Category: Human Nature

Building on Big Data


BigData.jpgAt the turn of the millennium, the cost to sequence a single human genome exceeded $50 million and the process took several years. Today, researchers can sequence a genome in a single afternoon for just few thousand dollars. Technological advances have ushered in the era of “Big Data,” where biologists collect immense datasets, seeking patterns that may explain important diseases or identify drug and vaccine targets. But what to do with it? Making data easy to find, use, access and organize for researchers has become one of the biggest challenges for science. But scientists, government funding agencies and universities working to keep up just received some great new support:

A genome database team led by University of Pennsylvania and University of Georgia scientists has been awarded a new contract from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease worth $4.3 million in 2014-2015. Assuming annual renewal, this five-year award is expected to total $23.4 million.

The team has been responsible for developing genome database resources for microbial pathogens, including the parasites responsible for malaria, sleeping sickness, toxoplasmosis and many other important diseases.

The new contract ensures work will continue on the Eukaryotic Pathogen Genomics Database—known as EuPathDB—to provide the global scientific community with free access to a wealth of genomic data related to microbial pathogens important to human health and biosecurity. EuPathDB expedites biomedical research in the lab, field and clinic, enabling the development of innovative diagnostics, therapies and vaccines.

EuPathDB receives over 6 million hits from 13,000 unique visitors in more than 100 countries each month. Dr. Kissinger, principal investigator from UGA, puts it well:

"The costs and time required for genome sequencing have plummeted in the past 10 years thanks to advances in technology," Kissinger said. "Organizing this data, maintaining it in a way that is accessible and easy to use for researchers around the world, 24 hours a day, is our great challenge-and one that presents exciting opportunities for funders and other philanthropic organizations that support pathogen research."

We're excited for the UGA team, their colleagues at UPenn and the UGA Institute of Bioinformatics, which provides most of the systems administration for the entire EuPathDB - a feat in and of itself. Congratulations to these scientists working beyond their fields to strengthen research into all fields - the vast expansion of data capacity, sharing and transfer has probably had the greatest impact on science as a whole since the invention of the microscope. More on Kissinger and her work here.


Georgia Virtual History Project


Lawton_GVHP.jpgKudos to the Georgia Magazine and writer Mary Jessica Hammes on her outstanding feature on history instructor Christopher Lawton and the Georgia Virtual History Project.

Read the article and the rest of the magazine here.


Retirement in Academia


no-8-1952_Rothko.jpgAs a normal part of my duties in research reporting, I had an enjoyable interview/conversation yesterday afternoon with a junior faculty member. An energetic, very bright and motivated young professor, I could see how his infectious enthusiasm might effect students and as well as departmental colleagues. The tone of that experience brought to mind this Chronicle Review post from last month by friend of the blog (and Hofstra U. art faculty member) Laurie Fendrich:

The 1994 law ending mandatory retirement at age 70 for university professors substantially mitigated the problem of age discrimination within universities. But out of this law a vexing new problem has emerged—a graying—yea, whitening—professoriate. The law, which allows tenured faculty members to teach as long as they want—well past 70, or until they’re carried out of the classroom on a gurney—means professors are increasingly delaying retirement past age 70 or even choosing not to retire at all.

Like so much else in American life, deciding when to retire from academe has evolved into a strictly private and personal matter, without any guiding rules, ethical context, or sense of obligation to do what’s best—for one’s students, department, or institution. Only the vaguest questions—and sometimes not even those—are legally permitted. An administrator’s asking, "When do you think you might retire?" can bring on an EEOC complaint or a lawsuit. Substantive departmental or faculty discussions about retirement simply do not occur.

University professors may be more educated than the average American, but now that there’s no mandatory retirement age, their decisions about when to leave prove that they are as self-interested as any of their countrymen. When professors continue to teach past 70, they behave in exactly the same way as when we decide to drive a car on a national holiday. Who among us stops to connect the dots between our decision to drive and a traffic jam, or that traffic jam and global warming?

There's a balance to be had that keeps fresh blood mixing with venerable experience on campus - an important mix for which there exists no formula about getting it just right. Both are crucial, even as they fluxuate, and knowing when to move on and make room for new faculty is arguably one of the great challenges for career academics - and of course not only them. A great, honest appraisal from Fendrich. Food for thought.

Baldwin Hall expansion underway


Baldwin.jpgShovels hit the ground last week as an expansion project began on one of our venerable North Campus buildings, Baldwin Hall:

Built in 1938, Baldwin Hall has served as a Navy pre-flight school during World War II and home to several UGA academic programs. The building currently houses the School of Public and International Affairs as well as the departments of sociology and anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.


The roughly $8 million project, with funding approved by the Georgia General Assembly, includes construction of a 10,800-square-foot Baldwin Hall Annex and renovations to the existing building. Work on the addition is slated to begin in June and run through May 2016. Renovations are expected to be complete in September 2016.

