April 19, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Math PhD student Bhanu Kumar has been offered a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF18) with Rafael de la Llave as principal investigator.  This highly prestigious fellowship provides selected students with financial support and gives them the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at NASA and other research laboratories.

May 3, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

By the time Libby Taylor graduated from Wheeler High School, she had already completed her freshman and sophomore years at Georgia Tech. Beginning as a junior may be daunting to some, but because the Marietta, Georgia, native already knew that she loves Tech, deciding to stay for two more years came easily. This untraditional path began during her sophomore year of high school, when she took calculus through Georgia Tech’s Distance Math program. The next year, she signed up as a full-time dual-enrolment student.

Wheeler’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) magnet program allowed Taylor to immerse herself in science and mathematics. Originally, she planned to major in chemistry, but once on campus she gravitated to mathematics.

Her extraordinary mathematical talents were recognized earlier this year by the Association for Women in Mathematics, which awarded Taylor the 2018 Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize. Now, only two years after high school, she’s graduating with a B.S. in Mathematics

What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?

The most important thing I learned at Georgia Tech is that professors do not bite. Seriously, most students think that professors are intimidating. In my experience, that has never been the case. All the professors I've interacted with have been incredibly nice people and have been more than willing to help with any questions I've had, including the really dumb questions.

One way that Georgia Tech surpassed my expectations was in how hard the students here work. People are very motivated to learn, and they're willing to put in a lot of work to get where they want to be.

"My most vivid memory is the time I solved my first research problem. I had been close to a solution for a couple of days, and when I finally put the pieces together, it was while I was out buying groceries!"  

What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?

Probably winning the 2018 Alice T. Schafer prize. That prize was a great honor. It validated both the work I had put into my career and the contributions of the professors who advised me along the way.

Which professors or classes made a big impact on you?

In my senior year of high school, I took math courses from Matt Baker and Tom Trotter. Because of their mentorship, I discovered my love of mathematics and began my first research projects that same year. Their guidance throughout the past three years has been invaluable and has been a major component in my being accepted to graduate school at Stanford, which has always been one of my dream schools.

Although I have never taken a class from Christine Heitsch, she has given me a lot of good advice, both for professional development and for life in general.

Padma Srinivasan, who taught my algebraic number theory class, was a big factor in my decision to study number theory in graduate school. Her enthusiasm for number theory and arithmetic geometry have proved contagious, and she has been a great resource for mathematics, as well as a great friend.

What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?

My most vivid memory is the time I solved my first research problem. I had been close to a solution for a couple of days, and when I finally put the pieces together, it was while I was out buying groceries!  

I didn't have a proper notebook to write the solution, so I pulled a pack of stickie notes out of my purse and wrote a proof on those. That stickie-note proof turned into my first paper.

How did Georgia Tech transform your life?

When I started at Georgia Tech, I didn't really know what I wanted to study; I was considering chemistry, physics, or economics. It was in my second year at Georgia Tech that I realized I loved mathematics, and I hit the ground running after that.

What unique learning activities did you undertake?

I did a study abroad in China the summer after my second year. It gave me a chance to see a part of the world that I would never have gotten to see so much of otherwise, and it threw me into an environment where I was forced to be uncomfortable.

I improved my Chinese language skills a lot by necessity, and I got a chance to navigate in a country with which I was entirely unfamiliar. Some of my favorite memories (and best stories!) from Georgia Tech came from that trip.

What advice would you give to incoming undergraduate students at Georgia Tech?

Go to your professors’ office hours!  Even if you aren't struggling in the class, go anyway to chat about course material. You’ll learn a lot from those conversations, and you will probably come away with a much deeper understanding of what’s being covered in class and why it’s important.

Where are you headed after graduation? How did your Georgia Tech education prepare you for this next step?

I am headed to Stanford to pursue my Ph.D. in Mathematics. Georgia Tech has prepared me very well for graduate school by giving me a chance to get research experience, take graduate courses, and present at conferences, all of which are crucial skills for graduate school.

May 14, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Prof. Sung Ha Kang receives the 2018 Herman K Fulmer Faculty Teaching Award in the School of Mathematics at Georgia Tech. This award recognizes Prof. Kang’s exceptional work in teaching Differential Equations over the last decade. Essentially, every student who has taken Differential Equations over this period has been impacted by Professor Kang’s expertise on this course, through her work in the classroom, as well as on course content and format, mentorship of other instructors, and pedagogical outlook.

