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

For more than half a century, dedicated and eager groups of scientists have contrived ways to introduce heavier and heavier elements into the universe. Their efforts finally completed the seventh row of the famous—if poorly understood—periodic table of the chemical elements. 

Now all 118 elements have names, even though most spontaneously decay more quickly than you can say “Oganesson” or “Livermorium.” 

What now?  Continue?  Try to start another row?  Why?  To what end, and at what cost? 

This talk will explore the economic, societal, and scientific benefits and drawbacks inherent in this pursuit.

About the Speaker

Monica Halka is an experimental physicist whose research focused on the interaction of light with atoms. 

She has coauthored a set of six volumes on the periodic table, which examines historical, astrophysical, and practical observations about each of the chemical elements.

She serves as associate director of the Honors Program at Georgia Tech, where she teaches courses in optics, energy science, and the nuclear age, among others.

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 April 2 lecture is Visitors Area 4, Ferst Street and Atlantic Drive, http://pts.gatech.edu/visitors#l3  
Refreshments are served, and periodic table t-shirts are given away, after every lecture

Event Details


The School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Presents Dr. Karl Lang, Queens College, City University of New York

Diagnosing a Tectonic Aneurysm: Observations from the Eastern Himalaya

The evolution of mountain landscapes reflects complex interactions between tectonic processes transferring mass within the Earth’s interior and erosional processes redistributing mass across Earth’s surface. The eastern and western ends of the Himalayan mountain belt host exceptionally dynamic landscapes with a localized concurrence of steep topography, elevated geothermal gradients and extremely rapid rock exhumation. 

The Tectonic Aneurysm hypothesis predicts that such dynamic landscapes reflect a thermo-mechanical feedback arising from sustained erosion at the point where a steep Himalayan tributary captured a large, high-elevation river system. 

My research has critically evaluated this hypothesis by independently reconstructing the paleo-river drainage pattern and source-area exhumation history of the eastern Himalaya with a combination of geochronology and thermochronology of detrital minerals preserved in the peripheral sedimentary basin. Detrital mineral analyses support the development of a thermo-mechanical feedback between 5-7 million years ago, but also require any river reorganization (e.g. the capture of a high-elevation river system by a Himalayan tributary) to predate feedback development by at least 8 million years. 

My results suggest that feedback development was unrelated to river capture, but may be alternatively explained by localized tectonic uplift from folding or tearing of the subducting Indian Plate.

Bio: Karl is a broadly trained geologist with interests spanning areas of tectonics, geomorphology and sedimentology; and expertise in low-temperature thermochronology. His research reconstructs the evolution of tectonically active landscapes from the sedimentary record they leave behind. He has worked in the eastern Himalaya, Southern Alps of New Zealand, Chilean coastal cordillera, and in several locations across the American west. He has a PhD from the University of Washington in Seattle and a BSc from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Queens College campus of the City University of New York. 


Event Details


2nd year EAS Major

The School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Presents Dr. Thomas Weber, University of Rochester

A Machine Learning Approach to Estimate Methane Emissions from the Global Ocean and Laurentian Great Lakes

Oceanic emissions represent a highly uncertain source in the natural atmospheric methane budget, and are thought to be highly sensitive to environmental change. The primary limitation in constraining this term is the very sparse sampling of dissolved methane distributions in the surface ocean mixed layer, which is needed to compute the air-sea flux. 

Here, we overcome this limitation using statistical mapping methods. We compiled a large dataset of methane supersaturation in surface waters, and trained machine learning models to map its climatological distribution as a function of other well sampled biogeochemical variables. 

Our approach yields a global diffusive methane flux of 4.1±2 Tg/yr from the ocean to the atmosphere, or a total flux of 4-15Tg/yr once ebullition is accounted for. These fluxes are towards the lower end of the range adopted by recent IPCC reports (5-25 Tg/yr), but exceed the upper end of estimates extrapolated from individual cruise data (0.3-3 Tg/yr). Our statistical method also provides important insights into methane production mechanisms in the ocean, revealing a significant relationship to net primary production that is consistent with hypothesized aerobic methanogenesis during organic matter cycling. 

Finally, I present ongoing work to apply these methods to the Laurentian Great Lakes, and place new constraints on global freshwater methane emissions.

Event Details


April 22, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech has selected Nga Lee (Sally) Ng to receive the 2019 Outstanding Achievement in Early Career Research Award. Ng is an associate professor with joint appointments in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

The award recognizes early-career faculty who have made significant discoveries or advancements in their research that visibly impact society or one or more scholarly communities.

Ng studies the formation, evolution, and health effects of organic aerosols in the environment. Aerosols are small particles that float in air and appear as haze in a polluted environment. They change the energy balance of the planet and deposit on the linings of human lungs. Understanding their formation and evolution is important for climate science, air quality, and public health.

In recent years, Ng has established a research group at the cutting edge of aerosol science. She is well-known for the ability to analyze complicated data from field and laboratory studies. She pioneered a now-common method of plotting the composition of atmospheric aerosols – called Sally’s Triangle.

