The Iron Man of UF has won again. Professor of Chemistry George Christou, known for his research in nano-magnets, has received the SEC Faculty Achievement Award for his accomplishments. The Southeastern Conference, an athletic association comprising 14 academic institutions, has honored one faculty member from each institution for the past six years. This year, they surprised Christou with the award in his classroom — an appropriate place, considering Christou’s numerous honors for his teaching excellence.

George Christou holds model of molecule

George Christou in his office with a molecule model Bernard Brzezinski/UF Photography

Previously, Christou, who serves as the Drago Chair of Chemistry, was named UF’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year for 2015–2016. Christou has also been appointed to the Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars, an honorary organization of exceptional professors and the advisory board to the Provost’s Office.

Christou has received international acclaim for his discovery of single-molecule magnets and metal-oxo clusters—microscopic, long-lasting substances with applications to medical, computing, and industrial technologies. The United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Chemistry awarded Christou the 2016 Nyholm Prize for Inorganic Chemistry for his pioneering work. Christou was also one of only two Florida chemists named as a fellow of the American Chemical Society for 2016.

Biologist Todd Palmer says the countdown clock has started.

In the movie Avatar, so many magnificent animals have gone extinct that scientists can only study them virtually. This environmentally ravaged Earth is set in the near future, in the year 2154, but according to University of Florida biologist Todd Palmer, our Earth in 2016 is already undergoing an accelerated mass extinction.

According to a study published in the journal Science Advances in June, Palmer and his colleagues say there no longer is any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.

“We have the potential of initiating a mass extinction episode which has been unparalleled for 65 million years.”

“The Earth’s biodiversity plays a critical role in sustaining the human species, from the pollination of our crops, to the purification of our water supply to the amelioration of climate change. We simply cannot afford to continue losing species at the rate they are currently disappearing,” says Palmer.

photo of hawksbill sea turtle swimming

Despite their protected status, hawksbill sea turtles are still hunted for their shells, which are made into jewelry and ornaments.

There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.

Using fossil records and a range of extinction counts, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

closeup of blue-throated macaw

The blue-throated macaw was thought to be extinct, is extremely rare, and remains on the endangered list. Michael Seeley

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

Despite the grim finding, researchers say there is still hope. Lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México told CNN, “We have the potential of initiating a mass extinction episode which has been unparalleled for 65 million years. But I’m optimistic in the sense that humans react. In the past, we have made quantum leaps when we worked together to solve our problems.”

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Your Journey Begins Here

When Dave Richardson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, addressed the Class of 2019 at Convocation last August, he shared stories about jobs he had in high school and college — flipping burgers, bagging groceries, digging ditches, baling hay, and feeding pigs. From these experiences, he said, he learned three important lessons: First, our nation is built by capable, dedicated, and hard-working people. Second, teamwork is essential for any organization to succeed. Third, individuals must discover and pursue their own passions.

“We are here to help you discover your own path,” he said, “not to define who you become.”

Richardson is and always has been an advocate for the liberal arts and sciences, for its depth and breadth of the diversity of subject matter, and the inherent humanistic value of the college’s core mission — understanding our place and responsibility in the world and helping to shape, protect and better society, the environment, and the global community.

Dave Richardson

Dean Richardson’s priorities for the college include increasing diversity, entrepreneurship, and collaboration. Bernard Brzezinski/UF Photography

“The degree you earn is only the beginning of your journey.”

Richardson was named dean of the college last March. He had been interim dean since June 2014 and a member of the University of Florida community since 1983 when he joined the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor. He rose through the ranks to become a professor of chemistry and was chair of the chemistry department (2000–2006) before being named associate dean for research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. From 2009 to 2014, he was the senior associate dean of the college, overseeing faculty and administrative issues including tenure, promotion, hiring, and budgeting.

Richardson completed his undergraduate work in chemistry at Furman University in 1976. He received a doctorate in chemistry from Stanford University in 1981 under the direction of Nobel Laureate Henry Taube. He was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. His recent research concentrates on development of an environmentally friendly process that has applications in water purification, medical sterilization, organic synthesis, and many other areas.

As dean, Richardson seeks to foster and encourage collaboration and teamwork among faculty members and students alike, believing that the exchange of ideas is powerful and productive. He also believes that education is a lifelong process. As he told the Class of 2019, “The degree you earn is only the beginning of your journey.”

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New building set to open this fall semester is a game changer.

The University of Florida held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new Chemistry/Chemical Biology Building at the corner of University Avenue and Buckman Drive on Oct. 10, 2014. Less than a year later, on Sept. 11, 2015, Skanska, the construction company building the facility, and the University of Florida sponsored a beam signing and topping out ceremony on the construction site.

“Topping out is a tradition in construction and generally relates to installing the last and highest beam in the building,” says UF’s Frank Javaheri, senior project manager for the building. “It is a mini goal within the major goal and a reminder that this portion of the milestone is completed.”

Hundreds showed up to leave their signature on the one-ton beam that has been placed on the tallest portion of the building. Guests, including workers, faculty, staff, students, and alumni, also signed two columns on the ground floor. Psychology and anthropology alumnus Jorge Quintana ’15 signed the beam and columns and said, “What a great opportunity this is. I hope my children will someday attend UF, and I’ll be able to say I’ve literally left my mark on the university.”

An aerial view of the new chemistry building and two large yellow cranes.

A bird’s eye view of the early construction courtesy of chemistry professor Phil Brucat.

When completed next June, the $67 million facility will provide 110,493 square feet of space for undergraduate and graduate education, including two floors devoted to chemical biology and chemical synthesis, which will facilitate collaboration with the medical school and the college of engineering on drug discovery, according to Professor William Dolbier, chair of the Department of Chemistry.

image of unfinished campus building
Well insulated, the new Chemistry/Chemical Biological Building will be LEED gold certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.Scott Harper

“Thousands of students will pass through these halls that you have worked so hard to build.”

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean David Richardson says he is having the best year of his 30-year career at UF, largely because of this new construction. Richardson, a chemistry professor, has long advocated for a state-of-the-art building to replace Leigh Hall built in 1927. During the ceremony, he thanked the workers and said, “Thousands of students will pass through these halls that you have worked so hard to build. Where you are sitting now will become a major hub for research, learning, and innovation at the University of Florida.”

Naming opportunities for classrooms, labs, and other spaces in the new Chemistry/Chemical Biology Building are still available. If you would like to leave a legacy for future generations in this spectacular structure, go to UF-CLAS Naming Opportunities or contact Ashley Rodriquez.

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The Art of Giving

Mick Aschoff ’71 has an undergraduate degree in art from the University of Florida and an MBA in finance, as well as a professional certification in computer applications and information systems, from New York University. He speaks three languages and has worked around the world in various fields, including hospital administration, wholesale textile sales, computer programming, information technology project management, and information systems compliance with legal and government regulations.

Of all the roads he’s traveled, Aschoff says the one that makes him the happiest is that which that brings him back to the University of Florida. Ten years ago, he made the decision to endow the Michael Aschoff Dissertation Fellowship for graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

students sit in a circle of desks listening to professor

Ange Mlinko’s poetry class in the English department is one of the areas Mick Aschoff supports for making a difference.Russ Bryant

Aschoff started thinking about leaving a legacy while still in high school in Merrick, N.Y., when his school paper assigned him to profile a local philanthropist, who did not have his own children but established a scholarship for area students. The idea of funding future generations resonated with Aschoff, who thought, “I want my name as a donor on one of those awards someday.”

“Private citizens need to step up to fill the gap that exists between state and private funding for many public universities across the country these days.”

Several years after graduating from college, Aschoff began contributing an annual gift of $25, steadily increasing his giving over time. Around the 20-year anniversary of his first gift to UF, Aschoff met then-dean, Willard W. Harrison, who suggested that he could make a larger impact in perpetuity. Once he realized how simple the process was and how low the initial amount was for creating an endowment, Aschoff decided to dedicate a portion of his estate to support student scholarships. In Aschoff’s case, he created a fully funded named endowment with $30,000 a year for five years, but an initial named endowment can be created with $30,000 over five years.

“Private citizens need to step up to fill the gap that exists between state and private funding for many public universities across the country these days. There is a real need, especially for graduate level scholarship support, which I know from personal experience,” says Aschoff. “Many ‘state’ universities are not funded primarily by the state anymore. I’m so proud that I can make a difference in the lives of these students at my alma mater for generations to come.”

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When she was three, Van Truong ’17 often slipped out of her parents’ house in their village of Hue, Vietnam, ambling into the homes of family and friends. Truong has been stepping out of her comfort zone for quite a while. In 2014, after her freshman year at UF, Truong set off for a 5,000-mile bike trek from Seattle, Wash., to Daytona Beach, Fla., to raise money and awareness for Alexander Hamilton Scholars, a nationwide program that supports low-income, high-achieving students.

In 2000, when she was five, Truong emigrated with her family to the United States, settling in the Daytona area. While the Vietnamese community embraced her, she did not share many of the cultural and social values of her American peers. She worked in the family nail salon from ages 12 to 18, as well as volunteered 910 hours in high school – something her parents did not understand until Truong came home with scholarship offers from Hamilton and the Elks, where she placed fourth nationally.

“When the rest of my classmates were preparing and applying for college, I asked them how to do it,” says Truong. “I didn’t know where I fit, or if I even belonged in higher education.”

Head and shoulders photo of Van Truong against a circular art workVan Truong incorporates art and science into her academic work, which she plans to continue as a geriatric doctor.Robert Landry

“Art is my first language, followed by Vietnamese, English, and Spanish.”

To bridge the cultural and educational gaps, Truong has always turned to art. In high school, she and a friend constructed a huge rendering of the Mona Lisa from seaweed on a Port Orange beach that garnered a mention in The Huffington Post. She says, “Art is my first language, followed by Vietnamese, English, and Spanish.” A few years later, Truong gained even more HuffPo fame when her late-night study project – whiteboard notes that took the shape of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” – went viral. This last year, she helped create a rubber-band version of “The Mona Lisa” on the UF campus.


Project Springboard: Mona Lisa

Creating a 6' x 8' Mona Lisa with 10,000+ rubber bands, 2,000+ screws and 172+ people lending a hand. #PopUpCultureUF

Posted by University of Florida on Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An anthropology major, Truong plans to use both art and science to serve her in medical school. Ultimately, she wants to be a doctor focusing on neurodegenerative diseases. “In 2030, there will be 72 million people 65 and older. My parents spent so many years taking care of me. I want to take care of them.”

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Blue-Collar Scholar

English Professor Sidney Homan never imagined his blue-collar childhood in South Philadelphia would lead to his career as a Shakespearean scholar. Until fate – in the form of his mother — intervened and secured him an interview at Princeton, Homan expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. “My father worked hard installing phones for a living. I grew up thinking ‘work’ meant you produced something tangible,” says Homan, a UF faculty member since 1972 and the 2015 SEC Professor of the Year.

Using pragmatism as his foundation for scholarship, Homan fuses theory with practice. “I challenge my students to think about the real world,” he says. “Where can they apply the lessons they’ve learned from Shakespeare?”

Also, as a performer, Homan says his inclination to study English and theater — and Shakespeare, in particular — felt natural. “I knew this was what I wanted to spend my life doing, so why not study the best there was?” Homan believes that Shakespeare’s centuries-long staying power goes beyond the flow of the language, as his plays present audience members with unconventional situations. “In Elizabethan England, there were no interracial couples, there was no defying your parents to break a marriage contract, but Shakespeare asked his audience to imagine those things. More than imagine them, he asked his audience to empathize with them, see things differently.”

