Eric Sembrat's Test Bonanza

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School of Physics Colloquium

Active materials such as bacteria, molecular motors and eukaryotic cells continuously
transform chemical energy taken from their surroundings to mechanical work. Dense active
matter shows mesoscale turbulence, the emergence of chaotic flow structures characterised
by high vorticity and self-propelled topological defects. I shall describe the physics of active
defects, discussing active microfluidics, the formation of defect lattices and examples of
topological defects in biological systems.

2020 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, Explained: Genetic Scissors, Black Holes and the Milky Way’s Darkest Secret

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A revolutionary, transformative method for editing genes — promising a possible end to certain diseases. Groundbreaking work done decades ago by a School of Physics professor emeritus to eventually help prove the existence and structure of black holes. The discovery of an extremely big black hole quietly hidden at the center of our own galaxy. 

Those are a few of the developments celebrated this month by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, as they handed out the 2020 Nobel Prizes for Chemistry and Physics on October 6 and 7. This year, three of the five scientists honored as Nobel laureates in Chemistry and Physics are women.

Additionally, the scientific background provided by the Royal Swedish Academy for this year's Physics prize includes acknowledgement of the work done on formulas that proves the science behind black holes by a late professor emeritus from the Georgia Tech School of Physics, David Ritz Finkelstein (1929-2016). The College of Sciences' annual "Bold Ideas in Physics" lecture series was established to celebrate and honor Finkelstein and his many contributions to the Institute, the field of physics, and beyond.

Here’s what Georgia Tech College of Sciences faculty and researchers had to say about the annual honors:

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 Laureates:
Emmanuelle Charpentier, Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin
Jennifer A. Doudna, University of California, Berkeley

From the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release: “Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies, and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”

Julia Kubanek, Associate Dean of Research in the College of Sciences; Professor, School of Biological Sciences, shares:

This is a fantastic prize for chemistry. The basic science underpinning CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology is being recognized for its current value and future benefits.

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered CRISPR-Cas9 only in the last decade, collaborating across the Atlantic Ocean to uncover the natural ability of bacteria to deflect viral infection by snipping out viral genetic material when it infiltrates bacterial genomes.

The gene-snipping system, CRISPR-Cas9, turns out to be enormously useful for modifying genes of many types, not just viral genes within bacterial genomes. It allows scientists to directly manipulate genes and gene expression, so that we can test the biological functions of specific genes in humans, other animals, and plants. And CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to tune cells by adding and subtracting pieces of genetic material, which changes the properties of these cells. This technology is expected to lead to cures for diseases and new products. 

It’s also the first time that two women have been simultaneously recognized with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Doudna-Charpentier team is a great example to scientists all over the world of what women are achieving by following their scientific dreams.  

Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 Laureates:
Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK
Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles
Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

From the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release: “Roger Penrose used ingenious mathematical methods in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist, these super-heavyweight monsters that capture everything that enters them. Nothing can escape, not even light.

In January 1965, ten years after Einstein’s death, Roger Penrose proved that black holes really can form and described them in detail; at their heart, black holes hide a singularity in which all the known laws of nature cease. His groundbreaking article is still regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez each lead a group of astronomers that, since the early 1990s, has focused on a region called Sagittarius A* at the centre of our galaxy. The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way have been mapped with increasing precision. The measurements of these two groups agree, with both finding an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on the jumble of stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds. Around four million solar masses are packed together in a region no larger than our solar system.

Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the centre of the Milky Way. Stretching the limits of technology, they refined new techniques to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, building unique instruments and committing themselves to long-term research. Their pioneering work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.”

Tamara Bogdanovic, Associate Professor, School of PhysicsCenter for Relativistic Astrophysics shares:

The news that the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Roger Penrose, Andrea Ghez, and Reinhard Genzel for their work on black holes piqued the interest of many who find black holes fascinating. Among these, the scientific community that researches the nature of black holes was particularly abuzz with excitement. This is because our colleagues received an important and well-deserved recognition for their unique and impactful contributions.

