Georgia Tech Unveils New AI Makerspace in Collaboration with NVIDIA

Some of the NVIDIA computer hardware in Georgia Tech's new AI Makerspace.

The Georgia Tech AI Makerspace is a supercomputer hub dedicated exclusively to teaching students. The first phase of the endeavor is powered by 20 NVIDIA HGX H100 systems, housing 160 NVIDIA H100 Tensor Core GPUs (graphics processing units), one of the most powerful computational accelerators capable of enabling and supporting advanced AI and machine learning efforts. (Photo: Candler Hobbs)

Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering has established an artificial intelligence supercomputer hub dedicated exclusively to teaching students. The initiative — the AI Makerspace — is launched in collaboration with NVIDIA. College leaders call it a digital sandbox for students to understand and use AI in the classroom

Initially focusing on undergraduate students, the AI Makerspace aims to democratize access to computing resources typically reserved for researchers or technology companies. Students will access the cluster online as part of their coursework, deepening their AI skills through hands-on experience. The Makerspace will also better position students after graduation as they work with AI professionals and help shape the technology’s future applications.

“The launch of the AI Makerspace represents another milestone in Georgia Tech’s legacy of innovation and leadership in education,” said Raheem Beyah, dean of the College and Southern Company Chair. “Thanks to NVIDIA’s advanced technology and expertise, our students at all levels have a path to make significant contributions and lead in the rapidly evolving field of AI.”

Read the full story on the College of Engineering website.

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Jason Maderer, College of Engineering

Faculty Fellows Program Focuses on Energy Equity, Environmental Justice, and Community Engagement

Faculty Fellow Sofia Perez-Guzman (third from right) joins SCoRE staff on a site visit to the ArtsXchange in East Point to explore mutual interests related to community resiliency (April 5, 2024)

Faculty Fellow Sofia Perez-Guzman (third from right) joins SCoRE staff on a site visit to the ArtsXchange in East Point to explore mutual interests related to community resiliency (April 5, 2024)

The Center for Sustainable Communities Research and Education (SCoRE — formerly SLS), in collaboration with the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI), and the Social Equity and Environmental Engineering Lab (SEEEL), launched the Energy Equity, Environmental Justice, and Community Engagement Faculty Fellows Program in November 2023. In this program, Georgia Tech faculty learn how to work with communities, bringing together their academic knowledge and the local expertise of communities that has been developed through lived experience and long-standing social action.

The inaugural fellows include 24 Georgia Tech faculty from five Colleges, as well as a faculty colleague from Georgia Gwinnett College and a partner from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, who are building relationships with each other and with community partners in the areas of energy equity and environmental justice. Since the launch, they have engaged in a wide array of events, including community benefit and development workshops, site visits to community-based organizations across the Atlanta region, and university-community gatherings and symposia.

The program is expected to result in both collective and individual deliverables. Collective deliverables include the development of network mapping tools to facilitate collaborations inside and outside Georgia Tech, a set of principles for conducting community-engaged research, a reflective essay on faculty training for community-engaged research, and ideas for future activities to facilitate university-community and interdisciplinary team formation. Fellows individually determine their deliverables, which run the gamut from exploring partnerships for a specific research project to writing a societal impact statement for a tenure package.

More broadly, the program aims to grow Georgia Tech’s collaborative expertise in community-engaged research by forming a supportive network of faculty interested in community-engaged sustainability research and education.  

Faculty Affiliate: Patritsia Stathatou, Research Scientist, Renewable Bioproducts Institute, Georgia Tech

Sustainable energy sources and environmental justice go hand in hand. Although such technologies aim to minimize environmental impacts of modern societies, without considering issues of environmental justice and energy equity, these solutions can inadvertently perpetuate disparities by disproportionately benefiting certain communities while harming others. Bridging the gap between technological advancements and community benefits is paramount to creating an equitable energy future for all.

This program provides a unique opportunity to explore these interconnections, enhancing my knowledge in integrating community values and concerns into my research on alternative fuels and renewable energy sources. I am particularly excited about the hands-on approach of the program, which emphasizes listening sessions and workshops, allowing fellows to gain direct insights from various stakeholders. I hope that, through active participation in these sessions, I can further my understanding of the challenges faced by local communities and incorporate these insights into actionable solutions in my research.

In my project, I'm in a group crafting a reflective essay about our experiences with Community Engaged Research training. Our goal is to translate the insights gained from this pilot program into a publishable piece. Additionally, I'm acquiring valuable insights into the development of Broader Impact Statements and Community Benefits Plans, crucial parts of proposals for securing federal funding from NSF and DoE, respectively.

Faculty Affiliate: Sofia Perez-Guzman, Assistant Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech

The fellowship program has been a fantastic experience. I never imagined how much I would learn from this program about properly engaging with communities. As researchers, we might think we want to hear the needs that communities face to provide them with solutions. That is different than the way community-driven research should work. I’ve learned that researchers need to gain the communities’ trust, be present and participate in their events, and, more importantly, work at their pace and for their interests rather than push our research agendas for our professional benefit. I know there is still a lot more I must continue learning, but what I’ve learned so far has been an eye-opener that is making me rethink how to approach my research and its social aspect.

