June 12, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

It is a fact that climate is changing, but how much and how fast are the subject of debate.

Georgia Tech researchers are attempting to answer these questions for peatlands, a freshwater wetland ecosystem. Their recent work indicates that warming of peatlands increases microbial production of greenhouse gases, releases more methane than carbon dioxide, reduces microbial diversity, and alters the composition of microbial communities in peat soils.

“Wetlands store a lot of the Earth’s soil carbon and have the potential to produce a lot of greenhouse gases from the soil,” says Max Kolton, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Biological Sciences and lead author of the paper published recently in Frontiers of Microbiology. “They can act as important feedback to climate.”

“In order for society to decide how to respond to our changing climate, we need to know how these ecosystems will respond to environmental changes,” says Joel Kostka, corresponding author of the paper and professor in the Schools of Biological Sciences and of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “As it stands now, we do not have sufficient information to include microbes in climate models, even though they produce and consume a huge proportion of the greenhouse gases.”

The work is part of SPRUCE, which stands for Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Climate and Environmental Change. SPRUCE is administered by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with which Kostka has a long-standing collaboration. The project involves using huge chambers to warm a whole wetland ecosystem, in Marcell Experimental Forest, in Minnesota. Researchers from all over the U.S. study various parts of the ecosystem: trees, shrubs, moss, lichens, insects, etc.

The recent work is part of the Georgia Tech team’s first SPRUCE project, which seeks to understand greenhouse gas production by microbes below ground, where the environment contains no oxygen. It was supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program, under U.S. Department of Energy contracts DE-SC0007144 and DE-SC0012088.

“We show major changes in the soil microbial communities that produce greenhouse gases.  And we show that warming has a very different effect on the production of carbon dioxide."

Microbes are the great decomposers of ecosystems. They break down organic matter and recycle nutrients for plants. They also directly impact climate by producing and consuming greenhouse gases.  

Peatlands store about one-third of all soil carbon as thick peat deposits. “The fear is that as Earth’s climate warms, microbial decomposition of soil organic matter will be stimulated, and much of the soil carbon in peatlands will be released as greenhouse gases,” Kostka says.

“Our research seeks to understand the mechanisms by which microbes produce greenhouse gases and to incorporate this information into climate models to predict how fast our climate is changing,” Kostka says. “We want to know how much gas will be produced, how fast, and what controls it as climate warms.”

Warming increases the release of both carbon dioxide and methane. But the ratio of methane to carbon dioxide produced from peatlands also increases with warming, the study shows. “This is worrisome,” Kolton says, because methane has a global warming potential that is 30 to 50 times that of carbon dioxide. “The production of more methane relative to carbon dioxide could accelerate climate change by acting as a positive feedback.”

The study also shows that soil microbial diversity decreases with warming. Diversity is critical to supporting ecosystem function. If diversity declines, the ecosystem services provided by microbes may go away.

Previous researchers have studied the impacts of warming on methane production in soils from various ecosystems. However, few studies have linked warming to the dynamics of specific microbial populations that produce methane in wetland soils. Likewise, few studies have looked at the impact of warming on carbon dioxide production, which is actually produced in much larger amounts by wetland soils.

“We show major changes in the soil microbial communities that produce greenhouse gases,” Kolton says. “And we show that warming has a very different effect on the production of carbon dioxide."

Next, Kostka’s team is studying the microbe-catalyzed mechanisms controlling greenhouse gas production to understand why and how the production of methane and carbon dioxide are different. The team suspects the existence of a new form of microbial respiration, because generally microbes need oxygen or some electron acceptor to breath when breaking down organic matter. “Peatland soils are generally anoxic and very low in mineral content,” Kostka says. “Therefore, we think that the microbes are actually breathing the organic matter itself.” 

Beyond their role in climate change, wetlands are important for water quality and as habitat for wildlife, Kostka says. “I am passionate about the beauty and elegance of wetlands. I want people to know how important these places are and what services they provide to humans. Conservation and restoration of wetlands are critical.”

Other authors of the paper are Ansley Marks, Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences, and Rachel Wilson and Jeffrey Chanton, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

The work was supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program, under United States DOE contracts DE-SC0007144 and DE-SC0012088.

June 10, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Editor’s Note. This article is an abridged version of the story published on June 9, 2019, by the University of California, Riverside. It was adapted for the College of Sciences website.

Scientists may need to rethink their estimates for how many planets outside our solar system could host a rich diversity of life.

A team led by the University of California, Riverside (UCR), has discovered that a buildup of toxic gases in the atmospheres of most planets makes them unfit for complex life as we know it.