It is also because this vibrant research area continues to deliver important scientific discoveries that recently include the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) observations of gravitational waves from merging black holes of stellar origin, which received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics; the first-ever image of a black hole shadow obtained by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019, and many others. 

This Nobel Prize nicely illustrates how physicists combine visionary theoretical work (Penrose) with groundbreaking astronomical observations (Ghez and Reinhard) into a process of scientific discovery. It is also notable because Andrea Ghez is only the fourth woman to become a Nobel laureate in physics. I cannot imagine a more deserving scientist or a better person to represent the community of women researchers working on black holes today.

With eyes always fixed on the future, this scientific community is now actively preparing for the first detection of gravitational waves from inspiraling and colliding supermassive black holes, expected to happen in the next few to 15 years. Are these discoveries also going to be of Nobel Prize caliber? This is impossible to forecast, but here is what is not: the future of researching black holes seems bright.

John Wise, Associate Professor, School of Physics, Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, shares:

Decades ago, the deep mathematical insight from Penrose revolutionized how we study space-time around black holes. This set the groundwork for the pioneering work of Ghez and Genzel, who used infrared astronomy to peer deep into the galactic center. 

I'm always amazed when I watch Ghez's movies of stars zipping around some unseen massive object, which we now know to be a massive black hole. Showing her movies in my astrophysics classes is the highlight of the lecture discussing the evidence for black holes. The clarity of these movies easily convey the evidence to the public and future scientists, seeing a cosmic dance between a black hole and nearby stars. 

Ghez is only the fourth woman out of 216 scientists to receive the Physics Nobel Prize. I hope the Nobel committee recognizes the work of women scientists more often in the future.

Acknowledging the Work of David Ritz Finkelstein

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences released a scientific background paper along with its press release announcing the Nobel Prize in Physics. That paper includes mention of former School of Physics Professor Emeritus David Finkelstein, who died in 2016.

The mention comes in the section titled “The Schwarzschild Metric,” which explains German astronomer Karl Schwarzschild’s efforts in the early 20th century to prove Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. 

Schwarzchild and others were working with Einstein’s famous field equations, and some came up with other possible explanations for general relativity, Einstein’s explanation for how gravity can curve space-time. 

In 1958, Finkelstein was the first to posit the theory of an “event horizon,” or point of no return within a black hole. As Physics.org puts it, Finkelstein “described this boundary around a black hole as the perfect unidirectional membrane. It's an intangible surface encapsulating a sphere of no return. Once inside this sphere, the gravitational pull of the black hole is too great to escape – even for light.”

And as the Royal Swedish Academy put it: Only much later, through the work of David Finkelstein in 1958, the importance of different coordinate systems was fully understood (Finkelstein 1958). 

Seven years later, Roger Penrose would announce the research providing proof of the existence of black holes, thus earning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer/Science Writer
College of Sciences
404-894-5209

 

Summary: 

Faculty explain the work and importance of the 2020 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, while the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences drops the name of a School of Physics professor emeritus in the background literature for this year's Physics prize.

Intro: 

Faculty explain the work and importance of the 2020 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, while the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences drops the name of a School of Physics professor emeritus in the background literature for this year's Physics prize.

Alumni: 

That’s No Exomoon: Astrophysicists Reveal Method For Finding Exoplanets’ Satellite Neighbors

Friday, October 2, 2020

It’s a famous “Star Wars: Episode IV” scene, so famous it has its own internet meme: Luke Skywalker mistakes the Death Star for a moon, but Obi-Wan Kenobi corrects him, accompanied by an ominous stab of John Williams’ music: That’s no moon.”

Billy Quarles, research scientist in the School of Physics and member of Georgia Tech’s Center for Relativistic Astrophysics (CRA), couldn’t resist the comparison when preparing a summary of new research on exomoons he conducted with fellow School of Physics colleague, assistant professor Gongjie Li, also a member of the CRA.

