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WINTER 2013

Night Lights UF Firefly Research Takes Flight


Winter 2013, Vol. 18, No. 3

Dr. Bernie Machen President Dr. David Norton Vice President for Research Board of Trustees C. David Brown II, Orlando – Chair Christina Bonarrigo, Gainesville Susan Cameron, Ft. Lauderdale Christopher T. Corr, Lake Lure NC Marshall McAllister Criser III, Miami Charles B. Edwards, Ft. Myers James W. Heavener, Winter Haven Marc Heft, Gainesville Carolyn K. Roberts, Ocala Jason J. Rosenberg, Gainesville Juliet Murphy Roulhac, Plantation Steven M. Scott, Boca Raton David M. Thomas, Windermere Explore is published by the UF Office of Research. Opinions expressed do not reflect the official views of the university. Use of trade names implies no endorsement by the University of Florida. © 2013 University of Florida. explore.research.ufl.edu Editor: Joseph M. Kays joekays@ufl.edu Art Director: Katherine Kinsley-Momberger

Writers: Melissa Lutz Blouin Boaz Dvir Cindy Spence Copy Editor: Patricia B. McGhee

Radim Schreiber

Design and Illustration: Katherine Kinsley-Momberger Paul Messal Nancy Schreck

Printing: StorterChilds Printing, Gainesville Member of the University Research Magazine Association www.urma.org

Bridging Disciplines University of Florida researcher Marc Branham was a consultant on an exhibit on bioluminescence called Creatures of Light, which debuted at the American Museum of Natural History in 2012. The exhibit features this photo by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu, who combined slow-shutter speed photos to produce stunning images of firefly signals in Japan.
© Tsuneaki Hiramatsu, digitalphoto.cocolog-nifty.com

First Colony

Patrick Concannon leads the UF

As St. Augustine’s 450th

Genetics Institute

anniversary approaches, UF

into the future.

22

archaeologists, historians and preservationists lead

28

the way in bringing the nation’s oldest city to life.


Extracts Cover Story Algebra Nation UF education experts team up with a Gainesville tech company

Excel

to launch a game-changing

HHMI

mathematics app.

36

International Student Research Fellowships

42

5

Research News Briefs

Night Lights Entomologist Marc Branham is building on UF's reputation as a

14

firefly research hotspot.


T

David Norton Vice President for Research

Fall 2013 4 4 Winter

he University of Florida is on a mission … a mission to be counted among the top 10 public universities in the country. It began in earnest last spring when the Florida Legislature designated UF as the state’s preeminent public university. With that designation came an investment of $15 million, to be matched by the university, for the hiring of rising stars in strategic areas. University leaders, led by President Bernie Machen, have developed a Preeminence Plan that includes hiring more than 100 new faculty members, many widely recognized in their fields. Additionally, the UF Foundation has begun a fundraising campaign to establish new endowed professorships and chairs, to build or repair facilities, to support innovations in teaching and to fund scholarships. Research productivity is a key metric that is used to compare universities, and while our faculty are quite productive in winning research grants, the resources to recruit additional highprofile talent enables us to be more competitive with our peers in the top 10. In fiscal year 2012, UF reported $697 million in research expenditures, placing it 14th among public universities and about $100 million away from the top 10. Many factors will contribute to the University of Florida achieving its goal of being recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 public universities, but none will be more important than success at growing our research enterprise. University leaders have identified specific areas where strategic hires could vault a program from very good to great. Among these are informatics applications in medicine, life science, engineering, education and social science; neuroscience and the brain; food safety and security; drug discovery; and metabolomics. In all, 16 interdisciplinary areas have been selected for new faculty investments, and additional areas are under consideration. This is, indeed, an exciting time to be at the University of Florida. As a top 10 university, UF will be able to attract the very best and brightest to the university and the state. Talented people want to be part of a place that is leading the way with new ideas, innovative research and a commitment to translate that research to society. Raising our national standing will enable us to recruit even more gifted faculty and students who can compete for more research grants and spin off more successful companies. It will boost the value of a UF degree that is already recognized as one of the nation’s best returns on investment. And, most importantly, it will provide the human and physical resources to achieve scientific breakthroughs that improve people’s lives.


Kristen Grace

F

#SCIWRI13

  “

When

you shine

a light on scientists and their work, revealing both the strengths and the flaws , you beat back the darkness and denial that offer no future.

— Bernie Machen UF President

Kristen Grace

Kristen Grace

rom Nov. 1-5, the University of Florida hosted ScienceWriters 2013, the joint annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Over the course of five days more than 400 science writers representing print and online publications, broadcast outlets, universities and government agencies participated in professional development workshops, scientific presentations by researchers from UF and other institutions, social functions, and tours of UF labs and unique north Florida locations. The conference prompted more than 8,000 Tweets to an estimated audience of more than 10 million followers and has resulted in dozens of articles about the work of UF researchers. It also offered an opportunity for UF journalism students to cover the scientific presentations and work with industry-leading editors. This special section of Extracts features reports from the scientific presentations by UF students and by correspondents for several major national media outlets.

Explore 5


How

loud does it hurt? Professor pushes alternative pain scale How bad does it hurt? The standard method for gauging pain looks for a 1-to-10 rating, but it turns out that one person’s 3 may well be another person’s 5. And that can make a difference for how the pain is treated.

Over Bartoshuk

the years ,

has focused

on how to translate subjective sensations into objective data

not just for pain, but for taste as well.

Alan Boyle is science editor at NBCNews.com as well as president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Follow on Twitter: @b0yle

6

Winter 2013

University of Florida psychologist Linda Bartoshuk has a different idea: Try comparing your pain to the loudest sound you’ve heard, or the brightest light. Is it more like a telephone dial tone, or a train whistle? A night light, or sunlight? “Do you really think that everybody has the same ‘10’ on the scale?” Bartoshuk asked during a presentation at the ScienceWriters 2013 conference. Over the years, Bartoshuk has focused on how to translate subjective sensations into objective data — not just for pain, but for taste as well. Starting in the 1990s, she documented how some people have tongues that are more densely packed with fungiform papillae, the little bumps that contain a person’s taste buds. Those folks, dubbed “supertasters,” appear to experience tastes more intensely than the rest of us. Other factors can affect how people’s taste buds work: During the Gainesville talk, Bartoshuk passed out little circles of filter paper treated with a chemical substance called 6-n-propylthiouracil, or PROP. Some people appear to be genetically suited to get a strong bitter taste from PROP, while others taste

hardly a thing. (I’m in the latter category.) When Bartoshuk asked supertasters to compare the sweetness of Coca-Cola to the loudness of a sound, the average supertaster went with a 90-decibel train whistle. In contrast, people who didn’t have the super sense of taste compared the Coke to an 80-decibel telephone dial tone. A jump of 10 decibels translates into double the loudness; thus, there was a significant, predictable difference in how the two groups perceived taste. “Supertasters live in a neon taste world, compared to the pastel taste worlds of others,” Bartoshuk said. That led her to wonder whether a similar technique could be applied to gauging pain. She drew up a scale that threw out the traditional “1-to-10,” and went instead with a variety of cross-modal experiences — for example, the softness of a whisper, the brightness of full sunlight or the strongest sensation of any kind ever experienced. The experiment found that women tend to have a higherranging scale for pain than men do. A man might put a knee injury on the top of the scale, and compare it to the sun’s brightness. In contrast, a woman might say the pain of childbirth was more intense than sunlight. Generally speaking, the male pain scale

went from 1 to 10, while the female scale went to 12. Bartoshuk says that suggests that a man’s “4” might be equivalent to a woman’s “3” when it comes to pain. Does that make a difference? It could: One emergency-room study found that when patients rated their pain as less than 4, they never received painkillers. Over the past few years, Bartoshuk and other researchers have been debating whether it’s worth tweaking pain measurement scales. Some experts say that the 1-to-10 scale seems to be working well enough, and there’s no need to change. Others say that visual ways of gauging pain — for example, by pointing to a spot on a line — work better. In July, U.S. and Australian researchers reported that the method Bartoshuk favors, known as the general Labeled Magnitude Scale, “has great potential and can be feasibly used to measure pain intensity clinically.” They said the method is particularly valuable for rating pain that goes up to 10 and then gets even worse. So how would you rate these methods for gauging pain and other sensations? On a scale of 1 to 10, of course.


That’s the implication of research showing that warmer temperatures generally favor smaller mammals and larger reptiles. “You see the size of these animals dancing with the climate,” said Jonathan Bloch, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Bloch delved into the connection between body size and global temperatures, particularly during a hot time known as the PaleoceneEocene Thermal Maximum, during the ScienceWriters 2013 conference. Like so many facets of global change, the lessons from the distant past don’t make the far future look all that sunny. Supersnakes, anyone? For years, Bloch and his colleagues have traced the ups and downs of the Paleocene Epoch, which lasted from the downfall of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago to the start of the Eocene about 56 million years ago. One of the key sites for fossils from that age is the Cerrejon Mine in Colombia, where the coal seams are so active they can spontaneously combust. “It really is like hell, but it’s heaven for fossils,” Bloch said. That’s where Bloch found evidence of 60 million-yearold turtles as big as breakfast tables, and a snake called Titanoboa that was as long as a bus. Pointing toward the entryway at the back of the hall, Bloch said, “Imagine that the snake would have to squeeze through the door, and come up to your waist.” Snakes, turtles and other reptiles tend to depend on

the environment to regulate their heat — putting them in a category known as ectotherms. (“Cold-blooded” is a commonly used term, though it’s a bit of a misnomer.) The only way ancient ectotherms could get as big as they did would be for them to live in a hot climate, and the world was indeed much hotter during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Experts estimate that global temperatures jumped somewhere in the range of 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 8 degrees Celsius), due to a massive but mysterious release of greenhouse gases. Titanoboa, for example, thrived amid temperatures as hot as 93 degrees F (34 degrees C). Paleontologists have also studied how mammals fared back in the Paleocene-Eocene. Last year, Bloch and other researchers said the ancestors of modern-day horses shrunk to the size of housecats when temperatures spiked 55 million years ago. In November, a different team reported that another episode of mammalian dwarfism occurred during a second warming event 2 million years later. “The fact that it happened twice significantly increases our confidence that we’re seeing cause and effect, that one interesting response to global warming in the past was a substantial decrease in body size in mammalian species,” the University of Michigan’s Philip Gingerich, one of the paleontologists behind the latest study, said in a news release.

Several factors have been proposed for the mammalian downsizing: Research suggests that when temperatures rise into the mid-90s (35 degrees C) for an extended period, mammals have a harder time regulating body heat, and less nutrition is available from plant sources. Under those conditions, smaller mammals would fare better than bigger ones. Here’s the scary part: If it’s happened before, it could happen again — and perhaps sooner than we think. Bloch noted that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are approaching what they were during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. “You have to go back tens of millions of years before you get close to or higher than what we’re talking about for the next couple of hundred years,” Bloch said. Bloch hinted that he and his colleagues may soon be filling out the picture for the rise of mammals with more fossil finds. In any case, learning more about the hot times of the ancient past — and how they cooled off — could provide the key for coping with future climate change. Somehow, our planet found a way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and its global warming effect. Perhaps humanity can take advantage of those same strategies — and if so, the record of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and its aftermath could serve as a “user’s manual for Earth,” Bloch said.

Jeff Gage

Tens of millions of years ago, snakes were as big as horses. Horses were almost as small as snakes. And in a warmer world, it could get that way again.

#SCIWRI13

Super-snake ahead! Warming makes mammals smaller , reptiles bigger

Alan Boyle is science editor at NBCNews.com Follow on Twitter: @b0yle

Explore 7


Lice

reveal clues to human evolution

Clues to human evolution generally come from fossils left by ancestors and the molecular trail encoded in the human genome as it is tweaked over generations. However, some researchers are looking to another source: the bloodsucking louse.

Jeff Gage

Lice have been closely associated with humans for millennia; in spite of human attempts to get rid of the parasites, their persistence has made them a potential reservoir of information for those who want to know more about human evolution and history, said David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “When we went through our evolutionary history, we didn’t do it by ourselves — we took a whole bunch of passengers with us,” Reed said. Clues from the bloodsucking hitchhikers, for instance, suggest modern humans intermingled with Neanderthals (a theory also supported by other genetic research) and that humans may have first put on clothing before leaving Africa. Like family members on the same road trip, these passengers — otherwise known as parasites, including lice — can offer differing versions of the adventure, filling in gaps in other accounts, Reed said. He and colleagues have been looking to lice genomes to do just that. Lice, which infect many animals, are excellent trackers

Humans

are

unusual among lice hosts; they provide homes for more than one species of lice.

Wynne Parry is a freelance science writer who contributes regularly to LiveScience.com Follow on Twitter: @Wynne_Parry

8

Winter 2013

for their hosts’ evolution. They spend their entire lives on their host, perish after a relatively short period of time if they fall off and infest a single species of host, Reed said. Humans are unusual among lice hosts; they provide homes for more than one species of lice. The pubic louse looks quite different from its counterparts in human hair and clothing. Through genetic analysis, Reed and colleagues determined that more than 3 million years ago, the human pubic louse originated from gorilla lice, where it adapted to grab onto large hairs spread farther apart. This finding means that humans and gorillas must have lived in close proximity during this time period. The information is significant, because gorilla fossils from this time are virtually nonexistent, Reed said. Reed and colleagues have also looked at the split between head and clothing lice for clues as to when humans began wearing clothes. They found that clothing lice diverged from head lice between 80,000 and 170,000 years ago, most likely at the earlier end of that range. This means humans were likely tinkering with clothing use before leaving Africa, Reed said. Lice genomes may also reveal information about interactions between modern humans’ long-gone ancestors and relatives. Researchers have identified three major lineages,

dubbed Clades A, B and C, within the DNA from the mitochondria, or energyproducing centers of cells, of lice collected in sites around the world. Using variations in the DNA to look back in time, the researchers saw these groups had a common ancestor about 2 million years ago. Clade C then split off from the group. Much later, between 700,000 and 1 million years ago, Clade B split from A. The timing of these splits, and the modern geographic distribution of these clades have led the researchers to suggest that C evolved on Homo erectus as this hominid emerged, and that B evolved on Neanderthals. But these three louse lineages did not stay apart. Some interaction, such as hunting together, brought humans’ ancient, lice-infested ancestors close enough together to reunite the three lineages, all of which are now carried by modern humans, Reed and others suggest. They are continuing work to understand better the histories encoded in lice DNA. With the caveat that the following work has not yet been vetted by the peer-review process, Reed said computer simulations of lice genetic evolution support this story. Meanwhile, full genome sequences from lice in Clades A and B indicate the two are interbreeding. (C is much rarer, and the researchers’ samples turned out to be too degraded to sequence.) Reed’s lab is also applying lice genomics to study how people arrived in the Americas.


#SCIWRI13

Scenic

suborbital views coming soon to the wealthy near you Commercial spaceflight may get off the ground with paying passengers as soon as next year. let alone civilians.  For commercial spacecraft, he said, an accident rate of even 2 percent — roughly the shuttle program’s figure — is too high.  During the question-and-answer session, Scott Lewis of knowthecosmos.com and Universe Today’s publisher Fraser Cain joined the discussion via Google Hangout. People watching online asked if there would be a payment system similar to a mortgage available for people who wanted to go to space but didn’t have a couple hundred thousand dollars to burn.  From takeoff to landing, the trip will last roughly two hours, with just under five minutes of it in space. For a $250,000 ticket, rounding to five minutes, that time in space will cost $833.34 per second. Earlier in the hour, Lewis referenced the overview effect, the “profound impact” of spaceflight on many astronauts. The term comes from a book of the same name written by Harvard scholar Frank White. Only 542 people have been to space since the first manned space flight in 1961.  The company, Whitesides says, does have a science-oriented job for its equipment. It plans to invite scientists to send research up in specialized payload racks in place of seats.  Other eventual goals include being able to place research projects in the fuselages, lowering costs so

more people can fly, and having two carrier aircraft and five space ships docked at one time in the “Gateway to Space,” the New Mexico spaceport formerly known as Spaceport America.  At one point during his presentation, Whitesides talked the room through a sample trip, from an early morning “right stuff moment” where passengers walk to the spacecraft and can imagine their own movie soundtrack, through rockets and weightlessness, culminating in a glide back to Earth for a party that evening. Chuck Yeager would feel right at home.

Mark Greenberg

So hopes George T. Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, who shared the company’s plans at ScienceWriters 2013. Early in his talk, Whitesides polled the audience, asking if money and safety weren’t factors, who there would want to go to space? Almost everyone raised a hand. But right now, money is a factor — a big one.  Although more than 600 people — “citizen explorers,” including Whitesides and his wife — have put down a deposit for their own suborbital space adventure. A ticket for one of the six seats on SpaceShip Two now runs $250,000.  It was originally $200,000, but Virgin Galactic cites inflation for the increase in May 2013. Whitesides will have to wait his turn. Virgin Galactic’s owner and founder, flamboyant British businessman and adventurer Richard Branson, plans to be aboard the first flight with his family. Why so much? Safety precautions, for one thing. A major problem is America’s recent cultural aversion to risky, “audacious” projects, especially technical ones and especially those involving people. Whitesides called these projects the pathway to progress, but said the fear following accidents and media coverage of those accidents can leave them dead in the water.  No one wants another Challenger or Columbia tragedy happening for anyone,

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo during a test flight over the Mojave Desert. Jesse Mixson is a senior studying journalism.

Explore 9


Junkyard

dog not such a new idea

Throw out your preconceptions about your playful pup’s oldest ancestors. They were parasites.

“ 

The

dog has to

share with you.

Dogs

are too puny

to make the kill themselves . do not

Wolves share , you

cannot take food

from a wolf. 

— Clive D. L. Wynne

Andrew Kays is a junior studying journalism and anthropology. Follow on Twitter: @APKays

10 Winter 2013

That is what Clive D. L. Wynne, former University of Florida psychology professor and director of the UF Canine Cognition & Behavior Lab, says. “If we look for dogs, we find them as scavengers,” says Wynne, now at Arizona State University. “Dogs originated as vermin, and they colonize our leavings much like rats or cockroaches.” He notes that because these investigations are so far in the past, a lot of speculation is necessary. However, the more we discover, the better we are able to make predictions. A few theories exist about the origins of our canine companions. The most prominent suggests that 15,000 years ago, early humans raised docile wolf pups and eventually nurtured them into domestication. A wolf could run down game that its owner had pierced with an arrow and receive a pittance of the meat in return. Support favoring this idea comes from a 20th-century Soviet researcher who domesticated wild foxes — fairly close evolutionary relatives of dogs — by breeding successive generations of the 2 or 3 percent that were the tamest. Even adult foxes would leap into the arms of any nearby human by the end of the experiment.  However, this outcome required decades of research, so, early humans were

unlikely to have domesticated wolves, according to Wynne. Instead, a two-step process can explain the emergence of dogs and it begins with dogs’ love of our trash. The scavengers grew comfortable near humans and slowly became a part of our communities. Wolves typically maintain a distance of at least 200 meters from humans, usually disappearing before ever being seen. Modern feral dogs living in Ethiopia maintain five meters. Pet dogs maintain zero distance from humans. Over time, humans noticed that the beasts had their uses. Dogs could raise an alarm when large predators were nearby, providing protection for human homes. Dog meat could also serve as extra protein during food shortages. Even in Europe, this practice still exists, but is in the process of being phased out. About 16 percent of Swiss residents say they have eaten dog meat. In 1934, the Nazis were among the first Europeans to enact animal laws, Wynne says, putting tens of thousands of dog butchers out of business. Dogs can also be tremendous hunting partners once

domesticated. A 20-pound dog can bring a family twice its weight in meat a month. For today’s hunters, a dog is every bit as effective as a rifle. Evidence points toward dogs’ effectiveness as hunters as the root of human affection for them, Wynne says. Eventually, humans discovered the utility of domesticated dogs and the potential for cooperation. “The dog has to share with you. Dogs are too puny to make the kill themselves,” Wynne says. “Wolves do not share, you cannot take food from a wolf.” In the past few years, as researchers looked at dog DNA for biomedical insights, further clues emerged. It is now thought that the original dogs almost certainly developed in the Middle East rather than in East Asia. Scientists looking at rapidly changing dog genes have also found a small similarity to the genetic profile of humans with Williams syndrome, a condition that causes a reduction in reading of social cues, but extremely outgoing personalities. Maybe, Wynne says, overly social canine ancestors were just too weird to be accepted by the pack.


