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Magnetic Attraction Carolina’s rare books and special collections draw scholars and researchers from around the globe.

Also in this issue • Holding Back Time • The Burden of Pills • Edible Cancer Therapy?

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pg. 23 OFFICE OF RESEARCH UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA President Harris Pastides Vice President for Research Prakash Nagarkatti Research Communications Manager Elizabeth Renedo Director of University Communications and Marketing/ Chief Communications Officer Wes Hickman

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Office of Communications and Marketing Creative Director Bob Wertz Editor Chris Horn Magazine Designer Brandi Lariscy Avant Contributing Writers Craig Brandhorst, Chris Horn, Page Ivey, Liz McCarthy, Steven Powell Photographer Kim Truett Cover Artist Maria Fabrizio, ’08 BFA Website To comment on an item in Breakthrough or to suggest an idea for a future issue, contact the University of South Carolina’s Office of Research at 803-777-5458 or email The University of South Carolina does not discriminate in educational or employment opportunities or decisions for qualified persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, genetics or veteran status. 14002 UCS 10/14

The University of South Carolina is committed to sustainability in all facets of operation, including the production of publications such as this one, which is printed on paper certified by SmartWood to the FSC standards.

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In brief

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Magnetic attraction Carolina’s rare books and special collections draw scholars and researchers from around the globe.

13 /

Crisis in review Researcher crunches the numbers

14 /

Q&A with Jason Hattrick-Simpers A professor

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The Spanish connection A senior instructor’s new textbook shines in pilot study.

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The ecology of world literature A comparative lit faculty member offers a new metaphor for approaching world literature.

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Holding back time When it comes to cholesterol,

on the 2008 economic crisis.

in the College of Engineering and Computing discusses his role in a national initiative.

things improve with age (and exercise).

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The art of science Eye-catching: really close — objects of nature become objets d’art.

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Edible cancer therapy? Genetically modified plants could deliver potent anti-tumor agents.

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In the pipeline Advanced warfare: Pharmacy professor targets defective signaling pathway in melanoma.

Visit for more information Video at breakthrough

On the Cover: Letters of Ernest Hemingway from the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library; illustration by Maria Fabrizio

Prakash Nagarkatti, Ph.D. Vice President for Research University of South Carolina

Every generation faces its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. In the twentieth century, great minds came together to develop a vaccine for polio, create the most revolutionary information tools humanity has ever known and even escape the earth’s gravitational pull to put the first man on the moon. These accomplishments, and so many more, marked one of the most active periods in the history of scientific advancement. These advancements share one key factor that was instrumental in bringing them all to fruition: financial investments in research and development that enabled great minds to focus on important questions, and come up with innovative solutions. As you’ll read in the following pages, our university has worked hard to garner a growing share of these investments, gaining both an overall sponsored award funding record of $242.8 million and our highest-ever level of federal sponsored awards. This is great news for Gamecocks, and great news for our state, nation and world, as we put these dollars to work, pushing scientific understanding forward and possibly even supporting the next big breakthrough in human health, advanced energy technology, global environment or another vital area of need. This is why today’s research investments are so important: They translate into tomorrow’s discoveries and better lives for our own future and those of generations to come. In this issue, we highlight just a few of the Carolina innovators working to make these goals into realities.

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Yao Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering, works on solid oxide electrolysis cells, which USC engineers are working to harness as a means of converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into stored chemical energy.

Fall 2015 / 3

In brief

BLENDED-WINGING IT The University of South Carolina was part of a team garnering

First-year graduate student Max Boozer was the youngest

recognition in the aerospace field at the JEC Europe Compos-

member of the optimization team, which included university

ites Show & Conferences in Paris this year. An Innovation Award

partners N.C. State and Stanford, and he will be taking a lead

in the special prize category went to the group behind the

role on the project in the coming year.

design and optimization of VX Aerospace’s “KittyHawk.”

of a project, but with the KittyHawk I get to see the entire

is something in between. In a configuration called a “blend-

design process, which I think will make me a better engineer in

ed-wing body” aircraft, the wings seamlessly transition into the

the end,” Boozer says. “But probably the best part about the

central part of the vehicle that carries passengers and cargo.

research is getting to apply it — it’s not just a homework prob-

The overall appearance resembles that of a flying wing, but

lem. When you produce something real, something that’s going

with a clearly defined fuselage.

to fly, you feel really good about it.”

The KittyHawk was designed and built as an airworthy 1:4-size mockup by VX Aerospace, a firm located in Morganton, N.C. Michel van Tooren, director of USC’s McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, had developed an aeronautical structural optimization tool with colleague Ali Elham while formerly at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and the software was used to improve drag by 10 percent and reduce weight by the same amount in the KittyHawk.

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“Most of the time engineers have to focus on one small aspect

Neither a traditional airplane nor a flying wing, the KittyHawk

NEXT GENERATION BATTERIES AND FUEL CELLS Scientists from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University have made a discovery that could dramatically improve the efficiency of batteries and fuel cells.