“Decades later, life imitates art where one frontier in astronomy is to detect a moon orbiting an exoplanet, or exomoon,” Quarles says in his summary of their work, to be published this month in Astrophysical Journal Letters and co-authored with Marialis Rosario-Franco, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington

Their letter establishes a framework for finding out whether exoplanets might have moons, and they had a chance to test that on the work of two Canadian astronomers who say there may be moons orbiting six exoplanets discovered with the Kepler Space Telescope.

Quarles’ and Li’s results? To paraphrase Obi-Wan, when it comes to four of the six exoplanets, those aren’t exomoons.

Exomoons Rising

Exoplanets are planets found outside our solar system. Telescopes couldn’t capture their image, so science had to wait for 1990s-era technology before confirming their existence. If moons of these planets do exist, they’re the ones now waiting for their moment in the scientific spotlight.

Exoplanets were first confirmed with improvements to measurements of radial velocity, which is the gravitational relationship between star and planet. “It seems that the detection of exomoons are waiting for a similar technological advance,” Quarles says.

The Kepler Space Telescope was launched in 2009 with the mission of finding exoplanets. Any stars found by it that may be harboring exoplanet candidates are first called Kepler Objects of Interest (KOI).

Earlier this year, University of Western Ontario astronomers Chris Fox and Paul Wiegert theorized that six exoplanets found via Kepler could be hosting exomoons. 

“They deduced the possible existence of exomoons by carefully measuring the difference in transit times for these exoplanets, where variations can indicate the presence of unseen bodies,” Quarles says. Transits are when a planetary body crosses in between a larger body and whomever is doing the observing.

“They found variations and alerted the astronomical community.  Since they could not confirm the exomoons directly, Fox and Wiegert admit that nearby planets could also be responsible for those variations, where the planet is tilted just enough relative to us so that it does not transit its host star,” he says.

All this is why exomoons “are on the frontier of detectability using current technologies, and theoretical constraints should be considered in their search,” Quarles says.

Of orbital stability and tidal migration

Before Quarles, Li, and Rosario-Franco started looking into those KOIs, “famed exomoon hunter” David Kipping from Columbia University examined the Canadian’s findings. (Kipping has been looking for exomoons for a decade and started taking up that quest as a graduate student, hence his unofficial “famed exomoon hunter” title from Quarles.) 

Kipping found no compelling evidence for exomoons of the six exoplanets, basing his results on exoplanet transit times, whether smaller signals were embedded in the exoplanet signal, and whether those embedded signals could be explained by exomoons. Yet Quarles says his results identified limits on the separation between the exoplanet and a potential exomoon, as well as a limit on the exomoon’s mass as a fraction of the exoplanet’s mass.

Quarles’ team zeroed in on the possible theoretical constraints for these systems. “Could they (exomoons) exist physically? Four (candidate systems) of the six could not, two of the six are possible but the signature they produced aren’t produced by the data. Those two probably aren’t moons.”

Determining factors for Quarles, Li, and Rosario-Franco are orbital stability and tidal migration. The first relies on the fact that “all these things (celestial bodies) are made of matter, and they interact gravitationally with each other.” A sort of gravitational balance is kept; too close to the host star and the moon would go flying away from its planet, for example. His team found that the exoplanets orbit close to their host stars, and orbital stability doesn’t likely allow the presence of exomoons.

Tidal migration refers to the forces buffeting the planet because of a moon’s impact on tides. “Our moon causes tides on the earth, and so we experience tides to the ocean because it’s the biggest source of fluid the earth has on its surface,” Quarles says. “The water hitting the sides of our continents slows down earth’s rotation a bit. As soon as it does, this causes the moon to drift away at a certain rate.” (Don’t worry; by the time our moon gains enough momentum to escape Earth orbit, the sun’s radius will have expanded enough to roast both celestial bodies first, Quarles says.)

His team also uses models to determine if the tidal migration of the moons of the KOIs are causing them to drift away from the host planet. That data is combined with the age of the host star. The team found the four out of six systems would either tidally disrupt their exomoons, or lose them to outward migration within the system lifetimes. 

