In Any Weather

Stephanie Abrams ’99 hasn’t taken a sick day in nearly 14 years. If she’s feeling under-the-weather, she has to put on her TV face because, for many, she is the face of the weather. Co-host of The Weather Channel’s America’s Morning Headquarters, Abrams grew up in West Palm Beach. As a child, she was both horrified and fascinated to witness how much devastation Hurricane Andrew wreaked during its 1992 onslaught of southern Florida.

Abrams, now a meteorologist, is a self-identified “science geek.” She says, “I went to space camp as a kid, and I had this great dad who was so into math and science. He had a telescope, and we watched Halley’s Comet. He took us to Yellowstone, and I was in heaven.”

“I stumbled on meteorology and fell in love. It used math and science to explain why the sky is blue and how wind and water could cause so much damage in a hurricane.”

When she began college at the University of Florida, she registered for as many science courses as she could cram into her schedule. “I took everything from geology to oceanography,” she says. “Then I stumbled on a meteorology class and fell in love. It used math and science to explain why the sky is blue and also explained how wind and water could cause so much damage in a hurricane.” As a sophomore, she knew this was the field for her and remembers calling the local meteorologist to quiz her on how to make a career out of weather. After getting her degree in geography with a minor in mathematics at UF, Abrams received a degree in meteorology from Florida State University.

Abrams is a bit like the weather herself, constantly in motion and ever-changing. She doesn’t like to sit still. During her undergraduate days, she was the president of Delta Phi Epsilon and was involved with ACCENT Speakers Bureau, homecoming, and fundraising. She commutes on a weekly basis from New York City to Atlanta, and she always makes time to give back to UF.
In 2008, Abrams delivered the commencement address for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She talked about the butterfly effect, a theory that claims small changes can have dramatic consequences, say, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can affect a tornado in Texas. Weather. Imagine that.

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Zoland Geography Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Breaking the Color Barrier

Gabriella Larios ’17 enjoys putting the pieces together — literally. This aspiring lawyer discovered jigsaw puzzles for stress relief while studying for the LSAT and now regularly assembles 500-piece puzzles when she’s not leading student government or leadership training. A women’s studies and political science double major from an all-girls Catholic school in Miami, Gabriella can’t be confined to typical boxes and is proud to challenge the status quo, putting feminist theory into practice to change sociopolitical systems.

“If we don’t like something, we can do something about it.”

Gabriella helped elect the first Latina student body president of UF, serving as Chief of Staff on the first minority ticket in a formerly white- and Greek-led student government. It was not an accident; when studying under Professor Anita Anantharam, Gabriella became acquainted with transnational feminism, which emphasizes the perspectives of women of color and encourages them to seek leadership positions. In her first year, she had an internship with Women’s Fund Miami-Dade, helping coordinate grants to develop gender-specific organizations.

Although she taught herself about feminism in her teenage years, Gabriella credits her rise in academic feminism to one of her first courses, a humanities perspective on gender and sexuality taught by Professor Carolyn Kelley. “That’s where I first learned critical thinking, close readings, and how much sexism and all these norms of sexuality are perpetuated in the media,” she says.

Up next for Gabriella is law school, where she’ll prepare to go into public interest law to address the needs of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and other underrepresented groups. A summer 2016 internship with the DC-based Victory Fund, which aims to get LGBTQ people into office, affirmed her career choice. “We need more social justice-oriented lawyers in the field,” she says. So, which schools might benefit from someone with multiple internships and leadership positions under her belt? Gabriella hopes for Georgetown, Columbia, or NYU. Wherever she lands, she won’t forget about UF. “We must be mindful of the people who come after us,” she says of her groundbreaking role in UF student government. “If we don’t like something, we can do something about it.”

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Center For Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Delta Blues

“Burn and burial,” offers Thomas S. Bianchi, the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences, as a central theme of his research. He’s referring to carbon cycling, especially the release of carbon into the atmosphere or its sequestration in flora in “blue carbon” areas, such as wetlands and rivers. Bianchi, sitting in front of a whiteboard with an impressive list of pending publications, talks about his slate of projects, which, like their subject matter, flow into diverse outlets. He’s working on multiple fronts to study “burn and burial” in the face of pollution, dams, and sea level rise.

“Deltas are going to be the first to be inundated by sea level rise.”

