UF astronomer discovers the previously unknown origin of some asteroids.

Emeritus professor and astronomical theoretician Stan Dermott has made a remarkable discovery about the origin of asteroids.

Dermott, who studies solar system dynamics, has been peering into our Universe with all its cosmic dust and other stuff for 45 years. During his long career at UF, he has made significant discoveries, including one that shows the Sun is ringed by a circle of cosmic dust in which the Earth is embedded.

Astronomers know that some cosmic dust derives from collisions of asteroids — magnificently massive bodies of space rock too airless to be planets — that orbit our Sun.

Dermott, now age 75, has never stopped investigating asteroids, their orbits, and their origins.

Astronomers have access to the orbits of 600,000 asteroids in the inner asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The smashing and crashing of these asteroids deep in space create the majority of meteorites that land on Earth. Dermott kept asking himself one simple question: “Do big asteroids have the same orbit as little asteroids?” Everyone assumed they did.

“Why hasn’t anyone asked this question before?” wondered Dermott. More importantly, since an meteorite strike can change life on Earth as we know it, why hasn’t anyone answered this question?

Dermott and his team analyzed the orbits of 200,000 asteroids in the inner asteroid belt closest to Earth. “By demonstrating that the type of orbit depends on the size of the asteroid, we have shown for the first time that all these asteroids, not just those belonging to a few specific families as previously thought, originate from the splintering of a few large asteroids,” says Dermott. “This transforms our understanding of the origin of the meteorites that have crashed to Earth.”

According to Dermott, five or six huge asteroids created by the gravitational collapse of a protoplanetary disk in the inner asteroid belt produce 85 percent of these meteorites. The other 15 perent may also trace their origins to ancient minor planets which came into being the same time as the Earth.

Dermott’s discovery is published in the June 2018 issue of Nature Astronomy.
“This gives us a clearer understanding of the nature of the primordial bodies that formed all the rocky planets in the solar system, including our home, Earth,” says Dermott. “We’ve made a very important discovery that will influence the future of the field.”

Read more at UF News.

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Cyber attacks target the most vulnerable.

Somewhere in cyberspace, someone is creeping on your Facebook page, studying your LinkedIn account, scoping out your company’s website, and Googling your name. Using information you trust, she is crafting the perfect email, and it’s headed for your inbox. In one click, a split second, you hand over the keys to your little kingdom: passwords, retirement accounts, credit cards. What if this personal crisis became a national crisis? What if you are a top-level politician or the CEO of a multinational corporation? In that case, the livelihood of millions might be at stake, or democracy threatened.

In their interdisciplinary research on phishing, University of Florida Professor of Psychology Natalie Ebner and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Daniela Oliveira have found that older adults are particularly vulnerable to phishing. Those who are leaders of industry or politics are favorite targets for phishing attacks, particularly what’s known as spear phishing — a form of social engineering that uses deception to get someone to reveal personal or financial information, which can then be used fraudulently.

portrait of sweet womanNatalie Ebner


“Cognition alone does not explain why individuals fall for social engineering attacks.”

Older people are high in crystallized intelligence, which is based on experience and ability to see the big picture. But fluid intelligence — how fast our brains process information and how our memory works — declines with age, and that can make older adults susceptible to spear phishing. Ebner’s and Oliveira’s research groups study how susceptible people are to weapons of influence in social engineering. “Cognition alone does not explain why individuals fall for social engineering attacks,” says Ebner. “In fact, our data suggest that low self-reported positive affect, such as feelings of unhappiness or loneliness, constitutes another risk factor, particularly in the oldest individuals.”

Social media, the outlet for manufactured happiness, can be a social engineer’s best friend. Things that seem innocuous, such as employees taking pictures of their cubicles and coworkers, or posting pictures that contain company badges, or clients tagging a company on Twitter or Facebook, provide fodder for phishing attacks. This blending of personal and professional social media works to the social engineer’s advantage.

“Older adults often occupy positions of power in organizations and politics, and thus online deception of these individuals can result in negative consequences with broad societal impact,” Ebner says. Research shows that sensitivity to deception decreases as people age. As people become more trusting, they become more vulnerable.

Read more at UF News.

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A Mellon grant supports discussing tough topics on campus.

