percent from 2007 to 2014, medical knowledge about addiction and a social and political will to fight it are expanding as well.

In the past two decades, the devastation associated with opioid addiction has escaped the relative confines of the inner city and extended to suburban and rural America. Due in large part to the proliferation of prescription pain relievers, rates of opioid abuse, addiction, overdose and related deaths have increased dramatically. This has affected families and communities that once felt immune to this crisis.

On Aug. 1, an analysis of health care claims for treatment of opioid dependence showed a 3,000 percent increase from 2007 to 2014.

The knowledge that many are afflicted or affected has helped people understand the powerful psychological and physiological grip of addiction. As a result, stigma has decreased.

What was once relegated to the back burner of public concern has become a top public health priority.

We addiction experts also have gained better understanding of the illness, and we see reasons for hope.

Shifts in public policy

The Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act combined to finally require insurance companies to cover treatment for patients suffering from addiction. Insurance companies can no longer deny treatment or significantly limit treatment for psychiatric disorders, including addiction, as they had in the past.

President Obama recently proposed US$1.1 billion in funding to expand access to treatment for opioid addiction and overdose prevention.

In July, the House passed a bill that would further expand access to care for addiction and other mental health conditions.

Then, on July 22, the president signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016.

If adequately funded by Congress, the law will help to strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery efforts.

This improves treatment options for individuals in the criminal justice system, which may decrease rates of return to crime and prison. It also expands access to naloxone, a lifesaving drug that emergency medical workers and even family and friends, in certain cases, can administer to someone who has overdosed.

This stepped-up policy response is giving doctors the means to better treat people with opioid addiction. When combined with improvements in public understanding that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, we as a society are creating an environment that supports treatment. We believe this will save many thousands of lives.

A societal effort

Physicians are re-examining their own prescribing practices to decrease the likelihood of medication diversion or misuse and to minimize the development of iatrogenic addiction, or addiction that stems from medical treatment.

Law enforcement officials have worked to close down hundreds of “pill mills,” or clinics purporting to serve patients with chronic pain disorders. In reality, they serve as primary access points for dealers selling prescription drugs on the black market.

In all states except Missouri, prescription drug monitoring programs have also helped to identify patients in need of intervention.

More patients have access to treatment than ever before, including many in the criminal justice system who participate in drug court diversionary programs. Such programs save taxpayer money and decrease recidivism.

Greater understanding and knowledge

The field of addiction medicine has matured and expanded, recently acquiring recognition as a dedicated medical specialty.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the disease of addiction is best understood as a single condition. There is no distinction made depending on the preferred drug(s) of abuse.

Addiction specialists conceptualize addiction as a bio-psycho-social-spiritual disease. They understand that continued use of psychoactive substances interferes with active participation in psychosocial treatment. Such usage prevents development of a personal program of recovery.

Therefore, successful treatment of opioid addiction begins with abstinence from all substances of abuse. Patients should not expect to quit using oxycodone, fentanyl or heroin but continue to drink alcohol or to smoke marijuana. The same holds true for treatment of addiction to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or any other drug.

Some patients require medically supervised detoxification to abstain. Accessing the right treatment is crucial to success. Some will need a more intensive treatment setting. Even individuals who were unsuccessful maintaining abstinence with outpatient treatment may achieve recovery in a more intensive treatment setting.

Addiction, like other medical conditions with significant behavioral components, is a chronic condition. Relapse may occur. Thus, most patients need to learn skills that help them cope adaptively with stressors in their daily lives. Often, they need to address issues from their past that relate to substance abuse.

People with addiction may have other psychiatric conditions. They need to be treated for those, too. In many areas, publicly funded treatment programs are available for individuals lacking insurance or who cannot afford private treatment.

Support from family and 12-step programs helpful

Family members should encourage patients suffering from addiction to seek a professional evaluation. This will help determine the appropriate level of care, which could range from outpatient management to long-term residential treatment.

In addition, physicians and other treatment specialists highly encourage participation in a 12-step recovery program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Such programs are free, and they offer many benefits. Research has documented significantly reduced risk of relapse with increased likelihood of successful outcome among patients treated for opioid addiction in this way.

Family members often benefit from 12-step programs, too. Al-Anon or Alateen can help them learn how best to support their loved one without enabling the addiction.

Medications also helpful

Patients with opioid use disorders may also benefit from medication assistance. Currently, four types of prescription medication are approved to assist with treatment of opioid addiction.

The opioid antagonist medication, naltrexone, is available as a daily oral pill or as a monthly intramuscular injection. It helps patients by decreasing cravings. It also blocks patients' ability to “get high,” even if they use an opioid drug. Naltrexone has no abuse potential, and can be safely used by most patients.

Second, the opioid partial agonist medication buprenorphine is available as an oral pill, dissolving tablet or filmstrip. It also reduces cravings and reduces and prevents withdrawal symptoms. It, too, blocks the ability to “get high.”

Buprenorphine has some abuse potential, however. It should be used only under guidance and careful monitoring by a physician with sufficient expertise. In fact, doctors must receive a waiver to be allowed to prescribe buprenorphine.

Third, the opioid agonist medication methadone prevents withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings and interferes with the ability to “get high” from other opioids.

Methadone also has abuse potential and risk of overdose if used inappropriately, however. As a result, methadone is typically dispensed in liquid form on a daily basis, and only from specialized methadone maintenance treatment clinics.