My project focuses on the social performance of supply chains, and I am seeking to put more emphasis on the “social” part of my research by making it more community-driven. That is why I applied for the fellowship. I am advancing two current projects as part of the fellowship. One relates to increasing food accessibility to vulnerable populations via community-driven freight transportation solutions. I want to bring food closer to people and do it by co-designing solutions with the communities. The second project relates to forming a team to pursue research on enhancing community resilience to extreme weather events for the mobility of people and goods. The fellowship and a Sustainability Next seed grant from BBISS are helping me move forward with this project.

 

Jung-ho (John) Lewe (left) of the Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at Georgia Tech and Erica Holloman-Hill (right)

Jung-ho (John) Lewe (left) of the Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at Georgia Tech and Erica Holloman-Hill (right), a SCoRE adviser and chief envisioning officer/chief scientific officer of Ayika Solutions, a family-run environmental consulting firm that uplifts community-based climate change strategies, discuss their new partnership at the Georgia Tech Sustainability Showcase (March 2024) in a panel focused on community-engaged research, curated by the Faculty Fellows Program.

Portrait of Patritsia Stathatou, Research Scientist at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute

Portrait of Patritsia Stathatou, Research Scientist at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute

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Priya Devarajan
Research Communications Program Manager || SEI | RBI

Georgia Tech Partners with The Carter Center to Support Guinea Worm Disease Eradication

A dog in Chad is tethered to prevent the spread of Guinea worm disease. The number of human and animal cases of the disease in Chad dropped by 27% from 2021 to 2022. [Courtesy of Carter Center]

A dog in Chad is tethered to prevent the spread of Guinea worm disease. The number of human and animal cases of the disease in Chad dropped by 27% from 2021 to 2022.

Photo Courtesy of the Carter Center

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) researchers have teamed up with The Carter Center to support dracunculiasis eradication efforts, using mathematical modeling and analytics. Dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease (GWD), is caused by the parasite Dracunculus medinensis. Currently, there is no diagnostic test to detect pre-patent infection, no vaccine, and no treatment for GWD. Eradication efforts focus on community-based surveillance, health education, targeted treatment of water sources with larvicide, and most importantly, behavioral changes, such as filtering drinking water and preventing humans and animals, mainly domesticated dogs with emerging worms, from entering and contaminating water sources.  “Given the year-long life-cycle of the disease, mathematical modeling is a valuable tool for fine-tuning interventions and evaluating resource allocation decisions,” said Pinar Keskinocak, professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and the director of the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems.

Disease Dynamics

Dracunculus medinensis is a parasite that infects in a vicious cycle. When a human or animal host  ingests either water contaminated with infective Guinea worm larvae or raw or undercooked aquatic animals that harbor the infectious larvae, the larvae mate in the host’s body, and, after 10-14 months, a pregnant female worm that can be as long as one meter emerges slowly and painfully from the host’s body. To seek relief, the host might immerse the affected body part into a water source (e.g., a pond), releasing the worm’s larvae into the water source, contaminating it, and continuing the infection cycle. In particular, worms emerging from dogs can contaminate drinking water sources used by people and in turn, lead to infection of people or other dogs in the community. 

Progress Toward GWD Eradication

GWD eradication efforts worldwide have been supported by the collaboration of many entities, including The Carter Center, ministries of health in endemic countries, WHO, CDC, UNICEF, and others. Since 1986, The Carter Center has led the international Guinea worm eradication campaign, which has eliminated the ancient disease in 16 countries in Africa and Asia. In 2022, Guinea worm was reported in five African countries.

Together with The Carter Center and Chad’s national Guinea Worm Eradication Program, Georgia Tech researchers have developed an agent-based simulation model that incorporates the life-cycle of the worm, daily interactions between dogs and water sources, seasonality of infections, and environmental factors such as rainfall and temperature. The models can also capture the influence of dog movement between multiple regions/water sources. Using these mathematical models in a wide range of simulated scenarios, the researchers evaluated the impact of combinations of interventions (such as water treatment or tethering of dogs). The results from the simulated scenarios suggest that historical levels of interventions in Chad, even when adjusted to regional differences, might not be sufficient to interrupt GWD transmission in dogs within the next five years. Hence, there is a need to improve intervention implementation fidelity, adjust implementation approaches, or implement new interventions.

GWD Eradication Onward

New interventions, such as a diagnostic test that can detect pre-patent infection, could help accelerate the progress toward eradication.  To guide research and development of such a test, WHO initiated the development of target product profiles (TPPs), outlining preferred and minimally acceptable criteria for novel diagnostic tests, which could be, according to WHO, “a game changer in speeding up a global eradiation of the parasite.”

Georgia Tech researchers adapted an agent-based simulation model and evaluated a wide range of scenarios to assess the impact of a new diagnostic test to detect pre-patent infection in dogs on the disease spread. In the mathematical model, each dog is represented by an "agent," which mimics the dog behavior, their interactions with the water source, and the progression of the disease within a dog.

