Evolution of China’s flowering plants shows East-West divide between old, new lineages

February 1, 2018
Natalie van Hoose

An international team of scientists has mapped the evolutionary relationships between China’s 30,000 flowering plant species, uncovering a distinct regional pattern in biodiversity. Eastern China is a floral “museum” with a rich array of ancient lineages and distant relatives while the western provinces are an evolutionary “cradle” for newer and more closely related species.

The findings highlight the need for more conservation efforts in densely populated eastern China, home to many threatened plant species and the country’s top biodiversity hotspots.

Better connecting eastern China’s nature reserves and parks, currently fragmented by urbanization and provincial borders, would help conserve plant lineages and the animals that depend on them, said Pam Soltis, one of the study’s senior authors and a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“Conservation is not just about protecting species numbers but also protecting evolutionary diversity and processes,” said Soltis, who is also the director of the University of Florida Biodiversity Institute. “Focusing just on how many species are in an area, rather than how different they are from one another genealogically, could lead to conservation practices that miss important sections of the Tree of Life. Both are key measures of biodiversity. This study helps spotlight what is missing in China’s current protective strategies.”

In a study led by Li-Min Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, researchers produced the first dated phylogeny – a family tree of organisms showing when new species appeared – for all of China’s flowering plant species, or angiosperms, and mapped their distributions using 1.4 million museum specimen records.

The team published its results today in the online edition of Nature. Co-senior authors are Zhi-Duan Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Jian-Hua Li of Hope College and Pam Soltis and Doug Soltis of the Florida Museum and UF.

The researchers found that about 66 percent of angiosperm genera in China did not originate until the early Miocene, about 23 million years ago. Mean species divergence times – when species first appeared – were 22-25 million years ago in the East and 15-19 million years ago in the West.

Over the past 30 million years, herbaceous plants – those without a woody stem – diversified much more quickly than woody plants such as shrubs, trees and vines.

China is home to about 10 percent of the world’s flowering plant species, outstripping the number of angiosperm species in the U.S. by more than 3.5-fold. Its varied geography and climate contribute to its wealth of biodiversity. The hills, lowlands and plains in the warmer, more tropical East gradually rise to the West’s rugged mountains, deserts and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the highest tableland in the world.

Unlike North America and Europe, China did not undergo the dramatic ecological turnover driven by glaciation in the ice age about 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago, allowing ancient plant lineages to persist in the East and newer lineages to be folded into ever-diversifying plant communities.

“China didn’t experience that big type of cataclysmic event,” said Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum and professor in the UF department of biology. “That allowed it to be more of a museum than other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.”

The uplift of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in the West, caused by India’s collision with Eurasia, spurred the region’s evolutionary explosion of new species by opening up myriad new habitats and creating a cool, arid western climate. The West became a cradle for newer herbaceous plants while the East remained a museum for older herbaceous plants and both a museum and a cradle for woody plants.

The researchers used species distribution data to map China’s areas of genetic richness, pinpointing several eastern provinces as home to the country’s greatest genetic diversity of flowering plants: Guangdong, Guanxi, Guizhou, Hainan and Yunnan. Conservation in the East, however, is carried out on a much smaller, more fragmented scale than in the sparsely populated West, where large swaths of land are preserved.

“It’s good to preserve these areas with recent radiations of new species, but what’s missing is extensive protection of these older eastern lineages,” Doug Soltis said. “This study helps us better see the discrepancies between where conservation areas are and where the diversity actually is located. Scientists didn’t realize the importance of protecting genetic diversity – and not just rare species – until the last few decades, but we couldn’t measure this type of diversity in a rigorous way until the last 10-15 years.”

The researchers pointed to the value of museum collections in enabling this country-scale study of thousands of plant species spanning millions of years of evolution. Each plant specimen, painstakingly collected and preserved in herbaria over the past century and digitized, contributed to an enormous dataset that offered a detailed snapshot of China’s diversity of flowering plants.

“How do you do something like this without relying on millions of collections?” Pam Soltis said. “Without all those data, it’s impossible. The question of how communities of organisms came together and changed over time is unanswered for nearly all groups. Pinning down the history of 30,000 species – nearly 10 percent of the planet’s flowering plant life – is a major leap forward.                                                                         

Lead author Lu said the study provides a model for many other landscape-scale studies of biodiversity.

“We feel that the importance of this study extends beyond plant biology to other lineages of organisms and other regions of Earth,” she said. “Both the approaches used and the results are also of broad interest to scientists and the public who are concerned with the conservation of biodiversity.”

The research was supported by the National Key Basic Research Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences International Institution Development Program, the U.S. National Science Foundation, iDigBio, U.S.-China Dimensions of Biodiversity Program and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions.

Science & Wellness

The #3 most powerful computer at a U.S. public university

February 2, 2018
Christine Coombes

The University of Florida’s recent move into the U.S. News and World Report top 10 standing has only propelled this Research I university forward and set their sights even higher. In order to continue its trajectory, UF is in the process of recruiting 500 of the finest investigators who are conducting and producing the highest caliber of research. That is made possible with the help of UF’s HiPerGator supercomputer.

HiPerGator is the most powerful supercomputer in Florida, the most powerful university supercomputer in the Southern U.S. and the third-fastest university supercomputer in the country, according to the latest world rankings. Originally unveiled in 2013, HiPerGator was already state of the art. But, Gators are not ones to rest on their laurels. In 2015 HiPerGator 2.0 came to life adding 30,000 cores to the already impressive 21,000, doubling the terabytes of RAM and increasing the maximum speed by nearly 1,000 teraflops. To put this into perspective for the less tech-savvy reader, HiPerGator can hold:

  • Nearly 21 million times more data than the computer program on Apollo 11 that put a man on the moon
  • 240 million books. This is more than the Library of Congress plus the nation’s Top 25 public libraries.
  • Nearly 40 years of HD-TV video.

“Supercomputing and BIGDATA are terms used on campus all the time.  But when you learn what is actually being done—in human terms, not technical terms—it is so exciting and humbling,” says Elias Eldayrie, vice president and chief information officer at the University of Florida.  “We have renowned scientists analyzing the effects that having HIV has in Alzheimer’s patients. We have faculty collaborating with colleagues in other states, evaluating data to improve early childhood medical care in underserved communities. We have postdoctoral students studying the epidemiological patterns of Cholera in Haiti and HIV transmission patterns in South Africa. And we have English faculty curating social media data to understand the ways digital platforms influence opinion. The work taking place at the University of Florida has the power to transform society.  And that power comes from our faculty’s imagination…and HiPerGator.”

“Having HiPerGator available is instrumental in the research I do at UF,” explains Steve Coombes, Ph.D., assistant professor in Applied Physiology & Kinesiology at UF. “We’re interested in the structure of the brain after a stroke. Collecting and analyzing images of brains from people who haven’t experienced a stroke helps us track the different motor pathways in the brain. Knowing which part of the tract is damaged after a stroke may be extremely helpful in predicting recovery.”

Utilizing 3,000 HiPerGator cores, the images of Coombes’ team were processed in three months. Without HiPerGator’s processing power, analyzing the data on a single computer would have taken 42 years.

UFIT Research Computing is constantly refining and updating its services to the university community. Some of the latest advancements include “ResVault.” This is the super-secure environment for storing and processing meeting the rules specified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and mandated for all federal grants involving restricted data, like export controlled research and patient health information. Additionally, UF was one of the first universities to successfully set up and deploy a FISMA-compliant environment.

UFIT Research Computing is also home to a staff of professionals that train, support, and consult faculty and students in evaluating the best way to analyze data or offer expertise in the complex software available to them.

According to Erik Deumens, Ph.D., director of UF research computing, “as a scientist and computer engineer, I like to list the amazing specs and capabilities of UF’s supercomputer, but what is truly important to the university is the research our faculty and students are able to carry out with this resource. At UF, we strive every day to move the world forward and tackle problems and challenges that plague the world. HiPerGator supports our researchers to make that possible.”

To learn more about HiPerGator, visit here.
To view videos on the capabilities of HiPerGator and how UF researchers use it, visit here and here.

Campus Life

UF honors fastest-growing alumni-led companies during 2018 Gator100 celebration

February 2, 2018
Lindsey Farah

Some of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs were recognized by the University of Florida during its 2018 Gator100 celebration on Feb. 2. The annual ceremony honors the world’s fastest-growing businesses that are owned or led by UF alumni.

Inclusion on the Gator100 list is competitive and considered one of the most prestigious recognitions for alumni who are business leaders. This year’s honorees include companies from 17 states and two businesses based in China and India. In all, 2018 Gator100 businesses generate more than $6.2 billion annually and employ almost 44,000 people.

Topping this year’s list is the Orlando construction firm ACY Contractors. President Michael Young’s company provides services for schools and colleges, entertainment, health care and other niche markets. Young earned his UF bachelor’s degree in building construction in 1997.

“The Gator100 honors UF alumni from across the university who are founding and growing amazing companies around the country,” said Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida. “It’s an incredible affirmation of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of The Gator Nation.”

Now in its fourth year, the university’s premier entrepreneurial awards program is sponsored by the UF Alumni Association in partnership with UF’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center. To be considered for the Gator100, companies must have been in business for at least five years and have annual revenues of $250,000 or more; an alumnus must be owner, CEO or founder. Companies’ annual growth rates over the past three years are calculated by the global accounting firm Ernst & Young to determine rankings. The entire 2018 Gator100 list is available online at gator100.ufl.edu.

The University of Florida has a long history of established programs in business and entrepreneurship, international education, research and service, and is one of only 17 public, land-grant universities in the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is currently ranked No. 9 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report’s list of public universities.


Global Impact

Human Trafficking Symposium emboldens students to take a stand

February 2, 2018
Andrea Carla Lopez

University of Florida’s second annual Human Trafficking Symposium on Tuesday, Jan. 30, brought together nonprofits, experts and survivors of human trafficking to shed light on the complexity of the issue, while also giving students and attendees a message of hope. The symposium was hosted by the Gators Against Human Trafficking and Bob Graham Center Student Fellows, and co-sponsored by the UF Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The event kicked off with Savannah Parvu, a survivor of human trafficking and advocate, who shared her harrowing personal experience that started when she was five years old.

