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FLU FIGHTERS | 14

BUILDING RESILIENCE | 26

THE LANA LEGACY | 32

A universal vaccine could put an end to the seasonal flu shot

Professor Ann-Margaret Esnard is making cities less vulnerable to natural disasters

How a project from 1971 changed the field of ape language research forever

Georgia State University Research Magazine Division of Public Relations and Marketing Communications P.O. Box 3983, Atlanta, GA 30302-3983

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G E O R G I A S TAT E U N I V E R S I T Y | SP R I N G 2018

THE BODY ON FIRE

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FUELED BY AN IMMUNE SYSTEM IN OVERDRIVE, CHRONIC INFLAMMATION CAN HAVE A PROFOUND IMPACT ON HEALTH. ACROSS GEORGIA STATE, SCIENTISTS ARE WORKING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND — AND BETTER CONTROL — INFLAMMATION’S SLOW BURN.

SP R I N G 2018


BEING A

NEXTGENERATION RESEARCH UNIVERSITY MEANS

✓ Driving INNOVATION ✓ COLLABORATING across fields of study

✓ Laying the groundwork for LIFE-CHANGING DISCOVERIES AS THE LARGEST PUBLIC RESEARCH UNIVERSITY IN GEORGIA, we’re checking all the boxes.

Learn more at

RESEARCH.GSU.EDU

U.S. News & World Report, 2018

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#thestateway


CONTENTS

FORWARD 5 NOTEWORTHY 40 NOW YOU SEE IT 46

18

FIGHTING A HIDDEN ENEMY

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THE GATHERING STORM

32

Runaway inflammation is linked to diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer. Our scientists are learning more about how inflammation goes wrong — and how to keep it in check.

Is your community ready for the next flood or hurricane? Professor AnnMargaret Esnard is working to help cities around the world stand stronger in the face of natural disasters.

When psychologist Duane Rumbaugh put a chimpanzee in front of a keyboard back in 1971, he didn’t know what to expect. What followed transformed the field of ape language research.

PHOTO BY STEVE THACKSTON

BREAKING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY

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FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT

On the Move and on the Rise WELCOME TO THE FIRST ISSUE of the Georgia State University Research Magazine, devoted to sharing the new insights and discoveries being made on our campus. Recently Georgia State has gained national attention for our innovative approach to student success — and now we’re developing a reputation as one of the nation’s premier urban public research universities. In the past decade, Georgia State has been distinguished by the tremendous expansion of our research program. Since 2011, our external research funding has increased by 252 percent, with expenditures exceeding $200 million for the first time this year. We’ve also invested in new faculty and infrastructure, positioning the university as a major player in research. Today, Georgia State faculty are producing transformative breakthroughs to tackle our most complex, pressing problems. The stories here encompass only a fraction of our university’s growing research activity — but what an impressive fraction. Our cover story, “The Body on Fire” (p. 18), spotlights several Georgia State researchers who are working to better understand and fight a major

driver of disease: chronic inflammation. A few pages later, we detail the incredibly timely work of professor Ann-Margaret Esnard, who studies natural disasters and their impact on cities. In “Universal Treatment” (p. 14), you’ll learn about two Georgia State scientists who are leading the pack of those racing to develop a universal flu vaccine. It’s an exciting time at Georgia State, and we hope that this magazine provides you with an appreciation for how the university is advancing research that has the potential to significantly affect all of our lives. Follow along as we continue to build excellence in research. We promise there are many more discoveries to come.

James Weyhenmeyer Vice President for Research & Economic Development

Publishers Don Hale, Andrea Jones Editor Jennifer Rainey Marquez Contributors Sonya Collins, LaTina Emerson, Ann Hardie, William Inman, Jennifer Rainey Marquez Creative Director Renata Irving Art Director Matt McCullin Contributing Illustrators John Cuneo, Lauren Harvill, Thomas Porostocky, Reid Schulz Contributing Photographers Meg Buscema, Carolyn Richardson, Ben Rollins, Steve Thackston Send address changes or story ideas to: Jennifer Rainey Marquez, editor, Georgia State University Research Magazine P.O. Box 3983 Atlanta, GA 30302-3999 email: jmarquez@gsu.edu Georgia State University Research Magazine is published by Georgia State University. The magazine is dedicated to communicating and promoting the high level of research at Georgia State University, as well as the outstanding accomplishments of its faculty. © 2018 Georgia State University | 18-RES9202

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PHOTO BY CAROLYN RICHARDSON


FORWARD

MOLECULES AS MEDICINE 10 | THE ANTIOXIDANT MYTH 12 | FLU FIGHTERS 14

COSMOS

BRINGING THE OLDEST STARS TO LIGHT JUST LIKE LIVING CREATURES HERE ON EARTH, stars have a lifespan. They are born, they grow old and — after billions of years — they die. Georgia State astronomers recently led a census of our solar neighborhood, or the region of space within 80 light years of Earth, to identify how many young, adult and “senior citizen” stars are present. The resulting study, published in The Astronomical Journal, focused on the oldest stars, also known as cool subdwarfs. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is nearly 14 billion

years old, and its most mature stars were formed six to nine billion years ago. Because there aren’t a lot of elderly stars in our solar neighborhood, the researchers looked even farther afield — about 200 light years away from Earth. They then identified the oldest stars by analyzing their locations and velocities. In general, the older a star is, the faster it moves across the sky. The team pinpointed 29 potential new subdwarfs, including two binary stars, a significant discovery because older stars are typically found alone. “It’s rare for senior citizens to have companions. Old folks tend to live by themselves,” says Wei-Chun Jao, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Georgia State. He added that finding old stars could also lead to the discovery of new planets. “Maybe these stars have some planets around them that we don’t know about,” Jao says. “Maybe even some ancient civilizations.”

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FORWARD SOLAR ENERGY

Harnessing the Power of Plants Inspired by nature, associate professor Gary Hastings works to build a better solar cell

EVEN THE BEST HUMAN-ENGINEERED solar cell is essentially a clunky dial-up modem compared to the sleek high-speed efficiency of the humble leaf. After all, plants have had about a billion years to perfect the process of photosynthesis, which uses energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose (used by the plant as fuel) and oxygen (used by all of us). “If you shine light on a man-made solar cell, only about 10 percent of that light can be turned into electricity,” says Gary Hastings, a biophysicist in Georgia State’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. “In plants, nearly all of the light absorbed will be turned into chemical energy. The question is, how do plants get to that level of efficiency?” Hastings grew up surrounded by green in the lush countryside near Edinburgh, Scotland, and today his research is focused primarily on unraveling the minute details of photosynthesis. One factor that makes photosynthesis so efficient is that it occurs at incredibly high speeds. During the process, sunlight hits a light-trapping pigment — chlorophyll — that energizes an electron, causing it to fly across the cell’s membrane in mere billionths of a second. The electron makes its journey via a series of specially located pigments, which evolution has finely tuned to create what is essentially a oneway path. Meanwhile, in artificial solar systems, the electron can easily bounce back across the membrane, losing its energy and rendering the whole process much less efficient. Hastings uses infrared spectroscopy, which analyzes how infrared light interacts with matter, to better understand this and other complex reactions that occur during photosynthesis. In late 2017, he received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences supporting his work, which could lead to the development of improved artificial solar cells to help power our cars and heat our homes. In his lab, he’s examining how replacing these chlorophyll pigments with other, differently structured

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pigments will change the rate at which electrons travel across the cell membrane. But rather than green leafy plants, Hastings is studying photosynthesis in cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria have the same solar energy-converting machinery as plants, and photosynthesis works in exactly the same way — but they’re much easier to study. “Purifying the plant material is complicated,” says Hastings, “and it’s much simpler to genetically engineer cyanobacteria than it is to engineer plant cells.” He’s also studying how blue-green algae could inform other processes, such as the production of biofuels. When algae cells grow, they produce lipids, which can be extracted from the cells and then turned into diesel fuel. “So, the question is, how can we develop methods that result in overproduction of these lipids,” he says. Another potential application of his work: forecasting hazardous algal blooms, out-of-control colonies of algae that are becoming more prevalent across the U.S. “The green slime you see on ponds and waterways is a huge buildup of algae,” Hastings says. “They are called hazardous blooms because they can be toxic to animals that drink the algae-laden water, and they can also negatively affect human health. Our goal is to monitor algal blooms using spectroscopy and then build technologies to predict their recurrence.”


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Years since Rudolph Marcus received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his theoretical work on the electron phenomenon in photosynthesis. Hastings is the first to demonstrate the mechanism in natural photosynthetic systems.

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FORWARD DIAGNOSTICS

New Hope for Early Cancer Detection A blood test developed by professor Unil Perera could diagnose two types of cancer Cancer screening can be time-consuming, expensive and invasive. The process is often so onerous it delays patients’ diagnosis and treatment. Unil Perera, a Regents’ Professor of Physics, and his colleagues have developed a new, easier way to detect cancer — using a simple blood test. So far, the test has been shown to be a reliable diagnostic for subcutaneous melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Here’s how it works:

Step 1

Blood serum samples are collected. In this study, samples were collected from control mice and mice with nonHodgkin lymphoma and subcutaneous melanoma.

Step 3

Researchers direct an infrared beam onto the crystal and measure how well the sample absorbs light at each wavelength.

Step 4

Step 2

Using a pipette, the researchers place a tiny droplet of serum (roughly one microliter, not much larger than a grain of salt) on top of a crystal that resembles a small diamond.

A readout called an “absorbance curve” shows how well the infrared beams have been absorbed, and peaks in the curve identify the presence of certain biomarkers.

Result By comparing the curves from the control mice and those with cancer, the researchers can detect biochemical changes induced by the tumors. Next, they plan to determine if the test could be expanded to body fluids, such as saliva, that can be collected noninvasively.

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ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ


ANALYTICS

BIG DATA IN THE CORNER OFFICE

$4.7

TRILLION

Estimated amount of financial service revenues that could be affected by financial technologies — or fintech — in the coming years

2015

Year the Institute for Insight was created to solve business problems through the application of analytics, statistics, computer science and big data

ACROSS THE DIGITAL AND ANALOG UNIVERSES, humans are generating data — lots of it. On the Internet alone, our output is estimated to be 2.5 quintillion bytes a day. This enormous trove of information can be used to make predictions or illuminate trends in any number of industries. Georgia State’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business recently created a groundbreaking lab that is using big data to gain insight into how the law operates. At the Legal Analytics Lab, which also receives support from Georgia State’s College of Law, scholars and data scientists are scrutinizing large numbers of legal documents to identify patterns and forecast legal outcomes. They’re initially focusing on three subject areas: civil litigation, compliance and corporate social responsibility, and intellectual property. The lab is already engaged in several projects. For the U.S. Department of Labor, researchers are using text mining and machine learning to analyze judges’ decisions in cases involving a worker’s status as either an employee or independent contractor. The goal is to learn more about how judges are distinguishing between the two categories and predict outcomes for future cases. “These data have existed for years, but it’s only recently that we’ve been able to do this kind of mass analysis,” says Sanjay Srivastava, associate dean for strategy and special projects at Robinson College and interim director of the Institute for Insight, which houses the Legal Analytics Lab. “It’s a potentially disruptive technique for the business and practice of law.” Robinson faculty are also investigating how these sorts of disruptive techniques and technologies could affect the financial service industry. The fintech lab was created last fall within the college’s Institute for Insight and is the first such lab in Georgia to be based at a business school. In one collaborative project with the Creative Media Industries Institute, the lab is investigating how blockchains — essentially super secure, tamper-proof databases — can be used to exchange, trade and manage digital products. “We’re looking at how the technology can let you track ownership and distribution of digital media,” says Srivastava. He notes that fintech is expeced to play a major disruptive role in the financial service sector in the coming years, and Robinson is taking the lead in learning how to use these tools to gain business insights and improve efficiency. “We’re exploring the potential applications,” Srivastava says, “and how we can not only disrupt business practices but create new business opportunities.”

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GENETIC DISEASES

TINY, TARGETED — AND POTENT

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hirty years ago, David Wilson and David Boykin, now both Regents’ Professors of Chemistry at Georgia State, struck up a friendship. Their labs were next door to one another, and each would often pop in to the other’s space to chat. They once took their sons on a canoe trip together through the Okefenokee Swamp. The two Davids also shared a keen interest in medicinal compounds — molecules that can target the DNA of viruses or parasites and kill them, or that can target human DNA to prevent mutations from causing disease. These molecules can become active ingredients in drugs. In the early 1980s, they put their minds together to design molecules that could help destroy the organisms that cause pneumonia, which was then killing a large number of HIV patients whose weakened immune systems were vulnerable to the infection. This led to work creating a drug to target trypanosomes, a group of parasites that cause fatal diseases such as sleeping sickness for which there is no treatment. “You want to make something that will bind to these specific biological molecules” — like a key in a lock — “but have minimal effect on the rest of the body,” says Wilson. “If the drug is going to combat pneumonia, you want it to pretty much kill the pneumonia without knocking off any other healthy cells.” For both projects, the team made promising headway — even creating a drug that cured 300

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people of sleeping sickness in Africa — but they came short of perfecting a drug for widespread clinical use. So they started off in another direction. Wilson had an idea to look at the interactions between proteins and DNA. Proteins called transcription factors tell DNA when to stop and start making RNA, which produces new cells. If the transcription factor is faulty, it can cause a genetic mutation that leads to the creation of abnormal cells. That’s what happens in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a deadly blood disease in which the body generates white blood cells that are unable to fight infection. They began working with another chemist, Gregory Poon, who was then at Washington State University but soon thereafter took a position at Georgia State. The three worked to create compounds that would inhibit the protein-DNA interaction that causes AML. “We discovered one that binds like crazy, and once it’s done its job, it dissociates from the protein,” says Wilson. “This is exactly what you want in a drug.” After publishing their findings, they were contacted by Ulrich Steidl, a researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who wanted to test the drug in animals and in sample cells from human cancer patients. The results, which were published last December, showed the compounds


ILLUSTRATION BY THOMAS POROSTOCKY

FORWARD

NANOTECHNOLOGY

BULL’S EYE A Georgia State physicist helps discover how to target cancer cells with nanotechnology

work against the cancer. The next step: refining the molecules to make them even more effective and less likely to cause side effects. “You’re always trying to get the best lead you can get, and then tinker with it based on some kind of logic and information,” says Wilson. Constructing and deconstructing the molecules is much more complicated than popping together chemical elements like LEGO pieces. “We have to find a way to build it and then test it to see how it works,” says Wilson. “These are not easy compounds to synthesize.” At the same time, Boykin and Wilson are collaborating with a group from University College London to test compounds that they’ve developed against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The drug targets proteins that bind to RNA and turn toxic, causing them to malfunction. Wilson describes the process of creating compounds as akin to making art. “Someone who composes symphonies gets inspiration for a beautiful passage of music. As a chemist, I get ideas for what chemicals can do. I sometimes wake up at night with a bolt of insight — that’s a molecule!” he says. “Of course, from an altruistic standpoint, we would love to cure leukemia or find a treatment for ALS. But for me, it would also be a golden moment to show that chemistry works. It works!”

“METASTASIS” IS A WORD no cancer patient wants to hear. It means a cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor and begun to invade other parts of the body. One cause of metastasis are circulating tumor cells (CTCs), malignant cells that have detached from a tumor and hitched a ride in the bloodstream. Even with blood analysis, oncologists struggle to detect these CTCs as each cell can be lost amid millions of normal blood cells. But what if doctors could simply see CTCs right through the skin and destroy them on the spot? Fifteen years ago, Mark Stockman, professor of physics and director of the Center for NanoOptics at Georgia State, won international attention for introducing a nanoparticle called a “spaser,” a sphere just a few hundred atoms across that can absorb and generate its own light. In June 2017, Stockman co-authored and published research in Nature Communications showing that these spasers can “stick” to malignant cells, such as CTCs, and destroy them. Once a cell absorbs a spaser that has been excited by a laser pulse, the cell becomes visible through a photodetector. With a stronger pulse, the spaser can then break apart the CTC from the inside, wiping it out. Stockman tested human breast cancer cells in the research and hopes clinicians can use his findings to develop new ways of targeting CTCs and other metastases. “Our work takes place on a nanoscale, but the potential applications are enormous,” says Stockman. “I hope cancer patients in the hospital benefit from what we’ve achieved in the lab.”

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FORWARD Q&A

The Antioxidant Myth Dora Il’yasova, associate professor of epidemiology, explains why everything you thought you knew about antioxidants is wrong

Your research focuses on oxidative stress, which you say is largely misunderstood. Can you explain? The normal, natural processes in your body — breathing air, metabolizing your food — create what are known as reactive oxygen species. These species can bind to molecules in the body and oxidize, or damage, them. Sometimes, this ends with one damaged molecule, but other times, it can initiate a chain reaction causing more widespread damage known as oxidative stress. Yet if this is happening all the time, why aren’t our bodies being damaged beyond repair? The answer: antioxidants, which can absorb these reactive species, almost like a bulletproof vest. Scientists have found that the more antioxidants — like vitamin E and beta carotene — you have in your blood, the lower your risk of disease. The assumption was that high levels of antioxidants was also correlated with low amounts of oxidative stress. But we didn’t really know. Still, experts just figured giving people antioxidants would make them healthier. It turned out that wasn’t the case. How so? In the early 1990s, there was a clinical trial in which researchers gave vitamin E and beta carotene pills to smokers. But what they found was that people who took the pills were more likely to develop lung cancer. When the results were published back in 1994, a similar trial was ongoing in the U.S. When the American researchers began to find the same effect, they stopped the trial. That’s so hard to comprehend, given that we know eating a healthy diet is good for you, and healthy foods are high in antioxidants. That’s true. But you have to remember that blood levels of antioxidants are just a marker for a healthy diet.

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The problem is when you try to isolate what causes this good effect. Every time we have tried to unravel what it is in fruits and vegetables that is so protective against disease — antioxidants, fiber, flavonoids — we hit a wall. So if antioxidant levels aren’t a good measure of disease protection, then what is? Instead of measuring antioxidants, what we need to do is measure oxidative damage. And we have to do it before people develop a disease so we can see whether or not they get sick based on their oxidative status. Unfortunately, you can’t measure reactive oxygen species directly. So, we’re measuring them by looking at biomarkers called F2-isoprostanes, which are like a footprint of the reactive species’ activity. And have you found that greater oxidative damage is correlated with higher disease risk? No! The first study I did looked at diabetes risk, and I couldn’t believe what I saw when I analyzed the data. The higher the level of these biomarkers, the lower the risk of diabetes. Yet we know that people who already have diabetes also have higher levels of these same biomarkers — so how can you reconcile that? What’s your explanation? During the metabolic process, we predominantly use fuel from two different sources: carbs or fat, and each of us has a natural tendency to use more of one or the other. When people naturally burn, or oxidize, a lot of fat, they have a tendency not to gain weight. If you do gain weight, though, then fat oxidation increases as your body tries to burn more fat to stabilize your weight. If the number on the scale continues to climb, so does the oxidation. So, people with a stable weight and high fat oxidation, meaning they tend to use fat for fuel, may have high levels of F2-isoprostanes, but they do not become obese and do not develop diabetes. Meanwhile, people who gain weight and have lower fat oxidation, meaning they tend to use carbs for fuel, experience rising biomarker levels as fat oxidation goes up, and the cycle continues until it leads to obesity and insulin resistance, and subsequently, diabetes. What effect do oxidative stressors — things that cause oxidative damage — have on these biomarkers? Surprisingly very little. For another study, we collected the urine of cancer patients before they received an injection of chemotherapy, then again one hour after

PHOTO BY BEN ROLLINS

injection, then again after 24 hours. We measured four different F2-isoprostanes in the urine, and we showed that — as you would expect — all of them increased one hour after injection. What was completely shocking is that by 24 hours, those biomarker levels had already gone back down. And chemo is a huge oxidative stressor — unlike anything we would experience in normal life. After further analysis, we found that for some patients, F2-isoprostanes even decreased after being given chemo. Interestingly, the people who showed the biggest increase in F2-isoprostanes started out having much lower levels to begin with. It’s a completely different idea, but we found that biomarkers for oxidative damage can also serve as biomarkers of resilience. If you have high levels of F2isoprostanes, you also have a high metabolism, and that is protective if somebody gives you an oxidative stressor like chemo. Because if you have high metabolism and you normally produce high levels of reactive oxygen species, you have a mechanism that can quickly shut down their generation. Meanwhile, the person with lower levels of F2-isoprostenes and a lower metabolism has a delayed response to oxidative stress and therefore is less protected. How has this discovery informed what you’re working on now? We know responses to oxidative stress are very individual, meaning we all react differently to different toxic substances. We can’t give healthy people poisons to measure their effects, but we can take a cell from a person and subject it to a toxic substance and look at the response. We’re now doing this with cells isolated from cord blood. Because it’s cord blood, we’re talking about a very vulnerable population: newborns. We’re subjecting these cells to known toxic substances, and finding that we can distinguish between responses among the individual donors — this newborn is very sensitive to the substance, this one is very resilient. How would you apply this sort of research? The immediate application would be to see how different environmental toxicants — for example, e-cigarettes — can affect a fetus. Many studies show e-cigarettes are not as harmful as regular cigarettes, and this is a message that a pregnant woman could take as a free pass to use e-cigarettes. But we’re dealing with fetuses, which are extremely sensitive to chemical exposures — much more so than adults.

