RESEARCH SCHOLARSHIP CR E AT I V E AC T I V I T Y VOLUME 16 :: ISSUE 2
Grow your own How Southeast Ohio is becoming a hotspot for new technologies and entrepreneurs
THE PROMISE OF
THE PAWPAW CAN FOOD SCIENTISTS TURN A NATIVE FRUIT INTO SUPERMARKETFRIENDLY PRODUCTS?
WHAT MAKES FRIENDSHIPS WORK AND WHY IT MATTERS
BATTLING THE BACTERIA BEHIND A DEADLY DISEASE
DINOSAURS RECONSTRUCTING THE ANATOMY OF ANCIENT BEASTS
a ut u m n / wi nt e r
WWW.O H I O . E D U / R E S E A RC H
aut u m n / wi nt e r
what ’s inside 10
L I T E R ARY REMIX History, autobiography, and literature come together in Kevin Haworth’s essays
T H E B ACTERIA BATTLE
EDITOR Andrea Gibson
Scientist Erin Murphy uncovers the genetic mechanisms behind a deadly disease
SENIOR DESIGNER AND ILLUSTRATOR Christina Ullman, Ullman Design ASSISTANT DESIGNER Alix Northrup
Environment + Outreach Citizens, scholars seek new uses for a former government energy plant
INTERNS Adam Liebendorfer Jessica Salerno Rosie Haney
ADVISORY COMMITTEE Kevin Crist Professor Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
S E C O ND LIFE
THE PROMISE OF THE PAWPAW Can food scientists turn a native fruit into supermarket-friendly products?
Ellen Gerl Associate Professor Journalism
Gary Holcomb Associate Professor African American Studies
D I G I TAL DINOSAURS How do scientists reconstruct the anatomy of ancient beasts?
Duane McDiarmid Associate Professor Art
Michele Morrone Associate Professor Social and Public Health
J U S T BETWEEN FRIENDS What sets friendship apart from our other relationships—and why it matters
VOLUME 16 :: ISSUE 2
ISSN 1520-4375 Printed on recycled paper.
02 U P F RO N T
:: From the Office of Research |
40 C L A S S AC T
ILLUSTRATIONS: (COVER AND THIS SPREAD) CHRISTINA ULLMAN
:: Student Research |
0 3 OF NOTE
4 2 AT A GL ANCE
:: Research News Briefs
:: Project snapshot
Ecosystem How Ohio University helps move innovative ideas to the marketplace
u p fr o nt
FROM THE OFFICE OF RESEARCH
Vice President for Research President of Ohio University and Creative Activity and Dean of the Graduate College
An entrepreneurial spirit
hat is the role of universities in responding to the economic challenges of our times?
The question has been raised more frequently in recent years. To a significant degree, the public value conveyed by Ohio University has remained constant for the past 208 years: providing the basis for an educated citizenry, advancing knowledge and culture, and instilling analytical and communication skills that prepare individuals for varied and changing careers rather than just the first job as a college graduate. But Ohio University is engaged more directly in helping shape the economic course of its region and the state of Ohio, as detailed in this issue of Perspectives. In addition to contributing to an educated work force, the institution increasingly is engaged in nurturing entrepreneurs and supporting the launch of new companies in the technology sector. This effort began in the 1980s with the creation of the first university-based business incubator in the state of Ohio and a Technology Transfer Office dedicated to moving knowledge created by faculty and students to the marketplace. Nearly three decades later, Ohio University ranks first among higher education institutions in the state for licensing income from its inventions, and provides a continuum of support for entrepreneurs both inside and outside the university in technology commercialization. The Ohio Board of Regents
ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN
recently called on its universities to do more in this realm. Its annual condition report for 2012, Advancing Ohio’s Innovation Economy, surveys the degree to which university research engenders commercial applications and jobs that benefit the people of Ohio and provides a roadmap for taking these activities to the next level. The result is familiar territory for Ohio University, as we are already engaged in many of the activities and best practices envisioned by the Regents. Its leadership in this domain was on display in the Ohio Board of Regents Commercialization Task Force that generated the report, with Ohio University President Roderick McDavis chairing its Subcommittee on Academia, alumnus David Pidwell serving on its Capital Subcommittee, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding providing high-level support on the task force Steering Committee. The university’s activities in support of entrepreneurship and commercialization align closely with the institution’s mission. With its sponsorship of entrepreneurial experiences for students in various majors, Ohio University challenges participants to draw on the hallmarks of a liberal arts education—synthesis and critical evaluation of information, quantitative analysis, verbal and
written communication, and the integration of these elements in a team setting. The university gives faculty incentives and support to commercialize their intellectual discoveries, while recognizing the priority of their activities in the lab, the library, the studio, and the classroom. Finally, the companies and products that result from these efforts provide the basis for a forward-looking economy with opportunities for our graduates, the residents of Southeast Ohio, and the state as a whole. The result epitomizes “OHIO for Ohio”—the university’s commitment to deliver value for the benefit of the state and its people.
ABOUT PERSPECTIVES Perspectives: Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity at Ohio University is published twice per year by the Office of Research Communications, which reports to the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity. The magazine serves its readers by providing information about the research, scholarly, and creative activities of Ohio University faculty, staff, and students, and about the contributions of university research in general through the publication of accurate and balanced journalistic content that informs, stimulates intellectual discussion, and promotes scholarly inquiry. Text, photographs, and artwork may not be reprinted without written permission from the editor. Comments and queries regarding editorial content should be addressed to: Andrea Gibson, editor, Perspectives magazine 120 Research and Technology Center Athens, Ohio 45701 E-mail: email@example.com Phone: (740) 597-2166
For more information about the research program at Ohio University, please contact: Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity Web: www.ohio.edu/research E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (740) 593-0370
RESEARCH NEWS BRIEFS
:: PSYCHOLOGY | by Je s s i ca Salerno
Heart warming Psychology studies find connection between interpersonal relationships and physical temperature
e tend to speak of our relationships in terms of temperature: We feel warmly about our friends
and give our enemies the cold shoulder. Now an Ohio University researcher has found that those references aren’t just figures of speech. A recent study by Matthew Vess, assistant professor of psychology, asked 56 participants whether they felt comfortable or anxious in their relationships. Next, half of the group was asked to think about a romantic
breakup while the other was given a nonromantic event to consider. Then both groups were asked to rate the appeal of different foods and drinks that varied in temperature, such as pretzels and hot soup. As Vess describes in a paper published in the May 2012 issue of Psychological Science, participants who were more anxious in their relationships were more likely to desire warm refreshments when thinking about a breakup than were those who were asked to think about an ordinary event. “It does seem that if you threaten interpersonal intimacy, people try to replace it with physical temperature,” he says. A second study of 112 people in long-term relationships reinforced these findings. Participants were asked to make a sentence from a random string of words (including some associated with coldness or warmth) and then rated their level of satisfaction in their relationships. Vess found that anxiously attached partners whose sentences focused on coldness were less satisfied with their relationships than were those who had written warm statements. “What it suggested to us is that these cues of warmth and things that trigger feelings of warmth directly map onto the type of needs anxiously attached people are trying to get in their relationships,” says Vess. “It actually influences the way they evaluate the romantic relationships they’re in.” This area of research is known as embodied cognition, which is gaining popularity in the psychology field. Embodied cognition explores how we represent abstract concepts such as love or importance, and how this is grounded in the way we physically interact with the world. “If you expose people to things dealing with warmth, you might actually activate feelings of love because those two things are linked together in some way,” says Vess. Vess is interested in questions about human nature and the reasons behind people’s actions. “The opportunity to figure it out in a way that’s scientific and not just based on illogical assumptions about the way the world works seems fascinating to me,” he says.
LO O K I N G FO R
LITTLE HOUSE TAC K L I N G O VA R I A N
C ANCER T UMORS PRISON
T H E AT E R CHIEF CHIMPS ANTARCTIC CLIMATE TRENDS GLOBAL DOWNTOWNS
MAT T H EW V E S S assistant professor of psychology
“If you expose people to things dealing with warmth, you might actually activate feelings of love because those two things are linked together in some way.”
ILLUSTRATION: ALIX NORTHRUP; PORTRAIT, BEN SIEGEL
RESEARCH NEWS BRIEFS
:: ENGLISH | by Jessica Salerno
Prairie home companion Writer traces path of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder
or many children, reading the iconic Little House books, which celebrate author Laura Ingalls
Wilder’s American prairie upbringing during the late 19th century, was a rite of passage. In the 1970s and 1980s, the tales became the basis of a popular television series, Little House on the Prairie, which further popularized the story of the Ingalls family. For Kelly Kathleen Ferguson, an Ohio University doctoral student in creative nonfiction, the love of the books and the author didn’t end in her youth. During a two-week adventure across the Midwest, Ferguson retraced Wilder’s pioneer journey. She captured the experience in her book My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself. Starting in Pepin, Wisconsin, and ending in Mansfield, Missouri, she stopped at sites of Wilder’s past homes while she took in the scenery. “Standing out in the middle of a prairie is amazing if you’ve never done it,” she says. “The lakes of South Dakota are so beautiful.” For the entirety of the trip, Ferguson wore a prairie dress. In the opening pages of her book, she describes how buying the garment was a last-minute decision, one that required overcoming the social anxiety she anticipated she would feel when wearing it. A main theme of the book is Ferguson’s desire at age 38 to finally feel grown up. The dress, she explains, was her way to connect to Wilder’s own experience of maturing from a little girl to a young woman, as described in the series. Her trip had its pitfalls, however. Although the prairie was gorgeous, “by the
“What I hope is that anyone who has ever had a childhood idol, had a writer change their life, want to do something wacky and not know exactly why, would find a bit of themselves in my story.” K E L LY K AT H L E E N F E RGUSON doctoral student
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF KELLY KATHLEEN FERGUSON
end I was just tired and I wanted to get out of the dress.” Ferguson also wondered if, by the end of the trip, she might be disappointed in Wilder. “Sometimes, artists we love might write great books or make great music, but they aren’t always nice people. I needed Laura Ingalls Wilder to be a good person, or I couldn’t believe in the books anymore,” she says. “That was a big risk to me.” Ferguson is passionate about the Wilder books because they remain relevant today, she explains. “They convey the nostalgia, the comfort I experienced as a kid reading the books, but the books also show how Laura confronts difficulties and overcomes her challenges,” she says. “Sometimes I still feel like Laura clutching that footbridge in Plum Creek, vowing that I refuse to be afraid no matter the fearful conditions.” The process of turning the trip into a book took about three years, after Ferguson decided to structure the work as a travelogue. She added musings, historical research, and
essays she had written over the years where they fit in well. The book is entirely from her point of view, but she says she wishes she had interviewed more people to include in her story. Although Ferguson’s target audience is Wilder fans, she would like the book to be relatable to anyone with a crazy dream. “What I hope is that anyone who has ever had a childhood idol, had a writer change their life, want to do something wacky and not know exactly why, would find a bit of themselves in my story,” says Ferguson, who will base her next writing project on a series of road trips to quirky spots in her home state of Alabama. Because she doesn’t want to give away the ending, Ferguson is reluctant to divulge what she learned overall from the trip. Instead she offers a Wilder quote to sum up her experience: “It is best to be honest and truthful, to make the most of what we have, to be happy with simple pleasures, and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.”
AMOUNT OF FUNDING RECEIVED for study on new classroom interventions for teachers working with students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“Our hypothesis is that if we knock down this protein, we’ll have less inflammation at the tumor site. The tumor will be less likely to form new blood vessels and grow.” MARIA M U C C I O L I graduate student
:: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES by Jessica Salerno
Tackling tumor growth Biology graduate student examines ovarian cancer in the lab
Graduate student Maria Muccioli is working with Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences Fabian Benencia to study Toll-Like Receptor 3 and how it affects tumor growth.
