Vermont polymath finds intellectual fulfillment at UAH

Casey Calamaio

Since his formative years in the small town of East Burke, Vt., Casey Calamaio has amassed quite a few interests, including aviation, environmental sciences, and cartography.

But even more impressive, he's been able to turn those interests into the foundation of his research as both an undergraduate and a graduate Earth System Science major at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Calamaio's specialty is geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing using model aviation as an aerial observation platform. "A powerful cartography tool," he says he was first introduced to it as a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering.


App developer – and UAH alumna – asks ‘Are You Squared?’

Are You Squared?

If you had to guess what Charlotte Ellett, co-founder of game development company C63 Industries, majored in at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, you might go with computer science. What you probably wouldn't go with is what Ellett actually chose – philosophy and political science.

"At that time, I was interested in being a writer, and I had a liberal arts scholarship," says the Hollywood, Ala. native. Computers, and computer programming, was something Ellett pursued on the side, first as a hobby and then later as a website programmer and developer for organizations like HudsonAlpha.

It was only at the suggestion of her longtime friend Jesse W. Schirmer, C63 Industries fellow co-founder and a full-time employee at Curse, that she began to consider making a career out of development. "We started working on a game that people were interested in, but we needed to start a company to sell," says Ellett. "So we said let's do it!"


UAH researcher wins top award in nuclear survivability


Dr. William A. Seidler, a senior research scientist at the UAH Research Institute, has been awarded the Peter Haas Award by the Hardened Electronics and Radiation Technology (HEART) Conference for his contributions to the nuclear survivability of military systems.

The Peter Haas Award was developed by the HEART Conference in 1990 to recognize individuals "who have demonstrated outstanding and innovative technical contributions or leadership in the successful development of U.S. hardened military and space systems." The HEART Conference is the premier government conference for the dissemination of restricted information on nuclear radiation effects on electronic systems.

Peter Haas was a pioneer in the field of nuclear weapons effects beginning in the mid 1950s. He proposed and conducted some of the landmark experiments on nuclear effects on electronic systems at the Nevada and Pacific Nuclear Test Sites. After joining the Defense Nuclear Agency in 1965, Mr. Haas rose to the position of deputy director of science and technology, where he was a strong advocate for nuclear weapons effects testing.


UAH professor wins prestigious NSF grant


Dr. Udaysankar Nair, an assistant professor in UAH's Atmospheric Science Department, has been awarded an almost $750,000 Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant will support both a study of land use and land cover changes on Asian islands, how those changes might be altering weather patterns and a multi-disciplinary project to develop new tools for teaching atmospheric dynamics.

Nair is the first atmospheric science faculty member to receive an NSF CAREER award. One of the NSF's most prestigious awards, grants through the CAREER program support junior faculty who are establishing their careers in research and education.


UAH graduate students to attend 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University


Two UAH graduate students Joy Agee and Kenya Wallace, were recently selected to attend the prestigious Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) for college graduate and undergraduate students, March 21-23 in Arizona.

Agee (BS, MS Biological Science 2010), a doctoral candidate in Biotechnology, Science and Engineering, and Wallace (MS Chemistry 2012), a doctoral student in Materials Science, will attend the two-day conference courtesy of the UAH Office of Diversity. Agee was one of five black student leaders recently profiled in the Clinton Global Initiative national newsletter here:

CGI blog:


UAH nursing professor – and mother – uses education to push for answers

Dr. Beth Barnby

Dr. Elizabeth Barnby didn't attend UAH so she could get a job; she already had one as an emergency room nurse. She attended so that she could learn more about Tyrosinemia type 1 (TT1), a rare and often fatal metabolic disorder that affects 1 in every 50,000 babies born in the U.S.

Dr. Barnby, it turns out, has two children with TT1. She's also now an assistant professor and the undergraduate program director of UAH's College of Nursing. But when she and her husband moved to Huntsville in 2009, all she wanted to do was help her son and daughter.

"At first I attended UAH so I could understand the research studies," she says. "But during the time that I was getting my nurse practitioner degree, both of my children became more stable and there were less questions about what I could do for them."

So she decided to turn her attention toward helping others instead, an effort she thought would be strengthened by first earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from UAH. "I thought if I had a doctorate that people would listen to me," says Dr. Barnby of her motivation.



For UAH choral conductor, teaching goes beyond classroom

photo 3_1TN

If the life of a choral conductor doesn't sound very exciting, then you probably haven't met Dr. Erin Colwitz. An assistant professor in the Department of Music at UAH, Dr. Colwitz has traveled the world as part of her job.

Last year, for example, she went to South Africa to study Protestant church music in the post-apartheid era. And last month, she and her husband, retired conductor William Dehning, flew to Bangkok, Thailand, to headline the Chulalongkorn University Choral Festival.

"The nice thing about UAH, unlike other tier one research universities, is that they allow music faculty to have creative activities count toward research," says Dr. Colwitz. "And guest conducting, teaching clinics, and adjudicating competitions, especially international ones, is good for our dossier."


UAH nursing professor hopes to educate pregnant women about reducing formaldehyde exposure

Dr. Azita Amiri

With the plethora of information available on the Internet these days, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what is and isn't good for pregnant women. But one nursing professor at UAH is determined to get some answers.

"Within the last 50 years, 80,000 chemicals were added to our community and only 13 are regulated, " says Dr. Azita Amiri, whose doctorate is in nursing science. "This means many chemicals have the potential to enter fetuses' bodies, so for my research proposal, I decided to measure formaldehyde exposure in pregnant women."

An organic compound most commonly used in pressed woods and building materials, formaldehyde made headlines in 2008 thanks to the high levels found in FEMA-issued trailers after Hurricane Katrina. And it has remained a public health concern since, given that the chemical is "in almost everything," says Dr. Amiri.

So she and her assistant, UAH nursing student Deena Zahran, set about collecting data from 140 healthy pregnant women from four of the city's OB/GYN clinics. "It was a big project," she says. "I interviewed the women, who agreed to wear a formaldehyde vapor monitor badge for 24 hours. And we collected urine samples to see if and how much formic acid – a metabolite of formaldehyde – was present."


Noted Penn State rotorcraft researcher, Ed Smith to lead seminar at UAH


Ed Smith,the director of the Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence at Penn State University, will lead a seminar at UAH on Wednesday, March 19.

Smith's presentation is from 10 a.m., to 11:30 a.m., in the Olin B. King Technology Hall (room S-105). All government, industry, faculty, staff and students are invited to attend. The seminar is free, but due to limited seating registration is required: The seminar is co-hosted by the UAH Rotorcraft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center, and the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.


UAH graduate student wins Three Minute Thesis competition with some help from Spider-Man

David Gray

Trying to explain a complex scientific concept like lateral gene transfer in three minutes so that the average person can actually understand it is a task most of us wouldn't even consider undertaking. But not only did David Gray rise to that challenge, he blew it away – twice.

A graduate student at UAH, Gray took the top spot in last November's Three Minute Thesis and Dissertation (3MT) competition here at UAH before going on to win the grand prize at last month's regional 3MT competition in San Antonio, TX.

How did he do it? Well, first he got a little help from a well-known superhero.

"I watched videos of past winners and I noticed that almost everyone had come up with an analogy to explain their research," says the biochemistry major. "So I decided to use Spider-Man as my analogy, because Spider-Man gets his powers in a way that seems a lot like lateral gene transfer."

As Gray explains, lateral gene transfer is the "movement of genes between organisms that aren't necessarily related to each other." Those familiar with superhero mythology will of course recall that Spider-Man, then just the lowly Peter Parker, gained his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider.