EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was first published by the Ocean Science and Engineering Program on Aug. 9, 2017.
In November 2016, Georgia Tech launched the Ph.D. in Ocean Science and Engineering (OSE, www.ocean.gatech.edu), an interdisciplinary graduate program across the schools and faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Biological Sciences (BIOL) and Earth & Atmospheric Sciences (EAS). Ten students make up the inaugural cohort, which will begin its studies in the 2017 Fall semester.
The OSE program has two goals:
- to educate the next generation of transdisciplinary ocean scientists and engineers by combining basic and applied sciences with innovative ocean technologies
- to advance interdisciplinary research at the frontiers of the physical, biological, chemical and human dimensions of ocean systems.
The program attracted a diverse group of applicants interested in specializing in Ocean Technology, Ocean Sustainability, Marine Living Resources, Ocean and Climate, and Coastal Ocean Systems. Following are the members of the inaugural class, who will begin their studies in the Fall 2017 semester. Their orientation will take place on Aug. 14-18, 2017.
Alexandra Muscalus (OSE-CEE)
Alexandra Muscalus obtained a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2016. She joins OSE with Georgia Tech Presidential and Institute Fellowships. Her research interests include ocean energy and fieldwork approaches to nature-based coastal resilience and shoreline change. She aspires to advance the field of coastal engineering as a professor. In her free time, Muscalus enjoys backpacking, scuba diving, playing musical instruments, running, and cooking.
Roth Conrad (OSE-BIOL)
Roth Conrad joins OSE with a Georgia Tech Presidential Fellowship. “I spent eight years traveling, exploring, and acquiring a diverse skill set and world view,” he says. “I worked on a sailboat in the Bahamas, which deeply affected my awareness of the environment.” Conrad also built and traveled across the country in a vegetable-oil-powered school bus, which inspired his fascination with microbiology and biological degradation. “Both experiences showed me how rewarding sharing ideas with people can be,” he says.
“My mind full of questions, appreciation for the environment, curiosity about microbes, and desire to share ideas are a few reasons why I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Ocean Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.”
Abigail Johnson (OSE-EAS)
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and a master’s degree in biological and environmental sciences from the University of Rhode Island, Abigail Johnson looks forward to continuing her education in the OSE program. With this Ph.D., she says,
“I hope to advance our tools in search for and our knowledge of Earth’s deep ocean life.”
Specifically, she plans to use a novel high-pressure chamber to characterize microbial communities in methane hydrates from the Gulf of Mexico incubated under in situ pressures. Upon receiving a Ph.D., she plans to continue her career in academia, with the goals of “researching the mysteries of our deep ocean and educating our future generations.”
Benjamin Hurwitz (OSE-CEE)
Benjamin Hurwitz is an electrical engineer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School with a focus in chemistry before attending Colby College, in Maine, from where he graduated with a B.A. in Applied Mathematics. A long-time scuba diver, he spent a year in the Virgin Islands, teaching and guiding divers around the reefs. He returned to school at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he spent three years earning a B.S. in Electrical Engineering with a focus on microelectronics.
His interests include marine robotic electrical systems, instrumentation design, and integrated circuit fabrication.
When he’s not working, he can be found on the ice rink, in the climbing gym, or on the ocean.
Gian Giacomo Navarra (OSE-EAS)
Since high school Gian Giacomo Navarra was interested in astronomy and mathematics. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in theoretical physics at the University of Bologna, Italy. After an undergraduate research experience in the University of Bristol, he got interested and completed a master’s degree in condensed matter and statistical mechanics in 2016. After completing his thesis in computational mechanics, Navarra says,
“I realized that the methods I learned and developed in statistical mechanics have the potential to advance the geosciences, in particular ocean and climate dynamics (for example, El Niño), which have a high degree of stochastic physics.”
Melissa Ruszczyk (OSE-BIOL)
Melissa Ruszczyk began her undergraduate education in 2013 at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa., where she did research in limnology, microbiology, and disease ecology.
She also fostered her passion for music, gave two public clarinet recitals during her four years at Allegheny, and was featured soloist and concert master of the wind symphony during her senior year.
Upon completion of her comprehensive senior research project, Serial Sonification of Chaoborus Behavior in Response to Daphnia Size: Intricacies of the Predator-Prey Relationship, Ruszczyk graduated magna cum laude with bachelor degrees in biology and music.