Traditionally, much of the search for extraterrestrial life has focused on what scientists call the “habitable zone,” defined as the range of distances from a star warm enough that liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. That description works for basic, single-celled microbes — but not for complex creatures like animals, which include everything from simple sponges to humans.

The team’s work, published today in The Astrophysical Journal, shows that accounting for predicted levels of certain toxic gases narrows the safe zone for complex life by at least half — and in some instances eliminates it altogether.

“This is the first time the physiological limits of life on Earth have been considered to predict the distribution of complex life elsewhere in the universe,” said Timothy Lyons. He is one of the study’s coauthors, a distinguished professor of biogeochemistry in UCR’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and director of the Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center, which sponsored the project. “Our results indicate that complex ecosystems like ours cannot exist in most regions of the habitable zone as traditionally defined.”

“Our results indicate that complex ecosystems like ours cannot exist in most regions of the habitable zone as traditionally defined.”

Using computer models to study atmospheric climate and photochemistry on a variety of planets, the team first considered carbon dioxide. Any scuba diver knows that too much of this gas in the body can be deadly. But planets too far from their host star require carbon dioxide — a potent greenhouse gas — to maintain temperatures above freezing. Earth included.

“To sustain liquid water at the outer edge of the conventional habitable zone, a planet would need tens of thousands of times more carbon dioxide than Earth has today,” said Edward Schwieterman, the study’s lead author and a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow working with Lyons. “That’s far beyond the levels known to be toxic to human and animal life on Earth.”

The new study concludes that carbon dioxide toxicity alone restricts simple animal life to no more than half of the traditional habitable zone. For humans and other higher order animals, which are more sensitive, the safe zone shrinks to less than one third of that area.

What is more, no safe zone at all exists for certain stars, including two of the sun’s nearest neighbors, Proxima Centauri and TRAPPIST-1. The type and intensity of ultraviolet radiation that these cooler, dimmer stars emit can lead to high concentrations of carbon monoxide, another deadly gas. Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin in animal blood — the compound that transports oxygen through the body. Even small amounts of it can cause the death of body cells due to lack of oxygen. Carbon monoxide cannot accumulate on Earth because our hotter, brighter sun drives chemical reactions in the atmosphere that destroy it quickly.

“This adds another dimension to the question of whether complex life — or even intelligence — is widespread in the universe. It should also really sharpen our appreciation for the possibility that planets like Earth, with huge, complex biospheres, may be extremely rare.”

“Our discoveries provide one way to decide which of these myriad planets we should observe in more detail,” said Christopher Reinhard, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, coauthor of this study, and coleader of the Alternative Earths team. “We could identify otherwise habitable planets with carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide levels that are likely too high to support complex life.”

Findings from the team’s previous work is already informing next-generation space missions such as NASA’s proposed Habitable Exoplanet Observatory. For example, because oxygen is essential to complex life on Earth and can be detected remotely, the team has been studying how common it may be in different planets’ atmospheres.

Other than Earth, no planet in our solar system hosts life that can be characterized from a distance. If life exists elsewhere in the solar system, Schwieterman explained, it is deep below a rocky or icy surface. So, exoplanets may be our best hope for finding habitable worlds more like our own.

“This adds another dimension to the question of whether complex life — or even intelligence — is widespread in the universe,” Reinhard said. “It should also really sharpen our appreciation for the possibility that planets like Earth, with huge, complex biospheres, may be extremely rare.”

In addition to Schwieterman, Lyons, and Reinhard, the paper’s authors are Stephanie Olson from the University of Chicago and Chester E. Harman from Columbia University. This project was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Optical microscopy provides a quick, direct method to visualize and measure objects on the microscale. Diverse microscopy tools and techniques enable a unique insight into biological processes at the cellular level. To successfully integrate microscopy in your lab routine, understanding the mechanism of optical microscopy is essential.

Course Description

This workshop will provide a practical guide on how to use optical microscopy in the natural and life sciences. It will give participants the necessary tools to design, conduct, and analyze light microscopy experiments, particularly bright-field and fluorescence (confocal) microscopy. It will also enable you to better evaluate microscopy data presented in the scientific literature. Finally, you will learn about the microscopy core facility at Georgia Tech, so you can immediately start to plan and discuss your own experiments.