The establishment of the Herman K. Fulmer Faculty Teaching Fund Endowment for the School of Mathematics (SOM) is credited to the late Howard Woodham ( Georgia Tech alumnus, Engineering ’48), who created this award in memory of Professor Herman Fulmer, his former mathematics professor. Each year this award recognizes one of our faculty who exhibit genuine regard for undergraduate students during the first few years of their Engineering studies at Georgia Tech.

May 24, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

A new national project, which includes the Georgia Institute of Technology, aims to convey the benefits of physics’ age-old intertwining with math upon biology, a science historically less connected with it. The National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation have launched four centers to do this, funded with $40 million, one of which is headquartered at Georgia Tech and will receive a quarter of the funding.

Article and graphics here

Founding Members of the Organization include:

  • Greg Bleckerman (GaTech SoM math)
  • Christine Heitsch (GaTech SoM math)
  • Natasha Jonoska (USF math)
  • Julie Mitchell (UW-Madison math)
  • Peter Bubenik (U. Florida math)
  • Elena Dimitrova (Clemson math)
  • Scott McKinley (Tulane math)
  • Dan Goldman (GaTech physics)
  • Francesca Storici (GaTech bio)
  • Annalise Paaby (GaTech bio)
  • Matt Torres (GaTech bio)
  • Hang Lu (GaTech biochem)
  • Melissa Kemp (GaTech bio-eng)
  • Christine Payne (GaTech mech-eng)

This article was edited from a story originally posted 5/24/2018 by Ben Brumfield. 

June 4, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

By Mallory Rosten, Student Communications Assistant, College of Sciences

Students major in the College of Sciences because they’re curious about the natural world. They want to know why things are the way they are. They want to solve problems, to explain the mysteries of the universe, and to use science and technology to better people’s lives.

At the end of the Spring 2018 semester, 11 of those students received awards for outstanding achievements.

“We take great pleasure in recognizing and nurturing the outstanding, well-rounded students in our care,” says College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart. “They are the reason we are constantly striving to strengthen and diversify the educational experiences and research opportunities that we offer.”

“I cannot say a more heartfelt thank you to the benefactors of these awards and scholarships,” Goldbart says.  “Their generosity marvelously expands our ability to support deserving students and retain them in the College.”  

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award

This award recognizes undergraduates who are committed to research. Ann Johnson, a biology major, and Calvin Runnels, a biochemistry major, are the 2018 recipients in the College of Sciences.

Johnson is passionate about changing global health and interested in engineering for the developing world. She has conducted research with Joe Brown,  in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with Omer Inan, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s so important to intersect an understanding of humanities and science in order to look at culture and how it impacts people,” Johnson says.

The intersection of science and people also fascinates Runnels. He conceived and implemented the Undergraduate Research Fair to connect labs with students. He tirelessly advocated for marginalized and LGBTQ students.

Runnels conducted research on the origins of protein folding in the lab of Loren Williams, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. His work yielded a yet-unpublished manuscript about the nature of biopolymers of which he is the first author

Runnels graduated in May 2018 and is headed to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. According to one professor, Runnels is “a once-in-a-decade student” who displays empathy as well as a command of science.

Gretzinger Undergraduate Research Initiation Award

The award focuses on students just getting started in research. The award seeks to early involvement and broaden the recipient’s participation in research. Keith Creech, a biochemistry major, is the 2018 recipient. He will begin research with Robert Dickson, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in summer 2019.

Mehta Phingbodhipakkiya Memorial Scholarship

The scholarship honors the top junior in the College of Sciences. Sara Brockmeier is the 2018 recipient. Brockmeier majors in psychology with a business option.

Brockmeier conducts research in the joint lab of Phillip Ackerman and Ruth Kanfer, also called the PARK Lab, in the School of Psychology. She studies the influence of factors affecting workplace learning, behavior, and performance. She helped pilot a study of test-retest reliability aptitude tests used by the U.S. Navy.

Brockmeier hopes to apply her research to a career in industrial and organizational psychology.

Larry O’Hara Graduate Scholarship

The award recognizes outstanding graduate students. The 2018 recipients are Joel Mumma and Jennifer Pentz.

Joel Mumma, a psychology Ph.D. student, also hopes to use psychology to improve people’s lives. Winning this award, he’s doing a bit more than hoping. Mumma has written a paper that will save lives, according to his advisor, Frank Durso.

Mumma led the risk analyses of protocols that health care providers follow to protect themselves from dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola. The paper, in Clinical Infectious Diseases, is filled with “a number of nuanced and surprising findings that tell us a little more about the psychology of human error,” Durso says. Hospitals are already putting to the results to practice. This paper, Durso adds, is just the beginning for this “rising star.”

