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UGA scientists develop new equation to help farmers fight late freezes

Fruit farmers have long used everything from propane heaters to sprinklers and fans to protect their produce from devastating late freezes.

As handy as they are, it's hard to know when to deploy these systems. Ideally, farmers need frost-preventive irrigation systems running before a hard freeze affects their fruit, but turning them on too early wastes water, fuel and electricity. Turning them on too late can lead to crop loss.

Many fruit trees have already bloomed and, with this week's temperatures projected to drop below freezing at night, a new tactic for calculating dew point could be extremely valuable.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Georgia have recently developed a simplified set of equations to help farmers who use irrigation for frost protection predict the best time to turn on their systems, maximizing crop protection and minimizing wasted water and power. They published their findings recently in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

"This kind of information is important, especially this year, because everything is blooming so early," said Pam Knox, agricultural climatologist with UGA Cooperative Extension. "Georgia's blueberry farmers could see a huge loss if we have a hard freeze."

A table based on the new calculations is now available on Knox's blog at blog.extension.uga.edu/climate, allowing farmers to easily determine when to start their irrigation for frost protection based on dew point temperature and the calculations described in the paper.

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Middle school gardens grow, with some help from UGA

When Wick Prichard arrived at Clarke Middle School in 2014, his goal as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the University of Georgia was to turn the sustainability lessons he'd been teaching at summer camps into a daily curriculum.

Just three years later, Prichard is a full-time university employee, coordinating garden programs at Clarke's four middle schools, including the farm-to-table operation, "Grow It Know It," that he worked with the UGArden to create at Clarke Middle.

This Thursday, the public is invited to join Prichard and middle school students for Meals in the Middle, a multi-course made-from-scratch dinner planned, prepared and served by the sixth- to eighth-grade students.

The meal, which includes produce from the UGA student-run UGArden, raises money for local nonprofit organizations. The three previous Meals in the Middle have raised an average of $1,500 each, with proceeds going to the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, U-Lead Athens and the Interfaith Hospitality Network. This one will benefit Experience UGA, a partnership between UGA and the Clarke County School District that brings every CCSD student to campus for a field trip each year.

Prichard, who works for UGA Office of Service-Learning with support from UGA Cooperative Extension and CCSD, sees the dinners as a "startup company with kids," one that builds on the education about recycling, composting, nutrition and food insecurity that the middle school students are getting through their agriscience programs.

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Researchers develop low-cost test to evaluate muscle health

A new, non-invasive test developed by researchers at the University of Georgia shows how exercise can help people with neurological injuries and illnesses.

Until now, evaluating the muscle health of individuals with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and other severe nerve damage was only possible using expensive equipment, such as an MRI.

But by using an accelerometer placed on the skin-similar to technology found in wearable fitness devices-and using low-level electronic pulses to mimic brain signals, researchers in the kinesiology department at the UGA College of Education can measure increases in muscle endurance, an indicator of muscle health, after exercise.

The results, said professor Kevin McCully, were beyond what researchers expected in a population that is often never even tested. "This test has a chance to transform the way people study muscles in clinical populations because it's so simple, easy and well-tolerated," he said.

And this new test is already showing results in individuals with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects nerves throughout the body. Doctoral student Brad Willingham, who helped develop the test with McCully, recently used it as part of his research. The results, which received the best doctoral poster award from the American College of Sports Medicine last month, show how much exercise can help improve overall muscle health.

The researchers have partnered with the Shepherd Center in Atlanta to further investigate ways to keep patients active, no matter how serious their nerve damage. The development of this non-invasive test, said McCully, is one more tool that can be used to help patients remain independent longer.

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University of Georgia Board of Visitors welcomes new members

The University of Georgia Board of Visitors welcomed 31 new members at its winter meeting in Atlanta.

The Board of Visitors is comprised of government, business and community leaders who reside both in and outside Georgia. As members, they act as ambassadors for the university, helping to build a constituency with a strong knowledge base and passion for advocacy for the University of Georgia and its mission of teaching, research and service.

“I appreciate the commitment of our new Board of Visitors members to serving in this important capacity,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “They will play a critical role in telling the story of the University of Georgia, and, without a doubt, we have a very compelling story to tell.”