Her scientific impact is evident in her publication record: more than 100 publications in her career so far. Her work from Georgia Tech alone has been cited more than 10,000 times. She now receives more than 2,000 citations each year. She was on the list of Highly Cited Researchers, compiled by Clarivate Analytics Web of Science, in 2017 and 2018.

“At Georgia Tech, we have a large group of researchers working on aerosols and air quality in multiple schools, including Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Civil and Environmental Engineering. This award reflects the collective strength of the aerosol research community here."

A recent example of her work is measurement of atmospheric aerosols in Alabama and Georgia. The atmosphere in southeastern U.S. is particularly complicated because trees in the area emit large volumes of organic materials. Previous studies have shown that a lot of those tree emissions end up as aerosols.

Ng’s work showed that the amount of organic materials in aerosols from trees in the southeastern U.S. is controlled by human-caused emissions of other compounds such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. The finding explained the decrease of aerosols in southeastern U.S. after sulfur emissions from power plants were reduced by regulations.

“I am humbled to receive this honor,” Ng says. “At Georgia Tech, we have a large group of researchers working on aerosols and air quality in multiple schools, including Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Civil and Environmental Engineering. This award reflects the collective strength of the aerosol research community here.

“It’s wonderful to have such an intellectually stimulating and collaborative environment to conduct research in aerosol science. I am grateful for the constant support of my colleagues and collaborators and the amazing students and postdocs with whom I have worked over the years.”

April 19, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech has selected Troy Hilley as the recipient of the 2019 Process Improvement Excellence Award. Hilley is an academic and research IT support engineer lead in the College of Sciences’ Academic and Research Computing Services (ARCS).

The award celebrates staff who consistently invent or improve tools, processes, or systems and ask: How can we do this better? Why do we do it that way?

For years Hilley was responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of faculty, research group, and administrative computing infrastructure in the School of Biological Sciences. In that capacity he established himself as a leader in thinking creatively and acting proactively to prepare the school for the rapidly changing environment for integrative computing.

“With no budget and limited resources, he used free open-source software to completely overhaul OS X management from installation to end-user software management.”

Hilley’s leadership is evident in the improvements he initiated with the management and support of Apple OS X computers on campus. This problem had been adversely affecting faculty, staff, and students and causing substantial frustration.

Whereas other IT staff merely accepted the status quo, “Troy did a clean sweep of the status quo,” according to a colleague. “With no budget and limited resources he used free open-source software to completely overhaul OS X management from installation to end-user software management.”

Hilley then implemented a system to completely automate most of the software updates. This ensured that systems and end users have the latest security and feature updates immediately.

Still seeing room for improvement, Hilley then put in place a system that enables IT staff to get detailed information on the status of the computers under ARCS management. With this system, IT staff could proactively assist users, saving time and frustration.

The process and tooling improvements Hilley established increased the speed and accuracy of support while simultaneously decreasing the frustration among both IT staff and end users. That they were achieved at no cost is a “rare optimization gem,” a colleague says.

Hilley “continues to innovate and improve tools, processes, and systems that directly help our clients and enhance the organization’s effectiveness,” another colleague says. 

April 8, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Editor's Note: This story by Susie Ivy appeared first today in the Provost's Office Website. The photo of CEISMC Executive Director Lizanne DeStefano was added for the College of Sciences website.

Effective immediately, the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) will become a unit within the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U). Following a detailed assessment, including interviews with key stakeholders and a K-12 summit event in fall 2017, the organizational adjustment moves CEISMC out of its current structure within the College of Sciences.

“For many years, CEISMC has been leading Georgia Tech’s outreach to K-12 schools across the state and has a successful track record of enhancing the education in STEAM areas by developing innovative curricula, training teachers, and rallying the interest of students and parents,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and K. Harrison Brown Chair. “The Georgia Tech Commitment to a Lifetime Education described in the report by Georgia Tech’s Commission on Creating the Next in Education calls for closer collaboration and integration of K-12 as part of a future of lifelong education. Discussions and studies indicated that this strategic goal will be better served with CEISMC responding centrally and closely integrated within our education innovation ecosystem.”

The CEISMC mission is to serve as a connection point between Georgia Tech and the K-12 community through education research, outreach and teacher professional development, including management of the Georgia Tech K-12 Connection, an online portal of activities within various schools and units across campus that also supports requests for help from available for teachers, school administrators and district superintendents. Annually, CEISMC programs impact more than 39,000 students, 1,720 teachers, 74 school districts and 200 schools.

C21U functions as the research branch of the Office of the Provost at Georgia Tech, serving as a “living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education.” Now home to the Commission on Creating the Next in Education (CNE) Program Office, the C21U portfolio is expanding to include projects and support the research of teams working to redefine the entire pipeline of learning through development of next generation educational practices and technologies.