What exomoons teach us about planets

Study any moon within the solar system, and you’ll find chapters from the story of our universe, often written in bold strokes, Li says.  “The moons tell us the formation history of the solar system. For instance, Earth’s moon reveals to us a possible collision between the Earth and another small-sized planet, which produced the moon from the giant impact.”

The search for exomoons outside our solar system could also be a part of the search for life elsewhere. “The discovery of rocky exomoons in the habitable region around gaseous giant planets would provide valuable candidates for habitable worlds,” Li says.

“A lot of the things we learned about Jupiter’s interior is due to watching the orbital motions of Galilean satellites,” Quarles adds. But to extend that knowledge to exoplanets would probably have to involve 30-meter telescopes, equipped with high contrast adaptive optics and new coronagraph telescopic attachments, all supposedly coming over the next decade.

In any event, “the research over the past few months shows how tentative the detections of exomoons can be, and how much we should pay heed to Obi-Wan’s warning,” he says, adding that the particular “moon” in “Star Wars” wasn’t a space station either.

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer/Science Writer
College of Sciences
404-894-5209

Summary: 

A pair of researchers from the School of Physics have come up with a methodology for determining whether exoplanets -- planets discovered outside the solar system -- might have exomoons, and they've already had a chance to test their theories. 

Intro: 

A pair of researchers from the School of Physics have come up with a methodology for determining whether exoplanets -- planets discovered outside the solar system -- might have exomoons, and they've already had a chance to test their theories. 

Alumni: 

Two Georgia Tech Faculty Members Named to Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Georgia Tech faculty members Flavio Fenton and Anna Holcomb have been chosen to take part in the 25thannual Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program for the 2020-2021 school year. This year’s cohort of fellows was announced earlier this month by the Institute of Higher Education (IHE) at the University of Georgia.

Only two faculty members from each of the 26 University System of Georgia institutions are invited to participate in the program. Fenton is a professor in the School of Physics, and Holcomb is a lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and serves as its assistant director of the Undergraduate Professional Communication Program (UPCP). Each invitee must work on a project during their fellowship year that will benefit both the faculty member and their school. 

According to the IHE’s web page, the Teaching Fellows Program was established in 1995 by former Governor Zell Miller to provide Georgia's higher education faculty with expanded opportunities for developing important teaching skills. Participants are selected “on the basis of their teaching experience, their interest in continuing instructional and professional development, their ability to make a positive impact on their own campus, and a strong commitment by their home institution for release time and other forms of support for the duration of their participation in the program.”  

For his fellowship project, Fenton is creating a large database of physics demonstrations to be used in Georgia Tech’s Physics I course, taken by nearly 2,000 students each year.

“The idea is to have at least two real-life demos for each class given in the semester to help exemplify the physics concept introduced in the class, which will be over 80 experimental demonstrations,” Fenton says. “The demos can also help students stay focused and motivated and provide new opportunities for students to engage with the material as they connect theory with reality in an interactive way. The demos will also be recorded while being demonstrated so that they can be used by instructors in other institutions if they do not have direct access to the equipment.”

“Being a Governor’s teaching fellow is a great honor for me,” Fenton continued. “Not only is it allowing me to further my teaching skills, but also it is making me transform how I approach teaching. This year-long program allows me to spend three days a month interacting closely with enthusiastic and thoughtful educators from other colleges and universities of Georgia and learning about several instructional techniques that have been new to me. The diverse composition in teaching fields of the teaching fellows cohort has opened me to new ways of thinking that will have an impact on how I select and organize course content and delivery in all my future courses.”

Fenton came to Georgia Tech in 2012 as an associate professor, and was made a full professor in 2018. He received his B.S. in Physics from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Fenton and School of Physics colleague Carlos Silva were elected in 2019 to the American Physics Society Fellows program. Fenton has also won the 2017 Junior Faculty Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, the 2017 Geoffrey B. Eichholz Faculty Teaching Award, and the 2018 Faculty Award for Academic Outreach.

Holcomb’s fellowship project is a formative evaluation of the new early-intervention communications course that is now being redeveloped as the new 1000-level ECE Discovery Studio. 

“The 1000-level ECE Discovery Studio will be a required course for incoming ECE students, including all first-years and transfers. The purpose for the course is to introduce students to the world of ECE and real-world problems that are being addressed in the field,” Holcomb said. “Students will be introduced to the new ECE curriculum threads and learn about possible career paths for electrical engineering and computer engineering majors. The ECE Discovery Studio will also allow students to begin building the professional communication skillset needed to explore early career opportunities like internships, co-ops, undergraduate research, and extracurriculars.” 

"The Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program provides me with dedicated time to perform a formative evaluation of the content and instructional practice of ECE’s new Discovery Studio as it launches this semester,” Holcomb continued. “I am collecting student insights and performing in-time calibrations in preparation for the second run of the new course in Spring 2021, which will be incredibly beneficial to the School and our students. The program also facilitates continued development of my teaching skills in a diverse professional learning community. During a time when so many of us are working remotely, connecting with the other fellows, even remotely, has provided a surge of excitement for the new school year and teaching virtually."

Holcomb joined ECE in 2017 and previously worked in the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing in the Georgia Tech College of Sciences. She received her M.S. in Educational Research with a concentration in Research, Measurement, and Statistics at Georgia State University and B.S. in Public Policy at Georgia Tech. Holcomb is also highly involved in the faculty development programs offered at Georgia Tech by both the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Office of Faculty Affairs and by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). She presented at Georgia Tech’s Celebrating Teaching Day in 2018 and will co-present with ECE UPCP Director Christina Bourgeois at a session at ASEE's annual conference in 2021, which will be held in Long Beach, California.

Writers: Jackie Nemeth, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Renay San Miguel, College of Sciences Dean's Office

Media Contact: 

Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

404-894-2906

Summary: 

Georgia Tech faculty members Flavio Fenton and Anna Holcomb have been chosen to take part in the 25th annual Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

Intro: 

Georgia Tech faculty members Flavio Fenton and Anna Holcomb have been chosen to take part in the 25th annual Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

Alumni: 

Specialized Cells or Multicellular Multitaskers? New Study Reshapes Early Economics and Ecology Behind Evolutionary Division of Labor

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A new research study from researchers in the School of Biological Sciences and School of Physics focuses on the evolution of reproductive specialization – how early single cells first got together to create more complex multicellular organisms. In particular, scientists leading the study sought to better understand how those early cells decided which ones would focus on reproduction, and which ones would get busy building parts of a larger organism.

The work, published this month in the journal eLife, references “division of labor,” “trade,” “productivity” and “return on investment,” (ROI) to describe those cellular activities. If that sounds like a paper destined for a business magazine instead of a peer-reviewed journal on biological sciences research, there’s a good reason. 

As the study, led by assistant professor Peter Yunker and associate professor Will Ratcliff, notes in the abstract, “A large body of work from evolutionary biology, economics, and ecology has shown that specialization is beneficial when further division of labor produces an accelerating increase in absolute productivity.” In other words, the prevailing theories state that specialization pays off only when it increases total productivity – whether it’s multicellular organism or widgets streaming out of a factory. 

What Yunker, from the School of Physics and the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, and Ratcliff, from the School of Biological Sciences and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Quantitative Biosciences (QBioS) have found is that the conditions for the evolution of specialized cells were actually much broader than previously thought. Absolute productivity be darned, the cells seem to say; specialization appeared to be a winning strategy, even under conditions that should favor cellular self-sufficiency. 

Why? It has to do with the topology of the network of cells within the organism – what Ratcliff calls a branchy structure. That topology determines that the division of labor can be favored, even if productivity suffers. 

“Topological constraints in early multicellularity favor reproductive division of labor” is the title of the team’s paper. Yunker and Ratcliff collaborated with several other Georgia Tech faculty and graduate students on the research: Joshua S. Weitz, Patton Distinguished Professor in the School of Biological Sciences and co-director of QBioS; School of Physics graduate students David Yanni and Shane Jacobeen; and School of Biological Sciences graduate student Pedro Marquez-Zacarias. All are members of Georgia Tech’s Center for Microbial Dynamics and Infection.