Communications, involves improving the transport of

Student survey of TV show medical orders reveals a raft of errors

oxygen ions, a key component in converting chemical

A child’s sore throat swells, blocking his airway and doc-

energy into electricity. The team studied a well-known

tors must work quickly to help him breathe. The attending

The research, which is published in the journal Nature

material, gadolinium doped ceria (GDC), which transports oxygen ions and is currently in use as a solid oxide fuel cell

physician, Dr. Peter Benton, turns to the nurse and orders “Ceftriaxone 750 mg IV q12.” The dramatic sequence occurred in the first season of

electrolyte. Through the use of additives and a “smart”

television’s “ER.” The problem? The medication order was

chemical reaction, they demonstrated a greatly enhanced


conductivity in GDC. The result is a faster and more efficient conversion into electricity. “This breakthrough will pave the path to fabricate next generation energy conversion and storage devices with

“When using ceftriaxone, an antibiotic, for this indication, it is only dosed once daily, not twice (q12= every 12 hours),” says USC pharmacy student Alexas Polk. “So that would be one medication error for this series.” Polk and fellow pharmacy student Sarah DeMott

significantly enhanced performance, increasing energy

researched nearly 5,000 medical orders given on television

efficiency and making energy environmentally benign and

medical shows since 1989, the year “Doogie Howser, M.D.,”

sustainable,” said Fanglin “Frank” Chen, a mechanical

began. They found that fictional TV doctors were wrong

engineering professor in Carolina’s College of Engineering

about 12 percent of the time.

and Computing.

“That’s a lot,” DeMott says. “In the real world, you want 100 percent accuracy.” But, it’s just TV, right. What does it matter? “Research has shown that patients get a lot of their medical information from these shows,” Polk says. The information from fictional shows mixes in with real information they get from other sources to the point where patients can’t remember which “facts” came from which sources. “They will come in to their doctor and say, ‘Can’t you do such and so?’ and the doctor will have no idea what they are talking about because it’s not real,” Polk says. The students’ project made use of about 15 students watching hours and hours of TV shows and noting medical orders. It is the first big research work done by either student and one of the first to explore the topic. Polk and DeMott presented their findings at USC’s annual celebration of undergraduate research, Discovery Day, this past spring. The pair were aided in their research by a Magellan grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Fall 2015 / 5

In brief

HS  Health Sciences THE PHARMACIST IS IN Pharmacists might soon become an integral part of many

external support from the Kennedy Center or other part-

physician practices, much like physicians assistants and

ners. The team has another pilot program running, this time

nurse practitioners are now, thanks to the success of an

in a rural setting in Lancaster, and recently started a third,

ongoing program developed by the Kennedy Pharmacy

in Summerville.

Innovation Center.

as determining how many patients are ideal for a pharma-

S.C. College of Pharmacy graduate Paul Fleming with Pal-

cist in a given setting, whether telephone monitoring might

metto Primary Care Physicians, the largest physician-owned

or might not be effective, or how a pharmacist might be

practice in South Carolina, in their North Charleston office,

“shared” between multiple smaller practices — the Kennedy

Trident Medical Arts Center. The goal was to integrate a

Center team is refining a model it hopes to spread.

pharmacist into the interdisciplinary medical team focused on the patient. After working just one year within the practice, Fleming demonstrated dramatic success with patients with high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes — about three-quarters of patients in each category showed improvement. From a business point of view, the bottom line was served as well, as the practice elected to hire Fleming full time without 6 / Breakthrough

By studying how to best optimize the arrangement — such

Working with several partners, the Kennedy Center placed

“The patient benefits by optimizing time with the provider who can provide the best outcome” says Bob Davis, a professor in the Kennedy Pharmacy Innovation Center. “It really allows the professionals involved to work at the top of their license,” says Bryan Ziegler, the Kennedy Center’s executive director. “So the patients get the best care possible.”

DON’T TREAD ON ME — SERIOUSLY, NOW Two words that arouse immediate fear in some people inspire something else altogether in Jennifer Fill. “I love snakes and fire,” says Fill, who recently completed her docotral degree at Carolina. “When I was looking at grad schools, I thought, ‘If I can just combine those two things, I bet I’ll be really happy.’” The fires she’s interested in are forest fires, and the snake that was the subject of her doctoral studies is Crotalus adamanteus, commonly called the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Once widespread throughout the southeastern U.S., eastern diamondback rattlesnakes have become extremely rare due to loss of habitat. An eastern diamondback hasn’t been spotted in the wild in Louisiana in 20 years, and conservationists applied in 2011 to have it listed federally as an endangered species. One key element of the diamondback’s natural habitat is Fill’s second research love: fire. Diamondbacks have long been associated with open-canopy forests, or savannas, in the southeastern U.S. These habitats experience frequents fires, which turn out to be no problem for at least one important tree, the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris. Fill says its combination of growth patterns and structure make the longleaf pine one of the most fire-resistant trees around. Forest fire prevention has had a side effect of converting many savannas into dense forests by removing the selection pressure of natural, periodic wildfires or managed fires from the equation, Fill says. The longleaf pine is out-competed by other tree species, the open canopy is closed and the ecosystem changes accordingly. Fill, who is interested in applying academic research to practical conservation efforts, appreciates the disposition of the rattlesnakes — and snakes in general after working with them for years. She had to periodically capture diamondbacks to replace or fit a new radio transmitter for tracking, and handling them over the years reinforced the textbook conclusion that snakes are innately shy, even those with a fearsome reputation. “The very last thing that they want is for you to even see them, much less rattle or bite,” she says. “These snakes are not aggressive animals and actually have distinct personalities. It’s been a privilege to see how they live in these fiery places.”

Fall 2015 / 7

DOING THE RIGHT THING The right and wrong way to conduct auto recalls General Motors is in the midst of a series of large-scale, costly

Bowen published in “Public Relations Review” a quantitative

automobile recalls, and the process has engendered an assess-

study of print media covering Toyota during that time that

ment of the company in the public arena that isn’t particularly

underscores the importance of corporate ethical response


when faced with questions about customer safety.

GM might well be going through the ordeal in a way that

“This is one of the first, if not the first, studies that looks

minimizes lasting damage to its brand and the firm’s long-term

at both the mass media response and the organizational

financial health, though, according to Shannon Bowen, a public

response,” Bowen says.

relations expert and professor in Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. If that proves to be the case, it would stem from one of GM’s biggest competitors, Toyota.

their press releases to indicate that the crisis was essentially accidental — the result of inadvertent technical errors, for

The guidance derives from a sterling example of what not to do

example, or things that were beyond the company’s control,

in a similar situation. Between 2008 and 2010, Toyota recalled

such as external suppliers. By contrast, the print media more

more than 12 million vehicles of numerous makes bearing the

often reported that preventive action on Toyota’s part could

Toyota and Lexus nameplate. The recalls were accompanied

have reduced negative outcomes, which included injuries and

by a series of multimillion-dollar penalties imposed by the U.S.


government, followed in spring 2014 by a whopping $1.2-billion settlement and admission of criminal liability by Toyota. The penalties were imposed for actions dating to the mid-2000s that eventually precipitated the recalls and for what the government termed unacceptable delays in the face of internal data that should have spurred the automaker into immediate action. “This was the largest auto recall in history at the time,” says Bowen. “They had quality-control issues across the board — steering, braking systems and more. But the real problem was how they responded to the quality issues — an ethical challenge that Toyota failed.”

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One finding was that Toyota was significantly more likely in

GM seems to have learned something from Toyota’s experience. “They have been much more forthcoming and transparent during the recalls they’re undertaking,” Bowen says. “Crisis management always begins with a willingness to identify and address problems in an ethically responsible manner. “The future of GM reliability depends on it, as it does in every organization that faces a crisis or recall. Quality can be rebuilt but reputation is a challenge.”

SPONSORED AWARDS REACH RECORD HIGH OF $242.8 MILLION The Office of the Vice President for Research is pleased to

The largest 2015 sponsored awards will support a wide variety

announce another record-setting year for research and spon-

of important initiatives:

sored award funding at Carolina. In fiscal year 2015, USC faculty garnered $242.8 million in sponsored awards. This figure represents a 5.5 percent increase over 2014’s impressive funding levels, and sets a new record high for the state’s only Carnegie

$18.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to continue the successful South Carolina IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or INBRE program, which develops

tier-one institution of very high research activity.

programs in areas such as regenerative medicine, biochemistry

There is more to the 2015 sponsored awards success story.

the state.

The university’s federal awards, the most competitive type of funding available, topped the FY2014 record of $150 million by 4.5 percent, garnering a total of $156.8 million for FY2015, another record for the Palmetto State’s flagship university. Top federal award sponsors for USC in 2015 include the National Institutes of Health at $46.6 million, the Department of Health and Human Services (agencies other than NIH) at $43.2 million and the National Science Foundation at $12.4 million. Notably,

and molecular biology at ten colleges and universities around

$8.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to continue the prestigious Complementary and Alternative Medicine Center for the study of inflammation in the USC School of Medicine—one of only 11 centers of its kind in the United States. $5.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to manage a competitive grants program that supports research aimed at understanding the drivers of food choice in South

USC funding from the U.S. Department of Energy increased by

Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

more than 50 percent from 2014, as the agency awarded $14.9

$4.7 million from the Department of State to fund the Jus-

million to the university in 2015.

tice Sector Training, Research and Coordination Program, or

“The faculty members at USC have once again overcome

JusTRAC, a program of USC’s Rule of Law Collaborative that

today’s extremely difficult funding climate to not only succeed, but excel, growing sponsored awards 5.5 percent to achieve the

supports individuals who work in international justice programs by providing training to, and coordinating collaboration among

highest sponsored award funding level our university has ever

a vital worldwide network of rule of law practitioners.

received in a single year,” said USC Vice President for Research

$4 million from the Department of Energy to validate cur-

Prakash Nagarkatti. “Despite the many challenges involved in

rent procedures for storing used nuclear fuel and investigate

competing for awards, USC faculty members have set not just

advanced methods for handling and storing used fuel.

one, but two funding records in 2015, obtaining the highest-ever total awards, and the highest level of federal awards

Reflecting on this record-setting year, USC President Harris

in USC’s history. It is my pleasure to commend USC’s faculty on

Pastides said, “USC’s faculty set two sponsored award records

this outstanding achievement.”

in the past year because of their hard work, excellence and willingness to go the distance by collaborating, innovating and working to achieve more than ever. That they were able to make these strides in such a competitive funding climate makes their accomplishments all the more impressive. Their success is an inspiration to me, to our students and to the entire Gamecock community.”