Jennifer Pentz is a biology Ph.D. student. Using yeast cells, she studies the origins of multicellularity with William Ratcliff, in the School of Biological Sciences. It was during her undergraduate research at the University of Minnesota that Pentz discovered an interest in ecological and evolutionary questions.

At Tech, Pentz co-authored a study finding that physical stress may have been critical in the rise of multicellular organisms from single cells. Her work with yeast brought her to the Atlanta Science Festival, where she demonstrated the “Science of Beer”.

A. Joyce Nickelson and John C. Sutherland Undergraduate Research Award

Daniel Gurevich is the 2018 winner. The award recognizes excellence at the interface of mathematics and physics.  

No stranger to solving real-world problems, Gurevich is interested in data analysis. An algorithm he developed has helped discover new mechanisms for ventricular fibrillation. This heart disorder is fatal within minutes if not treated.  He also wants to be able to predict when patients in intensive care units might crash based on their vital signs.

An author of two research papers, Gurevich is triple majoring in physics, mathematics, and industrial and systems engineering. This broad perspective gives him an edge. He says it helps him find patterns in data.

Perhaps his love for problem solving comes from chess. He started playing at age five, and now he’s an International Master.

Roger M. Wartell and Stephen E. Brossette Award for Multidisciplinary Studies in Biology, Physics, and Mathematics

Being able to study more than one field – and to synthesize them – is an extraordinary skill. This award recognizes students studying at the interface of physics or mathematics with biology.

Harsh V. Patel, a biology major and computer science minor, is the 2018 recipient of the award. A School of Biological Sciences student ambassador with a keen analytical mind, Patel conducted research with Patrick McGrath and Greg Gibson, in the School of Biological Sciences.

When he first started research, Patel hoped to revolutionize genotype-phenotype mapping using machine learning. His computer science background allowed him to apply machine learning and probabilistic models to biology studies.

Virginia C. and Herschel V. Clanton Jr. Scholarship

Deep curiosity about the foundations of life also drives Nancy Park, the 2018 recipient. The scholarship goes to a top pre-health junior in the College of Sciences. Park is majoring in biology with a minor in physiology and a pre-health designation.

Park is a Fast-Track to Research Scholar and the president of Student Hospital Connections. She conducts research with Terry Snell, in the School of Biological Sciences.

“She really enjoys experimentation and discovery, and is constantly thinking of ways to improve techniques,” Snell says of Park. In Snell’s lab, Park has studied the sequencing of DNA from various rotifers and the metal toxicity to Proales similis.

Cynthia L. Bossart and James Efron Scholarship

This award recognizes the top out-of-state junior in the College of Sciences. The 2018 recipient is Katherine Wei. The biology major and health and medical sciences minor hopes to be a dentist.

In Todd Streelman’s lab, Wei studies the cichlid fish genome to explore the divergence of behavioral genes. Wei has had an integral role in advancing the understanding the genetic mechanisms of sex determination, a mentor says.

According to another mentor, Wei “only seems to express excitement as she dives into- and solves- new challenges and always has a positive impact on her projects and those around her.”

Wei serves as vice president of membership of the Pre-Dental Society and Stamps Health Services ambassador.

Robert A. Pierotti Memorial Scholarship

When it comes to solving challenges, Libby Taylor excels. She’s the 2018 recipient of the scholarship, which recognizes a top graduating senior in the College of Sciences. Taylor has already won the Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize, a prestigious nationwide award.

One of Taylor’s first challenges was taking Georgia Tech classes while still in high school. As an undergraduate, she went on to take several graduate level classes.

Taylor conducted research in combinatorics, tropical geometry, matroid theory, and random graph theory. According to her professors, when she came upon a foreign concept, she learned it on her own. One professor is “amazed at her ability to quickly pick up sophisticated ideas.” Another looks “forward to seeing what Taylor’s future holds.”

June 4, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

By Mallory Rosten, Student Communications Assistant, College of Sciences

Students major in the College of Sciences because they’re curious about the natural world. They want to know why things are the way they are. They want to solve problems, to explain the mysteries of the universe, and to use science and technology to better people’s lives.

At the end of the Spring 2018 semester, 11 of those students received awards for outstanding achievements.

“We take great pleasure in recognizing and nurturing the outstanding, well-rounded students in our care,” says College of Sciences Dean and Sutherland Chair Paul M. Goldbart. “They are the reason we are constantly striving to strengthen and diversify the educational experiences and research opportunities that we offer.”