#SCIWRI13

Dogs

may hold key to human cancers The keys to unlocking some of nature’s most intriguing puzzles about cancer may have been walking beside humans for years. Because of genetic similarities that make them more susceptible to the disease, purebred dogs can aid researchers in the quest to better understand human cancers, Matthew Breen, professor of genomics at the North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine, says. “How many people own a dog?” Breen asked the science writers in the auditorium, with nearly everyone raising a hand. When Breen asked if these owners had lost a dog to cancer, more than half of the hands stayed in the air. Cancer is a major killer of dogs, explained Breen. Each year, about 4.2 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer, compared to 1.5 million people. Additionally, dogs have 2.5 times the number of cancers and more than 11 times the overall rate. The statistics are disheartening, but caused by a variety

of factors, Breen says, most of which make sense after studying the history of purebred dogs. One has to travel back thousands of years ago, Breen says, when dogs used to wander around, mating with each other at will. As human society evolved, some people “got richer,” Breen said, and started to specifically breed certain kinds of dogs because they liked the way they looked. Over time, certain breeds became extremely genetically similar, which made them more prone to diseases like cancer, Breen says. As a result, it’s easier for researchers to identify genetic abnormalities in dogs with cancer and then translate the findings to humans. “I don’t want you to think of them as separate species,” Breen says. “Cancer is now bidirectional. “When we look at bone cancer in dogs, and

bone cancer in people, we cannot separate the two,” he continued. Specifically, Breen has used dog tumors to narrow down the search for genetic disruptions associated with cancers in humans. For his studies, he has relied on samples submitted by pet owners, at no harm to the animal. “The worst we ever do is take a blood sample or a teeth swab,” he explained. Ultimately, Breen believes cancer cannot be cured. But there is hope, he said, in turning it into a treatable disease by “studying all corners of the genome,” dog or human. “I believe we’ll be able to diagnose it sooner,” Breen says. “We’ll be able to treat it sooner.”

“ 

Over

time, certain

breeds became extremely genetically similar , which made them more prone to diseases like cancer ,

As

a result, it’s easier

for researchers to identify genetic abnormalities in dogs with cancer and then translate the findings to

humans. 

— Matthew Breen

Zack Peterson is a junior studying journalism and English.

Explore 11


Microbial

answers blowin’ in the wind

Globe-trotting dust storms on Earth not only carry microbes from continent to continent but also provide clues to the ability of life to survive on Mars, says an astrobiologist who is an authority on both planets.

idea here is to have

the capability of sampling the air in a controlled science experiment aligned precisely with the best transect, or directed path

that’s

what will give you

the most science .

— Andrew Schuerger

Nathalie McCrate is a senior studying public relations and entrepreneurship. Follow on Twitter: @namccrate

12 Winter 2013

the different kinds of landscape the winds have scoured. “The idea here is to have the capability of sampling the air in a controlled science experiment aligned precisely with the best transect, or directed path — that’s what will give you the most science,” Schuerger said. The drones, balloons and propeller planes will be used to harvest dust at mid- to low-range altitudes. The F-104 jet will be used for collecting dust up to about 10 kilometers in the atmosphere, where conditions are as harsh as the surface of Mars. Here on Earth such studies are important for insight into how disease-causing microbes get blown around the planet. In the bargain, they provide a way to explore what life forms might be possible on other planets. “If an organism can grow, survive and evolve in the stratosphere, there’s a good

Tyler L. Jones.

“ 

The

The interplanetary link is that dust particles and their tiny passengers can be swept by wind from the ground up into regions of the atmosphere where air pressures and temperatures mimic those at Mars’s surface — conditions where lab tests already show that some of Earth’s microbes can survive.   “We’re studying something that, up to this point, has been very little studied,” said University of Florida astrobiologist Andrew Schuerger. Huge atmospheric plumes blanket the Eastern United States in more than 50 million metric tons of sub-Saharan dust annually, but little is known about just what’s blowing in the wind. The answer is what Schuerger has made his life’s work to find out. He has powerful dust collection tools in his arsenal: a supersonic F-104 Starfighter jet, high-altitude balloons, bright-yellow propeller planes and tiny unmanned aerial drones. He is now testing anew dust collection system called DART, or Dust at Altitude Recovery Technology, strapped to the underside of a jet. The 177.8-pound DART sucks dust with scoops on its nose cone under control of a scientist in the two-person cockpit. This is the most promising way for dust clouds along the equator and elsewhere to be sampled precisely to reflect

chance it can do the same on the surface of Mars,” Schuerger said. For a study published recently in the journal Astrobiology, Schuerger’s team exposed 26 strains of humanassociated bacteria commonly found on spacecraft to progressively lower pressure and temperature and increased carbon dioxide levels. Many strains were tested, but as conditions approach those of Mars fewer and fewer could take it. Just one strain of bacterium — Serratia liquefaciens, a microbe found in many soils and on plant surfaces — survived and grew under Mars surface conditions. Even though the bacterial colonies did not appear to be alive, they returned to normal growth when moved from Martian conditions back to Earth lab conditions.” Schuerger said such pathogens and their dust vehicles will help give us a better understanding of life at home and among the stars. “Scientists always like to try to be on the frontier of things,” he said. “It’s very exciting work.”

An F-104 Starfighter jet lands at Kennedy Space Center after completing the maiden flight of a device known as Dust at Altitude Recovery Technology, or DART, which is being used to sample African dust in Florida’s atmosphere for potential pathogens of humans, plants and animals. The DART is the red, cylindrical device shown attached to the jet.


#SCIWRI13

Rock weathering may provide clues to long-term stability of the planet’s ice sheet

“In order to understand what the climate’s going to be like in the future, we need to understand more about what it was like in the past,” said Ellen E. Martin. Martin and a team of seven researchers spent last summer in western Greenland studying rock weathering produced by glacial movement and glacial runoff. One aspect of this study was to gain insight into changes in the carbon cycle that determines the planet’s carbon dioxide levels because weathering of rock removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “It’s an ideal area to work in because it has a wide range of glacial environments to work with,” Martin said. She also noted it was a good choice because there are no polar bears in the region. Rock weathering may also help Martin develop a tool to study the extent of Greenland’s past ice sheet. By defining how much weathering is happening today, she might be able to interpret the weathering patterns seen in the past and relate them to the size and therefore the stability of the ice sheet. “What we’d really like to be able to do is put together a technique that we can apply further back in time, so that we can look and see how these ice sheets have changed through time,” she said. Martin said her team studies the difference between the isotopic

composition of water and sediment because that difference reveals how much weathering has happened. She believes there is less weathering in proglacial samples, which are samples collected near the ice sheet, than in deglacial samples, which are taken from areas no longer affected by the ice sheet. “We’re looking at a chemical weathering signature that is created by having the land exposed, versus a chemical signature that you get when ice is covering the land,” she said. In an effort to study these isotopic signatures, Martin’s group collected 140 water samples and 170 sediment samples over two months. As expected, the team found that the proglacial samples do not display a lot of chemical weathering. The deglacial samples are still being examined. Martin believes these samples will indicate a greater difference in the lead isotopes of the water compared to the sediment consistent with more intense weathering. But more of Greenland’s past rests beneath its ice sheet, which Martin says is difficult to sample. Since she cannot get below the ice on land to look at those records, Martin said the data will have to come from the ocean — the end of the line for the water and sediment coming from the continent. Ships

Mike Davlantes

Studying how rock weathering in Greenland changed as the ice sheet grew and shrank may answer questions about the ice’s long-term stability and the global carbon cycle, according to a University of Florida geology professor.

that can drill ocean cores will be needed, she says. “The big picture is that Greenland is melting, and it’s going to start melting faster and faster,” Martin said. “So we need to do whatever we can to help mitigate climate change.” Though it would take tens of thousands of years for all the world’s ice sheets to melt completely from carbon dioxide emissions, Martin said people shouldn’t wait to get involved in reducing Greenland’s melting glaciers today. “The Greenland Ice Sheet is not going to disappear in any of our lifetimes or grandchildren’s,” Martin says.  “But if you start the process now, it may never stop.”

Kelley Deuerling, a graduate student in geological sciences, reaches across a stream fed by the Greenland ice sheet to collect a sample of the ice.

Elly Ayres is a junior studying journalism and French. Follow on Twitter: @elly_ayres

Explore 13


Entomologist M arc Branham is building on UF’s reputation as a firefly research hotspot

Radim Schreiber

By Cindy Spence

14 Winter 2013


F

ireflies taste bad; birds and mice know this, and on a textbook level biologists do, too. That tantalizing, glowing taillight might as well be flashing, “don’t eat me.”

But Marc Branham inadvertently learned that lesson firsthand. Prospecting for fireflies one summer evening in graduate school, and having only two hands, he oh so gently tucked a specimen between his lips for safekeeping as he opened a collection jar. The firefly did what any firefly would do; it released lucibufagin, a bitter defensive chemical. Branham, the unintentional predator, spit it out. Now a University of Florida associate professor of entomology and one of the world’s foremost experts on fireflies, Branham can vouch for fireflies’ defense system. “I haven’t done that again,” he says, recalling numb lips. The pretty lights in the night know how to survive. Firefly light ­— bioluminescence — is a survival trait on two fronts, not only keeping fireflies from being eaten but also helping them find mates. Branham works to unravel the evolutionary journey of bioluminescence in fireflies, inspecting fossils and looking for forks in the family tree. How did bioluminescence develop, and why?