Head and shoulders photo of Professor Sid Homan
Well loved and regarded, Sid Homan was named the 2015 SEC Professor of the Year. Sean Meyers Photography

“At the end of my day, I provide students with the opportunity to develop confidence and become empowered.”

In his scholarly work, Homan has written widely on playwrights and adapted diverse works such as Dylan Thomas’ poetry to Machiavelli’s comedy The Mandrake to slave diaries. His pedagogy centers on the students. “I believe that everyone with a higher degree has an obligation to people who want to learn. My course isn’t about Shakespeare, or Aristotle, or Samuel Beckett. It’s about how a student receives Aristotle. How can a student make him useful?” To that end, Homan puts on productions with his students. He is the director, but emphasizes that on the set their work is peer-oriented. “All my students are welcome and encouraged to provide feedback or analyze scenes. That’s what I produce. At the end of my day, I provide students with the opportunity to develop confidence and become empowered.”

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Dental enamel reveals surprising migration patterns in ancient Indus civilizations.

University of Florida researchers have discovered that ancient peoples in the Indus Valley did not stay put, as was previously thought. Equally surprising is how they found out: by examining 4,000-year-old teeth.

As tooth enamel forms, it incorporates elements from the local environment. When the researchers looked at remains from the ancient city of Harappa, located in what is known today as the Punjab Province of Pakistan, individuals’ early molars told a very different story than their later ones, meaning they hadn’t been born in the city where they were found.

illustration of Indus Valley Civilization in the Mature Harappan Phrase

The Indus Valley, shaded brown, today comprises Pakistan and northwestern India.

Much of what modern researchers have gleaned about our common ancestors, particularly those from Egypt and Mesopotamia, comes from well studied tombs and burial sites. Discovering the narrative of peoples from the Greater Indus Valley – which comprises much of modern-day Pakistan and northwest India – is more challenging. The text of the Indus Valley Civilization remains undeciphered, and known and excavated burial sites are rare. In its heyday, Harappa held a population of 50,000, although the number of individuals represented by skeletal remains across the entire culture area totals in the hundreds.

These methods provide windows into the life history of past people.

The UF research team was led by then-doctoral student Benjamin Valentine ’15; biological anthropologist John Krigbaum; and isotope geologist George Kamenov. The team made a novel comparison of the dental enamel and chemical analyses of the water, fauna, and rocks of the time, using isotope ratios of lead and strontium. “The idea of isotope analysis to determine the origin of individual migrants has been around for decades. But what people haven’t been doing is looking at the different tooth types, essentially, snapshots of residents during different times of individuals’ lives,” says Valentine.

photo of ancient ruins

UF researchers discovered that those who dwelled within the walls of the ancient city of Harappa did not necessarily have to be born there to live there.

The researchers discovered that the people in the Harappa gravesites weren’t born there, but migrated there from the hinterlands. “Previous work had thought the burial sites represented local, middle-class people. There was no notion that outsiders were welcomed and integrated by locals within the city,” says Krigbaum. “All told, these methods provide windows into the life history of past people and underscore the role of interdisciplinary approaches to illuminate dynamics of human migration.”

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UF is a top contributor to Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

World War II veteran Frank Towers landed on Utah Beach shortly after D-Day, survived the frigid nights of the Battle of the Bulge, and participated in the liberation of thousands of Jews headed to the death camps just before that terrible war ended in 1945. Towers’ story is not one to be forgotten, and thanks to the Veterans History Project sponsored by UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP), it won’t be.