“I cannot say a more heartfelt thank you to the benefactors of these awards and scholarships,” Goldbart says.  “Their generosity marvelously expands our ability to support deserving students and retain them in the College.”  

Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award

This award recognizes undergraduates who are committed to research. Ann Johnson, a biology major, and Calvin Runnels, a biochemistry major, are the 2018 recipients in the College of Sciences.

Johnson is passionate about changing global health and interested in engineering for the developing world. She has conducted research with Joe Brown,  in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with Omer Inan, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s so important to intersect an understanding of humanities and science in order to look at culture and how it impacts people,” Johnson says.

The intersection of science and people also fascinates Runnels. He conceived and implemented the Undergraduate Research Fair to connect labs with students. He tirelessly advocated for marginalized and LGBTQ students.

Runnels conducted research on the origins of protein folding in the lab of Loren Williams, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. His work yielded a yet-unpublished manuscript about the nature of biopolymers of which he is the first author

Runnels graduated in May 2018 and is headed to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. According to one professor, Runnels is “a once-in-a-decade student” who displays empathy as well as a command of science.

Gretzinger Undergraduate Research Initiation Award

The award focuses on students just getting started in research. The award seeks to early involvement and broaden the recipient’s participation in research. Keith Creech, a biochemistry major, is the 2018 recipient. He will begin research with Robert Dickson, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in summer 2019.

Mehta Phingbodhipakkiya Memorial Scholarship

The scholarship honors the top junior in the College of Sciences. Sara Brockmeier is the 2018 recipient. Brockmeier majors in psychology with a business option.

Brockmeier conducts research in the joint lab of Phillip Ackerman and Ruth Kanfer, also called the PARK Lab, in the School of Psychology. She studies the influence of factors affecting workplace learning, behavior, and performance. She helped pilot a study of test-retest reliability aptitude tests used by the U.S. Navy.

Brockmeier hopes to apply her research to a career in industrial and organizational psychology.

Larry O’Hara Graduate Scholarship

The award recognizes outstanding graduate students. The 2018 recipients are Joel Mumma and Jennifer Pentz.

Joel Mumma, a psychology Ph.D. student, also hopes to use psychology to improve people’s lives. Winning this award, he’s doing a bit more than hoping. Mumma has written a paper that will save lives, according to his advisor, Frank Durso.

Mumma led the risk analyses of protocols that health care providers follow to protect themselves from dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola. The paper, in Clinical Infectious Diseases, is filled with “a number of nuanced and surprising findings that tell us a little more about the psychology of human error,” Durso says. Hospitals are already putting to the results to practice. This paper, Durso adds, is just the beginning for this “rising star.”

Jennifer Pentz is a biology Ph.D. student. Using yeast cells, she studies the origins of multicellularity with William Ratcliff, in the School of Biological Sciences. It was during her undergraduate research at the University of Minnesota that Pentz discovered an interest in ecological and evolutionary questions.

At Tech, Pentz co-authored a study finding that physical stress may have been critical in the rise of multicellular organisms from single cells. Her work with yeast brought her to the Atlanta Science Festival, where she demonstrated the “Science of Beer”.

A. Joyce Nickelson and John C. Sutherland Undergraduate Research Award

Daniel Gurevich is the 2018 winner. The award recognizes excellence at the interface of mathematics and physics.  

No stranger to solving real-world problems, Gurevich is interested in data analysis. An algorithm he developed has helped discover new mechanisms for ventricular fibrillation. This heart disorder is fatal within minutes if not treated.  He also wants to be able to predict when patients in intensive care units might crash based on their vital signs.

An author of two research papers, Gurevich is triple majoring in physics, mathematics, and industrial and systems engineering. This broad perspective gives him an edge. He says it helps him find patterns in data.

Perhaps his love for problem solving comes from chess. He started playing at age five, and now he’s an International Master.

Roger M. Wartell and Stephen E. Brossette Award for Multidisciplinary Studies in Biology, Physics, and Mathematics

Being able to study more than one field – and to synthesize them – is an extraordinary skill. This award recognizes students studying at the interface of physics or mathematics with biology.

Harsh V. Patel, a biology major and computer science minor, is the 2018 recipient of the award. A School of Biological Sciences student ambassador with a keen analytical mind, Patel conducted research with Patrick McGrath and Greg Gibson, in the School of Biological Sciences.

When he first started research, Patel hoped to revolutionize genotype-phenotype mapping using machine learning. His computer science background allowed him to apply machine learning and probabilistic models to biology studies.