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FORWARD FLU FIGHTERS

UNIVERSAL TREATMENT Georgia State researchers race to create a universal flu vaccine that will stop the infectious disease in its tracks

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his year’s flu season will go down as one of the most severe in nearly a decade, resulting in record hospitalization rates and many deaths, including nearly 100 children. One reason so many were stricken: the seasonal flu vaccine failed to protect a significant number of people against the virus. Seasonal vaccines are often unreliable because they can only target specific strains of the flu virus. Each year, six months before flu season starts, scientists work with the World Health Organization to predict which strains are most likely to infect the public that year. They make their determination so early to give manufacturers the time they need to produce the vaccine. That means the seasonal vaccine’s effectiveness depends entirely on the accuracy of the predictions used to develop it. “We still use the traditional method to make the flu vaccine, and we face the same challenges year after year,” says Bao-Zhong Wang, associate professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences.

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“[The WHO] prediction is not always correct,” says Sang-Moo Kang, professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences. “If there’s a mismatch, the vaccine’s efficacy is severely low.” The CDC estimates the 2017–18 seasonal flu vaccine was only 30 to 40 percent effective. Wang and Kang are leading a group of scientists that are trying to fight the flu with a different approach: a universal vaccine that could potentially protect against any strain, eliminating the guesswork and gamble of the seasonal vaccine. Wang and his team have made great strides toward the development of a “super vaccine” by targeting an interior part of the virus’ surface protein, called the hemagglutinin (HA) stalk. This interior part is the same in all influenza viruses, yet seasonal flu vaccines target the protein’s exterior head, which varies widely from strain to strain. Wang’s super vaccine would combine the interior parts of three surface proteins that can each induce an immune response from the human body. In a paper published earlier this year in Nature Communications, Wang and his colleagues found the vaccine produced long-lasting immunity and fully protected mice against various influenza A viruses. Meanwhile, Kang’s team is targeting an entirely different protein, the M2 protein, which is more constant across different strains of the flu compared to the HA surface protein. To do so, they’ve created particles that resemble the influenza virus and are around the same size — about 100 nanometers across — and contain the M2 protein. They then transmit the particles using the baculovirus, which can only replicate in insects, not mammals or humans. “There’s no way for it to become infectious [in humans], but it mimics the size, structure and shape of the virus,” says Kang. “We are incorporating the M2 components from human, swine and avian flu strains, so we’re expecting it to cover the whole range of influenza viruses.” In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, Kang and his colleagues demonstrated their vaccine worked better than the seasonal flu vaccine to induce effective crossprotection against several influenza viruses, including H1N1, which killed more than half a million people in 2009, H3N2 and H5N1, a strain of the avian flu.

ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ


Georgia State flu researchers Sang-Moo Kang (left) and BaoZhong Wang

THE WORST FLU YEARS IN (RECENT) HISTORY 1918–1919 The Spanish Flu Pandemic caused the highestknown number of influenza-related deaths: 500,000 in the U.S. and 20 to 50 million worldwide.

1957-1958 The Asian Flu Pandemic originated in East Asia and caused 70,000 deaths in the U.S.

1968-1969 The Hong Kong Flu Pandemic killed 34,000 people in the U.S. It was caused by a virus suspected to have evolved from the same one that caused the Asian Flu Pandemic 10 years earlier.

1977 The Russian Flu Pandemic predominantly affected children who were born after the 1957 outbreak, which was caused by the same type of virus.

2009 The H1N1 Pandemic was the first pandemic of the 21st century. First detected in the U.S., the virus killed an estimated 575,400 people in a year.

BETTER THAN CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP More ways our faculty are fighting the flu Probiotic Protection One weapon to fight the flu could be found in probiotics. SangMoo Kang has discovered that lactic acid bacteria, commonly used as probiotics to improve digestive health, can protect mice against different subtypes of influenza A. In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Kang pretreated mice with a heat-killed strain of lactic acid bacteria and then infected them with lethal doses of influenza A virus. The mice had a 100 percent survival rate and didn’t lose weight. They were also equipped with cross-protective immunity against a second lethal infection with the flu virus. The study provides evidence that heat-killed lactic acid bacteria could be potentially administered in the form of a nasal spray to protect against influenza virus infections. A Better Flu Test Methods of diagnosing the flu are often expensive, not sensitive enough and require trained personnel to administer them. Suri S. Iyer, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, and his colleagues have designed a simple test to detect influenza viruses in 15 minutes. The test requires only a nasal swab and detects a specific protein on the surface of the virus to identify the two major strains of the flu in humans: influenza A and influenza B. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the research was recently licensed to a biotech firm, Pinnacle Bio, and could provide a faster, more cost-effective flu test.

PHOTO BY STEVE THACKSTON

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FORWARD HISTORIC PRESERVATION

HALLOWED GROUNDS Researchers from the university’s World Heritage Initiative are working to recognize and preserve significant sites from the modern Civil Rights Movement

THE EDMUND PETTUS BRIDGE in Selma, Ala., was the site of one of the most violent moments of the Civil Rights era. On March 7, 1965 — a day that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” — more than 600 voting rights activists, including Hosea Williams and John Lewis, crossed under the steel arches en route to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. The marchers were met on the other side by state and local lawmen, who brutally beat and tear-gassed them, chasing them back across the bridge. The Pettus Bridge is an iconic symbol of America’s Civil Rights history, and a team of scholars from Georgia State is working to recognize sites associated with the movement. They are submitting nominations for the National Park Service to enter for potential inscription on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List. Led by professor of history Glenn T. Eskew, the university’s World Heritage Initiative taps faculty from the Department of History, its master of heritage preservation degree program, the Department of African-American Studies and the Center for Neighborhood & Metropolitan Studies. The initiative, funded through a contract with

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the State of Alabama, recently received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to continue its work. Considered to have exceptional value to humanity, UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Grand Canyon National Park. Of the 1,073 World Heritage sites, only 23 are in the U.S. Work began in earnest on the initiative in October 2016, and more than 150 sites have been identified for consideration. The final nomination will consist of about a dozen places associated with the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Pettus Bridge, Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta will most likely be three of the selections. “These sites represent the global importance of the freedom struggle of African-Americans in the post–World War II era,” says Eskew. “The Civil Rights Movement in the South had a long reach.” The World Heritage List represents the highest possible level of recognition for these historic places and underscores the significance of the nation’s struggle for racial justice and its importance to the world.

ILLUSTRATION BY REID SCHULZ


Edmund Pettus Bridge National Historic Landmark Selma, Ala. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for a former Confederate brigadier general, U.S. Senator and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The public outcry after “Bloody Sunday” hastened the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park Atlanta Encompassing the civil rights leader’s birth home, the church where he was pastor — Ebenezer Baptist Church — and his grave site, the 70-acre park also is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the Sweet Auburn Historic District. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Little Rock, Ark. To integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957, nine African-American students were escorted into the school by troops of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army after initially being denied entry by the Arkansas National Guard. The desegregation was one of the most prominent national examples of the implementation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.

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THE BODY ON FIRE INFLAMMATION IS AN IMPORTANT WEAPON IN YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM’S ARSENAL, BUT TOO MUCH OF IT CAN HURT RATHER THAN HEAL. ACROSS CAMPUS, GEORGIA STATE SCIENTISTS ARE TACKLING THE SILENT, SIMMERING MENACE OF CHRONIC INFLAMMATION.

BY SONYA COLLINS | ILLUSTRATIONS BY LAUREN HARVILL

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HILE HIKING IN THE WOODS, YOU FEEL A SCRATCH AS YOUR LEG GRAZES A FALLEN TREE LIMB. BY THE TIME YOU MAKE IT HOME, THE SCRATCH IS RED, SWOLLEN AND TENDER TO THE TOUCH. THAT’S THE RESULT OF INFLAMMATION, WHICH OCCURS WHEN A RUSH OF WHITE BLOOD CELLS IS MOBILIZED BY YOUR BODY AS A FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE AGAINST INFECTION OR INJURY. Without the immune system, humans would fall victim to any virus, bacteria or germ they face, says Jian-Dong Li, director of the Institute for Biomedical Sciences and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in inflammation and immunity. And inflammation is one of the biggest weapons in your immune arsenal. “It is a natural response that’s required to keep us healthy,” says Li. Under normal circumstances, inflammation is short-lived. A few days later, the cut heals, the redness fades and the swelling diminishes. Yet “there can be too much of a good thing,” says Li. If the immune response doesn’t subside, the body can remain in a state of simmering inflammation for months or even years. Chronic inflammation isn’t something you can feel, like a swollen, throbbing scratch. Instead, it’s more like a silent, slow burn — one with a profound impact on the body. Research shows runaway inflammation can damage healthy tissue, feed tumors and leave the door open for illness and disease. It’s a hallmark of most chronic diseases

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and of some of the leading causes of death in the United States, including neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary diseases, cancer and obesity. But how exactly is inflammation involved? Does it cause these diseases or simply make them worse? Scientists across Georgia State University are working to better understand the relationship between chronic inflammation and a number of serious health conditions. They’re also striving to uncover what fuels uncontrolled inflammation and pinpoint ways to prevent the body’s inflammatory response from going awry. When Inflammation Goes Wrong If some inflammation is a good thing, while too much is bad, then how does the body strike the right balance? Although the mechanisms behind chronic inflammation are not fully understood, scientists do know your genes are partially responsible for regulating the immune response, acting as built-in brakes to halt inflammation after it has served its purpose.