Youngjun Son (OSE-CEE)
Youngjun Son graduated with master degrees in industrial engineering and in naval architecture at Seoul National University in 2012. From 2011 to 2017, he researched hydrodynamics and mooring technologies at Hyundai Heavy Industries, in Ulsan, Korea. His research experience includes environmental loads, potential theory, nonlinear damping, damping linearization, spectral analysis, extreme statistics, design waves, load combination factors, mooring, risers, dynamic positioning, and wave basin model tests. In the OSE program, he will study hydrodynamics and ocean mechanics...
...to develop new devices for ocean applications such as renewable energy converters.
He is motivated by the need to integrate diverse and complex knowledge beyond one particular discipline in order to develop new marine resources.
Minda Monteagudo (OSE-EAS)
Minda Monteagudo completed her B.A. in Earth Science at the University of Southern California and M.S. in Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She joins the OSE program as a second-year Ph.D. student, specializing in paleoclimate and working on...
...reconstructing past sea surface temperature changes over the last glacial cycle from sediment cores in the Central Equatorial Pacific, for which very few records exist.
Previously, she worked on refining Mg/Ca paleothermometry, one of the most widely applied proxies for reconstructing past surface sea temperatures.
Xiyuan Zeng (OSE-EAS)
Xiyuan Zeng completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Marine Resources Development Technology in 2017 at Shandong University, China. For his bachelor’s thesis, he studied the characteristics of the peripheral flow field of circular cylinders. As an undergraduate, he also conducted research in remote sensing to estimate the seasonal variation of marine phytoplankton in the South China Sea. He also participated in several student training programs to study marine bacillus species and the New Zealand hybrid abalone.
He would like to use computational fluid mechanics to study ocean circulation and biophysical interactions in the marine environment.
Tyler Vollmer (OSE-EAS)
From Riverside, Calif., Tyler Vollmer graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a double major in geophysics and mathematics/atmospheric and oceanic sciences at age 19, and began research in paleoclimatology. After being awarded a Georgia Tech Presidential Fellowship, he joined the OSE program. His research uses geochemical proxies, such as 13C, and 18O isotopes, and climate modeling to reconstruct past climatic conditions, such as temperature, ocean circulation, and atmospheric circulation. The results would add context to recent climate change.
In his spare time, Vollmer is a competitive figure skater (started at age 3). He was the Intermediate Men National Champion in 2013.
He hopes to continue in academia, with the goal of becoming a professor.
A Message of Appreciation
OSE program Directors Emanuele Di Lorenzo and Annalisa Bracco, professors in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, extend sincere thanks to Susan Cozzens, Georgia Tech’s vice provost for graduate education; Paul Goldbart, dean of the College of Sciences; Gary May, former dean of the College of Engineering and now the chancellor of the University of California, Davis; and the Georgia Tech leadership team for their support and encouragement in establishing the OSE program.
Di Lorenzo and Bracco also extend special thanks to the OSE Faculty who have worked very hard in recruiting this first class of OSE students.
In exactly one week, the great American eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, will sweep across the U.S. The Georgia Tech campus has geared up for a safe and enjoyable eclipse experience, beginning with the distribution of solar-eclipse glasses.
The first safety rule is never to look at the sun directly without special eye protection. Direct viewing can cause permanent eye damage.
For this reason, the College of Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Education have teamed up to make available solar-eclipse glasses to the Georgia Tech community. We have plenty, but if not enough, we highly encourage sharing so everyone can view the solar sensation safely.
The glasses will be distributed at 12-1 PM on eclipse day, Aug. 21, 2017, at six locations across campus:
- In front of Barnes and Noble in Tech Square
- Under the Binary Bridge near Noonan Courtyard
- At the atrium side of Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons
- On Tech Walkway in front of the Starbucks side of Clough Commons and Skiles Building
- In front of the Student Center
- By the Einstein statue
After 1 PM, check for availability at Kessler Campanile.
Look for the distribution signs, and take note of the guidelines for safe viewing.
- Inspect solar-eclipse glasses before use. Discard if shade is torn, punctured, or in any way separated from the frame.
- Do not use with binoculars, telescopes, or cameras.
- Do not use continuously for more than 3 minutes.
- While using solar-eclipse glasses, do not move around, drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.
- Do not use solar-eclipse glasses with a diseased eye or after eye surgery.
- Refer to solar-eclipse glasses for more information.
