Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hydroponic lettuce offers a taste of 'green' food

Video via Quad Talk 

Much of the lettuce sold in the eastern United States comes from California and Arizona. Emory students, however, are getting treated to fresh, campus-grown salads through a hydroponic system developed by Alex Boettcher and Jai Seth, both undergraduates majoring in economics and minoring in sustainability.

Their hydroponic system is currently growing about 50 heads of lettuce in 15-square-feet of the Dobbs University Center (DUC).

California lettuce “has to travel 3,000 miles to get here so it’s about 8 to 10 days before it’s served onto our plates,” Boettcher says. “It’s constantly losing nutrients, plus it takes massive amounts of fossil fuels to get it here.”

Conventional farming needs about three months to produce a crop of lettuce “but here we grow it in about six weeks,” Seth adds. “And because we’re growing it indoors we can have eight different crops cycles as compared to three or four crop cycles at a conventional farm.”

The students aim to promote sustainable, local food and good nutrition through the hydroponic project, which was supported by the Center for the Study of Human Health, the Foundations of Sustainability class and Food Services.

Local honeybees give back to the food chain

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Emory chemistry making new space for mixing ideas

A glass-fronted atrium, leading out onto a park-like area, will serve as the new heart of chemistry and a hub for the campus science commons.

By Carol Clark

Chemists study the interactions of atoms in order to create new molecules. Emory chemists also like to experiment with the interactions of people and ideas, so they are creating space to foster new ways of teaching and research.

A $52 million expansion and renovation of the Sanford S. Atwood Chemistry Center, largely funded by the proceeds of a discovery of an HIV-AIDS drug made in the building, will transform the concrete exterior and boxed-in labs of the past into the sunlit foyers and communal spaces that reflect the department’s vision of its future.

“The building project sits right in the middle of Emory’s growing science commons,” says David Lynn, the chair of chemistry. “It was important to all of us that the architecture have an open, welcoming feel. This space is a great opportunity to pull the sciences together.”

“It’s really an expression of the collegiality of Emory,” adds Todd Polley, a materials scientist and the director of operations for the department. “Discoveries are being made at the interface of different disciplines, so we want to provide the best possible space for that interaction.”

The imposing concrete front of Atwood, facing onto Dickey Drive, will be replaced by a more welcoming facade.

Groundbreaking is set for May 14, the day after Commencement, with completion expected in early 2015. About 40,000 square feet of existing space in Atwood will be renovated, and 70,000 square feet of new space will be added to the existing 200,000 square-foot chemistry complex of Atwood and Cherry L Emerson Hall.

The imposing concrete walls of Atwood’s lecture hall, nicknamed “the bunker,” will be replaced by a more welcoming façade of windows and glass doors looking out on to Dickey Drive, next to the Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences building and across from the Math and Science Center.

The raised walkway along the west side of Atwood will be removed and replaced by a five-story, glass-fronted atrium. The atrium will house a library on the ground floor, facing out onto the grassy area between Atwood and Emerson. Instead of a traditional library, this open, interactive learning space will be filled with computer stations and conversational nooks to encourage collaboration. The library space and the park-like area of grass that it will open onto will serve as the new heart of the chemistry complex and as a hub for the campus science commons.

“In developing the concept, it was important for us to not only create great interior spaces, but also an open, transparent exterior so that people are drawn into those great spaces,” Polley says.

The view from a glass-walled faculty office into the new atrium.

The tiered lecture hall is being replaced by an interactive teaching space. Students will sit at round tables, surrounded by large video screens connected to computers. Each tableful of students will tackle problems as a group, mentoring and teaching one another. The solutions from each group can be projected onto the surrounding screens, so that the class as a whole can evaluate the different approaches and learn from them.

“It’s a simple concept,” Lynn says. “Rather than having students compete with one another, they collaborate in the same way we do research. The challenges we face have many facets and everyone brings new perspectives and ideas that are critical to the best solutions. The ways we teach science and do research are blending and becoming more seamless.”

Both the teaching space and research labs in the addition will have glass walls. “You’ll be able to look around and see the research actually happening,” Polley says. “It will give you context for why you are studying the subject.”

The long rows of sterile benches in the general chemistry lab will also get a makeover. The fume hoods will be outfitted with cameras, so that everyone can see demonstrations clearly, much like on a cooking show.