Working as a pharmacy technician while an undergraduate student at Suffolk University, Maria Muccioli regularly heard firsthand accounts from her customers about the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment. “I met so many people who had cancer and dispensed medicine to them,” she recalls. “I heard them talk about what going through chemotherapy is like. I definitely felt passionate about doing research in something that might help someone like that.” Muccioli is now in Ohio University’s doctoral program for molecular and cell biology, tackling projects that may ease the difficulty of cancer treatment for future patients. Her goal is to use immunology-based therapies to target specific cancers, which she hopes will lead to less invasive options. She’s working with Fabian Benencia, assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, to study Toll-Like Receptor 3 (TLR3) and how it affects tumor growth. TLR3 is a protein that normally acts at the starting point of the immune response, but when expressed in tumor cells, it actually becomes a cause of chronic inflammation at
the tumor site. Certain types of inflammation can contribute to new blood vessel formation, which then leads to tumor growth. “So in theory your immune system is supposed to help protect you against cancer, but in fact when the tumor is expressing the TLRs, it can actually use those pathways to take advantage,” Muccioli says. The scientists are using ovarian cancer cells in the study because they show a high level of TLR3 activity, says Benencia, who has received funding for his cancer research from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the American Osteopathic Association. “It’s a very relevant disease, and it has been shown that there are a lot of inflammatory cells that are attracted to the microenvironment of the tumor. So the question is how do they get there?” he asks. “That’s what we’re trying to see. Because maybe if we can just stop them from getting there we can stop the tumor from growing.” Muccioli is currently working on “knocking down” or eliminating TLR3 from the cells. In a future step of her research, she will examine the impact of this action on the inflammatory profile of the tumor
microenvironment using a mouse model of ovarian cancer. “Our hypothesis is that if we knock down this protein, we’ll have less inflammation at the tumor site. The tumor will be less likely to form new blood vessels and grow,” Muccioli says. In June 2011, Muccioli received a $6,000 Ohio University Student Enhancement Award to support her research. She says that not having to depend on someone else’s funding has given her more independence as a researcher, and being responsible for her own budget gives her valuable experience for her future career. After graduating from Ohio University, Muccioli plans to seek a postdoctoral position and eventually hopes to manage her own immunology research lab. She’s encouraged by the results of her doctoral research so far. “I investigate one small pathway in the bigger picture of cancer progression,” she says. “Hopefully in 20, 30 years we’ll be able to put those pieces of the puzzle together and come up with better treatments. That’s my hope, that somehow this will help make new medicines that are more effective, have less side effects, and are more targeted.” PHOTO: PATRICK ODEN
RESEARCH NEWS BRIEFS
:: THEATER | by Ro sie Haney
Theater transforms prisoners in playwright’s “Puppet Man”
hen graduate student playwright Andrew Black was picking out puppets for a show
he was producing, he discovered that the School of Theater recently had received some of the inventory from an Ohio prison.
A fan of the “truth is stranger than fiction” paradigm, the writer’s curiosity was piqued. “Most of my ideas start with, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’” he says. The warden of the North Central Correctional Institute in Marion, Ohio, had proposed the idea of a prison puppet theater as a diversion for children visiting their fathers, Black learned. When the student delved into more research on incarceration, he was stunned to find that the state of Ohio is home to 188 prisons and 45,854 inmates. The cost to run these prisons accounts for 8 percent of the state budget. Black became intrigued by the idea of basing a new play on the subject. He read academic articles about incarceration, watched documentaries on prisons, and met with inmates at the Southeast Ohio Correctional Facility to hear their stories and gain a more palpable perspective on the life of an inmate. Some of the stories he used, and the rest served to shape a realistic dialogue for the characters in his play. When he was done he had “Puppet Man,” which was performed during Ohio University’s 2012 Seabury Quinn, Jr., Playwrights Festival. Black was awarded the Trisolini Fellowship, which supported the work with a $15,000 grant. The protagonist of “Puppet Man” is a 22-year-old man who’s staring at a 28-year sentence and feels that his life is over. The young man finds his beliefs challenged in the unlikely theater.
Looking at Black’s repertoire, a play about prisoners seems like a bit of a departure for the writer. His other work centers almost exclusively on LGBT themes, with titles such as “It’s Murder, Mary!” But Black maintains that while this subject is different, the theme isn’t. “Everyone is incarcerated in their own way,” he says. “Whether it’s the North Central Correctional Institute, a bad relationship, or a sexual identity we might not have chosen.” Growing up in Indiana, Black often felt it necessary to hide his sexuality, he notes. It wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco in the 1970s that he came to accept this aspect of himself. During his time in California, Black was involved with the San Francisco Bay Area’s PlayGround group, a company specializing in short format plays. He’s since had ten-minute plays produced across the country. Black won the New Works of Merit contest sponsored by the 13th Street Repertory Company in New York City, and his play “The Second Weekend in September” had its world premiere at the City Lights Theatre in San Jose, California, in 2010. His second-year play, which was featured in last year’s Seabury Quinn, Jr., Playwrights Festival, was read at the National Theater of Ghana in summer 2011. After his June graduation from Ohio University, Black planned to celebrate the world premiere of his play “Strange Bedfellows” in Orange County, California, in August.
“Everyone is incarcerated in their own way. Whether it’s the North Central Correctional Institute, a bad relationship, or a sexual identity we might not have chosen.” A N D R E W B L A C K , graduate student
ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN; PORTRAIT, COURTESY OF ANDREW BLACK
OHIO UNIVERSITY’S RANK among universities in the state of Ohio for research licensing revenue, which topped $8.6 million in fiscal year 2011.
: : A N T H RO P O LO G Y | by Andrea Gibson
Leader of the pack Adolescent male chimpanzees vie for dominance The Ngogo community of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park in western Uganda is the biggest chimp group on record. It has more than 150 members, and about twice as many males as found in other communities across Africa. Unlike their adult male counterparts, which have a well-documented dominance hierarchy, adolescent male chimps haven’t been known to establish dominance relationships. During four field seasons between 2000 and 2004, however, Ohio University anthropologist Hogan Sherrow found that some adolescent males pant grunted to other adolescent males on a consistent basis. Research by Jane Goodall established that pant grunts are made by subordinate individuals to dominant ones, Sherrow explains. “It calms hostilities. It means, ‘I know that you’re stronger than me, so don’t beat me up.’ It’s like they’re sending up the white flag,” says Sherrow, an assistant professor of anthropology who published his recent findings in the journal Folia Primatologica. The L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the American Society of Primatologists, the Sigma Xi Foundation, the John F. Enders Foundation, and Yale University provided support for the research. After ranking the 17 adolescent males in order of dominance, Sherrow concluded that the biggest and oldest animals were at the top of the hierarchy. There were only two exceptions, males that appeared to act in a subordinate manner due to physical injuries. Sherrow suggests that he observed dominance relationships in the adolescent males of this chimpanzee community due to its size and heightened competition for females. Each male in Ngogo must contend with 35 to 40 others, whereas most communities contain 10 to 15 competitors for mating. Adolescent male chimps also may vie for access to high-ranking adult males as a competitive strategy. Adult male chimpanzees have clear and defined dominance
relationships that depend on size, strength, and the ability to form alliances in the community. The most dominant males have priority access to resources and potential mates and usually father more offspring. “We should not be surprised that adolescent males can form these dominance relationships. Adult males form them, and adolescent males need to learn them at some point,” Sherrow says. Studies of other immature males in primate, mammal, and even human communities with intense competition for resources also have found adolescent dominance hierarchies, he adds. Because the Ngogo community is unusually large, Sherrow notes that scientists should seek to observe this behavior in another neighboring community of this size to determine if a similar hierarchy can be documented. The Ngogo study site, located in the Ugandan rain forest, was established in 1995 and has been observed daily by researchers. The recent study not only offers a new view of chimpanzee behavior, but could shed light on human power and dominance as well, Sherrow suggests. “Because chimpanzees, along with bonobos, are our closest living relatives, understanding things like how and why they form dominance relationships helps us understand the drive for status and prestige in humans,” he says.
“Because chimpanzees, along with bonobos, are our closest living relatives, understanding things like how and why they form dominance relationships helps us understand the drive for status and prestige in humans.” HOGAN SHERROW assistant professor of anthropology
PHOTO: DREAMSTIME.COM; PORTRAIT, KEVIN RIDDELL
RESEARCH NEWS BRIEFS
“We’ve collected enough data to believe that certain regions are warming rapidly and that there are manmade components to this.” RYA N F O G T assistant professor of geography
: : G E O G R A PH Y | by A n d rea Gibson
Meteorologists explore the weather systems that impact Antarctic climate change
cientists have been puzzled by the uneven climate change observed in Antarctica over the
last few decades.
While the eastern region has remained relatively stable in temperature, and even has gained sea ice, the west has recorded some of the most dramatic warming trends in the world. Ryan Fogt, an assistant professor of geography at Ohio University, is trying to unlock the mystery behind this phenomenon. With a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Fogt and his students recently began to analyze a persistent atmospheric low-pressure system called the Amundsen-Bellingshausen Seas Low to determine what role it might play in this asymmetrical climate pattern. After digging through several sources of climate data, the team discovered that this weather system is highly influenced by storms in the region. And in the last 30 years, those storms have been getting stronger and more frequent, especially in the
spring. The most powerful cyclones tracked—which have a hurricane category 3 or 4 intensity—had a direct connection to the low-pressure system, according to findings the team published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The study is the first step toward characterizing and developing a better understanding of the AmundsenBellingshausen Seas Low. Antarctic climate research is challenging, Fogt says, because little reliable data exists prior to the launch of satellites in the late 1970s. In other parts of the world, scientists may have climate data from the last 200 years. Antarctica is about 1.5 times the size of the United States, Fogt notes, but is home to only about 17 staffed weather stations. “There are a lot of gaps to fill in,” says Fogt, the director of Ohio University’s Scalia Laboratory for Atmospheric Analysis.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RYAN FOGT; PORTRAIT, BEN SIEGEL
But Fogt and other scientists are determined to complete the picture. In the last four years, Fogt has worked with 20 researchers from around the world to produce an annual climate report on Antarctica for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We’ve collected enough data to believe that certain regions are warming rapidly and that there are manmade components to this,” says Fogt, who serves as editor of the reports. What’s at stake? Antarctic climate change already has impacted the marine ecosystem and terrestrial animal habitats. Although the growing glacier on the eastern side of the continent may sound promising, Fogt notes that it’s posed a challenge for the penguins that travel long distances over the ice to access open water and food for their young. The west is experiencing some of the fastest glacier melt in the region, which eventually could trigger a rise in global
sea levels if thawing continues. While the forecast may be troubling, Fogt is optimistic about educating the next generation of climate scientists. His NSF grant supports Ohio University undergraduate and graduate students who are exploring other factors that might influence the Antarctic low-pressure system—from the hole in the ozone layer to El Niño. Fogt also has received support from the Ohio Space Grant Consortium to install weather stations at six Southeast Ohio middle schools. Students can track local weather with the equipment, and can compare it to data Fogt gathers from stations in Antarctica. Fogt hopes that the project will give Ohio youth a better appreciation of global climate change. And who knows? It might even inspire a teen to pursue scientific exploration in Antarctica, where Fogt admits he got “ice in the veins.” “Once I experienced Antarctica firsthand,” he recalls, “I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
(Above) Fogt, left, collects data from a weather station near Mount Erebus, the world's southernmost active volcano.
: : I N T E R D I S C I P L I N A RY A RTS | by Jessica Salerno
Anatomy of a downtown From urban planning to performing arts, what makes a city tick?
“Downtown is reflecting in a heightened way some of these trends of globalization.” MARINA PETERSON associate professor of performance studies
ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN; PORTRAIT, BEN SIEGEL
AMOUNT OF FUNDING RECEIVED for research on an algae-based power system for sustainable homes and residential communities.
Big cities such as New York or Los Angeles are known for their exciting downtown atmospheres, but for Marina Peterson they offer the chance to examine how downtown acts as a mirror for what makes a city. Peterson, an associate professor of performance studies at Ohio University, drew on her expertise in anthropology and performance to develop two recent books that look at downtowns through the lens of globalism and the performing arts. Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles is an ethnography of a free summer concert series in Los Angeles. Peterson examined the city’s effort to bring together a multicultural audience through a variety of musical performances—and, as a lifelong cellist, even played in one of the concerts with a hip-hop group. Peterson is interested in public art and performance projects, such as the one in Los Angeles, that challenge common assumptions about society. By hosting the free concert series, she says, the city allowed the public to enjoy a variety of music in an open setting in which anyone could participate. Although her chapter in her more recent publication, Global Downtowns, also concerns art in a downtown setting, the book
covers broader topics of urban development. Co-edited with Gary McDonogh of Bryn Mawr College, the book examines the impact of globalization on the design and development of downtowns in various cities worldwide. Contributors examined modes of transportation and signature architecture, as well as class divisions within cities. Peterson’s research has taken her all over the world and across the United States to examine the structure of different downtowns. Certain locales, such as Chicago, are very centralized and have created the downtown as the center of the city. Others, such as Los Angeles, are known for urban sprawl, with the city and the suburbs spread outwards over a larger area. Chicago’s great downtown atmosphere, she says, is due to the efforts of city planners, architects, and politicians over the last 15 years. “It’s not something that just occurs, it’s not natural,” she says. “Its impact has to be constantly made.” Peterson notes a recent trend among smaller cities to redevelop their main streets to reflect those of larger cities, offering more entertainment such as bars, restaurants, and shopping. “Downtown is reflecting in a heightened way some of these trends of globalization,” she says. Peterson’s newest research takes a look at the link between large cities and rural Appalachian towns. Natural resources such as coal and brick mined and manufactured in those small cities provided the energy, light, and construction materials needed to build modern skyscrapers, she notes.
by J I M P H I L LIPS
remix HISTORY, AUTOBIOGRAPHY, AND LITERATURE COME TOGETHER IN KEVIN HAWORTH’S ESSAYS
ow is writing an essay like fishing for trout? For award-winning Ohio author Kevin Haworth, both involve trying to snag a shimmering, elusive quarry that’s forever darting away downstream. “Stuff is always flowing past you,” explains Haworth, whose new essay collection, Famous Drownings in Literary History, won him a $5,000 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. For Haworth, assistant professor of English and executive editor of the Ohio University Press and Swallow Press, hooking the right material to work into the mosaics of his richly detailed, highly personal essays is a crucial first step in creating them. Examining themes that range from the literary lore of drowning to the 10 plagues of Egypt, Haworth typically starts with autobiography— a memory, conflict, or question of his own. Then he spirals outward, stalking his topic wherever it leads, and bringing in anything new he’s discovered—literary, historical, or personal— that will bounce echoes off what he’s writing about. When he writes about drowning, for example, Haworth roots his essay in graphic, real moments—times when he’s pulled gasping children, including his own, from the water, and a moment in childhood when he nearly was drowned himself. Before he’s finished probing the idea, however, he manages to bring in his lifeguard training as a young man; the death of Icarus in Greek mythology; the Jack London novel Martin Eden; and the drowning of Ophelia in Hamlet. What the essay ends up describing is the mystery, allure, and terrors of water for those who live on land. Often, Haworth says, after getting an initial idea for an essay, he’ll free-associate to find out what sparks a topic throws off, and then “list what I call in my own mind ‘sites of inquiry.’” List in hand, he’ll head off to Ohio University’s Alden Library, where he’ll start punching search terms into a database of journal articles, to see what bobs up that he might be able to use. “Part of it is that I don’t know, at the beginning of the essay, what it is I’m going to write about,” he explains. Sometimes his library fishing expeditions haul up a gleaming catch. “It brings back the weirdest stuff—really oddball references,” he says. Haworth, who also writes fiction, compares his “hybrid nonfiction” approach to that of some pop music artists, who construct new tunes by layering together snippets of existing records. His latest work, he says, “has things in common with what kids call ‘mash-up’ culture, or sampling culture, where you’re taking all the elements, and putting them into a different context.”