Fall 2015 / 9

Front & Center

MAGNETIC ATTRACTION Carolina’s rare books and special collections draw scholars and researchers from around the globe.


he collections in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina attract researchers to work with rare materials relevant to their research, which vary from the political papers of Senator Ernest F. Hollings to a collection of horticultural works by Jane Loudon. On the other side of the library is the South Carolina Political Collections, housing the papers of some of the Palmetto State’s most famous and most colorful politicians, providing insights to international researchers looking into Southern politics. The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holds a world-class collection of antiquarian books but also has a collection of early medieval manuscripts, incunabula (early printed books), historical collections, including the history of science and technology, Scottish literature, British literature, children’s and young adult literature, and printed materials and manuscripts by and about 20th and 21st century American authors. “The collections are open to everyone,” says Elizabeth Sudduth, director of University Libraries’ Rare Books and Special Collections. “In addition to USC faculty and students and people of all ages from the region, researchers from all over the world come to use our collections.” The Irvin Department’s holdings of works by and about Ernest Hemingway span three collections and include more than 100 letters between Hemingway and Maurice Speiser, an attorney and a friend, who sometimes acted as Hemingway’s attorney and literary agent. The letters are being examined by Hemingway researchers Miriam Mandel and Al DeFazio, two of several editors of The Cambridge edition of the “Letters of Ernest Hemingway,” a 17-volume scholarly work in progress being published by Cambridge University Press. The Hemingway Letters Project is authorized by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust, holders, respectively, of the U.S. and international rights to the letters. Mandel and DeFazio were in Columbia this summer, “perfecting” letters. Mandel, who traveled to South Carolina 10 / Breakthrough

from Israel, explained that the editors seek to put a date on all Hemingway’s letters, some of which were not dated by the author. Sometimes that includes gleaning insights from the letters’ contents, including such curious details as the size, type and location of fish he caught. Sometimes the same fish gets mentioned in multiple letters and some of those other letters might have dates, enabling the dating of the undated ones. “When I first started, I didn’t note the fish. I didn’t think they were important,” Mandel says of her research. “But they were important to him.” Mandel also is looking for clarification for some letters that might not have photocopied well for various reasons. “One page he sweated on and that smeared the writing on the copy, but you could make it out on the original,” she says. “Another had very fine pencil markings that the scan couldn’t capture.” In all, Mandel estimates there are about 6,000 Hemingway letters globally in various collections. Working with the originals is extremely important, and the Hemingway Letters Project appreciates the generous access they have been given to the collection at Carolina. Another high-profile collection surrounds the beauty of the natural world. Mary Ellen Bellanca, associate professor of English at USC Sumter, is researching the writings of Jane Loudon, an English author and early pioneer of science fiction. Bellanca is working on an article about Loudon’s book “British Wild Flowers” “The purpose of this book was to enable any amateur to identify flowering plants they would see in woods or meadows,” Bellanca says. “She very much approached plant science as a teacher trying to help a student. She thought everyone should learn botany, which was a popular pursuit in Victorian England. “She really had a sense of her audience. She would meet the reader where he or she was.” Loudon’s wildflower book includes many full-page color illustrations, which add a great deal of value and distinguish it from many of her other works. “British Wild Flowers” also contains poems about flowers and Loudon’s commentary on how attractive or not a flower might be. “In a modern field guide, you would not expect poetry or the author’s opinions on the beauty of the flowers; it’s all about the facts because that’s the purpose of a field guide,” Bellanca says. “Jane Loudon took an interdisciplinary approach, you might say, to stimulate the reader’s interest. “These days a lot of books like this are digitized, although this particular one is not, but there still is no substitute for having the work in your hands. It’s valuable to see the book as a reader would have.” In the South Carolina Political Collections, researchers find a treasure trove of archives related to some of the state’s best known and some lesser-known political leaders. David Ballantyne, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, used the university’s political collections for his dissertation about the library’s namesake, Fritz Hollings, former governor and longtime U.S. senator from South Carolina. Fall 2015 / 11

Ballantyne is turning his dissertation into a book about Hollings to be published in fall 2016 by USC Press. “Hollings is a really interesting character, and he doesn’t fit into any of these easy stereotypes about Southern politicians in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s,” Ballantyne says of his subject. “I found the work that he did on the Food Stamp program and trying to uncover poverty in South Carolina and the U.S. the most interesting stuff. “He became really involved in hunger tours in the late 1960s, he did that alongside NAACP officials, which was a pretty unusual thing for a white Southern politician at the time.” Ballantyne credits the staff at the Hollings Library with being key to helping him locate the different pieces of information he needed to complete his work. He says he accessed more than a half-dozen different political collections to round out his biography. “Having the people there who had put the collections together was quite helpful when I began to search for things myself,” Ballantyne says of his time reviewing materials in the comfort of the Dorothy B. Smith Reading Room at the library. Though their subject matter is diverse, all three researchers credited the University Libraries staff for their assistance. “If it wasn’t for Elizabeth Sudduth, I might not have ever looked into this project,” Bellanca says. “The whole collection is brilliantly planned and presented. For me, the amount of British material from the 19th century is a huge plus.”