In the absence of a treatment for GWD, the research results quantify the impact of the diagnostic accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) of the test, but also emphasize the importance of rollout decisions and the compliance of dog owners with the recommended tethering practices. “The potential benefits of testing depend on test accuracy, but also on several other factors, e.g., how the test is deployed, and how it affects owners’ behaviors regarding tethering of dogs with positive or negative test results,” said Hannah Smalley, a research engineer in ISyE. “For example, even if the test could detect pre-patent infections in dogs with perfect accuracy, if dogs are not tested frequently enough, or if owners do not consistently tether test-positive dogs, then the impact of such a diagnostic test could be limited.” The timing of when, i.e., how far in advance of worm emergence, the test can detect pre-patent infection is also important. For example, if the test could not only detect pre-patent infection but also accurately estimate the timing of worm emergence, this could increase the owners’ compliance with tethering recommendations during the time period leading to estimated worm emergence, reduce the need for long-term tethering, and reduce the resources (human and financial) needed to support the intervention.

Recommendations from the research are included in the WHO’s TPP for a diagnostic test to detect pre-patent Guinea worm infections in animals. “This important research highlights how a novel diagnostic test that can detect pre-patent Guinea worm infections could help, especially if used in conjunction with existing interventions,” said Adam Weiss [Director of The Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program], “and we are looking forward to continuing our collaborations with Georgia Tech as a means to support GWD eradication efforts.”

“Potential Impact of a Diagnostic Test for Detecting Prepatent Guinea Worm Infections in Dogs,” Hannah Smalley, Pinar Keskinocak, Julie Swann, Christopher Hanna, and Adam Weiss, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 2024, DOI: https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.23-0534

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Media Contact: Tess Malone, Senior Research Writer/Editor

tess.malone@gatech.edu

LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA Detects Remarkable Gravitational-Wave Signal

The coalescence and merger of a lower mass-gap black hole (dark gray surface) with a neutron star (greatly tidally deformed by the black hole's gravity). Credit: Ivan Markin, Tim Dietrich (University of Potsdam), Harald Paul Pfeiffer, Alessandra Buonanno (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics)

This story was first published in the LIGO newsroom at CalTech.

In May 2023, shortly after the start of the fourth LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA observing run, the LIGO Livingston detector observed a gravitational-wave signal from the collision of what is most likely a neutron star with a compact object that is 2.5 to 4.5 times the mass of our Sun. Neutron stars and black holes are both compact objects, the dense remnants of massive stellar explosions.

What makes this signal, called GW230529, intriguing is that the mass of the heavier object falls within a possible mass-gap between the heaviest known neutron stars and the lightest black holes. The gravitational-wave signal alone cannot reveal the nature of this object, and future detections of similar events, especially those accompanied by bursts of electromagnetic radiation, could hold the key to solving this cosmic mystery.

"Gravitational waves offer an unprecedented glimpse into the cosmos, allowing us to study black holes and neutron stars at vast intergalactic distances," says Surabhi Sachdev, an assistant professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech and co-chair of the compact binary coalescence working group for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. 

"These cosmic messengers are unveiling a surprising population of compact objects with masses that defy our previous understanding based solely on electromagnetic observations," Sachdev explains. "The latest in this list is GW230529, a compact object with a mass that falls within the theorized 'mass gap' between neutron stars and black holes – a region once thought to be devoid of such objects. The ability to peer through this new window is reshaping our knowledge of the densest objects in the universe."

The mass gap between neutron stars and black holes

Before the detection of gravitational waves in 2015, the masses of stellar-mass black holes were primarily found using x-ray observations while the masses of neutron stars were found using radio observations. The resulting measurements fell into two distinct ranges with a gap between them from about 2 to 5 times the mass of our Sun. Over the years, a small number of measurements have encroached on the mass-gap, which remains highly debated among astrophysicists. 

Analysis of the signal GW230529 shows that it came from the merger of two compact objects, one with a mass between 1.2 to 2.0 times that of our Sun and the other slightly more than twice as massive. While the gravitational-wave signal does not provide enough information to determine with certainty whether these compact objects are neutron stars or black holes, it seems likely that the lighter object is a neutron star and the heavier object a black hole. Scientists in the LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA Collaboration are confident that the heavier object is within the mass gap.  

Gravitational-wave observations have now provided almost 200 measurements of compact-object masses. Of these, only one other merger may have involved a mass-gap compact object – the signal GW190814 came from the merger of a black hole with a compact object exceeding the mass of the heaviest known neutron stars and possibly within the mass gap. 

With the observation of GW230529, comes excitement, not just for this observation, but future observations as well," says Megan Arogeti, a graduate student in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech working on post-merger signals from compact binary mergers. 

"With every observed gravitational wave signal with at least one neutron star progenitor, we have an opportunity to further our understanding of extremely dense nuclear matter," Arogeti says. "As our detector sensitivity increases, we can hope to observe more gravitational waves from the collision of neutron stars and black holes as well as the collision between two neutron stars, which could potentially feature a special postmerger signal allowing us to probe nuclear matter in a higher mass regime than we have been able to so far."

The fourth observing run with more sensitive detectors

The highly successful third observing run of the gravitational-wave detectors ended in spring 2020, bringing the number of known gravitational-wave detections to 90. Before the start of the fourth observing run O4 on May 24, 2023, the LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA researchers made improvements to the detectors, the cyberinfrastructure, and the analysis software that allow them to detect signals from further away and to extract more information about the extreme events in which the waves are generated. 

