June 4, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech Ph.D. students and postdocs host AbGradCon 2018 this week. AbGradCon stands for Astrobiology Graduate Conference. The popular gathering provides a unique setting for attendees to share research, collaborate, and network.

The meeting is for and by early-career scientists addressing the broad questions of astrobiology: How did life start? Where else does life exist? How could humans search for life outside Earth?

AbGradCon 2018 brings to the fore Georgia Tech’s standing in astrobiology research and education. Georgia Tech leads in training scientists who will direct space exploration in the 21st century.


George Tan chairs the organizing committee. He is a Ph.D. student of Amanda Stockton, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Working with Tan were more than a dozen other Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers.

Organizers expect 96 attendees: 72 from the U.S. and 24 from overseas, Tan says. They come from nine countries: Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, and United States.  

The program includes an evening for the public, which features Astronaut Lawrence DeLucas.

“We have a big astrobiology community at Tech. This is the perfect opportunity for us to network with students and postdocs with similar interests. I also learned a lot about planning conferences,” says Adriana Lozoya. She is a Ph.D. student of Nicholas Hud, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Hud is also a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB).

“It’s been a great experience getting all the moving parts to work to make this conference exciting and worthwhile for all attendees,” says Marcus Bray. He is a Ph.D. student of Jennifer Glass, in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Glass is also an IBB member. 


Major funding for the meeting came from the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Other sponsors are:

“We can’t thank our sponsors enough,” Tan says. “Their generosity markedly enhanced our ability to prepare the best possible program and accommodate close to a hundred participants.”

“I look forward to the many informal discussions over the week,” says Rebecca Rapf. She is a postdoctoral researcher with Kevin Wilson at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. “I’m sure they will lead to productive collaborations and long-term friendships with people who will be our peers throughout our careers.”

June 13, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

By the end of the 2017-18 school year, four more students joined the roster of Leddy Family Scholars. Meanwhile four previous scholars graduated.

As the 2018-19 school year begins, the Leddy Family Scholarship Fund will be supporting nine students majoring in the College of Sciences. Before the end of the Fall 2018 semester, the College will name another four scholars.

The Leddy Family Scholarship Fund supports awards to undergraduates in the College of Sciences. Recipients are selected on the basis of academic achievement. Scholars are expected to continue participation in experiential educational programs such as research, study abroad, service learning, outreach activities, or campus leadership.

The fund is made possible by a generous donation by the family of School of Physics alumnus Jeffrey Leddy.

The latest additions to the Leddy Family Scholars’ roster are Quazi Ziyan Ahmed, Gabriel Bonilla, Mariel Barnett, and Madison Elizabeth Luker.

New Scholars

Quazi Ziyan Ahmed, from Snellville, Georgia, is studying for a B.S. in Mathematics, as well as a Certificate in Finance. His career goal is to work in the financial industry. For now, he is the marketing manager of the Student Center Tech Rec. In his spare time, Ahmed enjoys playing basketball, soccer, and cricket. He also loves to cook and travel.

Gabriel Bonilla hails from Minnesota. He is a biochemistry major in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Before attending Georgia Tech, he worked as a research assistant in the lab of Carrie Wilmot, professor and associate dean for graduate education in the College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota.

Mariel Barnett is a major in the School of Psychology. Even as a first-year student, she volunteered in the Attention and Working Memory Lab, directed Randall Engle. She is interested in cognition and child development. After college, she intends to go to graduate school. Eventually she wants to teach psychology or become a counselor.

From California, Madison Elizabeth Luker came to Georgia Tech to major in biology, with a minor in biomedical engineering. Luker has extensive experience in working with animals. For example, she has rescued miniature horses from auction and retrained them for therapy work. In 2018, she marched with the trained horses in the Rose Bowl Parade. During her first year at Tech, she did research with Young-Hui Chang, in the School of Biological Sciences. Chang directs the Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory.


Meanwhile, in spring 2018, four Leddy Family Scholars graduated:

“One of my proudest achievements is receiving the Leddy Family Scholarship,” Stubbs said in a profile just before she graduated. “I was honored to be recognized for my hard work, and it took a huge financial burden off my shoulders. I am incredibly grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Leddy for their generosity and support.”

