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.


UF researcher looks at ancient temperatures to resolve a scientific debate.

University of Florida geochemist Andrea Dutton and colleagues at the University of Michigan have utilized a new technique of analysis to reconstruct Antarctic ocean temperatures that supports the idea that the combined impacts of volcanic eruptions and an asteroid impact brought about one of Earth’s biggest mass extinctions 66 million years ago.

photo of mushroom cloud from volcanic eruption

April 21, 1990 eruption cloud from Mt. Redoubt Volcano as viewed to the west from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. A volcanic eruption produces lava, ash clouds, and landslides that devastate surrounding flora and fauna. The environmental effects of a large eruption in India may have exacerbated the damage caused by the asteroid that struck the Yucatan peninsula.

Their research published in the journal Nature Communications used a recently developed technique called the carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometer to analyze the chemical composition of fossil shells from the Antarctic ocean. This analysis shows that ocean temperatures rose approximately 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and links these findings to two previously documented warming events that occurred near the end of the Cretaceous Period: one related to volcanic eruptions in India, and the other, tied to the impact of an asteroid or comet on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

illustration of dinosaurs looking at meteor

The Chicxulub asteroid, estimated to be 10 km (6.2 mi) or larger, struck the Yucatán peninsula 66 million years ago, causing massive land distortion, tsunamis, and ash clouds.

To create their new temperature record, which spans 3.5 million years at the end of the Cretaceous and the start of the Paleogene Period, the researchers analyzed the isotopic composition of 29 remarkably well-preserved shells of clam-like bivalves collected on Antarctica’s Seymour Island.

The data show two significant temperature spikes. The first corresponds to the eruption of the Deccan Traps flood basalts in India. The other lines up exactly with the asteroid impact, which, in turn, may have sparked a renewed phase of volcanism in India. Intriguingly, both events are associated with extinction events of nearly equal magnitude on Seymour Island, Antarctica.

“The Deccan Traps weakened the ecosystems before the asteroid slammed into the Earth — it’s consistent with an idea called the press-pulse hypothesis: a ‘one-two punch’ that proved devastating for life on Earth.”

“We have evidence on this site on Seymour Island in Antarctica that climate change is linked to both of these extinction events,” says Dutton. “If you look at what types of species that went extinct during the first extinction pulse, they’re different than the types that went extinct during the second pulse. That indicates that it may have been a different kill mechanism for those two different extinction pulses. The Deccan Traps weakened the ecosystems before the asteroid slammed into the Earth — it’s consistent with an idea called the press-pulse hypothesis: a ‘one-two punch’ that proved devastating for life on Earth.”


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Center Makes LGBTQ+ Focus Explicit.

UF’s Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research recently affirmed its multifaceted approach to the study of LGBTQ+ issues by announcing a new name: The Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research. President Fuchs’ statement in support of the victims of the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack and the LGBTQ+ community was an administrative milestone after years of work by the Center and its partners such as LGBT Affairs and the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, whose collaborative efforts have been instrumental in protecting the rights of UF’s LGBTQ+ population. “It’s been integral to what we’ve been doing all along,” says Center director, Bonnie Moradi. “This name change cements the Center’s distinctive national profile of having the research, teaching, and leadership/outreach missions of a research center and an academic department with an intersectional focus on how gender, race, sexualities and other social systems combine to shape organizations, cultures, and people’s lives.”

“This name change cements the Center’s distinctive national profile.”

The Center began, as did many similar programs in the 1970s, as a Women’s Studies program. To challenge administrative bias against the LGBTQ+ community during the 1980s, feminist professors worked to expand the scope of Women’s Studies, while supporting the Committee on Sexism and Homophobia, the predecessor to the current LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. As it has done for 40 years, the Center represents the core of LGBTQ+ research and teaching at UF in the face of a turbulent local history.

State of Florida shown with gay pride colors. Text reads: Queer history. Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
President Fuchs’ order to light Century Tower in rainbow colors represented institutional level support for a community that has experienced a complex journey of milestones and setbacks in the contemporary LGBTQ+ rights movement. Says Professor Wolfgang Sigmund of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, “It was wonderful to see UF and President Fuchs send such a strong signal of equality and unity when we faced the atrocity from the Pulse Nightclub shooting.” The field of gender-related studies offers the scholarly foundation for community outreach efforts that empower and connect the LGBTQ community, such as the lighting of the tower.

As a shining example, The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program recently launched LGBTQ Florida, which will curate a multimedia living history. Project coordinators, Holland Hall ’16 and Chelsea Carnes ’15, say, “Oral history is an especially practical method for collecting historical information from communities that have been silenced by prejudice.”

To contribute stories for LGBTQ Florida, please contact Holland Hall or Chelsea Carnes.

