Addressing Real-World Problems
Research in the College of Science and Mathematics strongly supports the growing research environment in the institution. Interdisciplinary research teams address global challenges by incorporating novel approaches and materials into their projects. Below are a few highlights of our research interests; for a complete list of research projects, please visit the departmental websites.
Hazards and development
Dr. Ashley Coles focuses on human-environment interactions with a regional focus in the U.S. and Latin America. She is particularly interested in the ways in which community members can contribute their knowledge to development and hazards management, which are otherwise considered the domain of professional and technical experts. Dr. Coles is currently continuing research on an urban redevelopment and landslide management project in central Colombia, and starting new research on economic development in rural cities in Georgia.
To understand the fundamental forces behind our universe, physicists have come up with models that predict new particles and a space with more than four dimensions. The research of Dr. Jimmy Dillies focuses on the geometry which underlies these new models. Among other things, Dillies studies symmetries of K3 surfaces to build Calabi-Yau threefolds, three dimensional objects whose geometry is closely related to string theory.
Ectoparasites and disease
Dr. Lance Durden studies ectoparasitic arthropods (lice, fleas, ticks, bedbugs and blood-feeding mites) and their relationship to vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and plague. One current project, funded through a Cooperative Agreement with USDA, is to prepare an identification guide to the larval stages of U.S. ticks which will aid in implicating immature tick stages with disease occurrence in humans and animals. Another project, funded by NSF and in collaboration with Dr. Lorenza Beati (Curator, U.S. National Tick Collection) is to complete research on the tick genus Amblyomma from a global perspective including medical/veterinary importance, host associations and species identifications. A project funded by a GSU Faculty Research Committee grant and in collaboration with Dr. Marina Eremeeva (JPH School of Public Health) addresses head louse infestations of children in southeastern Georgia including molecular screening of lice for pathogens, endosymbiotic bacteria and insecticide resistance genes. He also describes new species of lice and fleas collected from mammals; a current project is to describe, in collaboration with a colleague in France, new species of fleas from rodents in plague- and murine typhus-endemic regions of Indonesia.”
“Ultra-Cold Atoms” and how they can operate as quantum computers
Dr. Mark Edwards’ research program is devoted to the theoretical study of ultra-cold quantum atomic gases and is performed in close collaboration with researchers at the University of Maryland at College Park, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Some of his specific interests include ways in which ultra-cold atoms, manipulated by lasers and magnetic fields, can operate as a “quantum computer”; the dynamics of mixtures of Bose-Einstein condensates during the cooling process; and the design of new atom interferometers to increase their robustness, stability, and sensitivity for applications to precision navigation and to metrology.
Detection of molecules in the interstellar medium
Dr. Ryan C. Fortenberry uses theoretical and computational chemistry to predict electronic, vibrational, and rotational spectra for novel molecular systems. Such systems include radicals, cations, and anions that are notoriously difficult to examine experimentally in the laboratory. Existing methodologies are employed and new methodologies are pioneered to treat these systems. Largely, the computed spectra are used as reference data in the detection of molecules in the interstellar medium in order to better understand the chemistry of interstellar space.
Environmental stress affects our coast and ocean.
Dr. Daniel Gleason combines manipulative field experiments with laboratory techniques, such as HPLC and DNA fingerprinting, to investigate the ecology of marine invertebrates. Combining these approaches addresses problems at multiple scales of organization, ranging from physiology to populations. Current areas of research include: 1) the role of environmental stresses in the ecology of marine invertebrates, 2) the role of various reproductive modes in maintaining local populations of benthic invertebrates, and 3) recruitment processes.
“Wheeling” of the Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle
Dr. Alan Harvey and his students discovered unique, wind-powered wheel locomotion in larvae of the Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle (Cicindela dorsalis). The discovery is unique as wheel locomotion, in which an animal distorts the shape of its body to form a rolling wheel, has only been reported for a few species worldwide, all of which use either gravity or their own exertions to power the wheel. The Georgia Southern research team found that the Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle’s wheeling is initiated through spectacular leaping somersaults. At the team’s research site along the coast of Georgia, all larvae wheeled uphill due to the consistent sea breeze. Stronger winds and untrampled sands increased the proportion of larvae that wheeled, as well as both wheeling distance and speed. In some cases, larvae wheeled more than 60 meters at an estimated speed of three meters per second, the fastest ever recorded for an insect on the ground.
How do galaxies form?
Dr. Sarah Higdon adopts a multi-wavelength approach, spanning the X-ray through radio portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, to study star formation and the nature of the inter-stellar medium in galaxies, both in the local and distant (early) Universe. These studies address fundamental questions: How do galaxies form? How do they evolve? How do you trigger star formation? How do you quench it?