The workshop is suitable for any (undergrad/grad) student or postdoc at the beginner to intermediate level in optical microscopy. Participants with backgrounds from life/medical sciences, biology, physical sciences, and related areas are welcome.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain the basic physical concepts of light microscopy
  2. Identify challenges that come with imaging, especially with biological samples
  3. Distinguish between different microscopy designs and their application
  4. Define the appropriate experimental setting to visualize a certain sample/feature
  5. Conduct a basic microscopy measurement using transmission and confocal microscopy
  6. Apply image analysis tools to analyze microscopy images quantitatively

Schedule

June 26, 2019

11 AM: Welcome, coffee

11:15 AM – 01:15 PM: Introduction to optical microscopy; basics in optics

and microscopy setup

1:15 – 2:15 PM: Lunch break

2:15 – 3:30 PM: Optical resolution, visualization, and contrast (brightfield/fluorescence)

3:45 – 5:00 PM: Advanced microscopy techniques; presentation of Georgia Tech Optical Microscopy Core Facility by Aaron Lifland

June 27, 2019

10:30 – 11:45 AM: Lab tour, group 1 

12:00 – 1:00 PM: Lunch break

1:00 – 2:15 PM: Image analysis using Fiji /ImageJ, part 1

2:30 – 3:45 PM: Image analysis using Fiji /ImageJ, part 2

4:00 – 5:15PM: Lab tour, group 2

Register at https://forms.gle/6R1FFVcrhwUHKDqUA. Space is limited to 40 participants.

About the Instructor

Gabi Steinbach is a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Peter Yunker, in the School of Physics. She studies spatial structures and emerging dynamics in bacterial communities. She received her Ph.D. in 2016 from Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany, for her work on the self-organization of magnetic colloids using microscopy.

Attendee Preparation

Participants should bring their own laptop. They should have downloaded Fiji, a platform-independent, Java-based application that requires no installation on your system. Participants are encouraged to discussi their current research project during the workshop and think about how microscopy can advance or complement their work.

Event Details

Date/Time:

A Frontiers in Science Lecture to celebrate 2019, the International Year of the Periodic Table

Chemical elements have played important roles in the geopolitics of modern times and will continue to do so.

From Einstein’s 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt highlighting the need to secure uranium ores, to an insurgency fought over phosphorus, to a Chinese embargo of rare-earth elements in retaliation for a maritime incident in the East China Sea, to “blood batteries” for electric vehicles dependent on cobalt mined by child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to calls for new international agreements on asteroid mining, the role of elements in geopolitics is vast and significant.

What does this mean for the U.S., for the rest of the world, and for the future of technology?

About the Speaker
Margaret E. Kosal is an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. She directs the Sam Nunn Security Program and the Program on Emerging Technology and Security. She is also a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. Her research explores the relationships among technology, strategy, and governance.

She is the author of “Nanotechnology for Chemical and Biological Defense.” The book explores scenarios, benefits, and potential proliferation threats of nanotechnology and other emerging sciences. She is the editor of “Technology and the Intelligence Community: Challenges and Advances for the 21st Century.” The book examines the role of technology in gathering, assimilating and utilizing intelligence information through the ages. She is editor-in-chief of Politics and the Life Sciences. The journal publishes original scholarly research at the intersection of political science and the life sciences.

Kosal has served as a senior advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Army and as science and technology advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Trained as an experimental scientist, Kosal earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, working on biomimetic and nanostructured functional materials. She cofounded the company ChemSensing, where she led research and development of medical, biological, and chemical sensors.

About Frontiers in Science Lectures
Lectures in this series are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics. Lecturers tailor their talks for nonexpert audiences.

About the Periodic Table Frontiers in Science Lecture Series
Throughout 2019, the College of Sciences will bring prominent researchers from Georgia Tech and beyond to expound on little-discussed aspects of chemical elements:

  • Feb. 6, James Sowell, How the Universe Made the Elements in the Periodic Table
  • March 5, Michael Filler, Celebrating Silicon: Its Success, Hidden History, and Next Act
  • April 2, John Baez, University of California, Riverside, Mathematical Mysteries of the Periodic Table 
  • April 18, Sam Kean, Author, The Periodic Table: A Treasure Trove of Passion, Adventure, Betrayal, and Obsession 
  • Sept. 12, Monica Halka, The Elusive End of the Periodic Table: Why Chase It
  • October 31, Taka Ito, Turning Sour, Bloated, and Out of Breath: Ocean Chemistry under Global Warming 
  • Nov. 12, Margaret Kosal, The Geopolitics of Rare and Not-So-Rare Elements
Closest public parking for the Nov. 12 lecture will depend on the venue. Please come back for updates.
Refreshments are served, and periodic table t-shirts are given away, after every lecture

Event Details

Date/Time:

A Frontiers in Science Lecture to celebrate 2019, the International Year of the Periodic Table

In 1997, the Japanese oceanographer Yoshiyuki Nozaki compiled a periodic table of ocean chemistry, encapsulating the distribution of elements as a function of depth. In this periodic table, many elements share similar patterns, classified into just a few categories. The similarities indicate a common set of mechanisms behind the ocean cycling of elements.