“You don’t tell what happens at home,” Parvu said. Her parents warned her to never reveal the harsh realities that went on at home, such as her parents’ drug abuse, which ultimately led to her own mother forcing her into prostitution for years.

According to Lisa Rowe, vice president of Selah Freedom, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to educating the community and helping survivors, Parvu’s story is not uncommon. In fact, Rowe added that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually assaulted, all of which are underreported crimes.

“This is the cause that’s worth everything law can offer,” said Frank Williams, assistant U.S. Attorney. On the panel, he shared that his prosecution of more than 18 Gainesville human traffickers were made possible through a victim-centered approach that focuses on stabilizing victims and offering support. Williams then went on to inspire the audience of nearly 80 by emphasizing that his message was hopeful and encouraging.

“Every time we take one of these traffickers off the street, every victim that we help, we will change the world,” Williams said. He added that most common misconception is that we can’t make a difference. Through awareness and stopping the promotion of abuse, he said in fact, we can change the culture that allows this trafficking market to grow.

Richard Tovar, President of Fight Injustice and Global Human Trafficking (FIGHT), continued the call to action by telling the audience that changing culture means making situations uncomfortable if it doesn’t seem right. Adding that when we stop the normalization of degradation of people bodies, for example, in pornography, we help fight the cycle of trafficking.

CEO of the Trafficking in America Task Force, Jerome Elam, also went on to rally the audience to push legislators to support harsher penalties for traffickers and long-term aftercare for survivors.

Speakers at the event also included Alison Ungaro, founder of the Gainesville nonprofit organization, Created; Nicole Ferranti, investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families; and Anorine Ledet, a special agent for Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.

Williams left the audience with a call to action: step forward when something seems off. “That’s what I learned about this cause – it’s going to take a team effort.”

To watch an archive of the event, visit http://www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu/content/second-annual-human-trafficking-symposium.

Campus Life

An inside look at UF's 18-million-year-old fossil site

February 2, 2018
Stephenie Livingston
Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History

Adobe Spark Page

Science & Wellness

UF reports 2017 as average year for worldwide shark attacks, deaths

February 5, 2018
Paul Ramey

With 88 reported unprovoked shark attacks and five fatalities worldwide, 2017 was “just an average year,” according to the University of Florida International Shark Attack File.


While the 88 reported attacks are slightly higher than the most recent five-year annual average of 83, the five fatalities are just below the average of six deaths per year. Of the 88 attacks, 60 percent (53) occurred in the U.S. Australia had the second-highest number of attacks with 14, including one fatality.

Lindsay French, who manages the database housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said the slightly higher than average attack numbers were expected as human populations continue to climb and people spend more time in the water.

photo of Lindsay French
Lindsay French

“It really was just an average year, and significantly, the U.S. saw no shark attack fatalities for the second consecutive year” French said. “While we don’t put too much emphasis on year-to-year changes, a slight increase is expected as beach tourism and water sports gain in popularity. And as has been the case for years, Florida saw more attacks (31) than any other state while Volusia County led the state in reported attacks with nine, 29 percent of Florida’s total.”

Worldwide, Reunion Island had three unprovoked attacks and two fatalities. Ascension Island, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Indonesia and South Africa each had two attacks, with one fatality occurring in Costa Rica. Brazil, the Canary Islands, Cuba, Egypt, England, Japan, the Maldives and New Zealand reported single attacks, with Cuba’s attack resulting in the country’s first fatality since the 1930s.

“The hotspots we’re keeping an eye on are Ascension Island, which had its first attacks since the 1800s, and Reunion Island, which had two of last year’s five fatalities,” French said.

In the U.S., other states reporting attacks were South Carolina (10), Hawaii (6), California (2), with single incidents in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Fifty-nine percent of the attacks worldwide involved board sports. French said this group spends a large amount of time in the surf zone, an area commonly frequented by sharks.

“We need to remember we’re going into a shark’s natural habitat when we enter the water,” French said. “Water sport activities often unintentionally attract sharks because of splashing, paddling, kicking and wiping out. But the number of unprovoked attacks is remarkably low considering the billions of people who participate in water sports each year.”

French said the world’s shark populations continue to suffer as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss.

“On average, unprovoked shark attacks cause six fatalities worldwide each year,” she said. “But fisheries kill about 100 million sharks and rays annually, so there’s definitely a real need to conserve these animals and their habitat to ensure their long-term survival. They play an important role in marine ecosystems.”

Former shark program director Burgess retires, will focus on research

Throughout his more than 40-year career at the University of Florida, George Burgess gained an international reputation with the media and public as a reliable source and shark attack expert who always stressed the importance of shark conservation.

photo of George Burgess
George Burgess

And while he officially retired in 2017, Burgess is crystal clear on one point: He’s not done working and plans to stay engaged.

“Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,’ ” Burgess said. “I’ll continue to focus on sharks and sawfish as long as I’m able. I have some new shark species I’d like to describe and many back-burner research projects I’m looking forward to moving to the front burner.”

For decades, Burgess was the most-quoted source at UF outside of the athletic program, giving an estimated 300 to 600 interviews annually depending on the number of shark attacks.

He said at times he spoke with media daily for three or four weeks straight, including the summer of 2001, dubbed “the summer of the shark.” The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 of that year changed the focus of the news media and the public, and interestingly, Burgess didn’t give another interview that year, though multiple shark attacks occurred.

The Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, then called the Florida State Museum, hired Burgess in 1975 to work in its Ichthyology Division, researching sharks and other elasmobranchs, which include skates and rays.

When the museum acquired the Shark Attack File in 1988, it became Burgess’ self-proclaimed “baby.” He added “international” to the title because of its worldwide scope and began working to fill gaps of data that formed while the file sat inactive during the previous 20 years, all the while maintaining the current attack data.

In the mid-1990s, Burgess also started the Florida Museum’s International Sawfish Encounter Database, which played a key scientific role in the effort to have the smalltooth and largetooth sawfishes declared as endangered species.

“One thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve served as an ambassador for sharks around the world and as an intermediary between hard science and the public,” Burgess said. “I’m extremely proud of the team of people I’ve had the opportunity to work with on the development and growth of the International Shark Attack File and International Sawfish Encounter Database, which documents the status of five species that have really disappeared right under our collective noses.”

The Florida Museum hired Gavin Naylor, formerly with the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston, in May 2017 to lead its shark research efforts. Naylor has been researching sharks, skates and rays for nearly 30 years and said he hopes to expand the program’s reach and focus.

photo of Gavin Naylor
Gavin Naylor

“I believe George has done an excellent job of building this program and helping educate the news media and public about shark attacks and how to avoid them—while always driving home the critical component of conservation,” Naylor said. “I hope to build on that success by researching and communicating the importance of worldwide biodiversity and some of the ancient lineages of these fascinating creatures, including learning some of the tricks they have used to survive all these years. Some of these secrets could be lost forever if these species go extinct before they are discovered.”

Naylor pointed to the example of the taillight shark, a deep-water species for which only four specimens have been found. Scientists believe the shark may expel a burst of luminescent fluid from its anus as a self-defense mechanism.

“This is only one example — there are many that we know so very little about because the deep oceans are just poorly known,” Naylor said. “But just because some people are bitten by sharks doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them. Thousands of people are bitten by dogs each year, and that hasn’t kept us from having them as pets.”

Burgess said being freed from his daily contact with the media, a duty now primarily handled by International Shark Attack File Manager Lindsay French, will allow him to focus on research.

One project on Burgess’ radar is a comprehensive analysis of the International Shark Attack File database, something that hasn’t been done since the 1960s. He said now with more than 6,000 investigations, it’s time for a more in-depth look at the numbers, including illustrating how the number of shark attacks over time correlates very closely with human population growth and the amount of time people spend in the water.

As he’s always been known to do, Burgess pointed to humans as the most important part of the shark-human interaction equation.

“Shark and elasmobranch populations in general have continued to dwindle over the years, primarily due to overfishing, lack of regulations and habitat loss,” he said.

Burgess said when he does finally “hang up his cleats,” what he’ll miss most is the people.

“It’s the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with at the museum and shark colleagues and friends I’ve made all over the world—that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

Science & Wellness

How Americans came to embrace meditation, and with it, Hinduism

February 6, 2018
Vasudha Narayanan

A UF religion scholar traces the history of “Eastern” religions in the West during the week marking the death anniversary of the Indian guru who brought transcendental meditation to the United States.

File 20180202 19918 1j8tahy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Mahesh Yogi (seated in front) gained a following in the United States with musicians and artists, including members of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Ben Merk (ANEFO) (GaHetNa (Nationaal Archief NL), via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida

This week marks the death anniversary of Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who brought transcendental meditation to the West in the sixties and became a spiritual teacher to The Beatles, comedian Jerry Seinfeld and countless other celebrities.

Today, the legacy of the Maharashi, as he was popularly known, is evident in the widespread appreciation of meditation: Over 6 million people worldwide practice the technique the Maharishi introduced – transcendental meditation. An even larger number practice other forms. Health professionals and practitioners extol its many benefits, which range from anger management, lowered blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, reduced post-traumatic stress and simply a healthier lifestyle.

In the 1960s many Americans may have only known Hinduism through meditation, but the story of this country’s relationship with Hinduism is much longer and more complex.

Early embrace of Hinduism

The first time the American public formally learned about Hinduism was through the World’s Parliament of Religions, a gathering of practitioners of different faith traditions, which took place in Chicago in 1893. It was at that time when the American public first saw and heard people from “Eastern” religions, including Hindus and Buddhists, on their own soil.

At the time European and American scholars were becoming more accepting of other major religions in the world. Not considered as good as Christianity, they were nonetheless being included in the roster of an emerging group of “world religions.” Unfortunately, no representative of any Native American traditions or indigenous religions was invited.