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n this language of light, fireflies send messages, a warning signal to a predator, a comehither to a potential mate. It is a language that has inspired poetry and song.

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A career in insect systematics and behavior has decoded the mysteries, some at least, of the flashing beetles in the Mason jar at his bedside in childhood. But rather than dampen his enthusiasm, science has stoked it. “If you just look at the fireflies in your back yard you only get one piece of the puzzle, but as you put it all together it’s amazing; it’s really fun how it builds this larger picture of the evolution of a communication system,” he says, voice rising, “and they use lights!” In this language of light, fireflies send messages, a warning signal to a predator, a come-hither to a potential mate. It is a language that has inspired poetry and song. Fireflies’ photic organs — those lovely beacons on their tails — use almost 100 percent of their energy to produce a cold light. By contrast, an incandescent bulb loses 90 percent of its energy to heat. Light organs can maximize this light by using a reflective layer, similar to the reflective material behind an automobile headlight. The light is called bioluminescence, and it is generated by luciferin, luciferase and the chemical ATP, adenosine triphosphate. Luciferin, the protein, is activated by the enzyme luciferase, which draws energy for the chemical reaction from ATP. Fireflies do not have lungs, so they draw oxygen through tubes called tracheoles to turn their lights on and off. Not all fireflies make light. Some are in an evolutionary rut, still using pheromones — scent — to find mates. Although all fireflies are bioluminescent as larvae, only the most highly evolved fireflies use light as adults, Branham says, and that is the focus of his work.

“A bioluminescent signal system that communicates species identity and can be seen and processed by the receiver of the signal — it’s a pretty complicated thing,” Branham said. “The photic organs in the most evolved fireflies are highly complex.” The fossil record reveals some of the evolution of light for courtship. When the story begins, fireflies use pheromones, and their eyes are small and antennae large, the better to detect the pheromones of a suitor. More recently, as the photic organ evolves, antennae shrink and eyes enlarge, the better to see the flirtatious male blinking across the meadow. The fossil record goes back 24 million years, relatively recent in the world of insect evolution, Branham says. Some of the oldest fireflies, captured in Dominican and Baltic amber, show no signs that they used light. Other fossils, Branham says, look like fireflies he collected a few years ago and could even be the same species. Still other fossils show combinations of characteristics he has never seen before in one firefly species. Finding the incremental steps, some things added some subtracted, filling in the evolutionary gaps, fascinates him. It didn’t just happen all at once. “When I study fossil insects, I feel like I’m back in graduate school and my instructor hands me one of these unknown insects and says, ‘here’s your test; what is this?’” One of the interesting aspects of bioluminescence is that it has evolved independently multiple times. Although bioluminescence in the ocean is common, on land it’s rare, showing up only three or four times in the insect world over time.


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irefly flashes are part of a complex system of insect seduction — male fireflies in the air use distinctive patterns of flashing and flying to signal to females of their species on the ground. Females then respond with a flash after a set interval that signals they are of the same species. • Nearly 100 percent of the flash’s energy is given off as light, compared to a standard lightbulb where 10 percent of the energy is light and the other 90 percent is given off as heat.

How it works

Photinus pyralis the “Big Dipper Fly”

The firefly’s light is produced during a chemical reaction. The light-emitting organ consists of three layers.

Reflector

Light cells, where reaction takes place. Transparent exoskeleton

Distinctive flash patterns of five North American fireflies

}

Photinus pyralis, the most common of 2,000 species of fireflies, is distinguished by its J-shaped flash pattern.

Paul Messal. Graphic based on information from firefly.org

Photinus marginellus

Photinus consimilis

Photinus granulatus

Photinus collustrans

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To what end all this flashing? Survival. The warning in the bright coloration of a bee or wasp cannot be seen at night when fireflies are active, so the yellow, green and sometimes blue flashes warn of the presence of defensive lucibufagins in these insects. Matchmaking, too, relies on bioluminescence, and with only two weeks of life as adults, procreation is serious business. The flash patterns vary species to species. For nocturnal creatures, it’s all about the light. In the singles bar of your back yard, a female will lead several males on at once, but only mate with one. She judges fitness in a flash. “The only thing a female can see of a male when he’s out flying around is his flash pattern. She can’t assess any other attributes of the male,” Branham says. Branham questioned whether female preference for particular flash patterns was the cause of speciation. To test the idea, he chose a species that hovers while it flashes. Some fireflies zig and zag and others shake their abdomens, so choosing a species that hovers eliminated movement as a variable. He built a computer-controlled artificial male firefly, programmed signals and transmitted them with a tiny light-emitting diode. He changed the LED to test the effect of light color and intensity on preference and tested flash speeds. Not only did females like fast flashes, they liked flashes that were far faster than what a male firefly could physiologically produce. “With my computer-controlled firefly, I could create flashes so fast they were not found in nature, and the females really liked those,” Branham says. “They would flash back much more often, twice as bright, and they would aim their photic organs at the artificial male.”

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It was sexual selection at work before his eyes. The results were published in the journal Nature, and Branham is working on a follow-up project to date the actual origin of bioluminescence in beetles. “Fireflies make a great model for talking about the evolution of complexity in a very non-threatening, very charismatic organism,” Branham says. “Fireflies have such a great story for how you have these added features over time, each one leads to another and another and another and you end up with something very, very complex.” If Branham needed a reminder of the complexity of the firefly world, he got it when he signed up to help the Smithsonian Institution last year. The Smithsonian owns one of the world’s more important collections of fireflies, or Lampyridae, but has not had anyone to curate it since the 1940s. As one of the few researchers working on firefly systematics and biodiversity, Branham was a logical choice. Uncurated, the collection had been tucked away in the climatecontrolled environs of the Smithsonian, almost a time capsule of the extent of Lampyridae taxonomy circa 1940. Some specimens date back to the late 1800s and have notes written in quill pen, indicating they were sent to Paris for identification by French entomologist Ernest Olivier and sent back. David Furth, who manages the National Insect Collection with its 35 million specimens, says the firefly collection might have had to be shut down without Branham’s help, and Branham is welcome to work with it until he retires. Improving the collection, Furth says, will make it possible to “ask questions we can’t even think of yet.” The smell of mothballs lingers, although Branham tossed them out

in favor of rotating the cases through ultra-cold temperatures to kill pests that like to eat insect collections. Dozens of cases of fireflies on pins, frozen in time, have gone unnamed and unclassified because the task requires someone who knows the extent to which one specimen is related to another. While 2,000 species are known worldwide, Branham suspects 3,000 more remain to be discovered or named. While the task ahead is huge — the collection is on a 10-year, renewable loan and will be digitized along the way — the benefit also is huge. The collection provides a great resource for looking at distribution data and diversity within certain groups. The collection will remain active, and researchers who wish to use it are welcomed. “I can train my students in how to care for a collection, how to make identifications, how to curate and database a large, important research collection, and we don’t have to make trips back and forth to Washington. It’s just right down


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Radim Schreiber

he Smithsonian owns one of the world’s more important collections of fireflies, or Lampyridae, but has not had anyone to curate it since the 1940s. As one of the few researchers working on firefly systematics and biodiversity, Branham was a logical choice.

Tyler Jones

the hall,” Branham says with the glee of a kid surrounded by birthday gifts. Furth transferred the specimens to archival containers to absorb vibrations and helped Branham load a moving truck. “I drove it down here myself,” Branham says, “very carefully.” Firefly experts from around the world will have another reason to travel to Gainesville in August, when UF hosts the International Firefly Symposium 2014, its first time in the United States. Its most recent venues, in Southeast Asia, made sense Branham says, because fireflies there are an eco-tourist attraction. In Malaysia, mangroves light up at night with so many fireflies that fishermen have used them to steer their boats home. Although locally the firefly scene is not as spectacular, Florida has more species than any other state in the U.S. and a long tradition of firefly research. UF Professor Emeritus James Lloyd began studying fireflies in the 1960s,

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he public is not going to see nature as a priority to protect if they don’t have a personal connection to it. I think that’s where fireflies come in. A firefly is an almost immediate connection between whoever sees it and nature. – Marc Branham

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and Furth calls him “the granddaddy of fireflies in this part of the world.” Although he retired in 2001, he hasn’t stopped “fireflying.” Between them, Branham and Lloyd have more than a half-century of working with fireflies and occasionally survey together. Time after time, Branham says, Lloyd tells him a location that used to be prime firefly habitat is gone. “We’ve seen nights where there’s not a single flash,” Branham says. Documenting firefly biodiversity, through the ages and today, is important, Branham says, because he suspects there will come a day when biologists will not be able to find them in nature, and instead will have to pull out a drawer in a collection case or open a