For example, Georgia State researchers have found that a gene known as CYLD can curb certain types of inflammation. If the body’s inflammatory immune response continues unchecked, as if the brakes have been cut, an underactive CYLD gene may be to blame. For those with defective genes, how can outof-control inflammation be stopped? That’s a puzzle researchers at the Center for Inflammation, Immunity & Infection, housed in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, are trying to solve. Antiinflammatory medications are effective, but they can also shut down the inflammatory response entirely, essentially pulling the plug on the body’s whole immune system. Li and his colleagues hope to develop a drug that would improve the function of CYLD, prompting it to tap the brakes on inflammation at just the right time. They are also working to identify other genes that may contribute to chronic inflammation. “The idea is that we could adjust the dose based on exactly how much we want to tamp down inflammation,” says Li. “And we could do it with fewer side effects than existing antiinflammatory drugs.” Georgia State researchers are also studying the environmental and lifestyle factors that can provoke prolonged, systemic inflammation. One of those factors may be a high-fat diet. A study led by Ming-Hui Zou, director of the Center for Molecular & Translational Medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in molecular medicine, found that mice who ate a high-fat diet had lower levels of a protein that helps their bodies process sugar — and higher levels of inflammation than typical mice. They also had unexplained over-activation

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of inflammatory proteins called inflammasomes, which can damage the pancreas and promote type 2 diabetes. Other components of a typical Western diet can spur inflammation, too. Additives called emulsifiers give processed foods such as ice cream and yogurt their smooth, creamy texture, and prevent peanuts and oil from separating in peanut butter. Yet according to studies led by Benoit Chassaing, assistant professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, and Andrew Gewirtz, professor in the Center for Inflammation, Immunity & Infection, emulsifiers also alter the makeup of bacteria in the gut, making it easier for those bacteria to break through the protective layer of mucus lining the intestines. If the bacteria reach the intestinal wall — which is normally sterile — and trigger an immune response, that can lead to chronic inflammation. In the study, the researchers found an emulsifiersupplemented diet dramatically increased the risk of colitis — a form of chronic inflammation similar to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in humans — among mice who were genetically predisposed

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to develop the disorder. Genetically typical mice who were fed emulsifiers developed low-grade intestinal inflammation along with increased body fat, increased food intake and higher blood sugar levels — all early signs of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic problems. The feces of the emulsifier-fed mice also contained higher levels of a bacteria that can penetrate the intestines’ protective mucus and higher levels of proinflammatory bacteria in general. Chassaing and Gewirtz are now putting together a clinical trial in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania to study the effects of emulsifiers on human gut bacteria. But Chassaing is not waiting for the results to make changes in his own diet. He sees a direct correlation between skyrocketing rates of IBD in the U.S. and our everincreasing consumption of processed foods. To avoid emulsifiers, Chassaing and his family prepare meals from whole, raw ingredients such as fresh meats and vegetables, and buy natural peanut butter you have to stir yourself. “And,” he notes, “you can buy emulsifier-free ice cream.”


Inflamed

In the Brain

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n recent years, scientists have come to discover that neuroinflammation, or inflammation in the brain, plays an important role in triggering obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — factors that can lead to conditions like heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Georgia State’s new Center for Neuroinflammation & Cardiometabolic Diseases seeks to uncover the mechanisms that set off neuroinflammation and determine how exactly it contributes to these health issues. Their work may help explain the links between seemingly disconnected conditions. High blood pressure, for example, is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. “We once thought these disorders were unrelated,” says Javier Stern, professor of neuroscience and founding director of the center. “Now we want to determine whether the same inflammatory process that we see in cardiovascular and metabolic disorders can also trigger neuropsychiatric and mood disorders.” They’re doing it by eavesdropping on the brain. The inflammatory response involves communication among different brain cells, so Stern and his colleagues are learning more about the process by listening in on those conversations. Neurons generate electrical signals when they communicate with each other, while glial cells leave traces of their communication via changes in calcium levels in the brain. Georgia State scientists are combining electrophysiological approaches to wiretap the communications between the various cells, recording neurons’ electrical signals and using sophisticated imaging techniques to monitor calcium changes brought about by glial cells. “We believe this feedback between the cells creates the setting for neuroinflammation,” says Stern. At the same time, he adds, in a brain that’s already inflamed, brain cells are compromised, which affects the way they communicate. “It’s a cascading effect in which one thing goes wrong, and that makes another thing get even worse,” Stern says. Stern hopes that pinpointing when and why communication between brain cells runs amok will allow him and his team develop a treatment that intercepts that exact moment when the inflammatory process begins.

Extinguishing the Fire Inside As research has revealed the connection between inflammation and many major diseases, scientists have been working to develop new drugs that can tamp down or block the overactive immune response. They’re also re-examining existing medications that may help combat inflammation in the body. According to a recent study by Zou, metformin — a cheap, generic drug that helps control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes — also stops inflammation of the blood vessels. This may explain why the drug has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, protect against cancer and prolong life. “Exercise has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, and all of my research has shown that metformin is like an exercise pill in that way,” says Zou, who takes a small daily dose of the drug, despite not having diabetes himself. “I’d like to put it in the tap water,” he jokes. “A small amount would be beneficial for anyone over 40 or 45.” However, metformin can have unpleasant side effects — including abdominal pain, diarrhea and muscle cramping — that may not seem worth it for people who aren’t fighting diabetes. Zou and his colleagues hope to find a new drug that could provide the same or greater benefits with fewer side effects. One substance that holds promise is omega-3 fish oil, according to preliminary findings in an ongoing study led by Zou. The nutrient was found to have anti-inflammatory effects for healthy people, although it wasn’t necessarily effective for those who already had high levels of inflammation.

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Time to Get Your Inflammation

Checked?

C Certain types of dietary fiber may also prove to be potent anti-inflammatory agents, according to Gewirtz. A study he published with colleagues in Cell Host and Microbe found that inulin — a type of fiber found in asparagus, onions, bananas, sprouted wheat and garlic — may prevent metabolic problems caused by a high-fat diet by increasing the body’s production of interleukin-22, an immune protein that regulates inflammation. For mice whose healthy gut bacteria had been depleted by a fatty diet, adding inulin to their diet restored their good bacteria. The fiber also re-established a healthy separation between gut bacteria and the intestinal wall. Gewirtz says this points to the possibility of creating an antiinflammatory drug containing interleukin-22. “For people who aren’t willing to change their diets, it may be possible to administer this protein pharmacologically to help prevent chronic inflammatory diseases,” he says. Gewirtz is also working with Chassaing to explore the potential for a vaccine that could inoculate the gut against the havoc caused by a poor diet. Didier Merlin, professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences and a Research Career Scientist at Veteran Affairs Medical Center, is investigating whether a common supermarket ingredient — ginger — could help combat inflammation involved in IBD and colitis-associated colon cancer. A team of researchers led by Merlin is developing ginger-derived nanoparticles to deliver the ingredient’s anti-inflammatory compounds directly to the site of the inflammation. “It’s a novel, nontoxic delivery system to treat inflamed intestinal tissue,” says Lewins Walter, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher in Merlin’s lab.

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hronic inflammation is now known to drive many life-threatening diseases, yet it remains difficult to diagnose. High blood levels of C-reactive protein, a molecule produced by the liver in response to inflammation, could be a good indicator of prolonged systemic inflammation, but more sensitive tests are needed to distinguish among different types of inflammation related to various disease states. Research at the Center for Diagnostics & Therapeutics seeks to identify indicators of inflammation specific to IBD. “Currently, the biomarkers lack specificity and, used alone, don’t hold much value,” says Emilie Viennois, a postdoctoral researcher at the center. Identifying new biomarkers could allow doctors to distinguish more quickly between Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — two different forms of IBD — and help determine which medication would be most effective. Viennois is searching for new biomarkers in microRNA, molecules that play a key role in regulating gene activity.

“We’re looking at these nanoparticles as a natural remedy for IBD.” Still, Li notes that overactive inflammation is a complex process with many causes, and finding a solution will require a multipronged approach. “It won’t be neuroscience or microbiology — or any single science — that will rein in the burden of inflammation or chronic disease,” he says. “This is going to take scientists coming together across disciplines to seek new answers.”


Additives called emulsifiers are what give processed foods like ice cream and yogurt their smooth, creamy texture. Yet according to studies led by Georgia State, they also alter the makeup of bacteria in the gut, which can lead to chronic inflammation.

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The Gathering Storm BY ANN HARDIE

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As natural disasters unfold at an ever more rapid clip, professor Ann-Margaret Esn

Ann-Margaret Esnard is researching how cities can prepare better and bounce back faster.

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The unrelenting howling. That is what Ann-Margaret Esnard remembers most from nearly 40 years ago when Hurricane Allen tore through the small Caribbean Island of St. Lucia, where she grew up. Esnard rode out the Category 4 storm under a table in her family’s living room. “That sound,” she says, “was the most terrifying thing.” The 1980 hurricane pummeled the Caribbean and parts of the East Coast and is credited with more than 200 deaths. As a young person, Esnard had seen other vicious storms, but she says Allen was the one that awakened her to the potentially devastating impacts of hurricanes. “You go outside and see downed trees and power lines and houses with rooftops blown off and windows blown out,” she says. “You wonder if your island is ever going to recover.” Four decades later, Esnard, the interim associate dean for research at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, has spent most of her academic career studying how communities can minimize the impact of disasters and bounce back if they do get hit. Her research has delved into the circumstances that make areas vulnerable to storms, the role that housing and land development play in the recovery process and the factors that cause people to be displaced from their homes for long periods of time. Esnard’s work could not be more critical given the increasing number of weather-related disasters. “Last year was an exceptional year, with one disaster after another after another,” she says, citing the hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and the wildfires and mudslides in California. In 2013, Georgia State recruited Esnard, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Public Management and Policy, as part of the university’s Second Century Initiative to encourage interdisciplinary, collaborative research. “Esnard’s work on these complex problems exemplifies the agenda that Georgia State has undertaken as part of the Second Century Initiative,” says Provost Risa Palm. “Her work will make cities such as Atlanta stronger and even more resilient places.” While Atlanta isn’t prone to severe natural disasters given its inland location, the city’s robust economy and accessibility could make it a likely landing place for people uprooted by future disasters.

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“We are absolutely a potential destination for evacuees,” Esnard says. “And given Atlanta’s existing challenges with traffic congestion, aging infrastructure and housing affordability, that is something we have to plan for.”

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rowing up in the Caribbean, Esnard experienced hurricanes as something to be feared and avoided, not studied and obsessed over. “Disasters were a bad experience that I stored somewhere in the back of my brain,” she says. “I never thought that my journey would one day take me to a point where disaster is an ever-present thought.” Although her home of St. Lucia is known for its laid-back culture, Esnard was educated in schools that followed a strict British model, where students were ranked according to their grade point averages. She flourished under the pressure. “It was tough love. I always wanted to make sure I was in the top,” says Esnard, who describes herself as “competitive,” “highly motivated” and “highly organized.” After a short stint as a high school teacher, Esnard left St. Lucia in 1987 to attend the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in agricultural engineering. She followed that with a master of science degree in agronomy and soils from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. “I always assumed I would stay in the Caribbean,” she says. “I thought I would be out there in the fields, helping to make sure that we had good crop yields using appropriate irrigation systems.” It was the subject of her undergraduate thesis. That assumption fell apart when Joseph Esnard, her high-school sweetheart whom she married in 1990, was accepted as a doctoral student in plant pathology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I quickly realized that I needed to get back to studying,” she says. (Today, Joseph operates his own computer company developing algorithms for automated systems, and the couple has two sons: Josh, an entrepreneur whose hair- and beard-trimming tool, The Cut Buddy, was featured on the reality TV competition “Shark Tank”; and 14-year-old Kriston, a ninth grader at Decatur High School.)