Margot Singer, a writer who teaches at Denison University, said she admires Haworth’s ability to mix the techniques of story, essay, and poem. “He moves very flexibly across those permeable borders, in ways that make for very exciting work,” Singer says. In his essays, Haworth seems to hold a motif up for inspection, turning it this way and that, and placing it against different, sometimes unexpected backgrounds. The essays don’t usually drive to some ringing conclusion; instead, they move over, under, and around a subject, looking at it from multiple angles. In a piece about the Biblical plagues of Egypt, for example, Haworth—who looks deeply, reverently, and critically into his Jewish heritage in many of his essays—begins with his family. His wife, who’s a rabbi (and also an award-winning writer), is telling their son richly embellished stories of the plagues God levied against the Egyptians. The boy is fascinated. “He wants to know more about how the Egyptians suffered,” Haworth writes. “The burns from the hail, the itching from the lice bites. The terribly rank smell of their dead cattle. How they could have endured all this, nine times, and not let us go.” The essay then segues into a counterpoint topic—the extraordinary 1938 work U.S. 1 by the American Jewish poet Muriel Rukeyser. In this long piece, Rukeyser, well before her time, mashed up material including lyric poetry, monologue, and transcripts from Congressional testimony. The poem tells the story of a modern-day “plague”— the horrible health effects suffered by hundreds of miners who worked in a West Virginia silica mine. As the essay progresses, Haworth also folds in the grief of a funeral for the wife of a colleague and his own family’s careful preparations for Passover. Every strain weaves in and out of every other— Rukeyser’s poem, the plague of the West Virginia miners, a tragic death, the faithful keeping of
Jewish tradition, and the notion of plague itself. Miraculously, at one point Haworth’s wife finds a box in the basement of the local synagogue, full of “Jewish kitsch” from “the lost age of Hebrew School”—a set of 10 children’s masks, one for each Biblical plague. “The masks, despite their undeniable strangeness, are cute,” Haworth writes. “The mask solemnly labeled ‘First Born’ indicates death through X’s over the eyeholes, like a 1930s comic strip.” The children don the masks and play happily; the essay ends with an image of the kids, making paper “hail” to re-enact that particular plague. It’s followed by an image that mirrors the children’s paper hailstorm—the miners Rukeyser wrote about, walking home from their deadly work in a cloud of silica. “When they came out of the tunnel, that narrow white place, they were not liberated,” Haworth writes. “They walked home dying.” Ben Ogles, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University, and now a dean at Brigham Young University, used to read many of Haworth’s pieces as soon as he finished them. Though Ogles is a psychologist by trade rather than a creative writer, Haworth says he always valued Ogles’ feedback as a “great reader,” a fellow parent, and a man who shares his interest in spirituality. “I guess what really appealed to me (in Haworth’s work) was the psychology,” Ogles says. “The way that he could get inside a person’s head, and explain what they were thinking and feeling, was just so accurate to me that I wondered if he had a tap into somebody’s brain.” Haworth admits that the trick is in eavesdropping intensely on the world and the people around him. Once he gets a theme for an essay, he says, he begins to feel like a spy, listening for any clue that might relate to what he’s writing. To work in the hybrid nonfiction form, Haworth also draws from his experience as an accomplished fiction writer and creator of character. His novel The Discontinuity of Small Things was published in 2005. He stresses, however, that while fiction techniques help make his essays come alive, he keeps the genres distinct in his mind. “I am very aware of use of dialogue, shifting scenes, shifting the reader’s attention,” he says. “But (my essay work) is nonfiction; I'm not making anything up.”
Haworth, who also writes fiction, compares his “hybrid nonfiction” approach to that of some pop music artists, who construct new tunes by layering together snippets of existing records. KEVIN HAWORTH assistant professor of English
ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN; PORTRAIT, BEN SIEGEL
bacteria BAT T L E
SCIENTIST ERIN MURPHY UNCOVERS THE GENETIC MECHANISMS BEHIND A DEADLY DISEASE
by ELIZABETH B O Y L E
>> Scanning electron micrograph of Shigella sp. bacteria on the surface of a cell. Shigella sp. are Gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria (bacilli) and are the causative agent of human shigellosis. They infect the large intestine and cause dysentery, which can vary in severity from a mild attack of diarrhea to an acute infection.
ew Americans need to worry about access to clean drinking water. When we get sick and lose bodily fluids—when staying hydrated could mean life or death—sanitary water and liquids with electrolytes are readily available from our kitchen faucets or supermarket shelves.
That’s not the case everywhere. In developing countries, an estimated 780 million people rely on unsafe water sources. The lack of potable water not only causes a variety of illnesses and health issues, but it also puts people in real peril once an illness strikes and they can’t replenish lost fluids. Ohio University bacteriologist Erin Murphy knows something about those consequences. She’s spent the past decade studying the deadly bacterium Shigella, which causes an acute diarrheal illness known as shigellosis. The disease kills more than a million people worldwide each year, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that could represent just one fourth of the actual global count due to underreported incidents and under-diagnosis. Many of the deaths, though not all, occur in developing countries. “This is a really highly virulent pathogen,” Murphy says of the bacterium, which is transmitted person to person or through contaminated food or water sources. “It has an infectious dose of just 10 organisms, meaning as little as 10 bacteria can cause disease in a healthy person.” This infectious dose is exceedingly low compared to other bacteria that require tens of thousands of organisms to cause disease, she explains. Murphy’s mission is to provide a better understanding of the genetics behind how these lethal microorganisms cause illness. Her latest work, which was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, was published this summer in the high-impact scientific journal PLOS ONE. The project focused on the domino-like action of two proteins in the bacteria’s genetic code. When the bacteria enter a human host, environmental conditions there—changes in temperature or pH, for example—stimulate expression of a genetic pathway within the bacterium that allows it to survive and cause disease. Central to this genetic pathway are two proteins, VirF and VirB. VirF functions to increase production of VirB which, in turn, promotes the production of factors that increase the bacterium’s virulence, or ability to cause illness in its host. Murphy’s findings, however, suggested something different. They showed that production of VirB can be controlled independently of VirF. They also demonstrated that the VirF-independent regulation is mediated by a specific small RNA, a special type of molecule whose job is to control the production of particular targets. The research, which was the first to demonstrate that transcription of VirB is regulated by any factor other than VirF, revealed the intricate level of gene expression the bacteria employ to survive in the human body. It could also lead to new treatments. “These findings are feeding into the basic understanding of this gene expression so that future researchers can work to disrupt it,” says Ohio University doctoral student William Broach, who contributed to the study. “The more we know about it, the more targets we have to disrupt it and to possibly develop targeted antibiotic treatments.” By “targeted antibiotic treatments,” Broach
refers to new medications that could impede bacterial functions, such as the ability to cause damage in a host. Such new treatments could help decrease antibacterial resistance by providing treatments specific to the infecting bacteria. Currently, patients with the disease are treated with general antibiotics. To conduct the study, Murphy and Broach used standard genetic methods to introduce new sequences into Shigella genes. Working with collaborators from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of Texas at Austin, they then tested the affected bacteria on tissue cultures of intestinal cells to see if the bacteria had more or less virulence under each condition they tried. Murphy has been working on similar studies at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine since joining the faculty in 2008. She began her career in bacteriology studying Bordetella, the bacteria that cause whooping cough, and she transitioned to research on Shigella virulence as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. After initially investigating how iron levels affect the bacteria, she said, each subsequent study has generated new questions to investigate. “I’ve always liked the puzzle aspect of a gene regulation pathway,” she says. “I like figuring out how these things work together to affect something else.” Other puzzles she’s working on include determining how Shigella regulates the production of the proteins it needs to get iron
in the human body. Another diverges from her typical genetics research on Shigella and is related to several cases of bacterial meningitis recorded among Ohio University students in 2009 and 2010. It seeks links between the strain of bacteria associated with the cases and certain behaviors or health factors. Murphy’s findings could give area health experts much needed information about the cases, and it could help inform colleges nationwide about risks associated with contracting the deadly disease. “We have 10 times more bacteria on our body than we do human cells. They’re important to human health,” she explains. “But we see meningitis in places like college campuses, where people share close quarters. We want to learn what could put people at risk to get it.” No matter the project, Murphy is always working on something she’s enjoyed since she was a girl: science. Always partial to biology, she fell in love with it while working summers in high school and college in the microbiology lab of a cousin who studies ear and lung infections at the University of Buffalo. Although she briefly considered medical school in college, she knows she’s in the right line of work. “I like that what I do is medically relevant,” she says. “Hopefully somebody else will see what I do, incorporate it into their studies and down the road it will translate into a new treatment,” she says. That treatment? It could help people a half a world away, or on her own college campus.