The Board of Visitors, established in 2010, is part of an outreach initiative coordinated by the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees. Board of Visitors members serve two-year terms and are invited to participate in luncheon programs that focus on topics of importance to the university and the citizens of Georgia. Recent program topics have centered on UGA’s experiential learning initiative, active learning environments in the UGA Science Learning Center, and the impact of need-based scholarships.

A list of the new members joining the Board of Visitors Class of 2017–2019 is available here.

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Stem cell treatment may restore vision to patients with damaged corneas

Researchers working as part of the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience Center have developed a new way to identify and sort stem cells that may one day allow clinicians to restore vision to people with damaged corneas using the patient's own eye tissue. They published their findings in Biophysical Journal.

In their study, researchers used a new type of highly sensitive atomic force microscopy, or AFM, to analyze eye cell cultures. Created by Todd Sulchek, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, the technique allowed researchers to probe and exert force on individual cells to learn more about the cell's overall health and its ability to turn into different types of mature cells.

They found that limbal stem cells were softer and more pliable than other cells, meaning they could use this simple measure as a rapid and cost-effective way to identify cells from a patient's own tissue that are suitable for transplantation.

Building on their findings related to cell softness, the research team also developed a microfluidic cell sorting device capable of filtering out specific cells from a tissue sample. With this device, the team can collect the patient's own tissue, sort and culture the cells and then place them back into the patient all in one day, said Lauderdale. It can take weeks to perform this task using conventional methods.

Steven Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, who plays an important role in fostering cross-interdisciplinary collaboration as director of the RBC, initially brought the researchers together and encouraged a seed grant application through the center for Regenerative Engineering and Medicine, or REM, a joint collaboration between Emory University, Georgia Tech and UGA.

"A culture is developing around seed funding that is all about interdisciplinary collaboration, sharing of resources, and coming together to make things happen," said Stice.

The REM seed funding program is intended to stimulate new, unconventional collaborative research and requires equal partnership of faculty from two of the participating institutions.

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Shades of Green: Scientists and engineers help turn ocean plastic into new products

Two years ago, socially conscious entrepreneurs Rob Ianelli and Ryan Schoenike founded their company, Norton Point, to manufacture sunglasses made from the huge amounts of plastic cleaned up from ocean coastlines.

Their goal was to be a part of the solution to one of the planet's greatest challenges: the 8 million tons of plastic entering Earth's oceans each year. Moreover, they wanted to reinvest their profits in research, education and development efforts that help reduce the impact of ocean plastic.

Now, engineers and polymer scientists with the University of Georgia's New Materials Institute are helping Norton Point, which is based in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with testing of its "ocean plastics" products and finding new product applications.

New Materials Institute researchers will work with Norton Point to help make "green" products from re-purposed plastics obtained from locations around the globe.

"Norton Point wants to know how the recycled materials respond to different manufacturing processes like extrusion and injection molding, and how they compare with virgin petroleum-based high-density polyethylene in terms of qualities like impact-resistance, toughness and durability," said Jason Locklin, director of UGA's New Materials Institute and associate professor of chemistry and engineering at UGA.

The institute also is looking to help Norton Point identify new types of products that make the best use of the material properties of ocean plastics.

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UGA satellite among NASA’s eighth class of candidates for space mission launch

The University of Georgia CubeSat project is among 34 small satellites selected by NASA to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard missions planned to launch in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The UGA project, led by a team of undergraduate students and including faculty from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, performs multispectral analysis from low Earth orbit, in this case an altitude of 400 kilometers.

"Having SPOC being officially selected as a candidate of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative solidifies the significance of the project," said David Cotton, assistant research scientist and adviser on the project. "Having UGA build a payload is an honor, but having it selected for launch makes it a reality for myself, the students and the university."

"The selection really speaks the passion and dedication of the students and faculty at UGA-that a student team can build a spacecraft, which typically only nation states and large corporations have been able to accomplish," said Caleb Adams of Powder Springs, an astrophysics and computer science double major and chief manager of the satellite research lab. "The SPOC will generate useful data, comparable to the NASA MODIS sensor, so SPOC is not just an educational tool but a state-of-the-art spacecraft that is on par with current cutting edge technologies."