The School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) hopes to establish a joint degree program with top Chinese research institution Peking University (PKU), which is why the school has hosted a workshop for PKU undergraduates for the past two summers.
PKU has an advantage when it comes to making that joint degree program a reality: PKU Professor of Environmental Science Mei Zheng worked at Tech for 10 years before joining Peking University in 2010.
“I will do whatever I can to help to make this degree program happen,” Zheng says. “When I have an opportunity to bring my students overseas, I think about Georgia Tech. I know the professors here, and I want my students to benefit from this experience.”
Nine PKU students, all majors in environmental sciences/engineering/management, came to this year’s workshop. They visited Tech on July 25-Aug. 1 for classroom lectures and field research.
Georgia Tech faculty and senior researchers presented on topics related to air and water quality, energy and sustainability. The field research included a trip to an air quality monitoring site at Jefferson Street in Atlanta, which is a U.S. Geological Survey Southeastern Aerosol Research and Characterization (SEARCH) network site. Georgia Tech researchers have set up equipment to monitor air quality for related studies. The goal was to expose the visiting students to Tech’s high-level research on air and water quality, atmospheric chemistry, and climate science.
The PKU students got a chance to work with Georgia Tech professors along with graduate and undergraduate students, and they sampled Atlanta’s unique culture and cuisine.
This workshop, says EAS Associate Professor Nga Lee (Sally) Ng and one of the workshop organizers, built on last year’s success. “The students last year were really enthusiastic, and we got good feedback,” Ng says. “They enjoyed their trip to Atlanta and they learned a lot, so we said we should keep doing this.”
Second-year PKU student Yanchu Ke was interested in learning how air pollution could be affecting China’s population and was thrilled at the chance to see how researchers study the effects of pollution.
Another second-year PKU student, Xiang Chen, was impressed by the experience. “The professors here are very patient and enthusiastic,” he says. Coming to the workshop, he adds, gave him a chance to “learn about the American experience and the problems America had with air pollution.”
Zheng says that many of the students were already aware of certain Georgia Tech professors, thanks to their research publications. “Now they are very excited to meet these professors in person, who are very easy to talk with and very helpful,” she notes
Zheng wants her students to know the hard work that awaits them if they decide to pursue graduate research. “I want them to see real life here as a graduate student, so they know the challenge,” Zheng says. “People might think graduate study is boring or scary or creates too much stress. When they see researchers enjoying their work, they say, ‘Okay, I could consider a Ph.D. degree in my future.’”
The passion of Tech’s EAS researchers for their work, Chen says, “motivates me the most. They have taught me that if you are really enthusiastic about the research, you can do it. But if you are not sure, it would be wise to think about it seriously.”
Ng is also a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Faculty and students from that school and the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering also participated in the workshop. EAS Professor and Chair Greg Huey and EAS Faculty Support Coordinator Natasha Hackley-Lawson co-organized the workshop.
The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, PKU, and Emory University have had a joint Ph.D. program in BME since 2009.
Peking University Students at 2017 EAS Summer Workshop:
Juniors: Xiaorui Liu, Yunxiu Shi, Yenan Xu
Sophomores: Xiang Chen, Zehua Jing, Yanchu Ke, Fangshu Ye, Dandan Zhang, Yazhen Wu
Gigi Pavur, a sophomore in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, will be the Convocation Speaker at the Institute's 24th Convocation. As in years past, the event is intended to be part celebration, part inspiration, part history lesson, and part camaraderie-building. In addition to Pavur, speakers will include the president and provost, the Student Government Association undergraduate president, and two members of the Yellow Jacket Marching Band, who will give tips about how to fill out and wear a RAT cap. Faculty, staff, and families also attend, and the event will be livestreamed.
Excerpt fro the Georgia Tech News site. You can read the entire article here.
The last blockbuster of the 2017 summer season promises to be more spectacular than any movie about superheroes or shape-shifting robots. This particular show has been going on since human history has been recorded, and it’s back once again to thrill and educate everyone, including the Georgia Tech community.
Eclipse day is today, the first day of the Fall 2017 semester. Georgia Tech is ready for a safe and fun experience. Thanks to the College of Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Education, solar-eclipse glasses will be available. These glasses are essential for safely viewing the heavenly display directly.
