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.
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.
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.
This PLOS (Public Library of Science) Blogs post from geneticist Ricki Lewis concerns the recent study on the health of our human ancestors vs. today's populations by Tech researchers Joe Lachance, Ali J. Barens and Taylor Cooper. The team used human genome sequences to determine that, yes, Neanderthals and other ancient populations living 50,000 years ago were genetically more susceptible to certain ailments, but some "recent ancients" who were around a mere thousand years ago could have been healthier. Lachance is an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences. Barens is a postdoctoral researcher and Cooper is an undergraduate researcher in the Lachance Lab.
"A pretty cool paper." That's how one of the hosts of the This Week in Microbiology podcast (ep. 159) describes the recent study by School of Biological Sciences professor Joshua Weitz and postdoctoral scientist Chung Yin (Joey) Leung. The Tech researchers discovered that immune cells in an animal host act synergistically with bacteria-killing viruses – phages – to wipe out fatal respiratory infections in lab mice. TWiM is the official podcast of the American Society for Microbiology. Both Weitz and Leung are also affiliated with the School of Physics, and Weitz is the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences.
That's not a hyped-up headline; health officials do indeed fear that leishmania, one of the world's deadliest parasites devastating underdeveloped countries, could show up in the southern U.S., thanks to climate change and rising temperatures. That's prompted an effort to quickly develop a vaccine. A research team that includes M.G. Finn, professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry (which he also chairs) is getting close with its work on genetically engineered mice, according to a new study. That research is attracting media interest; here's Futurism's take on Finn's study and the vaccine development efforts now underway.
In this report on a leishmaniasis study by Tech scientists, Seeker goes into detail into how School of Biological Sciences Professor M.G. Finn and his team used a bioengineered virus-like particle and genetically modified mice to take on the world's second deadliest parasite. Finn is also a professor and the chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Here is Gizmodo covering Georgia Tech's Leishmaniasis study as only Gizmodo can – with lots of attitude. It does focus on the potential for a vaccine against this deadly parasite. The vaccine was tested on genetically modified mice by a research team led by M.G. Finn, professor in the School of Biological Sciences. Finn is also a professor and chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
“One in 190 Americans is currently living with the loss of a limb,” according to a 2008 study. “Unchecked, this number may double by the year 2050.”
According to the Center for Orthotic and Prosthetic Care, most amputations are due to complications of the vascular system (82 percent) and trauma (16 percent). Amputations of lower limbs outnumber those of upper limbs, 84 percent vs 16 percent.
Despite advances in powered, lower-limb prostheses, adoption has been surprisingly low. “One reason is the complexity of robotic prostheses,” says School of Biological Sciences Professor Young-Hui Chang. Customizing the controls to each person’s ability is time consuming and requires multiple and long visits with a clinical professional known as a prosthetist.
To address the problem, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded Chang and Senior Lecturer Lee Childers a grant to figure out how to make the use of wearable lower-limb robotic prostheses much easier for patients and thereby reduce the burden on the healthcare system. “Our goal is to automate the process so that after one visit with a clinician the patient can complete the tuning automatically from home with regular use of the device,” says Chang, who leads the Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory at Georgia Tech.
To achieve this goal, Georgia Tech will undertake research to better understand human responses to robotic prostheses. Chang and Childers, working with collaborators at the University of Alabama, aim to incorporate human movement patterns into computer algorithms to improve the walking ability of prosthesis users.
NSF has awarded Chang and Childers $599,684 over four years for their part of the research.
The University of Alabama team is led by Xiangrong Shen, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Edward S. Sazonov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Their NSF award is $899,799 over four years.
The vision for the two research teams, Chang says, “is a smart device that can monitor the person’s movement and automatically adjust prosthesis control to improve outcomes.”