Remote sensing of coastal habitats
Dr. Christine Hladik’s research applies geospatial methods to map and monitor coastal habitats at the landscape scale. Using remote sensing data, including hyperspectral imagery and light detection and ranging (LIDAR), in combination with geographic information systems (GIS), she has developed salt marsh mapping techniques and salt marsh vegetation correction factors for enhancing LIDAR digital elevation models (DEMs) in marsh environments. In a current project funded by the Georgia Coastal Management Program and in collaboration with Dr. Clark Alexander (Skidaway Institute of Oceanography), these methods are being used to quantify LIDAR-derived DEM errors for salt, brackish and freshwater marshes throughout the six coastal Georgia counties to produce corrected, accurate DEMs and habitat maps. The corrected DEMs will be valuable to management agencies for developing planning and conservation activities, floodplain assessment and management, for better flood modeling, and for predicting the effects of flooding and sea level rise on coastal infrastructure.
Dr. Enka Lakuriqi studies mirror symmetry that appears naturally in the physics of supersymmetric string theory but has many applications in the world of mathematics where, among other things, it was used to predict the number of rational curves on a quintic threefold. While a lot of progress has been made over the last decade, mirror symmetry is still very mysterious. Enka Lakuriqi focuses on better understanding this duality for families of surfaces known as Enriques and rational elliptic surfaces.
Dr. Shainaz Landge’s research focuses on the synthesis of molecular sensors with a targeted approach towards recognizing heavy transition metal (HTM) cations and sugar molecules and the development of biologically active small heterocyclic compounds using greener techniques such as microwaves, which are inhibitors in amyloid-β self-assembly and cancer cell lines.
The Sleepy Salesman: Variations on the Travelling Salesman Problem
The classical traveling salesman problem (“TSP”) consists of finding a route by which a salesman can visit a list of locations without repetition and return back to his starting point. Dr. Colton Magnant’s group models the salesman’s itinerary by a graph, such a route is called a Hamiltonian cycle. The group considers a “Sleepy Salesman” variation of the classical TSP: not only must the salesman visit each location, but he must visit selected locations in a certain order. This amounts to specifying not only the Hamiltonian cycle, but the distances between nodes on the graph that represents the salesman’s itinerary.
Entomology assists crime lab
Forensic entomologist Dr. Ed Mondor examines insects to determine the stages of vertebrate decomposition. This research has previously assisted the medical examiner in Savannah, GA by determining the time of death for a subject. Currently, he is building a database of local insects that will be helpful in identifying insects discovered on human bodies in future cases. While waiting for his next opportunity to assist in a case, he is teaching the University’s first forensic biology course. Dr. Mondor and colleague Dr. Michelle Tremblay are creating further awareness about the field by conducting a forensic entomology workshop for law enforcement personnel around the state of Georgia.
Natural products as a new source of polymers and composites
With expertise in polymer science and biorenewable materials, Dr. Quirino’s research is established in the development and characterization of bio-based polymers and composites for environmentally friendly structural applications, and in the application of microwave superheating of carbon nanotubes. The main focus of the Quirino Research Group is on the conversion of readily available, inexpensive, nature-derived starting materials into useful and value-added polymer materials through an alternative pathway to the already established, mainstream, petroleum platform. More specifically, Dr. Quirino uses naturally occurring molecules, such as carbohydrates, triglycerides, lignin, and/or available products directly derived from them, into chemical transformations and processes that yield environmentally and economically interesting polymers and composites. The recent discovery of carbon nanotube superheating under microwaves triggered his curiosity about possible applications of the extremely high heating rates and elevated temperatures obtained when carbon nanotubes are exposed to microwaves. In this front, he leads research efforts in various areas such as cell ablation for cancer treatment, preparation of nanocatalysts, and the curing of thermosetting polymers.
Synthesis of Neuroprotective Hemoglobin
Dr. Hans Schanz’s research interests range from the development of organometallic catalysts and catalytic processes to the synthesis of new materials. In one of his major projects, he is developing new copolymeric materials containing TEMPO and PEG functionalities via ring opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP). The target is to bind these materials to cell-free hemoglobin to afford a new generation of blood substitutes which exhibit elevated stability, and which could be applied independent of the blood type the patient. The PEG and TEMPO functionalities combined in the copolymer are known to reduce the toxicity of cell-free hemoglobin, the major disadvantage of using these oxygen carriers for patients suffering severe blood loss. A special focus is directed towards the treatment of traumatic brain injuries where it is vitally important to prevent oxygen starvation in order to limit long-term damage to the cognitive functions.
