It's a story right up Science Friday's alley: the remarkable ability of fire ants to build soaring towers out of their own bodies. The new research from School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor David Hu gives public radio host Ira Flatow a chance to ask Hu not only about ant engineering, but also about what a fellow Tech professor thought when things got a little antsy in his office. Hu is also an associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics.

 

 

A recent New York Magazine article painted a darker-than-usual picture of planetary climate change. If billions of tons of ancient carbon buried in permafrost ever thaws out, it could release a methane "bomb" into the atmosphere that could trigger "Day After Tomorrow"-style disasters.  This article discusses the chances of that actually happening, and includes reaction from Joel Kostka, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences. Kostka is part of a research team studying this subject in northern Minnesota.

 

Here is a LiveScience article examining the possibility of a methane "bomb" buried under Arctic permafrost, and whether it could indeed wreak havoc on Earth's climate if global warming releases it into the atmosphere. It's the very thing that Joel Kostka, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has been studying with his research team in the wilds of northern Minnesota

What kind of professor turns his back on hard-earned tenure so he can hang out with reptiles and amphibians at a city zoo? If you're Joseph Mendelson, and you know that city zoo has a good reputation for research, then you jump at the chance and you ignore those warning of career suicide. (Besides, the zoo also offers an adjunct appointment at a nearby world-class academic institution in Midtown.) That's what Mendelson did 14 years ago, and he's never looked back. Mendelson, an adjunct associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, is director of herpetological research at Zoo Atlanta. 

The latest research led by David Hu on fire ants and their tower-building capabilities is compelling enough on its own. But video really adds a "wow" factor to it, and this Vox entry is a great example. In addition to an interview with Hu, it also has lab video showing living blobs of entangled ants being handled by researchers like they were lumps of Play-Doh. Hu is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. He is also an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics.

If you want to know more about what School of Biological Sciences Professor Joel Kostka is up to with his research in northern Minnesota, read this Guardian article. Kostka is part of the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project that is mentioned in the story. Kostka and his fellow researchers are trying to determine the impact of climate change on the ancient carbon buried deep beneath the peatlands. This article goes into great detail about why these particular ecosystems are so important to Earth's ecological health, and why they need to be saved. Kostka has a joint apppointment with the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

For three weeks in the summer, the Bio@Tech program gives high school students a chance to do some investigative biology. It's a joint project of the School of Biological Sciences and the Center for Education Integrating Science, Math and Computing (CEISMC). Rebecca Jeltuhin, a senior at Milton High School, wrote about her Bio@Tech experiences for VoxATL, a platform for teenage writers, and it is republished by WABE 90.1. She writes about her experiences investigating the pollution in the Chattahoochee River and suggests ways we can all do a better job of taking care of Atlanta's famous waterway.

Ten students make up inaugural cohort of new Ph.D. program

August 11, 2017 | Atlanta, GA

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was first published by the Ocean Science and Engineering Program on Aug. 9, 2017.

In November 2016, Georgia Tech launched the Ph.D. in Ocean Science and Engineering (OSE, www.ocean.gatech.edu), an interdisciplinary graduate program across the schools and faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Biological Sciences (BIOL) and Earth & Atmospheric Sciences (EAS). Ten students make up the inaugural cohort, which will begin its studies in the 2017 Fall semester.

The OSE program has two goals:

  • to educate the next generation of transdisciplinary ocean scientists and engineers by combining basic and applied sciences with innovative ocean technologies
     
  • to advance interdisciplinary research at the frontiers of the physical, biological, chemical and human dimensions of ocean systems. 

The program attracted a diverse group of applicants interested in specializing in Ocean Technology, Ocean Sustainability, Marine Living Resources, Ocean and Climate, and Coastal Ocean Systems. Following are the members of the inaugural class, who will begin their studies in the Fall 2017 semester. Their orientation will take place on Aug. 14-18, 2017.

 

Alexandra Muscalus (OSE-CEE)

Alexandra Muscalus obtained a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2016. She joins OSE with Georgia Tech Presidential and Institute Fellowships. Her research interests include ocean energy and fieldwork approaches to nature-based coastal resilience and shoreline change. She aspires to advance the field of coastal engineering as a professor. In her free time, Muscalus enjoys backpacking, scuba diving, playing musical instruments, running, and cooking.

 

Roth Conrad (OSE-BIOL)

Roth Conrad joins OSE with a Georgia Tech Presidential Fellowship. “I spent eight years traveling, exploring, and acquiring a diverse skill set and world view,” he says. “I worked on a sailboat in the Bahamas, which deeply affected my awareness of the environment.” Conrad also built and traveled across the country in a vegetable-oil-powered school bus, which inspired his fascination with microbiology and biological degradation. “Both experiences showed me how rewarding sharing ideas with people can be,” he says.

“My mind full of questions, appreciation for the environment, curiosity about microbes, and desire to share ideas are a few reasons why I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Ocean Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.”

 

Abigail Johnson (OSE-EAS)

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and a master’s degree in biological and environmental sciences from the University of Rhode Island, Abigail Johnson looks forward to continuing her education in the OSE program. With this Ph.D.,  she says, 

“I hope to advance our tools in search for and our knowledge of Earth’s deep ocean life.”

Specifically, she plans to use a novel high-pressure chamber to characterize microbial communities in methane hydrates from the Gulf of Mexico incubated under in situ pressures. Upon receiving a Ph.D., she plans to continue her career in academia, with the goals of “researching the mysteries of our deep ocean and educating our future generations.”