Meanwhile, Zott is attending California Institute of Technology to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. He wants to specialize in inorganic chemistry. He’s exploring research groups developing model systems to study nitrogen reduction as carried out by nitrogenase. He hopes to do outreach volunteer work with faculty and students at nearby Pasadena City College.

Continuing Scholars

As the 2018-19 school year begins in August, three Leddy Family Scholars will begin their third year of studies at Georgia Tech:

  • Jack Peters, major in physics
  • Brooke Miller, major in mathematics
  • Shanee Mortley, major in biochemistry

In addition, two scholars will begin their fourth year of studies:

  • Samuel Wiley, major in physics
  • Stephanie Wyman, major in biology.

Vote of Confidence

“Our students are at the very center of everything we do at the College of Sciences. As we attract and retain the most promising students, the quality of our academic programs rises, as well,” says College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart.

“The Leddy Scholarships are awarded to some of the brightest, hardest working, and broadly engaged students in the College,” Goldbart says. “We’re grateful for the Leddy family’s investment in our students—and the Leddy Scholars are likewise grateful for the vote of confidence in their futures.”

June 13, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Researchers at Georgia Tech, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Smithsonian Institution, and Stanford University are leading an initiative to ensure the health of oceans for generations to come. Called OceanVisions, the initiative envisions healthy oceans for all inhabitants of Earth and for all users and uses of the open seas enabled by advances in science and engineering.

Earth’s oceans have been under intense pressure – from the harvesting and exploitation of the waters’ natural riches and from the impacts of pollution and climate change. The news is rife with the doom and gloom of dying coral reefs and toxic dead zones.

OceanVisions organizers believe positive trends are in sight. They see the dawning of a new phase of optimism for the health of our oceans (#oceanoptimism). They know that solutions are available to help oceans adapt to or mitigate human and environmental assaults.

The organizers of OceanVisions seek to develop robust pathways toward solutions to a diverse array of ocean problems. They are aware of what science and technology can accomplish. They are convinced that current efforts – if coordinated and integrated – could yield a knowledge base for solutions to many of the oceans’ problems (#oceansolutions).

“OceanVisions will create a concrete pathway for scientists and engineers to design and execute research that enables ocean solutions.”  Emanuele Di Lorenzo, Georgia Tech


Toward its vision, OceanVisions has four objectives:

  • Establish a forum for ocean scientists and engineers to discuss research in the context of ocean solutions  
  • Integrate the peer-reviewed science and engineering literature that informs and enables ocean solutions
  • Raise public awareness of ocean solutions to inspire the next generation of experts and leaders
  • Enable sustained dialogue about ocean solutions among users, stakeholders, scientists, and engineers

2019 Activities

Kickstarting OceanVisions are several activities in 2019.

  • OceanVisions2019 – CLIMATE: Successes in Resilience, Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainability. This inaugural OceanVisions meeting will take place on April 1-4, 2019, at Georgia Institute of Technology. Speakers will share success stories in protecting the health of oceans while maximizing their benefits to human well-being.
  • Ocean Tethys Award. OceanVisions established this award to honor and celebrate individuals who epitomize the promise and fulfillment of translating research to ocean solutions. The first recipient is Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She will receive the award on April 1, 2019, during OceanVisions2019.
  • Uncommon Dialogue. This event will take place in Stanford University in September 2019. Scientists, engineers, and stakeholders will gather to discuss scalable ocean solutions.
  • Frontiers in Marine Science special issue. The issue’s theme is “Successes at the Interface of Ocean, Climate, and Humans.” Contributions will be solicited from presenters at OceanVisions2019.


“OceanVisions will create a concrete pathway for scientists and engineers to design and execute research that enables ocean solutions,” says Emanuele Di Lorenzo. He is a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and the director of Georgia Tech’s Ocean Science and Engineering Ph.D. program.

Joining Di Lorenzo as OceanVisions' lead organizers are

For more information, visit the OceanVisions website.


June 19, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Liquid water on Mars fired everyone’s fancy in 2015. Water on Mars today exists in the form of hydrated perchlorates, said the researchers who led the work. They include James Wray, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS).