Just five days after the launch of O4, things got really exciting. On May 29, 2023, the gravitational-wave signal GW230529 passed by the LIGO Livingston detector. Within minutes, the data from the detector was analyzed and an alert (designated S230529ay) was released publicly announcing the signal. Astronomers receiving the alert were informed that a neutron star and a black hole most likely merged about 650 million light-years from Earth. Unfortunately, the direction to the source could not be determined because only one gravitational-wave detector was observing at the time of the signal.

The fourth observing run is planned to last for 20 months including a couple of months break to carry out maintenance of the detectors and make a number of necessary improvements. By January 16, 2024, when the commissioning break started, a total of 81 significant signal candidates had been identified. GW230529 is the first of these to be published after detailed investigation.

Resuming the observing run

The fourth observing run will resume on April 10, 2024 with the LIGO Hanford, LIGO Livingston, and Virgo detectors operating together. The run will continue until February 2025 with no further planned breaks in observing. The sensitivity of the detectors should be slightly increased after the break.  

While the observing run continues, LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA researchers are analyzing the data from the first half of the run and checking the remaining 80 significant signal candidates that have already been identified. By the end of the fourth observing run in February 2025, the total number of observed gravitational-wave signals should exceed 200.

Gravitational-wave observatories

LIGO is funded by the NSF, and operated by Caltech and MIT, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,600 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. Additional partners are listed at https://my.ligo.org/census.php.

The Virgo Collaboration is currently composed of approximately 880 members from 152 institutions in 17 different (mainly European) countries. The European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) hosts the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy, and is funded by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy, and the National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef) in the Netherlands. A list of the Virgo Collaboration groups can be found at: https://www.virgo-gw.eu/about/scientific-collaboration/. More information is available on the Virgo website at https://www.virgo-gw.eu.

KAGRA is the laser interferometer with 3 km arm-length in Kamioka, Gifu, Japan. The host institute is Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR), the University of Tokyo, and the project is co-hosted by National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK). KAGRA collaboration is composed of over 400 members from 128 institutes in 17 countries/regions. KAGRA’s information for general audiences is at the website https://gwcenter.icrr.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/. Resources for researchers are accessible from http://gwwiki.icrr.u-tokyo.ac.jp/JGWwiki/KAGRA.

 

Surabhi Sachdev
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Georgia Tech College of Sciences

Jess Hunt-Ralston
jess@cos.gatech.edu

LIGO-Virgo-Kagra Collaboration

Susanne Milde, LVK Communications Group Lead
+49 172-393-1349
susanne.milde@ligo.org

Caltech

Whitney Clavin
626-390-9601
wclavin@caltech.edu

MIT

Abigail Abazorius
617-253-2709
abbya@mit.edu

Virgo

Isabel Cordero
isabel.cordero@uv.es

EGO

Vincenzo Napolano
+39 347-299-4985
napolano@ego-gw.it

NSF

Jason Stoughton, Staff Associate for Science Communications
703-292-7063
jstought@nsf.gov

KAGRA

Shinji Miyoki
+81-578-85-2623
kagra-pub@icrr.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Neuroscience Study Taps Into Brain Network Patterns to Understand Deep Focus, Attention

Photo credit: Paul Skorupskas, unsplash.com

From completing puzzles and playing music, to reading and exercising, growing up Dolly Seeburger loved activities that demanded her full attention. “It was in those times that I felt most content, like I was in the zone,” she remembers. “Hours would pass, but it would feel like minutes.”

While this deep focus state is essential to highly effective work, it’s still not fully understood. Now, a new study led by Seeburger, a graduate student in the School of Psychology, alongside her advisor, Eric Schumacher, a professor in the School of Psychology is unearthing the mechanisms behind it. 

The interdisciplinary Georgia Tech team also includes Nan Xu, Sam Larson and Shella Keilholz (Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering), alongside Marcus Ma (College of Computing), and Christine Godwin (School of Psychology).

The researchers’ study, “Time-varying functional connectivity predicts fluctuations in sustained attention in a serial tapping task,” was published in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience earlier this year, and it investigates brain activity via fMRI during periods of deep focus and less-focused work. 

The work is the first to investigate low-frequency fluctuations between different networks in the brain during focus, and could act as a springboard to study more complex behaviors and focus states.

“Your brain is dynamic! Nothing is just on or off,” Seeburger explains. “This is the phenomenon we wanted to study. How does one get into the zone? Why is it that some people can sustain their attention better than others? Is this something that can be trained? If so, can we help people get better at it?”

The dynamic brain

The team’s work is also the first to study the relationship between fluctuations in attention and the brain network patterns within these low-frequency 20-second cycles. “For quite a while, the studies on neural oscillations focused on faster temporal frequencies, and the appreciation of these very low-frequency oscillations is relatively new,” Seeburger says. “But, these low-frequency fluctuations may play a key role in regulating higher cognition such as sustained attention.”