When the blog was a wee undergraduate majoring in political science ('sciencepo' was at that time a part of the Franklin College), much time was spent in the halls and classrooms of Baldwin - also the old Jackson Street cemetery next door, but that's another story. But these renovations are very welcome and a wise investment in existing campus infrastructure. The new annex will provide technology-enabled active learning classrooms; space for graduate teaching assistants to hold office hours; and common areas for faculty, staff, students and alumni to convene for academic discussions, presentations and events. The existing building will be renovated to provide academic departments with modern instructional facilities, greater accessibility for individuals with disabilities and a more efficient mechanical system.

Former Franklin Dean Stokes to become Missouri Provost


GS_ProvostForum_.jpgCongratulations to former Franklin dean Garnett Stokes, who will become provost and vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Missouri beginning Feb. 1:

Stokes said she is excited to help MU excel as a flagship land-grant university and improve its standing among other Association of American Universities institutions. She said she was impressed by MU's broad mix of strong programs, including engineering, medicine, agriculture, veterinary medicine and journalism.

"I think that I really like where Missouri is going," Stokes said Thursday. "I know about some very specific strengths, and it looks like a place that I could make a difference."

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said in the release that Stokes has "the ability, the vision and the drive to help us move the University of Missouri to the next level. She has a reputation for supporting students and building on existing research strengths."

Stokes leaves Florida State after serving as provost and interim president there. Great hire for Missouri. We're very proud of Dr. Stokes and wish her the very best in her new role at UM.

Amazing student Omar Martinez-Uribe


omar_martinezUribe.jpgMeet Amazing UGA student Omar Martinez-Uribe:

a senior biology major from Fayetteville, GA, Uribe has been volunteering in the community, working with student organizations, conducting undergraduate research and representing his college throughout his UGA career. The next step for this avid Bulldog fan is medical school.


University highlights, achievements and awards:

After my first semester at UGA I entered the Honors Program through collegiate entry. I began volunteering for the Thomas Lay after-school program my freshman year and tried to make connections with many of the children from Clarke County.

The summer after my freshman year I worked at the UGA-Griffin campus with Patrick McCullough in the crop and soil sciences department. He was a great mentor. I really enjoyed getting to see a different type of scientific work and his experience made my time worthwhile. I even got to translate a few publications into Spanish.

During my sophomore year at UGA I was inducted into Alpha Epsilon Delta, the premedical honor society. I also began working with MEDLIFE. This is an amazing organization that aims to provide medicine, education and development to low-income families. I think it is important for minority students to serve in this type of organization because it is a way to serve as a representative. I enjoyed being a family head with this organization which entailed working with a wonderful group of students dedicated to their community and showing compassion to others.

In addition, I began working with the Student Academic Honesty Council my sophomore year. I believe that a degree from UGA is incredibly valuable, and I work to make sure students know the rules and regulations about academic honesty.

Before my junior year, I began working in the Infectious Disease Department with Julie Moore. I have been moving around on several different projects regarding the mechanisms behind placental malaria. I plan on writing a senior thesis next semester and hopefully can include all of my different projects in this paper!

I have been incredibly fortunate to become a part of the Franklin College ambassadors. We have an amazing coordinator, Roslyn Raley, and such cool student representatives. I have enjoyed many meetings with Dean Dorsey, and I have worked to make sure Franklin’s donors see what an amazing impact they make on all of UGA’s undergraduates. I’ve even had the opportunity to meet President Morehead and a few of Georgia’s lawmakers!

One of the latest things I am incredibly proud of is my participation in the Summer Educational Enrichment Program through Georgia Regents University. I was very fortunate to have been selected to spend seven weeks shadowing and learning from faculty and staff of GRU. I was able to see so many different types of surgeries and procedures, and I really enjoyed my experience. I have made lifelong friends, and I hope to see them as my colleagues in the future.

Fantastic. Read the whole profile.

Kudos, December 2014


Uma-Canopy-group.jpgEach month, we are humbled by the achievements of our faculty, staff and students. We list a few of the most recent here not to be boastful (though we are quite proud of your accomplishments) but as a simple acknowledgement: grouping together so many accolades from one college, over a short period of time, reminds us of the talent, productivity and professional engagement of colleagues all around us.

That being said, the month just past brought an exemplary set of outstanding achievements that is so extraordinary, I didn't want them to get lost in the fact that we regulalry spotlight such awards and accolades. We do, and there is nothing ordinary about any of them. But there's no way to soft-pedal it - this is greatness in action:

A group of scientists led by Samantha Joye received $18.8 million in new funding to continue its studies of natural oil seeps and to track the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

Three UGA faculty members (all from the Franklin College) have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor bestowed upon them by their peers for "scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The three are dean Alan Dorsey, Samantha Joye and David Garfinkel

A delegation of seven undergraduate students representing UGA at the 18th Annual Southeast Model African Union simulation at Clayton State University won the best delegation award - faculty advisors Karim Traore and Akinloye Ojo

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching selected John A. Knox as the Georgia Professor of the Year for 2014. Knox was the first state winner of the award from UGA since 2004 and the first atmospheric scientist from any state to be selected since 1989.

The Georgia Debate Union won an intercollegiate debate tournament featuring 32 teams from East Coast colleges

Doctoral student Uma Nagendra (pictured above) flipped and twisted her way to the top prize in the seventh annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest for her video explaining biology research through an aerial dance performance

And to preview the upcoming fall Commencement exercises on Dec. 19 at Stegman Coliseum, UGA Alumnus, associate director of programs for the NASA Ames Research Center and great friend of the Franklin College Roger Hunter will deliver the undergraduate commencement address. The graduate commencement will feature UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Gregory H. Robinson.

Faculty in the Media, December 2014


Franklin College faculty provide a variety of expert and background source material to reporters and editors around the world. A sampling from the past month:

Why you shouldn’t be proud to be a workaholic – reports on research by UGA assistant professor of psychology Malissa Clark: “Scientists to busy professionals: You really need to stop humble-bragging about your insane schedule.”

U.S. weather satellite network hacked – China recently hacked into U.S. weather and satellite systems, reports USA Today.  “This illustrates that they understand the value of this data and information,” said UGA meteorologist Marshall Shepherd.

Fall of Berlin Wall still changing the world – ABH

(article quotes Martin Kagel, A.G. Steer Professor and Department Head of UGA Germanic and Slavic Studies)

Americans’ declining trust in others, institutions – UGA psychology professors Keith Campbell and Nathan Carter are members of a team of researchers studying a cultural shift in America.  Report filed in Journalist's Resource.

Scientist explains her research with a high-flying acrobatic dance routine – Washington Post (article mentions Uma Nagendra,  UGA PhD candidate in plant biology)

50 years later, Atlanta challenges Civil War ‘Myth’ – The Takeaway

(UGA history professor James Cobb is quoted in audio interview)

Doubts chip away at nation’s most trusted agencies – Associated Press

(UGA psychology professor Nathan Carter is quoted)

Study examines psychology of workaholism – “Even in a culture that lionizes hard work, workaholism tends to produce negative impacts for employers and employees, according to a new study from a University of Georgia researcher,” reports MedicalXpress.

Hurricane predictions – Marshall Shepherd, geography professor and former president of the American Meteorological Society, is quoted in a article that questions the U.S. ability to accurately predict the powerful storms.

New study aims to prove selfie-takers are more self-absorbed – A UGA study suggests fans of the self-portrait are more narcissistic, reports the UK Daily Mail.  Head researcher Keith Campbell, professor of psychology, says selfies are motivated by self-absorption and social connection. Article also in the Nigerian Tribune

Historians take a wider view of early America – UGA history professor Claudio Saunt is quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article about how Americans think about early American history.   

What 'Gone Girl' does (and doesn't) tell us about mental illness – U.S. News & World Report (article quotes UGA psychology professor Keith Campbell)

New study uses DNA sequences to look back in time at key events in plant evolution, reports  “We developed new analysis tools to understand the timing of key innovations in plant evolution,” said study coordinating author Jim Leebens-Mack, associate professor of plant biology.

Selfies may reveal unflattering personality traits – UGA psychology professor Keith Campbell says there seems to be a main motive for selfies.  “One is narcissism, which is doing stuff to get attention from people…to look better than you are,” said Campbell.

Art professor inspired by American pop-art – R&B article features LDSOA parttime instructor Stanley Bermudez

Common Core State standards & the K-12 Challenge –

(article written by Christine Franklin, statistics professor)



Happy Thanksgiving


OC_rear.jpgWith campus very quiet (though not nearly as leafy as in the photo above), the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences wishes everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving. Safe travels and great time with family and friends to all of our students, staff and faculty. 

See you next week.

Knox named Georgia Professor of the Year by CASE, Carnegie


knox.jpgJust before the holidays, professor John Knox was up in Washington, DC to receive a very prestigious award:

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have selected the University of Georgia's John A. Knox as the Georgia Professor of the Year for 2014. The honor was conferred Nov. 20 in Washington, D.C., at a national awards celebration.

Knox, an associate professor and undergraduate coordinator in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences geography department, is the first state winner of the award from UGA since 2004 and the first atmospheric scientist from any state to be selected since 1989.

Knox and the other state winners were chosen from nearly 400 top professors nominated by colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

The U.S. Professors of the Year program recognizes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country—those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of students. Sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation, it is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

An outstanding researcher who engages undergraduates in the classroom as well as in his scholarship, Knox's practice reveals a deep regard for teaching that speaks volumes about the learning environment in the department of geography, the Franklin College and UGA. A very well-deserved honor. Congratulations, Dr. Knox.