Editor’s Note: This story was written by Emily Woodward, public relations coordinator for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. It was originally published in the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Newsletter Volume 4, issue 5.
Four coolers, two shovels, countless sampling vials and five people pile into a vehicle headed to a secluded salt marsh on Sapelo Island, Georgia. It’s a surprising amount of equipment needed to study the microscopic community of organisms responsible for the health of Georgia’s most abundant coastal habitat, the salt marsh.
“Plant microbiome research, I always say, is about 10 years behind human microbiome research,” says Joel Kostka, jointly appointed professor of biology and earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Roughly half of the cells in the human body are microbial. These microbes, mostly bacteria, all have different functions; some make us ill, but most keep us healthy by helping with digestion or preventing infection. Together, these microorganisms make up the human microbiome.
The same is true in the plant world, though little is known about plant microbiomes, particularly those associated with salt-tolerant coastal plants like Spartina alterniflora, which dominate Georgia’s salt marshes.
With funding from Georgia Sea Grant, Kostka is studying the microbes intimately associated with Spartina to better understand how the plant microbiome supports the health of Georgia’s salt marshes.
“In a way, this is discovery-based science because no one has studied the microbes that are intimately associated with these plants,” says Kostka. “When you look at the marsh from a large scale it really looks constant and consistent, but when you get down at the micro level you see all kinds of differences. There's a lot of complexity there.”
The research team wants to know how the microbial community changes as you move from the interior of the marsh, where the growth of Spartina is stunted and the plants are short, to the taller, lush marsh growing near the tidal creeks.
At the site, they measure salinity, oxygen, and pH as well as the height and density of Spartina at different spots along a transect. A hole punch is used to collect samples of Spartina blades, which will be measured for nutrients, like phosphorous and nitrogen. Soil samples and root material are taken back to the lab where the latest gene sequencing and metagenomics methods will be used to identify individual microbes and understand the microbial processes that improve the health of the plant.
“We have a number of parameters that we can measure to determine whether the plants are healthy, and then we go in and look at the microbes in more healthy plants versus less healthy plants, and see how those microbes are changing,” says Kostka.
It’s a lot of data to collect and the work isn’t easy, especially when trudging through knee-high marsh mud in 90-degree temperatures.
Luckily, Kostka has an extra set of hands to help with the sampling.
Elisabeth Pinion, an AP environmental science teacher from Cumming, Georgia, is working alongside Kostka and his team. Pinion is one of 16 educators participating in Schoolyard Program of the NSF-supported Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project, which is hosted every summer at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. As part of the program, teachers spend a week on the coast, shadowing different researchers in the field and learning about sampling methods and processes that can be taken back to the classroom.
Pinion recognized similarities between the topics she covers in class and the research methods used for this project.
“Studying parameters that determine the productivity of different ecosystems is something that we generally spend a lot of time on,” says Pinion. “What they are looking at is very applicable to the classroom.”
Throughout the week, Kostka will have the opportunity to engage multiple educators in the field, showing him or her how they collect samples for microbiology and discussing the important ecosystem services that salt marshes provide.
"The Schoolyard Program is a great way to give the teachers a behind-the-scenes look at how science is conducted, including sometimes having to rethink your strategy once you get out in the field," said Merryl Alber, professor of marine sciences at UGA and lead PI of the GCE LTER project. "It’s also beneficial for researchers, who have a chance to interact with the teachers and think creatively about how to bring the science back into the classroom.”
Kostka recognizes the importance of making his research accessible to educators and students, which is why he used a portion of his Georgia Sea Grant funding to support three of the educators participating in the Schoolyard Program.
The trip to Sapelo is the first of many trips the research team will make to the coast. They plan to sample sites at two other barrier islands; Tybee Island and St. Simons Island, in the coming months.
Kostka hopes results from the project can be used to develop innovative methods for improving salt marsh restoration practices in Georgia. One example would be to create plant probiotics that could be applied to Spartina seedlings when planting new marshes.
“We could grow beneficial microbes in the lab and add them to the naked roots during planting, which would help the plant to take hold in the intertidal zone,” says Kostka.
“With sea level rise and increased coastal development, restoration activities will be more important to maintaining the productivity of Georgia’s marshes,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
“Funding research like this, that helps us improve attempts to establish native vegetation, will inform future restoration projects and hopefully make them more economically and environmentally efficient.”
A long time ago, in a city far, far away, a mathematician solved a puzzle, the solution of which made our modern, connected world possible. Georgia Tech's School of Music and School of Mathematics have teamed up with local Atlanta artists to create a performance combining contemporary dance, original music, and storytelling. Called The Seven Bridges of Königsberg, the concert celebrates this history and aims to spark people’s curiosity and convey the wonder of mathematics.