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CRISIS IN REVIEW Researcher crunches the numbers on 2008 economic crisis

The U.S. financial crisis of 2008 is over but Allen Berger’s work should help prepare policymakers for future economic downturns. Berger, a Carolina Distinguished Professor at the Darla Moore School of Business, focuses on banking and finance, especially economic policy across the world. Recently, he’s been looking into the impact of government actions related to the recent U.S. crisis, specifically the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that allowed the government to purchase assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector during the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. Berger and his students have dissected several aspects of the program to examine what sort of impact governmental actions had on the economy. While some of his research shows that bailing out the banks led to unfair competitive advantage, his other work looks at bigger questions as to whether TARP accomplished its goal of

encouraging banks to lend more and get the economy moving. “The answer there is ‘yes.’ It’s a very strong result. In states that received more TARP money, the employment was higher and bankruptcy was less,” he says. “A little distorted competition is secondary to the primary goal to get the economy going.” The research data Berger and his students have gathered and analyzed could help policymakers determine which relief methods to use in the event of future crises. “There’s no point looking at these things if they’re one-time events, but they’re not one-time events,” he says. Looking back, Berger says the crisis could have been anticipated and intervention could have begun much sooner. “You can never completely control financial markets, but things could have been done in advance,” he says. Monetary policy has a big impact on the markets, he says. Banks tend to take on more risk when interest rates are low.

Now the government has kept interest rates low much longer. That signals there are possibly other bubbles in the market, but it’s not clear where they might be, he says. “The real estate bubble was sort of obvious. Now we don’t know what’s a bubble. Is the stock market in bubble-mode? We’re not sure. Is gold in a bubble? Not sure,” Berger says. “It’s likely that there’s something that’s a bubble that’s being kept up by this expansive monetary policy that could come crashing down and cause another financial crisis.” And Berger should know. He’s been researching U.S. banking policy since he started working for the Federal Reserve more than 30 years ago. “I don’t have a stake in this. I don’t have a bias here. I just go with what the data says.”

Fall 2015 / 13

AM  Advanced Materials

When did the MGI get underway? The MGI has its roots in the so-called Integrate Computational Materials Engineering movement that really started gaining traction in the last few years of the 20th century. Scientists suddenly had


access to powerful personal computers, and reliable modeling tools

With Jason Hattrick-Simpers

The plan is to reduce the amount of time required for the develop-

College of Engineering and Computing University of South Carolina

were being developed that bridged between atomic-scale properties and macro-scale properties. So scientists for the first time were able to model something like a metal blade in a jet turbine to obtain temperature and stress profiles and use that information to create materials-design criteria. The actual MGI was formally announced by the White House in 2011. What is the goal of the MGI?

ment and deployment of new materials in applications (old and emerging). The stated goal is a two-fold reduction, from the current 10 to 20 years down to 5 to 10 years. How is the MGI meant to achieve that? The goal is to create an integrated research workflow that brings together computational, experimental and data science tools. The

The stuff that makes modern life so comfortable — coffeemakers, smartphones, cars, airplanes and all the other devices that make the technological world go around — depends on materials, the building blocks of all that stuff. To speed the pace of research progress in developing new and better materials, the U.S. started the Materials Genome Initiative, and two of the national leaders in the effort are here at the University of South Carolina: Jochen Lauterbach

basic premise is to come up with a new idea or hypothesis, then use modern high-throughput experimental instruments to test that idea. The large data sets produced from these experiments are then combined with existing theoretical and experimental data sets and probed with data science tools to identify so-called “hidden” correlations. These correlations can then be investigated using computational models to uncover the new “rules” for material selection that guide the next round of experiments. The name is similar to the Human Genome Initiative. How are they related?

and Jason Hattrick-Simpers

The overlap between the two names is intentional. A genome is a

of the College of Engineer-

set of information encoded in the language of DNA, which is the

ing and Computing. We asked Hattrick-Simpers a few questions about the MGI and the progress that’s been made so far.

blueprint for an organism’s growth and development. By mapping this genome in the latter part of the 20th century, revolutionary new treatments for all manner of human diseases, among other applications, are being developed. We know that materials also have genomes that can be associated with their final functionality, and that if we can successfully map them, then true “materials by design” could be realized. The benefits for existing technologies, as well as next-generation technologies, will be incredible if we are successful.

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What kind of progress have you made so far? A DARPA project on which I collaborated with Professor Lauterbach was very successful because of our combined expertise in using high-throughput experimental techniques and combing through large data sets to find optimal materials. In another project, we recently demonstrated the creation of high-temperature coatings for nuclear cladding materials, which could have far-reaching implications in the safety of nuclear reactors. During a nuclear meltdown, high-temperature steam reacts with the zircaloy cladding to produce zirconia and hydrogen gas, which will explode when exposed to the atmosphere. Such explosions were the primary causes of the uncontrolled release of radioactive byproducts during the Fukushima-Daiichi and Chernobyl nuclear disasters. New materials that can slow down the rate of this reaction, thus reducing the quantity of hydrogen produced, are an area of urgent need. We used a combination of computationally guided materials synthesis, high throughput experimentation and large-data analysis tools to identify novel iron-based coatings that address this need.

