All Hands on Deck

As a storm quickly approaches, marine scientist Nathan Hall hussles to get back to shore. While he cruises through the Neuse River Estuary, students onboard shriek and laugh as the boat crashes against the swell. New to marine fieldwork, they have yet to gain their sea legs, and increasingly slide further and further to one side of the boat with each bump. 

Before the trip to the coast, the students spent the semester in Chapel Hill learning about marine organisms, their distribution, and interactions with each other and the local environment during a course taught by Joel Fodrie and Adrian Marchetti. “We try to hit the wide sweep of as many aspects of biological oceanography as we can,” Fodrie says. “Everything from nutrient availability to the role of climate change.”

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Restoring Rural China

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During the 1970s, in a rural village in the eastern Chinese province Anhui, a young Conghe Song and his family participate in collective farming to make a modest living. Countless hours are spent in the paddies cutting the plants by hand with a sickle and then replanting, literally one grain of rice at a time.

With no electricity, Song spends hours doing homework under an oil lamp. Each week, he spends a quarter for a candle so he and his classmates can work after dark –– the cost, a burden on his family, he says.

Back then, college was the only way for Song to obtain a career beyond the village, but it was an uphill battle. Resources like financial aid and trained teachers went to the urban schools. He was fortunate to have a mother who was literate –– in fact, the only woman in the village who could read. She helped him with his homework and was strict about his education.

“I always admired the other kids in the village. They could go to school or not and they didn’t have the consequences I would have at home if I skipped school,” Song says, laughing.

Upon graduation, just two students from Song’s high school class of 54 went on to college –– and he was one of them. Now a UNC geographer, his work has led him back to rural China.

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An Artist’s Artifacts

Walking along the elevated shoreline of Jordan Lake, something catches Ayla Gizlice’s eye. She slides down the eroded bank, crouching with her weight on her heels, and navigates over a massive tangle of tree roots. Delicately picking up a large piece of clay, she inspects its texture and color. After putting a few hunks of the sediment into a bag, she stands up and scans the shoreline ahead. The search continues.

Last year, Gizlice studied the history and environmental issues of Jordan Lake during a capstone course. Since then, she has returned to the reservoir countless times to find objects to incorporate into her senior thesis art project.

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Bubble Breakthroughs

Ninety feet below the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of the Galápagos Islands, Virginie Papadopoulou floats peacefully among hundreds of hammerhead sharks. She watches in wonder, taking easy, steadied breaths from her oxygen tank.

“It’s almost like you’re meditating and you can’t think of anything else apart from what you’re actually seeing at that moment,” she says. “You’re very present.”

Virginie Papadopoulou first learned to scuba dive during a family vacation in Jordan when she was 13 years old. After seeing advertisements across town for lessons and tours, she convinced her dad to take her and her brother on a dive. They were hooked, and have made countless dives since.

That passion has led Papadopoulou to the Dayton Lab in the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. She studies decompression sickness (DCS), which affects about 1,000 scuba divers per year.

The study of microbubbles spans out far beyond examining decompression sickness though. For decades, researchers have been analyzing the use of microbubbles for a variety of purposes like emergency lung function, cleaning dental plaque, and even restoring memory in Alzheimer’s patients. At UNC, Papadopoulou and her colleagues are exploring the use of ultrasound and microbubbles in detecting and treating cancer.

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