Swami Vivekananda at Parliament of Religions. Parliament of Religion, 1893 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Vivekananda, a young monk representing Hinduism famously began his speech hailing his hosts as “brothers and sisters of America.” It was most unusual for an Indian monk to embrace the audience as a single family, at a time when societies were segregated and racial superiority was an accepted part of life. Vivekananda received a standing ovation. The appreciation continued as he journeyed through America after the talk. One journalist wrote:

Vivekananda’s address before the parliament was broad as the heavens above us, embracing the best in all religions, as the ultimate universal religion—charity to all mankind, good works for the love of God.”

Vivekananda spoke extensively about the spiritual benefits of yoga and meditation, explaining how they were common resources for all human beings, and not just for Hindus.

“Think of a space in your heart and in the midst of that space think that a flame is burning. Think of that flame as your own soul and inside the flame is another effulgent light, and that is the Soul of your soul, God. Meditate upon that in the heart.”

In fact, long before the World’s Parliament of Religions, American transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau, showcased their fascination with Hindu texts in their poems and essays. Emerson copied long passages from Hindu texts in his journals and called the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu text composed approximately 2,000 years ago, a “trans-national book.” Emerson’s poems, “Brahma” and “Hamatreya,” modeled on passages from Hindu texts speak about the impermanence of life and the immortality of the human soul.

Indeed, their adulation has assured the presence of the Bhagavad Gita in most large libraries in the United States.

Hinduism in popular culture

Since the 1960s, two kinds of Hinduism have made their home in the U.S.

One is a continuation of the popularization of meditation started by Vivekananda and Mahesh Yogi. Many other gurus came from India during the sixties and taught self-transformation through yoga and meditation. This acquired such popularity that Life magazine called 1968 the “year of the guru.”

In more recent years, Deepak Chopra, who was once a disciple of Maharishi, brought the meditation-body-mind healing to American consciousness. This work has made Chopra a popular author, public speaker and advocate for complementary healing in America today.

Some, though not all, of these movements underplay or distance their connections with the word “Hindu” and some use labels such “spiritual” to emphasize their “universal” content.

In other words, though the teachers were Hindu and their teachings had Hindu origins, they were presented not as Hindu or as “religious,” but in a generic form as “spiritual” and as applicable to all human beings.

Meditation advocated by these gurus became distanced from its religious roots. In India, meditation, especially on a mantra (a syllable, sound, word, or phrase), is only one part of the larger Hindu culture.

Conservative estimates by the National Institute of Health show that over 18 million Americans meditate and approximately 21 million adults and 1.7 million children practiced yoga regularly. Interestingly, although some Americans may associate meditation with Hinduism, another set of data shows that more than half the Hindus in America never practice it.

Movies too have embraced Hindu ideas. For example, “the Force” in “Star Wars,” has parallels with Hindu philosophical ideas such as “Brahman,” the Supreme, the ultimate principle of the universe, as does the illusory overlay in “The Matrix,” with “Maya,” the wondrous illusory power. It’s no accident that the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, learned from Joseph Campbell, who was a student of Hindu-Vedanta philosophy.

Hinduism today

A Hindu and Jain temple in Nevada. Vasudha Narayanan, CC BY

The second kind of Hinduism that has grown in America since the 1960s is what I would call “temple-Hinduism,” brought by immigrants from India and the Caribbean.

In 1900, seven years after Vivekananda set foot in America, there were only about 1,700 Hindus. Today, there are about 2.4 million Hindus who have made America their home today. Many of the current immigrants came following a new immigration law enacted in 1965 that abolished a quota system.

The new immigrants wanted to practice of their faith centered on rituals done in temples at specific days and times with processions, dances and music. Meditation was only one part of it.

The ConversationThoreau could have hardly imagined that within 150 years of his meditations, the waters of the Ganges in India would be mingled with waters of Walden to consecrate the temple of the Goddess Lakshmi in Ashland, Massachusetts, in 1989, and hundreds of temples across America.

Vasudha Narayanan, Distinguished Professor, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

University of Florida launches nation’s first center for public interest communications

February 6, 2018
College of Journalism and Communications
College of Journalism and Communications

Emerging field focuses on applying science of strategic communication to drive social change

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications has announced the launch of the Center for Public Interest Communications, the first center in the U.S. dedicated to developing, translating and applying the science of strategic communication to drive social change. The Center will work with philanthropic, governmental, academic and business organizations on their efforts to have sustainable impact on social issues.

Public interest communications combines truthful and compelling storytelling with strategic communication grounded in primary research and social science. It has been defined as a “science-based approach to planned and lasting change on an issue that transcends the objectives of any single individual or organization.” This approach requires organizations to move past communication efforts that simply “raise awareness” of an issue and instead focus more narrowly on connecting with the group of individuals whose belief or behavior change will result in a lasting difference on pressing issues.

“Educating students who want to make a difference in their world is a cornerstone of our College,” said Diane McFarlin, the College’s dean. “The Center is the culmination of many years of curriculum development and community building in this nascent discipline.”

The Center will be led by Ann Christiano, the Frank Karel Endowed Chair in Public Interest Communications, the only PIC endowed chair in the country. Frank Karel, B.S. Journalism 1961, endowed the chair in 2009 after a 30-year career as vice president for communications for the Robert Wood Johnson and Rockefeller Foundations, where he pioneered using science-based communication for social change.

The Center for Public Interest Communications will work toward these goals:

1.     Build and test both undergraduate and graduate curricula for adoption by other Universities.

2.     Nurture, generate and promote scholarship that can advance the practice of public interest communications.

3.     Build and support a vibrant community among those who practice, fund or study public interest communications.

“Increasingly, causes and organizations are seeing the value of taking a public interest communications approach to their work, just as students are increasingly looking for careers that create opportunities to work on causes that matter to them,” Christiano said. “The Center gives us an opportunity to support and connect the field, while also providing immersive opportunities for our students.”

In anticipating the development of a center, the College has already made considerable progress toward its goals. In addition to the recent frank event, the College launched the Journal for Public Interest Communications, the first-ever, open-access academic journal in this emerging discipline. Hundreds of undergraduates have completed PIC course work that is not available at any other university. Many of those students are working in the field at places like Campaign for Tobacco Free Florida and public interest communications agencies such as Burness and Spitfire Strategies.

The Center will continue to work as a partner to organizations who are adopting a public interest communications approach, and to hold workshops to help social change leaders and scientists develop communication strategies rooted in sound research. The College’s PIC program has previously worked with organizations such as the Gates Foundation, Department of State, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Innovation Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Metropolitan Group, among others.

Global Impact

UF Health pediatric oncology patients pilot HealthSteps mobile platform

February 6, 2018
UF Health
UF Health

A select group of University of Florida Health pediatric oncology patients are being enrolled in a trial for HealthSteps — a smartphone-based digital care plan with clear patient care instructions, built-in reminders, a symptom tracker and the ability to share care plans between family members and medical teams. UF Health is the first in the nation to pilot the mobile application, which was created at the Innovation Hub at the University of Florida using UF resources.

“The Innovation Hub at UF’s mission is to build, drive and support the spirit of entrepreneurship in North Central Florida by providing top-notch facilities, programs and mentoring,” said Mark Long, director of incubation services at UF. “HealthSteps is a rising star resident client of the Innovation Hub, and we are extremely pleased with its progress.”

Benjamin King, CEO of HealthSteps, pondered ways to use digital resources in patient care when his mom received treatment for a brain tumor. While helping to manage her care, King noticed multiple breakdowns in communication among family members, which led to last-minute runs to the pharmacy and uncertainty regarding whether she took her medications. From this experience, he developed HealthSteps.

“The main goal of HealthSteps is to complement health care delivery by more effectively connecting patients with their caregivers. We developed a patient-centered mobile digital app that tracks a patient’s care plan success, helps to prevent medical errors and improves compliance through care plan synchronization,” said King. “Recent studies have indicated that a lack of communication between caregivers is the most frequent source of errors. We are hopeful that this app will provide patients and their caregivers a better pathway to improve their health.”

Patients enrolled in the pilot are undergoing maintenance treatment for leukemia. During this phase of treatment, most of the protocol and administering of medications happens at home. With HealthSteps, caregivers will receive medication reminders and be able to input the patients’ symptoms and medication intake. The patients’ physicians and care team at UF Health can then log into the HealthSteps clinical web platform to see updates and make important health care decisions.

“I can see how HealthSteps could be valuable for patients and their families,” said Shamani Moore, mother to Tionna, who spent 378 days battling leukemia at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. “After Tionna was finally discharged, we still had to keep up with her medications and IVs at home and manage her symptoms. Having a system where an app could track everything for us and communicate with Tionna’s providers would have been helpful.”

The patients enrolled in the pilot will use HealthSteps for approximately two months and will provide feedback in the middle and at the end of the program. Feedback will be submitted to HealthSteps so they can continue to update the app to make it as efficient and easy to use as possible.

“This app gives our providers access to our patients’ medication tracking logs in real-time,” said William Slayton, M.D., chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at UF Health. “We are looking forward to working with HealthSteps to determine whether or not using the app helps reduce readmissions and improve patient outcomes.”

Science & Wellness

Art and science converge in the Harn Museum’s Asian wing

February 9, 2018
Cindy Spence
Harn Museum of Art

Why treating addiction with medication should be carefully considered

February 12, 2018
Scott Teitelbaum

A UF professor of psychiatry discusses the current focus on using evidence-tested methods for addressing the drug epidemic in the United States and the need for caution in prescribing medication to help addicts.

File 20180131 157466 1se70eb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Vivitrol, a non-opioid medication, is used to treat some cases of opioid dependence. Addiction specialists stress that not all patients need medication, but that many do. AP Photo/Carla K. Carlson

Scott Teitelbaum, University of Florida

When a patient has diabetes, doctors typically prescribe insulin, along with diet and exercise. When a patient has high blood pressure, we prescribe medication, and we also reinforce the importance of healthy eating, exercise, weight loss and quitting smoking.

When it comes to the disease of opioid addiction, however, some critics describe the use of medication as merely substituting one opioid for another, preferring instead total abstinence. Others see pharmacotherapy as the most critical component in treating the current opioid epidemic.