Design and synthesis of unnatural amino acids
Dr. Abid Shaikh’s research group focuses on design and synthesis organofluorine compounds as potential inhibitors of Alzheimer’s disease. He is interested in understanding the interaction of small molecules with protein fragments AB40 and AB42 that are responsible for the fibrillogenesis and ultimately leading to dementia. His research interests also involve the synthesis of anti-oxidant natural products and using them to treat various forms of cancer. Recently, his group has synthesized a new class of unnatural amino acids (highlighted in blue), which will provide a better standing of hydrogen-bonding interactions with peptides that form beta sheets. These amino acids can be readily be incorporated into peptides to form unnatural peptide mimics and study their behavior. Dr. Shaikh is an assistant professor of chemistry and his research group comprises undergraduate and a graduate student.
Effect of the environment on animal phenotype
Dr. Zach Stahlschmidt integrates physiology, behavior, and development to provide new insight into the dynamics by which two factors — physiological tradeoffs and the environment — influence important aspects of the animal phenotype, such as reproduction and immune function. Work in the Stahlschmidt lab uses reptiles and insects to investigate interactions between animals and their environments. Research specifically addresses the effects of multiple, interactive environmental effects (e.g., temperature and food availability) on animal traits (e.g., reproduction or respiration). The lab also examines how multiple animal traits interact with one another (e.g., multi-trait tradeoffs), particularly during environmental shifts.
Spatial data provide information on risk factors for birth outcomes
Dr. Wei Tu’s research focuses on the application of geospatial technologies on economic, environmental, and public health issues. His current research projects investigate the spatial pattern of birth outcomes and their risk factors in the state of Georgia using spatial regression and multilevel regression models.
Exploring the Thermal Enclave with pollen and fossils
Dr. Fred Rich and Dr. Katy Smith in the Department of Geology and Geography incorporate a multidisciplinary approach to recreating the environment of the southeastern United States during the late Pleistocene, when megafauna that used to inhabit North America were facing extinction. Although the late Pleistocene exhibited cooler temperatures than those of the present, it has been proposed that the southeastern U.S. was part of a “Thermal Enclave,” in which temperatures were warmer, but extinctions occurred more rapidly than in other parts of North America. To test this hypothesis, Dr. Rich reconstructs the plant community from an American mastodon site in South Carolina through analysis of ancient pollen in the matrix surrounding the fossil. Dr. Smith, along with undergraduate geology major Christine Brussell, seeks to recreate the life history of the animal through analysis of morphology, growth rate, and stable isotope composition. Together, these analyses will address questions involving the existence of a late Pleistocene Thermal Enclave and the severity of mastodon extinction in the region.
How water moving through the forest affects our water resources
Dr. Van Stan’s research seeks to enhance our understanding of the interface between forest hydrological processes and ecosystem functioning–or, Ecohydrology. Specifically, he examines how the movement of precipitation through forest canopies to the soil influences water resources available to societal needs (i.e., drinking water and stormwater management) and the nutrient cycling of wooded catchments (i.e., ionic nutrients and dissolved organic matter). Improved quantification of components in the forest hydrologic cycle is of critical import to sustainable water management and to the management of related resources, like silviculture, carbon release/sequestration, and stream/groundwater quality.
Determining the risk of tornadoes and hurricanes
Dr. Mark Welford’s research interests include the conservation of tropical montane environments, historic hurricane impacts and modern risk assessment of tornadoes and hurricanes, and the spatial dynamics of modern and historical pandemics. Recently, Mark Welford and Brian Bossak obtained a $129K grant from Georgia Sea Grant titled Reconstructing Georgia’s Hurricane Record: A 260-year GIS Database of Coastal Impact. The objectives of this grant were to:
- Use selected data sources to identify tropical cyclone impacts to Georgia’s coastline between 1750 and 1850
- Develop a long-term dataset of Georgia tropical cyclones that extends from 1750-2010
- Calculate return intervals for each category of tropical cyclone intensity; and 4) Generate maps in a GIS depicting the return period, by intensity, for every one of Georgia’s coastal counties.
New cancer therapeutics based on indoles
Dr. Christine Whitlock’s research interest is the total synthesis of bioactive molecules. She is particularly interested in molecules which contain more than one indole unit. Currently, she is working on the synthesis of derivatives of the dragmacidin series of alkaloids, as well as tripodal iron chelators. Promising new compounds are sent to the National Cancer Institute for random screening.
Nanomaterials in a new approach to lithium batteries
There are growing concerns over the environmental, climate, and health impacts caused by using non-renewable fossil fuels. The utilization of green energy, including solar and wind power, is believed to be one of the most promising alternatives to support more sustainable economic growth. In this regard, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) can play a critically important role. Dr. Ji Wu’s current research focus is on the synthesis of advanced nanomaterials for LIBs with high capacity, long cycle life and fast charging rate.