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Career Diplomat

As a member of the United States Foreign Service for 25 years, Dennis Hays ’76 served in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. During three of these years, he worked as a presidential advance agent, organizing presidential and vice presidential trips to everywhere from China to Zimbabwe to Panama. In 1996, he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to Suriname on the northeastern coast of South America. Hays says its most rewarding aspect was that “everybody in the country wanted to talk to me, they wanted to tell me their story, they wanted to show me their farm, their factory, their fishing boat, their ministry. They had something, a message that they felt was important to convey to me because I represented the United States of America.”

Dennis Hays leans on desk to address audienceDennis Hays ’76 says his liberal arts education has served him well. Amanda Jansen

“I run across Gators all over the world, even in the desert of Arabia.”

After his ambassadorship ended in 2000, Hays began working as a diplomat and policy advisor for various NGOs and law firms and continued to travel the world, where he found the Gator Nation is without borders. “I run across Gators all over the world, even in the desert of Arabia,” he says. “I was out there, in a dusty little town, and there was someone with a Gator shirt walking down the street.” He recently returned to UF to talk to political science students about his Foreign Service career and also is serving on the newly formed Dean’s Leadership Council.

Hays has used his broad education in American Studies to expand his career to science and technology. He served as vice president of Lightbridge (then Thorium Power Ltd.), a nuclear technology company, for which he was head of Governmental Affairs and Public Relations. He then worked with Advanced Thermodynamics, a startup seeking to develop technology to capture heat from spent nuclear fuel rods to generate electricity while preventing accidental release of radiation.

He serves as director for the Emergence Group, consulting with government officials on law enforcement for developing nations in Africa and the Middle East. Of his multifaceted career, Hays says, “What a liberal arts education does is teach you how to absorb information, how to distill that information into what you need that’s important, and it teaches you how to communicate that information. How can you ask for more than that?”


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How one boy’s love of physics started with a cat.

Even as a small child, Hector Lacera ’18 wanted to understand the nature of things. He distinctly remembers the first time he felt the inexorable tug of physics. He was seven years old and living in Bogotá, Colombia. One afternoon, while petting the family cat, he felt a shock. “I was infatuated with discovering the reason for the shock,” says Lacera. “I learned about electricity and wanted to know everything I could about the natural world.” That interest led to a fascination with physics, and even as a young boy, Lacera daydreamed about one day doing work at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

Lacera’s childhood dream is coming true. He is one of only six undergraduate students chosen nationwide to study and conduct research at CERN. He says that when he received the news about the program sponsored by the University of Michigan, “I was over the clouds. This program is really prestigious.”

“It is amazing to have an opportunity to do research with scientists and engineers from around the world.”

Lacera came to the United States when he was 17 and is a first-generation college student. He applied to the University of Florida specifically because of the reputation of its Microkelvin Laboratory, which is the largest ultra-low temperature lab in the world and the only one of its kind in the United States. Lacera has been working on high-energy physics. He plots histograms, analyzes data, and studies the origin of particles. He also is a member of the condensed matter lab where he does computer programming and works on computer layouts that enable university researchers to print specific designs.

Hector Lacera at his UF Physics Lab

Hector Lacera at his UF Physics Lab Robert Landry

While at UF, Lacera has spent his time working as a vote-everywhere ambassador, by calling on “people to engage socially and civically, to go out and vote.” He is also an Honors Program Ambassador. He says that UF has given him the opportunities to grow both socially and scientifically. At CERN, he will take full advantage of his research fellowship.

He says, “It is amazing to have an opportunity to do research with scientists and engineers from around the world. My experiences at UF made this possible by furthering my knowledge of nature, while serving my home, school, and community by being civically engaged.”


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Empowering Students

In the era of President Obama, Black Lives Matter, and Shondaland, the field of African American Studies is timely and relevant. UF is one of only 232 academic institutions in the U.S. to offer a major in African American Studies, and its program has about 450 undergraduates. Sharon Austin, associate professor of political science, teaches in the program, and says she is very impressed by UF students: “Our students are the most ambitious I’ve taught in my 22 years as a professor.”

A liberal arts education is important because it encourages students to “think about topics they might not otherwise think about” — especially issues facing minorities.

Her favorite class to teach is African American Politics. “A lot of people are still in shock that we elected a black president,” says Austin. In her class, she tells students about Shirley Chisolm, who in 1972 was not only the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential candidate, but also the first black candidate for either major party. “If Hillary Clinton wins in November and becomes the first female president of the U.S., it will be a significant accomplishment for her and for our nation.”