More than 2 million people in the U.S. have an opioid abuse disorder, yet only a small fraction actually receive treatment. For those who do, our society uses a specific term to refer to the medication part: “medication-assisted treatment,” or MAT.

The medications currently approved to treat opioid addiction act on the brain’s opioid receptors by either substituting as a less rewarding drug or blocking the euphoric effects of opioids. In either case, the goal is to decrease the use of the more addictive and lethal opioids and stop the cycle of addiction.

As with any illness, the goal should be to have patients on the least amount of medication needed. But sometimes, as with diabetes or heart disease, medications are needed in concert with other treatment.

To me, even the name “medication-assisted treatment” is problematic: We’re treating addiction differently than other diseases, due to the stigma that’s always surrounded it.

As medical director of the UF Health Florida Recovery Center, I consider medication to often be part of a multi-pronged treatment approach for many patients suffering from opioid addiction. Each person is different, and we need to individualize treatment. While using medicine is often important, it is not a panacea. Here’s why we need to carefully consider how and when we use medications, for all types of addiction and mental health issues.

Dr. Scott Teitelbaum discusses opioid addiction.

A nation with a long history of opioid use

Prior to the Civil War, morphine was synthesized to treat pain. This, combined with advancements in anesthesia, exposed a great number of soldiers to opioids. Following the war, addiction was called “the soldier’s disease” or “the Army’s disease.”

Soldiers said the drug not only relieved physical pain, but also the emotional pain of their wartime experience. Even then, the wounded and those who treated them recognized that opioids relieved both physical and psychic pain.

Civil War casualties after the battle at Antietam Creek, Md., Sept. 17, 1862. The war claimed more than 700,000 lives and left thousands more disabled, damaged and disfigured. AP Photo

Our country’s first heroin epidemic began in the late 1800s. This was followed by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, which stated it was not in good faith for physicians to treat heroin addiction with morphine, as addiction was not considered a disease then. It was illegal for physicians to use opioids to treat opioid addiction, and many physicians went to prison when they did.

A bottle of heroin, which was legal to purchase in many parts of the world, even after the 1924 Heroin Act banned its sale in the U.S. Wikimedia.com, CC BY-SA

In the 1920s and ’30s, people who were caught “doctor shopping” to get opioid prescriptions were sent to “narcotic farms” in Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas, for treatment. Once released, most relapsed.

In the 1950s and ’60s, U.S. doctors began the practice of methadone maintenance, initiated in large part to reduce urban crime.

Another shift in opioid usage happened in 2001. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations first established standards for pain assessment and treatment. Though the standards did not state that pain needed to be treated like a vital sign, some organizations implemented programs by making pain “the fifth vital sign.” Doctors began to treat pain more liberally, exposing more sufferers of pain to opioids.

Today, the U.S. has about 5 percent of the world’s population, and we use an estimated 90 percent of the world’s prescribed pain medications.

Today’s opioid crisis has been the deadliest yet. More than 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdose in 2016 – about two-thirds were from opioids. Most of the other overdose deaths were from central nervous system depressants like Xanax and alcohol, highlighting the importance of not forgetting the risk of other drugs.

Pain medications as gateways

For those who become addicted to painkillers, heroin becomes attractive because it is cheaper and widely available. Because of this, overdose deaths from prescription opioids decreased about 2010, while there was a precipitous rise in overdoses of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic sometimes sold on the street as heroin.

Fentanyl is extremely potent; it’s used in the operating room to put people under anesthesia. The sharpest increase in number of deaths – an estimated 20,000 deaths – was due to fentanyl.

Undoing the damage a slow process

Modern-day MAT stems from the 2002 Food and Drug Administration approval of buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid withdrawal and maintenance. Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist, or a drug that operates as an opioid, but with a ceiling effect to help significantly decrease the chance of respiratory arrest from overdose. Unlike methadone, which must be dispensed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine can be prescribed in a doctor’s office on an outpatient basis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, medications are an important element for many patients with opioid addiction. They are especially effective when combined with counseling, other behavioral therapies and 12-step recovery programs like Narcotics Anonymous.

Research shows that MAT results in what we addiction specialists call harm reduction. This means that while some of these patients may not be ready to be opioid-free, we want to keep them alive and achieving the greatest level of functioning. We don’t want them engaging in self-destructive behaviors like relapsing to street drugs, committing crimes, overdosing or acquiring infectious diseases like HIV. And there’s good evidence, some of which was presented as recently as Jan. 23, 2018, that medications have helped decrease HIV, hepatitis C and crime, as well as improve function.

It’s not that abstinence is not a goal, but the aim of MAT is rather to stop the devastating consequences of this terrible illness and keep the patient alive and engaged in the process of treatment. Many have serious, co-occurring health problems, such as mental illness and a history of trauma. They may not yet have the ability to deal with the physical and emotional discomfort of being opioid-free.

In the last two years, the FDA has approved new formulations of buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. One is a once-monthly injection and another an implant that can be effective up to six months. These longer-acting options can stabilize a patient by decreasing cravings, which then discourages use.

Larger treatment plan important

It is true, nonetheless, that if not done carefully, these MAT medications can be abused themselves. If taken with other drugs or in larger amounts, these drugs can cause overdoses, too.

In my view, the goal should be prescribing the least amount of medication one needs. Regardless of what medication is used during treatment, we should be pushing patients to be the best versions of themselves and to live their fullest lives possible. I favor scrapping the debate over whether we are abstinence-based or medication-based and instead asking, “What does this individual need?”

The ConversationThen one day, I hope, we can shake the “medication-assisted” and just call it what it is: treatment.

Scott Teitelbaum, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

Black Americans mostly left behind by progress since Dr. King’s death

February 12, 2018
Sharon Austin

A UF minority politics scholar explains how African-Americans, by most measures, remain worse off than white people a half-century after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

File 20180202 19961 158fmoj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
How much has really improved for black people in the U.S. since 1968? Ted Eytan, CC BY-SA

Sharon Austin, University of Florida

On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking sanitation workers.

That was almost 50 years ago. Back then, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.

African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.

I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was 50 years ago.

Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans since 1968, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.

That was then

The 1960s were tumultuous years indeed. During the long, hot summers from 1965 to 1968, American cities saw approximately 150 race riots and other uprisings. The protests were a sign of profound citizen anger about a nation that was, according to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Economically, that was certainly true. In 1968, just 10 percent of whites lived below the poverty level, while nearly 34 percent of African-Americans did. Likewise, just 2.6 percent of white job seekers were unemployed, compared to 6.7 percent of black job seekers.

Dismantling ‘Resurrection City’ in 1968. AP Photo/Bob Daugherty

A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”

On May 28, 1968, one month after King’s assassination, the mass anti-poverty march took place. Individuals from across the nation erected a tent city on the National Mall, in Washington, calling it Resurrection City. The aim was to bring attention to the problems associated with poverty.

Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.

“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”

This is now

So, how far have black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.

In some ways, we’ve barely budged as a people. Poverty is still too common in the U.S. In 1968, 25 million Americans — roughly 13 percent of the population — lived below poverty level. In 2016, 43.1 million – or more than 12.7 percent – do.

Today’s black poverty rate of 22 percent is almost three times that of whites. Compared to the 1968 rate of 32 percent, there’s not been a huge improvement.

Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. Black households earn $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.

Another troubling aspect about black social progress – or should I say the lack thereof – is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20 percent of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72 percent.

This is important, but not because of some outmoded sexist ideal of the family. In the U.S., as across the Americas, there’s a powerful connection between poverty and female-headed households.

Black Americans today are also more dependent on government aid than they were in 1968. Currently, almost 40 percent of African-Americans are poor enough to qualify for welfare, housing assistance and other government programs that offer modest support to families living under the poverty line.

That’s higher than any other U.S. racial group. Just 21 percent of Latinos, 18 percent Asian-Americans and 17 percent of whites are on welfare.

Finding the bright spots

There are, of course, positive trends. Today, far more African-Americans graduate from college – 38 percent – than they did 50 years ago.

Our incomes are also way up. Black adults experienced a more significant income increase from 1980 to 2016 – from $28,667 to $39,490 – than any other U.S. demographic group. This, in part, is why there’s now a significant black middle class.

Legally, African-Americans may live in any community they want – and from Beverly Hills to the Upper East Side, they can and do.

But why aren’t those gains deeper and more widespread?

Some prominent thinkers – including the award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander – put the onus on institutional racism. Coates argues, among other things, that racism has so held back African-Americans throughout history that we deserve reparations, resurfacing a claim with a long history in black activism.

Alexander, for her part, has famously said that racial profiling and the mass incarceration of African-Americans are just modern-day forms of the legal, institutionalized racism that once ruled across the American South.

More conservative thinkers may hold black people solely accountable for their problems. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is in this “personal responsibility” camp, along with public intellectuals like Thomas Sowell and Larry Elder.

Depending on who you ask, then, black people aren’t much better off than in 1968 because either there’s not enough government help or there’s way too much.

In 1963, 250,000 people marched on Washington to demand equal rights. By 1968, laws had changed. But social progress has since stalled. United States Information Agency

What would MLK do?

I don’t have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend. He believed in institutional racism.

In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, “access to land,” “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income.”

To achieve that, King wrote, the U.S. government should create an initiative to “abolish unemployment,” by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended “another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.”

Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King’s notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.

King’s rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 presidential primaries advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education and for anti-poverty initiatives.

The ConversationProgress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like. To put it in Dr. King’s words, “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

Sharon Austin, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of African American Studies, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Building a better Groupon: Big data predicts demand for daily deals

February 15, 2018
Warrington College of Business
Warrington College of Business

Big data has become a significant influence for business innovation and productivity. Research from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business now shows how big data can help businesses predict demand for discounts in particular locations.

Professors Dr. Anuj Kumar and Dr. Praveen Pathak in the Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, along with Ph.D. alumnus Brent Kitchens, a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, have created a model that can accurately predict the demand for daily discount deals, like those offered on Groupon and LivingSocial, in different geographical areas.