Most people shy away from conversations about race, religion, and politics, but UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (CHPS) is inviting them, among other topics, such as technology, ethics, and social justice. The center recently announced the formation of its inaugural Intersections Research-Into-Teaching Grants, made possible with $400,000 in funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Awards of $30,000 to four Intersections Groups will support UF faculty and staff working together across disciplines to address major social problems, examine current cultural trends and experiences, and explore next steps in science and technology.

“Importantly, the Intersections Groups will translate scholarship into teaching to expose first-year students to the significance of the humanities in multiple thematic contexts,” says Barbara Mennel, interim director for the center.

Together, these interdisciplinary groups unite 24 faculty and staff members and seven affiliate faculty, from 20 disciplines and six colleges across UF.

A large group of faculty members from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research (CGSWSR), African American Studies, Latin American Studies, and African Studies will join forces to discuss the African and Latinx diaspora and develop tools for higher education to improve campus climate and race relations. Anna Peterson of Religion and Jaime Ahlberg of Philosophy will lead a group that will develop a course surrounding contemporary ethical issues, such as First and Second Amendment rights and environmental impact. Whitney Sanford of Religion also is in this group. Jodi Schorb of CGSWSR and Stephanie Birch of African American studies will lead a group that creates dialogue on campus through speaker events and symposia on the topics of mass incarceration and restorative justice. Elizabeth Dale of history and Lauren Pearlman of History and African American Studies also are in this group. Finally, Betty Smocovitis of History and Biology and Eleni Bozia of Classics will lead a group devoted to the use of the “technosphere” to enhance society and the campus experience, as well as illuminate and shape our collective future. Will Hasty and Ying Xiao of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Ken Sassaman of Archaeology, also are in this group.

Says Mennel, “These Intersections Groups demonstrate the urgency for scholars to mobilize interdisciplinary collaboration with the humanities in order to respond to grand challenges.”

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Lawyer, Gator, Policymaker

Ask any Floridian who survived the 2004 hurricane season, and you will get an earful about the epic quartet of storms that ravaged the state. Mark Kaplan ’88 rapid-fires, without a breath: “Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne — but who’s counting?” Kaplan, who had previously worked for several years as a lawyer in different government-facing roles and leading the state’s affordable housing agency, “returned to government to help lead the permanent housing response after the four hurricanes hit Florida and damaged 700,000 homes.” The Jeb Bush administration was focused on finding permanent, affordable housing for the 16,000 families living in FEMA trailers and the many others impacted by the storms.

Kaplan served as chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, then chief of staff for Governor Bush. Kaplan stayed on until 2007. “The volume and velocity of issues could feel overwhelming at times, but you have the ability to change people’s lives for the better based on programs you are driving, policy decisions you are helping to make — that was incredibly gratifying.”

Mark Kaplan returned to work at his alma mater in June.


“I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

Kaplan’s career has taken him from Gainesville to Atlanta to Tallahassee to Minneapolis to Tampa, and back to Gainesville again. His roles are many, among them, clerk to a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a lawyer in a statewide law firm, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and senior vice president for public affairs at the Mosaic Company.

In June, Kaplan became the university’s new vice president for government and community relations, and he is ready for the job. “There’s a real focus on creating excellence in everything we do across the university, and that’s pretty exciting,” he says. “I want to share that excitement and engage partners in Tallahassee, Washington, and here in Gainesville to help us become a Top 5 public university.”

Kaplan says he still uses tools he learned as an undergraduate in political science professor Michael Martinez’ and Father Michael Gannon’s history classes and wants to bring the understanding of political behavior and storytelling to his new position. “I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

The Kaplans are a Gator family — both his wife, Sherry ’89, and his daughter, Mary Summers ’20, are Gators. In fact, Summers lived in the same dorm Kaplan did and also has a major in political science (and Spanish).
“What really drew me back” he says, “is doing something that really matters — to me, my family, my state. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here right now, and I want to be a part of that.”

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Speaking Out

Aaron Klein ’18 is very persuasive — in fact, he’s the top persuasive student in Florida, and the14th most persuasive student in the U.S. Klein is a member of the UF Speech and Debate Team, and this year, he placed at multiple competitions in the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) held in Colorado Springs, Colo. In the extemporaneous speaking finals, he placed fifth in the nation. For this event, participants are given three topics and choose one. They have 30 minutes to prepare a speech.

