Alumni CLASnotes Spring 2009
In This Issue:

Grants in Brief

Department of Energy Awards $1.275 Million Grant to Quantum Theory Project

Jupiter
Photo: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

University of Florida researchers in physics and the Quantum Theory Project have received a new $1.275 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to predict the properties of "warm dense matter" by theory, modeling, and computer simulation.

Over the next three years, the researchers will use the award to develop new concepts and practical computational methods to address the exceptional complexities of warm dense matter, a state of matter between solid and plasma that normally occurs in temperatures between 90,000 to 270,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Warm dense matter appears in the cores of gas giant planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, and the newly discovered extrasolar planets. It also appears in the initial stages of controlled nuclear fusion. Better understanding of its processes could lead to fusion as a clean energy source.

The study of warm dense matter poses a challenge because of its inherent lack of equilibrium. Physicists call it a "messy system" because the matter is composed of a mixture of atoms, ions, and free electrons, in addition to liquid-like and crystal-like regions. This ever-changing landscape makes current methods of observation used for solids and plasmas difficult to adapt.

The project is one of only four grants given to more than 300 applicants for the Theory, Modeling, and Simulation Initiative, offered by the Department of Energy's Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering.

The University of Florida research team is made up of Sam Trickey, Jim Dufty, Frank Harris, and Keith Runge. They will be working on orbital-free Density Functional Theory, a scheme that makes the complicated quantum mechanics of warm dense matter resemble the equations of ordinary liquids. The group will develop new approximations, program them, and test them on simple examples of warm dense matter. Their computer codes will be made available as open-source software to the scientific community.

Chemistry Joins Forces with UF's Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI)

The Chemistry department has joined a new campus-wide research initiative that has the potential to make major research advancements in a variety of fields, including human health, and to stimulate development of new technologies across UF.

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Metabolomics Core combines the resources of analytical facilities across campus with the biostatics core in the health center. The chemistry department has established a collaborative research agreement with the Core to utilize the High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Core. The Core will provide biomarker identification and quantification for biomedical and biochemical research throughout UF. David Powell, Director of Spectroscopic Services in the Department of Chemistry, is the Director of the CTSI Metabolomics Core.

Metabolomics is a relatively recent field which has developed rapidly over the past decade due to the remarkable sensitivity and rich information content of two analytical chemistry technologies: nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. The latter has the ability to detect and quantify the concentration of nearly 3,000 compounds in a third of a drop of blood. By determining the differences in the concentration of these compounds in plasma or other tissue, patterns can be established that delineate the blood plasma of healthy versus unhealthy people. This approach has the potential to not only alter the diagnosis of disease, but also to point the way to biological mechanisms of disease and impact many other areas of research in translational medicine and beyond.

Examples of on-going metabolomics studies in the Chemistry Mass Spectrometry Core include: a collaboration with the Department of Nursing to find biomarkers for autism in children; a study of the effects of a very high fat diet (called the ketogenic diet) on the blood plasma of healthy adults; and a study of the changes in blood plasma constituents during the first week of life. The latter two projects are in collaboration with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. These studies are supported by a grant to the Chemistry department from the CTSI.

NASA Awards $870,000 to Study Land Use Cover Change

Drought
Photo: Tim Keegan

University of Florida researchers have received a NASA Land Use Land Cover Change Program grant totaling $870,000.

The grant will fund an interdisciplinary project that will analyze relationships among climate variability, climate change, land use, and land cover change. Using remote sensing applications and socio-economic surveys, the project aims to create models that could enhance planning for sustainable resource use and help the people in these areas adapt to climate change.

"We hope the grant allows us to better understand the social-ecological system's response to climate variability and to allow us to develop understanding for future climate scenarios," said principal investigator Jane Southworth, UF professor of geography.

"Ideally, it will allow for better adaptation strategies for local communities under changing environmental conditions," said Southworth.

The grant will support graduate students and allow the project participants to conduct summer fieldwork in Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia.

To better illustrate the human suffering in this area, six Ph.D. students created a video documentary called "Living With Thirst," which looked at the Vende people in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and their troubles related to climate variability. The video was funded by an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship grant, pertaining to adaptive management, water, wetlands, and watersheds.

"We hope this video provides an introduction to the uncertainty and trade-offs faced in a region with high variability in rainfall and how that will affect conservation initiatives balanced with sustainable livelihood decisions towards water allocation and resources," said Andrea Gaughan, one of the Ph.D. students who worked on the video.

Watch the "Living With Thirst" videos:

UF to Teach History On Location to Local Educators

Fort Sumter
Photo: Cat Andrea

Thanks to a new federal grant, Polk County high school teachers will be taught a new perspective on history by Sean Adams, UF professor of history.

Over the next three years, Adams will travel with 108 fifth-grade teachers to historical sites such as Charleston Museum and Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. The visits will allow the teachers to experience first hand some of the places integral to American history. Following these trips, Adams will instruct the teachers on new ways to approach teaching history, using in part their new insights from visiting these sites. Adams expects that these site visits will enable teachers to better engage their students in historical lessons.

Polk County was awarded a $998,640 federal grant over the next three years for 5th-, 8th- and 11th-grade teachers. Out of more than 400 districts applying for the grant, Polk county was one of 60 nationwide, and one of five in Florida, to receive the grant.

CLAS Research

Want to learn more about CLAS research? View the Annual Research Report: www.clas.ufl.edu/research/pdfs/2009-annual-report.pdf

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