Finally, for individuals at high risk of relapse, new measures are in place to help prevent death in the event of accidental overdose. The opioid antagonist medication naloxone is now available in an automatic injector formulation for use by police, EMTs and other first responders. Naloxone has long been used by medical professionals in emergency rooms to reverse opioid overdose.

Naloxone is also available by prescription for patients with opioid addiction and their families to keep on hand as a safety precaution. In some states it is also available over the counter at certain pharmacies. It can be viewed much like an Epi-pen, which patients with severe allergies keep on hand for emergencies. A naloxone nasal spray is newly available, which may further facilitate access to this lifesaving medication.

These changes to public policy and advances in opioid treatment have greatly improved the prognosis for patients suffering from opioid addiction. Research and clinical evidence have demonstrated that long-term recovery is not only possible, but expected, following adequate treatment with appropriate follow-up care.

Now, more than ever, there is hope for healing from addiction.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on Aug. 9, 2016.

Science & Wellness

How did primate brains get so big?

August 11, 2016
Stephenie Livingston
primates, florida museum, neuroscience

New study sheds light on evolution of human, ape intelligence

Virtual brains reconstructed from ancient, kiwi-sized primate skulls could help resolve one of the most intriguing evolutionary mysteries: how modern primates developed large brains.

side view of Notharctus tenebrosus’s skull.

University of Florida paleontologists found clues in the remarkably preserved skulls of adapiforms, lemur-like primates that scurried around the tropical forests of Wyoming about 50 million years ago. Thought to be a link between primitive and advanced primates, their fossil skulls were the best evidence available for understanding the neuroanatomy of the earliest ancestors of modern primates. But there was just one problem—the brain cavities of the fragile skulls contained only rock and dust.

That is, until Arianna Harrington, then a UF undergraduate student and later a master’s student at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, used CT technology to create the first virtual 3-D brain casts of the early primates. The eight virtually reconstructed and dissected brains—the most ever created for a single study—show an evolutionary burst including improved vision and more complex neurological function preceded an increase in brain size, said Harrington, now a Duke University doctoral student. Details of the findings are described online in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Top and bottom views, respectively, of the virtual brains of Notharctus tenebrosus (A, B, C, E and F), Adapis parisiensis (G and H) and Smilodectes gracilis (bottom two rows) within transparent renderings of their skulls.

Top and bottom views, respectively, of the virtual brains of Notharctus tenebrosus (A, B, C, E and F), Adapis parisiensis (G and H) and Smilodectes gracilis (bottom two rows) within transparent renderings of their skulls.

“It may be that these early specializations allowed primate brains to expand later in time,” said Harrington, the study’s lead author. “The idea is that any patterns we find in primate brain evolution could lead to a better understanding of the early evolution that led to the human brain.”

Arianna Harrington during fieldwork in the badlands of Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Arianna HarringtonScientists have long debated whether primates have always had big brains compared to body size, or if this was a trait that appeared later. The new study’s findings are consistent with previous endocast studies of Australopithecus afarensis, the oldest hominid known, and Victoriapithecus macinnesi, an early Old World monkey, which showed brain size increase followed brain specialization in early hominids and monkeys.

Adapiforms, which are not directly related to humans, evolved after the earliest primate ancestors, called plesiadapiforms, which lived about 65 million years ago. Harrington and colleagues created virtual endocasts for three different species of adapiforms: Notharctus tenebrosus and Smilodectes gracilis from the middle Eocene Bridger formation of Wyoming and a late Eocene European specimen named Adapis parisiensis.

Adapiforms’ skulls differ from the earlier plesiadapiforms in a few ways including having more forward-facing eyes. Thanks to the new virtual endocasts, scientists were able to take a closer look at anatomical features which revealed that, while adapiforms placed relatively less emphasis on smell more similar to modern primate brains, the relative brain size was not so different from that of plesiadapiforms, said study co-author Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum.

“While it’s true humans and other modern primates have very large brains, that story started down at the base of our group,” Bloch said. “As our study shows, the earliest primates actually had relatively small brains. So they didn’t start out with large brains and maintain them.”

A 3-D view of the virtual brain of Smilodectes gracilis created using CT technology.

Modern primates are specialized in the visual sense. One of the main differences between the early plesiadapiforms and adapiforms is the region of the brain responsible for the sense of smell, the olfactory bulb, is smaller, while there appears to be an expansion in the area of the brains responsible for vision, Harrington said.

“It is likely this indicates they’re beginning to rely more on vision than smell,” she said. “Scientists have hypothesized that vision may have helped early primates forage in complex arboreal forest systems.”

Science & Wellness

Visitors concerned about Zika but still plan to travel to Florida, UF study shows

August 11, 2016
UF News

With more than 20 cases of non-travel related Zika reported in South Florida, tourists express more concern with travel to the state but still plan to come,  a new study shows.

Findings from a recent study, conducted by the University of Florida’s Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, or TCMI, shows more than 70 percent of potential visitors are concerned with the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Florida. Of those who expressed concern, less than 10 percent have changed their travel plans.

Of the 10 percent who changed their plans, the majority postponed their travel plans (60 percent), while 25 percent went somewhere else. Interestingly, of those who changed their plans, about 15 percent asked a medical professional for their opinion before making a decision.

The study also shows that 45 percent had medium to high levels of knowledge of the Zika virus as a result of coverage on social media (36 percent) and television news coverage (27 percent).

Researchers surveyed 828 potential domestic visitors who planned to travel to Florida within the next six months. The survey was conducted three days after 15 non-travel-related cases were discovered in Miami-Dade County. The study found that most respondents were aware that the outbreak was confined to a portion of the Miami-Dade area of Florida.