“My original focus was not in climate change,” Bianchi says. “Sometimes I wish I had more projects that didn’t connect to it in some way.” It’s a distressingly politicized topic of research (and funding, or lack thereof), although Bianchi is pleased that it’s been “an integrative force for multiple disciplines.” As a biogeochemist, he’s certainly representative of the academic portmanteaus. His passion, however evolved, is palpable as he discusses threats to the cradle of civilization: the fertile delta. “Deltas are going to be the first to be inundated by sea level rise,” says Bianchi. “Some areas are sinking due to natural subsidence and from extraction of oil and natural gas. The Mississippi Delta is experiencing this as sea levels rise while oil and gas reserves are drained.” The loss of deltas is a key topic of Bianchi’s latest book, Deltas and Humans. It’s his first publication for a lay audience and his personal contribution toward expanding the audience for climate science.

Thomas Bianchi stands on a fallen tree by Lake Alice
Lyon Duong/UF Photography

Thomas Bianchi is the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowed Chair of Geological Sciences.

Reaching that audience is crucial to bridging the gap between the general public and scientific community, especially on a hot-button topic. Scientists can easily lose debates to those who use “grandstanding and trickery to overwhelm their opponent,” he says. He encourages his peers to train themselves to better express, to the public and the press alike, the dire problem of climate change. There’s plenty of brainpower among the many disciplines already united under the “climate change umbrella,” as he calls it. “Scientists inherited this problem from the Industrial Revolution. We’ve known it longer than the public has,” asserts Bianchi. “Now, scientists must do a better job of getting the word out.”

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Geology Department Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Astronomers find the first binary–binary.

Everything we know about the formation of solar systems might be wrong, say Professor of Astronomy Jian Ge and postdoc Bo Ma. They’ve discovered the first “binary–binary,” or two massive companions around one star in a close binary system — one so-called giant planet (12 times the mass of Jupiter) and one brown dwarf, or “failed star,” with 57 times the mass of Jupiter.

Astronomers believe that planets in our solar system formed from a collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud, with our largest planet, Jupiter, buffered from smaller planets by the asteroid belt.

The binary system HD 87646’s primary star is 12 percent more massive than our sun, yet is only 22 astronomical units away from another, smaller star. In addition, the giant planet and brown dwarf are orbiting the primary star at about 0.1 and 1.5 astronomical units, respectively. An astronomical unit is the mean distance between the center of the Earth and our sun — in cosmic terms, a relatively short distance. The stability of the system despite such massive bodies in close proximity raises new questions about how protoplanetary disks form.

illustration of celestial bodies

Artist’s rendering of a close binary system.

Astronomers believe that planets in our solar system formed from a collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud, with our largest planet, Jupiter, buffered from smaller planets by the asteroid belt. In HD 87646, the two giant companions have accumulated far more dust and gas than what a typical collapsed disk-like gaseous cloud can provide, so they were likely formed through another mechanism.

The system was found from the 2006 MARVELS survey by the Doppler-based W.M. Keck Exoplanet Tracker, or KeckET, which was developed by Ge’s team at the renowned Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope in New Mexico. KeckET is unusual in that it can simultaneously observe many celestial bodies. “A typical [Doppler] project involves one object, one planet,” explains Ge. This discovery would not have been possible without KeckET, he says. It has taken eight years of corroboration from over 30 astronomers at seven other telescopes around the world and careful data analysis, mostly done by Ma, to confirm what Ge calls a “very bizarre” finding. Their findings appear in the November issue of Astronomical Journal.

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Astronomy Department Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

High school students enjoy a different kind of summer camp.

Water is Florida’s largest resource. UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, in collaboration with UF’s Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, has developed a distinctive weeklong program that teaches high schoolers Florida history and culture through the perspective of water use — or misuse. In its third year, Humanities and the Sunshine State provides an immersive, interdisciplinary experience through activities not only such as canoeing, storytelling, and crafting, but also research methods.

Sophia Acord, associate director of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, and Steve Noll, master lecturer in the Department of History, have worked closely together to develop the program with representatives of various UF departments and academic centers.

“The question becomes how to protect interests … not just [for] environmentalists but business groups too.”

Students learn about the practice of oral history. One of the most profound endeavors is the visit to Rosewood, Fla. “Students were shocked that they had never heard about Rosewood,” says Acord. Noll recalls the tears of students watching the film about the 1923 massacre and visiting the well where children hid during the riots.