“I’ve always liked the puzzle aspect of a gene regulation pathway. I like figuring out how these things work together to affect E R I N M U R P H Y, assistant professor of bacteriology something else.” IMAGES: (OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP) SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY; PORTRAIT, JOHN SATTLER
se c o nd L I F E EN V I RO N M E N T + O U T R E AC H
by K A R E N S O T TO S A N T I
CITIZENS, SCHOLARS SEEK NEW USES FOR A FORMER GOVERNMENT ENERGY PLANT
WHEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DECIDED TO
AT A MASSIVE FACILITY THAT SUPPLIED ENRICHED URANIUM TO THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND ENERGY INDUSTRY, IT WAS LEFT WITH A DILEMMA: What should it do with the 3,777-acre site that once provided more than 20,000 jobs to residents of rural southern Ohio during the height of the Cold War? To gather citizen input on the question, as well as to help with the environmental cleanup of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) in Piketon, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a $2.4 million grant to Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. The university is managing various public outreach and applied environmental science tasks that support the ongoing decontamination and decommission activities at the site. The project is a good fit for the Voinovich School’s unique mix of expertise in public policy and outreach, energy, environment, and administration issues, says Stephanie Howe, the school’s associate director of human capital and operations. “This project is typical of what we do—solving problems,” she says. “The project will benefit the public by providing information to the DOE that should allow the cleanup to occur faster, better, and cheaper, so that that the facility can be repurposed for other industrial use that will benefit surrounding communities.” PORTS was one of three gaseous diffusion plants built by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission during the 1940s and 1950s. The other two are in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky. The DOE currently is involved in a similar public outreach and environmental remediation project at the Kentucky site. The Ohio plant operated from 1954 to 2001, when the lessee ceased uranium enrichment operations. In 2005, the DOE placed the plant in “cold shutdown” status in preparation for the decontamination and decommissioning of the site. A major part of the project, called PORTSfuture, was a 15-month public outreach program in Pike, Scioto, Ross, and Jackson counties, which had “provided the largest labor force for the site,” explains Michele Morrone, associate professor of environmental health. During construction in 1954, up to 20,000 workers were on site. The ongoing enrichment operation supported about 2,500 employees. The project team first interviewed eight key individuals, such as local officials, former employees, and environmentalists who were knowledgeable about PORTS and interested in
what would replace it. These individuals described how the plant was perceived in the region and what issues they felt their communities faced. In the next few stages of the public outreach, which included focus groups recruited via newspaper ads and county fairs, as well as a random phone survey of 1,000 people, many residents expressed that the need for jobs was the region’s most pressing issue, Morrone says. A media content analysis of 20 years’ worth of local papers, including the Portsmouth Daily Times, had similar results. Of more than 200 articles about the Portsmouth plant, the “overwhelming majority” were about jobs and the economy, she says. Today, about 2,000 residents have jobs at PORTS, most of them part of the DOE’s ongoing decontamination and decommission efforts. Unemployment in the four-county region is higher than in other parts of Ohio. In April 2012, Pike County had an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent, the highest in the state. One woman at a focus group talked about how her sons would have to move out of the area to find work. “She was visibly upset as she talked about how her family was going to be split up because there were no jobs” in the community, Morrone says. In March 2011, the project team, which included Voinovich School personnel and faculty in the Department of Social and Public Health, coordinated meetings in Portsmouth and Chillicothe to engage residents in brainstorming new uses for the site. During these sessions, the only portions of the former plant that couldn’t be considered for new uses were the acreage currently used to safely process and dispose of depleted uranium contained in uranium storage cylinders, and an area leased to a private company that is developing a new energyefficient uranium-enrichment process. After eight county-level meetings, hundreds of ideas were presented to an advisory group that narrowed them to nine future-use scenarios. Guided by an economic forecast of the jobs and other financial benefits each use would bring, which was prepared by the Voinovich School and Department of Economics researchers, the group members ranked the scenarios. Next, residents of the four-county region were asked to vote for
their top three choices, either online or at 2011 county fair booths. (During voting, residents also had access to the jobs/economic forecast.) Out of approximately 213,000 people in the four-county region, 1,100 voted. The most popular future-use scenario, with 495 votes, was a nuclear power plant, followed closely by green energy production (475 votes). An industrial park was the third choice (421 votes), with a national research and development facility coming in fourth (418 votes). However, the public’s top choice—or even its second—isn’t a shoo-in for PORTS, Morrone says. “It’s up to the DOE to decide what to do with the report,” she says, adding that the project team made sure participants in the process were aware that the report was one of several inputs into the future-use decision. In the meantime, another portion of the DOE grant is being used to perform environmental tasks that will help the agency and its contractor with the decontamination and decommission process, says Natalie Kruse, an assistant professor of environmental studies in the Voinovich School. “One of our projects is a habitat assessment,” she says. “We look at which habitats are most important for endangered plant and animal species, which habitats are most important to preserve.” The scientific team also is testing soil samples using field instruments to develop and demonstrate a cost-effective method to determine the contamination levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a now-banned chemical that was used in industry prior to 1979. “We’re looking at how those PCBs change and age in the soils and the sediments,” Kruse says. “We’re working on developing methods to analyze those compounds on the field using a portable machine.” In addition, researchers provided an independent review of the models DOE uses for groundwater remediation at the site. Joel Bradburne, Portsmouth site lead for the DOE, says the cleanup of PORTS, which is expected to cost billions, is governed primarily by two federal acts dealing with hazardous substance removal and environmental recovery. Dependent on funding, the earliest that the site could be remediated is 2024, he says, although it’s possible that some parts of the site could be put to a new use while other parts of the site are still being cleaned up. Other aspects of the Voinovich project, which currently runs through December 2012, included the making of a documentary film of the public participation process and conducting training sessions on topics of interest to the public, including environmental sampling methods and contaminant analysis. The team also guided Piketon High School students in synthesizing and writing a layman’s summary of the 2009 U.S. DOE Annual Site Environmental Report for PORTS. In addition to its impact in southern Ohio, the Voinovich School envisions that the lessons of the PORTSfuture project could reach beyond the borders of the Buckeye state. “This could be a national model,” Howe says, “for how to do grassroots outreach in a rural area struggling with economic issues.”
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE VOINOVICH SCHOOL OF LEADERSHIP AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS
CAN FOOD scientists TURN A NATIVE fruit INTO SUPERMARKET-FRIENDLY
he Middle East birthed the pomegranate. The Brazilian rain forest revealed the açaí berry. Will America ever lay claim to its own health-boosting “superfruit”? Some have placed their bets on the pawpaw, a tropical-tasting, oblong fruit that grows wild in 26 states across the eastern half of the country, including Ohio. The pawpaw appears to boast high levels of free radical-busting antioxidants along with an array of vitamins and minerals and greater-than-average protein content. Intrigued by the lack of research into this “underutilized” fruit, Ohio University food scientist Rob Brannan is putting the pawpaw to the test to find out exactly what antioxidants it contains, in what concentrations, and where. His findings could give the emerging pawpaw industry a boost—or nip in the bud any claims that it’s the next cure for aging. “My scientist brain won’t let me use hyperbolic statements about ‘superfruit’ at this early stage,” says Brannan, an associate professor and graduate coordinator of food and nutrition sciences. “We have to be cautious.” “But,” he adds, “right now I think it’s in the ballpark.” Whether the pawpaw turns out to be a disease-fighting powerhouse or simply an interesting and nutritional fruit worth introducing more broadly, it has thrown a series of hurdles in front of Brannan and others who are trying to figure out whether it feasibly can be commercialized. The temperamental fruit bruises easily and ripens to the point of inedibility within two to three days of being picked, making it impossible to ship long distances whole and fresh. It has a custardy texture like an avocado or banana, a flavor that’s hard to articulate, and big seeds that aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Pawpaws growing on the same tree don’t mature at the same time, frustrating harvesters, producers, and researchers alike. And there are upwards of 80 varieties, each of which may have different flavors, nutrient levels, seed quantities, and other characteristics. And those are only a few of the challenges. Working with farmers, engineers, plant biologists, agricultural scientists, and entrepreneurs across Ohio and beyond, Brannan is exploring several potential avenues around the pawpaw’s eccentricities, from new processing techniques to a greater understanding of the biochemistry that drives its rapid ripening. “My primary goal now is to determine: Is it worth the effort to commercialize this thing?” he says. The answer will help determine whether the pawpaw remains “a niche fruit that people grow in their backyards and have once a year at farmers markets” or if it will be grown and harvested in vast orchards and pushed out across the nation. The first step, he says, is to establish its nutritional content.
Robert Brannan Associate Professor of Food and Nutrition Sciences
CHEMICAL A N A LY S I S
Analyze antioxidant content to establish nutrition profile
Monitor physical and chemical changes to determine the impact of processing on texture, flavor PRESSURE
Submit pulp to highpressure processing STUDY
Study the fruit's cell wall composition to determine—and possibly control—ripening process E VA L U AT E TA S T E
Understand how consumers describe taste and texture
AN INGLORIOUS INTRODUCTION Brannan figures he saw his first pawpaw while he was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, where a lab mate was working to characterize its flavor. He confesses that his first taste, wherever and whenever it happened, didn’t leave a strong impression. His reintroduction to the fruit came when he joined the faculty at Ohio University in fall 2005—specifically, when his 3-year-old daughter ate too much of it at that year’s Pawpaw Festival and threw up on the ride home. He did some reading and discovered that a pharmaceutical company in the late 1800s had sold pawpaw seed extract as a natural emetic. As he read, Brannan was surprised to find that a lot of questions about the pawpaw weren’t being asked—and that he had the capacity to answer some of them. “It’s amazing to me that there wasn’t a lot known about the fruit,” he says. “And we live in Pawpaw Central.” (Ohio named the pawpaw its native state fruit in 2009.) Brannan didn’t specialize in fruit research at the time. Instead, he was “a meat guy” with a background in the meat industry and as a chef. But there was a connection between the two: antioxidants. Among other work, Brannan has published several papers on the use of antioxidantrich grapeseed extract in chicken products. Brannan followed the antioxidant trail over to the pawpaw and got to work. Since then, Brannan—who may be the only food scientist in the United States studying the pawpaw—has published his
research in peer-reviewed food science journals and presented his findings at events such as the International Pawpaw Conference in Kentucky and the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting. In 2011, he was elected president of the National Pawpaw Foundation. “It’s taken me down a very interesting path that I’m glad opened up,” he says. “There’s such fertile ground for exploration.”
ANTIOXIDANT POWER Previous work established the pawpaw’s basic nutritional value—it’s packed with vitamin C, potassium, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese—and the presence of antioxidants, which have a plethora of potential health benefits. “To discover that a fruit contains antioxidants is unremarkable. Anything that’s living is going to contain them,” Brannan says. “The question is, what are the antioxidants, where are they, and at what levels.” The Food Science Lab he runs at Ohio University allows him and his students to conduct chemical and physical analyses of foods. For his initial studies, he used “some crude methods” to detect levels of phenolics (chemical compounds that include antioxidants) and flavonoids, a subset of antioxidants that give fruits and vegetables their colors, in various parts of the pawpaw. Those studies suggest the pawpaw’s total phenolic content is comparable to those of a mango, pear, or pineapple. The flavonoids— which are “the best ones” from a scientific point of view, says Brannan— might be 1/500th of that total.
But how many of those potential health benefits get passed along to a pawpaw eater depends on a few factors, such as where in the fruit the flavonoids are found. If further studies show that they’re mostly concentrated in the pawpaw’s seeds, for instance, that doesn’t do pawpaw fans any good, because only the pulp gets eaten. However, there would be potential in processing the seeds and adding the result to other products as a nutritional value booster, Brannan says—as processors do with pomegranates. Most of the flavonoids are found in the skin, not in the edible seeds, but people are able to reap the rewards when they drink pomegranate juice, which incorporates the processed skin. (Pawpaw juice is a less likely possibility because, as Brannan explains, “If a big company were to get behind the pawpaw, the amount they’d want just for initial testing”—about 2,000 pounds—“would probably be most if not all of a crop.” If horticulturalists wanted to grow more pawpaw trees to increase yield, they’d still have to wait the five to seven years it takes for a newly planted tree to fruit.) Nutritional value also depends on ripeness: Brannan has found that levels of phenolics, flavonoids, vitamin C, and other substances vary in underripe, ripe, and overripe pawpaw pulp and seeds. This fall, Brannan is sending pawpaws to a tropical fruit expert in Texas to determine the precise composition of their phenolics. Once the test results start rolling in, “we can start figuring this stuff out, like what happens to the phenolics as the pawpaw ripens or when we use different heating, freezing, and storage methods,” he says.
RIPE FOR ANALYSIS Even if the pawpaw turns out to be a superfruit, producers still will have to overcome a significant challenge: controlling the fruit’s swift ripening. With Ohio University plant biologist Ahmed Faik, Brannan is looking at the pawpaw’s cell walls—thick microscopic structures with varying biochemistry that makes bananas squishy and apples crunchy—to discover why the fruit doesn’t stay fresh very long. Specifically, they’re looking at substances in the cell walls that cause softening. They start by measuring baseline levels of carbohydrates and certain enzymes right when the fruit is picked. Then they study how the cell-wall composition changes during storage in a refrigerator for up to 45 days. “Once we get a handle on the composition, then we can figure out some strategy to slow down the ripening,” Brannan says. The team also is studying how cell wall composition might differ
among pawpaw varieties and whether it’s affected by certain processing techniques. That’s because another of Brannan’s recent collaborations is exploring high-pressure processing as another potential way to get fresh pawpaw pulp to market. High-pressure processing makes possible the attractively green guacamole and shrink-wrapped avocado halves in your local grocery. Brannan hopes the new technology will work for pawpaws, too, by inactivating enzymes that cause the fruit to brown and soften. Brannan first tested the concept in fall 2011 in a partnership with Ohio State University. This year Brannan is expanding these highprocessing studies with the Sandridge Food Corporation, a Medina, Ohio, company that currently works with the university’s food service operation. While the studies at Ohio State examined only two varieties of pawpaw, Brannan will work with Sandridge to test a dozen varieties. When the pawpaws are ripened to a certain maturity to withstand the process, the fruit is harvested and driven to Sandridge, where it is processed. Once they extricated the fruit pulp, researchers put it into a container in the processing machine that shoots pressure up to 87,000 pounds per square inch (psi). For comparison, the average pressure for commercial canning, which uses steam, is around 30 psi. The processed pulp is returned to Brannan's lab, where it will be analyzed over several months to monitor the effect of physical and chemical changes caused by processing on product quality. “If high-pressure processing reduces the enzyme that causes rapid browning, then quality is improved,” says Brannan. “If it reduces cell wall enzymes, then texture is improved because the fruit is less mushy. If it reduces flavonoid or flavor compounds, then quality is not improved because important nutrients or flavors are destroyed.” Although Brannan does not monitor the presence of microorganisms, “There are a lot of factors that go into the word ‘quality,’” he explains. “Safety is first among them.” If the research continues to go well, the process could yield a marketable product in a few years, which could be the impetus for growers to form a collective to produce enough fruit to sell profitably, Brannan says.