Interestingly, 82 percent say they were aware that the recommended use of insect repellants are a good protective behavior, as well as staying indoors with air conditioning or using screened windows and doors to avoid contact with mosquitoes.

"Making insect repellent available for guests in public areas of hotels and other public accommodations as well as directing them to information such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website would help to build protective behaviors," said Ignatius Cahyanto of Black Hills State University, lead study researcher and affiliate researcher TCMI.

When turning to sources for information, once again the CDC was seen as the primary source for information (85 percent), followed by the destination itself (58 percent).

"Ensuring that timely, accurate and up-to-date information is available for visitors on the tourist bureau's website as well as partner websites is critical. Directing visitors to the destination's site and the CDC will keep visitors informed when they book their trips," said Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the TCMI.

Science & Wellness

For World Elephant Day, four things you didn’t know about elephants

August 12, 2016
Alisson Clark
World Elephant Day, elephants, Asia, conservation, sustainability

By day, Ron Chandler works as the academic programs liaison at the University of Florida’s Office of Sustainability. But in his spare time, he leads the Conservation Initiative for the Asian Elephant, a not-for-profit group he co-founded in 2000. On World Elephant Day, he shared some reasons to care about elephants and how to help this endangered species survive.

They’re smarter than you think 

They show empathy, they solve problems, and they really do have amazing memories. “Their brains are more like our laptops than our brains,” Chandler said.

They're landscape architects

Elephants use their amazing sense of smell to find water, even when it’s hidden underground. In a matter of hours, they can fell trees and move earth to create a lake that other animals in the area use for food and water. “They’re a keystone species," Chandler said. "If you take elephants out of the environment, the overall ecology changes so drastically that other species begin to collapse.”

People could learn a few things from elephants

“They’re masters of sustainability, they’re peaceful, they’re willing to be calm and collected but willing to stand up and take charge when necessary. They have a profound dignity about them,” said Chandler, who first saw elephants in the wild in 1998, when he quit his job in hydrology and went to Africa to study them in preparation for starting his organization.

To help elephants, read product labels

Simple steps in your daily life can make a big difference to the survival of wild elephants, Chandler says. Check labels on food and beauty products to avoid palm oil, which destroys the habitat of elephants and other endangered species. You can also avoid buying souvenirs, antiques or collectibles that might be made of ivory, either at home or on vacation.

Global Impact

Biomarker breakthrough could improve Parkinson’s treatment

August 15, 2016
Alisson Clark
Parkinson’s, PD, movement disorders, College of Health and Human Performance

A new, non-invasive way to track the progression of Parkinson’s disease could help evaluate experimental treatments to slow or stop the disease’s progression.

University of Florida researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to reveal areas where Parkinson’s disease and related conditions cause progressive decline in brain activity.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the journal Neurology.

While current treatments focus on controlling symptoms, biomarkers provide a quantifiable way to measure how medications address not just symptoms, but the neurological changes behind them.

Previous studies have used imaging techniques that require the injection of a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier.

“Our technique does not rely upon the injection of a drug. Not only is it non-invasive, it’s much less expensive,” said David Vaillancourt, Ph.D., a professor in UF’s Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology and the study’s senior author.

The study’s authors – which included researchers from UF’s College of Health and Human Performance and College of Medicine as well as the Medical University of South Carolina – used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate five areas of the brain that are key to movement and balance. A year after the baseline study, the 46 Parkinson’s patients in the study showed declining function in two areas: the primary motor cortex and putamen. Parkinson’s-related disorders evaluated in the study also showed declines: The 13 subjects with multiple system atrophy had reduced activity in three of the five areas, while the 19 with progressive supranuclear palsy showed declines in all five areas. The brain activity of the 34 healthy control subjects did not change.

“For decades, the field has been searching for an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease,” said Debra Babcock, M.D., Ph.D., program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “This study is an example of how brain imaging biomarkers can be used to monitor the progression of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.”

The finding builds on a 2015 UF study that was the first to document progressive deterioration from Parkinson’s via MRI, showing an increase in unconstrained fluid in an area of the brain called the substania nigra. An NIH-funded study beginning in November will use both biomarkers to test if a drug approved for symptom relief can slow or stop progressive degeneration.

Katrina Gwinn, M.D., also a program director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, described the effort to identify biomarkers as “an essential part of moving towards the development of treatments that impact the causes, and not just the symptoms, of Parkinson’s disease.” 

Science & Wellness

The surprising side effect of kissing up at work

August 16, 2016
Alisson Clark
Business, workplace, office, Warrington College of Business

Kissing up to your boss doesn’t just impact your relationship with your supervisor, it can influence your co-workers, as well.  

In a new study in The Journal of Applied Psychology, University of Florida researcher Trevor Foulk and David Long from The College of William & Mary looked at how “kissing up” — also known as ingratiation — affected people who witnessed it. They found that newcomers who saw a co-worker kissing up to the boss were more likely to have a positive perception about the supervisor, while other workers’ perceptions were unaffected.

“That kind of information is so much more valuable to a newcomer,” Foulk said. “You’re scanning the environment looking for any cue you can get that can help you understand the workplace.”

Foulk suspects that new employees are so eager for positive information about their supervisors that they’ll accept information that other employees discount, causing them to interpret attempts at ingratiation as a sign that the boss must be someone worth getting in good with.  We typically don’t like ingratiators: When established workers observe this behavior, they tend to discount it. But newcomers really want to know about their supervisors, so they take the exchange as positive information and ignore its unsavory aspects, Foulk said.