Tyler Jones

freezer door to a cryo-collection to see them. Their lights will be out. Branham says urbanization and all that comes with it — increased pesticide use, loss of habitat, and encroaching lights — is partly to blame. Many sites Lloyd studied are now parking lots and strip malls. Ask average Floridians, Branham says, and they will tell you they don’t often see fireflies, or never have. Part of the reason is timing. “In Florida, some species are only out for about 23 minutes every night. It’s not 30 minutes, it’s not 20 minutes, it’s 23 minutes,” Branham says. Even if you turn off the TV or put down your iPad to catch that window of opportunity, you need to be in the right habitat to see them, and that habitat is

not likely to be your manicured back yard. Fireflies are out when mosquitoes are out and like moist, natural areas. The same pesticides that kill mosquitoes kill fireflies. Light pollution, too, is a culprit. “There are more baseball diamonds, lighted walkways, lights are on all night long much more so than when I was a kid. When there’s all that added light at night, fireflies don’t know when to come out and start signaling,” Branham says. “It just never gets quite dark enough.” Branham and Lloyd were interviewed for a recent documentary about light pollution and fireflies, “Brilliant Darkness: Hotaru in the Night.” The film is sponsored by the Zoological Lighting Institute, which promotes photobiology and photoecology. Branham says communities are becoming more sensitive to light as a pollutant that can affect creatures like sea turtles and fireflies and are looking for ways to have a minimal impact on those creatures while still providing safety for humans. Outreach activities, like the American Museum of Natural History exhibit “Creatures of Light” on which Branham consulted, help educate the public about fireflies. The exhibit, now on a 10-year tour, delves into bioluminescence across the animal world, but fireflies are a big part. Although Branham and some marine biologists have chatted about a project to assess bioluminescence across animalia, Branham is happy to leave the ocean’s abyss to others. “With fireflies, you can put 30 of them in a vial and put them in your

shirt pocket,” Branham says. “You can’t do that with a big jellyfish.” Branham says he hopes fireflies can be ambassadors for research into the natural world. He worries that a gulf is growing between the public and nature as people spend more time with technology and less time outdoors. “The public is not going to see nature as a priority to protect if they don’t have a personal connection to it,” Branham says. “I think that’s where fireflies come in. A firefly is an almost immediate connection between whoever sees it and nature.” How can an experience so ordinary that millions share it be so extraordinary? Branham’s first firefly memory — and probably yours — is from childhood, playing in the yard at dusk and seeing a flash over the garden. “To hold a firefly in your fingers and see it flash on and off, it seemed truly magical,” Branham says. “Now, we know how it happens, and it’s even more cool. You’re actually seeing them talk to each other, seeing them court a mate, and it all happens on these dark summer nights.” Marc Branham Associate Professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology (352) 273-3915 marcbran@ufl.edu Related website: http://www.branhamlab.com

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Bridging Disciplines PATRICK CONCANNON LEADS THE UF GENETICS INSTITUTE INTO THE FUTURE By Melissa Lutz Blouin

22 Winter 2013


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John Jernigan


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ALKING ACROSS THE NEW DNAINSPIRED BRIDGE

OVER 13TH STREET ON THE SOUTHERN EDGE OF THE UF CAMPUS, PATRICK CONCANNON LOOKS DOWN AND SEES REMNANTS OF OLD RAILROAD TRACKS EMBEDDED IN THE GROUND AND THE CONCEPT OF THE RAILS MORPHING INTO THE ARMS OF A DOUBLE-HELIX MOLECULE CHANGES HIS WHOLE PERSPECTIVE ON THE BRIDGE.

“The parallel railroad tracks uniting in the double-helix are a great metaphor for what we’re trying to do at the Genetics Institute,” says Concannon, the institute’s new director. “Through the common use of genetics tools, the institute brings together disciplines that might once have been on parallel tracks, never intersecting.” Changing perspectives about the potential in DNA is key to Concannon’s new role as director of the UF Genetics Institute. Since arriving from the University of Virginia in February, Concannon has been focused on bringing together research from diverse parts of the University of Florida

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— computer science, entomology, bacteriology and mathematics, for instance — so people can see things from different perspectives. His own perspective embraces everything from the genes he studies in his laboratory to the scientists who work in the UF Genetics Institute. Concannon has made a career out of bringing together diverse fields of science and pioneering new areas of research. His research has spanned immunology, genetics, epidemiology and molecular biology. He has worked with cancer patients and diabetics, as well as patients with extremely rare diseases. His research interests have two things in common — they allow him to work on subjects that he finds compelling and they help him make a contribution to society. So when he came to interview for the position as director of the UF Genetics Institute, he found the diverse interests and disciplines of its members to be a perfect match. “I was struck by the unique opportunities the Genetics Institute affords for interactions between researchers in different disciplines,” Concannon says. As someone who has always approached scientific research from an interdisciplinary perspective, he sees his role as continuing to foster and

support that atmosphere among his new colleagues. “Now I have a much larger canvas to paint on,” he says. The Genetics Institute includes more than 230 researchers in different colleges and on different campuses, and Concannon has been visiting with as many of the scientists as possible to get a sense of the strengths and challenges the institute faces. One of the institute’s strengths lies in its diversity: Researchers study aspects of the genetics of insects, plants, pathogens and humans. The targets differ, but the quest to understand these organisms at the genetic level ties the research together. Indeed, Concannon’s own research reads like a multidisciplinary manifesto. He examines the role of genetics in areas as diverse as Type 1 diabetes, breast cancer and radiation sensitivity, and malnutrition. His laboratory has more than $12 million in support from federal and non-profit organizations. “I enjoy science in the broadest sense,” Concannon says. “It allows you to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I wonder why something is the way it is.’ If you want to study something, you just need to get the funding to do so.” He sees the evolution of his research as a microcosm for the field of genetics


as a whole. He started out focusing on autoimmune diseases and began to look at the genetic aspects of these diseases, particularly Type 1 diabetes. A colleague introduced him to a group of people who had two rare genetic disorders that are characterized by hypersensitivity to ionizing radiation, and he realized that he might be able to do research that could directly benefit these people. He began to work on mapping and identifying the particular genes responsible for these diseases. He then went on to study the function of these genes, which required boning up on cell biology and biochemistry. “Some of the best ideas in science come from the interface between disciplines,” Concannon says. Soon he found himself working on a similar problem in women who develop contralateral breast cancer, where distinct tumors form in the opposite breast from the original tumor. The theory was that the second independent tumors might be caused by the primary treatment of the first tumor with radiation. This work required learning epidemiology and opened up another area for Concannon — individualized treatment based on genetics. Because of this new interest in individualized treatment, he began to collaborate with Stephen Rich of the

“THROUGH THE COMMON USE OF GENETICS TOOLS, THE INSTITUTE BRINGS TOGETHER DISCIPLINES THAT MIGHT ONCE HAVE BEEN ON PARALLEL TRACKS, NEVER INTERSECTING.” — PATRICK CONCANNON

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“ULTIMATELY, EVERYONE IS DOING THINGS TO IMPROVE THE HUMAN CONDITION IN SOME WAY. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I WANT THE SCIENTISTS TO SAY: ‘THE DIRECTOR, AND THE INSTITUTE, CARE ABOUT THE SCIENCE THAT I DO.’” — PATRICK CONCANNON

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Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia to look at the role of genetics in the epidemiology and treatment of common, complex human diseases. With other collaborators at UVA, he began to look at genetics and the effects of malnutrition in developing countries. People who don’t get adequate nutrition end up with stunted growth, frequent infections and cognitive problems. This can be addressed with adequate nutrition, but it turns out that some people respond well physiologically when they begin receiving the right kinds of food, while others do not. Concannon and his colleagues obtained a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study the genetics of the people receiving food to see if their genes affect their physiological responses to better nutrition. They have programs in Bangladesh, Brazil and the Gambia. At the Genetics Institute, Concannon sees an opportunity to assist researchers who want to collaborate with scientists outside their given field, which can often prove to be a challenge. Despite interest in interdisciplinary research from funding agencies, many

programs still can’t easily evaluate interdisciplinary grants. It also can be challenging for people from different colleges to collaborate when their colleagues or laboratories are in different buildings. By continuing to create a common forum and common platform of tools for those studying genetics at UF, Concannon hopes to continue building on the institute’s excellent reputation. While Concannon says he sometimes misses time spent in his lab, he has enjoyed being able to have an impact at a broader level by helping scientists get the things they need to succeed. He sees himself as an advocate and supporter of the scientists who work in the institute. “Ultimately, everyone is doing things to improve the human condition in some way,” Concannon says. “At the end of the day, I want the scientists to say: ‘The director, and the institute, care about the science that I do.’” Patrick Concannon Director, UF Genetics Institute (352) 273-8290 patcon@ufl.edu Related website: http://ufgi.ufl.edu


A HISTORY OF EXCELLENCE

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oncannon succeeds Dr. Kenneth Berns, who directed the UF Genetics Institute starting in 2003. Berns discovered the unique life cycle of the adeno-associated virus, known as AAV, which UF researchers currently use as a gene therapy vector to help treat human diseases, including gene therapy for the human retina to treat forms of blindness. Under Berns’ leadership, Genetics Institute researchers worked to put genetic discoveries to practical use in microbial, plant, animal and human applications. UF has specialized centers on campus focused on this, including the Program in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology, the Powell Gene Therapy Center and the Center for Immunology and Transplantation. These centers use genetics to address disease resistance in food crops, gene therapy for diseases and the identity of genes that cause autoimmune diseases such as diabetes. In addition to specialized centers, individual researchers contribute a wide diversity of scientific information. For instance, Connie Mulligan, a professor of anthropology and member of the Genetics Institute, analyzes genetic variation to reconstruct the evolutionary history of humans and human pathogens. Her laboratory investigates the migration of modern humans out of Africa, colonization of the Americas and ancient DNA. One of her lab’s current projects looks at possible genetic factors passed on from mothers to newborns in times of stress that might affect health outcomes. They work with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ongoing war and the use of rape as a weapon have created one of the most stressful and traumatic environments for women worldwide.

Another project involves the genetics of loblolly pine, which represents a $200 billion industry in 10 southern states. Gary Peter, John Davis and Matias Kirst, professors in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, are developing genetically improved loblolly pine trees that yield greater amounts of terpene to be used as biofuels. Currently, trees have a terpene content of 3-5 percent. The researchers are modifying genes within the tree to bring that number to 20 percent. In addition to genetic studies and genetic modification, another strength at UF lies in the genomic approaches researchers take when they examine an organism. Using genomics, scientists can look at the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism. This gives them a complete genetic “picture” of an organism instead of looking at the role and function of a single gene. Henry Baker, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and associate director of the Genetics Institute, is performing genomic analyses for a consortium of scientists seeking to understand the genomic factors underlying inflammation in severely injured or burned patients to better guide treatment. He and his colleagues use gene chips — small bits of material that hold probes for tens of thousands of genes — to generate a “snapshot” in time of which genes are working and which are shut off in particular cells. Working with these and other scientists is what brought Concannon to the University of Florida. “I’m very excited by the quality and the diversity of the research here,” Concannon says. “I look forward to working with the researchers toward the next stage in the institute’s development.”