“ We can’t prevent natural disasters. The question is, how do we minimize the loss of lives, God forbid, and the loss of property?”

While at UMass, Esnard decided to pursue a doctorate in regional planning, deepening her expertise in geospatial analysis and geographic information systems (GIS). “I love that you can combine data in certain ways to inform planning and decision-making,” she says. It was during a postdoctoral program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill in 1995 that Esnard began to think about how to apply geospatial analysis to disaster planning. She had gone to Chapel Hill to hunker down and publish articles based on her dissertation, which focused on using GIS technology for planning education. But Esnard is a collaborator by nature, and it did not take long for her to start hunting for another joint project. She began working with David Brower, a UNC professor and one of the country’s foremost experts on

PHOTO BY STEVE THACKSTON

coastal zone management, helping him develop a hazard mitigation plan for the town of Nags Head on the Outer Banks, a strand of barrier islands along the east coast of North Carolina that is constantly battered by storms from the Atlantic Ocean. For the project, Esnard used GIS technology to analyze land use, critical infrastructure and other data to assess the property and infrastructure at risk from hurricanes, storm surges and flooding. That information was later used by public officials and the private sector to shape policies on land development and housing. “This experience really did flick a switch for me — that you could use this kind of analysis in disaster planning,” Esnard says. “We can’t prevent natural disasters. The question is, how do we minimize the loss of lives, God forbid, and the loss of property?”

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n Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast at 170 miles per hour, decimating coastal Mississippi and Louisiana. The storm itself exacted tremendous damage, but its aftermath — more than 50 breached levees and floodwalls, the highest-ever recorded storm surge — was catastrophic. More than 1,800 people died, and damage was estimated at $125 billion. (In 2017, Hurricane Harvey — which hit Houston particularly hard — tied Katrina as the costliest storm on record, although the death toll was much lower, with 108 confirmed deaths.) “Hurricane Katrina changed everything,” says Esnard, who delineates her academic career as pre- and postKatrina. “After that storm, it became painfully obvious that we had to think about ‘long-term’ and ‘recovery’ in a more nuanced way.” Post-Katrina, planners also had to grapple with issues involving the large numbers of people displaced from their homes — sometimes permanently. “We had not really talked about long-term displacement before. Now people were scattered in Texas, in Alaska, all over the country,” Esnard says. “Some got on planes with only the clothes on their back. Those images are still burned into my mind. It’s thirteen years later, and parts of the Gulf Coast have not fully recovered.” When the hurricane struck, Esnard had just begun teaching at the Florida Atlantic University campus in Fort Lauderdale, where some Katrina-affected families

relocated. Esnard and a university-based team of urban planners and public administration faculty received a National Science Foundation grant to study long-term displacement after the storm. “We needed to better understand whether people would be able to return quickly or would leave their homes and not come back at all,’” Esnard says. Their research led to the development of a tool, the Index of Relative Displacement Risk to Hurricanes, that is being revisited after last year’s hurricane season. “We were the first group to develop this tool where you could look at a map and find out, ‘Wow, this area has a high risk of displacement or this area has a low risk,’” she says. Esnard and her team identified several factors that affect displacement: social networks (the more support, the more likely people are to return), homeownership (renters are less likely to go back) and area of employment (those who work in the tourist industry may not have jobs to go back to in coastal cities). Esnard has a keen interest in the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, which was hit with a one-two punch from hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. As the American territory struggles to restore even basic services, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have sought refuge in Florida and elsewhere. “For the receiving communities, there are all kinds of issues to consider,” Esnard says. “How do you provide adequate housing, job opportunities and resources at schools for traumatized children?”

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Esnard is collaborating with colleagues in the School of Public Health to examine how schools recover after a disaster.

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t the core of strong cities are strong schools. Esnard and colleagues from the School of Public Health are in the middle of a research project to help schools recover more quickly following a disaster. The implications of their work, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation, extend far beyond the classroom. “How fast communities get back on their feet depends on how fast schools get back on theirs,” Esnard says. “If schools are closed for long periods of time, children’s educational attainment and job prospects dim, which makes communities — particularly those facing repeated disasters — less resilient over time.” Esnard is co-leading the project with Betty S. Lai, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and an expert on post-traumatic stress in children who have experienced large-scale natural disasters. Lai calls Esnard the perfect partner. “I’m a child psychologist with a background in statistics who is very focused on individuals,” Lai says. “We know that after disasters, children are at risk for developing mental and physical health problems. Yet we can’t really understand individuals without an

understanding of the larger community, which is where Ann-Margaret — and her focus on infrastructure and community resources — comes in.” Esnard credits the collaboration with better educating her on the human-scale impact of disasters. “Working with Betty,” she says, “my research has become more informed by an understanding of the dilemmas that children and families face.” Their research team is analyzing eight years of data on 465 Texas schools impacted by Hurricane Ike, which occurred in 2008. They are looking at a wealth of information — including academic performance, attendance and the length of a school’s closure — trying to discern why some of the affected schools have thrived while others haven’t. The researchers aren’t far enough along to provide answers, but by focusing on data common to most schools, they believe their final recommendations will be on point for institutions no matter where they are located, whether the Gulf Coast or St. Lucia or Atlanta. “It’s clear: There will be future disasters. Climate change is real,” Esnard says. “There is so much to study. There is so much to plan for.” GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY

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In 1971, Georgia State professor Duane Rumbaugh began a study to teach a chimpanzee named Lana how to communicate using a computer. The project would define his career and transform the field of ape language research. BY JENNIFER RAINEY MARQUEZ | ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN CUNEO

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“ DO YOU REMEMBER THE DOTTY OLD ENGLISHMAN OF FICTION, Doctor Doolittle, who wandered the world talking to animals?” asks Morley Safer, introducing a “60 Minutes” segment from 1978. “Well, the doctor had realized one of our oldest impossible dreams: that we might one day communicate with species other than ourselves. It seems that the dream is not so impossible.” The segment focused on what was then a fairly new field of scientific research: the study of ape language. Of the three scientists featured, two had spent years teaching sign language to apes, but one — Duane Rumbaugh, the heavily-sideburned chair of psychology at Georgia State — had taken a different approach. Instead of gestures, he had taught a chimpanzee to communicate using technology. “You want a tickle?” a bearded young man asks in the video, speaking to the adolescent chimp. “Go ahead,” he prompts, and the chimp slides over to a rectangular board gridded with buttons. She taps out a sequence, and the man grins and grabs her as she playfully tries to escape. “I’ve got you now!” he shouts. The chimp on the screen is Lana, a 7-year-old female, and she has just used the board to make a request of Tim Gill, a psychologist and member of Rumbaugh’s research team: “Please Tim tickle Lana.” It’s one of several utterances she makes in the segment, prompting Safer to ask Rumbaugh what he sees as the ultimate conclusion of this language training. “The thought has come to us that it would be very, very beautiful and interesting if someday a languagetrained chimp could go to the field with an investigator to help with some of the nuances of interpretation,” he says. “But I assure you we’re a long way from being able to do that. Your job is still safe. We won’t see a chimp on ‘60 Minutes’ as an anchorman.”

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n 1969, the year Rumbaugh first came to Georgia as associate director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University, two cognitive researchers at the University of Nevada published a report that caught the world’s attention. In it, Allen and Beatrix Gardener detailed their progress teaching American Sign Language to a female chimpanzee named

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Washoe. Earlier attempts at teaching chimpanzees to speak had failed, but these results were encouraging — after 22 months, Washoe was able to appropriately use 30 signs, often in strings of two or more. Rumbaugh, then 40, was a comparative psychologist primarily interested in the nature of learning. A few years earlier he had developed an innovative tool called the transfer index, a method of gauging learning ability in any species. As news of the Gardeners’ achievements spread, Rumbaugh wasn’t surprised when his supervisor, Yerkes director Geoffrey Bourne, tasked him with developing a language project with chimpanzees at the primate center. Rumbaugh was skeptical the animals could succeed in communicating. He felt the Gardeners had made a mistake in assuming Washoe was capable of learning language at all, and he didn’t want to use sign language or other gestures that relied heavily on human interpretation. (Because chimpanzees do not execute signs as crisply as humans, it’s often up to the observer to determine whether chimps are trying to ask for food or simply, say, scratching their ears.) He began to consider how chimpanzees might communicate without the need for subjective analysis and decided to use one of the decade’s

novel developments: a computer keyboard. Rumbaugh and his collaborators developed a series of 25 symbols, or lexigrams, each of which stood for a specific word or phrase: “want,” “piece-of,” “banana.” Rather than remaining in fixed positions, like keys on a typewriter, the lexigrams would be moved around regularly so that the primate would have to recognize the symbol itself, not just its physical location. A computer would monitor and record the subject’s keyboard activity, which Rumbaugh and his team could then analyze. In 1970, he received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin his experiment, and in 1971 he joined Georgia State as the chair of the university’s Psychology Department. That same year, the LANA project commenced, named for its first chimpanzee subject: a 2-year-old female, Lana. (A second subject, a young orangutan named Biji, was also selected.) LANA was also an acronym for “Language ANAlogue,” because Rumbaugh felt the animals might only learn an approximation — or analogue — of true language. Designed and built with the help of a biomedical engineer at Yerkes, a special keyboard featured colorful Lucite buttons that lit up when pressed. Each key was connected to wires leading to an early “mini” computer, which — though smaller than earlier models — was still the size of a large armoire. Once a key was pushed, its symbol was also projected onto a blank panel just above the keyboard so the primate could “read” what it had communicated. To further eliminate ambiguity, Rumbaugh and his team developed something else the signing chimps had never used: a rudimentary grammar system, dubbed “Yerkish,” by which the symbols could be combined into a variety of stock sentences. (“Please machine give M&M period.”) Initially, Rumbaugh imagined the LANA project could be completely automated, with the primates interacting solely with the keyboard. The computer would be responsible for determining whether the lexigrams were used in the correct combinations and, if so, automatically fulfilling the subject’s requests: dispensing food, say, or playing music. In 1972, Lana and Biji were placed with the keyboard in a room whose walls were made of clear Lucite, allowing researchers to observe them easily. Rumbaugh and his team were eager to see what the primates would learn by trial-and-error interaction with the machinery. Not much happened at first. The orangutan was largely uninterested in the colorful symbols, and when Lana did approach the keyboard, Biji often tried to

Clockwise from top left: Lana with an early version of the lexigram keyboard; Sherman and Austin, the project’s second generation of apes; Lana and Tim Gill, the Ph.D. student who taught her to use the keyboard; Duane Rumbaugh, former chair of the Deparment of Psychology and architect of the LANA project.