Brent Kitchens, Praveen Pathak and Anuj Kumar

Kitchens, Pathak and Kumar

Kumar, Pathak and Kitchens combined a variety of publicly available data to construct local geographical clusters of competition among restaurant and spa businesses using hierarchical agglomerative clustering. The team then aggregated the daily deals offered on Groupon and LivingSocial on the clusters, creating a dataset that allowed them to model the competition of daily deals offered by restaurants and spa vendors in geographical clusters across 167 cities in the United States over 39 months. The research team used a variety of publicly available resources to showcase how an appropriate big data set can be constructed and analyzed to obtain business insights, including location information from Groupon, LivingSocial and Google Maps, pricing and category information from UrbanSpoon.com (now Zamato.com) and reviews from websites like Yelp.com.

Kumar, Pathak and Kitchens found that as restaurants and spas in particular geographical clusters offer discounts on Groupon and LivingSocial, local competition increases among these businesses, and other businesses in that particular cluster offer discounts online and deepen discounts in response. However, those businesses that are located in other clusters in the same city remain relatively unaffected. Additionally, lesser known and low-quality vendors offer discounts to obtain the advertising effect of electronic markets like Groupon and LivingSocial to increase their awareness among customers.

Using this insight and the model, the team can accurately predict the demand for daily discount deals in local geographical areas. Kumar, Pathak and Kitchens’ research recommends that electronic platforms like Groupon and LivingSocial deploy their sales force as per the model’s predictions to significantly improve their productivity.

This research is published in Information Systems Research, the flagship journal in the area of Information Systems. Read the full research here.

Society & Culture

Researchers discover method for harvesting ‘green’ sunscreen ingredient

February 15, 2018
College of Pharmacy

With spring break only weeks away, many Americans will apply sunscreen to protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Now, scientists at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy have identified a new method to harvest a key ingredient responsible for making the product more environmentally friendly.

By pushing the discovery to commercialization, UF researchers hope to make ‘green’ sunscreens more available, reducing dependence on oxybenzone- and octinoxate-based sunscreens. These harmful chemicals accumulate in aquatic environments; they’re toxic to marine life and potentially disrupt the human reproductive system.

The researchers found a more efficient way to harvest the UV-absorbing amino acid known as shinorine, which marine organisms like cyanobacteria and macroalgae produce. The conventional method extracts shinorine from red algae, which takes as long as a year to grow and has a long processing time.

The new method reduces harvesting time to less than two weeks. Principal investigator Yousong Ding, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry, and his colleagues have brought production out of the wild and into the laboratory, where they have much more control.

Researchers selected a strain of freshwater cyanobacteria, Synechocystis, as a host cell for shinorine expression because it grows quickly, and it’s easy for scientists to modify its genes. Next, they mined the genes responsible for the synthesis of shinorine from a native producer, the filamentous cyanobacterium Fischerella.

The researchers inserted these genes into Synechocystis. Using this method, they produced 2.37 milligrams of shinorine per gram of cyanobacteria, which is comparable to the conventional method’s yield.

“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated the ability to photosynthetically overproduce shinorine,” Ding said. “Not only is this an advancement in shinorine research, it’s a big step forward for the entire field of cyanobacterial natural products research.”

The production method researchers discovered has broader applications for the production of other known cyanobacterial products and could expedite the process of turning cyanobacterial genomes into potential new drug leads.

Researchers secondarily confirmed that the shinorine they harvested through the new method protects cells from UV rays. To test this, they exposed shinorine-making cells to UV radiation. Control cells that do not produce shinorine experienced an obvious decline in population from UV-B exposure. In the other cells, shinorine acted as sunscreen against UV-B light, which helped the cells live and grow better.

The American Chemical Society’s peer-reviewed journal, ACS Synthetic Biology, published findings from Ding’s shinorine study this month. Other University of Florida researchers participating in the study included Guang Yang, Ph.D.; Monica Cozad; Destin Holland; Yi Zhang and Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., a professor and chair of medicinal chemistry and the Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development.

Science & Wellness

UF tops applications record

February 15, 2018
UF News

The number of applications to the University of Florida saw the one-year largest increase ever as nearly 41,000 prospective students threw their hats in the ring to be admitted for the summer and fall semester of 2018.

The total number of applications – 40,849 -- represents a nearly 18 percent increase over the previous year’s total of 34,112. Part of the increase is due to UF now using the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success application, which, among other things, allows students to apply to multiple colleges and universities simultaneously.

Part also may be a result of increased awareness that UF last year rose into the top 10 U.S. News & World Report Best Public Universities ranking.

Application Numbers:

Nov 1st              38,912

Post Nov 1st        1,937

Total                40,849


Enrollment Goal:            

6,400 Summer B/Fall

Admits = 14,866 (Fall = 11,741; Summer B = 3,125)


Fall Admit Profile

Average GPA    4.4

Mid 50% GPA   4.2 – 4.6


Average SAT     1364

Mid 50% SAT    1300 - 1440


Average ACT     30

Mid 50% ACT    29 - 33


Innovation Academy:

Total Admits     649


Pathway to Campus Enrollment – PaCE

Total Admits     2,271

Campus Life

Butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree

February 16, 2018
Natalie van Hoose

For hundreds of years, butterfly collecting has often inspired a special kind of fanaticism, spurring lengthy expeditions, sparking rivalries and prompting some collectors to risk their fortunes and skins in their quest for the next elusive specimen.

The result is a treasure trove of scientific information stored in the form of millions of butterfly specimens, offering insights into community ecology, how species originate and evolve, climate change and interactions between plants and insects.

But a comprehensive map of how butterflies are related to each other has been lacking – until now.

Lepidopterists Akito Kawahara and Marianne Espeland led a team effort to produce a bigger, better butterfly evolutionary tree with a 35-fold increase in genetic data and three times as many taxa – classification units of organisms – as previous studies. They then calibrated the tree based on the fossil record, assigning dates to certain developmental milestones.

“We still have a long way to go, but this is the first comprehensive map of butterfly evolution,” said Kawahara, associate professor and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the University of Florida campus. “Lots of previous studies cover butterfly evolution on smaller scales – by locality or taxon – but surprisingly few have reached across the breadth of butterfly diversity.”

The study was published today in Current Biology.

The evolutionary tree produced by Marianne Espeland, Akito Kawahara and their collaborators provides a much-needed backbone for a revised classification of butterflies. Figure by Espeland et al. in Current Biology

Shake-ups and surprises

The team analyzed a dataset of 352 genetic markers from 207 butterfly species representing 98 percent of tribes, which are a rank above genus but below family and subfamily. Their findings paint a detailed picture of relationships between butterflies and point to some name changes.

The data confirm that swallowtails are a sister group to all other butterflies, meaning they were the first family on the butterfly family tree to branch off. But while previous literature groups swallowtails, birdwings, zebra swallowtails and swordtails together, this study shows they do not share a common ancestor, a finding supported by the fact that these butterflies feed on different host plants.

“That tells us that butterflies and plants may have evolved together,” Kawahara said.

A finding that surprised Espeland, the study’s lead author, is that the blues are nested within the hairstreaks.

“Both of these groups have remained quite stable through time, but our study shows that a substantial rearrangement of the classification is necessary,” said Espeland, who started the project as a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum and is now curator and head of the Lepidoptera section at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Germany.

Most blues and hairstreaks and some metalmarks have mutually beneficial relationships with ants: Butterfly larvae provide sugary nectar in exchange for the ants’ protection from predators. The researchers found this association evolved once in blues and hairstreaks and twice in metalmarks.

Previous studies suggest the first butterflies date back more than 100 million years, a date this study supports. But most of the lineages that exist today originated after the mass extinction event that killed off non-avian dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

“It is actually quite nice that the ages inferred in this study are relatively similar to those found in previous studies since this means that we are gradually converging towards a consensus, which should be close to the correct ages,” Espeland said.

One curious finding, Kawahara said, is that the phylogeny suggests butterfly-moths – the only butterflies known to be nocturnal – developed hearing organs before bats, their primary predator, appeared.

“I’m fascinated by the timing of when these hearing organs developed and why,” Kawahara said. “There’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty here.”

He pointed to the value of the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, home to one of the world’s largest collections of butterflies and moths, in providing the data necessary – especially from rare specimens – for the study.

“The collections at the McGuire Center made this possible,” he said. “There are probably only a few other research institutions in the world that would be able to carry this project.”

Childhood dream

Like many butterfly enthusiasts, Kawahara developed the obsession early. By age 5, he had a tiny collection and could differentiate swallowtail from brush-footed butterfly, skipper from blue. He used his mother’s Xerox machine to photocopy a simple butterfly phylogeny to help him identify specimens, posting it to the wall of his bedroom.

“It was a really boring-looking picture, gray with lines on it,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about evolutionary trees, but I was mystified by the unknown. A lot of the lines were dashed – there were clearly discoveries to be made. I remember looking at it and just thinking, ‘It would be really amazing to be able to study this one day.’”

An even bigger tree

The researchers have set their sights on an even more comprehensive phylogeny, one that accounts for every described butterfly species. Generating this tree is the main goal of the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded ButterflyNet project, which will organize all butterflies based on how they are related to one another. For each species, the project will include associated data such as its geographical distribution, host plants and life history traits.

“This tree represents 207 species out of some 18,800,” Kawahara said. “So, it’s a tiny, tiny fraction. But it’s the first step.”

Science & Wellness

Erin Jackson brings Florida heat to Olympic ice

February 16, 2018
Robin Shear

The UF Alumni Association shared a sneak preview of their story on Gator speed skater Erin Jackson ahead of her Olympic run on Feb. 18. The full story will run in the spring issue of the UFAA member magazine, Florida Gator.

Up until Jan. 5, relatively few people beyond the worlds of roller derby and inline speed skating had heard of Erin Jackson. It took her just 39.04 seconds to change that.

On a frigid Friday night inside Milwaukee’s Pettit National Ice Center, the University of Florida alumna made her first run of the 500-meter long-track ice speed skating event, clocking 39.22 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Incredibly, in her second run, Jackson shaved that down to nearly 39 flat, surging ahead of Olympian Sugar Todd at the finish to take third place behind two other seasoned Olympians, Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma.