The selections are part of the eighth round of the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative. The selected spacecraft are eligible for placement on a launch manifest after final negotiations, depending on the availability of a flight opportunity. After launch, the satellites will conduct technology demonstrations, scientific investigations and provide educational benefits.

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Five UGA faculty members named Meigs Professors

The University of Georgia has honored five faculty members with its highest recognition for excellence in instruction, the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship.

The Meigs Professorship underscores the university's commitment to excellence in teaching, the value placed on the learning experiences of students and the centrality of instruction to the university's mission. The award includes a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000.

"This year's Meigs Professors create experiences both inside and outside of the classroom that challenge students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations," said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten, whose office sponsors the award. "Their commitment to students helps make the University of Georgia one of the nation's very best public universities."

The 2017 Meigs Professors are:

  • James "Jeb" Byers, professor and associate dean of administrative affairs and research in the Odum School of Ecology.
  • Markus Crepaz, professor and head of the international affairs department in the School of Public and International Affairs.
  • John Maerz, professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources,
  • Annette Poulsen, Augustus H. "Billy" Sterne Professor of Banking and Finance in the Terry College of Business.
  • Karen Miller Russell, associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Meigs Professors are nominated by their school or college and chosen by a committee consisting of 12 faculty members, two undergraduate students and one graduate student. More information about the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorships is online.

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Business leaders share advice, experiences at inaugural Women’s Leadership Forum

Three dynamic female business leaders shared their advice and experiences with more than 100 students at the University of Georgia's inaugural Women's Leadership Forum on Wednesday.

Donna Hyland, president and chief executive officer of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Allison Moran, chief executive officer of RaceTrac, and Teresa Ostapower, chief digital officer for AT&T, discussed their career paths and answered students' questions on overcoming barriers, building confidence and leading with conviction.

The event was hosted by the Office of the President and the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost and is part of the campus-wide Women's Leadership Initiative that was launched in 2015.

"The growing emphasis on women in leadership roles bodes well for the future," said Provost Pamela Whitten. "We have made great progress in higher education and in the corporate world, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Providing thought-provoking opportunities like this for our students is an important step in preparing them for leadership roles in the future."

UGA's ongoing Women's Leadership Initiative is fostering the use of best practices in areas such as recruitment, hiring and work-life balance on campus. It also has resulted in new leadership development programming for faculty, staff and students.

Schools and colleges have created women's leadership events and programs such as the Southern Region Women's Agricultural Leadership Summit and the Terry Women's Initiative, which recently received recognition as an Innovation that Inspires by AACSB International, the world's largest business education network and accrediting organization.

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Rabun County’s Ladybug Farms awarded UGA students’ latest tiny house

It's only 175 square feet, but it's cozy, clean and makes all the difference in the world to a young farmer who is learning to work the land. It's a tiny house built by students taking a University of Georgia sustainable building course and donated to a Georgia farmer as part of Georgia Organics' organizational push for farmer prosperity.

Rabun County farmer Terri Jagger Blincoe of Ladybug Farms in Clayton received the keys to the tiny house in a ceremony Saturday, Feb. 18, at Georgia Organics' 20th annual conference in Atlanta. The house will be delivered to the farm the first week of March during UGA's spring break.

This is the second tiny house that UGA students have donated to a Georgia farmer through Georgia Organics. "Green Building and the Tiny House Movement," a course offered jointly through the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, launched in fall 2015.

During the class, which is co-taught by FACS assistant professor Kim Skobba, housing management and policy department, and CAES associate professor David Berle, of the horticulture department, students learn about land planning and building code issues facing American cities. They also design and build a tiny house. Georgia Organics helps to fund the construction, then selects a farmer to receive the house, one who pledges to use the house to help train a younger farmer.

Ladybug Farms distributes produce to restaurants around metro Atlanta and through a community-supported agriculture program in Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood. The farm is also active in the Northeast Georgia Farm to School program and serves as an apprenticeship site for UGA's Journeyman Farmer Certificate Program.