Distribution is at 12-1 PM at the following locations:
- In front of Barnes and Noble in Tech Square
- Under the Binary Bridge near Noonan Courtyard
- At the atrium side of Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons
- On Tech Walkway in front of the Starbucks side of Clough Commons and Skiles Building
- In front of the Student Center
- By the Einstein sculpture
At 1 PM, activities commence at Kessler Campanile. Watch a live stream from the Georgia Tech Observatory, listen to a soundtrack based on data from past eclipses as well as today’s, take an auditory journey of the solar system, explore eclipse-enabled research, monitor changes in ambient temperature and visibility, and more.
“As a community focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), our perspective is biased toward the science, including safety,” says College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart about the activities at Kessler Campanile. “But we also know how to just enjoy this rare astronomical event, which is why we also have Moon Pies," he adds.
“Although I didn’t plan this eclipse, I’m pleased by the twist it adds to the first day of semester,” Goldbart says.
“For many new students, the first week of college can feel like an eclipse of sorts, because so many things are unfamiliar,” Goldbart says in a welcome video. “I assure you that the light will re-emerge, as you get to know the Yellow Jacket family here at our friendly, green oasis in the heart of the vibrant City of Atlanta.”
“Because science is everywhere at Tech, it’s easy to be blasé about the sense of wonder that animates the scientific method,” says Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Colin Potts. “The theories and equations and societal implications are all important, and they’ll still be important on Tuesday, but on Monday everyone should just look up and say, ‘Wow!’”
Professor Kim Cobb has been asked and agreed to serve as Director of GA Tech's new Global Change Program. The program is slotted to begin Fall 2018.
Kim Cobb’s research uses corals and cave stalagmites to reconstruct tropical Pacific temperature and rainfall patterns over the last decades to millennia. She received her B.A. from Yale University in 1996, and her Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 2002. She spent two years at Caltech in the Department of Geological and Planetary Sciences before joining Georgia Tech in 2004. Kim’s research has received numerous awards, most notably a NSF CAREER Award in 2007, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2008, and a Sigma Chi Best Paper Award in 2013. She sits on the AAAS Climate Science Panel, the international CLIVAR Pacific Panel, and the international PAGES-CLIVAR Intersection Panel.
The College of Sciences feted new colleagues joining in the 2017-18 academic year at a summer dinner on Sept. 6. Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart and Jenny Singleton, associate chair and professor in the School of Psychology, hosted the celebration, which also recognized recipients of 2017 College of Sciences awards.
“It is invigorating to start the school year by warmly welcoming new colleagues into our scholarly community and celebrating our outstanding teachers, researchers, and mentors,” Goldbart said.
One program director, one professor of practice, eight assistant professors, two associate professors, and three professors joined the college in the 2017-18 academic year. Three of them – Felix Herrmann, Gregory Sawicki, and Carlos Silva – have joint appointments in other Georgia Tech units.
The Schools of Biological Sciences and of Chemistry and Biochemistry welcomed the most number of new colleagues in the 2017-18 academic year – four each.
The Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) recruited Casey Bethel, Georgia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, to coordinate campus communications.
The following individuals joined the college in the 2017-18 academic year:
- Vinayak Agarwal, assistant professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
- Casey Bethel, program director, CEISMC
- Thackery Brown, assistant professor, School of Psychology
- Stephen Diggle, associate professor, School of Biological Sciences
- Albert Fathi, professor of practice, School of Mathematics
- Neha Garg, assistant professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
- Zachary Handlos, academic professional, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
- Felix Herrmann, professor, joint appointment, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and School of Computational Science and Engineering.
- Wenjing Liao, assistant professor, School of Mathematics
- Jesse McDaniel, assistant professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
- D. Zeb Rocklin, assistant professor, School of Physics
- Gregory Sawicki, associate professor, joint appointment, School of Mechanical Engineering and School of Biological Sciences
- Carlos Silva, professor, joint appointment, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and School of Physics
- Alberto Stolfi, assistant professor, School of Biological Sciences
- Marvin Whiteley, professor and Bennie H. & Nelson D. Abell Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular and Cellular Biology, School of Biological Sciences
Also celebrated as new colleagues were Rachel Kuske and Jenny McGuire. Kuske is a professor in and the chair of the School of Mathematics. She joined the College of Sciences on Jan. 3, 2017. McGuire previously held the position of Research Scientist II in the School of Biological Sciences. She is now assistant professor, tenure track, with joint appointment in the Schools of Biological Sciences and of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
Also at the 2017 summer dinner, nine faculty members were named recipients of 2017 faculty awards.