Artist’s rendition of the nuclear fuel assembly during a thermal runaway event; rendered by Ella Marushchenko

Fall 2015 / 15

Book Corner

THE SPANISH CONNECTION Senior instructor’s new textbook shines in pilot study

Patti Marinelli thinks she’s helped create a great textbook and online curriculum for teaching Spanish. But you don’t have to take her word for it. A pilot study conducted at Carolina incorporating second language acquisition theory confirmed that the text, “Conectados” (Cengage Publishing), helped students learn to write and speak Spanish better than students in a traditional classroom and those in a flipped classroom section using a different textbook. “‘Conectados’ reinforces the general rule of thumb in language teaching that you don’t do in the classroom what could just as easily be done at home. With this model, students study at home and do in the classroom what they can’t do at home: speak Spanish with other people,” said Paul Malovrh, an associate professor of Spanish. “Patti’s book, which uses a flipped classroom model, leads students to become engaged and take ownership of their learning.” In the study, Malovrh and fellow Spanish faculty member Nina Moreno taught three times per week in flipped classroom sections of Spanish 121 (Malovrh used “Conectados” and Moreno taught with another text). The control group was a traditional 16 / Breakthrough

section of 121 that met four times per week. Data from pre- and post-teaching testing showed that all of the students progressed in their Spanish language mastery, but the flipped courses, which met one less day per week, outperformed the traditional course, particularly in writing and speaking. Students using “Conectados” did better than the other flipped classroom model, Malovrh said. Marinelli, a senior instructor of Spanish who has taught at USC for 36 years, has written other Spanish textbooks in the past, but “Conectados,” which she co-authored with Karin Fajardo, became a labor of love. She worked on the text for more than five years, and the publisher pulled out the stops in creating an engaging online curriculum. To get added insight on how students perceive and react to online language learning components, Marinelli enrolled in an online Spanish course before she began writing the textbook. What she learned from that experience and from years of webinars on language instruction helped inform her approach to the book. “It’s a change in language instruction,” she said. “We’re now requiring students to take an active role in learning, and I think ‘Conectados’ accomplishes that in some fun ways like having students post pictures and then comment in Spanish

on each others’ photos. That mirrors what students do every day with social media. The payoff is that they see that an exercise like that really improves their understanding and ability to do real-world communication in Spanish.” Moreno appreciates how the textbook and related curriculum allow students to process the new learning forms in small chunks “and the clearly defined learning path of ‘learn it, practice it, use it,’” she said. Malovrh appreciates that “it’s totally geared for millennials. The videos and photography are high quality, and it’s suited for students doing a lot of the homework on their smart phones or tablets.” While “Conectados” has been adopted as the standard curriculum for beginning Spanish instruction at Carolina, Marinelli, Malovrh and Moreno are considering what’s next. “We’ve talked about moving beyond classrooms of Spanish language speakers to creating a virtual campus community of language — connecting all students studying Spanish,” Malovrh said. “Then we could assign students to talk to many different students in Spanish, not just from their course section but from any of the sections. Ultimately, that’s how you use what you’ve learned.”

THE ECOLOGY OF WORLD LITERATURE A comparative lit faculty member offers a new metaphor for approaching world literature

When studying the literatures of the world, scholars of comparative literature often approach texts according to their national or regional origins, the common language of their composition or, perhaps, the era and circumstances in which they were composed. Texts written in English in the United States between 1900 and 2000, for example, might be grouped as “20th century American literature,” while 20th century texts written in such far flung locales as India and Colombia might be grouped as “postcolonial literature.” But why isn’t American literature also postcolonial? Or, apart from being mutually produced in former colonies, what other logic links texts from India and Colombia? And then what do the texts of vastly different cultures within the borders of a large nation like India have in common, one to the next? What if a particular Indian author’s work aligns more closely with the literary traditions of Great Britain? Questions like these are at the heart of associate professor of classics and comparative literature Alexander Beecroft’s “An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day” (Verso), which offers a new lens for the comparative study of world literatures and languages. “Thinking through the nation is one of many ways to think of world literatures,” says Beecroft. “But it’s not the way we’ve always looked at literature, and it’s probably not the way we will look at it in the future.” As his title suggests, Beecroft’s alternative approach derives from the ecological model. Just as variables like rainfall and soil quality combine to create individual ecosystems in nature, he argues, political, linguistic, economic and other variables combine to create distinct literary ecosystems. These may be very far removed from each other geographically or even temporally, but they can affect or be affected by the texts created within them in similar ways. “I want to start a conversation, or move the conversation along a little bit,” says Beecroft. “I’d be quite happy if people come along and say, ‘I think your ecologies are all wrong — Latin America doesn’t fit,’ or ‘the Arab world doesn’t fit.’ There are different ways in which literature thrives or doesn’t, and ecology offers a different way to think about that.”

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HS  Health Sciences

HOLDING BACK TIME When it comes to cholesterol, things improve with age (and exercise)

Exercise has a reputation for doing a body good, and some Carolina research recently showed just how far even a little bit goes. Staying in shape can keep the heart and circulation young, slowing — by some 15 to 20 years — the natural process that causes cholesterol levels to rise with age. Xuemei Sui, an assistant professor of exercise science in the Arnold School of Public Health, led a team that looked carefully at some of the most commonly assessed markers of heart and circulatory health: cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Working from a dataset of more than 10,000 men collected over 36 years, the researchers plotted how those levels changed with age. They found that total cholesterol levels, for example, slowly but steadily increased from the early 20s until about age 50. After plateauing in the early 50s, total cholesterol then slowly declined. “This is something that has been known for a while now, that cholesterol levels increase early in life but are lower in the elderly,” Sui says. “We’ve done a quantitative assessment in this study, and we’ve also looked at more than just total cholesterol.” Examining HDL, LDL, non-LDL and total cholesterol in addition to triglyceride levels, the team found that all but one of them followed the trend of increasing into middle age, then tailing off thereafter. The exception was HDL cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol; its levels steadily increased throughout life. The heart of the study was a look at how physical fitness affected cardiovascular markers. The team used a treadmill test to assess the study participants, recording the amount of time each was able to keep up with a progressively more demanding pace before exhaustion. The top, middle and bottom third of scores were categorized as indicating individuals with high, medium and low cardiorespiratory fitness. The three groups had strikingly different cardiovascular profiles. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, for example, is usually defined