The 25-year-old Gator not only clinched her 2018 Olympic spot that night, but she also cemented her place in history as the first African-American woman to make the U.S. Olympic long-track speed skating team.

“It’s a pretty awesome feeling,” says Jackson, who graduated with an engineering degree in 2015. “Since qualifying for the Olympic team, I've come to realize that many people of color find inspiration in stories like mine. Something you might notice if you watch the Winter Olympic Games is that there are not a lot of black people participating. I'm looking forward to being someone who children and people of color in general can look to and make them think, 'Hey, maybe I should go out and try some of these sports, too.'"

A competitive inline skater and USA Roller Derby national team member, Jackson had been training on ice skates for only a little over four months. Those familiar with Jackson’s hard work, humility and drive know she’s been carving her own path to greatness since childhood, balancing her time between the worlds of academics and athletics while excelling in both.

Nancy J. Ruzycki, a faculty lecturer and director of undergraduate laboratories in UF’s materials science and engineering department, remembers Jackson as “an incredible scholar” and “a really good person” who would “take a couple days a week and drive almost 100 miles to train and then come back and carry a huge course load and be successful at both.” 

Jackson didn’t skimp on campus involvement, either, joining tutoring organizations and the American Association of Blacks in Energy.

“She was just really focused,” says Ruzycki, who had Jackson in four of her classes. “She has grit, perseverance, resilience – all of the qualities that make for a great athlete and a great engineer.”

In February 2017, Jackson spent a month with the inline-to-ice transition program at the Utah Olympic Oval before resuming her hectic inline competition schedule, interspersed with roller derby bouts. Jackson returned to the program full time in late September, just three months before the Olympic trials.

She had some serious catching up to do.

So, like any good engineer, she began problem-solving and recalibrating. “About a month in, I decided I needed to take a step back and really focus on my technique and on how to become an ice skater,” she says.

It worked.

Jackson’s next goals include starting engineering grad school and training for the 2022 Games. 

“I just always had goals of getting to the top level of both academics and sports,” she says. “Right now, I’m seeing ‘Olympic champion’ as the top level. That’s the end goal by the next Olympic Games — to be in medal contention.” 

Jackson’s coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, says she absolutely has a shot at the podium in 2022, adding: “We still have a long way to go before she realizes her full true potential.”

That suits Jackson just fine.

“I love to have things to work on,” she says, “because that just means there are still more levels to unlock.”

Society & Culture

UF-built instrument provides new look at supermassive black hole's magnetic field

February 20, 2018
Royal Astronomical Society

For the first time, astronomers have revealed a new high-resolution map of the magnetic field lines in gas and dust swirling around the supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy.

The team, led by Professor Pat Roche of the University of Oxford, created the map using the CanariCam infrared camera attached to the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) sited on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain. Their research will appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

University of Florida Professor of Astronomy Charles Telesco and his science and engineering team in UF’s Department of Astronomy built the CanariCam infrared camera that enabled the team to image the magnetic field. “Its polarimetry mode is the most capable anywhere in the world,” said Roche. “Combined with the light grasp and the quality of the images produced by the Gran Telescopio Canarias, it is revealing details of magnetic fields and cosmic dust properties in a range of astronomical objects.”

The GTC is the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope. It is operated by the Spanish government as part of the international partnership among Spain, Mexico, and UF. UF enjoys a unique collaboration with the GTC as the only educational institution in the partnership. This effort was spearheaded by Telesco when he came to UF from NASA in 1995. He said, “Our faculty, staff, and students have gained immensely from this international partnership, and it puts UF in the big-time class of universities with star-power observing facilities, a real mark of distinction in the astronomical world.” 

The center of almost every galaxy appears to host a black hole, and the galaxy we live in, the Milky Way, is no exception. Black holes are super-compact objects with gravitational fields so strong that not even light can escape their grasp. Stars move around the black hole at speeds of up to 30 million kilometres an hour, indicating that it has a mass of several million times our Sun.

Visible light from sources in the center of the Milky Way is blocked by clouds of gas and dust. Infrared light, as well as X-rays and radio waves, passes through this obscuring material, so astronomers use this to see the region more clearly. CanariCam combines infrared imaging with polarizing optics, which preferentially filter light with the particular characteristics associated with magnetic fields.

Centered on the supermassive black hole, the new infrared map covers a region about two light years on each side. The image shows the intensity of infrared light and traces the magnetic field within filaments of warm dust grains and hot gas. The magnetic field appears as thin lines reminiscent of brush strokes in a van Gogh painting.

The filaments, several light years long, seem to meet close to the black hole (at a point below the center in the image), and may indicate where orbits of streams of gas and dust converge. One prominent magnetic feature links some of the bright newborn stars in the center of the Galaxy together like pearls on a necklace. Despite strong winds flowing from these stars, the filaments remain in place, bound by the magnetic field within them. Elsewhere the magnetic field is less clearly aligned with the filaments. Depending on how the material flows, some of it may eventually be captured and engulfed by the supermassive black hole.

The new observations give astronomers more detailed information on the relationship between the bright stars and the dusty filaments. The origin of the magnetic field in this region is not understood, but it is likely that a smaller magnetic field is stretched out as the filaments are elongated by the gravitational influence of the black hole and stars in the galactic center.

Roche praised this unique technique and the result: “Big telescopes like GTC, and instruments like CanariCam, deliver real results. We’re now able to watch material race around a black hole 25,000 light years away, and for the first time see magnetic fields there in detail.”

Telesco, who has been building infrared instruments since his graduate days in the 1970s never anticipated exploring cosmic magnetic fields. “However, I understood even then how important such magnetic fields are in many of the most interesting astrophysical sources,” he said. “I just never thought an instrument that I would build could lead the world in this type of exploration. It still amazes me that it worked out.”

His international team is using CanariCam to probe magnetic fields in dusty regions in our galaxy and other galaxies, as well as in stellar and planetary nurseries. They hope to obtain further observations of the Galactic Center  to investigate the larger scale magnetic field and how it links to the clouds of gas and dust and newborn stars orbiting the black hole farther out at distances of several light years.

Science & Wellness

Why is there a norovirus outbreak at the Winter Olympics? 4 questions answered

February 20, 2018
Kartikeya Cherabuddi

A UF researcher who specializes in infectious diseases explains why norovirus occurs so frequently and why it’s so difficult to contain.

File 20180216 50536 1gg4qb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A digitally colorized cluster of norovirus virions. CDC/ Charles D. Humphrey

Kartikeya Cherabuddi, University of Florida

Editor’s note: At the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there have been more than 200 confirmed cases – mostly security and games personnel, but also two athletes. We asked Kartikeya Cherabuddi, an infectious disease expert at the University of Florida, to explain what this virus is and how it spreads.

1. What is norovirus?

What do the Olympics, cruise ships and nursing homes have in common? They all involve humans congregating in a small area – creating a comfortable environment for norovirus outbreaks.

Norovirus is a very contagious virus. It’s a common cause of gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the intestine, worldwide.

The symptoms start as abdominal cramps and nausea. Vomiting – more common in children – and diarrhea – more common in adults – can also occur. About half of cases involve a low-grade fever around 100.5°F.

Some people have no symptoms. In fact, as many as one-third of infected people show no symptoms but still pass the viruses in the stool.

Norovirus spreads from an infected person mainly by direct contact (such as shaking hands), by touching an infected surface or though contaminated water and food. Seven in 10 of all contaminated food related norovirus outbreaks are caused by infected food workers.

Norovirus can cause serious illness and even death in children under the age of five, as well as the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In otherwise healthy people, including athletes, it could cause dehydration and significant discomfort.

There’s no specific treatment. Doctors typically support patients by providing oral and intravenous fluids. The good news is that there are no long-term complications. Recovery is quick, usually in 72 hours.

Outbreaks tend to terminate spontaneously in one to two weeks.

2. Why is there an outbreak at the Winter Olympics?

Norovirus infections can spread quickly.

A very small amount of norovirus – as low as 18 individual viruses – can lead to infection. Norovirus also has a high “secondary attack rate,” meaning that 30 percent of people who are exposed become infected. There is no vaccine.

Like the flu, norovirus has many different strains. Prior infection does not provide immunity and using alcohol sanitizers alone cannot prevent its spread. It can also survive on environmental surfaces and is tolerant to freezing and heat up to 140°F.

The Olympic tend to have closed areas with communal dining where a number of people interact with each other. All of these factors enable the infection to spread quickly in 24 to 48 hours, affecting many people.

What’s more, norovirus outbreaks predominantly occur in the winter for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. In a study done in England and Wales, the peak of winter was significantly associated with norovirus outbreaks in health care facilities.

3. Why was it so hard to prevent the outbreak?

The South Korean government took steps to prevent the outbreak, including quarantining security staff; inspecting the hygiene at restaurants and accommodation venues; and testing tap water and drinking sources.

But that may not have been enough to stop the outbreak. The virus could have been present in other people who showed no symptoms.

Norovirus infections are not easy to diagnose. Though infections are very common, they’re often not attributed to norovirus because testing is not widely available.

So: It’s winter. An unprecedented number of young people in tight-knit groups are living in closed spaces. They’re serviced by a large number of people temporarily mobilized to meet their needs. They’re confronted with a microbe that appears to be custom-made for such a situation – a microbe to which they have no real immunity and whose diagnosis tends to be delayed. It’s remarkable that the virus didn’t spread farther than it already has.

4. How do we keep diseases like this from spreading when large groups of people from around the world mass together?

Illness outbreaks – of norovirus or of other infections – are common whenever large groups of people come together. For example, at the 2012 London Olympics, 310 of the 10,568 athletes had a respiratory illness and 123 had a gastrointestinal illness.

Organizers have to pay an extraordinary amount of attention to food and water safety, as well as sanitation. They have to communicate constantly as the situation evolves.

People attending these gatherings also have to take precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is a great resource for travel-related advice. At the University of Florida travel clinic, we ensure that people receive the right vaccines and prophylactic medications, as well as offer advice on safety, sanitation and hygiene.