The entire second floor of Atwood can morph to create ideal spaces for poster presentations, seminars, guest lectures or other activities as they arise. Natural light and wood floors will warm up the atmosphere and many of the existing narrow hallways and opaque walls will be removed to create a more fluid and connected feeling.

Cooper Carry architecture of Atlanta worked closely with the department to plan the project, which is designed for certification by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Watch the video about the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, below, to learn more about how chemistry research and teaching are evolving.

The Atwood addition is another major milestone for a department that began at Emory in 1919, in what is now the North Callaway building on the Quadrangle, and moved into Atwood in 1974 when that building was completed.

During the 1980s, the first AIDS lab at Emory was established in Atwood. It was there that organic chemist Dennis Liotta, in collaboration with post-doctoral researcher Woo-Baeg Choi and biochemist Raymond Schinazi, developed Emtriva. The breakthrough antiviral drug for the treatment of HIV is now used by more than 90 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in the United States, and by thousands more around the globe.

The Cherry L. Emerson Center for Scientific Computation was established in the department in 1991, and moved into Emerson Hall in 2001 when that building was completed. The department is also home to the Emory Bio-inspired Renewable Energy Center and two national Centers for Chemical Innovation: The NASA/NSF Center for Chemical Evolution and the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization.

“Chemistry is foundational to solving many of the most critical problems facing society, but these problems need to be viewed from differing vantage points,” Lynn says. “The expansion and renovation of Atwood is designed to capture new and creative ideas, while strengthening our connections to the rest of the University.”

About 60 percent of all entering Emory College students take a chemistry class during their first year. The department currently has 21 faculty members, 120 graduate students and 237 undergraduate chemistry majors. “We must be doing something right, because twice as many students choose to major in chemistry at Emory than at any of our much larger peer institutions,” Lynn says.

Chemistry center opens new era in organic synthesis
Peptides may hold missing link to life 
Bringing new energy to solar quest 
'Where you have friction, changes can occur'

Thursday, March 21, 2013

He deserves the Mobile Prize for Chemistry

Organic chemist Albert Padwa, who joined Emory in 1979, recently retired, leaving a legacy of great teaching and research, but also a collection of Calderesque mobiles that dangle, dip and twirl from the ceilings of chemistry department labs and offices. Padwa spoke with Emory Quadrangle magazine recently about his career and unusual hobby. Below is an excerpt:

“One of the main areas of organic chemistry that has captivated my attention for many years is ‘stereochemistry,’ which studies the three-dimensional shapes of complex molecules. Nature is inherently three-dimensional because the building blocks of life (alpha-amino acids, nucleotides, and sugars) appear in nature in mirror-image forms. I have found this area fascinating due to the aesthetic beauty associated with chemical structures, and the intriguing ability to combine the fields of geometry, topology, and chemistry in a study of three-dimensional shapes.

“Mobiles are examples of kinetic art which bear a strong resemblance to the structure of complex organic molecules. Walk into the chemistry building at Emory, and the first thing you'll probably notice is a mobile. Walk on, and before you know it you'll be surrounded by the mobiles I've been creating for many years. I draw inspiration from Alexander Calder, the famous American sculptor credited with inventing the dangling art pieces.

"I started giving away some of my mobiles to my colleagues and staff members in the chemistry department many years ago. Almost everyone now has a mobile—roughly 50 of them adorn the various offices and corners of the chemistry department. I am fascinated by the way they float in 3-D space, have oddball shapes, but remain in balance. That's why I build them, much as I assemble complex natural products in my laboratory.

"I hope that my passion for collecting and creating mobiles will become part of my Emory legacy. Future generations of chemists may not remember me for my science, but there should be enough mobiles in the chemistry building to remind them of me.

“Chemistry opened up a world of experiences, seeing the world and interacting with students as well as colleagues from around the globe. I often tell my students that with immense hard work and sincere effort, anything is possible. But I also say that while it is extremely important for scientists to keep abreast of new knowledge through research, it is essential to maintain a proper balance between professional and nonprofessional activities, like my own hobbies of mountaineering, yoga, and my ever-expanding collection of mobiles. Would I do anything differently if I had to do it again? Certainly not!”

The art and science of symbiosis

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Women in science unite at Emory

Video via Quad Talk

“I’m very aware of how lucky I am,” says Kerry-Ann Pinard, a junior majoring in neuroscience at Emory, and the president of the University’s chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

Pinard cites a quote from Michele Obama as her inspiration: “She said that when you’ve worked hard and done well, and have walked through the door of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and give someone the same opportunities that you had to succeed.”