The finding boosts the possibility of life on the red planet. Water tied to perchlorate meets life’s two needs: water and energy. Perchlorate emits huge amounts of energy when it reacts. For this reason, its salts are ingredients of rocket boosters and fireworks.

Perchlorate as Food for Microbes

Some organisms use perchlorate as an energy source. So-called perchlorate-reducing microorganisms (PRM) would likely live in places where perchlorate naturally occurs. Yet coexistence of PRMs with naturally occurring perchlorate has not been detected until recently.

One likely place where such coexistence may occur is Pilot Valley, in the Great Salt Lake Desert of Utah. Pilot Valley is a hypersaline, perchlorate-rich, and closed basin. It loses water mainly from evaporation.

Yet perchlorate vanishes from Pilot Valley to an extent that cannot be explained by water loss, says Kennda Lynch. She’s a postdoctoral researcher working with Wray and School of Biological Sciences Professor Frank Rosenzweig.

Perchlorate is soluble in water, but it will not evaporate with water. Perchlorate salt residues should accumulate as water evaporates. Yet Pilot Valley shows a decline of such salt remains. The perchlorate is just disappearing.  

Lynch believes PRMs in Pilot Valley must be using the perchlorate. While doing her Ph.D., Lynch found the first known coexistence of PRMs and naturally occurring perchlorate in Pilot Valley. Because no one knows what these PRMs are, Lynch will spend the next year finding out. Supporting her work is a recently announced Ford Foundation fellowship.

Ford Foundation Fellowship

“I’m extremely honored to be a Ford Fellow,” Lynch says. “This funding will allow me to continue this important research, which will aid the search for evidence of life on other planets.”

Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs seek to increase diversity in academia by increasing ethnic and racial diversity. As a fellow, Lynch will gain access to one of the largest communities of academic professionals committed to creating and fostering diverse environments in higher education.

The fellowship presents a “unique opportunity to forge connections with extraordinary individuals as I continue efforts to broaden diversity within the field of astrobiology,” she says.

Lynch’s Ford Foundation research aims to find out what microbial communities use perchlorate. What are the mechanisms at their disposal?

Lynch will examine whether active perchlorate metabolism takes place in Pilot Valley. If so, what other metabolic processes occur when that process is on?

Then she will use the findings to help define a model for perchlorate-driven life on Mars. 

Filling the Knowledge Gap

The work will help NASA’s Mars Exploration Program understand the extent of habitable environments on Mars, including energy sources that could drive microbial systems. “Perchlorate is one of the most abundant and most energetic metabolic resources on Mars,” Lynch says. Yet basic questions abound about its use to support life in a place that looks like Mars.

Working in Pilot Valley – an Earth stand-in for Mars – Lynch aims to fill the knowledge gap. She will run experiments to detect perchlorate use. She will apply state-of-the-art techniques to find genes for, and expression of, perchlorate metabolism. She will also isolate PRMs. 

Lynch will continue to work with Wray and Rosenzweig. However, she will be based mostly in the lab of EAS Assistant Professor Jennifer Glass.

“My lab members and I are very excited to have Kennda join us,” Glass says. “Kennda will bring a new perspective on Mars’s relevance to our group. Serendipitously, we have cultivated microbes similar to PRMs in our recent studies, and we look forward to helping Kennda grow new, exciting microbes from Pilot Valley.”

July 18, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

The College of Sciences has named Jennifer Hom, Takamitsu Ito, and Scott Moffat as the 2018 recipients of the Cullen-Peck Faculty Fellowship Awards in the College of Sciences. The awards recognize innovative research by faculty at the associate professor or advanced assistant professor level. The goal is to help recipients take their research programs in new directions.

The fellowships are made possible by a generous gift to the College of Sciences from alumni Frank H. Cullen (B.S. in Mathematics with Honors 1973, M.S. in Operations Research 1975, Ph.D. Engineering 1984) and Libby Peck (B.S. in Applied Mathematics 1975, M.S. in Industrial Engineering 1976). The alumni couple wish to recognize and support faculty development in the College of Sciences

“We continue to be grateful for the generosity of alumni who encourage our faculty to take intellectual risks in their research,” says College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart. “The Cullen-Peck fellowships help ensure that our research is pushing the frontiers of knowledge. Congratulations to the latest Cullen-Peck fellows.”