“If you could sit down with your supervisor for an hour and talk, that would be the best way to form an impression, but we don’t always have that opportunity,” he said. “If we can't get good information, we’ll settle for what we can get.” 

In the study, participants watched a video of an employee using different types of ingratiation — compliments, interest in personal life, praise and favors — on a supervisor. After the researchers controlled for age, work experience and social skill, they found that participants who watched interactions that included ingratiation from a subordinate rated the supervisor’s warmth higher than those who watched interactions without it.

The positive perception even held when participants were told that the supervisor was unpleasant and ineffective. However, it only applied when the participants imagined that they were new to the job. When participants were told that they were contractors whose term with the company was ending, the positive bump disappeared. The study also found that when employees directly observed the supervisor behaving in a positive manner, the effect of ingratiation became less important.

“This study shows that this behavior can affect our impressions of others. If you’re a newcomer and I want you to like the supervisor, I can manage your impression by ingratiating the supervisor in front of you,” he said. “It’s almost like throwing your voice.” 

Society & Culture

Here’s what coworkers think when you suck up to your boss

August 17, 2016
Trevor Foulk

UF doctoral student Trevor Foulk explores why “brown-nosing” your boss may be more complicated than you think – and can change how the boss is perceived by colleagues.

Few employees would deny that ingratiation is ubiquitous in the workplace.

This behavior goes by many names – kissing up, sucking up, brown-nosing and a**-kissing. Indeed, the fact that there are so many names that describe this behavior suggests that it’s something that goes on all the time at work.

Ingratiation is defined as the use of certain positive behaviors such as flattery, doing favors or conforming to another’s opinions to get someone else to like you. This behavior is especially common when employees interact with a supervisor because of the latter’s status and control over important work resources, including job assignments, responsibilities, pay and promotions.

So we all know that this goes on all the time, but what do we really understand about how these behaviors operate at work?

While social influence behaviors like ingratiation are typically thought of as a dyadic phenomenon (that is, involving two people – the ingratiator and the ingratiated), these behaviors are actually embedded in a much more complex and dynamic work environment, which includes many other people.

To get a clearer picture of how these behaviors operate, my colleague and I examined how they work from a third party’s point of view – that is, how do observers of sucking up to a boss process it?

A**-kissing works

We do know a few things about how ingratiation works in the workplace.

First of all, we know that these behaviors are effective. That is, targets of ingratiation tend to like to be sucked up to, and they tend to form more positive opinions of those doing the sucking up.

So is it all positive news for the ingratiator? No, not really.

We also know that observers of this behavior tend to dislike the ingratiator. That is, when we see a coworker kissing up to a supervisor, we tend to dislike that colleague and view him or her less favorably.

What is not clear, and what we set out to explore in this project, was how observers of ingratiation felt about the target. In other words, if we see someone sucking up to our supervisor at work, does that affect our opinion of that supervisor?

Ingratiation: Social or unsavory?

Ingratiation represents a challenging phenomenon from a social influence perspective, because the cues it sends are technically positive, but unsavory and negative aspects accompany the activity.

That is, when a coworker sucks up to a supervisor, he or she is saying positive things about that person and sending positive signals about him or her.

“I really like your tie,” “Wow, that was a really great idea” and “That’s exactly how I would have done it, great job, boss” are all examples of ingratiation that send others positive signals about the supervisor.

However, there are also aspects of ingratiation that suggest that observers wouldn’t infer positive things about the supervisor because of these signals. Most notably, when we know a behavior is false or feigned, we tend to discount it. Since ingratiation is specifically performed to earn another’s liking, it isn’t genuine.

That means we have a challenging phenomenon for observers - they are getting positive signals about the boss but in a way that suggests these signals may not be real.

So how will other employees interpret these signals?

Newcomers are more susceptible

What we find in this study is that it depends on the employee.

Specifically, we find that newcomers are in a unique position when it comes to observing ingratiation, and they are much more likely to interpret it as a positive signal about the supervisor. Newcomers, who know very little about the supervisor, are motivated to learn about the boss any way they can. And thus they are more likely to disregard the aspects of ingratiation that suggest that it’s fake and interpret it as being a positive signal about the boss.

In a series of studies, we found that when participants were in the role of newcomers, they regularly formed more positive impressions of supervisors whom they saw being ingratiated. Even when these participants knew a little bit about the supervisor before observing the ingratiation, they still formed more positive impressions.

However, when participants took the role of contractors who had no need to learn about the supervisor because he had no control over their work outcomes this effect disappeared. Observing ingratiation had no effect on non-newcomers' impressions of the supervisor.

Lessons for supervisors

In another study, we examined what role supervisor behavior could play in this phenomenon.

In this study, some participants (“newcomers” to the job) saw an interaction in which a supervisor was kissed up to by an employee and some witnessed the same interaction minus the ingratiation. Then some participants saw a supervisor react by behaving positively toward the ingratiating employee, and others saw the supervisor react in a neutral way.

What we found was that when the supervisor behaved positively by calling the coworker a “good guy” and suggesting that they worked well together, the influence of the ingratiation had almost no effect on observers’ impressions. In other words, when the supervisor signaled that he or she had good qualities by acting in ways suggesting he or she genuinely liked the coworker, onlookers automatically felt positively about him or her, and the observed ingratiation had no influence. The impact of the ingratiation was overridden by the supervisor’s own genuinely positive behaviors.