 

Benjamin Hurwitz (OSE-CEE)

Benjamin Hurwitz is an electrical engineer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School with a focus in chemistry before attending Colby College, in Maine, from where he graduated with a B.A. in Applied Mathematics. A long-time scuba diver, he spent a year in the Virgin Islands, teaching and guiding divers around the reefs. He returned to school at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he spent three years earning a B.S. in Electrical Engineering with a focus on microelectronics.

His interests include marine robotic electrical systems, instrumentation design, and integrated circuit fabrication.

When he’s not working, he can be found on the ice rink, in the climbing gym, or on the ocean.

 

Gian Giacomo Navarra (OSE-EAS)

Since high school Gian Giacomo Navarra was interested in astronomy and mathematics. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics at the University of Bologna, Italy. After an undergraduate research experience in the University of Bristol, he got interested and completed a master’s degree in condensed matter and statistical mechanics in 2016. After completing his thesis in computational mechanics, Navarra says,

“I realized that the methods I learned and developed in statistical mechanics have the potential to advance the geosciences, in particular ocean and climate dynamics (for example, El Niño), which have a high degree of stochastic physics.”

 

Melissa Ruszczyk (OSE-BIOL)

Melissa Ruszczyk began her undergraduate education in 2013 at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa., where she did research in limnology, microbiology, and disease ecology.

She also fostered her passion for music, gave two public clarinet recitals during her four years at Allegheny, and was featured soloist and concert master of the wind symphony during her senior year.

Upon completion of her comprehensive senior research project, Serial Sonification of Chaoborus Behavior in Response to Daphnia Size: Intricacies of the Predator-Prey Relationship, Ruszczyk graduated magna cum laude with bachelor degrees in biology and music.

 

Youngjun Son (OSE-CEE)

Youngjun Son graduated with master degrees in industrial engineering and in naval architecture at Seoul National University in 2012. From 2011 to 2017, he researched hydrodynamics and mooring technologies at Hyundai Heavy Industries, in  Ulsan, Korea. His research experience includes environmental loads, potential theory, nonlinear damping, damping linearization, spectral analysis, extreme statistics, design waves, load combination factors, mooring, risers, dynamic positioning, and wave basin model tests. In the OSE program, he will study hydrodynamics and ocean mechanics...

...to develop new devices for ocean applications such as renewable energy converters.

He is motivated by the need to integrate diverse and complex knowledge beyond one particular discipline in order to develop new marine resources.

 

Minda Monteagudo (OSE-EAS)

Minda Monteagudo completed her B.A. in Earth Science at the University of Southern California and M.S. in Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She joins the OSE program as a second-year Ph.D. student, specializing in paleoclimate and working on...

...reconstructing past sea surface temperature changes over the last glacial cycle from sediment cores in the Central Equatorial Pacific, for which very few records exist.

Previously, she worked on refining Mg/Ca paleothermometry, one of the most widely applied proxies for reconstructing past surface sea temperatures.

 

Xiyuan Zeng (OSE-EAS)

Xiyuan Zeng completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Marine Resources Development Technology in 2017 at Shandong University, China. For his bachelor’s thesis, he studied the characteristics of the peripheral flow field of circular cylinders. As an undergraduate, he also conducted research in remote sensing to estimate the seasonal variation of marine phytoplankton in the South China Sea. He also participated in several student training programs to study marine bacillus species and the New Zealand hybrid abalone.

He would like to use computational fluid mechanics to study ocean circulation and biophysical interactions in the marine environment.


Tyler Vollmer (OSE-EAS)

From Riverside, Calif., Tyler Vollmer graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a double major in geophysics and mathematics/atmospheric and oceanic sciences at age 19, and began research in paleoclimatology. After being awarded a Georgia Tech Presidential Fellowship, he joined the OSE program. His research uses geochemical proxies, such as 13C, and 18O isotopes, and climate modeling to reconstruct past climatic conditions, such as temperature, ocean circulation, and atmospheric circulation. The results would add context to recent climate change.

In his spare time, Vollmer is a competitive figure skater (started at age 3). He was the Intermediate Men National Champion in 2013.

He hopes to continue in academia, with the goal of becoming a professor.

 

A Message of Appreciation

OSE program Directors Emanuele Di Lorenzo and Annalisa Bracco, professors in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, extend sincere thanks to Susan Cozzens, Georgia Tech’s vice provost for graduate education; Paul Goldbart, dean of the College of Sciences; Gary May, former dean of the College of Engineering and now the chancellor of the University of California, Davis; and the Georgia Tech leadership team for their support and encouragement in establishing the OSE program.

Di Lorenzo and Bracco also extend special thanks to the OSE Faculty who have worked very hard in recruiting this first class of OSE students.

 

For More Information Contact

maureen.rouhi@cos.gatech.edu

A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

Those scenes of floating fire ant "rafts" plaguing flooding victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston? David Hu, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, first examined that nightmare scenario in 2011. That was when Hu and his research team published a study on how ants lock legs to form the rafts. You also may recall his research from earlier this summer on how the ants don't just spread out when threatened; they can also "perpetually rebuild" towers made of their own bodies. Hu is also an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics

As if the swamped residents of the Texas Gulf Coast don't have enough reasons to curse Hurricane Harvey, here's one more: clumps of stinging fire ants bobbing in the floodwaters. The New York Times story and this one in the Washington Post cite a 2011 study by School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor David Hu that explained the fire ant's raft-building superpower. Hu is also an associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Physics

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