The classic puzzle that inspired Leonhard Euler to found the fields of topology and graph theory (or network theory) asked the simple question: Is it possible to cross all of the seven bridges of the city of Königsberg exactly once, with no repetition or backtracking?
Euler was not content with a yes-or-no answer. Instead he began to think about the nature of connectedness in a mathematical way, as it applies to all possible cities with any number of islands and bridges; as well as to networks of transportation, commerce, and communication; to the pathways by which diseases or ideas spread; and ultimately to our contemporary interconnected life.
The Seven Bridges of Königsberg was selected by a new program called Science in Vivo, funded by the Simons Foundation, to receive one of its inaugural 10 awards as an Experimental Site “exploring what is possible when science experiences for the public are integrated into existing cultural gatherings.”
The debut performance on Sept. 13, 2018 will take place on the Georgia Tech campus along Atlantic Ave, where an installation of the Seven Bridges of Königsberg puzzle was constructed earlier this year.
To tell about the foundation of graph theory, the Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra will perform a new composition by composer Marshall Coats, while a math team and dancers interpret the story and some concepts about graphs, as choreographed by guest artist Kristel Tedesco.
This performance will be repeated at the Bailey Center in the Kennesaw State University on Sept. 23, 2018. Other versions of the show will take place at public locations around Atlanta and the Southeast region in September and October.
In addition to the spectacle, the audience will have opportunities to explore mathematical puzzles and games and to personally engage with the mathematicians and artists.
The Seven Bridges of Königsberg is a production of Mathematics in Motion, Inc. and the Georgia Tech Schools of Music and Mathematics, with financial support from the Georgia Tech College of Design, the Georgia Tech College of Sciences, the Georgia Tech Office of the Arts as one of the Creative Curriculum Initiatives, and Science in Vivo.
11:00 AM Interactive exposition by Club Math
12:15 PM Remarks by School of Mathematics Chair and College of Design Dean Steven French
12:20 PM Music and Dance Performance
1:00 PM Interactive engagement with Club Math
Directions to Seven Bridges Plaza
The Seven Bridges Plaza is along the Atlantic Drive Promenade, right next to the Howey Physics Building.
By Georgia Tech Trolley: Get off at the intersection of Ferst Drive and Atlantic Drive. Walk toward the Einstein Statue, The Seven Bridges Plaza will be on the right, past the Howie Building. You can catch the Georgia Tech Trolley at the MARTA Midtown station.
By private transportation:
If you are coming from south of Atlanta:
- Take I-85 North to 10th Street/14th Street/Ga Tech (Exit No. 150)
- Take a left onto 10th Street at the light at the end of the ramp
- Go straight through 3 traffic lights
- Take a left onto State Street (the next light)
- Go through one stop sign
- The Howey Physics Building is the first building on the left. A Visitor Parking Lot is in front of the Building.
If you are driving from the east or west:
- Take I-20 into the city.
- Exit North onto I-75/85.
- Take I-75/85 North to the ramp of 10th Street/14th Street/Ga Tech.(Exit 150)
- Take a left onto 10th Street at the light at the end of the ramp.
- Go straight through 3 traffic lights.
- Take a left onto State Street (the next light).
- Go through one stop sign.
- The Howey Physics Building is the first building on the left. A Visitor Parking Lot is in front of the building.
EAS is hosting its new "C.L. Chandler Weather Chat" series.
Each Friday at 11 AM, meteorology enthusiasts are welcome to join Dr. Zachary Handlos and other guest meteorology presenters (including Georgia Tech alumni and guest visitors from CNN, The Weather Channel, the National Weather Service, and other meteorological organizations) as they discuss current and forecasted weather events that have (or will have) significant impacts on the Atlanta, GA region as well as the U.S. (and sometimes globally!).
This event is named after C. L. Chandler, who led the Delta Air Lines Meteorology Department and had a strong passion for meteorological analysis and forecasting (making his weather maps by hand without use of computers).
Carol Wood, who has graciously supported EAS meteorology for several years, will be speaking about her father, C. L. Chandler, to kick off our first event on Friday, September 14th. All are welcome to join!
Aug. 21, 2017, the first day of the school year: At noon the Georgia Tech campus morphs into a massive, festive solar-eclipse-watching party. Thousands sprawl on Tech Green and stand on roof tops to cheer the celestial event.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, James Boehm is part of an experiment by AT&T. The company is testing a device to enable Boehm – who has been blind since he was 13 – to experience the eclipse. The set-up includes a soundtrack, which “voices” the changes in temperature and brightness as the moon’s shadow covers the sun. That accompaniment came from researchers in the Georgia Tech Sonification Lab.
That story leads the first season of the College of Sciences’ podcast. The people who made the 2017 eclipse-watching party possible now offer another treat: ScienceMatters, a podcast celebrating discoveries and achievements – the “Wow” and “Aha” moments – of Georgia Tech scientists and mathematicians.