This suggests that newcomers prefer direct information from the supervisor when forming opinions about the supervisor, but in the absence of this information they will use observed ingratiation as a substitute for direct information.

Putting it all together

The results of our study mean a few things.

They suggest that impression management behaviors are actually much more complicated than we realize. We typically think of these behaviors as being episodes between two people (the ingratiator and the target). But what we found here is that these behaviors have more complex effects and actually influence the opinions of those who observe them.

Ingratiation is typically thought of as a behavior that actors use to get others to like them. But what we show here is that this can actually be used as a strategy to get others to like others, as in this case a coworker is able to make someone new form a favorable impression of the boss.

So if a supervisor wants a new employee to like him or her, a realistic strategy may be for him to have another employee kiss up in front of the newcomer. This strategy should be used with caution, however, because of the known damage this behavior can have to the ingratiator (remember – we don’t like ingratiators).

This study also shows both the preference for direct information when forming impressions of others and what we’ll do in the absence of direct information. When supervisors displayed genuinely positive behaviors, participants preferred to use that information to form their impressions, and they discounted the indirect information obtained from the ingratiation episode, showing that we prefer direct information.

However, absent that information, we’ll take what we can get. And even though ingratiation isn’t perfect, and even though we know it’s fake, if we don’t have anything better and we want to form an impression of the supervisor, we’ll use this imperfect information in the same way we would have used direct signals from the supervisor.

This article originally appeared in The Conversation on Aug. 16, 2016.

Society & Culture

Mussel flexing: Bivalves save drought-stricken marshes, research finds

August 18, 2016
Steve Orlando

As coastal ecosystems feel the heat of climate change worldwide, new research shows the humble mussel and marsh grass form an intimate interaction known as mutualism that benefits both partner species and may be critical to helping these ecosystems bounce back from extreme climatic events such as drought.

The study, led by the University of Florida, finds that when mussels pile up in mounds around the grass stems, they provide protection by improving water storage around the grass roots and reducing soil salinity.

Mussels protect grasses from drought by improving water storage around the grass roots and reducing soil salinity.

With mussels’ help, the study found, marshes can recover from drought in less than a decade.

Without, it can take more than century.

“It’s a story of mutual benefit between marsh grass and mussels,” said Christine Angelini, an assistant professor of environmental engineering sciences in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and lead author on the paper.

The mussels, she said, “protect and then accelerate the healing of drought-stricken marshes.”

Saving the marshes has not only environmental benefits but also economic ones.

“Marsh die-off and loss are major issues that can affect land value, fisheries and water quality,” Angelini said. “Even if just a little bit of vegetation survives, it makes a huge difference in how quickly the marsh comes back.”

The researchers became interested in the topic after three severe droughts in the Southeast over the past 17 years caused a major die-off of cordgrass, the region’s dominant, marsh-structuring plant.

Using Google earth, the team considered 13 sites that contained relatively large marsh areas likely to experience drought-associated grass die-offs. They selected nine that spanned a little more than 150 miles of southeastern U.S. coastline from southern Georgia to central South Carolina at the conclusion of a severe, two-year drought in June 2012.

They found that wherever there were clusters of mussels embedded in the mud around the base of the grass stems, the grass survived; in fact, grass growing in mussel clusters had a 64 percent probability of surviving versus a 1 percent probability in areas where there were no mussels.

The researchers suspect mussels protect marsh grass during severe drought because they pave the marsh surface with their ribbed shells and attract burrowing crabs that excavate underground water storage compartments.

One of the research team’s marsh study sites was in the backyard of Dale Aren of Charleston, South Carolina.

A freelance marketing consultant, Aren and her husband, Scott, bought their property on Coburg Creek 16 years ago. The scenery played a major role their choice.

“The long marsh views and being on deep water were key in our purchase decision,” she said.

After noticing the marsh behind her home was dying, she did some online research and found a paper about that very problem written by Angelini’s colleague, Brian Silliman, an assistant professor of biology at UF and a co-author on Angelini’s paper.

“We were worried,” Aren said. “The Spartina [grass] is beautiful and the increasing area of mudflats were very unattractive and did not look healthy.”

However, there were little patches of grass left in these mudflats – most associated with mussels.  The researchers found that, once the drought subsided, these dispersed grass patches expanded rapidly, healing the mudflats from the inside out.

Three years later, the mudflats had largely recovered to healthy marsh, showing reason for optimism.

“However, at the moment, we are experiencing a more severe dieback” Aren said. ”Interestingly though, our neighbors marsh is rejuvenating more now than in 2012 - 2013. Their marsh was much worse than ours and now it looks better. There are so many variables.”

The next step, Angelini said, is to figure out whether the transplanting mussels into drought-vulnerable marshes could offer a low-cost solution for homeowners to improve the resilience of their own back yards. They are also testing whether other at-risk ecosystems – seagrass meadows or, perhaps most notably, coral reefs – may be similarly protected by keystone mutualisms. 

The paper was published today in Nature Communications. Other institutions involved with Angelini’s research were Swansea University in the United Kingdom, The University of Groningen and Radboud University in the Netherlands; the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research; and Duke University.

"More generally, this work highlights how cooperation is key for an ecosystems ability to withstand and bounce back from climate change,” said study co-author Brian Silliman, the Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke. “Without cooperation, U.S. Southeastern salt marshes would likely be in a dramatic, spiraling decline because of increasing droughts stress."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences and Division of Environmental Biology.