Virginia C. and Herschel V. Clanton Jr. Scholarship

Deep curiosity about the foundations of life also drives Nancy Park, the 2018 recipient. The scholarship goes to a top pre-health junior in the College of Sciences. Park is majoring in biology with a minor in physiology and a pre-health designation.

Park is a Fast-Track to Research Scholar and the president of Student Hospital Connections. She conducts research with Terry Snell, in the School of Biological Sciences.

“She really enjoys experimentation and discovery, and is constantly thinking of ways to improve techniques,” Snell says of Park. In Snell’s lab, Park has studied the sequencing of DNA from various rotifers and the metal toxicity to Proales similis.

Cynthia L. Bossart and James Efron Scholarship

This award recognizes the top out-of-state junior in the College of Sciences. The 2018 recipient is Katherine Wei. The biology major and health and medical sciences minor hopes to be a dentist.

In Todd Streelman’s lab, Wei studies the cichlid fish genome to explore the divergence of behavioral genes. Wei has had an integral role in advancing the understanding the genetic mechanisms of sex determination, a mentor says.

According to another mentor, Wei “only seems to express excitement as she dives into- and solves- new challenges and always has a positive impact on her projects and those around her.”

Wei serves as vice president of membership of the Pre-Dental Society and Stamps Health Services ambassador.

Robert A. Pierotti Memorial Scholarship

When it comes to solving challenges, Libby Taylor excels. She’s the 2018 recipient of the scholarship, which recognizes a top graduating senior in the College of Sciences. Taylor has already won the Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize, a prestigious nationwide award.

One of Taylor’s first challenges was taking Georgia Tech classes while still in high school. As an undergraduate, she went on to take several graduate level classes.

Taylor conducted research in combinatorics, tropical geometry, matroid theory, and random graph theory. According to her professors, when she came upon a foreign concept, she learned it on her own. One professor is “amazed at her ability to quickly pick up sophisticated ideas.” Another looks “forward to seeing what Taylor’s future holds.”

June 7, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

What does flying in a commercial airliner have in common with working at the office or relaxing at home? 

According to a new study, the answer is the microbiome – the community of bacteria found in homes, offices and aircraft cabins. Believed to be the first to comprehensively assess the microbiome of aircraft, the study found that the bacterial communities accompanying airline passengers at 30,000 feet have much in common with the bacterial communities surrounding people in their homes and offices.

Using advanced sequencing technology, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University studied the bacteria found on three components of an airliner cabin that are commonly touched by passengers: tray tables, seat belt buckles and the handles of lavatory doors. They swabbed those items before and after ten transcontinental flights and also sampled air in the rear of the cabin during flight. 

What they found was surprisingly unexciting.

“Airline passengers should not be frightened by sensational stories about germs on a plane,” said Vicki Stover Hertzberg, a professor in Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and a co-author of the study. “They should recognize that microbes are everywhere and that an airplane is no better and no worse than an office building, a subway car, home or a classroom. These environments all have microbiomes that look like places occupied by people.”

The results of the FlyHealthy™ study were reported June 6, 2018, in the journal Microbial Ecology. In March, the researchers reported on a separate part of the study that examined potential routes for transmitting certain respiratory viruses – such as the flu – on commercial flights.

Given the unusual nature of an aircraft cabin, the researchers hadn’t known what to expect from their microbiome study. On transcontinental flights, passengers spend four or five hours in close proximity breathing a very dry mix of outdoor air and recycled cabin air that has been passed through special filters, similar to those found in operating rooms. 

“There were reasons to believe that the communities of bacteria in an aircraft cabin might be different from those in other parts of the built environment, so it surprised me that what we found was very similar to what other researchers have found in homes and offices,” said Howard Weiss, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Mathematics and the study’s corresponding author. “What we found was bacterial communities that were mostly derived from human skin, the human mouth – and some environmental bacteria.”

The sampling found significant variations from flight to flight, which is consistent with the differences other researchers have found among the cars of passenger trains, Weiss noted. Each aircraft seemed to have its own microbiome, but the researchers did not detect statistically significant differences between preflight and post-flight conditions on the flights studied.

“We identified a core airplane microbiome – the genera that were present in every sample we studied,” Weiss added. The core microbiome included genera Propionibacterium, Burkholderia, Staphylococcus, and Strepococcus (oralis).

Though the study revealed bacteria common to other parts of the built environment, Weiss still suggests travelers exercise reasonable caution. “I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer in my computer bag whenever I travel,” said Weiss. “It’s a good practice to wash or sanitize your hands, avoid touching your face, and get a flu shot ever year.”