School of Mathematics Professors John Etnyre and Ronghua Pan, with School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Associate Professor Raquel Lieberman, received the 2017 College of Sciences Faculty Mentor Awards. They were recognized for sharing their experience, providing advice and encouragement, and helping the next generation of faculty succeed.
The college selected School of Physics Professor and Chair Pablo Laguna for the 2017 Ralph and Jewel Gretzinger Moving Forward School Award. The award praises leadership of a school chair or senior faculty member who has played a pivotal role in diversifying faculty, creating a family-friendly work environment, or providing a supportive environment for junior faculty. Laguna was commended for driving equity and inclusion and for mentoring of groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The award is supported by an endowment fund from School of Mathematics alumnus Ralph Gretzinger.
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Assistant Professors Chris Reinhard and Britney Schmidt received the 2017 Eric R. Immel Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award salutes exemplary teaching of a foundational class by junior faculty. In particular, Reinhard and Schmidt were commended for “their imaginative and effective redevelopment” of EAS 1601, How to Build a Habitable Planet. Their work has inspired teaching assistants, excited students, and raised enrolment. The award is supported by an endowment fund from School of Mathematics alumnus Charles Crawford.
School of Physics Assistant Professor James “JC” Gumbart, School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor Brian Hammer, and School of Mathematics Associate Professor Anton Leykin were recognized with 2017 Cullen-Peck Fellowship Awards. The awards recognize innovative research led by faculty who are at the associate professor or advanced assistant professor level. They are made possible by a gift from School of Mathematics and School of Industrial and Systems Engineering alumni Frank Cullen and Libby Peck. The awards applaud outstanding research in computational biophysics (Gumbart), in the biology of competition and cooperation in bacterial systems (Hammer), and in applied and computational algebraic geometry (Leykin).
“We are proud to have so many exceptional faculty members,” Goldbart said. “I am especially grateful for the generosity of our thoughtful alumni, whose gifts enable our colleagues to achieve the highest level of success in their teaching, research, and service.”
Back in 2007, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) Professor Kim Cobb wanted to spark outside-the-box thinking among her undergraduate students about climate science. So she asked them to remove themselves from the Earth – or rather, the Earth’s carbon dioxide footprint.
“I wanted that year’s students to bank 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s a quarter of a typical American’s CO2 footprint on an annual basis. I thought that was a pretty good chunk,” says Cobb, who is also College of Sciences ADVANCE Professor and Georgia Power Chair. “As an example, I’m reducing roughly 1,000 pounds of CO2 per year as a daily bike commuter.”
She celebrated when her class banked 50,000 pounds of CO2. The next year, her students doubled that figure. Not long after, Cobb integrated the Carbon Reduction Challenge in the undergraduate course EAS 3110, “Energy, the Environment, and Society.”
The course’s success at motivating students to think green has Cobb taking steps to expand it to include more undergraduates, specifically those who are taking their first steps into the business world.
Since she started teaching EAS 3110, Cobb estimates that student-generated ideas that have been implemented have kept out 5 million pounds of CO2.
“People ask me what gets me out of bed in the morning as a climate scientist, and it’s really this class,” Cobb says. “What the students bring in terms of passion, they translate into tangible results and real-world outcomes that really add up.”
The spring 2016 cohort offers a good example. Students placed a high-tech reflective coating on top of Georgia Tech’s O. Lamar Allen Sustainable Education Building to cut down on absorbed heat. The retrofit cost $49,000, including a 20-year warranty, but the change is projected to save $60,000 in energy costs over the next 10 years while avoiding just under a million pounds of CO2 emissions over the same time.
The Summer 2017 Carbon Reduction Challenge represents the next phase of the program, which Cobb is undertaking with Beril Toktay, professor of operations management and Brady Family Chair at Scheller College of Business. Thanks to a grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s NextGen Committee and the Scheller College Dean’s Innovation Fund, the program was expanded to include interns and co-op students from beyond EAS.
Cobb says the ideas generated by the 20 students in the summer cohort could keep more than 2 million pounds of CO2 a year from entering the atmosphere. The winning intern team, which worked at SunTrust Bank’s Atlanta headquarters, came up with solutions that will save the company millions of pounds of CO2 and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a five-year period.
For example, because most of the bank’s teammates relied on the default position in the rental car booking app they used, the interns simply switched the default position from intermediate-size cars to the more fuel-efficient economy-size cars.