The Emory chapter was recently chartered by the national AWIS group. Jessica Phillip is the vice president of the chapter and a junior majoring in chemistry and math and computer science. The group holds regular meetings, started an AWIS Emory Facebook group, and organized the first Emory AWIS Week March 18-22.

“We’ve been getting a lot of student and faculty support for AWIS,” Pinard says. “Everybody thinks it’s a great cause. Our goal is to create a united community for women in science that crosses disciplines and provides a space for everyone to come together and grow professionally.”

Stories as the 'secret sauce' that binds families

Bruce Feiler wrote an essay in the New York Times about the importance of strong narratives to make a family work more effectively. Below is an excerpt from his article:

“I first heard this idea from Marshall Duke, a colorful psychologist at Emory University. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Duke was asked to help explore myth and ritual in American families.

“There was a lot of research at the time into the dissipation of the family,” he told me at his home in suburban Atlanta. “But we were more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.”

“Around that time, Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara, a psychologist who works with children with learning disabilities, noticed something about her students.

“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she said.

“Her husband was intrigued, and along with a colleague, Robyn Fivush, set out to test her hypothesis. They developed a measure called the ‘Do You Know?’ scale that asked children to answer 20 questions [about their family history]…

“The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

Read the whole article in the New York Times.

How to parent a college freshman
Stories your parents should have told you

Monday, March 18, 2013

Visual experiment gives new view of Parthenon

Video by Hal Jacobs, Emory Quad Talk.

What’s it like to approach the Parthenon with its famous frieze in place, painted in the vivid colors of its original glory? And what’s it like to stand near the top of the Parthenon’s majestic columns and install canvas panels representing the frieze?

Watch the video above for on-the-scene footage of Emory’s Parthenon Project, a visual experiment that took place last fall at the Nashville Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the ancient temple in Athens, Greece, but without the frieze embellishment.

Visit Emory's Parthenon Project web site.

Emory art historian Bonna Wescoat and 11 of her students conducted the experiment to bring the science of seeing into a long-standing puzzle: Why was such a refined work of art placed in what seems like an obscure location?

The original carved marble panels, depicting a ceremonial procession, were located high on the outside wall of the Parthenon’s central chamber, and were partially blocked by the surrounding colonnade. The Emory students created facsimiles of some of the panels and installed them at the Nashville structure. They then recruited members of the public to slowly approach the building, and using a detailed questionnaire, describe what details they could see of the frieze, and how well they could see them.

“Of the 93 people who took the survey, the overwhelming majority said they could see the figures on the frieze and many of the details without difficulty,” Wescoat says.

The gods and heroes carved into the Parthenon’s pediments and metopes are more broadly visible in their prominent placements atop the columns, on the outermost rim of the temple. Viewers have to draw closer, however, to see the mortals depicted in the frieze’s procession.

“Many of the observers in the experiment thought [viewing the frieze] was a more intimate experience,” Wescoat says. “We can only imagine that for the ancient Athenians, it must have also been a deeply moving one to be in the company of ideal representations of themselves.”

The experiential data “offers a major step forward in our understanding of the visibility of the frieze,” she adds, “and it sheds light on why this particular position may have been chosen.”

Optical experiment eyes Parthenon mystery
How the Greek gods measure up

Friday, March 15, 2013

Relationship advice from a retiring psychologist

Emory's Quadrangle Magazine asked Stephen Nowicki, above, who recently retired as Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory, for his advice on "endings." Following is an excerpt from his response:

"As you value your relationships, pay special attention to their endings. While beginning and deepening relationships are important, it is the endings that provide the richest source of learning. It is only then that you can look back to find out what you did well and what you did poorly, so that you can apply that knowledge to your next relationships.

"Think about how you ended your time at Emory. Remember the people to whom you were going to say special things before you ended. Evaluate how you did. If you are like most of us, you didn't end very well. You didn't tell many of the people that meant something to you during your time at Emory that they were important and appreciated. You got busy and maybe irritated as you ended, the two major ways that we soften the pain of ending, especially when we are ending something good.

"But it is not too late.

"Many of those people are still around, be they former peers or professors. You have time to contact them and tell them they meant something to you. You have no idea how important that might be, to them and to you.