Knot Theory

Jennifer C. Hom is an associate professor in the School of Mathematics. The award recognizes her outstanding research in knot theory, which has led to fundamental contributions to the study of knots and development of powerful tools in topology.


Knots can be conceived as loops of strings with ends glued together. Their study is a beautiful subject, central to understanding low-dimensional space, as well as some modern trends in physics.  Hom’s work centers on knots in three-dimensional space. She has enriched the field by introducing deep new ideas.

A much-studied question asks whether a knot can bound a disk in four-dimensional space in certain nice ways. Such knots were previously known. But Hom was able to find a huge new family of such knots, inspiring a flurry of activity in the use of Heegaard-Floer theory to study such objects.

The Heegard-Floer theory is a much-studied technique that revolutionized low-dimensional topology. Yet, Hom found new subtle features, which she formalized as the epsilon invariant. The epsilon invariant is a number associated to each knot. By using the properties of these numbers, Hom proved that an infinite number of knots could bound certain disks in four-dimensional space and not others.

​Her work inspired leaders in the field, including the developers of Heegaard-Floer theory themselves, to pursue ​new avenues of research​. Among other things, this work gives a new proof that in a sense there is more than one way to do calculus in four dimensions.

The epsilon invariant is now part of the Heegard-Floer theory; it is taught in graduate courses around the world; it is considered one of the top five spectacular advances in the past decade. A mark of top-notch mathematics is that it inspires other people and takes a life of its own. Hom’s epsilon invariant belongs to this category. 

“It's a great honor to receive this award,” Hom says. “I look forward to using this fellowship to help develop new techniques for studying knots and low-dimensional spaces.”

Biogeochemical Cycling and Ocean Deoxygenation

Takamitsu “Taka” Ito is an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The Cullen-Peck award recognizes his outstanding research in biogeochemical cycling and ocean deoxygenation.

Ito uses models to better understand the interactions of physical, chemical, and biological processes that regulate the cycling of chemical elements in the ocean. He develops theories of the partitioning of dissolved gases between the ocean and the atmosphere. He is renowned for recent work on the distribution of dissolved oxygen in the subsurface ocean.

In the 2017 paper “The Upper Ocean Oxygen Trend: 1958-2015,” Ito analyzed historical, global datasets of dissolved oxygen. He found that the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

This paper garnered media attention for the implications of declining oxygen in the ocean: It could affect the habitat of marine organisms worldwide. It could lead to more frequent “hypoxic events,” which kill or displace populations of fish, crabs, and other organisms.

Furthermore, the analysis showed that ocean oxygen is falling more rapidly than anticipated from the rise in water temperature due to climate change.

Ito has also been exploring the previously under-appreciated role of polluted aerosols in altering ocean biogeochemistry. In a 2016 paper in Nature Geoscience, he and his collaborators showed that air pollution can deliver additional iron and reactive nitrogen to the ocean and affect oxygen levels.

The transport of highly insoluble iron to the ocean and its availability for biological productivity are not well understood. Ito’s modelling approach will help translate into new insights the oceanic iron data from the large observational program GEOTRACES. His research could reveal how iron cycling affects ocean productivity, carbon uptake, and oxygen concentrations over various time scales.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging

Scott Moffat is an associate professor in the School of Psychology. His selection as Cullen-Peck fellow is based on his outstanding research in the cognitive neuroscience of aging.

With aging comes cognitive decline, which affect mental faculties including memory and the ability to navigate. Moffat has embarked on research addressing metabolism and aging. In particular, he studies the role of diabetes in cognitive aging.

Peripheral insulin crosses the blood–brain barrier to modulate memory processes. Insulin resistance in the periphery goes with insulin resistance in the brain and memory impairment. The hope is to associate variations in peripheral insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity to cognitive and neural endpoints.

Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is a public health crisis in the U.S. and many developed countries. The disease is a risk factor for other serious health conditions, such as brain and cognitive dysfunction, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Moffat is examining the association of glucose and insulin metabolism with cognitive and brain function.

The research is still in its early days, but already Moffat and his colleagues are realizing remarkable results. For example, they’ve found that individuals with higher fasting glucose levels or insulin insensitivity – even within the non-diabetes range – have poorer performance in episodic and working memories. They also have thinner gray matter in key prefrontal cortical areas. 