The interns also proposed to expand Skype-style video conferencing as an alternative to short business trips. The technology would save on money and CO2 emissions incurred during day-trip flights.
It’s not every day that interns get to present recommendations like these to a company’s executive team. It’s even rarer when those executives decide to implement the interns’ ideas within seconds of hearing them. Yet that’s exactly what happened, says Alex Ketchum, an industrial engineering senior on the winning SunTrust team.
“We wanted to make it easier for people to be sustainable and save carbon than not to save carbon,” he said.
Remembering previous Tech interns, Amy Ross, vice president of environmental sustainability at SunTrust, says, “Frankly, the bar has been set high before, so we were thrilled to see how fiercely they took to this project. They went above and beyond what I could have imagined.”
Toktay saw the potential in matching Cobb’s class with interns and co-op students.
“The most transformative part of this activity will be the conversations that will occur within companies about CO2 reduction because of this project,” she says. “What they [SunTrust] really like is that you can be a sustainability champion from your desk, no matter where you are within a company. That’s the message they’re going to get out to all their teammates.”
Cobb says she is taking feedback on the past summer’s challenge while she and Toktay improve various aspects of the challenge ahead of a spring 2018 relaunch. Cobb is targeting new corporate partners, including major energy companies that could benefit the most from carbon reduction solutions that don’t require significant financial investments. That, she says, is the biggest takeaway from the Carbon Reduction Challenge: Companies don’t have to choose between greener strategies and profits.
“We can do both,” Cobb says. “This is a quantifiable, tangible set of strategies that anyone can deploy to have a win-win solution on climate change.”
Dr. Charles Edward Weaver, Founder of Georgia Tech's School of Geophysical Sciences, 1970-1981.
Dr. Charles Edward Weaver, who resided on Saint Simons Island, GA, passed away early morning Tuesday, September 12, 2017. He was born in Lock Haven, PA, in 1925 and served as a naval lieutenant during World War II serving in the battle of Okinawa.
He later matriculated at Penn State University where he received a Ph.D. in mineralogy in 1952. He embarked on an illustrious career in the oil business first with Shell Oil in Houston, TX, followed by Continental Oil in Ponca City, OK, where he distinguished himself internationally with groundbreaking research in the field of clay mineralogy, shale and sedimentology and its correlation to oil deposits.
Dr. Weaver then joined the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) as an associate professor of geology. He founded and was the first director of the School of Geophysical Sciences from 1970 to 1981. During his 22 years at Georgia Tech, he published more than 40 scientific papers, administered 11 large research grants and authored five academic books including "Chemistry of Clay Minerals," an authoritative reference book which he co-authored with Lin Pollard.
Dr. Weaver has received numerous awards including the Mineralogical Society of America Award as the outstanding mineralogist under the age of 35 in 1958, the first person from industry to receive the award; a Battelle Memorial Institute Award for Exceptional Performance in 1979 for his work in shale and high-level radioactive waste; a Distinguished Member Award from The Clay Minerals Society in 1985, and he was honored with a Regents Professorship at Georgia Tech in 1982. He was president of the Georgia Geological Society in 1966 and president of The Clay Minerals Society in 1968.
In addition, he created the "Weaver Index" a geological standard of measure evaluating grades of metamorphism. Dr. Weaver was an avid athlete, playing tennis and racquet ball into his 80s and running up to 6 miles a day well into his 60s. After he retired with his wife, Jan, in the early 80s, splitting their time between Highlands, NC, and Saint Simons Island, GA, he took up pottery and continued a life-long fly fishing hobby.
In the Ford Environmental Science and Technology Building, the office of Martha Grover is three doors from that of Jennifer Glass. Both are Georgia Tech scientists doing research related to astrobiology – life in the cosmos – but until last year they hardly talked to each other as researchers with common interests.
“We are all so busy,” says Grover, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, a scientific collaborator at the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE), and a member of the Center for Space Technology and Research (C-STAR).
Now, Grover, Glass, and others at Tech are members of a growing community that’s coalescing astrobiology activities across campus. In a public debut of sorts, six members of Georgia Tech Astrobiology, as the community calls itself, participated in the 2017 Dragon Con, the premier pop-culture convention on science fiction and fantasy. They wowed the audience, not by fiction or fantasy or over-the-top costumes, but by progress in answering fundamental questions – How did life begin? Where else could life exist? – happening right next door from the meeting venue, at Georgia Tech.