"This is a very good example of how the diversity of life in a salt marsh promotes resilience to climate and environmental change," said David Garrison, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.

Science & Wellness

UF prepared and proactive in fighting Zika virus

August 18, 2016
Paul Bernard

As the fall semester draws near, officials at the University of Florida are taking every necessary precaution to reduce the threat of the Zika virus.

In a coordinated campuswide effort, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, the Department of Housing and Residence Education, the College of Planning, Design and Construction, UF’s Physical Plant division, the University Police Department, UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the Student Health Care Center will each play a role in ensuring the safety and health of all students, faculty and staff members.

“Our main goal is keeping the campus safe and attacking mosquitoes at the larvae stage, rather than trying to eliminate those that are already here,” said William Properzio, Environmental Health and Safety director.

He added that that there have been no reports of Zika-carrying mosquitos found in Alachua County.

More than 400 building emergency coordinators have begun finding and emptying any items containing standing water. Any body of water that is too large to be emptied will be treated with solid round, larvicides known as “dunks,” which prevent mosquitos from hatching. Lake Alice and other natural water bodies on campus will not be treated in order to protect their existing habitants.

UF has created its own Zika information website at Zika.ufl.edu with numerous resources such as prevention tips from its researchers, the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

UF, in conjunction with the state of Florida’s public universities and colleges, will participate in a joint public awareness campaign called, “Zika Aware: Spill it, Spray it,” in support of the Department of Health’s Spill the Water campaign designed to remind people to exercise precautions and empty standing water that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitos.

The universities, colleges and Department of Health launched the campaign in response to a recent initiative from Gov. Rick Scott that Florida’s leaders in the State University System, the Florida College System and K-12 work with the state Department of Health to proactively communicate with students on Zika virus prevention and ensure that educational institutions have a plan to promptly address suspected Zika cases.

UF students, faculty and staff are encouraged to limit the amount of time they spend outside, covering up as much as possible and applying insect repellant.

Campus Life

Four Generations of Gator Women

August 22, 2016
Steve Orlando

Hallie Uhrig started classes this summer at the University of Florida as part of a long and rich tradition: The architecture student is the fourth generation of women in her family who have attended UF, including her great-grandmother, Lassie Goodbread-Black, the first woman to attend UF as a full-time student. Their 91-year legacy has spanned wars, the Great Depression and the challenges of raising families, demonstrating a keen determination to earn a UF degree no matter what.


Campus Life

Meet your new neighbor -- the president

August 19, 2016
UF News

Picture this: You're lugging heavy boxes up the sidewalk headed for residence hall check-in when a tall, friendly gentleman wearing glasses steps up, grabs your suitcase and says, “Hi, I’m Kent Fuchs. I’m the president. Welcome to UF!” That scene played out again and again as part of Fuchs’s on-campus residential experience, during which the president and his wife, Linda, lived in Room 2026 in Jennings Hall for a week.

Fuchs said the goal was to connect with students and make them feel welcome. He and Linda helped students and their families move in, toured campus housing units and even took part in a shaving cream fight. See it all here.

Add President Fuchs on Snapchat to keep up with his adventures.

Campus Life

Non-travel Zika cases in Fla. could approach 400 by summer’s end

August 23, 2016
Evan Barton
Zika, Florida, mosquito

Nearly 400 non travel-related Zika infections will occur in Florida before the end of the summer, according to new projections by biostatisticians at the University of Florida and other institutions.

In addition, the virus is projected to spread to several other Southeastern states with handfuls of cases projected to pop up from Texas to South Carolina and even Oklahoma.

The projections come weeks after the Florida Department of Health identified the nation’s first locally acquired cases of the Zika virus in Miami-Dade County. UF researchers had already produced projections for other countries, which have experienced local Zika virus transmission for months – and in some cases, years.

Though the virus has been in South America for more than a year, some scientists doubted that it would ever come to the United States.

“It wasn’t clear at first whether mosquito densities were high enough to sustain an outbreak in the U.S.,” said Dr.Ira Longini, a professor of biostatistics in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine.

Once the first cases of locally transmitted Zika fever were identified in Miami, however, Longini and his colleagues felt more comfortable publishing 2016 estimates projecting the number of locally transmitted cases that they expect will occur in Florida.

The model projects 395 Zika infections in Florida by Sept. 15 due to local transmission and 79 symptomatic cases by the same date. In addition, they forecast that a median of eight of the infections will be in pregnant women during their first trimester.

Other states expected to see locally acquired Zika are below, followed by the number of locally acquired cases and the number of symptomatic cases:

Alabama – 11, 2

Arkansas – 3, 1

Georgia – 6, 1

Louisiana – 4, 1

Mississippi – 10, 2

Oklahoma – 12, 2

South Carolina – 16, 3

Texas – 5, 1

While many researchers have performed retrospective analyses of Zika infection outcomes using data from Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, none to date have involved prospective cohorts. This cohort will allow investigators to follow pregnant mothers through time, measuring the pregnancy outcomes of those who were likely infected in the in the first trimester of their pregnancy.

The results of the research will help Longini and others further codify the range of birth defects that fall under congenital Zika syndrome, as well as the likelihood of microcephaly and other birth defects.

As many of the prospective mothers began their pregnancies during late 2015 and early 2016, Longini expects to begin learning about their pregnancy outcomes in the fall.

Much of the analysis presented on the website was published last July in bioRxiv.