“One of the things we've discovered in previous research is that there's a natural fluctuation in activity in certain brain networks. When a subject is not doing a specific task while in the MRI scanner, we see that fluctuation happen roughly every 20 seconds,” adds co-author Schumacher, explaining that the team was interested in the pattern because it is quasi-periodic, meaning that it doesn’t repeat exactly every 20 seconds, and it varies between different trials and subjects.

By studying these quasi-periodic cycles, the team hoped to measure the relationship between the brain fluctuation in these networks and the behavioral fluctuation associated with changes in attention.

Your attention needed

To measure attention, participants tapped along to a metronome while in an fMRI scanner. The team could measure how “in the zone” participants were by measuring how much variability was in each participant’s taps — more variability suggested the participant was less focused, while precise tapping suggested the participant was “in the zone.”

The researchers found that when a subject’s focus level changed, different regions of the brain synchronized and desychronized, in particular the fronto-parietal control network (FPCN) and default mode network (DMN), The FPCN is engaged when a person is trying to stay on task, whereas the DMN is correlated with internally-oriented thoughts (which a participant might be having when less focused). “When one is out-of-the-zone, these two networks synchronize, and are in phase in the low frequency,” Seeburger explains. “When one is in the zone, these networks desynchronize.”

The results suggest that the 20-second patterns could help predict if a person is sustaining their attention or not, and could provide key insight for researchers developing tools and techniques that help us deeply focus.

The big picture

While the direct relationship between behavior and brain activity is still unknown, these 20-second patterns in brain fluctuation are seen universally, and across species. “If you put someone in a scanner and their mind is wandering, you find these fluctuations. You can find these quasi-period patterns in rodents. You can find it in primates,” Schumacher says. “There's something fundamental about this brain network activity.”

“I think it answers a really fundamental question about the relationship between behavior and brain activity,” he adds. “Understanding how these brain networks work together and impact behavior could lead to new therapies to help people organize their brain networks in the most efficient way.”

And while this simple task might not investigate complex behaviors, the study could act as a springboard to move into more complicated behaviors and focus states. “Next, I would like to study sustained attention in a more naturalistic way,” Seeburger says. “I hope that we can further the understanding of attention and help people get a better handle on their ability to control, sustain, and increase it.”

 


DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-024-01156-1

Dolly Seeburger
Eric S.
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Written by Selena Langner

Contact: Jess Hunt-Ralston

Astronomy Club Lets Students Share Their Passion for the Stars

An Astronomy Club Public Night

Photo by Rob Felt

This week, 50 students from Georgia Tech’s Astronomy Club will travel to Missouri to view the solar eclipse on April 8. Georgia isn’t in the path of totality — which occurs when the moon fully covers the sun — but Missouri is, and club members want to be there to experience the rare celestial event. While viewing the eclipse is the organization’s biggest adventure of the year, it is just one of many events the club hosts every month. The group is a place for hobbyist astronomers and physics students to connect over their love of the solar system and the mysteries within it.

Every Monday, the club hosts meetings at which a topic of astronomical interest — such as black holes or stellar evolution — is presented; attendees then visit the Georgia Tech Observatory to see what the sky has in the store for them that night.

“I am completing the astrophysics concentration for my studies, so I can apply what I learn in class to the club and explain to people what they’re actually looking at,” said Ethan Atkinson, club president and a fourth-year physics major. They also take monthly field trips to the observatory at Fernbank Museum for a different view of the sky and the chance to use older telescopes.

Once a month, weather permitting, the Astronomy Club invites everyone to join in on the fun with Public Nights at the Georgia Tech Observatory. Club members place telescopes outside the Howey Physics Building, where anyone take a look through the lens at whichever planet is in focus that evening. The events are popular, not just across campus but also Atlanta. Most nights, almost 350 people attend.

The club’s signature annual event for members is usually a field trip to dedicated dark sky area Deerlick Astronomy Village in Sharon, Georgia, to see constellations unadulterated by light pollution and capture them via astrophotography. “The main attraction for most people is seeing the Milky Way and counting shooting stars,” Atkinson said. While this year’s field trip is to Missouri for the eclipse, they are still bringing the cameras along.

The club wasn’t always this popular on campus. Even though the organization started in 2007 when Tech built the observatory, membership had dropped to only 20 members by 2021. Covid-19 made hosting a lot of people in a small observatory challenging, so faculty advisor James Sowell recommended they move the telescopes outside, increasing the number of people who could attend and the interest in studying physics. “Sometimes students take my classes because the club let them know about my courses,” Sowell said.

Atkinson has also worked to make the club more accessible to every major and interest level. Computational media student Victoria Nguyen was one of those students. Although she has loved astronomy since childhood, it was just a hobby until she found the club in her first year. “The community is really great and relaxed,” said Nguyen, who is incoming president of the club. “We’ve created a safe environment to learn about space, and you don’t even need to have your own telescope.”

Although solar eclipses don’t happen annually, the Astronomy Club is stronger and bigger than ever. Whether someone gazes at the stars nightly or has never even looked through a telescope, the club is open to the campus community — so everyone can better understand what lies beyond our planet.