The growing visibility of researchers interested in astrobiology is helping Georgia Tech emerge as a powerhouse in the field. At minimum, says Kenneth Knoespel, a historian of science and professor in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, “it affirms the importance of this community at Georgia Tech and the importance of astrobiology as a new configuration of disciplines that brings together the natural and human sciences.”
TEEMING WITH TALENT
“Georgia Tech is clearly recognized as a hub for astrobiology and maybe the one that’s growing the most quickly,” says Edward Goolish, the deputy director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), one of the six elements of the NASA Astrobiology Program. People at Georgia Tech, Goolish adds, “have been generous with their time and have contributed in important ways when NASA has reached out to the science community for input.”
The community includes physicists, chemists, biologists, Earth and planetary scientists, and engineers, as well as historians of science and writers. The scientists are figuring out how life emerged and evolved to the biosphere we know, inventing instruments to detect life outside Earth, and searching for other habitable places in the universe. The science historians and writers are witnessing science in the making and perhaps gathering fodder for the next volume of science fiction.
Broadly defined, astrobiology is the study of life in the cosmos. Its central questions are “What is the origin of life?” and “Does life exist beyond Earth?” Humans have asked these questions since time immemorial. That they are still around attests to the difficulty of discovering and assembling the pieces of a formidable puzzle: the emergence of a biosphere on a planet.
How formidable? According to Eric Smith, a theoretician in the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s team at Georgia Tech (NAI-GT), understanding the nature of the transition from a planet without a biosphere to one with a biosphere should be central to origins-of-life inquiries. However, he says, “a lot of the language to enable that understanding doesn’t exist yet.”
At Georgia Tech, research teams are working across the breadth of questions central to astrobiology. Their activities are exemplified by three specialized research groups: CCE, NAI-GT, and C-STAR.
CCE is building a community in origin-of-life research, said its director, Nicholas V. Hud, at a symposium organized by Georgia Tech Astrobiology last month. In finding answers, CCE takes two approaches, Hud explained. “Bottom up,” it starts with geology and chemistry and understanding the formation of the first polymers of life, which is a major focus of Hud’s. “Top down,” it starts with biology, genetics, and looking back in time at persistent, conserved molecular motifs, as exemplified by the work of Loren Williams on ribosomes.
Like digging a tunnel underground from opposite ends and meeting somewhere in between, the two approaches are converging on the coevolution of the biopolymers of life. Chemistry and biology are telling us the same thing, say Hud and Williams, both professors in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry (SoCB) and members of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB).
At NAI-GT, “we start at the level of the cell,” says Frank Rosenzweig, the School of Biological Sciences (SoBS) professor who leads the NASA group. “Once you have all this biochemistry wrapped in a cell, what happens then? How do they become associated as multicellular organisms? How do they engage in biochemistries that change the environment? We need to understand the interaction between the evolution of life and the evolution of its abiotic surrounding to have a chance of recognizing life elsewhere.
“Although life on Earth manifests in different forms, all are governed by laws of growth, inheritance, and variability,” says Rosenzweig, also a member of IBB. NAI-GT aims to “illuminate and interpret these laws via laboratory-based evolution experiments with microbial populations.” An example is the exploration of the origin of multicellularity by experimentally evolving yeast, as described in the September symposium by Will Ratcliff, an assistant professor in SoBS.
For C-STAR-affiliated faculty, habitability is one key question. What events and conditions in the abiotic sphere yield environments that support life? The NASA-supported work of Jennifer Glass and Chris Reinhard, in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS), exemplify the search for answers in this realm.
What signals should we monitor in search of life elsewhere in the universe? What tools do we need to probe for signs of life from the comfort of Earth? What hazards should we prepare for if humans were to go to other worlds?
In EAS, C-STAR members and planetary scientists Carol Paty, Britney Schmidt, and James Wray are co-investigators of NASA-funded projects to answer these questions. So is C-STAR member Paul Steffes, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as C-STAR Director Thomas Orlando and C-STAR member Amanda Stockton, in SoCB.