This new information on the aircraft microbiome provides a baseline for further study, and could lead to improved techniques for maintaining healthy aircraft.

“The finding that airplanes have their own unique microbiome should not be totally surprising since we have been exploring the unique microbiome of everything from humans to spacecraft to salt ponds in Australia. The study does have important implications for industrial cleaning and sterilization standards for airplanes,” said Christopher Dupont, another co-author and an associate professor in the Microbial and Environmental Genomics Department at the J. Craig Venter Institute, which provided bioinformatics analysis of the study’s data.

The 229 samples obtained from the aircraft cabin testing were subjected to 16S rRNA sequencing, which was done at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. The small amount of genetic material captured on the swabs and air sampling limited the level of detail the testing could provide to identifying genera of bacteria, Weiss said. The extensive bioinformatics, or sequence analysis, was carried out at the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif.  

In the March 19 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported on the results of another component of the FlyHealthy™ study that looked at potential transmission of respiratory viruses on aircraft. They found that an infectious passenger with influenza or other droplet-transmitted respiratory infection will most likely not transmit infection to passengers seated farther away than two seats laterally and one row in front or back on an aircraft. 

That portion of the study was designed to assess rates and routes of possible infectious disease transmission during flights, using a model that combines estimated infectivity and patterns of contact among aircraft passengers and crew members to determine likelihood of infection. FlyHealthy™ team members were assigned to monitor specific areas of the passenger cabin, developing information about contacts between passengers as they moved around.

Among next steps, the researchers would like to study the microbiome of airport areas, especially the departure lounges where passengers congregate before boarding. They would also like to study long-haul international flights in which passengers spend more time together – and are more likely to move about the cabin.

In addition to those already mentioned, the paper’s authors include Josh L. Espinoza and Karen Nelson of the J. Craig Venter Institute, Shawn Levy of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and Sharon Norris of The Boeing Company.

This work was supported by contract 2001-041-1 between the Georgia Institute of Technology and The Boeing Company.

CITATION: Howard Weiss, et al., “The Airplane Cabin Microbiome,” (Microbial Ecology, 2018).  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00248-018-1191-3

Research News
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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

June 11, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

Associate School of Math Professor Jen Hom has been selected to receive a 2018 College of Sciences Cullen-Peck Scholar Award in recognition of her innovative research. Additional information on the award and in the citation is included below.  Jen is in good company with past recipients of this award, including Anton Leykin and Sung Ha Kang.

Cullen-Peck Scholar Awards: These awards recognize innovative research led by College of Sciences faculty who are at the associate professor or advanced assistant professor level. They are made possible through the generosity of alumni couple Frank Cullen (BS ’73 Math, MS ’76 ISyE, PhD ’84 ISyE) and Libby Peck (BS ’75 Math, MS ’76 ISyE), who wish to recognize and support faculty development within the College of Sciences.

Associate Professor Jennifer Hom (School of Mathematics): Jen has made fundamental contributions to the study of knots and the development of powerful new tools in topology, in particular innovative contributions to Heegaard-Floer theory. She is a highly creative mathematician who has solved long standing problems and introduced influential new ideas to the community, clearly contributing to Georgia Tech’s role as a US center for geometry and topology.

June 14, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

All over campus this summer, undergraduates are working with Georgia Tech researchers. Many programs are in full swing, modeled after the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The School of Mathematics likely takes the prize for the most number of programs by one unit: six.  By summer’s end, seven professors, three postdoctoral mentors, and five graduate students would have worked with 13 undergraduate students. The undergrads come from 11 colleges and universities, including three in Georgia: Agnes Scott College, Georgia Tech, and Spelman College.   

Funding comes from various NSF grants and the School of Mathematics. 

Why REUs

REU programs play the same role for research careers as high school sports do for the NFL and NBA, says School of Mathematics Professor Igor Belegradek. Talent presenting early must be nurtured and honed as soon as possible.

Belegradek organized the summer 2018 REUs with colleague Dan Margalit.

“We have a rich history of undergraduate research in mathematics, as you can see on our website,” Margalit says. “It’s a testament to our faculty’s intellectual creativity and dedication to undergraduate education.”

REUs have important benefits for students, faculty mentors, and the School of Mathematics.

They help bring students to the School’s graduate program. They enable members of underrepresented minorities get advanced training and positive experiences in math research.