By Cindy Spence

28 Fall 2013


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f the Fountain of Youth exists, Kathleen Deagan likely will find it.

The University of Florida archaeologist has made discoveries throughout the Spanish Colonial World: La Navidad, the site of Columbus’ shipwrecked crew in 1492, and La Isabela the settlement from his second voyage in 1493; a Native American town from the 1400s; the first stone church in North America; and the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. At St. Augustine’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, Deagan has uncovered the remains of a 1565 fort, the first successful European effort to settle in the United States. After s t ugustine s th 40 years on digs throughout the Spanish Colonial world, the UF archaeologist has yet to run across anniversary approaches the Fountain of Youth. archaeologists historians But in this, Florida’s 500th anniversary, she and other UF scholars and historians can’t seem and preservationists lead to escape Juan Ponce de Leon or the legend of his the way in bringing the quest for eternal youth. The conquistador sailed up the east coast of nation s oldest city to life Florida, discovered the Gulf Stream and claimed La Florida in 1513 for Spain. Today, communities eager to stake their own claims to history build statues and read proclamations: Ponce de Leon was here, Ponce de Leon was there. What does history reveal?

A S .A

’ 450 , UF

,

Inset: The First Thanksgiving, St. Augustine, 1565, Michael Rosato.

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“He landed, he left,” Deagan says with a matter-of-fact smile, the location lost to time. Still, as Florida celebrates 500 years, and St. Augustine gets ready to celebrate its 450th birthday in 2015, Deagan says there is value in marking the dates. Like a n the English Colonial world, there is family getting ready for a wedding at home, Florida and St. Augustine are sprucing up. The little material evidence of intermingling anniversaries also pique the interest of state and federal agencies in telling Florida’s story, a story with Native Americans or Africans; in older than those of Jamestown and Plymouth the Spanish Colonial world virtually and one that leverages money for research and preservation. every household shows the influence UF has pitched in with gusto. UF already had historic preservation and museum studies programs, of Native Americans and Africans , and students in archaeology, anthropology and history have made the city 90 minutes east of Gainesville a an early sign of what Deagan calls popular research destination for decades. But in an unusual move, the Florida Legislature in 2007 asked UF America’s “ethnic stew.” to take on the responsibility for maintaining and operating the 38 state-owned historic structures in St. Augustine, most notably the iconic Government House, a former post office and customs house that in some form has been the centerpiece of the town plaza for centuries. The legislature allocated funds in 2010, and UF found itself in the heritage tourism and preservation business in St. Augustine. Just three years later, all the buildings — some with rotten wood, droopy balconies and leaky roofs — have been stabilized. A new museum exhibit just opened in Government House and the university has entered into another groundbreaking agreement: a public-private partnership for a living history attraction.

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1589 engraving by Baptista Boazio of the raid on St. Augustine by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. From the beginning, UF viewed the task ahead as an almost sacred trust. “It’s important for the people of St. Augustine to be able to walk down the street and see these buildings being taken care of for the public benefit,” says Linda Dixon, associate director of UF Facilities, Planning and Construction and operations and administration director for UF Historic St. Augustine. The care taken with every detail honors the decades of UF scholars who have worked to get St. Augustine the proper historical recognition. Notable among those scholars is Deagan, who has spent more than 40 years literally in the archaeological trenches of St. Augustine, starting with her doctoral work in UF’s St. Augustine Archaeological Field School in 1972. In the then-new field of historical archaeology, combining documents and artifacts to reveal the past, Deagan set out to explore the role of women in the Spanish Colonial world. Documents painted a limited picture of the intermarriage of Spaniards and Native Americans and the domestic lives that resulted, so Deagan turned to archaeology. “I assumed that the native women in these households would be sort of invisible, with no ability to assert their

own sense of self or identity, but that wasn’t true at all,” Deagan says. “I was intrigued by the idea that you really do have to organize your information, whether it’s documentary or archaeological, according to gender, look at women’s activities and look at men’s activities, which at that point in 1972 was not a real popular thing to do.” The Spaniards’ openness to the influence of Native American and African cultures also surprised her. In the English Colonial world, there is little material evidence of intermingling with Native Americans or Africans; in the Spanish Colonial world virtually every household shows the influence of Native Americans and Africans, an early sign of what Deagan assumed that the calls America’s “ethnic stew.” native women in these houseAs time passed an American identity developed, she holds would be sort of invisible, says, with a shift from “I’m a Spaniard, living with no ability to assert their in America,” to “I’m an own sense of self or identity, but American with Spanish heritage.” that wasn’t true at all. The differences in the stories told — K athy Deagan by documents and by artifacts also became clear.

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Eric Zamora

Deagan, right, and other UF archaeologists, preservationists and historians have collected more than two million artifacts, making the Florida Museum of Natural History the foremost repository of Spanish Colonial artifacts. Below, Government House is the centerpiece of UF Historic St. Augustine efforts. The former governor’s mansion and custom house has, in one form or another, overlooked the town square for centuries.

In letters home, the Spanish settlers appeared to be on the brink of starvation. “The people in St. Augustine were always saying, ‘We’re starving, we’re starving, we’re eating our boots, please send more supplies,’” Deagan says. “Yet, in their actual household trash, they’re eating tons of fish. They weren’t starving, they just didn’t like what they were eating.” As Deagan and other archaeologists, preservationists and historians unearthed mountains of artifacts, documents and drawings, the collection drawers at the Florida Museum of Natural History filled with more than two million artifacts, making it the foremost repository of Spanish Colonial artifacts.

The museum had been thinking about a St. Augustine exhibit when Government House came under UF’s wing, says Darcie MacMahon, director of exhibits. “We had all these stories, a lot of knowledge, a lot of collections, all these artifacts that sort of screamed to be exhibited,” says MacMahon. When the state Bureau of Historic Preservation allocated $2.9 million for Government House renovations and the exhibit, MacMahon says, “it made sense to go forward together,” and unveil everything in time for the quincentennial and St. Augustine’s celebration soon after. Visitors begin the journey through “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” much as colonists did, entering the hold of a Spanish ship. The exhibit tells St. Augustine’s story through actual Spanish colonists, Native Americans and Africans, taken from the pages of diaries, letters, birth, death and tax records. Artifacts are accompanied by iPads and QR codes, and a video “fly-through” allows visitors to tour the first settlement and meet people along the way. Visitors can be virtual archaeologists, or create digital collages reflecting their own cultural roots. One display features spoken Timucuan, the language of the Native Americans who greeted the settlers. In keeping with its roots, the entire exhibit is in English and Spanish.

“First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” immerses visitors in the story of St. Augustine by using touchscreens, a video “ fly-through,” virtual archaeology, digital collages and audio in English, Spanish and even Timucuan, the language of the Native Americans who greeted the settlers.

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For Deagan, the exhibit was fraught with pitfalls. In lectures, conversations and articles, she can explain the limits of the knowledge that comes from an artifact buried for hundreds of years. An exhibit requires a definitive visual interpretation. For example, while skeletal remains reveal the height and build of the Timucuans, documents say they were tattooed. But where were the tattoos, what did they look like? Designs on pottery provide clues, but they are still just clues. In setting a Thanksgiving table — the real first Thanksgiving — an artist needs to choose a color, a design, a size. “It takes hours to look at all the potential analogs and explain why something can’t look the way an artist has drawn it,” Deagan says. After spending two years at Government House, the exhibit will go on a national tour in 2015. “We had a real interest in reaching a national audience because of the way American history tends to be taught,” MacMahon says. “The English Colonial imprint has been stronger than the Spanish Colonial imprint, and we hope to correct that historical bias.” As UF historian Michael Gannon likes to put it, by the time the English landed at Jamestown in 1607, St. Augustine was 42 years old and “up for urban renewal.” The early blending of cultures is evident in UF’s public-private

partnership in Colonial Quarter, a short walk from Government House. Pat Croce — an entrepreneur who once owned the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team — had already moved his Pirate and Treasure Museum to St. Augustine from Key West when he put in a bid to update the living history attraction on one acre of the St. George Street pedestrian mall, in the heart of the historic district. That he had the resources was clear. The pirate museum next door licenses Disney’s binaural technology for 3-D sound and Disney Imagineers worked on some displays. The collection of historic pirate memorabilia is almost priceless and includes the only treasure chest with provenance to an actual pirate, one of only three genuine Jolly Rogers and handfuls of pieces of eight. Antiques Roadshow filmed an episode based on the collection. Croce’s vision for Colonial Quarter was similarly grand but strayed from a strict historical interpretation of the site, which includes the 1740s-era DeMesa Sanchez House, and he had some convincing to do. Herschel Shepard — a retired professor and former

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isitors

begin the journey

“First Colony: Our Spanish Origins” much as colonists did, entering the hold of a Spanish ship. The exhibit uses diaries , letters , birth, through

death and tax records to tell the stories of real pioneers.

Florida Museum of Natural History photos by Kristen Grace.

