Category: Society

New research tracks Amazon River microbial activity, effects on global carbon budget



New research from the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences  departments of microbiology and marine sciences could have a major impact on the study of microbial activity in the Amazon River, as well as the effects on the global carbon budget.. The Amazon River, the largest in the world in terms of discharge water, transfers a plume of nutrients and organisms into the ocean that creates a hotspot of microbial activity.  This affects many global processes, including the storage of atmospheric carbon.

The new study further reveals detail about the microbial activity of the Amazon River Plume as part of a broad project to understand the global carbon budget and its possible impacts on a changing ocean. The study, "Microspatial gene expression patterns in the Amazon River Plume," was published July 14 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"By collecting data from genes and gene transcripts in the water samples, taking billions of sequences of DNA and RNA from organisms at various places in the plume, we were able to construct the most detailed look that's ever been put together of the microbial processes in a drop of seawater," said Mary Ann Moran, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences at UGA.

UGA researchers from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of marine sciences and microbiology took samples from the plume 300 miles offshore from the Amazon River mouth, then isolated the genes of organisms using the nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon being carried into the ocean by the river plume.

Discharge from the plume, more than 200,000 cubic meters of fresh water per second, delivers nitrogen and phosphorus to microscopic phytoplankton that live in the upper sunlit layers of the ocean. Via photosynthesis, phytoplankton capture carbon dioxide that dissolves into the ocean from the atmosphere, a mechanism that captures a larger proportion of CO2 than is consumed by the world's rainforests.

Until now, quantitative data about the microbial activity underlying this mechanism has been elusive.

Data in the paper will used be as part of a larger model of the Amazon and will be available to researchers around the world.

"The scientific community as a whole can draw new conclusions or study different aspects from the data sets," said Brandon Satinsky, a doctoral student in microbiology at UGA and lead author on the study. "It's such a large amount of water and material, and the location of the plume moves over the course of the year, from the Caribbean virtually over to Africa."

"It's first time we've had this kind of data, at this level of detail, and so now we can share with teams of modelers to help them make better predictions about the future of the system," Moran said.

The project is part of two major UGA research initiatives: ROCA, the River Continuum of the Amazon; and ANACONDAS, Amazon iNfluence on the Atlantic: CarbOn export from Nitrogen fixation by DiAtom Symbioses, both of which are led by associate professor of marine sciences Patricia Yager. The initiatives are supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF2293 and the National Science Foundation.

For more on UGA research in the Amazon, see

The collection of quantitative data from the Amazon River Plume creates further opportunities for study for the scientific community at large. Working together, researchers from two Franklin College departments have advanced scientific knowledge and opened the door for further study on an important topic. Congratulations to the research teams on the new study.

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Workshop for Researchers: Displaying your data


Histogramme_loi_normale.png The UGA Statistical Consulting Center (SCC) announces its inaugural short course, “Exploratory Data Analysis in Excel”. This two hour mini-workshop will be open to faculty, staff and students from Franklin College. The recommended audience is researchers who are new to quantitative research, and who want to learn some simple methods for understanding and displaying data in Excel. A background in statistics is not required.

This hands-on short course includes discussion that will

•         Review different types of data used in quantitative research

•         Calculate and interpret basic statistical summaries appropriate for different types of data (NO statistical tests)

•         Create graphical displays of data such as pie charts, histograms, bar charts, and scatter plots, appropriate for summarizing different types of data

This short course will be held on Tuesday, July 29, from 2:30 to 4:30 pm in room 307 (computer lab) in the department of statistics. While there is no fee for the workshop, space is limited to 30 participants so registration is required. Directions and further information will be provided at the link below to register. You may email Kim Love-Myers at if you have difficulty registering or have any questions.

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Changing the Humanities


It is difficult to defend the humanities and simultaneously champion the idea that they must change with the times. An article in the CHE shows the Mellon Foundation grappling with this contradiction:

Other private donors and foundations—the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, for instance—foot the bill for occasional humanities projects. But the Mellon foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities are pretty much the only game in town when it comes to long-term, humanities-focused philanthropy.

And Mellon’s financial contribution far outpaces the NEH’s. From 2000 to 2012, the foundation awarded 6,649 grants totaling $2.9-billion, according to The Chronicle’s analysis. With an endowment currently worth about $6-billion, Mellon handed out about $254-million in grants in 2012, the latest year for which data are available; according to the NEH, in the 2013 fiscal year, approximately $41-million of its grant money—about 36 percent—went to support humanities projects related to higher education, scholarship, and digital humanities.


The foundation is also concerned about how much pressure universities and colleges feel now "to prove their worth, what they’re really contributing," Ms. Westermann says. Institutions of higher education "do a lot for the public good," she says, "but they are often awfully quiet about it." How can Mellon "help the institutions best think about that and make the case for the humanities in particular in the public sphere?"

