First Anthropocene Lecture

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R&B Anthropocene.jpgThe first in the Anthropocene Lecture Series was last night in the UGA Chapel. The Red & Black provides coverage:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing at two parts per million, which can be directly attributed to human activity, he said. Basic chemistry shows the carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, which in turn makes the Earth’s bodies of water more acidic, significantly altering the ecosystems of aquatic life.

About 250 million years ago came the Permian extinction, during which ocean pH plunged to about 7.6, killing 90 percent of the Earth’s species. This is the projected ocean pH in about 100 years, Farmer said.

“[The lecture was] eye-opening,” said Troy Woodward, a junior health promotions student from Valdosta. “Ocean acidification is not something I think a lot of people know about.”

The heart of the problem is the rise in carbon dioxide, but with time plants’ photosynthesis and natural processes will be able to bring these levels back down, Farmer said. However, this requires cutting down on the input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Expanding the fight against Infectious Diseases

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CEIGD.pngThe UGA Faculty of Infectious Diseases is comprised of many Franklin College faculty members and departments, researchers who have garnered significant resources in the fight against a variety of global health challenges:

"The board of regents investment in infectious disease research provided a unique opportunity to recruit strategically to bridge existing strengths in veterinary medicine, ecology, tropical and emerging diseases, and vaccine development as well as the rapidly expanding the new College of Public Health at UGA," said Duncan Krause, director of UGA's Faculty of Infectious Diseases and a professor of microbiology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "The resulting synergy has been exceptional."

Their studies promise to continue to enhance the research enterprise at UGA and foster new partnerships, both within the UGA Faculty of Infectious Diseases, which brings together researchers across UGA colleges and schools, and with researchers globally.

"A particular strength of the faculty members recruited through the board of regents initiative is their ability to identify promising collaborative opportunities that enable new research capabilities and often spawn new research directions," Krause said.

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Don Harn and Biao He study very different infectious agents, but both expand UGA capabilities in vaccine development. A major research focus of the Harn lab is schistosomiasis, a disease caused by worm-like organisms found in water. This work builds upon UGA's global leadership efforts to control this disease, including the Gates Foundation SCORE program here under the direction of Dan Colley. Harn's research also explores how schistosomiasis can limit the effectiveness of vaccines against HIV and other viral diseases.

He has identified a virus with potential as a delivery vector for vaccines and gene therapy. This discovery has spawned multiple new collaborations with researchers at UGA and beyond.

Having met an Infectious Diseases researcher from another Franklin department earlier today, I can vouch for this program's broad reach across our campus. The nature of fighting emerging and established global diseases dictates an interdisciplinary mix of specialties plus an ability to synthesize voluminous amounts of data even as they expand on it. Data management and sharing is an emerging challeneg itself for scientists and researchers in the digital age, one will revisit soon.

 

Teaching Ferguson's lessons

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Hot-off-the-presses is not usually a part of lesson plans in university classrooms - unless it is. History, political science, economics... social sciences and humanities classtime can easily and sometimes should be convulsed in topical isses. Faculty at institutions in the immediate area don't have the luxury of remove and often need to incorporate the events for multiple reasons. The Chronicle of Higher Education shares some lessons plans from faculty in the St. Louis area and how they plan to address sensitive issues of race and policing that were ignitied on Aug. 9. Could be instructive:

We’ll also be talking about community policing as it relates to Ferguson. This became a buzzword in the 1990s as a way to build better relationships with the community. I want to look at a broader model of community policing that goes beyond neighborhood meetings and foot patrols. We’ll examine cities, like Cincinnati, that have collaborative agreements in which citizens have a voice in the hiring process and in the promotion and selection of the chief. We’ll also consider whether a more-diverse force might have been able to quell some of the unrest in Ferguson or build a better understanding and communication with the community.

We need to have a mix of people in law enforcement, and I hope more students of diverse backgrounds will see this as a career path.

There’s a lot we can learn from this situation about de-escalating tensions and the legal justifications for using force. Would people feel more confident if citizens could review use-of-force cases? When you have problems in the neighborhood, do you go to the community and say, "These are the strategies we have in our toolbox. What do you think we should do?" That way, when an incident happens, the response is something the community has agreed is appropriate.