To prevent norovirus infections, people should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and use alcohol sanitizers, which can be helpful for other infections. Avoid cold foods that require handling, like salads, sandwiches and oysters. If infected, do not prepare food for others for two days even after you feel well.

The ConversationFinally, at the cost of appearing rude, do not shake hands – wave!

Kartikeya Cherabuddi, Physician, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

University of Florida among Peace Corps’ 2018 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges & Universities

February 20, 2018
Peace Corps

Today, the Peace Corps announced that the University of Florida (UF) ranked No. 5 among large size schools on the agency’s 2018 Top Volunteer-Producing Colleges and Universities list. There are 68 Gators currently volunteering worldwide.

This is the eighth consecutive year that the University of Florida has ranked among the top 5 large colleges and universities. In addition, Florida ranked No. 3 among Peace Corps’ top volunteer-producing states in 2017. There are 355 volunteers from the Sunshine State currently serving worldwide.

The University of Florida is a Peace Corps University Program partner offering the Peace Corps Prep certificate program to undergraduates. Peace Corps Prep is a certificate program for undergraduates that centers on empowering their skills to be the best volunteer.

“Peace Corps service is a profound expression of the idealism and civic engagement that colleges and universities across the country inspire in their alumni,” said Acting Peace Corps Director Sheila Crowley. “As Peace Corps Volunteers, recent college and university graduates foster capacity and self-reliance at the grassroots level, making an impact in communities around the world. When they return to the United States, they have new, highly sought-after skills and an enterprising spirit that further leverages their education and strengthens their communities back home.”

Alumni from more than 3,000 colleges and universities nationwide have served in the Peace Corps since the agency’s founding in 1961. A total of 1,406 UF alumni have served in the Peace Corps since the agency was founded.

Carolyn Kreuzkamp of Melbourne, Florida graduated from UF in 2016 and is serving as an English education and development volunteer in China. “During my time at UF I was exposed to many different cultures via student-lead clubs and events, and was able to meet many new friends from all over the world. This personally inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and go explore different lifestyles,” said Kreuzkamp.

Daniela Pulido of Weston, Florida graduated from UF in 2015 and is serving as a secondary English teacher in Nicaragua. “What I loved about my experience at UF is the incredible professors we have. During my senior year I decided I wanted to know more about Latino culture & literature and took classes with Prof. Efrain Barradas on Latin American studies. What I learned has been very present throughout my experience with Peace Corps Nicaragua and I am forever thankful for his guidance and ideas,” said Pulido.

The Peace Corps ranks its top volunteer-producing colleges and universities annually according to the size of the student body. Below find the top five schools in each category and the number of alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers. View the complete 2018 rankings of the top 25 schools in each category here and find an interactive map that shows where alumni from each college and university are serving here.

Large Colleges & Universities – Total Volunteers:

More than 15,000 Undergraduates

  1. University of Wisconsin-Madison – 85
  2. University of Washington – 74
  3. University of Minnesota – 72
  4. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – 70
  5. University of Florida – 68

Medium Colleges & Universities – Total Volunteers:

Between 5,000 and 15,000 undergraduates

  1. George Washington University – 50
  2. American University – 49
  3. College of William and Mary – 35
  4. University of Montana – 34
  5. Tulane University – 33

Small Colleges & Universities – Total Volunteers:

Fewer than 5,000 undergraduates

      1. St. Mary’s College of Maryland – 17

      2. Macalester College – 15

      2. St. Lawrence University – 15

      4. University of Redlands – 14

      4. University of Mary Washington – 14.

      4. Evergreen State College – 14

      4. Hobart and William Smith Colleges – 14

      4. Whitworth University – 14

      4. Spelman College – 14

      10. Willamette University – 13

      10. Denison University – 13

      10. Agnes Scott College – 13

      13. Carleton College – 12

      13. Bucknell University – 12

      13. Eckerd College – 12

Graduate Schools – Total Volunteers:

       1. Tulane University – 27

       2. American University – 19

       3. University of South Florida – 16

      4. George Washington University – 15

      5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor – 14

      5. Columbia University – 14

      5. University of Denver – 14

Historical, Since 1961 – Total Volunteers:

  1. University of California, Berkeley      3,671
  2. University of Wisconsin–Madison     3,279
  3. University of Washington                   3,027
  4. University of Michigan                       2,720
  5. University of Colorado Boulder         2,504

*Rankings are calculated based on fiscal year 2017 data as of September 30, 2017, as self-reported by Peace Corps volunteers.

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today's global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 230,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide. For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Global Impact

UF technology commercialization efforts now called UF Innovate

February 26, 2018
Sara Dagen

The University of Florida technology commercialization enterprise has a new name – UF Innovate – to reflect its mission of moving discoveries from the laboratory to the market.

UF Innovate is the umbrella organization for four entities – Tech Licensing, Ventures, and two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech.

“UF Innovate is an organization that has existed for years but never been named,” said Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president for commercialization at UF and the director of Tech Licensing (formerly the Office of Technology Licensing).

“By naming UF’s commercialization efforts and purposefully uniting these four entities under the umbrella of UF Innovate, we’re better able to work as a team, intent on the purpose of moving research out of the labs and into people’s lives, developing entrepreneurs and startups, and enabling our researchers to see their work change the world for the better.”

UF Innovate’s quartet forms a comprehensive commercialization system that brings together five critical elements: intellectual property, technology-transfer expertise, facilities, talent and capital management. To inventors, this means UF Innovate cares for their intellectual property by seeking patent or other protection and by marketing it to find the perfect licensee that can further develop or use those inventions. To entrepreneurs and startup companies, UF Innovate provides facilities and programs to help them find or develop the talent and funding they need.

Tech Licensing was established in 1985 after passage of the Bayh-Dole Act that encouraged universities to commercialize their discoveries. The office has earned a reputation as a leader in commercializing discoveries that cure diseases, create efficiencies, improve quality of life and create jobs.

Ventures seeks to fuel consistent growth in the number and quality of UF technology-based startup companies. Ventures will serve as a liaison between public and private sectors as it implements an investment program intended to support UF startups. The goal is to link new venture investments with companies, work closely with angel groups and other investment funds, and to develop entrepreneurs.

Sid Martin, which was named the world’s top incubator in 2017, incubates biotech startups at its location in Alachua. The Hub, formerly known as the Innovation Hub, is located at UF's Innovation Square between campus and downtown Gainesville. It recently opened a second phase that doubles the space available for young technology companies. Both the Hub and Sid Martin Biotech foster an innovation ecosystem that nurtures startups with the resources and expertise they need to thrive, thereby creating jobs and economic prosperity.

UF Innovate’s Tech Licensing and Ventures offices are located inside The Hub at 747 SW 2nd Avenue. Sid Martin Biotech is located at 12085 Research Drive in Alachua. For more information, visit http://innovate.research.ufl.edu.

Society & Culture

For flu detection, just add water

February 26, 2018
Andrea Davis and Steve Orlando

As one of the worst flu seasons in years continues to take its toll, new technology developed by a University of Florida research team comes at an especially timely moment: It’s the first air sampler that can consistently capture the influenza virus, making it up to 100 times more effective than existing samplers.

That early-detection capability can give health officials the extra time they need to put safety precautions in place, potentially spelling the difference between a small outbreak and a pandemic.

It could also thwart a biological terrorist attack, said Chang-Yu Wu, a professor and head of the environmental engineering department in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.

Wu, who heads UF’s Aerosol and Particulate Research Laboratory, said he became aware of the shortcomings of existing air samplers, typically deployed in large public places such as airports and state parks, about 10 years ago. The problem, he said, was that most samplers were designed to capture relatively large bacteria and other airborne particulate matter pollutants.

“Viruses are considerably smaller than bacteria, so those samplers are only about 10 percent effective at detecting viruses,” Wu said.

The puzzle was to figure out a way to make the virus bigger.

The trick, he said, turned out to be relatively simple: just add water.

Similar to cloud formation, Wu’s device condenses water vapor on the tiny virus particles as they enter the sampler to increase their size and capture them more effectively.

Wu’s device also can catch any respiratory viruses, including the current influenza A virus subtype H3N2 (A/H3N2) and help scientists, engineers and medical researchers to identify which respiratory viruses exist and pinpoint proper measures for controlling their spread.

Once Wu held the key to the sampling puzzle, he began researching air samplers then on the market to see which one could best realize the goal. He teamed up with a company called Aerosol Dynamics.

Prototypes of their viable virus aerosol sampler are currently undergoing field testing at UF, Hong Kong University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Wu is now partnering with UF colleagues Professor John Lednicky in the department of environmental and global health, and Professor Hugh Fan in the department of mechanical engineering. Fan develops the devices to ensure that the captured virus particles can be analyzed on the spot, while Lednicky grows the viruses and assesses their infectivity, developing a plan to better protect the public from upcoming airborne viruses that season.

The samplers, Wu said, could be widely available in time for next year’s flu season.

Science & Wellness

Florida consumer sentiment remains high despite a decline in February

February 27, 2018
Kelly Muzyczka

With a revised January figure of 101.3, Florida consumer sentiment levels climbed even closer to the record high of 102; however, consumer sentiment declined 1.9 points in February to 99.4. 

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

Opinions of ones’ personal financial situation now compared with a year ago decreased three-tenths of a point, from 90.5 to 90.2. Opinions as to whether this is a good time to buy a major household item like an appliance showed the biggest decline in this month’s reading from 106.7 to 100.6, decreasing 6.1 points. This decreased for all Floridians regardless of their age, gender, and economic condition, but the biggest drops are found in men and those aged 60 and older.

“These two components show that opinions regarding the current economic conditions have tumbled among Floridians in February,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Two out of the three components representing projections of future economic conditions also fell this month. Expectations of personal finances a year from now decreased 2.8 points from 109.7 to 106.9. Anticipation of U.S. economic conditions over the next year declined 3.5 points from 104.3 to 100.8. The only component that increased was expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years, which increased 3.4 points from 95.1 to 98.5.

“Although there is overall decline in short-term expectations, opinions are split by income levels and age. Those with income levels above $50,000 have negative expectations, while those with income under $50,000 hold positive opinions. Similarly, people under the age of 60 have strong negative expectations while people aged 60 and older have more positive opinions.” Sandoval said.