Rethinking how graduate students are trained—an issue also on the agendas of scholarly societies like the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association, both Mellon grantees—could help. The rise of digital scholarship represents "a huge opportunity," Ms. Westermann says. "Not everyone’s going to love the digital humanities, nor probably does everyone have to, but it would be good to begin to build the opportunity to develop that competency right into doctoral education rather than waiting till 10 years out" from graduate school to do it.

The quest for greater diversity, open access, the business model of scholarly publishing... all of these are having an impact on support for the humanities. The discussion is ongoing and important to all parts of campus so be sure to read the whole article. There is nothing to say that the humanities cannot adapt to changing times and hold steady to their importance and centrality at the heart of the liberal arts educational model. But we need to re-enforce this basic message at every turn, that humanities scholarship and teaching is at the core of critical, analytical thinking. Otherwise, higher education risks falling victim to fashion and trends as though it were just another business venture - which it should never be.

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Chemistry doctoral graduate Gilliard awarded Merck Fellowship


R_Gilliard.gif 2014 doctoral graduate in the department of chemistry Robert J. Gilliard, Jr., has been awarded a UNCF/Merck Foundation Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowship. The award provides $92,000 and includes a stipend, research grant and travel funds for up to two years of fellowship tenure:

Gilliard will pursue research projects focused on synthetic chemistry and will collaborate with John Protasiewicz of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Hansjörg Grützmacher of ETH Zürich—an engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university in Zürich, Switzerland. Gilliard will depart for Zürich in August.

"This is a tremendous honor for which I am extremely grateful," said Gilliard, a native of Hartsville, South Carolina, who came to UGA in 2009 to work with Gregory H. Robinson, the Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. "My experience at UGA has been highly rewarding in research as well as teaching, and I'm looking forward to these new opportunities for collaboration."

Gilliard is one of UGA's best, who chose to come to the university to work with our best faculty. In Gilliard's case, that meant Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Gregory H. Robinson. said Robinson of Gilliard:

"Robert arrived at UGA with a clear career plan, and he has worked hard to realize his ambition, forging new directions in the synthetic organic chemistry of beryllium."

An extraordinarily bright young researcher and teacher, Gilliard has already achieved great, early career distinction and we look for more in the future. Congratulations to Gilliard and to the department of chemistry on this prestigious fellowship.

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The Impact of Giving


Scholarship and research support from private giving to the Franklin College avails our students and faculty of broad opportunities across every aspect of society. This short video, featuring a student and one of our donors, elaborates on the impact of giving:

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Little-bighorn-memorial-sculpture Eighteen hundred seventy-six was a tumultous year in American history, and on today's date in that year was the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn:

The sun was just cracking over the horizon that Sunday, June 25, 1876, as men and boys began taking the horses out to graze. First light was also the time for the women to poke up last night’s cooking fire. The Hunkpapa woman known as Good White Buffalo Woman said later she had often been in camps when war was in the air, but this day was not like that. “The Sioux that morning had no thought of fighting,” she said. “We expected no attack.”

Those who saw the assembled encampment said they had never seen one larger. It had come together in March or April, even before the plains started to green up, according to the Oglala warrior He Dog. Indians arriving from distant reservations on the Missouri River had reported that soldiers were coming out to fight, so the various camps made a point of keeping close together. There were at least six, perhaps seven, cheek by jowl, with the Cheyennes at the northern, or downriver, end near the broad ford where Medicine Tail Coulee and Muskrat Creek emptied into the Little Bighorn River. Among the Sioux, the Hunkpapas were at the southern end. Between them along the river’s bends and loops were the Sans Arc, Brulé, Minneconjou, Santee and Oglala. Some said the Oglala were the biggest group, the Hunkpapa next, with perhaps 700 lodges between them. The other circles might have totaled 500 to 600 lodges. That would suggest as many as 6,000 to 7,000 people in all, a third of them men or boys of fighting age. Confusing the question of numbers was the constant arrival and departure of people from the reservations. Those travelers—plus hunters from the camps, women out gathering roots and herbs and seekers of lost horses—were part of an informal early-warning system.

This anniversary is particularly poignant in light of the terrific new interactive research tool from Claudio Saunt in the department of history documenting the seizure of Indian lands, as a mixure of cultural lore and actual tragedy. An amazing story that continues to unfold.

Image: Iron sculpture by Native artist Colleen Cutschall honoring the Native Americans. Placed next to the old memorial for Custer, via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Years of Writing Dangerously


Is literature better when produced under pressure? Cultural or political censorship can be a crucible, a subject quite dear to the blog's heart. Without endorsing it, here's a recent CHE commentary on the subject that raises some interesting points:

In 1857, by contrast, Charles Baudelaire was put on trial and forced to pay a fine of 300 francs for the "insult to public decency" that his volume of poetry Les Fleurs du mal was judged to be. However, it is hard to imagine any democratic country now imposing an interdiction on a mere volume of poems. "If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the Inquisition might have let him alone," noted Thomas Hardy, acknowledging society’s indifference to his art. It is true that publication in 1988 of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses provoked a violent backlash and a ban. It is also true that this year, under pressure from Hindu activists who took offense at its portrayal of their religion, Penguin India withdrew Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009) from sale. Neither prurience nor obscenity was at issue in the cases of Rushdie and Doniger. By contrast, E.L. James has had no trouble publishing and selling (and selling and selling) her raunchy erotic romance, Fifty Shades of Grey. In no small part because of Joyce and his patrons, publishers, lawyers, and devotees, the nations of North America and Western Europe no longer employ literary censors.