Klein got his start in persuasive speaking as a freshman and got hooked. “Being the loud and opinionated person that I am, having the opportunity to write my own speeches and travel across the country to perform them was too good to pass up,” he says. Now, he’s team captain and leads fellow persuasive speakers to their own national honors. This year, at the AFA-NIET, the team finished 19th in the nation, and at the National Speech Championship, the team finished 7th in the nation.

photo of man with fierce red beard in graduation regaliaAaron Klein ’18 is loud and proud and always up for a good debate!


“The Speech and Debate community is extremely robust and innovative. It provides everyone who is lucky enough to find it with opportunities to learn how to use their voice, and most importantly, to use it as loudly as they want to.”

In this nationwide community, Klein finds inspiration for his education and career. “The Speech and Debate community is extremely robust and innovative,” he says. “It provides everyone who is lucky enough to find it with opportunities to learn how to use their voice, and most importantly, to use it as loudly as they want to.” Klein’s skills have earned him the significant honor of being invited to speak at the Interstate Oratorical Association, the oldest public speaking competition in the country. “William Jennings Bryan competed there,” boasts his coach, Emily Butler of the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication.

Klein notes that a liberal arts and sciences education didn’t hurt his chances. “Every job or internship I’ve applied to or held, in several different fields, have required the ability to think and write clearly about complex subjects,” he says.
As a double major in political science and philosophy, Klein has found his stride in Liberal Arts and Sciences, with its palette of critical thinking opportunities. “No matter what career I end up pursuing,” he says, “these skills will come in handy.”

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Classical Archaeologist

“People think of archaeology as going out and digging, but that’s a small part of it,” says classics professor and chair Mary Ann Eaverly. “Once things are dug up, someone has to figure them out.”

Eaverly, who also has background in art history, has spent a lifetime figuring out the intentions of early Greek, Egyptian, and Roman sculptures, friezes, frescoes, and other artworks. “I do my digging in museums and libraries,” she says.

two students excitedly engage with Mary Ann Eaverly, who is holding an Egyptian statue
Professor Mary Ann Eaverly says that ancient sculptures reveal social and cultural roles of men and women.


“When the Philadelphia Eagleswon the Superbowl, the parade they had reminded me so much of the Roman triumph.”

Her main focus is early Greek free-standing statues from the sixth BCE. She is comparing them with the frieze of the Parthenon. She sees similarities in the features of both and proposes that there is a continuity between the sixth- and fifth-century art, whereas other scholars see clear distinctions among the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods of Greek art. “I’m trying to make a connection between things that are standing still and things that are moving,” she says. “I want to study them in more of an art-historical way — how the form of the statues relates to function. I’m more interested in the why of it.”
For her latest book, Tan Men/Pale Women, Eaverly examined another aspect of statues: color. “In America, anything that has to do with color is about race, but in the Greek and Egyptian world, it has to do with the separation of the spheres of activity of men and women. You want to visually mark that they are different,” she says. “Men are dark and women are light. Men have outdoor lives, and women lead indoor household centered lives.”

Growing up, Eaverly was immersed in the classics. Her great-grandfather was a classics professor at a Historically Black College that no longer exists. He had a great influence on her father who passed his love of Latin, Greek, and the study of ancient cultures on to her. “We always had books about Tutankhamun in our house,” she says.

The modern world intrigues her as much as the ancient world. She co-teaches a class called the Impact of Materials in Society, a collaborative project with the College of Engineering. “The fabulous thing about UF is that you have opportunities like this,” she says, “to connect STEM and the humanities, to link a material to cultural significance.” She teaches the ways Romans used concrete.

“I also love pro football,” she says. “I was so excited when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Superbowl. “The parade they had reminded me so much of the Roman triumph.”

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For the first time, researchers have studied the effects of water stress on forests over a 20-year period. A team of biologists from the University of Florida has conducted systemic forest inventories of trees in the eastern United States from the 1980s to the 2000s. They looked specifically at forest biomass, tree species composition, and climate variability. The researchers found that decades of changes in water deficit have had a direct effect on forest biomass, causing an influx of trees that are more tolerant to drought but slower-growing. This shift results in significant changes in forest species composition with their accompanying ecological effects and, moreover, affects the capacity of the forest biomass (the mass of living trees) for carbon sequestration. Healthy forests play a key role in global ecosystems as they contain much of the terrestrial biodiversity on the planet and act as a net sink for capturing atmospheric carbon.


a photo of a lush green forest with vibrant colors
a photo of a drier forest with lighter colors

The contrast in the photos is between wetter and dry soil in the same climate zone.