Most of the pessimism seen in Florida can be attributed to both the current economic conditions and the short-term expectations of the national economy. The early February plummet of the global stock market may explain some of this consumer worry.

“Despite the volatility in the stock market, general economic conditions in the U.S. and Florida remained favorable. Economic activity expanded and unemployment was remarkably low as the labor market continued to strengthen. The economy seems to be near or at full employment. It is expected that the labor market will tighten even more in the following months which will push wages up,” Sandoval said.

Although February experienced a decline in consumer sentiment, confidence has been high since 2017. In the near future, economic activity will prosper due to positive trends and higher wages leading to increased consumption. However, predicting longer-term economic trends will depend on the following months.

Conducted Feb. 1-22, the UF study reflects the responses of 334 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

Why Trump may usher in the biggest gas tax hike ever

February 27, 2018
Theodore J. Kury

A UF infrastructure expert who has studied taxes and energy as well as how the government leverages what it spends on infrastructure through public-private partnerships speculates on what could be the first federal gas tax increase in 25 years.

File 20180224 108113 6ft582.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, right, looking at a map in 1955 of highways to be built with federal funds that retired Gen. Lucius Clay, left, had outlined. AP Photo/Byron Rollins

Theodore J. Kury, University of Florida

The White House aims to boost what the federal government spends on big public works projects by about US$200 billion over the next decade as a part of its plan to fix the nation’s ailing infrastructure. So far, it’s unclear how the Trump administration plans to pay for most of this spending surge at a time when revenue is about to fall due to massive tax cuts.

As the director of energy studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, I’ve studied both taxes on energy and how the government leverages what it spends on infastructure through public-private partnerships. I believe there’s a chance President Donald Trump will usher in the first federal gas tax increase in 25 years to cover the cost of new roads and bridges.

He has, after all, already said he supports a 25-cent-per-gallon increase the U.S Chamber of Commerce is backing, even if that sounds hard to sell to his own political base and other conservatives.

To explain why the government may finally adjust the 18.4-cent-a-gallon tax, here’s a historical snapshot.

The first 40 years

This resilient levy is a major source of U.S. funding for roads and transit today. It originated during the Great Depression as a “temporary” penny-per-gallon gasoline tax. At the time, a gallon cost about 18 cents, or $2.61 in 2015 dollars.

As he signed the Revenue Act of 1932 into law, President Herbert Hoover lauded “the willingness of our people to accept this added burden in these times in order impregnably to establish the credit of the federal government.”

The original gas tax, an emergency measure intended to bolster the budget and fund national defense spending, not meet transportation needs, was slated to expire in 1933. Instead, it remained in force throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration over the objections of the oil, automotive and travel industries due to persistent budget deficits throughout the New Deal and World War II. It became a permanent 1.5-cent levy in 1941.

Multiple efforts to do away with the gas tax ever since have failed.

The first gas tax had been in effect for seven years before this 1939 photo of a Waco, Texas, gas station was shot. Everett Historical

For example, Congress again scheduled the tax’s repeal in 1951 when it increased it to 2 cents as source of revenue related to the Korean War. Instead, lawmakers agreed to keep the tax on the books to help pay for one of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s top priorities, the national interstate highway system.

In 1956 the levy rose once more, to 3 cents, when Americans were paying about 30 cents for a gallon of gas. At the same time, the government established the Highway Trust Fund to pay for building and maintaining the new interstates.

The tax rose to 4 cents per gallon in 1959 and froze at that level for more than two decades.

Running on empty

Gas tax revenue stopped keeping up with the expenses it was supposed to cover in the early 1970s following a severe bout of inflation and OPEC’s oil embargo. U.S. gas prices soared from about 36 cents per gallon in 1972 to $1.31 in 1981.

Responding to what members of both major political parties saw as a transportation infrastructure crisis, Congress more than doubled the tax to 9 cents per gallon as part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982. The same law split the Highway Trust Fund and its revenue stream into two parts: The first 8 cents would finance roadwork while the other penny would finance mass transit projects.

Nine cents may have struck drivers as a sharp increase, but public spending on transportation infrastructure would continue to fall as a percentage of all outlays.

In 1984, Congress increased spending on highways by funneling proceeds from fines and other penalties that businesses pay for safety violations, such as failing to label hazardous materials or forcing drivers to work too many hours in a row.

Congress boosted the tax twice more in the 1990s but primarily to reduce the then-ballooning federal deficit. Only half of a 5-cent increase in 1990 went to highways and transit, while a 4.3-cent lift three years later went entirely to lowering the deficit.

Newt Gingrich, right, in 1996. The then-House speaker was predicting incorrectly that Congress might repeal a gasoline tax hike that took effect three years earlier. AP Photo/Tammy Lechner

By 1997, the government had redirected all gas tax revenue reserved for deficit reduction to the Highway Trust Fund, where it still flows today.

Along the way, other federal fuel taxes arose, including a 24.4 cent-per-gallon diesel tax and taxes on methanol and compressed natural gas. And state fuel taxes, which in most cases began before the federal gas tax, range from as low as 8.95 cents per gallon in Alaska to as high as 57.6 cents per gallon in Pennsylvania.

Making do

Since 1993, when the federal gas tax was first parked at 18.4 cents, inflation and rising construction costs have eroded its effectiveness as a transportation-related revenue source. In addition, U.S. vehicles have grown more fuel-efficient overall – which means Americans use less fuel for every mile they drive.

As a result, highway and transit spending have significantly outpaced the revenue collected from the gas tax and other sources. Since 2008, the government has spent $80 billion on highways that it had to take from other sources.

But it’s still not enough. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives U.S. infrastructure a D+, is calling on the government and private sector to increase spending on roads and bridges by at least $1 trillion within a decade.

Unusual politics

Like the sharp gas tax increase during the Reagan administration, a 25-cent hike that Trump might sign into law would come at a time when the tax is relatively low as a percentage of the retail price of gasoline.

And like that early 1980s precedent, it would come at a politically surprising moment. Anti-tax conservatives were ascendant then. Now, Republicans, who say they believe in keeping taxes low, control the White House and Congress.

The ConversationHowever, Trump has pledged to spend billions of federal dollars on new roads and bridges when there’s no money in the Highway Trust Fund for that. The money has to come from somewhere, and the Chamber of Commerce projects that raising the tax by a quarter could generate more than $375 billion in new revenue over a decade.

Theodore J. Kury, Director of Energy Studies, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Want to bridge the gaping political divide between you and your neighbor?

February 28, 2018
Kyriaki Kaplanidou, Ph.D.

Invite her over to watch the Olympics. With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang completed and the Paralympics scheduled to begin on Mar. 8, the Olympic Games provide an opportunity for people to come together, watching, cheering and celebrating.

It turns out that in a polarized America, where many Democrats and Republicans have a hard time even talking to each other, my research has found that one thing we can all agree on are the Olympics and the values the games represent.

Respect, excellence, friendship

In ancient Greece, the Olympics' birthplace, the games brought athletes and regions together in peace through the guiding principle of "Olympic Truce." The Olympic Truce guaranteed that athletes, their families and those who wanted to watch the Olympic Games could, despite any political hostilities, travel between their home countries and the games in complete safety.

The ancient Olympic Truce connects, in a way, to the modern-day "Olympic Ideals," which are respect, excellence and friendship. They were established as a core ingredient of the Olympic movement in the late 19th century, when international athletic officials joined together to revive the ancient games.

But in modern times, the games have sometimes been overrun by political tensions. During the 1980 Russia Olympics, the U.S. boycotted the games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That boycott was endorsed by a near-unanimous vote of Congress. Nations across the globe, including Canada, West Germany, South Korea and Chile, also boycotted the games that year.

How do the Olympics influence people today? Are Olympic values important for a person's life? Can they unite politically diverse groups?

It was with those questions in mind that I conducted a survey to examine the perceptions of Republicans and Democrats about Olympic values. I also wanted to survey their attitudes toward North and South Korea meeting to jointly participate in the Games.

Olympics about more than sports

Could these largely divided political groups agree on the universal Olympic values promoted by the Olympic Games? Would they agree with the idea that the Olympics bring people together?

On Jan. 18, 2018, I conducted an online survey among 200 U.S. participants. The respondents were mostly male (55.5 percent), white (80 percent), with 54 percent earning an income between $20,000 and $60,000. Half of them had a college degree and most of them (72.5 percent) were employed. On average, the participants were 36 years old.

The survey asked a series of questions regarding their feelings about, and perceptions of, the Olympics; how they felt about statements that described Olympic values; and whether they were Republicans or Democrats.

In response, both Republicans and Democrats identified themselves as Olympics fans in similar numbers. Both Democrats and Republicans had similar feelings about the 11 statements related to the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship. The respondents also shared very positive perceptions about the Olympic Games as a sports competition.

(Click here to view an infographic showing the results of a survey where 200 Americans, Republicans and Democrats, were asked how they felt about statements that reflect the Olympic ideals.)

Given the heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, I also sought to determine whether being a Democrat or Republican played any role in respondents' perceptions about the talks between North and South Korea. Those talks had led to a decision by the previously hostile neighboring countries to send a team jointly to the 2018 games.

The results revealed that both Democrats and Republicans believed that the hosting of the Games will have little influence on the relationship between North and South Korea.

Despite the generally positive perceptions shared by Democrats and Republicans on Olympic values and their common belief that the games would not change the relationship between North and South Korea, differences showed up between the two groups in other responses.

Democrats perceived the news about the two Koreas meeting to send a joint team to the Olympics more positively than Republicans. When asked whether the Olympic Games bring nations closer, Democrats were much more positive compared to Republicans. Democrats also believed more strongly than Republicans that the Games promote peace.

Despite these differences, my research demonstrates that the values related to the Olympic Games as well as the image of the games as a sports competition are overall perceived positively by survey participants on either side of the U.S. political spectrum. In an increasingly polarized country, that's an unusual finding – and an unexpected opportunity.

Global Impact

Got a Story Idea? We're interested in hearing about it.

Tell Us