18 / Breakthrough

as medically problematic at 130 mg/dl or higher. Study participants in the “low fitness” category hit that mark at about age 30 on average, and the number climbed steadily until the mid-40s. Participants in the top third, or “high fitness” category, didn’t reach the 130 threshold until about age 50 on average, and they never exceeded it, with their LDL levels plateauing and


then dropping from that age forward.

USC Lancaster researchers are trying to answer questions

The results were similar for all of the cardiovascular markers,

about physical activity that no one has addressed before.

with participants in the high fitness category showing, on average, profiles that are 15 to 20 years “younger” than those with low fitness. According to Sui, moving up in cardiorespiratory fitness level is not as demanding as it might seem: running marathons is not required. “What is recommended is 150 minutes of moderate activity a

Sarah Sellhorst and Elizabeth Easley are tracking physical activity in college students at a small, rural, commuter-based campus using ActiGraph accelerometers, surveys and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), a state-of-the-art imaging technique that can determine bone density, body fat and a range of other body type indicators.

week,” she says. “That can be brisk walking, bicycling, or jog-

The studies are focused on USC Lancaster students, who

ging for 30 minutes a day. Just enough to get the heart rate

represent a subset of the nationwide undergraduate popu-

elevated, to get a little bit out of breath.”

lation that is often overlooked. The two-year campus hosts primarily freshman and sophomores with a living experience distinct from that of four-year colleges. “Unlike typical four-year campuses, our students can usually drive right up to the building where they take classes,” Easley says. “The experience is a lot different, and it’s important to know how physical activity is affected, particularly in a period of life where a lot of future habits are being formed.” Research assistants for the studies are undergraduates who are typically getting involved in research for the first time. Sellhorst and Easley’s projects and a few others on campus have helped create a bit of a buzz about the research process with students at Lancaster, they say, which is just what they hoped for. “We’re working to inspire a culture of critical thinking and problem solving with these research-driven projects and proposals,” Sellhorst says. “The skills gained through participation in research can benefit students in all classes, no matter what kind of career they plan to go into.”

Fall 2015 / 19

20 / Breakthrough


EYE-CATCHING There’s more than a tasty morsel of meat inside a scallop shell. The irridescent blue dots along the fringe of the mantle in this image are eyes, and biology assistant professor Dan Speiser wants to know what the scallop (Argopecten irradians) does with all of those sensory organs. “The big question for me is how a scallop integrates the information coming from their eyes,” he says. “Is having so many merely a redundancy in case a few get injured? Or do they actually gather information from all of them at once, and, if so, what are they doing with it?” A scallop’s eyes are simple, Speiser says, and “the images they see are not sharp — imagine pixels twice the size of a human thumbnail. A scallop’s vision is similar to a honeybee’s.” Still, the animal that most of us think of as a lump of meat on a seafood platter is actually a fairly complex organism that’s the object of diligent research.

Close up of a bay scallop, Argopecten irradians

Fall 2015 / 21

HS  Health Sciences

THE BURDEN OF PILLS Chronic diseases often don’t have symptoms — think diabetes, heart disease or obesity — but the drugs that treat those illnesses often have unpleasant side effects. Avoiding the side effects is one reason why chronic disease patients sometimes don’t take the drugs they are prescribed. To make matters worse, chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS can require multiple pills every day. Pharmacy associate professor Scott Sutton wanted to know the effects of “pill burden” on HIV-positive patients. In a national study, he found that HIV patients who were prescribed a single daily tablet (which might contain several drugs) were more faithful in taking their prescriptions than those who were prescribed multi-tablet regimens. The single-tablet group experienced fewer hospitalizations and lower levels of HIV in their blood. “We weren’t trying to determine if one drug is better than another at viral suppression,” Sutton says. “The study shows the importance of taking medications regularly and suggests that the fewer pills you have to take every day, the more likely you are to stay on schedule in taking them.”



HIV patients who are pre­

HIV patients are more likely to

scribed several pills are less

stay on track if they have only one

likely to take all of their anti-­

daily pill. This group had fewer

viral drugs daily and experi-

hospitalizations due to prescription

ence more hospitalizations

negligence and a lower viral load.

and higher viral loads.