The summer program includes a trip to Rosewood, Fla., where students learn about the 1923 massacre of its black citizens. The photo shows an African American woman holding a painting of a small family hiding in the woods around Rosewood.

The summer program includes a trip to Rosewood, Fla., where students learn about the 1923 massacre of its black citizens. From left to right: Sherry DuPree (HSS guest instructor and historian with the Rosewood Heritage Foundation), Carolyn Cohen (local artist, historian, and author living in Levy County), the Rev. W. Hunt (Pastor of the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Chiefland, FL).Robert Landry

The program was initiated by the Florida Humanities Council, the state’s representative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Florida is “ground zero” for things like “hurricanes, sea level rise, groundwater pollution, and destruction of the springs,” says Noll. Considering the primacy of Florida’s tourism industry and the springs and beaches as economic drivers of the state, the question becomes how to protect interests, which belong to “not just tree-hugging environmentalists, but business groups too,” he adds. The program draws a line from the past to the future, highlighting the connections among art, agriculture, and artifacts flowing through Florida’s waters.

Humanities and the Sunshine State is open to all high school rising juniors and seniors.

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Center for Precollegiate Education and Training

Dean’s Fund for Excellence

Study findings could aid in interrupting transmission chains and reducing severe illness

The majority of dengue virus infections appear to happen very close to home and are transmitted from the same family of mosquitoes, suggests new research led by the University of Florida and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The findings, published in the March 24 issue of Science, offer new insights into the spread of dengue, which infects more than 300 million people each year, and other flaviviruses such as West Nile and Zika – think Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood hit hard by Zika last year — and how governments and individuals might put in place more targeted and more effective mosquito control programs.

For their study, the researchers genetically sequenced the viruses of 640 dengue infections that occurred in densely populated Bangkok, Thailand, between 1994 and 2010, then overlaid this information on a map showing where 17,291 people infected with the disease lived. Their results showed that in cases where people lived fewer than 200 meters apart — that is, in the same neighborhood — 60 percent of dengue cases resulted from the same transmission chain, meaning they stemmed from the same mosquito or family of mosquitoes.

In people who were separated by a wider distance of one to five kilometers, just 3 percent of cases came from the same transmission chain, said the study’s senior author, Derek A.T. Cummings, a professor of biology at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and an adjunct professor at the Bloomberg School.

“Our findings suggest that large urban centers provide a source of dengue [genetic] diversity that could possibly be dispersed to other areas of the country and world,” said Cummings.

However, in the areas of Bangkok with the highest population density, the researchers found less diversity than expected.

“This suggests that these areas might be where intense competition is occurring between dengue viruses,” Cummings added.

The researchers estimate that 160 separate chains of transmission co-circulate in Bangkok within a “dengue season,” which in Thailand is usually autumn. Across the city, they found that larger populations of humans support a larger diversity of dengue viruses.

While the related dengue viruses stay close to home in a single dengue season, the viruses eventually mix across the country by the next season. Despite the eventual cross-country mixing, the researchers say that the virus strains stayed mostly within the borders of the country, and they aren’t entirely sure why.

“We often think that pathogens don’t respect borders,” says first author Henrik Salje, PhD, from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. “While clearly there is a lot of human mobility between the countries in the region, it does not appear to be enough to connect their dengue epidemics.” This has important implications for the introduction of dengue vaccines, which are starting to be rolled out, as individual countries will have to rely on their own efforts to control the disease.

Forty percent of the world’s population is at risk of the virus, which is most common in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific islands and has been rapidly increasing in Latin America and the Caribbean. While most of the people who contract dengue survive with few or no symptoms, more than two million annually develop what can be a dangerous hemorrhagic fever, which kills more than 25,000 people each year — mostly children.

“Dengue diversity across spatial and temporal scales: Local structure and the effect of host population size” was written by Henrik Salje, Justin Lessler, Irina Maljkovic Berry, Melanie Melendrez, Timothy Endy, Siripen Kalanayarooj, Atchareeya A-Nuegoonpipat, Sumalee Chanama, Somchai Sangkijporn, Chonticha Klungthong, Butsaya Thaisomboonsuk, Ananda Nisalak, Robert Gibbons, Sopon Iamsirithaworn, Louis Macareo, In-Kyu Yoon, Areerat Sangarsang, Richard Jarman and Derek Cummings. Collaborators were from the Institut Pasteur, Johns Hopkins University, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Upstate Medical University of New York, Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, the National Institute of Health of Thailand, the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, the International Vaccine Institute and the University of Florida.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01 AI102939-01A1 and R01AI114703-01), the National Science Foundation (BCS-1202983) and the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, a Division of the Armed Services Health Surveillance Health Center.