Heat-induced water stress, an effect of hydrological drought, is caused by rising temperatures that, in turn, cause precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in colder regions, as well as increased evaporation and transpiration. The researchers measured moisture levels in the soil through the Palmer drought severity index to examine average water availability and loss over each season of the study period. “Although climate change has been less dramatic in the eastern U.S. compared to some other regions, such as Alaska and the southwestern U.S., we were interested to see if there were signals in forest inventory data collected by the U.S. Forest Service that might indicate climate-induced changes in eastern U.S. forests over the last few decades,” says Jeremy Lichstein, senior author and UF assistant professor of biology.

“We compared forests in the 1980s of a given age to forests of the same age in the 2000s,” says Lichstein. “In areas where the climate got wetter, our analysis showed increases in biomass over the two decades, whereas in the areas that got drier, there were decreases in biomass. When we look at the eastern U.S. as a whole, there was an overall trend towards a drier climate from the 1980s to the 2000s, and therefore the overall effect of climate over the two decades was to reduce forest biomass.”

Overall, the study shows that forest biomass and tree species composition and their combined impact on carbon storage are affected by climatic variability on a sensitive and short timeline — just a few decades. “It is premature to say whether or not the amplification effect that we documented is a widespread phenomenon,” says Lichstein. “We hope that our findings will stimulate further research into relationships between species composition, ecosystem function, and climate variability.”

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UF professor receives Guggenheim Fellowship for work in Africa.

Professor of History Nancy Rose Hunt crosses disciplinary boundaries in her work, which includes medical and cultural histories of the African continent. A visual anthropologist, Hunt fuses her creative sense with her professional background as an archivist. “It is always vital to speak to Africans in accomplishing vivid histories and ethnographies of Africa,” says Hunt. “Observation is important too. But my project privileges vernacular — African-made ­— image-based archives and African dialogues.”

Hunt played an instrumental role in preserving and securing an archive of the work of Congolese street artist Papa Mfumu’eto, whose comics and illustrations were immensely popular in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The archive, comprising hundreds of images reflecting African myth, culture, and politics, is now being catalogued at UF’s Smathers Libraries — the only collection of its kind in the world.

Hunt’s contributions to African history caught the attention of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation selection committee. In April, the foundation named Hunt a 2018 Guggenheim fellow to continue her image-based work in Kinshasa, taking the Papa Mfumu’eto archive and an archive of drawings produced by Kinshasa children in 1968 back to the Congo for reflexive dialogue on the collections. “The great thing about a Guggenheim is the utter freedom to do what you want with a generous sum of monies, whether in creative research or in making art,” says Hunt.

Recipients were selected from a group of almost 3,000 applicants in the Guggenheim Foundation’s 94th competition. The Guggenheim Fellowship honors exceptional contributions to and creativity in one’s chosen field. Only one other professor from UF, Professor Charlie Hailey from the School of Architecture, received a Guggenheim this year.

Hunt’s previous accolades include the Herskovits Book Prize for her first book, A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Work, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (1999) and numerous fellowships for archival and ethnographic research in Africa and Europe. For example, her book A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo, for which she received the Martin A. Klein Prize in 2016, integrates politics, history, and medical investigations. A Nervous State focuses on the effects of colonial rule of Congo on social, reproductive, and mental health and discusses at length women’s healing and dance therapies that formed in response.

“My first reaction [to receiving the Guggenheim] was to feel I live a blessed life filled with gratitude.”


A Nervous State focuses on the effects of colonial rule of the Congo on social, reproductive, and mental health and introduces into the literature the healing cults that were formed in response.

Hunt also discusses the Belgian Congo’s postwar push for development and the injustices layered in its infrastructure, examining, for example, an infertility clinic set down near a penal colony and atrocious early imperial violence. She explores the rise of dreams, songs, and expressive dance among Congolese healing from wounds left in the wake of King Leopold’s rule, challenging the typical catastrophe narrative of the Belgian Congo in favor of an ethnography of recovery from harm.

“My method is to create dialogues with different categories of Kinshasa persons today,” says Hunt. “How do they interpret and contextualize this counterpart in visual imaging? Historians have worked with oral history for generations now. But asking one’s research subjects to suggest a historical trajectory, and to comment on the significance of visual messages in a context where mental heath and madness may enter into conversations, this is new.”

For more on Hunt’s acquisition of the Mfumu’eto comic collection, see the Spring 2018 issue of Ytori magazine.

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