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UGA students, alumni offered record number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

A record number of University of Georgia students and alumni have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Twenty UGA students and alumni were among the 2,000 fellows selected from over 13,000 applicants nationwide for the 2017 competition. NSF Graduate Research Fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students in STEM-science, technology, engineering and mathematics-disciplines. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

"The University of Georgia continues to raise the bar for excellence in the STEM disciplines," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "I am proud of these 20 outstanding students and alumni whose research will help to solve some of the greatest challenges facing our world."

A list of UGA's 2017 NSF Fellows and their fields of study is available here.

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Road Dawgs spread the benefits of a college education

Instead of using their spring break to take a hiatus from university life, over 40 UGA students met at the Arch at 6:30 a.m. to become Road Dawgs. From March 6-9, they visited high schools in metro Atlanta, Laurens County and Twiggs County to meet with and talk to several hundred students about their undergraduate experiences at UGA.

Now in its second year, the Road Dawgs program aims to inspire the next generation of college students by encouraging those still in high school to explore the benefits of a college education — and to consider becoming students at UGA.

The Road Dawgs program includes a panel discussion and one-on-one conversations in which the UGA students engage high school students to answer questions about campus life, academic rigor, and future career opportunities.

After returning to campus, the students lunched with UGA President Jere W. Morehead March 16 and gave him firsthand accounts about their Road Dawgs experience.

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UGA’s Robinson named Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Gregory H. Robinson, University of Georgia Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, has been named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. A nonprofit organization with a heritage that spans 175 years, the Royal Society of Chemistry is the United Kingdom's professional body for chemical scientists and the largest organization in Europe for advancing the chemical sciences.

Robinson joins his department of chemistry colleague, Graham Perdue Professor Henry "Fritz" Schaefer, who was elected in 2005 as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

A 2012 Humboldt Research Award from Germany's Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and a 2014 recipient of the Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award, Robinson is an internationally recognized scholar whose scientific achievements have been described as groundbreaking. Over the past 25 years, Robinson and his team have published a series of fundamental findings that have reshaped how scientists view chemical bonding in many chemical compounds.

"This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Robinson in recognition of his creative and pioneering work in inorganic synthetic chemistry," said Jonathan Amster, professor and head of the department of chemistry. "The number of American RSC Fellows is quite small, and so Greg has established himself as a member of an elite group. This brings honor not only to him, but to our department and the university."

Robinson's research concerns the synthesis, structure and stabilization of compounds containing multiple bonds between heavier main group elements, such as gallium and lead. Recently, Robinson's research team, which includes Schaefer and research scientist Yuzhong Wang, prepared a rare silicon oxide molecule that was dubbed a precursor to "molecular sand."

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Cellular biology professor Rick Tarleton named Regents’ Professor at UGA

Rick Tarleton, Distinguished Research Professor and University of georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Biological Sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been named Regents' Professor, effective July 1.

Regents' Professorships are bestowed by the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents on faculty members whose scholarship or creative activity is recognized nationally and internationally as innovative and pace-setting.

Tarleton, who is a professor in the department of cellular biology and founder of UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, has made research advances that have the potential to transform the lives of the 10 million to 20 million people suffering from Chagas disease, a potentially deadly parasitic infection that primarily affects people in Central and South America.

"Through the founding of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases in 1998, Dr. Tarleton has helped make the University of Georgia a leader in promoting global health," said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. "His research into Chagas disease has implications for millions of people and inspires hope in the fight against one of the world's most neglected parasitic diseases."

Tarleton's laboratory established the Chagas Drug Discovery Consortium, which has brought together international researchers, pharmaceutical companies and not-for-profit groups to improve existing drug protocols and to establish new protocols for Chagas disease. Tarleton's research has resulted in findings that explained the host-parasite relationship regarding the immune system, and he has continued his research to encompass the development of diagnostics and the evaluation of drugs and vaccines.

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UGA alumna Patricia Andrews Fearon named Gates Cambridge Scholar

University of Georgia alumna Patricia Andrews Fearon was one of 36 Americans to be named a 2017 recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which fully funds postgraduate study and research at the University of Cambridge in England.

The scholarship, which recognizes intellectually outstanding postgraduate students with a capacity for leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others, was established by a gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Fearon is the seventh UGA student or alumnus to receive the award since it was first awarded in 2001.

"Patricia's achievement reflects the excellent preparation our students receive to compete for the most prestigious international scholarships," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "The University of Georgia is proud that she is carrying on our land-grant tradition of applying her education to improve the lives of others around the world."

Fearon earned a bachelor's degree in religion from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009 before going on to earn a master's degree in the study of religions from the University of Oxford. She studied social and cognitive psychology as a post-baccalaureate scholar at the University of California-Berkeley.

As a journalist, she has traveled to more than 40 countries and worked with media outlets such as CNN and Time Inc. In addition, she worked with non-governmental organizations such as Room to Read and cycled across France for her documentary, "The Tour de Farm." In 2015 she joined the IC Thinking Research Team, through which she has collaborated on studies and intervention designs that tackle sectarianism, violent extremism and other forms of intergroup conflict in Bosnia, Pakistan and Scotland. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology at Cambridge University's Selwyn College, through which she looks forward to "exploring the ways we can learn to listen in even the most hostile environments."

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Student entrepreneurs take center stage at UGA’s inaugural FABricate competition

From a smart irrigation system for the home landscape to a new recipe for a protein-packed meal on the go, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences students have some great ideas.

Those great ideas were front and center Wednesday evening as the college celebrated the finale of its inaugural FABricate student entrepreneurship contest-a multi-month program in which teams developed new agricultural technologies, food products, and food- and agriculture-related startups, and pitched them to business leaders.

Students were given $1,500 in seed money to develop their products and business ideas as far as they could in six months. The team in each category with the most innovative and best-developed idea won $1,000 per team member. An overall winner was selected and a People's Choice Award was also presented.

"Universities have long been institutions that foster inquiry and investigation into nature and discovery," said CAES Dean Sam Pardue. "This program helps students transfer that curiosity and their ingenuity into an innovative business idea or product for the marketplace."

The competition enabled UGA students to expand their leadership and business skills. In addition to seed money, the college provided coaching and guidance from faculty mentors as well as monthly seminars from successful entrepreneurs.

For more information at the FABricate contest, see students.caes.uga.edu/current/fabricate.html.

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Small Business Week in Georgia celebrates UGA’s economic vitality efforts

After four decades of teaching, Marta Collier is making a business out of her passion for children's books by black authors, with help from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

"Starting up a business is more than having a notion," said Collier, a schoolteacher and college professor. "Many fail because they don't have the support base. We not only feel like we have a supportive infrastructure. We feel like we have a friend."

Marta Collier Educational Systems and Services is just one of thousands of companies celebrating Small Business Week across Georgia March 13-17. Over the last five years, SBDC clients have started 1,422 businesses, creating 11,785 jobs and generating $8.9 billion in sales in the process.

Collier says the help she received from SBDC consultant Mike Myers was "game-changing." He encouraged Collier that her idea to sell lesson plans for children's books from neglected black authors was sound.

Myers helped her focus her energy on lesson plans and take the steps to set up her home-based business in Newton County. And he connected her with interns from UGA to make it a reality.

"Mike turned us onto a wealth of talent and they need experiences like this for their resume," Collier said. "It's been phenomenal for us to have someone to connect us to that kind of resource."

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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.