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director of UF’s Preservation Institute: Nantucket, the nation’s oldest field school for historic preservation — went to bat for his is hallowed ground. When the idea. “If we don’t take the historic structures I walk through the DeMesa and put them to a contemporary use, we’ll house, I am walking over the lose them,” says Shepard, an early supporter of UF Historic St. Augustine. “We must find a same ground people have way to use them that is interesting to the public walked for 270 years. and pays for their use.” Shepard, Deagan and other UF scholars found — Pat Croce themselves vetting the renovations, costumes, even the information signs. UF scholars approved everything, and UF shares the copyright to the 48 Entrepreneur Pat Croce, above, says Colonial Quarter brings history bilingual text panels and the interpretive scripts used by alive with its reenactments, like the leather worker, below. The heritage reenactors. tourism attraction is located on St. George Street, bottom, a pedestrian Colonial Quarter is set up in quadrants — 16th- and mall that cuts through the historic district. 17th-century Spanish and Spanish and British in the 18th century — each era hidden until you turn a corner. It includes an English pub and Spanish tavern. The man who plays the blacksmith is a blacksmith and has helped UF with ironwork renovations elsewhere. “It’s almost like Epcot; instead of countries, it’s centuries you’re moving through,” Croce says. “Kind of Williamsburg meets Epcot.” Croce tripled the $1 million he intended to spend, but doesn’t wince. “This is hallowed ground,” says Croce, his swashbuckling demeanor somber for a moment. “When I walk through the DeMesa house, I am walking over the same ground people have walked for 270 years.” Deagan, a fan of accuracy, says the Colonial Quarter vision at first seemed radical to her, a sort of stroll through the centuries as opposed to a strict interpretation of the site. “I surprised myself,” Deagan says. “I was prepared to be grouchy about it ... but I’m a convert.” Although the pirates in Croce’s museum might say dead men tell no tales, St. Augustine scholars say they do, in the maps, diaries, drawings, letters and documents kept safe in the 300 UF Digital Collections in the George A. Smathers Libraries. Among them is the rapidly expanding Unearthing St. Augustine’s Colonial Heritage, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and curated by Thomas Caswell, and the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, curated by James Cusick, a former Deagan student. Even the rarest materials, including a 1589 map of Sir Francis Drake’s raid on St. Augustine, are online. In the Herschel Shepard Collection, hundreds of pages of drawings, photos and documents on the city’s colonial buildings can be accessed by anyone. Cusick himself, now writing his second book on St. Augustine, uses a particularly detailed 1788 map to pinpoint the site of an 1800 stabbing and where the witnesses

Ray CArson

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stood. So little has changed, the vintage map could be used today to navigate the historic heart of the city. Janet Snyder Matthews, director of research and academics for UF Historic St. Augustine, says the combination of online materials and the proximity to the nation’s oldest city helps students contribute to research. Shepard, though retired, teaches them to “read the buildings.” “If you’re creating professionals to meet the needs of historic preservation in Florida, you want them to have this kind of hands-on experience,” Matthews says. “I think it’s pretty rare to be able to work on real buildings in a concentrated area that has a European history that dates back to the 16th century.” Shepard welcomes students who want to pitch in. “St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied city in North America, yet we don’t have a complete historic structures report on buildings in this town and no database for buildings for which there is a documented history,” Shepard says. “There’s a lot we don’t know about St. Augustine.” Unlike Williamsburg, which is owned by a foundation, St. Augustine is a living laboratory, with all kinds of public and private stakeholders and the challenges that represents. Some of the historic coquina and tabby structures house history, others house shot glasses, tee shirts and ice cream cones. The campy marriage of history and tourism is perhaps most evident at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where the digs themselves are a tourist attraction within the tourist attraction. Visitors sip from the Fountain of Youth then stop to ask Deagan questions, sometimes so many that it is hard to work. Fittingly, it is in the park that Deagan found a Spanish barrel well in 1985, a remnant of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés coming ashore in 1565 and

naming the site St. Augustine. Later digs revealed earthen stains and artifacts that back up her assessment, but Deagan does not rule out future revelations from the same soil. At Fort Mose, north of downtown, the site of the first free black settlement in what is now the United States, Deagan purposely stopped digging to avoid “destroying the only remnant of this singular place.” Archaeologists of the future may well have better remote sensing equipment, better ground penetrating methods, better satellite imagery. “People may come along with new questions that really do need that dirt to be answered,” Deagan says. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone and no one else can ever look at it with different eyes.” Asked about the omnipresent mix of mud and salt and sweat, sunscreen and bug spray that is the lot of an archaeologist, Deagan laughs and says now that she is “retired” she may have success with a manicure. But maybe not. Once you can “read the dirt,” she says, “you just want to keep doing it. It’s such a quest.” Kathleen Deagan Distinguished Research Curator of Archaeology (352) 392-1721 kd@flmnh.ufl.edu Related website: http://www.staugustine.ufl.edu/

One of the oldest maps of St. Augustine, the Thomas Silver map shows British Gen. James Oglethorpe’s attack on St. Augustine in the summer of 1740. The Castillo de San Marcos resisted bombardment, its coquina walls flexing rather than cracking under cannon fire, and the Spanish settlers prevailed.

Historical images courtesy of the University of Florida Digital Collections

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UF EDUCATION EXPERTS TEAM UP WITH A GAINESVILLE TECH COMPANY TO LAUNCH A GAME-CHANGING MATHEMATICS APP By Boaz Dvir

Photography by Eric Zamora

my Adams knew a state-mandated algebra exam that debuted in 2012 was going to be a challenge for her ninthgrade students, but when 60 percent of them failed she was blindsided. “I was very upset,” says Adams, who taught at tiny Central School in Santa Rosa County. “I saw students who put a great deal of effort and energy into being successful and, after all of that, had to look at a piece of paper and see failure. It became my mission to do whatever I could to help students see success.” As he traveled the state talking to teachers that year, Don Pemberton, director of the University of Florida’s

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Lastinger Center for Learning, heard the same disconcerting message about the Algebra 1 End-of-Course exam. Far too many students failed and faced the unnerving (and school-clogging) prospect of having to retake it until they passed, or not graduate high school. The statistics alarmed Pemberton, a national leader in the teacher-quality movement. More than half of Florida’s ninth-graders flunked the 2012 exam. In many high-poverty schools failure rates surpassed 80 percent. “I thought about the students whose futures hinged on getting through algebra,” Pemberton recalls. “I thought about those who must master this

gateway subject to achieve their dreams of becoming physicians, programmers and other professions. I vowed right then to harness UF’s expertise to develop a way to help them.” Returning to Norman Hall, home of the UF College of Education, he pulled together a team of math and science educators for a brainstorming session. They often do this — conjure up ideas for breaking learning barriers — but they rarely emerge as motivated to immediately manifest their imagination as they did that day. “In some ways, we were a bit naïve,” Pemberton says. “But that naiveté served us well. We were all in and we went all out.”


Don Pemberton, director of the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning.

Tipping the cap to the Gator Nation, they named this statewide initiative Algebra Nation and aimed for it to be “everywhere” within a dizzying six months. They immediately set out to:

Create a social-media-based, easy-to-navigate, 24/7 online resource to give students and teachers the high-quality content and support they need. Make it interactive, easy-to-use, rigorous, fun and free to all end-users, including middle and high school students, teachers and parents. Build a homework hotline wall on which students could post questions and receive answers around the clock from peers, teachers and study experts across the state. Team up with some of Florida’s best algebra teachers, making Algebra Nation a potent supplemental classroom tool and giving students on-demand access to differentiated instruction. “Our team saw a need,” Pemberton says, “came up with a potentially viable solution, decided to self-finance it and employed our research-and-development process to build and disseminate Algebra Nation by Jan. 15, 2013.”

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Alicia Stephenson, a teacher at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

The Algebra Nation team dissected the End-of-Course exam and aligned Algebra Nation with the latest state standards. They conducted teacher focus groups around the state, researched online learning, peer tutoring and math instruction; and entered into discussions with tech-platform providers. At the suggestion of advisers at the Florida Innovation Hub at UF, they met with Study Edge owner Ethan Fieldman, the winner of the inaugural Cade Museum Prize for Innovation, named in honor of Gatorade inventor Robert Cade. Fieldman’s Gainesvillebased college tutoring company runs an app for undergrads at UF and other universities that features the core of

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what the Algebra Nation team sought for middle and high school students. The team realized they could swiftly customize and enhance this app to fully actualize their vision. So the Lastinger Center and Study Edge joined forces to make Algebra Nation a reality. “The synergy was there from day one,” Fieldman says. “We prefer and tend to do things on our own. We even print our own booklets. But this partnership made total sense to us.” The team built the initial version of Algebra Nation on Study Edge’s Facebook-based platform, but they recently created a web-based version for teachers and students who need or wish to bypass Facebook. The web-based app

features a responsive design that allows utilization on most computers, smartphones and tablets. From the start, the Algebra Nation team also partnered with Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Education, which provided useful information, offered feedback and suggestions and helped get the word out to teachers. For their part, the teachers also offered extremely valuable feedback. They suggested the Algebra Nation team turn their study guides into a hard-copy Algebra Nation Workbook and record two sets of instructional videos — one at a swift clip for students who understood most of the concepts


and the other at a slower pace for students still trying to grasp the ideas. Also, 30 teachers from around the state stepped into the Study Edge studio across University Avenue from the UF campus to solve math problems on camera. One of them was Alicia Stephenson, a teacher at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. All of her eighth-graders passed the 2012 Algebra 1 End-of-Course exam, yet she requested to incorporate Algebra Nation into her lessons “as soon as it was ready.”

“Sure, all of my students passed, but not all of them got a 5 [the top score],” Stephenson says. “I felt that Algebra Nation would sharpen their algebra proficiency. I also wanted to see how other teachers explained certain concepts so I could sharpen my lesson plans.” On January 8, 2013, Stephenson unveiled Algebra Nation in her classroom. That night, she wrote to say how quickly her students took to it — during and after school. She marveled that two students who had never raised their

hands in class felt comfortable posting questions and engaging in discussions on the Algebra Wall. “I was doing a HAPPY DANCE!!” she wrote. “It showed yet another aspect of this valuable tool.” Stephenson and her students weren’t the only ones using this tool prior to its official launch. Hundreds of teachers and students across the state who had caught wind of the pending release delved in early, organically launching the Algebra Nation movement.

Algebra Nation study experts Melody Pak and Ashley Dodds record an instructional video.