A liberal arts education is important, asserts Austin, because it encourages students to “think about topics they might not otherwise think about” — especially issues facing minorities. Austin aims to empower her students to change the world. “I enjoy receiving emails from them years after they’ve graduated in which they tell me about the impact my classes have had on their development as scholars and as people,” she says.

Austin is working on her third book, The Caribbeanization of Black Politics, which examines the effects of diaspora in four U.S. cities. She says that her discussions with her students motivate her research. “They really are proud of this institution,” observes Austin. “They’re not just here to get an education. They really like being part of the Gator Nation. I’ve never seen that type of pride in any other place where I’ve worked.”


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UF professor discovers the world’s smallest magnet.

If you thought electronics couldn’t get any smaller or more powerful, consider this: Distinguished Professor of Chemistry George Christou has discovered the world’s smallest magnet. He recently received acclaim for his discovery of single-molecule magnets and other magnetic metal-oxo compounds — microscopic, long-lasting substances with applications to medical, computing, and industrial technologies. In May, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Chemistry awarded Christou the 2016 Nyholm Prize for Inorganic Chemistry for his pioneering work.

Magnetic nanotechnology is crucial to equipment such as MRIs and space exploration devices.

Unlike the refrigerator magnets you know, the magnets Christou studies are created at a molecular level. They can be as small as two nanometers, or about the width of a strand of human DNA. These molecular nano-magnets may be grown in crystals to offer 3-D storage of information. The discovery of single-molecule magnets may contribute to tremendous advancements in computing by exponentially increasing the amount of data that could be stored in a minuscule space. It may seem like science fiction, but Christou says, “It’s only a moment away from science fact.”

Magnetic nanotechnology is crucial to equipment such as MRIs and space exploration devices. In addition, single-molecule magnets have fascinating quantum properties and may be used in quantum computing, which scientists think may improve codebreaking, physics calculations, and artificial intelligence. Since the discovery, the community of scientists working on single-molecule magnets has continued to grow, and Christou organizes an international workshop every two years on the topic.

George Christou peers over row of vials

George Christou was one of only a handful of chemists on the Highly Cited Researchers list for 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the American Chemical Society granted him the Southern Chemist Award. Bernard Brzezinski/UF Photography

Christou arranges a broad-topic international conference focused on intriguing research in the hard sciences, consults at the University of Cyprus, and organizes an annual symposium in Gainesville for student researchers at 14 Florida universities and colleges. He has won UF’s Teacher-Scholar of the Year, been named an American Chemical Society fellow, and been selected to the Thompson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list, which contains just over 200 chemists from around the world. Given his trans-Atlantic impact, knack for charismatic teaching, and his tremendous experience in the technology of metal chemistry, one might call him the Iron Man of UF.


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Health disparities minor reaches out to underrepresented populations.

Cathaerina Appadoo ’17 wants a revolution in healthcare. One of many pre-med students in the Health Disparities in Society minor at UF, she’s training to be a leader in “culturally competent” healthcare that’s sensitive to the needs of minority patients. She’s witnessed health providers who are ill-equipped to treat patients of a different ethnic group, contributing to lower health and higher hospital readmission rates.

Students of any major with an interest in resolving public health issues or improving healthcare may benefit from a Health Disparities in Society minor. They register for 15 credits of an intriguing interdisciplinary array of courses that boost students’ awareness of vulnerable populations, explore social inequality and teach them “patient-centered” communication and research techniques.

Approved in 2012, Health Disparities in Society is housed in the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research and is the only undergraduate academic program in health disparities nationwide. Professor Laura Guyer, who helped establish the minor and who teaches the two health disparities courses, says that student interest started high and has continued to grow. Health Disparities is one of the top two growing minors at UF.

Laura and Cathaerina stand in front of brick wallThe Health Disparities in Society minor appeals to students such as Cathaerina Appadoo ’17 (left) who want to become healthcare providers. Professor Laura Guyer (right) was instrumental in creating the minor. Rachel Wayne

“I know that the [Health Disparities] minor has definitely changed me for the better. I think that it would do the same with others.” – Cathaerina Appadoo

Guyer says the program appeals to pre-medical, health, and public health majors, especially those from underprivileged or stigmatized populations. Students and the community benefit from the grounded, socially conscious approach of the program. To fulfill the minor’s requirements, students complete a practicum with one of 25 community agencies in Guyer’s network.
As a woman of Haitian descent, Appadoo was motivated to address disparity in care for HIV-vulnerable people of color. She completed her practicum at the District 3/13 Minority AIDS Program at the Alachua County Health Department and intends to focus on HIV treatment in her career.

Guyer is proud of her graduates, who she says are successfully matriculating to professional and graduate schools. Says Appadoo, “I know that the minor has definitely changed me for the better. I think that it would do the same with others.”


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