FINDING A MARKET But that raises perhaps the most significant question: If you bring the pawpaw to market, will people want to eat it? Before Brannan arrived on campus, former Ohio University nutritionist Melani Duffrin performed flavor analyses using student groups and conducted informal consumer opinion tests using baked goods (think pawpaw muffins). Her efforts began to build a vocabulary for describing the pawpaw’s flavors and textures. “People need a vocabulary to help them become familiar with the flavors,” says Brannan. Building on Duffrin’s work, he and his students examine the relationship between human perception and instrumental analysis of food in the Sensory Analysis Lab. In February 2012, he co-authored a paper in the Journal of Food Research that gave a detailed nutritional analysis of a purée and introduced a standardized pawpaw sensory lexicon. Ohio University alumnus Chris Chmiel doesn’t want to wait for lexicons or mass production. Co-owner of Integration Acres, an Ohiobased business that bills itself as the world’s largest pawpaw processor and supplier, as well as the founder of the Ohio Pawpaw Festival and the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association, he is already commercializing and popularizing pawpaws—and finding a ready consumer base. He’s made a brisk business in online sales of not only frozen purée but also jars of pawpaw chutney, jam, relish, and vinaigrette.
The annual festival, held in Albany and now in its 14th year, draws crowds with its pawpaw microbrew beer, smoothies, guacamole, pies, and other creations. In contrast to most other pawpaw growers, including a 2,000-tree cultivated orchard at Kentucky State University, Chmiel harvests his fruit directly from wild trees. Having watched whole pawpaws rot rapidly on the ground at his company’s start 16 years ago, Chmiel agrees that processing is the key. Frozen pulp can be kept bright yellow-orange by adding vitamin C. If Brannan’s research yields shelf-stable pulp, producers like Chmiel can stock supermarket shelves long after pawpaw season is over. “People are used to having stuff year-round, unless they go to farmers markets,” Chmiel says. Consumers aren’t the only targets: Companies looking to market niche products, such as pawpaw beer, also have shown interest in pawpaw pulp, he says. As a preview of what national or worldwide pawpaw production could be, Chmiel’s is a success story. “We’ve been able to sell everything we’ve produced,” he says. “It shows people there’s interest and we can have a market.”
If the research continues to go well, Brannan
says, the process could yield a marketable
product in a few years, which could be the impetus for growers to form a collective to produce enough fruit to sell profitably.
THE FRUIT’S FUTURE While Brannan continues his nutrition and processing studies, other U.S. pawpaw researchers are pursuing work in horticulture, agriculture, and possible medical applications (compounds in the fruit’s seeds and bark may fight certain cancers). “The food science research and the agriculture/horticulture research go hand-in-glove,” says Brannan, who already coordinates with Ohio growers associations and has been working to form partnerships with the team at Kentucky State. “If the food scientists can show that we can extend pawpaw shelf life to make it commercially viable, then it is up to the others to produce varieties of pawpaw that look and taste good, have good texture, are nutritionally superior (low fat, high antioxidants, etc.), and take advantage of the horticultural things that matter, like producing big fruit with few or small seeds, reduced time to produce fruit, and a multitude of harvest issues.” However, there is no guarantee of success. In these early stages, researchers are finding it hard just to secure enough funding. Brannan was fortunate to earn a grant from Ohio University to pursue the highpressure processing work. “Right now we’re little groups reaching into the couch cushions for research money and hoping to turn federal heads with the preliminary results,” he says. “That’s when it will go from zero to 60.” He jokes that the pawpaw could use a patron like the private citizen in California who provided significant funding to generate preliminary research results demonstrating the potential health benefits of the pomegranate. If the pawpaw remains fundable, “I can’t imagine that over the next five to ten years I’m going to stop working on this,” says Brannan. If so, it’s possible that the fruit that nourished Native Americans, sustained Lewis and Clark, and graced the tables of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington could stage a modern-day comeback. “The pawpaw has an all-American story—red, white, and blue,” says Brannan. “If there’s an American superfruit, it would be the pawpaw. If we can back up the story with the product, it can be powerful.”
(At right) An embryo of a cassowary, a primitive flightless ratite bird from Australia, when run through Ohio Universityâ€™s microCT scanner, provides a high-resolution view of the skeleton of a modern-day dinosaur. (Opposite page) Lawrence Witmer and his colleagues are creating the most realistic renderings of dinosaurs to date.
DIGITAL IMAGES COURTESY OF WITMERLAB; PORTRAIT, ROBB DECAMP
by ADAM LIEBENDORFER
Jason Bourke starts his day in the anatomy lab with seven severed frozen ostrich heads and a Craftsman air compressor. Using a hose and a nozzle, the graduate student knocks the mucus out of the bird skulls to prep them for a trip through the local hospital’s CT scanning machine. Nearby are dozens of dinosaur fossils, including creatures that are the ancient relatives of these feathered research subjects.
HOW DO SCIENTISTS RECONSTRUCT THE ANATOMY OF ANCIENT BEASTS? Lawrence Witmer’s lab uses low-tech dissections of birds, crocodiles, and other animals to create high-tech animations of dinosaurs.
If you spend any time in this lab, managed by Ohio University’s renowned dinosaur anatomy expert Lawrence Witmer, you’ll notice these dichotomies again and again: The skulls of modern animals, from crocodiles and rhinos to flamingos, share space with those of dinosaurs such as T. rex and Diplodocus. Low-tech equipment, from air compressors and chainsaws to stovetop burners, supports some rather high-tech efforts to digitally scan and visualize the anatomy of myriad creatures. Using modern animals to re-create ones that have been extinct for millions of years is the focus of the lab run by Witmer, whose pioneering work of CT scanning of fossils has moved dinosaur research out of the badlands and into the high-tech science lab. Because soft tissue— long ago decomposed—leaves tiny signatures on dinosaur bones, Witmer has been able to use a technology typically reserved for human head exams to create models of how the dinosaur brains, nasal cavities, eyes, jaws, and auditory systems actually worked. Over the course of his 30-year career, Witmer has not only contributed new research findings to his field, but also has focused on educating the public about the science behind these prehistoric titans. “What we’ve always tried to do here at WitmerLab is to have one foot in the past and one in the present. We’re trying to flesh out dinosaurs beyond the metaphorical sense of the word,” Witmer says. “That is to restore the tissues that the millennia have stripped away from these fossil bones.”
(Above right) 3D imaging of growth in tyrannosaurs reveals that young animals were quicker, more agile predators than were their more powerful but lumbering parents. Skull of a 2-year-old juvenile Tarbosaurus, a Cretaceous tyrannosaur from Mongolia, with an adult skull at right and a teenage skull behind for comparison.
AN EVOLVING SCIENCE hen Witmer was a kid, dinosaurs were viewed as “dullwitted, slow-moving, swamp-dwelling behemoths” that lumbered around the earth until their inevitable extinction, he recalls. In the late 1960s, however, scientists made two key discoveries: Birds descended from dinosaurs, and dinosaurs were warm-blooded animals. “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, just as there were upheavals in just about every corner of our society, there was an upheaval in our sense of what dinosaurs were like,” Witmer says. In the wake of this dinosaur revolution, Witmer pursued biological studies at Cornell University, the University of Kansas (where he published a thesis on cranial air sacs in prehistoric birds), and Johns Hopkins University. He completed his dissertation on what soft-tissue analysis could tell us about the evolution of the faces of archosaurs, the branch in the animal kingdom that contains crocodiles, birds, and their dinosaur ancestors. This was during a time in which scientists began using comparative anatomy to draw similarities between dinosaurs and their living descendants. In 1993, the year after Witmer completed his dissertation, dinosaurs returned to the public eye via the Jurassic Park series, which shattered box-office records and provided the most realistic re-creation of dinosaurs yet. Soon Witmer and other scientists would give them an even closer, more accurate view. Researchers began to look to CT scanning as an appealing tool, as the technology was becoming easier and more reliable to use. Witmer and
DIGITAL IMAGES COURTESY OF WITMERLAB; PORTRAITS, ROBB DECAMP
others familiar with radiology as a tool for learning human anatomy began to explore how it might also be used to take a closer look at dinosaur bones. Unlike picks and shovels in the field, X-rays wouldn’t damage these specimens, they reasoned. Witmer’s early work with CT scanning in the mid-1990s helped to get the technique featured in the journal Science. The process, however, took a lot of patience. “In 1996, scanning was a huge deal because it was incredibly slow,” Witmer recalls. “The way I took my data away was on sheets of X-ray film that you had to put up to a light box. So we couldn’t do any of the computer stuff. All we could do is look inside.” When Witmer’s lab went digital in 2000, researchers could stack the hundreds of X-ray pictures, which showed crosssection slices of heads, to create 3D models. Today, using sophisticated and customized computer software, Witmer and research associate Ryan Ridgely turn these data into animations that have breathed new life into dinosaur and animal skulls. “We’ve done the first-ever CT scanning of dozens of different species, which has been a hugely exciting enterprise,” Witmer says. “The classic paleontology thing is to be stumbling around the badlands and you
“We’ve done the first-ever CT scanning of dozens of different species, which has been a hugely exciting enterprise.” LAWRENCE WITMER THE PROCESS: (At right) Reconstructing the lifestyle of a “terror bird.” The massive 15-inch skull of the 6-million-year-old terror bird Andalgalornis (top) was CT scanned (middle) and digitally restored (bottom) to shed light on the biomechanics of the skull and feeding behavior of the predatory bird.
AT WORK: (Above) Witmer’s team has a long-standing partnership with O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens to CT scan dinosaurs and their modern-day relatives. (At left) Doctoral students such as Jason Bourke and Ashley Morhardt are an integral part of Witmer's research team. Several alumni are leading independent dinosaur studies around the globe.
happen to find a little piece of bone sticking out of a rock and it leads to a whole dinosaur skeleton. Really, it’s that same sense of discovery—looking at something that hasn’t been seen for hundreds of millions of years.” Witmer’s team uses the CT scanner at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens to scan the heads of modernday animals, as well as the fossilized skulls of dinosaurs. In preparation, the team may shoot latex through veins and arteries or soak specimens in a special iodine solution to make certain spaces in the skulls pop out. Scheduling a time slot can be tricky, as the machine is one of only a handful of scanners serving Southeast Ohio. On numerous occasions, Witmer has cut short the hours-long process of setting up the scanner because a doctor called in an emergency CT scan on a patient. Once the system is set up, however, technician Heather Rockhold and Witmer run specimens through the scanner. The process generates gigabytes upon gigabytes of computer files. If the specimen is tiny, Witmer and his team can use Ohio University’s MicroCT Facility to image and digitize animals, fossils, and objects smaller than 10 centimeters. After CT scanning modern-day animals, Witmer and his graduate students, including Bourke, dissect the soft tissues of the specimen and ultimately skeletonize it so that they can see the signatures that the soft tissues leave on the bones. They rely on their scalpel skills and low-tech methods such as the air compressor or saw to cut bones apart. The most straightforward way of getting down to the bare bones is to let an animal thaw enough to skin and pick it apart manually. (All of the animals used in the lab are salvage specimens donated for research.) Other times researchers boil specimens on a lab stove to soften them up. A stewed specimen, however fetid, can be cleaned in minutes. Skinned and stripped animals hang under the ventilation hood for a few days. Then the bugs take over. Flesh-eating dermestid beetles are the most efficient way to get rid of the nonskeletal parts researchers can’t pick off. The lab currently plays host to two colonies, “thousands of little mouths to feed,” Witmer says. Leave a skinned bird in one of their bins for a few days, and you’ll get a skeleton neatly strung together by connective tissues. Leave it in there a few more days and you’ll have a pile of bones. A BODY OF DISCOVERIES The most common body part making the trip through the CT scan machine is the skull. That’s because the heads of dinosaurs and modern-day animals contain intriguing traces of the soft tissue responsible for so many key biological functions: how these living creatures breathed, smelled, kept cool, vocalized, ate, and absorbed the sounds of the environment around them. Witmer made international news headlines in 2001 with his finding that dinosaur nasal passages were located at the front of the head, near the mouth, and not at the top of
the skull. (The misconception stemmed from the assumption that large dinosaurs such as Diplodocus were probably aquatic and equipped with a top blowhole like a whale.) In 2003, he published another influential article in the journal Nature that suggested that a specialized brain and inner ear structure allowed pterosaurs to fly and target prey. A 2008 study found that dinosaurs had large airways inside their skulls that most likely reduced the weight of their massive heads and allowed for quick movements. The same project showed that dinosaur nasal passages could be twisted like a “crazy straw,”
A new look
Fossils don’t always give up their secrets easily. Teasing apart the details of a life lived 70 million years ago requires examination of all the clues left by nature, using the latest in high-tech medical imaging.
T H E FO S S I L This rare skeleton of a 2 to 3-year-old Tarbosaurus, a close cousin from Mongolia of our own T. rex, preserves a unique glimpse into the changing lifestyles of dinosaurs as they grow up.
A N A LY S I S The fossil skull was carefully removed from the block and brought to WitmerLab for analysis. The skull was CT scanned (top), which allowed the team to see parts of the tyrannosaur-toddler’s skull that are still entombed in stone, such as the delicate bony eye-ring (bottom).