With the talent on campus, Georgia Tech is becoming well known in the field of astrobiology. At the 2017 Astrobiology Scientific Conference, in Mesa, Ariz., last April, the Georgia Tech “posse” numbered about 30 faculty and students. Last summer, attendees of AbGradCon (Astrobiology Graduate Conference) 2017 selected Georgia Tech to host the 2018 event. This popular meeting for students is funded primarily by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
The astrobiology community at Georgia Tech is “healthy,” Smith says. “The people in strategic positions have good priorities in the sophistication and intellectual integrity they are trying to support.”
The community – now 85 strong and growing – is raring to make its presence felt. It has an ambitious schedule for the 2017-18 school year, spearheaded by the September symposium.
Led by Grover as principal investigator, and with contributions from Glass, Knoespel, Paty, Reinhard, Rosenzweig, Schmidt, Williams, and others – Rebecca Burnett, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts; Glenn Lightsey, School of Aerospace Engineering and C-STAR; and Christopher Parsons, CCE – their proposal for seven projects received funding from the Georgia Tech Strategic Plan Advisory Group (SPAG) and the Colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts, and Sciences.
The projects aim to showcase the quality and variety of astrobiology projects at Tech, highlight the social impact of these projects, and strengthen the sense of community among faculty and students. The goals will be achieved through formal gatherings, educational innovations, and public outreach.
“As I see it, the point of research universities is to tackle the really important, really deep, and really challenging questions – the ones at the edge of, or even beyond, our reach; the ones that present not just the possibility but the likelihood of failure,” said College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart at the September symposium. “It’s our duty as administrators to do everything we can to support this kind of truly adventurous research.”
What the astrobiology community is doing not only is exciting, Goldbart said. But also, “it could hardly fit better with the dreams of the College of Sciences and of Georgia Tech.”
Georgia Tech Researchers Working Toward the Goals of NASA’s Astrobiology Program
Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (P-STAR)
Jennifer Glass, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Britney Schmidt, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Amanda Stockton, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations (PICASSO)
Exobiology: Early Evolution of Life and the Biosphere
Frank Rosenzweig, School of Biological Sciences
Exobiology: Evolution of Advanced Life
William Ratcliff, School of Biological Sciences
Exobiology: Prebiotic Evolution
Loren Williams, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Exobiology: Methane and Iron Metabolisms in Ancient Oceans
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Faculty Affiliated with NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)
Jennifer Glass, Chris Reinhard, and Yuanzhi Tang, with University of California, Riverside, team
James Wray, with SETI Institute team
NAI Team at Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences
NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellows
Bradley Burcar, with Nicholas Hud
Peter Conlin, with William Ratcliff
Moran Frenkel-Pinter, with Loren Williams
Kazumi Ozaki, with Chris Reinhard
Nicholas Speller, with Amanda Stockton
2018 AbGradCon Organizers
Marcus Bray Justin Lawrence
Bradley Burcar Adriana Lozoya
Anthony Burnetti Kennda Lynch
Heather Chilton Santiago Mestre Fos
Chase Chivers Marshall Seaton
Dedra Eichstedt Micah Schaible
Zachary Duca Elizabeth Spiers
Jennifer Farrar Scot Sutton
Nicholas Kovacs Nadia Szeinbaum
George Tan, Conference Chair
Note: This list is not meant to be comprehensive; it represents information that was available as of October 2017.
This list was updated on Nov. 21, 2017, to include all members of the NAI Team at Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences.
Georgia Tech at AbSciCon 2017. This photo shows only some of the Georgia Tech researchers who attended. From left: Cesar Menor-Salvan, Nick Hud, Justin Lawrence, Jacob Buffo, Frank Rosenzweig, Amanda Stockton, Britney Schmidt, Kennda Lynch, Gavin Mendez, George Tan, Jennifer Glass, Zachary Duca, Nadia Szeinbaum, Aaron McKee, Chloe Stanton, and Marcus Bray (Courtesy of Jennifer Glass)
Georgia Tech Astrobiology at 2017 Dragon Con. From left: Amanda Stockton, Loren Williams, Kenneth Knoespel, Lisa Yaszek, Chris Reinhard, and Britney Schmidt (Photo by Renay San Miguel)
Organizers and Speakers: “Life in the Cosmos.”
Top, from left: Rebecca Burnett, Carol Paty, Kennda Lynch, Jennifer Glass, Martha Grover, Gongjie Li, and Amanda Stockton
Bottom, from left: Thomas Orlando, Paul Steffes, Frank Rosenzweig, Nicholas Hud, Loren Williams, and William Ratcliff (Photos by Maureen Rouhi)