Multicellular multitasking

As cells get more complex, they begin to specialize. Some cells are dedicated to reproduction, while others are devoted to other general tasks such as making and maintaining the organism’s body. “In this paper, what we’re trying to figure out is, when is it a good idea to specialize and have that pay off, and when it is a good idea for your cells to remain generalists?” Ratcliff says. “Under what conditions does evolution favor specialization, and in what conditions do simple multicellular organisms keep every cell a generalist?”

For centuries, scientists have known that specialization is very important for multicellularity. “Once we had microscopes, we were off to the races learning about specialization,” Ratcliff says. 

The thinking for the last few decades has been that more specialized cells evolve when specialization results in increasingly higher productivity. “That will push things to complete specialization because there’s more to be gained by specializing than not specializing.” 

Yet what if those cells are not interacting randomly with a lot of other cells, but only with a few cells over and over again? “This is actually the case for a little branchy structure that contains mom and all her kids. The only cells you are attached to are the ones that gave rise to you, and the ones that arise from you,” he says. Those “branchy structures” offer the topological constraints mentioned in the title of the research study. 

Branch banking of cellular products

Yunker explains that those tree-branchy structures can be thought of as similar to fractals, in which math functions are repeated again and again and are depicted as jagged borders stretching into infinity. 

“Mandelbrot sets and the broader study of fractals have been an inspiration for a lot of this,” Yunker says. “After the concepts behind fractals were identified, people eventually started to see them everywhere. Instead of some unique esoteric thing, it was pervasive. In a similar vein, the structures that we find make evolving division of labor easier, these sparse filaments and branched topologies, are common in nature,” including so-called snowflake yeast and some forms of algae.

Yunker agrees that it may seem counter-intuitive, but as you restrict cellular interactions, like swapping of products that can enhance reproduction or specialization, that specialization actually becomes easier according to his team’s mathematical models. 

Cells that produce the same products won’t interact or 'trade' with each other, since that would be a waste of energy and efficiency. “A redundancy comes into play here,” Yunker says. “If you have a lot of similar cells trading, that increased productivity doesn’t do you a lot of good. Whereas if you have dissimilar or opposites trading, even with lower productivity, they’re able to direct those resources in a more efficient manner.”

What can economists and cancer researchers learn from these cells?

Since economics has already figured into the study of how multicellular organisms evolved, with all of that labor and trade and ROI, could that discipline have something to learn from Yunker and Ratcliff’s new theory — could the lessons mean a more efficient way to make all kinds of products?

“Could this apply in economics? Could it apply elsewhere?” Yunker echoes. “This is something we would love to pursue going forward.”

Ratcliff notes the multidisciplinary approach his biophysics and biosciences team took to approaching the study, which also involved mathematical models developed by Weitz. “We were really motivated by understanding both how life got to be complex, and the rules for why it did,” he says. “This paper follows into the ‘why’ category. Fundamental mathematics tells you about the rules evolution plays by, and there are a lot of downstream applications, like cancer research, agriculture, and infectious disease. You never really can predict how someone will leverage basic insight.”

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer
College of Sciences
404-894-5209

 

Summary: 

Two Georgia Tech scientists are raising new questions about the development of specialized cells in early multicellular organisms. 

Intro: 

Two Georgia Tech scientists are raising new questions about the development of specialized cells in early multicellular organisms. 

Alumni: 

Flavio Fenton Joins ECE's Anna Holcomb as 2020-2021 Governor’s Teaching Fellow

Friday, September 18, 2020

Flavio Fenton, a professor in the School of Physics, is one of two Georgia Tech faculty chosen to take part in the 25th annual Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program for the 2020-2021 school year, as announced earlier this month by the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia.

Only two faculty members from each of the 26 University System of Georgia institutions are invited to participate in the Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program each academic school year. Anna Holcomb, a lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and assistant director of the Undergraduate Professional Communication Program (UPCP), is also a 2020-2021 Fellow.