The interaction of ocean circulation, chemistry, and biology sets the distribution of elements in the ocean. For example, nonreactive elements are nearly uniformly distributed in the water column, homogenized by ocean circulation and mixing.

Nutrient elements are depleted near the surface because of biological consumption and enriched in mid-depth due to decomposition of organic matter. Some trace metals – such as Fe, Zn, Ni, and Cd – follow this pattern. In contrast, some heavy metals – like Al, Mn, Co, and Pb – are subsumed into particles and removed from seawater.

Building on the insights from Nozaki’s periodic table, this talk will interpret recent measurements of changing seawater chemistry, highlighting the importance of rising carbon dioxide concentration in the air, climate change, and pollution of rivers and atmosphere.

About the Speaker
Takamitsu “Taka” Ito is an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, where he teaches physical and chemical oceanography. He received a Ph.D. in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in 2005 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has focused on the cycling of carbon, oxygen, and iron in the global oceans, using observations, theory, and computational modeling. 

About Frontiers in Science Lectures
Lectures in this series are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics. Lecturers tailor their talks for nonexpert audiences.

About the Periodic Table Frontiers in Science Lecture Series
Throughout 2019, the College of Sciences will bring prominent researchers from Georgia Tech and beyond to expound on little-discussed aspects of chemical elements:

  • Feb. 6, James Sowell, How the Universe Made the Elements in the Periodic Table
  • March 5, Michael Filler, Celebrating Silicon: Its Success, Hidden History, and Next Act
  • April 2, John Baez, University of California, Riverside, Mathematical Mysteries of the Periodic Table 
  • April 18, Sam Kean, Author, The Periodic Table: A Treasure Trove of Passion, Adventure, Betrayal, and Obsession 
  • Sept. 12, Monica Halka, The Elusive End of the Periodic Table: Why Chase It
  • October 31, Taka Ito, Turning Sour, Bloated, and Out of Breath: Ocean Chemistry under Global Warming 
  • Nov. 12, Margaret Kosal, The Geopolitics of Rare and Not-So-Rare Elements
Closest public parking for the Oct. 31 lecture will depend on the venue. Please come back for updates.
Refreshments are served, and periodic table t-shirts are given away, after every lecture

Event Details

Date/Time:

Data science is revolutionizing how scientists and engineers go about their work, but most students have not had much exposure to it. This one-week bootcamp provides an opportunity to get introduced to data management and visualization, data modeling, deep learning, and scientific programming in Python. The bootcamp will consist of morning lectures, followed by hands-on sessions in the afternoon to try out and practice concepts and software tools.

The bootcamp is aimed at undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering who have an introductory-level familiarity with any computer programming language, or MATLAB, or RStudio, etc. The bootcamp is free of charge, but enrollment is capped so students must apply by May 15, 2019. Students from Agnes Scott, Morehouse, Spelman, and Georgia Tech are particularly encouraged to apply.

Topics: Computer programming in Python for data science, clustering, numerical linear algebra, classification, regression, deep learning, and domain applications

Tools: Python, Jupyter notebooks, GitHub, NumPy, Pandas, Matplotlib, scikit-learn, and TensorFlow

Skills: Python programming, version control, social coding, data handling and visualization, data analysis, data modeling and prediction, and scientific and engineering applications

Instructors: Ryan Wade (Blue Horseshoe Solutions), Vetria Byrd (Purdue University), Edmond Chow (Georgia Tech), Xiaoming Huo (Georgia Tech), Eva Dyer (Georgia Tech), Chris DePree (Agnes Scott), and David Sherrill (Georgia Tech)

Location: Georgia Tech Campus • Visitor parking available in the W23 Parking Lot, located at 911 State St. NW.

  • Monday: Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), Children's Healthcare Seminar Room (first floor by food kiosk), 950 Atlantic Dr., Atlanta GA 30332
  • Tuesday–Friday: Molecular Science and Engineering Building (MoSE), Room G011 (ground floor behind elevators), 901 Atlantic Dr., Atlanta, GA 30332

This bootcamp is sponsored by a National Science Foundation TRIPODS+X: EDU grant to the Data-Driven Alliance (Agnes Scott, Georgia Tech, Morehouse, and Spelman) and the Institute for Data Engineering and Science (IDEaS) at Georgia Tech.

REGISTER ONLINE

Event Details

Date/Time:

May 22, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

The monthly series "My Favorite Element" is part of Georgia Tech's celebration of 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, #IYPT2019GT. Each month a member of the Georgia Tech community will share his/her favorite element via video.

Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson is the 11th president of Georgia Institute of Technology. 

In this capacity he oversees a top-ten public research university with more than 36,900 students and research expenditures of more than $908 million.

Throughout his career, Dr. Peterson has helped establish national education and research agendas, serving on numerous industry, government, and academic task forces and committees. A distinguished scientist, Dr. Peterson was selected in 2008 by President George W. Bush to serve on the National Science Board through 2014. The Board oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) and advises the President and Congress on national policy related to science and engineering research and education.

Dr. Peterson earned undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics as well as a master's degree in engineering from Kansas State University. He earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University.

In January 2019, Dr. Peterson announced he will retire as Georgia Tech's president in summer 2019.

His favorite element is .... Watch the video!

Renay San Miguel, communications officer in the College of Sciences, produced and edited the videos in this series. 

Other videos in this series are available at https://periodictable.gatech.edu/.

April 2019: Kimberly Short, Ph.D. candidate

March 2019: Elayne Ashley, scientific glass blower

February 2019: Amit Reddi, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry

January 2019: Jeanine Williams, biochemistry major and track star

 

 

2019 FDL Award

May 14, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

When the periodic table intersected with the Spring 2019 Art Crawl, beautiful things happened.

Twenty-eight students submitted to the section for art inspired by the periodic table or chemical elements. In addition to paintings and photographs, the entries included poetry, drawings, sculptures, and digital art pieces.

The diverse creative expressions yielded mind-opening and fresh perspectives of the periodic table. The College of Sciences thanks all participants, who took the time to express artistically their reflections on the periodic table.

Top honors went to three College of Engineering students.

The first-place winner is Ruthvik Chandrasekaran, a third-year Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering, working with Dimitri Mavris and Dewey Hodges, professors in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering. Chandrasekaran studies jet engine technology disruptors and helicopter rotor blade dynamics.

Chandrasekaran’s entry – “Recharging” – is a photograph of a plasma globe filled with noble gases, such as neon and argon. When the gases ionize because of the high-voltage electrode at the center of the globe, they form beautiful streaks of light, known as plasma filaments, inside the globe.

“Noble gases are usually inert, but under certain extreme conditions they interact with their surroundings to form something vibrant and magnificent,” Chandrasekaran says. “Just like us, noble gases also need the right atmosphere to shine.”

Second place goes to Anna Starr for “The First Element.” Hydrogen is the first element; Starr’s painting of hydrogen’s single proton and lone electron is both riveting and mesmerizing. From afar, the solid black circles beckon. Up close, the lines radiating from the pitch dark objects pulsate.  

A second-year major in industrial and systems engineering, Starr says she’s always looking for opportunities to create art. About “The First Element,” she says: “I wanted to convey the opposing energies of the two particles in a hydrogen atom, with the large negative space representing the positively charged proton and the smaller circle representing the negatively charged electron. I believe the abstract elements of the lines helps capture the mystery of the atom.”

Nishalini Shanmugan took third place with her entry, “Winter Frost.” Using the eerie winter scene, Shanmugan says she wanted to demonstrate with her photograph “how the periodic table coexists with nature and the essence of life.”

Shanmugan is a first-year major in electrical engineering, with a minor in Spanish. Her photograph projects the beauty of the periodic table through its elements, and the molecules they form, coexisting in nature and in different states, such as ice, water, and water vapor. “What better way to do that than with an image of a cold, wintry day?”

May 7, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech graduate students now have another way to join the hot field of astrobiology. The Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology is now an option, thanks to the effort of the vibrant astrobiology community in Georgia Tech.

The program “reflects Georgia Tech’s unique strength in integrating science and engineering in astrobiology research and education,” Jennifer Glass says. An associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Glass spearheaded the efforts of the Georgia Tech astrobiology community to launch this graduate offering.

“This certificate program really puts Georgia Tech on the map as a premier place for students from diverse disciplines to study astrobiology.

The certificate program requires no prerequisites. Any graduate student simply needs to complete the required combination of courses (list available here) that span five Georgia Tech schools in three colleges: Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Aerospace Engineering, and International Affairs.

Two features make the Georgia Tech Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology unique, Glass says. One is the requirement of a mission design course. Another is the science communications project. “We will train students to translate technical writing so that it can be understood and appreciated by the public,” Glass says.

With this initiative, Georgia Tech joins only five other institutions with graduate offerings in astrobiology. The certificate will allow graduate students to take advantage of career opportunities in astrobiology.  

For more information on the curriculum and how to participate, go to https://astrobiology.gatech.edu/graduate-certificate/

Pages

Subscribe to School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences | Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA RSS