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Tess Malone, Senior Research Writer/Editor

tess.malone@gatech.edu

Empowering Research Faculty: Georgia Tech’s Strategic Plan

A scientist dressed in protective clothing works in a clean room laboratory at Georgia Tech

A research scientist from the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN) works in a clean room at the Marcus Nanotechnology Building. Research faculty are the non-tenure track faculty who carry out crucial research in labs, centers, and departments across campus. (Credit: Rob Felt)

Georgia Tech is supporting career growth for its research faculty, who do critical work at the heart of the research enterprise.

The word faculty is often synonymous with tenure-track professors — the individuals who teach courses and run major labs with their surnames in the title. But while groundbreaking discoveries regularly happen at Georgia Tech, the people doing the day-in, day-out research aren’t always visible.

Research faculty are non-tenure track faculty who carry out crucial research in labs, centers, and departments across campus. They are the lifeblood of research enterprises at major universities like Georgia Tech, but their work often occurs behind the scenes.

To support these essential employees, Georgia Tech launched an initiative to recognize and develop research faculty, who comprise 60% of the nearly 4,400 total faculty currently employed at the Institute. It is part of the second phase of Research Next, the strategic plan for Georgia Tech’s research enterprise.  

Maribeth Coleman, interim assistant vice provost for Research Faculty, and Michelle Rinehart, vice provost for Faculty, were appointed as co-chairs of a Research Next implementation team tasked with finding ways to recognize, support, and retain research faculty. Building on years of effort and collaboration with campus partners, the group took on several projects to improve the research faculty experience and environment at Georgia Tech.  

“Research faculty are critical members of the Georgia Tech community, and their contributions to our billion-dollar research enterprise and the state’s economic development cannot be overstated,” Rinehart said. “We wanted to understand what it’s like for research faculty as they come on board at Georgia Tech, what the hiring process is like, and how we as an Institute can more effectively mentor and develop research faculty in terms of advancing in their careers.”

At the outset, the implementation team identified and examined several facets of the research faculty experience. They reviewed policies in the faculty handbook, giving special attention to existing guidance for promotion and career growth for research faculty.

Promotion guidelines are generally clear for tenure-track faculty. Research faculty, on the other hand, are often not actively encouraged to seek promotion, and may not even know that promotion is an option, according to Rinehart and Coleman. One issue is that funding for research faculty often comes from external research dollars. At least nine months of a tenure-track faculty member’s salary, however, comes from the state budget.

“When you’re constantly having to bring in all of your own salary, as research faculty do, it can be a stressful experience,” Coleman said. “It can also mean you’re more isolated, because you’re focused on bringing in those research dollars that will help you keep your position. But we want research faculty to know that we want them to build their careers here.”

To address these issues, the team developed reference materials and workshops for research faculty seeking promotion. The workshops are offered on a regular basis, and resources and recordings are available on the Georgia Tech faculty website. The team also created educational materials for promotion committees, often composed of tenure-track faculty who are unfamiliar with the research faculty experience.  

“We saw a need for better consistency across campus with regards to guidance for research faculty promotion committees,” Rinehart said. “Tenure-track faculty need guidance on not just how to properly hire research faculty, but also in how to mentor and retain them.”

According to Coleman and Rinehart, the implementation team’s most significant achievement was the launch of a research faculty mentoring network. The mentoring network connects junior research faculty mentees with senior research faculty mentors who have grown their careers at Georgia Tech.

“When new tenure-track faculty arrive, they are usually assigned a mentor within their School or department, but that method doesn’t generally work for research faculty,” Coleman said. “There may not be a large research faculty community in their unit, and research faculty roles and responsibilities vary significantly from person to person. For this reason, the mentoring network is meant to foster cross-pollination and build community across units.”

The mentoring network is a collaboration with MentorTech, a program run by Georgia Tech Professional Education. The program is ongoing, and enrollment is always open. 

To foster inclusivity and belonging, the team established an orientation program for research faculty, modeled after the tenure-track faculty orientation. The Provost’s Office hosted the inaugural research faculty orientation in Fall 2023. Because research faculty are hired throughout the year, the team decided the orientation should take place semiannually. The second orientation took place on March 13. 

In addition to the workshops, mentor network, and orientations, the implementation team also launched a program to welcome research faculty in a personal way. When a new research faculty member is hired, another more senior research faculty member is assigned to welcome them in person, provide them with important information for getting oriented to campus, tell them about relevant professional opportunities, and give them Georgia Tech-branded swag.

“All of this work is about recognizing that research faculty are a tremendously valuable part of our community,” Rinehart said. “They also really enhance our reputation internationally.”

According to Coleman, research faculty can sometimes be viewed as disposable, because of their support from grants that may be limited in time and scope. But she believes that line of thinking is a disservice to both the individual and the Institute.

“It’s important that we recognize the value of research faculty, nurture them, and retain them long term,” she said. “We need to make it possible for people to spend their careers here, as I have, and help make sure research faculty positions at Georgia Tech can be both viable and fulfilling long-term careers.”

 

To read more about Georgia Tech's strategic research initiatives, visit the Research Next website.