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On January 24, 2013, Gov. Scott officially launched Algebra Nation at Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg. After touring classrooms in which teachers and students utilized Algebra Nation, he told a room full of local and state leaders, TV and newspaper reporters, teachers and students: “It’s going to be great for our students. It’s going to help them get through algebra.” Over the following four months, Algebra Nation exceeded all expectations. More than half of Florida’s middle and high school algebra teachers, representing 1,200 schools in all 67 school districts, used it at that point. In and out of the classrooms, teachers and students watched the instructional videos more than 116,000 times. Adams, the Santa Rosa County teacher, utilized Algebra Nation as much as possible in her classroom. “I was convinced that it was an important component of preparing my students for the exam and so I used it in a variety of ways,” Adams says She showed the instructional videos in her classroom, handed out the workbooks and utilized Algebra Nation to differentiate instruction among her students. “Some students used it on the school bus,” she says. “For many of them, that

Alicia Stephenson conducts a tutorial session for Algebra Nation.

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meant an extra three hours a day of learning algebra.” In the weeks leading up to the End-of-Course exam in May, students around the state posted as many as 1,000 daily inquiries, answers and comments on the Study Expert-monitored Algebra Wall. A thousand posts a day, by teenagers, about algebra! Not about pop culture or video games. From across the state, they tutored each other, offering advice and encouragement. “It made us proud to be Floridians,” Pemberton says. Students gave the team a great deal of feedback. Among the hundreds of remarks sent via posts, emails and handwritten notes:

“I hope I get to use this tool throughout my life!” “Algebra Nation is so fun and is such a good way to have students practice and learn more.” “Math has always been my toughest subject in school ... therefore the Algebra Nation team has REALLY been helping me.”

When the results of the 2013 Algebra 1 End-of-Course exam came out, Florida students showed a marked improvement. Ninth-graders boosted their passage rate by more than 8 percentage points, going from a majority failing to a majority passing. “Although we’ve waited until after our first year to conduct a scholarly study of Algebra Nation,” Pemberton says, “we found the results extremely encouraging.” Seeing the difference Algebra Nation made for their students, teachers from around the state called their representatives in Tallahassee to ask the Florida Legislature to expand the program in the 2013-14 school year. At the same time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invited the Algebra Nation team to apply for a $250,000, two-year grant. As the team scrambled to write the Gates proposal, they got an unexpected call: The Florida Legislature was including a $2 million allocation for the project in the 2013-14 state budget.


After investing about $400,000 in Algebra Nation the first year, UF and Study Edge “had planned to continue self-financing it the second year,” Pemberton says. “We’re honored that the Florida Legislature has independently recognized that Algebra Nation is making a difference for teachers, students and parents.” With the $2 million legislative allocation, the Algebra Nation team is substantially enhancing the program’s reach and impact in many ways, including:

Developing ways for teachers to fully integrate the program in their classrooms. Aligning the Algebra Nation material with the latest state standards. Creating new, more-powerful assessment tools. Generating more-sophisticated and complex data. Updating, upgrading and widely distributing the Algebra Nation Workbook. Boosting usage by working with even more teachers.

The capacity to take Algebra Nation to the next level grew again when the team learned it had also earned the Gates grant. Over the next two years, they plan to design, build, field-test and implement the Algebra Nation Common Core Teacher Development Network. This online network — a new component of Algebra Nation devoted to teachers — will help Florida smooth the transition to the new Common Core State Standards. During the summer of 2013, when Pemberton visited teachers and administrators around the state, he heard a different take on the Algebra 1 exam. Educators felt better, more confident about this test – thanks in large part, they said, to Algebra Nation. “One teacher who utilized Algebra Nation extensively told me her passage rate increased by 40 percent,” Pemberton says. “Now we want to have that kind of impact on every classroom in Florida.”

Adams, the Santa Rosa County teacher, saw a similarly dramatic increase in her students’ scores: Their passage rate leaped from 45 percent to 70 percent. “The scores for the EOC are released at 5 am. I asked my principal to call me as soon as she received them,” Adams says. “The index card on which I scribbled my students’ scores looks like chicken scratch because my hands were shaking. Seventy percent of my students passed. We made great gains and assuredly, Algebra Nation was a key player in those advancements.” She’s so convinced that this program makes a significant difference that she has joined the Algebra Nation team to work with teachers around the state in incorporating it into their classrooms. “I know what Algebra Nation can do,” Adams says. “Now I’m excited to help as many teachers and students as possible to benefit from it. I keep that index card on my desk. When things get difficult, it reminds me why this is a battle worth fighting”

Donald Pemberton Director, Lastinger Center for Learning (352) 273-4108 dpemberton@coe.ufl.edu Related website: http://www.algebranation.com/

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Excel

Natali Di Russo and Professor Adrian Roitberg.

Oscar Tarazona, Professor Martin Cohn and Francisca Leal.

UF Graduate students win prestigious H HMI awards

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atali Di Russo works in computational biology in the University of Florida’s Department of Chemistry and Quantum Theory Project. Francisca Leal in the Department of Biology is investigating how evolution of the genome affects embryonic development. Their research differs, but the two doctoral students have one thing in common: Both have been awarded a coveted Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Student Research Fellowship for 2013-14. The prestigious $43,000-a-year grants cover the third, fourth and fifth year of doctoral research for international students in biology, chemistry, physics, math, computer science, engineering, plant biology and interdisciplinary research. The HHMI program is in its third year and was designed for outstanding international students, who are often excluded from other top fellowship opportunities, such as those offered by the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. To qualify, a student must be invited and must be studying at one of 61 HHMI institutions.

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Di Russo, who is from Argentina, is conducting research on environmentally friendly ways to break the chemical bond of the oxygen molecule in the laboratory of Adrian Roitberg, the Col. Allen and Margaret G. Crow Term Professor in the Department of Chemistry. Breaking the oxygen bond requires high energy, and current processes use expensive metals. Di Russo is researching the use of enzymes to weaken the bond, making it possible to break the oxygen bond without using metals. Such a breakthrough would allow for the development of new industrial and pharmaceutical applications, Roitberg said. Leal, a student from Colombia, is investigating the evolution of limblessness in snakes, a problem investigated in the 1990s by her mentor, Professor Martin Cohn, who was named an HHMI Early Career Scientist in 2009. Advances in genomics created an opportunity to revisit this question, and Leal discovered that a gene required for limb formation actually flickers on briefly but then goes silent. Although Cohn missed that development years ago, he says, “It is really quite gratifying to have my earlier work corrected by my own student.”

Another Cohn student, Oscar Tarazona, was named an HHMI International Student Fellow in 2011, the program’s first year, and, coincidentally, is married to Leal. Tarazona, also from Colombia, studies the relationship between genomic control of embryonic development and evolution, with a focus on the genetic recipe for cartilage in evolution. He is pioneering the use of invertebrates as models to study cartilage development and disease. Cohn said the odds of having two graduate students who are husband and wife receive the same award would seem slim, but their work ethic makes it unsurprising. “Each is as smart and accomplished as the other,” said Cohn, who is the only HHMI scientist in Florida. “When your work is subject to peer review at the dinner table every night, it’s going to make you a better scientist.” Leal said the award “builds up my confidence as a young scientist and allows me to think about riskier but more rewarding scientific questions." HHMI awarded 42 fellowships this year and now supports 140 students from 35 countries who have shown promise as scientific investigators.


Sixtine Gurrey

UF scientists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

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team of University of Florida researchers who played a significant role in proving the existence of the Higgs boson — the so-called God particle — celebrated the October announcement of the Nobel Prize in physics for two scientists who nearly 50 years ago theorized the Higgs’ existence. The UF High-Energy Experimental Group, led by distinguished professor Guenakh Mitselmakher and comprising about 40 people — nine faculty and more than 30 research personnel and students — was one of the largest U.S. groups involved in the experiment in Geneva, Switzerland, that found the Higgs in July 2012. “Almost 20 years ago, the University of Florida and the department of physics leaders made a very significant investment by hiring several faculty who formed the core of the UF High Energy Experimental Group, which played a leading role in the discovery of the Higgs particle,” Mitselmakher said. “I am happy to commend their vision in supporting the fundamental science at our university.

Physics Professor Guenakh Mitselmakher celebrates the awarding of the Nobel Prize in physics to the two scientists who theorized about the Higgs boson particle with a special bottle of wine the UF team had been saving for just such an occasion.

“The Higgs particle discovery is a major milestone, one of the key discoveries in science, explaining how the world works. It will remain important as long as the science exists.” UF Vice President for Research David Norton offered his congratulations. “Understanding the fundamental nature of matter is a pursuit that captures the interest of all humankind,” Norton said. “Knowing that UF physicists played a significant role in this discovery, recognized with the highest honor bestowed in science, is indeed a proud day for the University of Florida.” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in physics to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert to recognize their work since the 1960s in developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field. The Higgs particle is responsible for the explanation of the masses of the fundamental particles from which the matter in the universe is built.

In 2012, scientists on the international ATLAS and CMS experiments, performed at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN laboratory in Switzerland, confirmed this theory when they announced the discovery of the Higgs boson last year. The UF team was part of the CMS experiment. Since 1995, Mitselmakher and UF professors Andrey Korytov and Darin Acosta have led an international team that designed and built the muon detectors used by the CMS experiment for the Higgs discovery. A large number of these detectors were built in the UF department of physics and then transported to CERN for installation in the CMS experiment.

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Explore Magazine Box 115500 Gainesville, FL 32611-5500

Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Gainesville, FL Permit No. 94

Kongo across the Waters October 22, 2013 - March 23, 2014 Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art Kongo across the Waters explores connections between the art and culture of the Kongo peoples of western Central Africa and African American art and culture in the United States. Kongo across the Waters celebrates Kongoinfluenced cultural traditions primarily in the southeastern United States, including Florida, and commemorates 500 years since the first African conquistador, Juan Garrido, came to the Americas. The exhibition coincides with the Viva Florida celebration of 500 years of Florida’s cultural heritage. Kongo across the Waters is a collaborative project by the Harn Museum of Art and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. Elizabeth F. Kinlaw, American, In and out basket, 2012, Samuel P Harn Museum of Art Collection http://www.kongoacrossthewaters.org/


UF Explore magazine Winter 2013