The Governor's Teaching Fellows Program was established in 1995 by former Governor Zell Miller to provide Georgia's higher education faculty with expanded opportunities for developing important teaching skills. Participants are selected “on the basis of their teaching experience, their interest in continuing instructional and professional development, their ability to make a positive impact on their own campus, and a strong commitment by their home institution for release time and other forms of support for the duration of their participation in the program.”  

“Being a Governor’s Teaching Fellow is a great honor for me,” Fenton says. “Not only is it allowing me to further my teaching skills, but also it is making me transform how I approach teaching. This year-long program allows me to spend three days a month interacting closely with enthusiastic and thoughtful educators from other colleges and universities of Georgia and learning about several instructional techniques that have been new to me. The diverse composition in teaching fields of the Teaching Fellows cohort has opened me to new ways of thinking that will have an impact on how I select and organize course content and delivery in all my future courses.”

Fellows must work on a project during their appointed one-year term that will benefit both the faculty member and their school. Fenton is creating a large database of physics demonstrations to be used in Georgia Tech’s Physics I course, taken by nearly 2,000 students each year.

“The idea is to have at least two real-life demos for each class given in the semester to help exemplify the physics concept introduced in the class, which will be over 80 experimental demonstrations,” Fenton says. “The demos can help students stay focused and motivated and provide new opportunities for students to engage with the material as they connect theory with reality in an interactive way. The demos will also be recorded while being demonstrated, so that they can be used by instructors in other institutions if they do not have direct access to the equipment.”

Fenton came to Georgia Tech in 2012 as an associate professor, and was made a full professor in 2018. He received his B.S. in Physics from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

Fenton and School of Physics colleague Carlos Silva were elected in 2019 to the American Physics Society Fellows program. Fenton has also won the 2017 Junior Faculty Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, the 2017 Geoffrey B. Eichholz Faculty Teaching Award, and the 2018 Faculty Award for Academic Outreach.

 

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer
College of Sciences
404-894-5209

 

Summary: 

School of Physics professor Flavio Fenton is named to the 25th annual Governor's Teaching Fellows Program, set up to help higher education faculty develop teaching skills. Fenton will work on a classroom-related research project through the fellowship.

Intro: 

School of Physics professor Flavio Fenton is named to the 25th annual Governor's Teaching Fellows Program, set up to help higher education faculty develop teaching skills. Fenton will work on a classroom-related research project through the fellowship.

Alumni: 

College of Sciences Faculty, Students, Staff Honored in 2020 Georgia Tech Faces of Inclusive Excellence

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ten College of Sciences researchers, staffers, and students are among those named as 2020 Faces of Inclusive Excellence at Georgia Tech. The publication with the names of those honored was distributed during the Institute’s 12th annual Diversity Symposium on September 9.

The ten are among 57 Georgia Tech faculty and staffers named in the annual Faces of Inclusive Excellence publication from Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The publication recognizes “a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students who are committed to advancing a culture of inclusive excellence at Georgia Tech, and who have distinguished themselves in their research, teaching, and service.” 

The theme of this year’s Diversity Symposium is “Understanding Accessibility as Inclusion: Georgia Tech’s Pathway to Accessibility,” which will highlight members of the Tech community who are paving the way for an accessible and inclusive campus. 

“When you dive deeper to explore the source of Georgia Tech’s greatness, you discover this diverse group of faculty, staff, and students reveals the true faces of inclusive excellence,” says Archie W. Ervin, Vice President of Georgia Tech Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera adds that scientific and entrepreneurial advances "only matter if they drive positive change that helps all of us live better lives. That’s why accessibility and developing the technologies that fuel it are so vital. Indeed, accessibility’s chief goal is to use technology to ensure no one is excluded from exercising their rights as humans and enjoying their freedoms as citizens — mobility, safety, communication, education, personal development, civic participation, and more."