Longini, a senior researcher at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, partnered with Dr. Alessandro Vespignani at Northeastern University, Dr. Elizabeth Halloran at the University of Washington, and scientists from several other institutions to produce a website showing how Zika virus has spread through Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and projecting how it might spread in the future.

At UF, Longini worked with Dr. Natalie Dean, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of biostatistics, and Dr. Diana Patricia Rojas, a third-year graduate student in the department of epidemiology, to contribute to the publication.

The three also collaborated with UF biostatisticians Dr. Yang Yang and Dr. Eben Kenah to produce an article in Eurosurveillance on Zika epidemiology and transmissibility in Colombia.

“In Colombia, we’re trying to estimate the proportion of women infected in the first trimester who get microcephaly and other birth defects,” Longini said.

The researchers are partnering with the Colombia National Institute of Health, which has assembled a cohort of 15,000 pregnant women who are either known to have been infected with Zika virus while pregnant or who suspect they were infected.

“That’s the largest cohort in all of Latin America,” Rojas said. “It will give very good information about the exact proportion of pregnant women infected with Zika that can develop birth defects.”

Science & Wellness

Florida consumer sentiment drops in August, continuing downward trend

August 26, 2016
Colleen Porter

Consumer sentiment among Floridians plummeted 4.8 points in August to 88.2, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey. This is the lowest reading in the last year, and all five components that make up the index declined.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago dropped most sharply, down 10.5 points from 86.7 to 76.2. Expectations of personal finances a year from now fell by 7.8 points to 98.6. Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as a car declined by 3.1 points from 101.9 to 98.8.

These downward readings were shared by all Floridians with the exception of those aged 60 and over, whose readings showed little change.

“Most of the pessimism in August stems from the perceptions of personal finance situation now compared with a year ago and the expectations of personal finance situation one year from now, as these two components account for more than three-quarters of the change in the index,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR).

Readings on U.S. economic conditions were down slightly for both short- and long-term expectations: dropping 1.9 points to 85.1 for conditions over the next year and down nine-tenths of a point to 82.1 for the next five years.

Five years ago in August 2011, as Florida was recovering from the Great Recession, consumer sentiment among Floridians was at its lowest level of 61.4 points. The effects of the recession were still felt in Florida, with high levels of unemployment at 9.6 percent, and negative state Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates, a negative 2 percent in 2011.

Today, Florida’s consumer sentiment is 26.8 points higher, Florida GDP increased by 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2016 and ranked 10th in the nation, slightly higher than the 1.9 percent growth rate for the U.S. Furthermore, the real GDP growth rate in Florida has remained positive since 2012. Unemployment levels in Florida are currently at their lowest since the last recession, with an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, unchanged from the previous two months.  

“Despite the positive economic signals, consumer sentiment among Floridians seems to remain gloomy,” Sandoval said. “Except for July’s reading, consumer sentiment has followed a slightly downward trajectory over the last six months.”

Sandoval said that the state’s job market may be having an influence. “Although the number of jobs added statewide has remained positive for an outstanding 72 consecutive months, the unemployment levels haven’t decreased for the past three months, suggesting that the labor market has reached its ‘natural’ unemployment level. It is possible that economic agents are expecting a downturn in the economic activity in the medium-run, which is reflected in the latest trends of the consumer sentiment index.”

Some of the biggest drops in August were among those with incomes of $50,000 and over, down 10.4 points on expectations of their personal financial situation in a year. This may be partially due to concerns over decisions regarding retirement savings like IRAs and 401ks, whether to move money out of the stock market over predictions of an upcoming correction after seven years of record increases. 

“We should keep in mind that consumer sentiment is in part designed to predict consumer spending,” said Chris McCarty, BEBR director. “Like much of the rest of the country, retail sales in Florida have been boosted by auto sales which are supported by historically low interest rates. Taking auto sales out of the picture, consumer demand for goods and services has been tepid and inflation well below the target rate of 2 percent. This is one of the indicators that raises questions for Federal Reserve Board members when they consider whether to raise interest rates in their September meeting. Most economists do not expect a rate increase any time soon.”

Conducted Aug. 1-21, the UF study reflects the responses of 415 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

‘Nudges’ help students select healthy lunches

August 30, 2016
Brad Buck

With back-to-school season in full swing, imagine this: Your child orders lunch via computer and gets a little message saying he or she needs to add more nutritious food groups.

That combination helped some youngsters pick healthier meals, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

Researchers caution that their findings are not generalizable -- given the small sample size -- but they say the methods give school lunch programs and parents potential tools to help children eat more nutritious meals at school.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 5 billion school lunches are served daily in the United States. Additionally, although 99.9 percent of American children aged 12 to 18 consume fruits and vegetables daily, less than 1 percent eat the federally recommended amount of those foods. So the UF study could show helpful, albeit early, findings.

In a published study in August issue of the Journal of Economic Psychology, UF researchers recruited 71 students to participate in the National School Lunch Program at a Florida public school.

Two groups of fifth- and sixth-grade students preordered their lunches via computer. One of those groups received messages – what researchers call “nudges” -- indicating they had not selected all five components of a healthy lunch. Those are meat or a meat alternative, grain, fruit, vegetable and low-fat milk.

The control group ordered their meals in the regular school lunch lines.

Researchers found the students in the group that received nudges chose 51 percent more fruits, 29.7 percent more vegetables and 37 percent more low-fat milk than the control group. The group that simply ordered online without nudges chose 27 percent more fruits, 15.8 percent more vegetables and 16.3 percent more low-fat milk than the control group.