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In the 20 years he spent as director of the Language Research Center, Duane Rumbaugh was a constant presence.

distract her attention away from it. After a few weeks of this, a decision was made. Biji was sent out, and Ph.D. student and behavior technician Tim Gill was sent in. Inside the Lucite cage, Gill worked with Lana, and in the presence of a teacher and social companion, her progress was swift. “She figured out, ‘There are things I want to ask him, and there are things he wants to ask me, and I can use the keyboard to do that,’” says David Washburn, professor of psychology at Georgia State who began working with Rumbaugh as a graduate student in 1984. “Still, Duane wanted to reduce the possibility of biased interpretation. He sent Tim in with Lana instead of going in himself. He made her use a discrete response every time. It was very strategic to make it a more rigorous experimental design.”

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Lana soon learned to request a number of favorite foods and activities (watching a photo slideshow, receiving a visitor) using the keyboard. She also developed some inventive habits. For instance, she would press the lexigram for “period” — a signal to the computer that a statement was complete — when she had made a grammatical error. The period key would cause the computer to reset, thus “erasing” the incorrect sentence so she could quickly begin again. In 1973, Rumbaugh and his colleagues published an article describing their experiments with Lana in Science, and like the Washoe study it garnered major attention. Yet many scientists remained unconvinced. The ability to use language has long been considered unique to humans, and critics argued Lana was merely exhibiting rote memorization rather than communicating in a linguistic way. “The critics’ refrain was, ‘This is not language; this is not interesting,’” says Washburn. The sign language research endured even harsher criticism. In the mid1970s, Herbert Terrace, a cognitive researcher at Columbia University, tried


“Without Lana and her willingness to figure out that computer system and engage with those researchers, I don’t know where we would be. Now you go to a conference and say, ‘Monkeys did a computer test,’ and people don’t even look up. But in those days, that was unheard of.”

to replicate the Gardners’ findings with a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky. In a paper published in Science in 1979, Terrace concluded that Nim was not truly engaging in conversation but reacting to prompts and imitating the humans around him. Terrace’s findings threw the entire field of ape language into question, but the LANA project — thanks to Rumbaugh’s meticulous methodology — managed to weather the controversy. “[The computer] didn’t care what Lana wanted. It only cared about whether Lana could make the machine work,” says Michael Beran, associate professor of psychology at Georgia State and one of Rumbaugh’s last graduate students. “Those keyboard transcripts were hard evidence. No one could say, ‘Well, you’re just reading in what you wish she was doing.’” Although many of Lana’s stock sentences were formulaic requests, she also made remarkable progress. In 1974, the New York Times reported that Lana had learned her colors, correctly answering questions like, “What color-of this bowl?” and that through her conversations with Tim, she was able to ask for help in naming new objects. (“Tim give Lana name-of this.”) By the time Lana was 5½, she had mastered more than 100 lexigrams, and the computer was modified to allow her to build sentences up to 10 symbols in length — double the previous maximum of five. In his 2013 book, “With Apes in Mind,” Rumbaugh noted there were limits to how Lana used language. “She never exploited the power of her language skills to broaden her understanding of the world,” he wrote. “But Lana certainly did use her skills to solve problems,” for instance asking a human technician to bring her a piece of food after her vending device malfunctioned. Lana also displayed language skills for which she had no training. Without any instruction, she learned to “read” the strings of lexigrams projected onto the blank panel, which allowed the experimenters to ask her questions. She never comprehended novel requests from humans, but she could combine lexigrams to ask for items that were unfamiliar to her — for instance, referring to a cucumber as “banana which-is green.” Yet despite Lana’s accomplishments, questions remained about how well she actually understood the meaning of individual symbols. In 1976, the research team, led by Rumbaugh and his then-wife Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, began working with a second generation of apes: two male chimpanzees named Sherman and Austin. Rather than focusing on stock sentences, they emphasized word comprehension. They also taught the chimps to use the symbols to communicate with one another. In one experiment, Austin was given food locked in a box and Sherman access to the key. Using the keyboard, Austin could ask Sherman for the key and share some of the food as a reward.

At the same time, the language work with Lana was winding down. In 1977, she entered the Yerkes Center’s breeding program and later gave birth to an infant. The same year, Rumbaugh published a book summing up the LANA project, in which he argued that Lana demonstrated that “neither the public production of language nor the cognitive prerequisites for this production are uniquely human.”

T

he Language Research Center (LRC) is 10 miles southeast of Georgia State’s downtown Atlanta campus, but it feels a world away. It’s enveloped in dense forest, about a mile beyond an unmarked gate. To get there, you must navigate a long curving road, barely wide enough for two cars to pass in opposite directions, until you reach a cluster of five low-rise buildings constructed of brick, concrete and corrugated metal. Construction began on the LRC in 1979 after Rumbaugh convinced Georgia State administrators to locate a language research facility on a 55-acre lot in Panthersville that had been donated to the university. In the spring of 1981, he and his collaborators moved in. In the early days, it was a freewheeling place. The researchers took the primates out of their enclosures and into the forest, where they might encounter squirrels or blackberry bushes or hidden treats. (Staff would sometimes have their commutes delayed by an ape perched atop their car.) In the 1980s, Washburn shared an office with fellow Ph.D. student Bill Hopkins, now a professor of neuroscience at Georgia State — as well as two adult male rhesus monkeys. “At the end of every day, we were saturated with the strong scent of what we jokingly referred to as eau de macaque,” recalls Hopkins. The original group of animals at the center included Sherman and Austin and later grew to include bonobos, rhesus macaques and capuchin monkeys. Lana remained at Yerkes for a few years more, until Rumbaugh negotiated for her to join the other chimpanzees at the LRC.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LANA PROJECT 1969 Duane Rumbaugh leaves San Diego State University to join Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory. October 1970 Lana is born at Yerkes. 1971 Rumbaugh becomes chair of Georgia State University’s Department of Psychology. The LANA project begins, funded with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. 1973 Science publishes an article describing the language experiments with Lana. March 1974 Time magazine publishes an article about the project, “Lessons for Lana.” Two months later, the New York Times publishes “Computer Helps Chimpanzees Learn to Read, Write and ‘Talk’ to Humans.” 1975 Rumbaugh initiates a feasibility study to determine whether the lexigram keyboard could be used to teach brain-damaged and cognitively impaired humans to communicate. 1976 The second phase of the ape language project begins with two male chimps: Sherman and Austin. 1978 “60 Minutes” airs a segment featuring the LANA project. 1979 Construction begins on the Language Research Center in Panthersville. 1981 The LRC officially opens. Researchers begin working with young adults who do not speak using methods from the chimpanzee language project. 2000 Lana demonstrates she still has excellent recall of the original lexigram symbols. 2001 Rumbaugh retires, and David Washburn is named director of the LRC. November 2016 Lana dies at the age of 46. June 2017 Rumbaugh dies at the age of 87.

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“Duane still wanted to find out what Lana could do with this language training that she couldn’t do before in terms of memory and categorization and numerical cognition and so forth,” says Washburn. “But beyond that, he wanted to make sure that she was cared for.” The LRC quickly developed a reputation for its innovative approach to language learning. Important figures — John Lewis, Paul McCartney, even Herb Terrace — traveled to Panthersville to witness the work of Lana and her even more famous successors. The biggest breakthroughs came when the LRC researchers switched their focus from language training to language learning. A human mother teaches her baby language by conducting a constant one-sided conversation, narrating life as it unfolds. In 1985, a newborn female chimpanzee and bonobo were brought to the LRC and raised in a similar way. Eventually the animals, named Panzee and Panbanisha, were able to demonstrate comprehension of more than 100 English spoken words. Panzee also showed the ability to communicate information about the past, directing humans to find an object in the woods days after watching it being hidden. Around the same time, a male bonobo named Kanzi became a media star when he shattered expectations of what primates could accomplish when reared in a language-saturated environment. Kanzi’s abilities were discovered by accident when he began spontaneously communicating with researchers after watching them try to teach language to his adoptive mother. Kanzi eventually learned hundreds of lexigrams and was able to comprehend not just spoken words but sentences he’d never heard before. He could use his keyboard to request cooking videos — he even learned to make some of his favorite foods — or to visit other apes or places in the forest. Findings from the LANA project also generated a new approach to help people with cognitive disabilities communicate. In 1975, Rumbaugh initiated a feasibility study to determine whether the computer system and methodology created for the project could be applied to another group: humans who did not speak. The researchers invited a small group of children from the Georgia Retardation Center, at the time part of the state’s Department of Human Resources, to participate. The children had severe developmental delays and had failed to master even basic language skills using any other program, including sign language. They were taught the same vocabulary and “stock” sentences Lana had been taught and — using the keyboard — learned to request rewards, ask for help and carry on simple conversations. In 1981, MaryAnn Romski and Rose Sevcik, now Georgia State Regents’ Professors, applied lessons from the second phase of the ape language project to their work with young adults living at the Developmental Learning Center of the Georgia Regional Hospital. Participants gradually built comprehension of individual symbols and their meanings, eventually formulating and initiating their own communications. “Rumbaugh always wanted his basic research to be translated into meaningful outcomes — and it was,” says Romski.

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n the 20 years Rumbaugh spent as director of the LRC, he was a constant presence. His house abutted the property, and he would drive by each day on his way to and from the university’s downtown campus. The LRC is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and even on holidays, he liked to pop in to check on the humans and the animals. In 1996, shortly after he joined the LRC, senior research scientist Charles Menzel was working at the facility on Thanksgiving Day. At noon, Rumbaugh appeared to round up the staff for lunch at his favorite spot, the Picadilly Cafeteria in nearby Decatur.