"So, a take home message? Give your relationships the attention they deserve, and especially how you have ended them. Beginning and ending relationships are the rhythm track of our lives, but we get no formal education about how to do it well. So you are going to have to do some home schooling."

Top 10 facts about non-verbal communication
Anxious children confuse 'mad' and 'sad'

Monday, March 11, 2013

Making tracks during Spring Break

The lack of traffic on the way to work at Emory this morning was a big clue: It's Spring Break and most of the students are scattered to the four winds.

If you are not off on a Spring Break adventure, you can live vicariously by following the coastal capers of environmental studies' students from Anthony Martin's class on the ecology of barrier islands. The group's week-long field trip began on Georgia's Cumberland Island over the weekend. Martin is posting about the trip regularly, including lots of great nature photos, on his blog Life Traces of the Georgia Coast.

We wish the coastal crew, and all the Spring Break travelers, happy trails. The campus is way too quiet without you.

Photos by Anthony Martin.

Insider's guide to Georgia's barrier islands
Survivor: The marsh episode

Friday, March 8, 2013

MathOverflow: Make your problems everyone's problems

By Carol Clark

“New technologies are changing the way we do math research,” says Emory mathematician David Zureick-Brown.

Zureick-Brown gave a talk at the recent ScienceOnline conference about MathOverflow, a web site that he co-founded while he was graduate student at Berkeley, along with colleagues Anton Geraschenko and Scott Morrison.

MathOverflow provides a dynamic forum to more efficiently solve problems, by allowing users to post questions and quickly receive answers and advice from a large community of research mathematicians.

“Mathematicians tend to know a lot more math besides what they publish,” says Zureick-Brown, explaining that the idea behind the web site is to uncover this buried knowledge when it’s needed.

“When I’m working on a problem, if I’m stuck on something, I dig and dig and dig, and find a question that captures what I’m confused about,” he says. Previously, he would just take that question to colleagues and to conferences, but now he can post it on MathOverflow to quickly reach a much wider community.

Founded in 2009, Math Overflow has built-up 10,000 active users who have posed more than 35,000 questions, which have received more than 60,000 answers. The average time it takes to get a correct answer is under six hours. MathOverflow answers are now frequently cited in research papers.

The web site’s community ranges from gifted high school students to Fields Medalists. Most active users are either full-time math researchers, or in a university training to become one.

The web site is highly interactive, and allows users to vote and gain reputation. “The idea is that the good content should just naturally shift to the top of the site,” Zureick-Brown says. As users build reputation, they slowly gain rights and can eventually edit posts and answers, making the community self-moderating.

Most of the questions on MathOverflow involve highly esoteric mathematical problems and concepts. But the site also has a share of posts that math lovers of all levels can appreciate, such as: “I’m interested in magic tricks whose explanations require deep mathematics. The trick should be one that would actually appeal to a layman.”

And a user named Jason asked if anyone knew of any good math videos. That question drew more than 70 responses with links to a range of videos, from a short film revealing the beauty of Moebius Transformations to a group of singing mathematicians (see above) performing “Finite Simple Group.”

Top image of Hadwiger-Nelson problem by David Eppstein, via Wikipedia Mathematics Portal.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ambassadors for the natural world

Emory alum David Mizejewski gets really wrapped up in his work.

The wildlife author and spokesman for the National Science Foundation has spent his career trying to reconnect people to the natural world. As the opening speaker for a recent National Science Teacher Association conference in Atlanta, he brought out a host of "animal ambassadors," including a Burmese python, above, and a juvenile red kangaroo, below.

Kids, in particular, need to spend more time exploring the outdoors, he says. “Parents are worried about the dangers out there, but there are more risks associated with a sedentary, indoor lifestyle."
Strange animal facts are his forte: for example, when your dog jumps up on you and tries to “kiss” you when you get home from work, it’s not primarily that he’s happy to see you; it’s genetically coded behavior inherited from their wolf ancestors who, as pups, would go to the den’s opening and jump up to lick regurgitated food from their parents’ mouths.

Owls can’t turn their heads all the way around a la The Exorcist but they can rotate their necks as much as 270 degrees in each direction. And an American alligator’s bite can have as much force as “having a pickup truck dropped on you.”

Read the full article by Mary Loftus in Emory Magazine.

Photos by Emory Photo/Video.