Read the whole thing. In many ways, these discussions and expansions of the curriculum to broaden our understanding of contemporary events are what leading a classroom is all about.

Genetics researchers unveil fully functional lab-grown thymus

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Manley_Nancy-portrait.jpgA major advance from researchers in the department of genetics:

A team of scientists including researchers from the University of Georgia have grown a fully functional organ from scratch in a living animal for the first time.

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The researchers created a thymus, a butterfly-shaped gland and vital component of the human immune system. Located beneath the breastbone in the upper chest, the thymus is responsible for producing T-lymphocytes, or T-cells, which help organize and lead the body’s fighting forces against threats like bacteria, viruses and even cancerous cells.

“We were all surprised by how well this works,” said Nancy Manley, professor of genetics in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the paper describing their finding in Nature Cell Biology.

“The general idea in science is that to make cells change their fate, you need to reprogram first to a stem-cell like state and then coax them to change into what you want,” said Manley, who is also director of UGA’s Developmental Biology Alliance. “But we jump-started the process just by expressing a single gene that was sufficient to initiate the entire process and orchestrate organ development.”

Congratulations to the research team on this fantastic news, a very big step along the way to clinical trials and treatments which, while they might be still far out in the future, seem to have just become significantly closer.

Speaking and Listening: Romance Linguistics colloquium

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Make-a-Water-Drop-Sound.jpgIf you had to learn to speak Italian or Spanish with only a dictionary, could you do it? Phonemes are distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another, for example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat. So... consonants are one thing, but vowels can be a completely different story. You have to love this stuff and our Romance Languages faculty does. On Thursday at 4 p.m. in Gilbert 115, the department presents a Romance Linguistics colloquium featuring assitant professor of linguistics Peggy Renwick:

“Phonological closeness between phonetically distinct vowel phonemes”

Standard Italian has seven vowels: /i e ɛ a o ɔ u/. But how strong is the distinction between /e/ vs. /ɛ/ and /o/ vs. /ɔ/? Do people really speak like the dictionary prescribes? Our study investigates the validity of the conventional descriptions of Italian and probes the correspondence between speakers’ productions and their intuitions, with the ultimate aim of understanding how such cases can be incorporated into theories of phonological contrast and historical change.

Just so. More information on Dr. Renwick's work here. Language is a wonderfully, maddeningly evolving tool that gives force to our thoughts and voice to our emotions. It is the path to comprehending the world, yourself and your place in the world - even if you only speak one language. The best we can do is to continue to improve our understanding of its power. How does that sound?

Bella.

2nd Thursday Scholarship Concert Series

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UGASO_11_0.jpgThe Hugh Hodgson School of Music revs up the fall semester with the first concert in the 2nd Thursday Scholarship Concert Series on Thursday Sept. 11, with a new start time at 7:30 p.m.:

Pianist Damon Denton will appear as featured soloist with the University of Georgia Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 11 in Hodgson Concert Hall.

In addition to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major “Eroica,” one of the most beloved compositions in the Western music canon, the UGA Symphony Orchestra—directed by Mark Cedel—will showcase Denton during its performance of George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.”

“One of the reasons I love this composition is because it highlights the piano and orchestra in equal measure,” said Denton, a faculty accompanist in the Hodgson School, speaking of “Concerto in F.” “It gives the entire orchestra—not just the piano, but all the wonderful musicians onstage—a chance to shine.”

As one of the country’s most celebrated composers, Gershwin had an affinity for combining distinctly American idioms, including jazz, the blues and ragtime, into his compositions. “Concerto in F,” while more closely tied to classical concerto tradition than “Rhapsody in Blue,” incorporates many of the sounds, textures and harmonies for which Gershwin is known.

“The concerto is all about real life,” Denton said. “It mirrors the street—cars honking, crowds cheering, dirty streets and bright lights. Gershwin’s work is distinctly American music that joyously reflects American life as opposed to abstract melody.”

We know the semester is fully geared up when the Symphony orchestra opens the 2nd Thursday season. Take advantage of these wonderful cultural offerings all year long and help support our students in the Hodgson School by purchasing season tickets. Great concerts and wonderful musical experiences await. See you at Hodgson Hall.