David Washburn, director of the Language Research Center

At the end of the meal, as the group prepared to leave, Rumbaugh instructed the group to load up to-go boxes for each of the apes. “I was halfway across the restaurant when Duane shouted out, ‘And don’t skimp on the gravy!’” says Menzel. Rumbaugh liked to pick the brains of not just other research faculty but also graduate students and care staff. “One of the unique things about the LRC was that the line between research and animal care was always blurred,” says Washburn, who was appointed director after Rumbaugh retired in 2001. “Everybody took care of the animals. Everybody helped gather data for the research. Duane knew that you had to lay that foundation with the animals in order to discover what they could do, what the interesting questions would be.” Rather than subjects to be observed, Rumbaugh had always viewed the animals as active participants in the process, almost like colleagues. To coax out their best work, as Tim had done with Lana, the researchers had to develop good relationships with the primates. And you couldn’t do that by delegating all of their care. “The chimpanzees and other primates are never deprived of food or other necessities in order to induce them to complete a task,” says Washburn. “So how do you get them to participate? You earn their trust.” Lana died in November 2016 at the age of 46. Her cognitive feats did not end with the lexigrams. Washburn estimates Lana was studied by more than 100 scientists and produced data for more than 200 journal articles and book chapters. After arriving at the LRC, she learned to count, and when

PHOTO BY MEG BUSCEMA

shown a numeral, she could use a joystick to remove the corresponding number of boxes from a screen. In 2000, Michael Beran found that she could still recall the original lexigrams — nearly 20 years after she had last seen them. Although the subsequent generations of apes greatly outperformed Lana in their capacity to learn language, Rumbaugh often reminded people it was only because of her that the research was possible. It was only because of Lana that they even knew to ask these questions. “Without Lana and her willingness to figure out that computer system and engage with those researchers, I don’t know where we would be,” says Washburn. “Now you go to a conference and say, ‘Monkeys did a computer test,’ and people don’t even look up. But in those days, that was unheard of. Had Duane said, ‘Well, the critics are really on us. Let’s shift back to something that’s a little less controversial,’ I think it’s very possible we would not be talking about the fact that these animals can comprehend human speech, make novel requests and respond to questions.” Duane Rumbaugh died just a few months after Lana on June 23, 2017. Among his former students and collaborators, he is remembered as much for his support and mentorship as for his visionary approach to language research. At one of the last conferences Rumbaugh attended, Beran recalls he passed around his phone and asked other attendees to record themselves talking about their research, so he could go back and listen to it later. “He was a giant in the field,” says Beran. “But he was always so much more interested in what other people thought about the animals and what they were doing than he was in talking about himself.” The LRC no longer houses great apes — the last chimp living there, Sherman, died in early 2018 — and, in fact, is no longer focused on the acquisition of language. These days its researchers are answering questions about how primates remember information or their ability to cooperate. Yet the LRC remains infused with the legacy of Rumbaugh and the LANA project, which had a profound impact on the field of ape research, pioneered a computer-based communication system still in use today and shone a spotlight on Georgia State at a time when its research program was in a nascent phase. At the LRC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Rumbaugh handed out buttons bearing the center’s motto, which is also printed on the dedication plaque: “So that together we might learn of language.” The “together” refers to not only collaboration between researchers, but also what Rumbaugh saw as the collaboration among the scientists and the apes. “Who is my best chimpanzee confidant, my consult?” Rumbaugh writes in his 2013 book, “With Apes in Mind.” “It’s Lana. She was and is the grandmother of all of my professional life. She has taken me hand in hand and led the way.” GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY

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NOTEWORTHY SE L EC T FACU LT Y HONOR S A N D ACCOM PL ISH M E N TS

ANDREW YOUNG SCHOOL OF POLICY STUDIES James Cox, Noah Langdale Jr. Chair in Economics, has been appointed to the editorial advisory board of the Public Finance Review. Dean Dabney, professor of criminal justice and criminology, won the Academy of Criminal Justice Science’s 2018 Outstanding Book Award for “Speaking Truth to Power: Confidential Informants and Police Investigations.”

COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES Andrew I. Cohen, associate professor of philosophy, has been awarded $180,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study moral injury in veterans. Moral injury is the sense of disorientation and loss of trust that some people experience after taking part in actions they perceive to have violated moral standards.

David Iwaniec, assistant professor in the Urban Studies Institute, has been appointed to the governing board of the Cities and Climate Conference 2018.

Ning Fang, associate professor of chemistry, has developed a new optical imaging technique, Single Particle Orientation and Rotational Tracking, to capture rotational motions in live cells and ultimately target cancer cells.

Cathy Yang Liu, associate professor of public policy, has been named president of the China-America Association for Public Affairs (CAAPA) for 2018-19. CAAPA was established in 2008 to foster research collaboration and academic exchanges between China and the U.S. in the field of public affairs.

Hector Ferdandez-L’Hoeste, professor of world languages and cultures, co-edited “Sound, Image and the National Imaginary in the Construction of Latin/o American Identities.” The anthology discusses how national identities are influenced by popular music, comics and other media.

Kristie Seelman, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Mary Beth Walker, associate provost for strategic initiatives and innovation, have been awarded the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Scholarship Award for their paper, “Do Anti-Bullying Laws Reduce in-School Victimization for LGBQ Youth?”

Julia Gaffield, assistant professor of history, has received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for her project on the history of Haiti, “The Abandoned Faithful: Sovereignty, Diplomacy and Religious Dominion in the Aftermath of Revolution.”

BYRDINE F. LEWIS COLLEGE OF NURSING & HEALTH PROFESSIONS Mei-Lan Chen, associate professor of nursing, is a manuscript reviewer for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Fayron Epps, assistant professor of nursing, has received an Alzheimer’s Association research grant for her project, “Dementia-Friendly Faith Villages to Support African American Families.” Doug Gardenhire, chair and clinical associate professor in the Department of Respiratory Therapy, was the lead author of “A Guide to Aerosol Delivery Devices for Respiratory Therapist,” 4th Edition, published by the American Association for Respiratory Care.

John Horgan, professor of global studies and psychology, has received $350,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense to continue his work researching American Muslim converts, who are statistically over-represented in Islamic extremism and religious violence compared to those raised Muslim. Jung Ha Kim, principal senior lecturer of sociology, co-authored “Leading Wisdom: Asian and Asian North American Women Leaders.” The book shares stories of Asian and Asian-American women who found their way into leadership positions. Tricia Z. King, professor of psychology, has been elected to fellow status in the American Psychological Association.

Georgia State faculty: Share your research news with us! Send your noteworthy accomplishments to the editor at jmarquez@gsu.edu.

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GALAXY QUEST

you can feel but can’t see. Think of a heat lamp. Hubble’s limitation is that its mirror is relatively small. The bigger the mirror, the more light it can collect and the fainter the objects it can see. The JWST’s mirror is more than seven times the size of Hubble’s mirror, so it will be able to see objects that are very faint and far away. But the JWST has a limitation as well, which is that it only works in infrared light and the red part of the visible light. As scientists, we need to figure out how to best use this new tool, and our project will very carefully test one of the specific instruments on the telescope.

NASA’S NEXT BIG THING Associate professor Misty Bentz will be among the first to perform research using NASA’s game-changing new James Webb Space Telescope

WHEN IT LAUNCHES IN 2020, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be NASA’s most powerful observatory in space — capable of peering deep into the universe. More than 100 teams of scientists competed to carry out the first research using the telescope, and recently the space agency announced it had chosen 13 proposals to study a wide range of targets. One of those inaugural teams will be led by Misty Bentz, an associate professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. We recently spoke with her about the galaxy she plans to study. Some people are calling the JWST the next Hubble. How do the two telescopes compare? Hubble can see three types of light: visible light, ultraviolet light, which is what burns your skin, and infrared light, which

PHOTO BY STEVE THACKSTON

What exactly will you be testing? This particular instrument can measure spectra from many different positions. A spectrum provides so much information about temperatures, densities, chemical compositions and motions. If we can study spectra at all these different positions, we’ll have a huge amount of information that can show us the physics of what’s happening in the galaxy. We’ll be using this instrument to observe a galaxy that’s about 60 million light years away. We’re evaluating how the data from this new instrument compare to the data we can get using telescopes we have here on the ground on Earth. How did you choose this galaxy to study? In the process of doing these tests, we’ll be trying to determine the mass of the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy. We call black holes “black” because they’re invisible, which makes them very difficult to observe — unless they’re actively feeding. But black holes that are actively feeding are pretty rare in the universe these days. There are only about six or seven feeding black holes that are relatively close by, and of those, we chose this one because we have good data from the ground already. What can we learn by studying these kinds of black holes? The mass of a black hole is related to several characteristics of the surrounding galaxy, which is interesting. Why would an enormous extended galaxy reflect something about this relatively small compact thing in the middle? From what we’ve been able to tell, they actually regulate the growth of one another. As a black hole is feeding, it’s releasing a lot of energy into the galaxy. That energy can run into gas clouds and shut down star formation. Or it can throw material out of the galaxy, which shuts down the feeding process. Studying black holes may provide insight into other questions, such as why the universe looks the way it does. What can that tell us about how things have changed over the last 14 billion years? And is it somehow related to why we’re here?

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NOTEWORTHY Mark Stockman, professor of physics, was a corecipient of a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop miniaturized optical transistors and circuit elements using novel, atomically thin materials. Nick Wilding, associate professor of history, was appointed to the faculty at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, where he will offer an intensive course, “Forgeries, Facsimiles and Sophisticated Copies.” Jenny Yang, Regents’ Professor of Biochemistry, has received a $2 million federal grant to develop improved magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents for the early detection of liver cancer. COLLEGE OF THE ARTS Jennifer Barker, associate professor of communication, spent spring semester in Berlin on a fellowship with the Cinepoetics Center for Advanced Film Study at Freie University, where she lectured on the connection between synaethesia — a mingling of the senses within the brain — and the cinematic experience. Patrick Freer, professor of music, has been named incoming senior editor of the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing, the empirical research publication of the American Choral Directors Association. COLLEGE OF EDUCATION & HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Four faculty members have received a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition to prepare educators who work with bilingual students. Cathy Amanti, clinical assistant professor of early childhood and elementary education; Gary Bingham, associate professor of early childhood and elementary education; Sue Kasun, assistant professor of middle and secondary education; and Laura May, associate professor of early childhood and elementary education, will head the Equipping Schools, Communities, and Universities for Excellence in Language Acquisition project, which will recruit, train and support teachers for dual language immersion classroom settings. Chara Bohan, professor of middle and secondary education, has been named editor of Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, the journal of the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum. Tim Kellison, assistant professor of kinesiology and health, has been selected for a Fulbright Specialist project focused on supporting and expanding Hatfield Campus Village in Pretoria, South Africa.

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Jessica Scott, assistant professor in deaf education, has been awarded a Spencer Foundation grant to explore how language skills and reading comprehension develop among deaf and hard of hearing students. Susan Swars Auslander, associate professor of mathematics education, published one of School Science and Mathematics’ top 10 most downloaded papers of 2017. The article explores elementary teachers’ experiences with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics at a high-needs, urban school. COLLEGE OF LAW Charlotte Alexander, associate professor of legal studies at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business with a secondary appointment at the College of Law, has received the Hoeber Memorial Award for Outstanding Article Published in 2017 from the American Business Law Journal. Julian Juergensmeyer, the Ben F. Johnson Chair in law, and John Travis Marshall, assistant professor of law, were among the authors of “Market DemandBased Planning and Permitting,” published by the American Bar Association. Michael Landau, professor of law, published an updated third edition to his book, “Lindey on Entertainment, Publishing and the Arts: Agreements and the Law.” The Center for Access to Justice, led by director Laura Sudeall Lucas, associate professor of law, has received an American Bar Endowment Opportunity Grant to support a pilot study on individuals’ experiences and interactions with dispossessory courts, which handle eviction proceedings. Charity Scott, the Catherine C. Henson Professor of Law, has received the Section on Law, Medicine and Health Care Award from the Association of American Law Schools. Anne Tucker, associate professor of law, assisted in drafting an amicus brief of corporate law professors in support of the respondents in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. INSTITUTE FOR BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES Associate professor Tim Denning, professor Andrew Gewirtz and professor Didier Merlin have received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to identify biomarkers that could be used to diagnose and treat inflammatory bowel disease.