Season 1 is now available at sciencematters.gatech.edu.
The start of the school year can be discombobulating. Fortunately, many questions that come up are common from semester to semester.
Here, academic advisors in the College of Sciences share their answers to questions they’ve heard frequently from new and returning students during the first few days of a new semester.
Is it true that I shouldn’t take two lab classes in my first semester?
Your course load is a personal decision, best discussed with your academic advisor. That said, for some science majors, such as biology, we do recommend that students take two labs in their first semester to stay on track for timely progress through the degree.
How many credit hours should I take?
Again, the course load is a personal decision. Taking 12–14 credit hours during the first semester allows you to acclimate to the course work at Tech and to explore co- and extracurricular ways to take part in the campus community.
The College of Sciences joins the rest of Georgia Tech in Ramble In, a first-day-of-class fun event organized by Omicron Delta Kappa.
Faculty, students, and staff are invited to join for King of Pops, games, and giveaways! Simply wear a name tag and introduce yourself to other people who are also wearing the name tag!
The goal is to ease the first day of classes for everyone and meet ew people. More in information is here: http://odk.gatech.edu/ramblein/
Student groups and Georgia Tech units will be around Tech Green from 9 AM to 3 PM to give out name tags. The College of Sciences will be at Skiles Walkway at 12:15-1:20 PM.
We will have a spin-a-wheel set up to give away fabulous swag, compliments of ScienceMatters - Because wherever we turn in the physical world, science matters.
Prizes include include beaker mugs, exclusive ScienceMatters pens, water bottles, science rock CDs, T-shirts, and more!
Pluto’s relationship with its moon Charon is one of the more unusual interactions in the solar system due to Charon’s size and proximity. It’s more than half of Pluto’s diameter and orbits only 12,000 or so miles away. To put that into perspective, picture our moon three times closer to Earth, and as large as Mars.
A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology provides additional insight into this relationship and how it affects the continuous stripping of Pluto’s atmosphere by solar wind. When Charon is positioned between the sun and Pluto, the research indicates that the moon can significantly reduce atmospheric loss.
“Charon doesn’t always have its own atmosphere,” said Carol Paty, a Georgia Tech associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “But when it does, it creates a shield for Pluto and redirects much of the solar wind around and away.”
This barrier creates a more acute angle of Pluto’s bow shock, slowing down the deterioration of the atmosphere. When Charon doesn’t have an atmosphere, or when it’s behind or next to Pluto (a term scientists call “downstream”), then Charon has only a minor effect on the interaction of the solar wind with Pluto.
The study’s predictions, performed before the New Horizons probe collected and returned data to Earth, is consistent with the measurements made by the spacecraft about Pluto’s atmospheric loss rate. Previous estimates at the time of the study were at least 100 times higher than the actual rate.
John Hale is the Georgia Tech student who co-led the study with Paty. He says the Pluto system is a window into our origins because Pluto hasn’t been subjected to the same extreme temperatures as objects in closer orbits to the sun.
“As a result, Pluto still has more of its volatile elements, which have long since been blown off the inner planets by solar wind,” Hale said. “Even at its great distance from the sun, Pluto is slowly losing its atmosphere. Knowing the rate at which Pluto’s atmosphere is being lost can tell us how much atmosphere it had to begin with, and therefore what it looked like originally. From there, we can get an idea of what the solar system was made of during its formation.”
Hale and Paty also say their study affirms a popular hypothesis of Charon. The areas of discoloration near its lunar poles are likely caused by magnetized particles that have been shorn from Pluto’s atmosphere. These particles have accumulated and settled on Charon over billions of years, particularly when it is downstream of Pluto.
The project is supported by NASA grant NNX11AM40G. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.
Experiments led by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggest the particles that cover the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, are “electrically charged.” When the wind blows hard enough (approximately 15 mph), Titan’s non-silicate granules get kicked up and start to hop in a motion referred to as saltation. As they collide, they become frictionally charged, like a balloon rubbing against your hair, and clump together in a way not observed for sand dune grains on Earth — they become resistant to further motion. They maintain that charge for days or months at a time and attach to other hydrocarbon substances, much like packing peanuts used in shipping boxes here on Earth.
The findings have just been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
“If you grabbed piles of grains and built a sand castle on Titan, it would perhaps stay together for weeks due to their electrostatic properties,” said Josef Dufek, the Georgia Tech professor who co-led the study. “Any spacecraft that lands in regions of granular material on Titan is going to have a tough time staying clean. Think of putting a cat in a box of packing peanuts.”
The electrification findings may help explain an odd phenomenon. Prevailing winds on Titan blow from east to west across the moon’s surface, but sandy dunes nearly 300 feet tall seem to form in the opposite direction.