RENDERING The original fossil of skull (bottom) is the primary document. Even the rock remaining within the skull provides clues about the living tyrannosaur’s environment. An artist’s sketch (middle) simplifies the analysis, but the 3D “virtual” skull rendering (top) provides the key analytical tool, allowing access to all details of anatomical structure.
DIGITAL IMAGES AND PORTRAIT COURTESY OF WITMERLAB
Witmer says, which could have led to unique vocalization patterns for different beasts. In the last few years, Witmer increasingly has turned up as a key collaborator on a wide variety of scientific articles that draw on his CT scan work and his unique method of anatomical analysis—an approach he calls the Extant Phylogenetic Bracket that’s now so widely used, he doesn’t always get credited for it—to expand our understanding of dinosaur biology. In a project with Casey Holliday of the University of Missouri published in 2010, the scientists found that dinosaurs had thick layers of cartilage in their joints, which means they may have been considerably taller than previously thought. In work with Takanobu Tsuihiji of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Witmer helped reveal how young tyrannosaurs used speed and agility to hunt prey. These two collaborations are no coincidence: Both Holliday and Tsuihiji are part of a growing corps of Witmer protégés who have taken their training from Ohio University and gone on to lead or start programs around the world. Witmer has served as main advisor or on an advisory committee for 20 students, 17 of whom have passed through the lab. As a way to say thanks for the skills he learned at WitmerLab, Holliday named a new fossil croc he found last January Aegisuchus witmeri. “Larry is successful because he’s a brilliant anatomist. His ability to conceptualize and illustrate are second to none,” Holliday says. “WitmerLab is known in the community for putting out paleontologists who are highly skilled, well-rounded anatomists.” This collaborative network of scientists is fueling the latest Witmer endeavor, the Visible Interactive Dinosaur project. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Witmer is working with Holliday and other researchers around the world on a long-term project to create the most realistic renderings of dinosaurs to date. Sophisticated science allows the researchers—for the first time ever—to view anatomically accurate restorations of all the tissues in a dinosaur’s head at once. Through the 3D computer environment, the scientists can run interactive simulations of how the heads worked. “Because these computer-generated animations are so engaging,” he says, “we can attract the attention of the public as well, giving us an opportunity to use our digital dinosaurs to educate and maybe even excite people about physiology, biomechanics, and neuroscience.”
“Larry is successful because he’s a brilliant anatomist. His ability to conceptualize and illustrate are second to none.” CASEY HOLLIDAY
(Top) The Visible Interactive Dinosaur project is shedding new light on the function, physiology, and behavior of dinosaurs like this predator from Madagascar, Majungasaurus. (Above left) The Visible Interactive Dinosaur project is a highly collaborative project, requiring the effort and expertise of almost all WitmerLab members as well as scholars from around the globe. Here the team restores the eyeball and its muscles in the long-necked plant-eating dinosaur Diplodocus. (Above right) The evolution of the brain and sensory systems has been a key part of understanding the behavior and biology of extinct dinosaurs. Here the brain of the 75-million-year-old predatory dinosaur Bambiraptor (top) is compared with the isolated brain of the 58-million-year-old primitive bird Lithornis (left), the 50-millionyear-old duck relative Presbyornis (middle), and a modern-day pigeon (bottom). CT scanning and 3D imaging make such comparisons easy to understand for scientists and the public alike.
AN AUDIENCE OF DINOSAUR ENTHUSIASTS Dinosaurs have been a perennial public favorite, so it’s not uncommon for Witmer to host tours of his lab on an almost weekly basis. His work has attracted visits from the Girl Scouts, college biology classes, and budding science teachers. One mom drove several hours through a blizzard to make good on a promise to have her son experience a day at WitmerLab. Witmer sees himself in many of these kids. He never had the chance to visit a lab like his during his youth, so he relishes the opportunity to share his resources and discoveries with the public. “I meet lots of young Larrys. I meet them all the time,” he says. “I meet them as the 6-year-old. I meet them as the 14-year-old. I meet them as the prospective graduate student or undergraduate student. I often say that those sessions that have those extremely narrow audiences— just a kid and his mom—those might actually be the most important thing I do.” Witmer remembers when his son, Sam, was the age of some of the children who come to visit. Witmer was beginning to make waves in the media for his high-profile discoveries and telegenic knack for giving sound bites. Sam’s classes were starting to cover biology and evolution, and the debate of how to teach the subject in school was picking up in ferocity. Some evolutionary biologists entered the fray. Colleagues called on Witmer, a rising star in the field, to become a voice for evolution, but he was concerned that participating in the intelligent design debate in the media would take time from his own research. Instead of engaging directly in the evolution vs. creationism battle, Witmer chose to use the media spotlight to show how evolution is woven into the fabric of his scientific work. “I
never shy away from discussing evolution—we talk about it all the time, but in the context of our own research,” he explains. Witmer feels that the outreach activities pay off in breaking down the wall between what might be perceived as “ivory tower academics” and the general public, who learn that scientists are regular people, too, he says. Visitors learn that “science isn’t scary or dreary or boring. It can be fun and creative and even, dare we say, cool,” he says. Witmer’s ability to discuss dinosaur findings and put them into context for the lay person has attracted documentary and commercial television producers from media outlets such as the Discovery Channel and History Channel. He’s become a de facto dinosaur expert for shows such as Dino Gangs, Jurassic Fight Club, Clash of the Dinosaurs, and Prehistoric Monsters REVEALED. The lab’s YouTube page has garnered hundreds of thousands of views. Witmer also runs a blog for the lab, his own professional site, a site for the Ohio University MicroCT Scanning Facility, and two professional Facebook pages: one for the lab and one for the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology, of which he serves as president. Ringleader of an internationally renowned lab, telegenic face of modern paleontology, and mentor to the next generation of dinosaur scientists, Larry Witmer is at the height of his career. He says he eventually would like to reduce the number of projects he’s involved in and focus on deeper topics. Maybe even write a book for a general audience. “The young Larry Witmer would probably ask the old Larry Witmer, ‘Is it worth doing? Is it worth investing your life to go down this path?’ Which really is a fundamental question for anybody, because kids have lots of passions,” he reflects. “And I would say yes. Most kids probably have in their minds this prosaic, stomping-through-the-badlands thing—and I’ve done my share of dinosaurhunting in the field. But it turns out that’s not where all the answers lie.”
How Southeast Ohio is becoming a hotspot for technology commercialization and entrepreneurs S TO RY B Y K A R E N S OT TO S A N T I A N D A N D R E A G I B S ON
Kyle Perkins could relocate to the West Coast and join a major video game design company, but he’s stayed in Athens, Ohio, and launched his own digital media firm. His company, Lightborne Lore, already has released one game, Perpetua, and is getting ready to unveil a demo of an ambitious visual novel for tablets and mobile phones in November. The alumnus of Ohio University’s media arts and studies program has assembled a creative team of current and former students who write the stories and musical score, design the graphics, program the code, and market the products. Perkins, a native of Maineville near Cincinnati, says the choice was easy to stay in Southeast Ohio: “There are great people here, and I don’t really want to leave,” he says. “The cost of living is low, and a lot of people at the university are excited to help in any way they can.” He’s among a growing number of entrepreneurs—from faculty and student inventors to regional business professionals—who have been supported by the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Ohio University and in Athens. Here in the traditionally underserved region of Appalachia, those with an idea or invention who want to be their own bosses and grow their own companies are finding it easier than ever to do so. .28
I L LU S T R AT I O N S B Y C H R I S T I NA UL L M A N
The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem ARE YOU A FACULTY MEMBER WHO INVENTED A NEW TECHNOLOGY? GO TO:
VER THE PAST D E C A D E , with a boost from the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier initiative, longtime university programs that support faculty research, technology commercialization, and business start-ups have partnered with government entities and private venture capital firms to create a pipeline for new high-tech companies in the region. Have a business idea? The ecosystem can provide help with developing a business plan, gauging a market for the product, patenting and protecting intellectual property, providing seed money and investments, connecting entrepreneurs with seasoned business advisors, setting them up with office or laboratory space, offering networking, and finally connecting them to advanced sources of funding such as angel funds or venture capital firms that can boost a start-up into the bigger leagues of business. Though that path from cool idea to thriving business with clients and a payroll may be well known in the business community, until recently, the support network to make it happen didn’t exist in Southeast Ohio. And while many major research universities boast technology commercialization programs to take faculty inventions from the lab to the marketplace, and also may sponsor business incubators, few universities are home to all of the pieces of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The system is paying off. TechGROWTH Ohio, an entrepreneurial program supported by Third Frontier funding to Ohio University and several regional public and private sector partners, reports that for every $1 of state money spent to date, entrepreneurs have been able to leverage more than $10 in support from outside funding sources to grow their businesses in Southeast Ohio. As of June 2012, that translates into $110 million that’s flowed into the region since the program launched five years ago. TechGROWTH reports that it’s assisted more than 420 business clients, about 80 percent of which come from outside of Ohio University, says John Glazer, director of the program. Examples include a Marietta company that’s developed a lightweight blind for hunters, as well as an Athens firm that plans to manufacture a new medical device that can help those with hearing loss and tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears). Third Sun Solar, a solar panel installation firm founded by Ohio University alums, recently graduated from the Innovation Center, the university’s small business incubator. It has moved to new headquarters in the city of Athens, where it employs 22 people. For the last four years, it’s made the Inc. 5000 list of the top start-ups to watch in the United States. “Southeast Ohio is not barren of ideas. It is not barren of technology. The stumbling block is building on those ideas, executing those ideas,” says Glazer, whose program is focused on overcoming those obstacles. Lisa Delp, executive director of the Ohio Third Frontier program, says that the Ohio University administration’s prioritization of technology commercialization and entrepreneurship activities, as well as the ecosystem’s ability to unite and energize existing regional programs— without duplicating efforts—has led to progress. “What Southeast Ohio has done has really been transformational,” she says. “Ohio University has focused not only on reaching the local community in Athens, but reaching into the whole region and
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NEED ADVANCED FUNDING? GO TO:
making sure that different organizations and stakeholders are included. That mission to help advance economic growth and development in Southeast Ohio really shines through in the things that they do.” One company, Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc., a medical testing kit company developed from faculty research in the 1980s, is a case study of what can happen in the ecosystem in the long run. After it graduated from the Innovation Center, it set up shop in an old manufacturing plant in Athens, hired 200 people, and then was bought by a California firm for $130 million in 2010. The Ohio University Foundation, an original investor, received $35 million from the sale, which it’s now investing in university academic programs. The system not only has provided a boost to the regional economy, but has moved some faculty, staff, and local innovations to the
Ohio University Technology Transfer Office for patent protection, evaluation of the market for your discovery, and to license to a company.
TechGROWTH Ohio, a public/private entrepreneurial support program housed at the university’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. It also offers growth grants and pre-seed investment capital for start-up companies, plus business coaches and staffing assistance.
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Start-up Weekend, a 48-hour business pitch competition for university and regional entrepreneurs hosted by the Innovation Center, Ohio University’s small business incubator.
NEED SEED MONEY?
The Center for Entrepreneurship if you’re an Ohio University student. The center offers an “Idea Pitch” competition, hosts a guest lecture series of successful executives, and supports student entrepreneur clubs and networking activities. As of fall 2012, it began offering a major in entrepreneurship to business students and a certificate to non-business students.
The Innovation Center, a 36,000-squarefoot facility that offers flexible space, equipment, networking events, and business coaching. The program is led by Jennifer Simon, a seasoned regional economic development professional.
Adena Ventures, founded by Ohio University alumnus and Athens native David Wilhelm, who has forged a successful career in national politics and venture capital funding for underserved regions of the country, and Lynn Gellermann, who now serves as the executive director of TechGROWTH Ohio and the Center for Entrepreneurship at Ohio University.
Athenian Venture Partners, a venture capital firm headquartered in Athens, Ohio, started with an investment from the Ohio University Foundation. It focuses on investments in information technology and healthcare firms. Its Ohio VP fund, launched in 2003, was recently ranked tops in the nation for high returns on investment.
East Central Ohio Tech Angel Fund (ECOTAF) With 27 investors, it’s one of the largest rurally focused investment funds in the country.
marketplace for the benefit of consumers. A laboratory discovery by scientist John Kopchick and graduate student Wen Chen in 1987 led to the development of a drug, SOMAVERT®, for people with acromegaly, a form of gigantism in adults that can lead to medical complications and early death. The license for the drug discovery to the Pfizer corporation has generated more than $73 million for the inventors and the university, which has invested the royalty income back into research, academics, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem itself. Those in the business of university technology commercialization will be quick to point out, though, that it took 15 years to go from the initial lab discovery to FDA approval, which is not uncommon in the pharmaceutical field. The average technology takes eight years of development to reach the marketplace,
says Bob Silva, director of the university’s Technology Transfer Office. At Ohio University, Silva and colleagues aren’t just looking to patent great ideas, but to file patents on inventions that have real commercialization potential. Is the technology truly different from other products in the marketplace? Is there a real market for it? “If you’re going to invest in a patent and want to commercialize something for a worldwide market—Europe, Japan, China, the United States—you better be ready to spend $150,000 over the life of the patent just to cover the cost of patent protection,” Silva says. “And if you want to expand to South America, other parts of Asia, you’re talking $250,000. Can you recoup that?” It’s a good question: Once a technology is licensed to a company for manufacturing and sales, it doesn’t always make it into the marketplace or provide a big windfall if the
“Southeast Ohio is not barren
of ideas. It is not barren of
technology. The stumbling
block is building on those
ideas, executing those ideas.” JOHN GLAZER
“We hope to move more
innovations to the marketplace to cure disease, produce
healthier food, and advance
alternative energy solutions.” RODE R I C K M c DAV I S
O HIO UNIVERSIT Y PRESIDENT
company experiences obstacles along the path. Silva notes that nationally, only about a third of licensed inventions provide a return on investment. But those who have watched the Diagnostic Hybrids, Third Suns, and SOMAVERTs of the world take off argue that the payoff—new drugs and technologies, companies, jobs—is worth the pursuit. And some innovations, from alternative energy products and new hearing aid devices to mobile apps, can beat a much quicker path to the marketplace while the ecosystem nurtures long-term products such as new antibiotics that might thwart superbugs. The promise of the technology commercialization and entrepreneur support system led to a major new partnership between Ohio State University and Ohio University last spring. The Innovation Fund is a new venture-capital fund that will provide seed money to start-up companies in the critical early stages of their existence. Ohio State has pledged $20 million and Ohio University is kicking in $15 million. “We hope to move more innovations to the marketplace to cure disease, produce healthier food, and advance alternative energy solutions,” Ohio University President Roderick McDavis said at the fund’s Columbus launch in April. “And in doing so, we want to create jobs, keep talented people in Ohio, and attract more people and businesses to a state that clearly values research and innovation. And that is good for all Ohioans.” Back in Athens, Perkins and his creative team are gearing up for the long days of developing the next phases of their mobile visual novel for the marketplace. In addition to funds from a successful Kickstarter campaign, Lightborne Lore has benefited from a TechGROWTH growth grant and the funding and mentoring that came with participating in the university’s Innovation Engine Accelerator program, a 10-week digital boot camp for start-up firms. After toiling over game projects on their own for two years, Perkins says that it was a huge validation to have seasoned business executives tell him when his team was on the right path. “When you hear someone you respect say, ‘That could work,’” he says, “it’s a great feeling.”
Portable, ultra-low-temperature freezers that are 50 percent more energy efficient than existing products on the market. THE MARKET
Scientific laboratories that need to preserve biological specimens, pharmaceutical products. BACK STORY
The product uses the company’s core technology, a free-piston stirling engine that does not use any life-limiting bearings and seals, or oil, and the moving components are supported by non-contact gas bearings.
ECOSYSTEM S TA T U S
Recipient of TechGROWTH coaching, which has led to a total investment of $2.4 million to date. Awarded an Ohio job creation tax credit. The company has a sixmember executive team and is hiring employees at its manufacturing facility in Athens County’s industrial park.
“Our latest freezer has been very well received by customers. Thanks to all the support we’ve received, we are well on our way to becoming the world’s only manufacturer of sustainable highefficiency freezers,” says CEO Neill Lane.
SUCCESS STORIES ////////////////////////////// //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// A COLLECTION OF ADDITIONAL REAL-WORLD STORIES ABOUT THE BUSINESSES —
FACULTY, STUDENT, REGIONAL — THAT HAVE BEEN HELPED BY THE SYSTEM
PROMILIAD BIOPHARMA THE PRODUCT
New antibiotic compounds that could be developed into drugs that might combat the “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics already on the market.
E C O 2 CAPTURE Pharmaceutical corporations
A more efficient system for algae to feed on carbon dioxide than what’s currently on the market.
“It’s a well-functioning environment to get small businesses started here,” says Bayless. “I’m not a business guy. They’ve made it so that faculty don’t have to be businesspeople. They can be the visionaries for the technology. Frankly, that’s a model that really works well.”
Companies that grow algae for biofuels, environmental remediation, nutritional supplements.
Founded by Ohio University engineers David Bayless, Ben Stuart, and Jesus Pagan. Developed from faculty-created technology that explored how cyanobacteria—commonly known as pond scum—could clean up air pollution.
E C O S Y S T E M S TA T U S Recipient of TechGROWTH coaching and growth grant, recipient of Third Frontier funding to develop product prototype and testing. Innovation Center client.
E C O S Y S T E M S TA T U S
The compounds were developed by Ohio University chemists Steve Bergmeier and Mark McMills and University of Montana researcher Nigel Priestley, who founded Promiliad in 2002.
Recipient of TechGROWTH growth grant and venture capital investment, as well as federal technology/small business funding. Affiliate of Innovation Center.
L E S S O N S L E A R N E D ////////////////////////
“(The TechGROWTH investment grant) is a huge step for us because it’s the first real investment in the company,” Bergmeier says. “It’s a validation that what we’re doing is good — that someone else believes in it enough to put some money into it.” /////////////////////////////////////////////
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// ///////////////////////////////////////////////////// LESSONS LEARNED
SANUTHERA THE PRODUCT
ECOLIBRIU M THE PRODUCT
The “Ecofoot,” a mounting system for solar panel installation.
A device that mitigates tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears, as well as hearing loss.
Solar installation companies that provide products and services to commercial building owners, residential customers, government agencies, and others.
CEO Brian Wildes identified the need for the product while working for Athens solar installation company Third Sun Solar.
ECOSYSTEM S TA T U S Recipient of TechGROWTH grants, investment, and coaching. Angel fund support from ECOTAF. Innovation Center client. A $160,000 loan from the Athens County Community Improvement Corporation.
Digital media technology that uses a quick-response (QR) code and optimizes websites for mobile phones.
Audiologists who treat civilian and military patients. Tinnitus is the top reported service-connected disability by veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve been exposed to explosions and other combat noises.
The investment “took what would have otherwise been just a good idea and gave us the resources to do it,” DiGiovanni says. “Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere with it.”
In 2005, Jeffrey DiGiovanni and Stephen Rizzo developed the idea for a device that, much like commercial digital audio players, allows users to listen to patient-customizable prerecorded sounds.
“I came to TechGROWTH before I was able to raise funds on my own. The help has been invaluable,” says Wildes, who is now seeking $500,000 to $1 million from investors for international marketing and additional product development.
L E S S O N S L E A R N E D ////////////////////////
E C O S Y S T E M S TA T U S In 2011, TechGROWTH made a $378,000 venturecapital investment in Sanuthera for product development, marketing, a clinical trial, and expenses associated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. In summer 2012, the company tested the device, which it expects to manufacture in Southeast Ohio and have on the market in six months.
Companies that need a quick, efficient way to make multiple websites accessible on various types of mobile phones. BACK STORY Developed by a team of Ohio University students, led by journalism majors Niklos Salontay and Ian Bowman-Henderson, interested in new media technologies.
1010101010101010101010101 0101010101010101010101010101 1010101010101010101010101010 E C O S Y S T E M S TA T U S Won student “Pitch Your Plan” competition, which led to a growth grant and then a six-figure investment from TechGROWTH. Innovation Center client. Participated in competitive Columbusbased digital media boot camp in summer 2011. Technology has been used by Columbus Dispatch, WOUB Center for Public Media, The Post student newspaper. Official product launch at the March 2012 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
The development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem
COMPILED BY CORINNE COLBERT
19 8 0
Congress passes the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, better known as the Bayh-Dole Act for its legislative sponsors. The law allows universities and other government-backed research entities to commercialize discoveries themselves, rather than having to turn the intellectual property rights over to the federal government.
Ohio University professor Thomas Wagner makes worldwide headlines for successfully producing the first transgenic animal.
19 8 3
With investment from the Ohio University Foundation, Wagner, Joseph Jollick, and Wilfred Konneker launch Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc., to develop and market diagnostic kits for various diseases.
19 8 3
Ohio University creates the Innovation Center, the first university-based business incubator in Ohio and the 12th such program in the nation.
19 8 4
Ohio University establishes the Edison Biotechnology Institute to pursue interdisciplinary biotechnology research that has commercialization potential.
19 8 7
EBI researcher John Kopchick and graduate student Wen Chen discover growth hormone receptor antagonists. With Ohio University alumnus Rick Hawkins, Kopchick works to develop a drug that alleviates symptoms of acromegaly, a form of gigantism that can cause organ enlargement and premature death.
19 9 7
Athenian Venture Partners, an Athens-based venture capital firm, launches with a $500,000 loan from the Ohio University Foundation.
19 9 8
Several existing programs merge as the Ohio University George V. Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs. (In 2007, it became the university’s first interdisciplinary school.)
19 9 9
Ohio University alumnus David Wilhelm launches Adena Ventures to invest in start-up businesses in Appalachia and the Great Lakes.
The drug based on the Kopchick/Chen discovery receives U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Pfizer, which has licensed the technology from Ohio University, markets the drug as SOMAVERT® (pegvisomant for injection) to patients worldwide.
The Voinovich School and Edison Biotechnology Institute partner to form TechGROWTH Ohio with a $10 million grant from the state of Ohio’s Third Frontier economic development initiative. Woodland Ventures (parent company of Adena Ventures) and Ohio State University South Centers are initial partners. The program later expands to include the Innovation Center and Technology Transfer Office, the Muskingum County Business Incubator, and WesBanco, Inc., which provides a $1 million match.
Forbes magazine ranks Ohio University first in the state and fourth in the nation for returns on research investment.
FIRST BIOTECH THE PRODUCT
Reagents for biotechnology research. A site-directed DNA mutagenesis kit designed for large plasmids is the first product. “Instead of working weeks or even months using conventional methods, scientists can now use our kit to accomplish the same results in only a few days,” says founder Louay Hallak. THE MARKET
Private, government, or university science laboratories.
After receiving initial help from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio State University, and TechColumbus, Hallak chose to relocate to the Innovation Center in 2011 to access laboratory space, as well as business coaching and funding opportunities from TechGROWTH Ohio.
//////////////////////// LESSONS LEARNED
The ecosystem is building a hub of start-up businesses in Southeast Ohio that will, in turn, attract more to the area, Hallak forecasts.
E C O S Y S T E M S TA T U S First Biotech received investments from TechGROWTH Ohio and Southern Ohio Creates Companies in spring 2012 for the purchase of equipment and supplies, hiring necessary employees, and marketing of the new technologies.
“Without (TechGROWTH funding) we probably wouldn’t be doing this today,” says Salontay, who reports that the company is now in talks with a bigger investor. “We’re very much an Athens-based company. We’re really interested in hiring people from within the university ecosystem.” /////////////////////////////////////////////
Quidel Corp. acquires Diagnostic Hybrids for $130 million. The sale yields $35 million for the Ohio University Foundation. The company remains in Athens, retaining more than 200 jobs.
Ohio University and Ohio State University announce the formation of a joint $35 million venture fund to invest in start-ups emerging from discoveries at Ohio universities.
By the second quarter, TechGROWTH has attracted a five-year total of $13 million from the state and $8 million from regional partners to invest in new companies.
What sets friendship apart from our other relationships and why it matters
rutus and Caesar made a complicated pair. On the one hand, they were best friends. Caesar promoted Brutus to governor of Gaul, kept him in his inner circle, and nominated him as a magistrate. But the relationship had its awkward elements, too. After all, Caesar was seeing Brutus’ mother on the side. Some historians even believe Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son, given that he named him second in line to his throne. So when it came time to say, “Et tu, Brute?” one could understand Caesar’s surprise. Bill Rawlins can appreciate the complexities of a friendship like the one between the famous Roman cronies. The Ohio University Stocker Professor of Communication Studies has become a leading expert on a topic so familiar to us that few have pursued it academically: how we build and maintain friendships. He’s the author of the books Friendship Matters and The Compass of Friendship. Rawlins says we overlook the importance of friendships amid the minutiae of our day-to-day life. But as the title of one of his books tells us, it matters even more so today. Friendships and the tensions surrounding
them underlie topical issues such as school bullying, social networks, and alliances among world leaders. Some experts argue that friendship is a crucial ingredient for our mental and physical health, especially as we age and risk becoming more isolated. “A lot of times we take friendship for granted,” he says. “Friendship is not something that just happens.” When Rawlins was pursuing his doctoral degree at Temple University in the 1970s, most of the research being done in interpersonal communication was on romantic relationships. Platonic friendships, however, contain some unique dynamics. Friendships are dictated by freedom. People rarely enter exclusive friendships. There are also no contracts or vows to establish friendships. To complicate things more, siblings, spouses, and coworkers also can be our friends. “We choose our friends and our friends choose us,” Rawlins says. “You can’t make someone be your friend. When you were a kid your parents probably said things like, ‘Why aren’t you friends with Tommy Wilson? He’s a nice boy.’ But you may know that Tommy Wilson just plays up to parents and he’s actually not a very nice boy.”