REUs advance the research of faculty. “We give students problems that we are genuinely interested in,” Margalit. “They are integral to our research programs.” 

REUs also provide mentoring experience to early-career researchers – graduate students and postdoctoral researchers – serving as mentors. “The training is valuable for them,” Margalit says. “It helps give them confidence in their own research and make them marketable for job searches.”

Undergraduates’ ability to penetrate difficult problems inspires Margalit. “They are fearless and creative, trying approaches that I might not think of,” he says. “They might not understand every bit of background that goes into a problem. But we, as mentors, can airlift them to the front lines of the problem.”

Undergraduates "are fearless and creative, trying approaches that I might not think of. They might not understand every bit of background that goes into a problem. But we, as mentors, can airlift them to the front lines of the problem." Dan Margalit

Cutting-Edge Research

Although Margalit’s program – on mapping class groups – has six students, other REUs have only one or two students. Three began as early as May 21; one will last until Aug. 10. In sessions lasting from five to seven weeks, the mathematicians will tackle problems in various cutting-edge areas.

Following are two examples of problems Georgia Tech undergrads will be confronting.

  • Shadow Problem

Mohammad Ghomi has been working with Georgia Tech undergraduate Alexander Avery since May 21. From Ghomi’s list of open problems in geometry of curves and surfaces, Avery chose the “shadow problem” for surfaces.

Ghomi explains the problem thus: Consider a convex object, such as a ball or an egg. When such object is illuminated from any direction, the dark region of the surface, called the shadow, forms a connected set. In other words, the shadow is one piece.

What about the converse? Suppose the shape of a surface is unknown. And suppose the shadow is one piece when illuminated from any direction. Does it follow that the surface is convex?

Ghomi published a solution in Annals of Mathematics in 2002. The answer is yes for surfaces similar to balls and eggs. But not for other shapes, such as donuts.

“Alex is working on the discrete version of this problem,” Ghomi says. Avery is looking at surfaces that are not smooth – like balls and eggs – but instead are composed of polygons glued along their edges. “Alex has been making good progress. It looks like the polyhedral case will be similar to the smooth case.”  

  • Legendrian Knots

“In mathematics, knots can be thought of as pieces of string which are tied up and then have the ends glued together,” says Caitlin Leverson, one of the postdoctoral mentors. “An interesting problem is to decide whether two knots are the same or different.”

Legendrian knots satisfy additional conditions. Two Legendrian knots may look very different, but be the same. Invariants are methods of assigning values to knots so that two knots are assigned the same value if they are the same. 

From May 29 to Aug. 10, Leverson will be working with two Georgia Tech fourth-year mathematics majors: DeVon Ingram and Hunter Vallejos. Their goal is to find Legendrian knots that are different yet are assigned the same value by the invariant.

 Since his second year as a mathematics major, Ingram has done research with different professors, including outside the School of Mathematics. For example, he worked on computational complexity theory with Lance Fortnow, professor and chair, School of Computer Science.

Ingram appreciates the beauty of differential geometry and its relation to physics. He sees correspondence between knot invariants and topological quantum field theories. Because of these interests, “I am naturally drawn to a knot theory problem,” he says. 

Vallejos has been doing research since he was in Oak Ridge High School, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, just 10 miles from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). One outcome of his stints at ORNL is a 2017 paper in the Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, of which Vallejos was first author.

“I love when algebra, geometry, and topology intersect,” Vallejos says. “Legendrian knot theory blends these three distinct fields, which makes it a rich subject to study.”

Visiting Students

Several of the undergraduate researchers this summer come from outside Georgia Tech. Among them are Johannes Hosle and Andrew Sack.

Johannes Hosle hails from South Bend, Indiana. He is a third-year math major in the University of California, Los Angeles. His major interests are analysis and number theory. Starting on June 18, he will work with Galyna Livshyts and Michael Lacey.

“The general area of my problem will be in harmonic analysis in convex geometry,” Hosle says. “My interest stems from a general interest in analysis. The types of problems in this branch of mathematics seem to resonate most with me.”

Andrew Sack hails from Gainesville, Florida. He is a fourth-year mathematics major from the University of Florida. A published author in the International Journal of Mathematics and Computer Science, he is one of two students who have been working with John Etnyre and Sudipta Kolay since May 30.  

Etnyre also studies how to tell knots apart. In his approach, a knot is represented by a diagram of a loop on a paper. The loop can cross over itself as many times. “But each time the loop crosses over itself, you have to specify which of the two strands is on top of the other,” Etnyre says.