This expanded role reflects the vision set forth in the CNE report, further aligns both C21U and CEISMC with the future-oriented vision of the Institute’s Strategic Plan, and reflects the broad objectives outlined in the system-wide Comprehensive Administrative Review (CAR). While the missions of CEISMC and C21U will remain distinct in the new structure, the organizational consolidation allows for greater efficiency around general operations support, and enables CEISMC to be more visible and accessible to all colleges, schools, and external partners.

“CEISMC has a rich legacy of impactful partnerships with the public, private, and corporate sectors,” said Lizanne DeStefano, executive director of CEISMC. “Greater coordination of our K-12 efforts as a campus means that Georgia Tech can have on an even greater influence on the how students are supported on their journey to a future in STEM.”  

DeStefano’s role as executive director of CEISMC will remain unchanged, but the move will result in a reporting line change from Interim Dean David Collard of the College of Sciences to Rich DeMillo, executive director of C21U and the CNE Program Office.

“CEISMC’s long-standing mission to prepare the next generation of STEM learners is one of the major tenets of the ‘Georgia Tech Commitment,’” said DeMillo. “CEISMC was a core contributor to the CNE report, where the bold idea of the Commitment was first conceived. Together with C21U and the CNE Program office, we can take deliberate steps towards making the Commitment a reality.”

The School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Presents, Dr. Rita Economos, Southern Methodist University, Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences

Sulfur Systematics Illuminate the Elusive Record of Magma Redox Evolution

Sulfur is an important element in igneous systems due to its impact on magma redox, its role in the formation of economically valuable ore deposits, and the influence of catastrophic volcanogenic sulfur degassing on global climate. 

The mobility and geochemical behavior of sulfur in magmas is complex due to its multi-valent (from S2- to S6+) and multi-phase (solid, immiscible liquid, gaseous, dissolved ions) nature. Sulfur behavior is closely linked with the evolution of oxygen fugacity (fO2) in magmas; the record of fO2 evolution is often difficult to extract from rock records, particularly for intrusive systems that undergo cyclical magmatic processes and crystallize to the solidus. 

We apply a novel method of measuring sulfur isotopic ratios via secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) in zoned apatite crystals that we interpret as a record of open-system magmatic processes. 

These findings have implications for the coupled sulfur and fO2 evolution of granitic plutons and suggest that the in-situ measurement of sulfur isotopic ratios in apatite is a powerful new tool for evaluating coupled redox and sulfur behavior in a wide range of terrestrial and extraterrestrial magmatic systems.

Event Details


April 4, 2019 | Atlanta, GA

Susan Lozier, Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Distinguished Professor of Ocean Sciences at Duke University, has accepted the role of dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair in the College of Sciences. She will officially assume the role no later than Oct. 1.

“We are so pleased to bring Dr. Lozier to Georgia Tech as dean of the College of Sciences,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and K. Harrison Brown Family Chair. “She brings with her a rich history of leadership, but also a tremendous legacy as a mentor, colleague, researcher, and educator.”

Lozier has been a faculty member at Duke University since 1992. During her tenure at Duke, she has served in various leadership roles including department chair, faculty senate chair, vice provost for strategic planning, and co-chair of Duke’s effort to reimagine graduate education. She recently completed a term as the president of the Oceanography Society and, as of January 2019, is president-elect of the American Geophysical Union.

“I am thrilled to join Georgia Tech as the next dean for the College of Sciences,” said Lozier. “I look forward to working with the administration, faculty, staff, and students to continue the pursuit of both fundamental and convergent science, and to support mechanisms that encourage bold ideas, entrepreneurial efforts, and productive partnerships.”

Lozier’s research interests include large-scale ocean circulation and its impact on climate, meridional overturning circulation and its variability, pathways of ocean flow, and physical constraints on marine primary productivity. She is currently the international lead for an ocean observing system in the North Atlantic. Over her career, she has been the recipient of numerous awards. She was the recipient of an NSF Early Career Award in 1996, was awarded a Bass Chair for Excellence in Research and Teaching in 2000, and received a Duke University Award for Excellence in Mentoring in 2007, among others. She is an American Meteorological Society Fellow (2008), American Geophysical Union Fellow (2014), and American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow (2015).  She was awarded the American Geophysical Union Ambassador Award in 2016 for leadership in the ocean sciences community.  

She was one of three finalists in the international search for the dean of the College of Sciences. The search committee was chaired by Pinar Keskinocak, William W. George Chair in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Jennifer Herazy, chief administrative officer for Academic and Research Administration, served as search director. Following the departure of Dean Paul Goldbart, Professor David M. Collard has served as the interim dean since Aug. 1.

Lozier received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University and a master of science degree in chemical engineering and Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the University of Washington.

“Many thanks to the hard-working search committee who served under the leadership of Provost Bras, Dr. Keskinocak, and Dr. Herazy,” said. President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. “A special thanks also to Interim Dean Collard who has done a tremendous job during the leadership transition. The College has been in his very capable hands, and I know Dr. Lozier’s vision will allow us to continue to advance the goals of the College of Sciences and the Institute as a whole.”

3rd year EAS major


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