“book cover for The Medeival Risk-Reward Society

The Medieval Risk-Reward Society

Courts, Adventure, and Love in the European Middle Ages

Will Hasty

The Medieval Risk-Reward Society: Courts, Adventure, and Love in the European Middle Ages offers a study of adventure and love in the European Middle Ages focused on the poetry of authors such as Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Gottfried von Strassburg—showing how a society based on sacrifice becomes one of wagers and investments. Will Hasty’s sociological approach to medieval courtly literature, informed by the analytic tools of game theory, reveals the blossoming of a worldview in which outcomes are uncertain, such that the very self (of a character or an authorial persona) is contingent on success or failure in possessing the things it desires—and upon which its social identity and personal happiness depend. Drawing on a diverse selection of contrasting canonical works ranging from the Iliad to the biblical book of Joshua to High Medieval German political texts to the writings of Leibniz and Mark Twain, Hasty enables an appreciation of the distinctive contributions made in antiquity and the Middle Ages to the medieval emergence of a European society based on risks and rewards.

A wonderful, creative diachronic study. This book is an engaging read which will have a wide audience among students of literature, philosophy, and culture.”

—–G. Ronald Murphy, S. J., Georgetown University

The Medieval Risk-Reward Society takes a descriptive approach to the competitions in religion, politics, and poetry that are constitutive of medieval culture. Culture is considered always to be happening, and to be happening on the cultural cutting edge as competitions for rewards involving the element of chance. This study finds adventure and love—the principal concerns of medieval European romance poetry—to be cultural game changers, and thereby endeavors to make a humanist contribution to the development of a cultural game theory.

Will Hasty is Professor of German and Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

The Ohio State University Press
Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture

book cover for Scandalous Economics

Scandalous Economics

edited by Aida Hozić and Jacqui Tru
A new book, Scandalous Economics: Gender and the Politics of Financial Crises, edited by Aida A. Hozić and Jacqui True, was released in March 2016.

Scandalous Economics builds upon the Occupy movement and other critical analysis of the Global Financial Crisis to comprehensively examine gendered material, ideational and representational dimensions that have served to make the crisis and its effects, ‘the new normal’ in Europe and America as well as Latin America and Asia.

The book seeks to:

  • Survey the landscape of the ongoing globalised financial crisis and its consequences from the perspective of gender and feminist theory
  • Break new ground by arguing that normalisation of the current economic order in the face of its obvious breakdown(s) has been facilitated precisely by co-opting feminist and queer perspectives into the language of policy responses to the crisis
  • Demonstrate how feminist political economy analysis contributes important insights to the critical enterprise in the fields of International Political Economy (IPE) and International Relations
  • Analyse scandals, media narratives and popular culture as THE gendered texts of the economic crisis

Progress in Political Economy is running a series of blogposts on Scandalous Economics: Progress in Political Economy
The book has received some excellent endorsements through the Oxford University Press.

Scandalous Economics is now available through Amazon.

book cover for Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke and the Conservative Logic of Empire

Daniel O’Neill (Author)

Edmund Burke, long considered modern conservatism’s founding father, is also widely believed to be an opponent of empire. However, Daniel O’Neill turns that latter belief on its head. This fresh and innovative book shows that Burke was a passionate supporter and staunch defender of the British Empire in the eighteenth century, whether in the New World, India, or Ireland.

Moreover—and against a growing body of contemporary scholarship that rejects the very notion that Burke was an exemplar of conservatism—O’Neill demonstrates that Burke’s defense of empire was in fact ideologically consistent with his conservative opposition to the French Revolution. Burke’s logic of empire relied on two opposing but complementary theoretical strategies: Ornamentalism, which stressed cultural similarities between “civilized” societies, as he understood them, and Orientalism, which stressed the putative cultural differences distinguishing “savage” societies from their “civilized” counterparts. This incisive book also shows that Burke’s argument had lasting implications, as his development of these two justifications for empire prefigured later intellectual defenses of British imperialism.

Available for purchase through the University of California Press