IMAGE OF CROSS IN FRONT OF SCHOOL

IN THE CLASSROOM

TEACH YOUR TEACHERS WELL With CREATE, assistant professor Stephanie Behm Cross is changing the way Georgia State prepares and supports new teachers SEVEN YEARS AGO, assistant professor of education Stephanie Behm Cross was approached by Matt Underwood, executive director of the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (ANCS) in Grant Park, just a few miles south of Georgia State’s downtown campus. For several years, ANCS had hosted student teachers from the university’s College of Education & Human Development (CEHD), yet Underwood felt there was still a disconnect between the two institutions. Georgia State students weren’t showing up fully prepared to manage a classroom, and at the same time the college’s core mission — to address issues of race in schools — wasn’t permeating the teaching experience either. “Our curriculum here is really focused on social justice, equity and race,” says Cross. “We wanted to make sure those conversations were continuing. But at the same time, we wanted to make sure our students were really prepared to meet schools’ expectations.” The result of those initial discussions was Collaboration and Reflection to Enhance Atlanta Teacher Effectiveness (CREATE), a new type of teacher residency model. In the program, schools host first-year student teachers who are provided with additional support and mentoring from veteran educators who also receive training and support from university faculty. They continue to receive support for the following two years — “which are really their first and second years as brand-new teachers,” says Cross.

PHOTO BY MEG BUSCEMA

The services the new teachers receive include mentorship across all three years of the program, access to mindfulness training and professional support groups where they can analyze problems of practice. There is also a strong focus on recruiting and supporting teachers of color. CREATE is implemented today in 12 Atlanta public schools, including ANCS. In December, Cross received an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement to further expand the program. The award will allow her to recruit more teachers, support the more than 600 educators already working with the program and (among other projects) develop a five-day, race-based intensive summer institute for teachers. Cross and her CEHD co-investigators — Nadia Behizadeh, Jacob Hackett and Rhina Williams — are performing qualitative research to evaluate how CREATE is affecting teacher satisfaction, commitment to addressing issues of social justice in schools and long-term intention to stay in the field, and in high-needs schools. They’re also working with an external partner to assess the program’s effect on teacher retention and student test scores. “Universities need to get better at partnering with schools to bridge the gap between coursework and what happens in the classroom,” says Cross. “With this program, we feel like we’re really learning from and with one another.”

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NOTEWORTHY BOOKS

WHEN WOMEN RUN

ALSO ON SHELVES…. “Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta” (University of North Carolina Press), by Maurice Hobson In this examination of the evolution of black Atlanta, Hobson, assistant professor of African-American studies, demonstrates that Atlanta’s political leadership has consistently ignored the interests of poor black city-dwellers.

In their new book, “Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay In Office” (University of Michigan Press), political science faculty members Amy Steigerwalt and Jeffrey Lazarus analyze the unique pressures faced by female politicians — and how those pressures affect not only their campaigns but their time in office. Four takeaways from their work: Female candidates — even incumbents — are more likely to be challenged. “Even very senior female members of Congress are still more likely to draw, for example, a primary challenger,” says professor Steigerwalt. “Barbara Mikulski served as a senator from Maryland for 30 years, and she always drew primary challengers. She vanquished them. She never lost a general election with less than, I think, 68 percent of the vote. Objectively, that would seem to be a safe seat, but she always had to worry that she would have to fend off a challenger, not only from another party but also from within her own party.” This, in turn, affects their mindset in Congress. “To defend against potential attacks, female members of Congress develop a more constituent-oriented mindset,” says associate professor Lazarus. “Female members tend to spend more time back in their districts, place more staff there and send more mail to their constituents. It also alters their decisions about which bills to support or which committees to join.” Women respond more strongly to what voters want. “In the delegate model of representation, voters send their representatives off to government to do what they want,” says Lazarus. “The trustee model, on the other hand, allows the representative to have more freedom. We argue that gendered vulnerability pushes women away from being trustees and toward being delegates.” Electing more women might not be enough to change things. “There’s a lot that has to be overcome and changed, and some of that is a perception rooted within the women themselves — that they have to work harder and care more in order to be taken seriously,” says Steigerwalt. “Still, as we’re having broader discussions about sexual harassment and the systematic effects of women’s representation, I think there’s potentially a lot to be gained by having more women in Congress who can say, ‘Wait a second, what’s going on here?’” Read the full Q&A with the authors at news.gsu.edu.

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“The Importance of Elsewhere: The Globalist Humanist Tourist” (University of Chicago Press), by Randy Malamud Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English, discusses the significance and ethics of travel in this collection of essays. “Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality” (Duke University Press), by Monique Moultrie Moultrie, assistant professor of women’s studies, explores how black women of faith address their sexuality. “Google and Democracy: Politics and the Power of the Internet” (Routledge), by Sean Richey and J. Benjamin Taylor Associate professor of political science Sean Richey co-authors this analysis of how Google searches affect voters’ political knowledge and behavior at the polls. “The Procrastination Economy: The Big Business of Downtime” (NYU Press), by Ethan Tussey Tussey, assistant professor of communication, argues that mobile devices like smartphones are changing the way we spend and value our downtime, creating an opportunity for companies to monetize those moments.

COVER COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS


Ming-Hui Zou, professor and director of the Center for Molecular & Translational Medicine, has received two four-year grants totaling nearly $6 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The grants support research to identify new therapies for atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. J. MACK ROBINSON COLLEGE OF BUSINESS Aaron M. Baird, assistant professor of health administration, has received the 2017 Association for Information Systems Early Career Award. The award recognizes individuals in the early stages of their careers who have already made outstanding research, teaching and service contributions to the field of information systems. S. Tamer Cavusgil, the Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair and professor of international business, is the 10th most-published author worldwide in the Journal of International Business Studies, which recently released an analysis of its most-published authors from 1970 to 2016. Rajeev Dhawan, the Carl R. Zwerner Chair of Economic Forecasting, has received the 2017 Pulsenomics Crystal Ball Award for forecasting accuracy in the quarterly Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey. This is the fourth time Dhawan has received the award. For the fourth consecutive year, V. Kumar, Regents’ Professor and the Richard and Susan Lenny Distinguished Chair in Marketing, was honored by the American Marketing Association as the world’s most productive researcher in premier marketing journals over the last 10 years, covering 2008 to 2017. Jon Wiley, associate professor of real estate and holder of the Richard E. Bowers Professorship in Real Estate, was ranked second worldwide in the Real Estate Academic Leadership Rankings of articles published in the discipline’s three premier journals from 2013 through 2017. PERIMETER COLLEGE Lauren Curtright, assistant professor of English at the Decatur Campus, co-edited the textbook “Sustainability and the City: Urban Poetics and Politics.” Pamela Gore, professor of geology at the Clarkston Campus, presented “Hands-on Teaching About Carbon, Climate and Energy Resources — An InTeGrate Project,” at the Geological Society of America meeting.

SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH Elizabeth Armstrong-Mensah, clinical assistant professor of health promotion and behavior, was selected to join the editorial board of the Matridge Journal of AIDS. David Ashley, professor of environmental health, has been recognized by the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco for his lifetime of work in tobacco control. Michael Eriksen, Regents’ Professor and dean of the School of Public Health, and Jidong Huang, associate professor of health management and policy, have received more than $1 million to develop cellphone messaging programs to help smokers kick the habit in China and Vietnam, two countries where smoking rates for men are among the highest in the world. The five-year project is funded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health. Xiangming Fang, associate professor of health management and policy, was invited by World Vision International to serve as a member of the advisory group for a new study proposing technical solutions for ending violence against children. Matt Hayat, associate professor of epidemiology and statistics, has been named an associate editor for the journal BMC Public Health. John Lutzker, distinguished professor of health promotion and behavior, received Prevent Child Abuse Georgia’s Mark Chaffin Memorial Award. This award is given in honor of the life and legacy of former School of Public Health faculty member Mark Chaffin and recognizes an individual who has made repeated, significant and outstanding contributions to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Ashli Owen-Smith, assistant professor of health management and policy, has received more than $700,000 from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test a mindfulness-based yoga program to provide young people in juvenile justice facilities with coping skills and reduce the recidivism rate. Richard Rothenberg, associate dean for research and faculty development, has been named a Regents’ Professor by the University System of Georgia. Christine Stauber, associate professor of environmental health, was named a section editor for the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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NOW YOU SEE IT

A RAINBOW OF NERVOUS IMPULSES FOR ANIMALS AND HUMANS, the ability to respond to the environment is critically dependent on the nervous system. Yet neuroscientists don’t totally understand the mechanisms by which neural information (example: heat from a stove) is translated into specific behaviors (pulling your hand away). Georgia State’s Cox Lab, led by associate professor Daniel Cox, is working to illuminate how neurons process sensory information by studying a particular type of sensory neuron in fruit flies. Why fruit flies? Genetically, they’re surprisingly similar to people. The image above was created using a 3-D optical imaging technique and depicts neuronal projections — tendril-like extensions of the neuron along which impulses are transmitted — in a living fruit fly.

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RESEARCH | SPRING 2018

IMAGE FROM DANIEL N. COX AND ATIT A. PATEL


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✓ Laying the groundwork for LIFE-CHANGING DISCOVERIES AS THE LARGEST PUBLIC RESEARCH UNIVERSITY IN GEORGIA, we’re checking all the boxes.

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FLU FIGHTERS | 14

BUILDING RESILIENCE | 26

THE LANA LEGACY | 32

A universal vaccine could put an end to the seasonal flu shot

Professor Ann-Margaret Esnard is making cities less vulnerable to natural disasters

How a project from 1971 changed the field of ape language research forever

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G E O R G I A S TAT E U N I V E R S I T Y | SP R I N G 2018

THE BODY ON FIRE

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FUELED BY AN IMMUNE SYSTEM IN OVERDRIVE, CHRONIC INFLAMMATION CAN HAVE A PROFOUND IMPACT ON HEALTH. ACROSS GEORGIA STATE, SCIENTISTS ARE WORKING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND — AND BETTER CONTROL — INFLAMMATION’S SLOW BURN.

SP R I N G 2018

Georgia State University Research Magazine, Spring 2018  
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