PHOTO: HULTON ARCHIVE, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
ll of these traits make friendship a broad and elusive topic for researchers, which still deters many social scientists from pursuing it. Rawlins finds himself reaching far back in time to find other leading friendship scholars. Aristotle, long known as the father of logic, also could be called the father of friendship. The Greek receives significant play in both books Rawlins has published so far, especially his lines about civic responsibility and friendship being essential to a well-lived life. Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship” also has figured prominently, as has Cicero’s “De Amicitia” and works by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Rawlins particularly likes C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. St. Augustine of Hippo, whom Rawlins cites regularly, called friendship an “unfriendly, unanalyzable attraction for the mind” in his 1,600-year-old opus, Confessions. “I like to see how all these cultural discourses speak to each other,” Rawlins says. To talk about friends, however, one must talk to friends. Rawlins’ preferred method is to interview two friends individually for about two hours each. Then he uses his observations to craft questions for an hour-long interview together, which he tapes and transcribes for word analysis. This type of interviewing helps Rawlins see the unique story that underlies every friendship. “Friendships are a dialogue of narratives and a narrative of dialogues,” he says. Friends communicate by telling each other stories, epics about morality, cautionary tales, personal triumphs, and stories to entertain. These stories we share with each other form chapters of a much larger friendship narrative, a major theme driving Rawlins’ The Compass of Friendship. Rawlins uses five criteria to define friendship. Friendship needs to be voluntary— no coercion allowed. It also needs to be affectionate. Friends must like each other. A friendship must be personal, between people, and what’s more, something must put the friends on equal ground. Lastly, a friendship is mutual. These criteria come from Aristotle’s concept of true friendship, that friends care for each other for the other’s well-being. Bacon says the first fruit of friendship is affection and the second is healthy judgment. Through his interviews, Rawlins created a model for how friendships come about. When we first meet people, we stick with our social roles and don’t stray too far away
from safe topics. We make small talk on the bus; we complain about a boss or a teacher. In the small talk, we start to see similarities with this potential friend. From there, we’re ready to lay down the friend foundation. Conversations become more substantial. Topics become more personal. We start hanging out. The next stage, we go official: We are friends. We ritualize things. We call each other every Sunday night to recap each other’s weekend. We do lunch the same time every week. Trust starts to enter the friendship, and with it comes more intimate details. Hanging out becomes less arranged and more meaningful. Friends may stay at this point, or the relationships may crest and begin to wane. Friends feel so comfortable with each other that they start to feel independent. Independence leads to personal growth and branching out, something that isn’t guaranteed to keep a friendship cohesive. People drift apart and, well, beware the Ides of March. “Friendships are very edifying and upbeat parts of our lives, but they open up a ton of quandaries, especially moral quandaries,” he says. Friends constantly negotiate a set of tensions, Rawlins says. The first deals with ideals and realities. Problems arise between two friends when one thinks that they should be connected at the hip with many of the same interests and moral positions, but the other doesn’t agree. The next tension is between public and private, or how the friends interact in the outside social setting. If one friend feels the friendship is more intimate than the other, awkward secrets might be shared, people might come off as different in front of mutual friends, or secrets may not be kept. The third tension is on the plane of dependence. A friend that constantly needs a lift and constantly needs advice on his or her love life becomes perceived as needy. Many friendships, though, work perfectly well between people who hardly
Stocker Professor of Communication Studies
need each other at all, but will come together to gossip or talk about a shared hobby every once in a while. Friends also need to decide how affectionate they are with each other. Workplace friendships rarely ever warrant a kiss on the cheek. Another source of tension in friendships appears when friends come to criticize each other. Two artists may rely on constantly critiquing each other’s works, while college roommates may want to hear only each other’s opinions on what to wear to the bars. The final tension Rawlins has identified is that between expressiveness and protectiveness, living and letting live. Should a woman reveal that her best friend’s boyfriend is cheating on her? The motivation for seeking friends, as well as the nature of friendship, changes as we age, Rawlins’ research has found. “Friend” enters our vocabulary at about the age of three, but these friendships often are fleeting, circumstantial, and fickle. As children grow, they gravitate toward other kids who share personality traits and interests, but may lack a sense that these relationships extend beyond the playground. More mature phases of childhood friendship are marked by periods of sharing, collaborating on projects, and a desire to help each other, Rawlins says. By middle school, children seek pals to act as sounding boards to help them navigate the rigors of early adolescence. They’re more aware of what others may think of their friendships and may be more concerned about social norms. Friendships feel more permanent, and friends can become possessive. In the teen years, we’re confronted with such life or death quandaries as who is popular, how to be popular, and how to manage popular and unpopular friends. Close friends to spill your guts to become a highly sought commodity, and allegiances shift. Once puppy love enters the picture, the emotional stakes get higher and kids adhere to dating norms. Cross-sex friends now need to stress that they’re just friends. Most failed passes at relationships end in dead friendships. “A lot of times what people say is that cross-sex friends who really care about each
other are going to somehow feel that they need to become romantically involved. And I take issue with that,” he says. “In our culture, that’s another way friendship falls through the cracks. Friendship takes a backseat to romantically loving in our culture. We’ve got Valentine’s Day. We have this tremendous emphasis on falling in love and finding someone to share your life. Those sorts of things. It’s very much touted in our culture, romantic loving. Friendship isn’t as much. One thing I say is, ‘Is there a Friendship Day?’” By college, however, men and women often can pursue platonic friendships as they mature, become more independent from parents, and begin to focus on careers. Adult friendships are marked by managing several different friends from various social groups, such as work, school, and the neighborhood. They may juggle old and new friendships. Adult friendships may focus more on connections made through partners, spouses, and children. After spending the last few decades documenting personal friendships, Rawlins now is looking at the bigger picture, civic friendship, or what makes for a friendly society. He draws from Aristotle’s thoughts
on how to promote civility in the classroom and hopes to see how friendships between political groups work. Since he started his friendship scholarship, what it means to be someone’s friend has evolved. Social networking opens up a Pandora’s box of questions. What role does “friending” people have? How does a constant ability to interact affect friendship? What does the public nature of Facebook or Twitter have on the private versus public dialectic? Rawlins isn’t sure yet, but he does believe it won’t replace face-to-face interactions anytime soon. It may even put a premium on them. Lately, Rawlins has been looking closely at friendships between middle-aged men. Much research on middle-aged friendships has dealt with women. Rawlins says he’s been increasingly drawn into how other men craft narratives around what Franz Kafka called “the cares of the family man.” He’s still in the reading phase of the research, but he’s tentatively thinking of starting up pair interviews again. “It would’ve been interesting to see what Brutus and Caesar would have said about their friendship,” he says, “if you sat them down together.”
PHOTOS: HULTON ARCHIVE, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM; PORTRAIT, BEN SIEGEL
:: C O M P U T E R S C I E N C E | by Rosie Haney
Lock and key How computer science reveals the “dark matter” of the human genome
ou could say that Josh Welch’s interest in DNA is in his genes. When the Ohio University stu-
dent was a teen, his father, Lonnie Welch, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, introduced him to the relatively new field of bioinformatics. The discipline grew from the Human Genome Project, which sought to identify the sequence of human DNA. Each human DNA sequence is “named” with a series of letters— 3 billion in all. Crunching all that data created demand for specialized computer programs, which became the focus of the bioinformatics field. While still in high school, Welch joined his dad’s team that was building a program called Wordseeker, which looks for patterns in the letter sequences of DNA. “I really enjoyed working with my dad. One of the biggest benefits is I got started with research much earlier than if I had worked with another professor,” says Welch, a double major in computer science and piano. The team used the program to explore topics such as the regulation of DNA repair genes, which help protect cells from
diseases such as cancer. In addition, Welch used the software to study the genes of the mustard weed to aid efforts to develop cold- and disease-resistant crops. During his undergraduate experience, Welch also interned with the Ohio University biotechnology spin-off company Diagnostic Hybrids, where he developed software tools to streamline the collection, analysis, and storage of data produced by the company’s assays for medical testing. These early research experiences paid off for Welch last spring, when he received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The award is supporting the bioinformatics research he is doing in graduate school at the
ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN; PORTRAIT: BEN SIEGEL
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall. Welch plans to look at a specific part of the genome called Long Intergenetic NonCoding RNA (lincRNA). The basic sequence of our genome starts with DNA, which transcribes information to RNA, which is then translated into proteins. This coding DNA, however, accounts for only about 2 percent of our overall genome. Welch calls what remains the “dark matter” of the human genome. “A lot of people thought this was junk left over from evolution, but over the past 10 years, a lot of research has shown that it does do something,” Welch says.“We’re still trying to figure out what that does.” His goal is to write a computer program that can predict the complicated 3D shapes of lincRNAs that allow them to regulate the process of converting DNA into RNA. It’s a crucial step to understanding what lincRNAs do, he says, because their shapes dictate how they function. Understanding lincRNA behaviors could allow scientists to target the expression of certain genes, which could be useful for agriculture, biofuels, and medicine, Welch notes. The lincRNAs create structures like keys to unlock gene expression. “If we can figure out the shape of the key,” he says, “then we can design our own keys to fit the lock.”
“If we can figure out the shape of the key, then we can design our own keys to fit the lock.” JO S H W E LC H computer science student
:: PSYCHOLOGY | by Jessica Salerno
The aftermath of assault Sexual assault victims report high levels of self-blame, trauma
hen a woman is sexually assaulted while drinking, others hold her more accountable and blameworthy
than a woman who is assaulted while sober, research has shown.
A new study by two Ohio University undergraduates takes a look at whether women who’ve been victim to sexual assault also blame themselves for the incidents. Courtney Wineland and Brandie Pugh analyzed data from a survey of 638 college women that asked about their experiences with unwanted sexual contact and whether they were incapacitated at the time of the assault. Of those surveyed, 158 women reported that they had experienced an assault (rape, attempted rape, and/or unwanted sexual contact) since the age of 14. That figure corresponds with previous studies that found that 25 percent of American women have been sexually assaulted by the time they finish college. Those who reported such experiences were given a questionnaire to measure where they placed their blame for the assault. The categories included chance (feeling like they were in the wrong place at the wrong time), perpetrator blame (feeling as though the perpetrator was “out to hurt someone”), behavioral self-blame (feeling like they had put themselves in the wrong situation), and characterological self-blame (feeling like they were the “victim type”). The project was advised by graduate student Tina Dardis, who conducted the original survey, and Psychology Professor Christine Gidycz, who manages the university’s Laboratory for the Study and Prevention of Sexual Assault. The lab conducts research on issues such as treatment outcomes in sexual violence survivor support groups, factors that predict leaving abusive dating relationships, the evaluation of sexual assault risk reduction and prevention programs, and predictors of sexual perpetration in college men. As Wineland and Pugh expected, those who were incapacitated at the time of the assault were more likely to experience behavioral selfblame than those who were not incapacitated. Considering that 81.6 percent reported having been incapacitated during the incident, that’s a lot of self-blame. “It just hurts, the idea of the victims blaming themselves for something that they did not have any control over,” Pugh says. The student researchers asked the assault survivors about the impact of the event on their lives to determine the level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each victim experienced. Wineland and Pugh anticipated that those who had been incapacitated would have fewer PTSD symptoms than those who were sober. They were surprised, however, to find approximately the same level of PTSD symptoms in both incapacitated and sober victims. Upon
“It just hurts, the idea of the victims blaming themselves for something that they did not have any control over.” BRANDIE PUGH, psychology student
reflection, Wineland says, that result makes sense. “(Incapacitated victims) shouldn’t experience more or less trauma than someone who’s sober,” she says. The students presented the research at the Ohio Psychological Association’s 2011 Annual Conference, where it won the Best Undergraduate Student Poster Award, and the 2012 Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Expo. Both women believe that this area of research can help combat rape myths and promote discussion, especially on college campuses. “Considering that rape trauma syndrome is very prevalent among rape survivors, it’s just a good study to do to open people’s eyes,” says Pugh, who is continuing her research on violence against women as a graduate student at the University of Delaware this fall. It’s also important to teach men that being drunk is never an excuse for sexually assaulting women, Gidycz adds. Sexual contact without consent—whether the man is drinking or not—is assault. Men, however, tend to receive less blame than women do for their actions while drinking, she notes. Victims of assault must be taught that they aren’t at fault, Pugh adds, noting that “the trauma there is real.” ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINA ULLMAN
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:: CHEMISTRY AND BIOCHEMISTRY | Tadeusz Malinski
The artists who contributed paintings, engravings, sculpture, and mixed media pieces to the Parisian exhibit “109 Nano Art” in June all had one thing in common: Their works were inspired by the nanomedicine research of Ohio University Distinguished Professor Tadeusz Malinski. The scientist has received international acclaim for his development of nanosensors that can detect nitric oxide
in the body, which has implications for understanding and treating ailments ranging from heart disease to stroke. The competition sponsored by the Roi Doré Gallery attracted renowned artists such as Janusz Kapusta, whose mixed media and digital print pieces won best in show, as well as Grégoire Patalas, whose work “S2,” shown above, was created from acrylic and cardboard.