Join us in congratulating the College of Sciences personnel named to the Faces of Inclusive Excellence. Following are their names, titles, and why they were selected:

Flavio H. Fenton 
Professor 
School of Physics 

Fenton was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, and serves as Provost Teaching and Learning Fellow 2018–20. He participated in “Rostros Fisicos,” a project to promote Hispanic/ Latinx physicists across the world. 

Jennifer B. Glass 
Associate Professor 
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Glass serves on the College of Sciences Faculty Diversity Council, and has spearheaded efforts to remove the GRE requirement from the Institute’s graduate admissions due to the inherent bias of the test. Her 2018–19 Georgia Tech Diversity and Inclusion Fellow project, in collaboration with School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. candidate Minda Monteagudo, “A Database of Databases of Diverse Speakers in STEM,” has become a widely used international resource. 

Neha Gupta 
Academic Professional and Director of Scheduling 
School of Mathematics 

Awarded the CIOS Student Recognition of Excellence in Teaching: Class of 1934 Award. As the coordinator of the Math 1551 course and an advisor for math majors, Gupta interacts with some of the most diverse groups of students on campus. She also aims to build community among math majors and reaches out to underrepresented students about opportunities that they may be unaware of. 

Nasrin Hooshmand 
Senior Research Scientist 
School of Chemistry and Biochemistry 

Hooshmand contributed to important discoveries in the field of nanoplasmonics, and applied these insights to signal detection and amplification, biological sensing, drug delivery, and their use in the photothermal therapy of various medical conditions, including cancer. She published her research outcomes in prestigious journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hooshmand strives to create an inclusive learning environment for students from different backgrounds. 

Joseph Lachance 
Assistant Professor 
School of Biological Sciences 

Lachance developed a new technology for detecting genetic associations with prostate cancer in men of African descent. He led a diverse team of researchers to study health disparities and the evolution of genetic disease risks. 

Marissa Kawehi Loving 
NSF Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor 
School of Mathematics 

Kawehi Loving co-authored an article published in the December 2019 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society entitled “Broadening the Horizons of Teaching and Diversity in Math Departments.” She co-founded SUBgroups, an online peer-support program for first year math graduate students that launched during the Fall 2019 semester. 

Judith Taylor 
Faculty Affairs Administrative Specialist 
School of Mathematics 

Taylor is a voting outreach organizer. She coordinated a math and English summer program in 2018–19 and has spent three years coordinating faculty affairs for the School of Mathematics. Taylor manages the visa application process, welcoming and onboarding newcomers, and supporting them throughout their experience. 

Prasad Tetali 
Regents Professor 
School of Mathematics and School of Computer Science 

Tetali was appointed director of Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in algorithms, combinatorics, and optimization, and is currently co-chair of the recently formed Equity, Diversity, and InclusionTask Force in the School of Mathematics. He is also co-lead on a virtual research center at Georgia Tech on polynomials as an algorithmic paradigm. 

Samuel Weiss-Cowie 
Undergraduate Student 
College of Sciences and School of Modern Languages 

Weiss-Cowie presented in Korean at the American Association of Teachers of Korean annual conference. His presentation was on new methods in Korean pedagogy.    

Yao Yao 
Assistant Professor 
School of Mathematics 

Yao is a recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowshipand the National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for her research in nonlinear partial differential equations. 

 

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer
College of Sciences
404-894-5209

 

Summary: 

Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion announces the 2020 Faces of Inclusive Excellence, an annual list of Georgia Tech faculty, staff, and students who combine academic and institute achievements with their efforts to reach out to all members of the Georgia Tech community. 

Intro: 

Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion announces the 2020 Faces of Inclusive Excellence, an annual list of Georgia Tech faculty, staff, and students who combine academic and institute achievements with their efforts to reach out to all members of the Georgia Tech community. 

Alumni: 

School of Physics Colloquium

Models of systems biology, climate change, ecology, complex instruments, and macroeconomics have parameters that are hard or impossible to measure directly. If we fit these unknown parameters, fiddling with them until they agree with past experiments, how much can we trust their predictions? We have found that predictions can be made despite huge uncertainties in the parameters – many parameter combinations are mostly unimportant to the collective behavior.

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