Yet anyone who, like Philip Roth, observes how peripheral literature has become to the common culture might regard the victory for freedom of expression as pyrrhic. If everything goes, does anything matter?

Easy to assert; a bit more difficult to recommend. The difficulty in producing great literaure has held steady against practically all forces. Maybe the ability to appreciate major works lags; even the ability of editors in a time of dwindling profts for publishers and agents is just as powerful as an overwhelming police state. Self-censorship remains an ardent foe. Try reading Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and imagine how he might respond to the lack of obstacles or deterrents today, how that response might be to just not write anything at all. Maybe in 21st century America he becomes an oral surgeon or a hedge fund manager. Now that is a dangerous thought.

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New master's degree collaboration with State Farm Insurance


Our department of statistics serves as an important nexus - instructing majors and graduate students, master's students from other disciplines and providing modeling and analysis for research projects around campus. It's terrific reputation is well-earned and now that renown has dveloped into a promising corporate partnership:

[The department of] statistics and State Farm Insurance Companies will cooperate on a new program beginning this fall that will partner students pursuing a master's degree in statistics with the Fortune 50 company.

The Modeling and Analytics Graduate Network, or MAGNet, program will provide participating students with support—such as paid tuition and fees and financial compensation—while they pursue a master's degree at UGA. In return, students will spend 20 hours a week—40 hours a week during the summer semester—conducting real-life research on projects directed by the Strategic Resources Department of State Farm.

"Our aim is to attract between two and four students for the MAGNet program at the University of Georgia this fall and eventually increase that number to as many as eight students," said Laurette Stiles, vice president of the Strategic Resources Department for State Farm. "Our department is experiencing a growing demand to provide analytics skills and expertise to areas across State Farm as the company enhances our ability to identify and meet customer needs."

The UGA statistics department "is very excited to partner with State Farm on building the MAGNet program at the University of Georgia," said John Stufken, a UGA professor and statistics department head. "The partnership creates a win-win situation by helping us attract strong (master's) degree students who will acquire the skills needed to help State Farm in meeting their growing analytics demands."

Great news all around that stands to substantially benefit our students.

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Uncommon History



The new book by Russell Professor of History and department head Claudio Saunt in gaining   great   interest right out of the gate, and for good reason:

This interactive map, produced by University of Georgia historian Claudio Saunt to accompany his new book West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, offers a time-lapse vision of the transfer of Indian land between 1776 and 1887. As blue “Indian homelands” disappear, small red areas appear, indicating the establishment of reservations.  (Above is a GIF of the map's time-lapse display; visit the map's page to play with its features.) 

The project’s source data is a set of maps produced in 1899 by the Bureau of American Ethnology. The B.A.E. was a research unit of the Smithsonian that published and collected anthropological, archaeological, and linguistic research on the culture of North American Indians, as the nineteenth century drew to a close.

Saunt is careful to point out that the westward-moving boundaries could sometimes be vague. Asked for an example, he pointed me to the 1791 treaty with the Cherokeethat ceded the land where present-day Knoxville, Tenn. stands. The treaty's language pointed to landmarks like "the mouth of Duck river," a broad approach that left a lot of room for creative implementation. When dealing with semi-nomadic tribes, Saunt added, negotiators sometimes designated a small reservation, "rather than spelling out the boundaries of the cession." 

This vagueness benefited the government’s purposes in crafting treaties and executive orders. “Greater legality and more precision,” Saunt argues, “would have made it impossible to seize so much land in so short a time.”

Amazing marriage of humanities research and technology to enlighten us about the past. Support pieces like this map present far-ranging opportunities to engage with history and information. Kudos to Saunt and his publishers for building new tools to enhance teaching and learning. This is certainly one to watch.

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Athfest 2014


woman outside, with stage One of the many great things about UGA is its symbiotic relationship with its hometown of Athens, Ga. The great intermingling between town and gown creates a constant fecund season for creative collaboration in arts, entertainment, education and all the related enterprises that group up around these activities. One of those is Athfest, and our students, staff and faculty will be well-represented this weekend as spectators, organizers, volunteers and performers.

The Athfest Educates program also does a great job of supporting music and arts education for Athens-Clarke County children. Another terrific initiative that, while not a direct UGA collaboration, is born of the ingenuity of our community-inspired thinking and talent that flows to and from our campus. See you this weekend.

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