22 / Breakthrough

HS  Health Sciences

EDIBLE CANCER THERAPY? Genetically modified plants could deliver potent anti-tumor agents

In Vicki Vance’s lab, the expression “You are what you eat” might soon take on new meaning. The veteran molecular plant scientist thinks genetically modified plants could become useful weapons in the war against human cancer. To test the idea, she’s turning plants into bio-factories that make tumor-suppressing micro-RNA (miRNA). “There are about 2,000 types of miRNA that control every major physiological process in the body at the cellular level, but they can get out of balance,” Vance said. “For example, when the type of miRNA that suppresses tumors is diminished, a cell’s ability to divide rapidly can go unchecked.” Cancer scientists have been eager to use miRNA to control cancer, but it’s not so easy. Previous research has shown that synthetically manufactured miRNA rapidly degrades in the bloodstream

and doesn’t infiltrate cells very well. Putting the miRNA in nanoparticles and chemically modifying it to make it more stable has yielded better results, but the accompanying toxicity can cancel out the benefits. “That’s where our research comes in,” Vance said. Her team’s previous work in the field of gene silencing involved using miRNA to genetically manipulate plants to express desired traits. Vance developed a patented process for making any type of miRNA in plants. Her research team has modified a common cruciferous plant called Arabidopsis to make three tumor-suppressing miRNAs. This fall, the team plans to feed the plants to mice that have been bred with a propensity for digestive tumors. Earlier proof-of-concept experiments in her lab showed significant potential for reducing the rodents’ tumor burden.

This is Vance’s first foray into cancer research and was sparked about three years ago after reading the findings of a Chinese research team that found evidence of plant miRNA affecting mammals that ingested it. The paper stirred scientific debate, and Vance saw immediate opportunity for additional research. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we made tumor suppressor miRNA in a plant and fed it to an organism with cancer?’” she said. Vance has secured a small grant from the National Institutes of Health and institutional funding from the Office of Research, but she is hopeful for bigger things if this fall’s experiments go well. “I have high hopes,” she said. “This research looks so promising. If you can just eat something that helps fight cancer, how can we not invest more time and resources to learn more?” Fall 2015 / 23

In the Pipeline

HS  Health Sciences

ADVANCED WARFARE Pharmacy professor targeting defective signaling pathway in melanoma

The war on cancer in some ways parallels the evolution of human warfare: early battles fought with crude weapons that have, with time, become more sophisticated. Instead of merely targeting fast-dividing cells — the focus of the first crude chemotherapy agents — new cancer therapies are zeroing in on other differences in cancer cells such as defective signaling pathways. “Cancers are dependent on a number of altered molecular pathways, bypassing normal checkpoints in the cell cycle,” said Campbell McInnes, a professor in the S.C. College of Pharmacy. McInnes is focusing his research on a signaling pathway found in melanoma, the deadly skin cancer that every year kills 9,000 in the U.S. with 76,000 new cases diagnosed annually. In certain types of melanoma, a mutant signaling protein called BRAF gets stuck in the “on” position, causing cell division to go haywire. A drug called vemurafenib that targets mutant BRAF showed initial promise, sometimes reducing the size and number of melanoma-spawned tumors to the point of near remission.

Inhibitor designed to block the B-Raf protein and kill melanoma cells resistant to current therapies; courtesy of Campbell McInnes

24 / Breakthrough

But the initial clinical excitement turned to disappointment as many of those patients soon relapsed and experienced rapid disease progression. “It’s called paradoxical signaling in which the drug, after an initial period of success, actually spurs on rather than inhibits BRAF,” McInnes said. A breakthrough, of sorts, came when a team of German researchers at the University of Freiburg discovered the molecular events through which vemurafenib-resistant cells acquire the unique type of signaling responsible for drug resistance. That signature provides a new target for development of a treatment to prevent resistance to vemurafenib and similar agents. Collaborating with the German team, McInnes hopes to develop a way to shut down excessive signaling caused by vemurafenib by targeting the point at which key proteins interface in the cells. He has obtained a two-year $100,000 pilot award from the Melanoma Research Alliance to advance the research, using a technology called REPLACE that targets protein-protein interfaces. McInnes has also been recently awarded NIH Small Business Technology Transfer funding to advance REPLACE technology in a USC spin-off company, PPI Pharmaceuticals LLC to develop cell cycle inhibitors. “Cell cycle inhibitors can potentially help treat tumors that develop resistance to single-agent therapy, thus combinations of therapeutic approaches including targeted agents will be necessary to provide durable control and cure for patients,” McInnes said. Development of a co-drug to complement vemurafenib, he added, will be likely to lead to federal funding and perhaps licensing of resulting intellectual property to a pharmaceutical company.

Support the next Carolina breakthrough Carolina research is a great investment, and with tax season just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to consider a secure, tax-deductible donation to Carolina’s research programs through the USC giving website. Contributions to research will benefit USC’s brightest faculty and student scholars in every discipline. The impact of those gifts will be leveraged even further through the Office of the Vice President for Research’s signature research investment programs like ASPIRE, Magellan Scholars and the SPARC Graduate Research Grant. To learn more about the innovative programs that research donations help fund, visit and select “Research” from the list of areas to support. Consider making a gift today.

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As a Gamecock, my determination has No Limits. Justin Dunham, Alumnus

Justin Dunham is always moving. A former high school athlete, he’s conditioned to make quick turns, think on his feet and motivate. His determination permeates the Earth Science classroom and his students. They jump at the chance to share their new knowledge of climate conditions, ocean tides and seismic waves. “I leave nothing on the table,” says the USC grad. “If I’m not tired at the end of the day, then I didn’t do enough.” It’s his energy that keeps the eighth-graders on their toes, because they know Justin will never sit down on the job.

Breakthrough Research Magazine - Fall 2015 Issue  
Breakthrough Research Magazine - Fall 2015 Issue