A coloring of a knot is a labeling of the strands by a method that has consistency at the crossings. The coloring can tell two knots apart. “The work is related to research trying to figure out how three-dimensional spaces can be put inside a five-dimensional space.”

 “I’m interested in this research because, after taking two years of topology, I find it fascinating,” Sack says. “Previous research I’ve done centered on graph coloring. I can use some of the intuition I built around graph coloring to help better understand knot coloring.”

This story was modified from a story appearing June 14th by Maureen Rohi.

July 5, 2018 | Atlanta, GA

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Research Training Groups (RTG) grant to the Georgia Tech Geometry and Topology (GTGT) group. GTGT will use the $2.1 million grant over five years to train undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. The GTGT project supports NSF’s long-range goal to increase the number of U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents pursuing careers in mathematics.

School of Mathematics faculty members Igor Belegradek, John Etnyre, Stavros Garoufalidis, Mohammad Ghomi, Jennifer Hom, Thang Le, Dan Margalit, and Kirsten Wickelgren make up GTGT and are co-principal investigators of the grant.

Why Study Topology and Geometry
Etnyre answers this question. He explains:

“Topology is the study of spaces. They can be the space we live in or configurations of mechanical systems. Mathematicians also consider spaces of solutions to algebraic equations and partial differential equations, as well as even more abstract space.

“More specifically topology is the study of spaces where some notion of continuity makes sense. What are these spaces? How can we distinguish one space from another? What interesting properties do specific spaces have? These are the basics questions in topology, whose language pervades much of mathematics, science, and engineering.

“Geometry is, loosely speaking, the study of some kind of structure on a space. Riemannian geometry involves spaces on which you can measure lengths of vectors and the angles in between. Symplectic geometry allows one to study dynamical systems akin to classical mechanics on a space.

“Topology and geometry underlie a great deal of science and engineering. Whether trying to understand general relativity and the structure of the universe, design robust sensor networks, unravel DNA recombination, develop string theory, or countless other endeavors, the underlying language and ideas are likely to be that of geometry and topology.”

“Topology and geometry underlie a great deal of science and engineering. Whether trying to understand general relativity and the structure of the universe, design robust sensor networks, unravel DNA recombination, develop string theory, or countless other endeavors, the underlying language and ideas are likely to be that of geometry and topology.”

Expected Outcomes 
Over its five-year run, the grant will enable the training of 60 undergraduate students, 22 graduate students, and 14 postdoctoral fellows. Supplementary funding from the College of Sciences will ensure three years of support for all postdoctoral fellows.

Etnyre says GTGT will leverage its access to Georgia Tech’s engineering programs to spark collaborations between engineers and mathematicians. Similarly, GTGT will use its proximity to institutions serving groups underrepresented in mathematics to help increase the representation of minorities and women in advanced mathematics.

Ultimately, Etnyre says, “we aim to develop students and postdoctoral fellows who are well-rounded scholars, accomplished teachers, and valuable members of the mathematics community.”

Areas of Expertise
The GTGT group is strong in various fields:

  • Algebraic Topology: Kirsten Wickelgren
  • Contact and Symplectic Topology: John Etnyre
  • Geometric Group Theory: Igor Belegradek and Dan Margalit
  • Global Riemannian and Differential Geometry: Igor Belegradek, John Etnyre, and Mohammad Ghomi
  • Heegard-Floer Theory: John Etnyre and Jennifer Hom
  • Low-Dimensional Topology: John Etnyre, Stavros Garoufalidis, Jennifer Hom, Thang Le, and Dan Margalit
  • Quantum Topology: Stavros Garoufalidis and Thang Le
  • Riemannian Geometry of Submaniforlds: Mohammad Ghomi

All these areas would benefit from the grant.

“We aim to develop students and postdoctoral fellows who are well-rounded scholars, accomplished teachers, and valuable members of the mathematics community.”

Grant-Enabled Activities
The grant enables the GTGT group to embark on several major activities:

  • Expand the group by supporting graduate and postdoctoral fellowships
  • Enhance educational opportunities for all students through new courses, expanded seminars and REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) opportunities, and a direct-reading program for undergraduates
  • Firmly establish the annual Georgia Tech Topology Conference and the biennial Topology Students Workshop, continue the Southeastern Undergraduate Mathematics Workshop, and initiate the Georgia Tech Topology Summer School
  • Strengthen professional development components of graduate and postdoctoral training
  • Increase interaction with colleges and universities serving groups that are underrepresented in mathematics and expand outreach to precollege students
  • Create a website to serve as repository of resources

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