News Contact

Catherine Barzler, Senior Research Writer/Editor

catherine.barzler@gatech.edu

Georgia Tech Researchers Develop More Broadly Protective Coronavirus Vaccine

Patient getting a vaccine

Scientists have been searching for the optimal coronavirus vaccine since the Covid-19 pandemic started. The mRNA vaccines developed through the federal government's "Operation Warp Speed" program were a massive innovation; however, annually updating those boosters for specific SARS-CoV-2 variants is inefficient for scientists and patients. SARS-CoV-2 is just one member of the Sarbecovirus (SARS Betacoronavirus) subfamily (others  include SARS-CoV-1, which caused the 2002 SARS outbreak, as well as other viruses circulating in bats that could cause future pandemics).

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a new vaccine that offers broad protection against not only SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also other bat sarbecoviruses. The groundbreaking trivalent vaccine has shown complete protection with no trace of virus in the lungs, marking a significant step toward a universal vaccine for coronaviruses.

“We had been working on strategies to make a broadly protective vaccine for a while,” said Ravi Kane, Garry Betty/V Foundation Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar in Cancer Nanotechnology and professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This vaccine may protect not just against the current strain circulating that year, but also future variants.”

They presented their findings in “Broad protection against clade 1 sarbecoviruses after a single immunization with cocktail spike-protein-nanoparticle vaccine,” published in the February edition of Nature Communications

Kane and his research group have been working on the technologies to develop more widely protective vaccines for viruses since he joined Georgia Tech in 2015. Although the team didn’t specifically foresee Covid-19 arising when it did, pandemics have regularly occurred throughout human history. While the team pivoted their vaccine research to address coronaviruses, they were surprised by how rapidly each new variant arose, making their broader vaccine even more necessary.

Once they realized the challenge inherent in how fast SARS-CoV-2 mutates, they had two options for how to build a vaccine: design one to be widely preventative against the virus, or use the influenza vaccine, which updates annually for the anticipated prevalent variant, as a model.

Making a broad vaccine is more appealing because it enables patients to get one shot and be protected for years. To create their general vaccine, Kane’s team capitalized on the key to the original mRNA vaccines — the spike protein, which binds the virus to healthy cells. Their vaccine uses three prominent spike proteins, or a trivalent vaccine, to elicit a broad enough antibody response to make the vaccine effective against SARS-CoV-2 variants as well as other sarbecoviruses that have been identified as having pandemic potential.

“If you know which variant is circulating, you can immunize with the spike protein of that variant,” Ph.D. student and co-author Kathryn Loeffler said. “But a broad vaccine is more difficult to develop because you’re protecting against many different antigens versus just one.”

Collaborators in the Kawaoka group at the University of Wisconsin tested their vaccine in hamsters, which they had previously identified as an appropriate animal model to evaluate vaccines and immunotherapies against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine was able to neutralize all SARS-CoV-2 omicron variants tested, as well as non-SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses circulating in bats. Even better, the vaccine provided complete protection with no detectable virus in the lungs.

Kane hopes that the vaccine strategy his team identified can be applied to other viruses — other coronavirus subfamilies as well as other viruses such as influenza viruses. They also expect that some of the specific antigens they describe in this paper can be moved toward preclinical trials. Someday, a trivalent vaccine could comprise a routine part of people’s medical treatment.

 

News Contact

Tess Malone, Senior Research Writer/Editor

tess.malone@gatech.edu

Special Edition of 'AI Magazine' Spotlights Georgia Tech's NSF AI Institutes

AAAI: AI Magazine 2024 Volume 45 Issue 1 Cover

The cover image was generated by Midjourney, a generative artificial intelligence program and service created and hosted by the San Francisco–based independent research lab Midjourney, Inc. Midjourney generates images from natural language descriptions, called prompts, similar to OpenAI's DALL-E and Stability AI's Stable Diffusion, responding to a prompt that included notions of, “people from various professions (teachers, nurses, farmers, engineers, and artists), working together to create and guide AI to facilitate collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving for the common good.” While this is a challenging concept for man or machine to represent in a single image, this issue’s articles describing the U.S. National AI Research Institutes will paint richer portraits.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence released its Spring 2024 special issue of AI Magazine (Volume 45, Issue 1). This issue highlights research areas, applications, education initiatives, and public engagement led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USDA-NIFA-funded AI Research Institutes. It also delves into the background of the NSF’s National AI Research Institutes program, its role in shaping U.S. AI research strategy, and its future direction. Titled “Beneficial AI,” this issue showcases various AI research domains, all geared toward implementing AI for societal good.

The magazine, available as open access at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/23719621/2024/45/1a one-year effort, spearheaded and edited by Ashok Goel, director of the National AI-ALOE Institute and professor of computer science and human-centered computing at Georgia Tech, along with Chaohua Ou, AI-ALOE’s managing director and assistant director, Special Projects and Educational Initiatives Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Georgia Tech, and co-author Jim Donlon, the NSF's AI Institutes program director.

In this issue, insights into the future of AI and its societal impact are presented by the three NSF AI Institutes headquartered at Georgia Tech:

The magazine provides a comprehensive overview of how each of the 25 institutes is shaping the future of AI research.

About 'AI Magazine'

AI Magazine is an artificial intelligence magazine by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). It is published four times each year, and is sent to all AAAI members and subscribed to by most research libraries. Back issues are available online (issues less than 18 months old are only available to AAAI members).