“These electrostatic forces increase frictional thresholds,” said Josh Méndez Harper, a Georgia Tech geophysics and electrical engineering doctoral student who is the paper’s lead author. “This makes the grains so sticky and cohesive that only heavy winds can move them. The prevailing winds aren’t strong enough to shape the dunes.”
To test particle flow under Titan-like conditions, the researchers built a small experiment in a modified pressure vessel in their Georgia Tech lab. They inserted grains of naphthalene and biphenyl — two toxic, carbon and hydrogen bearing compounds believed to exist on Titan’s surface — into a small cylinder. Then they rotated the tube for 20 minutes in a dry, pure nitrogen environment (Titan’s atmosphere is composed of 98 percent nitrogen). Afterwards, they measured the electric properties of each grain as it tumbled out of the tube.
“All of the particles charged well, and about 2 to 5 percent didn’t come out of the tumbler,” said Méndez Harper. “They clung to the inside and stuck together. When we did the same experiment with sand and volcanic ash using Earth-like conditions, all of it came out. Nothing stuck.”
Earth sand does pick up electrical charge when it’s moved, but the charges are smaller and dissipate quickly. That’s one reason why you need water to keep sand together when building a sand castle. Not so with Titan.
“These non-silicate, granular materials can hold their electrostatic charges for days, weeks or months at a time under low-gravity conditions,” said George McDonald, a graduate student in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who also co-authored the paper.
Visually, Titan is the object in the solar system most like Earth. Data gathered from multiple flybys by Cassini since 2005 have revealed large liquid lakes at the poles, as well as mountains, rivers and potentially volcanoes. However, instead of water-filled oceans and seas, they’re composed of methane and ethane and are replenished by precipitation from hydrocarbon-filled clouds. Titan’s surface pressure is a bit higher than our planet — standing on the moon would feel similar to standing 15 feet underwater here on Earth.
“Titan’s extreme physical environment requires scientists to think differently about what we’ve learned of Earth’s granular dynamics,” said Dufek. “Landforms are influenced by forces that aren’t intuitive to us because those forces aren’t so important on Earth. Titan is a strange, electrostatically sticky world.”
Researchers from the Jet Propulsion Lab, University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Cornell University also co-authored the paper, which is titled “Electrification of Sand on Titan and its Influence on Sediment Transport.”
The study is partially supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR-1150794). Méndez Harper held a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship while conducting the study. McDonald has a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.
Massive landslides, similar to those found on Earth, are occurring on the asteroid Ceres. That’s according to a new study led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, adding to the growing evidence that Ceres retains a significant amount of water ice.
The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience. It used data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to identify three different types of landslides, or flow features, on the Texas-sized asteroid.
Type I are relatively round, large and have thick "toes" at their ends. They look similar to rock glaciers and icy landslides in Earth’s arctic. Type I landslides are mostly found at high latitudes, which is also where the most ice is thought to reside near Ceres' surface.
Type II features are the most common of Ceres’ landslides and look similar to deposits left by avalanches on Earth. They are thinner and longer than Type I and found at mid-latitudes. The authors affectionately call one such Type II landslide "Bart" because of its resemblance to the elongated head of Bart Simpson from TV's "The Simpsons."
Ceres' Type III features appear to form when some of the ice is melted during impact events. These landslides at low latitudes are always found coming from large-impact craters.
Georgia Tech Assistant Professor and Dawn Science Team Associate Britney Schmidt led the study. She believes it provides more proof that the asteroid’s shallow subsurface is a mixture of rock and ice.
“Landslides cover more area in the poles than at the equator, but most surface processes generally don’t care about latitude,” said Schmidt, a faculty member in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “That’s one reason why we think it’s ice affecting the flow processes. There’s no other good way to explain why the poles have huge, thick landslides; mid-latitudes have a mixture of sheeted and thick landslides; and low latitudes have just a few.”
The study’s researchers were surprised at just how many landslides Ceres has in general. About 20 percent to 30 percent of craters greater than 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide have some type of landslide associated with them. Such widespread features formed by "ground ice" processes, made possible because of a mixture of rock and ice, have only been observed before on Earth and Mars.
Based on the shape and distribution of landslides on Ceres, the authors estimate that the upper layers of Ceres may range from 10 percent to 50 percent ice by volume.
“These landslides offer us the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the upper few kilometers of Ceres,” said Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Heather Chilton, a co-author on the paper. “That’s a sweet spot between information about the upper meter or so provided by the GRaND (Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) and VIR (Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) instrument data, and the tens of kilometers-deep structure elucidated by crater studies.”
"It’s just kind of fun that we see features on this small planet that remind us of those on the big planets, like Earth and Mars,” Schmidt said. “It seems more and more that Ceres is our innermost icy world.”
The Dawn mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission.
Co-written by Elizabeth Landau, Jet Propulsion Lab