The implications for prediabetes are profound. Prediabetes is prevalent among adults; the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention reports that majority of all adults older than 65 have prediabetes. Discovering the impact of prediabetes on cognition and cognitive decline could bring about interventions, pharmaceutical or otherwise.

EAS Fall 2018 Seminar Series Presents: Dr. Rainer Volkamer, University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract coming soon.

Event Details


EAS Fall 2018 Seminar Series Presents: Dr. David Battisti, University of Washington

Untangling Natural and Anthropogenic Climate Signals, with Implications for the PDO and AMO

We introduce a novel method to separate modes of internal variability from global warming based on differences in timescale and spatial pattern, without relying on climate models. 

We identify uncorrelated components of Pacific sea-surface temperature (SST) variability due to global warming, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). 

Our results give statistical representations of PDO and ENSO that are consistent with there being separate processes, operating on different timescales, but are otherwise consistent with canonical definitions. 

We isolate the multi-decadal variability of the PDO and find that it is confined to midlatitudes; tropical SSTs and their teleconnections mix in higher-frequency variability. Similarly, we find that the Atlantic Meridional Oscillation (AMO) is focused in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre, off the southern coast of Greenland. 

Using climate models, we show that warm subpolar temperatures are associated with a strengthened Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and local heat fluxes from the ocean into the atmosphere. Shifts in atmospheric circulations are an important influence on the intensification and subsequent weakening of AMOC and help to communicate the warming into the tropical Atlantic. 

Event Details


EAS Fall 2018 Seminar Series Presents: Dr. V. Faye McNeill of Columbia University

Aqueous Atmospheric Chemistry: From the Molecular to the Regional and Global Scales

Aqueous chemical processes occurring in cloud droplets and wet atmospheric particles are an important source of organic and inorganic atmospheric particulate matter. Despite considerable progress, mechanistic understanding of some key aqueous processes is still lacking, and representation of these processes is incomplete in most regional and global models. I will review the state of the science and discuss my group’s efforts in characterizing these processes in the laboratory, modeling them in detail on the molecular level, and model reduction to include essential processes in large-scale models.

Event Details


EAS Fall 2018 Seminar Series Presents: Dr. Gongjie Li, GA Tech School of Physics

A Song of Ice and Fire --- Dynamics of Planets Hot and Cold

The unexpected diversity of planetary systems has posed challenges to our classical understanding of planetary formation. For instance, Jupiter sized planets have been detected with short orbital periods of a few days misaligned with respect to the spin-axis of their host stars. 

I will first describe the dynamical interactions between an outer perturber and the inner planet, which naturally leads to the formation of such misaligned hot Jupiters. 

Next, I will discuss a similar dynamical process in the outer Solar System, far away from our Sun, which causes the observed clustering of extreme trans-Neptunian objects. This can constrain properties of a possible outer planet, Planet Nine, in our own Solar System.

Event Details


EAS Fall 2018 Seminar Series Presents: Dr. David Holland, Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science, NYU

A Tale of Two Ice Sheets: Is it the Best of Times, or Worst of Times?

The Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets are sensitive to changes at their marine terminating outlet glaciers where observed fast retreat is triggered by ocean warming at depth. Specific pathways by which ocean temperature changes reach outlet glaciers are little known.  

We present ocean fjord observations and a global ocean model to identify mechanisms responsible for the variability of glacier fjord deep waters. We find that thermodynamic cooling by deep convection sets the inter-annual variability of this deep water at its source. 

Further, dynamic Ekman transport across the continental shelf break introduces intra-annual variability into this water mass.   Warm waters arriving at outlet glaciers has been argued to have caused loss or breakup of the ice shelves.  

It has been suggested that absent an ice shelf, the ocean’s role in modulating outlet glacier behavior may be diminished, here we provide evidence to the contrary.  We observe that, absent an ice shelf, intra- and  inter-annual varying ocean warm-water intrusions still lead to grounding line retreat, rapid thinning at the terminus, and speedup of a glacier.  

This response to warm-water intrusions indicates that outlet glaciers, even those without floating ice shelves, are largely sensitive to ocean temperature change.

Event Details



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