The study did not examine actual food consumption.

The nudges come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program. According to its website, www.choosemyplate.gov/, MyPlate reminds consumers to find their healthy eating style and build it throughout their lifetimes. According to the MyPlate website, this means:

  • Focus on variety, amount and nutrition.
  • Choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
  • Start with small changes to build healthier eating styles.
  • Support healthy eating for everyone.

Jaclyn Kropp, a UF assistant professor of food and resource economics and the lead author on the study, emphasized researchers must further study the impact of nudges on school lunch selections.

“While more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of repeated nudging, there is evidence that low-cost nudges can encourage the selection of healthy items in the school lunchroom,” Kropp said.

Kropp conducted the study with help from other UF/IFAS researchers and Sonam Gupta, a senior research associate with IMPAQ International in Columbia, Maryland.

Science & Wellness

Conjoined twins connected at the heart and liver successfully separated at UF Health

August 31, 2016
Morgan Sherburne

Conjoined twin girls who were connected at the heart and other organs have been successfully separated in an extremely rare surgery performed by physicians at University Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

The girls, who were born at UF Health Shands Hospital in April and separated in June, each had their own complete set of organs but were attached at the liver, diaphragm, sternum and heart, called a thoraco-omphalopagus connection. Their hearts were the most critical element of the separation, according to Dr. Mark Bleiweis, M.D., chief of pediatric and congenital cardiovascular surgery at UF Health and the surgeon who performed the heart separation. The twins shared a connection at the upper chamber of the heart, called the atrium, where blood enters the heart.

“It was a really complex connection because it was close to very important veins in the hearts of both babies,” Bleiweis said. “In the world, there have not been many successful separations with a cardiac connection. It became a very challenging planning process for us, and, ultimately, a challenging separation.”

Dr. Jennifer Co-Vu, M.D., FAAP, specializes in fetal cardiac care. She first studied the physiology of the unborn twins during an hourslong ultrasound in Jacquelyn’s 21st week of pregnancy and she told the parents she thought that not only would the babies survive birth, they also would survive after they were born. The parents had two options: to attempt separation, or to be prepared to raise conjoined twins, Co-Vu said.

Co-Vu and the team used cardiac CT and MRI scans before and after the twins were born to create what appears to be the first-ever 3-D printed conjoined twin heart. The replica allowed the surgeons to examine the shared structures in the heart and plan how to separate them. The team — which included Co-Vu, Bleiweis and many others from the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, radiology, neonatology, maternal fetal medicine, anesthesiology and plastic surgery — met numerous times to create the preoperative plan for the twins, to practice the separation itself and to manage the twins’ care after the surgery.

“When I saw the heart structures and liver structures in utero, I had a feeling that we could separate them, but I had to examine the anatomy more closely and consult with my cardiology colleagues at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center,” said Co-Vu, director of the Fetal Cardiac Program. “I was able to give them hope, yet at the same time, I told them I was cautiously optimistic. … We are very fortunate that this was a success.”

Conjoined twins occur only in about 1 in 200,000 live births. Between 40 and 60 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn, and 35 percent who live through birth survive only one day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Only about 5 to 25 percent of conjoined twins survive, and survival of twins connected at the heart is extremely rare. In cases where the hearts are joined, the decision is often made to not do separation surgery in cases where there is a connection at the heart.

In addition to being joined at the heart, the girls also shared a large, fused liver, according to Saleem Islam, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the division of pediatric surgery in the UF College of Medicine.

“The liver, from all of the imaging we obtained both before the babies’ birth and after they were born, indicated that it was almost like one giant liver without any true plane of separation,” Islam said.

Without a clear picture of how to separate the liver before the surgery took place, Islam and his team had to use a method called “intraoperative ultrasound” to guide the separation. Using this method, Islam looked for areas of the joined liver that were free from large blood vessels.

During the the procedure, which spanned about six to eight hours, a pediatric surgery team with two surgeons, a cardiothoracic surgery team with two surgeons, two pediatric cardiac anesthesiology teams, a pediatric cardiac imaging team, and multiple nursing and ancillary staff worked to safely and successfully separate the infants. To keep the various equipment keeping the twins alive during the surgery separated and easily identifiable, the staff wrapped tubing and electrical wiring with orange tape for one of the twins and blue tape for her sister, according to anesthesiologist Andrew Pitkin, MBBS, MRCP, FRCA.

Physicians at a different hospital discovered that mother Jacquelyn was carrying conjoined twins when the parents went for their first ultrasound at 20 weeks. Up to that time, Jacquelyn had thought she was carrying one child. Previously, sonograms captured only one heartbeat because the babies’ hearts were in sync. Initially, Jacquelyn and partner Mark’s obstetrician at another institution told them the babies would not survive — or if they did, would only live a few days outside the womb.

“We went in to find the sex of one baby, and found out not only were they twins, but they were conjoined and weren’t going to make it,” Jacquelyn said. “Many opinions later, we found Dr. Co-Vu, and she told us not only were our twins going to live, but they thought they could separate them.”

And now, the family is preparing to take the twins home.

“The outlook is extremely optimistic,” Bleiweis said.

Between the separation surgery and other procedures to repair where the babies were connected, the twins have undergone more than a dozen surgeries each.

“I know that Mark and Jackie were told by many not to pursue this because it was daunting, and it could not and would not be successful,” Bleiweis said. “Nothing gives us greater satisfaction than seeing the two twins separated, and to see both parents holding their twins.”

Science & Wellness

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