The purpose of AI Magazine is to disseminate timely and informative articles that represent the current state of the art in AI and to keep its readers posted on AAAI-related matters. The articles are selected to appeal to readers engaged in research and applications across the broad spectrum of AI. Although some level of technical understanding is assumed by the authors, articles should be clear enough to inform readers who work outside the particular subject area. 

To learn more, click here.

News Contact

Breon Martin

AI Research Communications Manager

Georgia Tech

Spring Workshop Engages Diverse Stakeholders in Shaping the Future of Biorefining and the Bioeconomy

RBI's Carson Meredith, Research Initiative Leads and Faculty, with Andreas Villegas, Keynote Speaker and President of the Georgia Forestry Association

From Left to Right: Gary Black, Bo Arduengo, and Andy Bommarius (RBI Strategic Initiative Lead) from the ReWOOD Initiative, Larissa Fenn from RYAM, Andreas Villegas, President of the Georgia Forrest Association and Keynote Speaker, Chris Luettgen RBI Strategic Initiative Lead, Carsten Sievers, RBI Strategic Initiative Lead, Matthew Realff, RBI Strategic Initiative Lead, Carson Meredith, RBI Executive Director, and Valerie Thomas, RBI Strategic Initiative Lead.

RBI Fellows Discussing Their Research with the Workshop Participants

RBI Fellows Discussing Their Research with the Workshop Participants

With the nation’s goals to net zero well underway and the world moving toward sustainable production methods, biorefineries play a crucial role in our transition to a greener future. These multifaceted facilities convert biomass into biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts; foster a circular economy; and reduce reliance on fossil fuels while promoting environmentally friendly industrial practices.

The Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI) at Georgia Tech recently hosted a workshop on the Emerging Bioeconomy and the Future of Biorefining. The event cultivated new partnerships as more than 75 attendees from academia, national laboratories, and industry shared and learned about the cutting-edge developments in the emerging field.

Carson Meredith, executive director of RBI, said, “The workshop provided an immersive experience for the attendees with access to knowledge, opportunities to network, and a platform for collaboration to positively impact their understanding and involvement in this rapidly evolving field. I saw a lot of human connections being made, a lot of people shaking hands, and having conversations off to the side. That’s exactly why we hold such workshops — to exchange ideas within the Institute as well as between researchers in universities, industry, and national labs.”

The program started with a keynote by B. Frank Gupton, professor of chemical and life science engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, on creating resilient national supply chains for essential medicines and the need for waste reduction through process chemistry improvements to reduce the carbon footprint in the pharmaceutical industry.

Kim Nelson, CTO of GranBio and Georgia Tech Alumnus at the 2024 RBI Spring Workshop

Kim Nelson, CTO of GranBio and Georgia Tech Alumnus at the 
2024 RBI Spring Workshop

Various presentations from RBI’s research faculty demonstrated the depth of research in the field of bioeconomy and biorefineries. Topics included integrated biorefining processes by multicomponent separations and catalytic conversion, lignin-derived phenol as the new platform of biorefineries, catalytic conversion of organic acids, data-driven biorefinery process control, hot topics in lifecycle assessment, and more.

A highlight of the annual workshop was the student poster session that showcased the diversity of research happening in the renewable bioproducts field. Over 25 RBI Fellows, spanning chemical and biomolecular engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and chemistry and biochemistry presented their research to a highly engaged audience.

Andreas Villegas, president of the Georgia Forestry Association and the dinner keynote speaker, addressed the need for educating the community about working forests and their potential to create carbon-neutral products and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Working forests in the state of Georgia are managed with a growth-over-harvest-rate of 50% and are a natural solution to the major challenges in sustainable forests and communities.

2024 RBI Student Fellows at the Workshop

2024 RBI Student Fellows at the Workshop

Blake Simmons, keynote speaker from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, discussed the importance of intellectual property models and licensing technology models that will allow companies to access new processes emerging in the field.

Mi Li, assistant professor of biorefinery and sustainable materials from the University of Tennessee, presented his research on the modification of plant cell walls, while Bronson P. Bollock, professor of forest biometrics and quantitative timber management at the University of Georgia, presented the current issues and factors in the quantification of forest biomass feedstocks.

Student Panel at the RBI Spring Workshop

Student Panel at the RBI Spring Workshop

Kim Nelson, the chief technology officer of GranBio, addressed the opportunities and challenges in meeting the global demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and low-carbon bioproducts. Nelson presented GranBio’s patented AVAP technology that uses woody biomass to produce SAF, renewable diesel, electricity, and other byproducts like BioPlus nanocellulose for tires in the process.

“At this moment, there is a tremendous federal, state, and industrial focus on developing the U.S. bioeconomy,” Meredith said. “RBI's vision is that pulp producers and users of wood extractives and byproducts have an opportunity to develop higher margin products from woody biomass residues, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fuels, without disrupting current paper and lumber markets. Traditional petrochemical producers of these products have an opportunity to substitute more carbon-neutral sources as feedstocks. Our workshop sought a conversation around the opportunities and challenges from feedstock to the marketplace.



 

News Contact

Priya Devarajan || RBI Communications Program Manager

Photo Credit: Leah Yetter, Photographer