The SPOHP began its mission of documenting cultural, social, and economic histories of Floridians in 1967. To date, the SPOHP has collected nearly 7,000 oral histories – Civil Rights workers, Native Americans, Latinos, Alachua County African Americans, and war veterans.

photo of Frank Towers standing in front of tarpaulin and stone wall
Frank Towers’ foxhole off Utah Beach, Normandy, 1944
Frank Towers standing in tall grass in front of overgrown stone wall
Frank Towers revisits his foxhole at Utah Beach, 1989
Frank Towers standing on street with snowy building and trees in background
This photo was taken in Francorchamps, Belgium, on Jan. 4, 1945, when Gainesville resident Frank Towers served as 1st Lieutenant during the Battle of the Bulge.

The Veterans History Project has collected firsthand histories from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. As the curator of the project since 2000, former UF nurse Ann Smith ’67 says she’s been humbled to record the voices of the Greatest Generation.


“Being able to sit with a man or woman who experienced the war firsthand is sobering.”



Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II (May 7 in the West when the Germans surrendered to the Allied troops and Aug. 14 in the Pacific theater), and most of those who served in the war have passed on. To date, SPOHP volunteers have collected and shared 273 World War II histories with the Library of Congress, which reports that UF is one of the nation’s top contributors to this archive.
soldiers hiding in snowy bushes

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment fight in fresh snowfall near Amonines, Belgium. January 4, 1945

SPOHP director and history professor Paul Ortiz says that the 75 students who volunteer at the center each semester are enriched by the experience: “They learn about the war in a visceral way; you see the direct impact of that narrative, and it’s amazing.”

History and English senior Annemarie Nichols ’16 concurs. “Being able to sit with a man or woman who experienced the war firsthand is sobering,” she says. “We’re connecting with the public, and it’s really important.”
Learn more about the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

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Disney partners with UF to save and protect sea turtles.

The world’s seven sea turtle species are classified either as endangered or vulnerable; Walt Disney’s Conservation Fund is partnering with UF to save these creatures. In April, the Disney Conservation Fund announced that UF would be the only university partner in its new initiative, “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time.” Among the many projects supported by the program is sea turtle conservation, through UF’s renowned Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research (ACCSTR).

Lifelong Gator Archie Carr served as a graduate research professor of zoology at UF, after receiving the university’s first PhD in zoology. A prolific author, Carr received the American Museum of Natural History’s John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing for his 1956 book, The Windward Road, which raised awareness about the environmental threat facing sea turtles. The book contained his notes on the then-unknown Kemp’s ridley turtle, a species now listed as critically endangered. Carr’s seminal accomplishments in wildlife conservation inspired the creation of ACCSTR, as well as his memorialization in Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and Costa Rica’s Dr. Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge.

Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ACCSTR uses interdisciplinary, international research to develop conservation projects and guide environmental policy. For example, they helped develop a conservation strategy for the Bahamas, which led to the nation’s 2009 ban on harvesting sea turtles for their meat. Because many of ACCSTR’s research projects involve ocean current mapping, population tracking, and other long-term projects, they benefit from the Disney initiative’s ten-year timeframe.

closeup of hawksbill sea turtle
Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered; the worldwide population has declined by 80 percent over the past 20 years.

Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered; the worldwide population has declined by 80 percent over the past 20 years.

The ACCSTR team will study the impacts of human activities and climate change on five endangered species of sea turtles that swim through Florida waters and nest on its beaches: the green turtle (endangered), the loggerhead (threatened), the leatherback (endangered), the hawksbill (critically endangered), and the Kemp’s ridley (critically endangered). Changes in ocean circulation and seasonal anomalies cause the seas to be cooler at the time many of these species are coming to nest; the turtles then become cold-stunned, which can lead to death.

The Disney Conservation Fund’s annual grants have provided $40 million to protect over 400 species in 115 countries in its 20 years of existence. The new “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time” initiative consists of a two-pronged approach to conservation. The first, “Reverse the Decline,” supports five organizations, including UF, working to prevent population decline of ten groups of animals — sea turtles, elephants, butterflies, corals, tamarin monkeys, great apes, sharks and rays, cranes, rhinos, and tigers. The second prong is to “Increase the Time Kids Spend in Nature,” which encourages young people to appreciate wildlife and support its protection.