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Laura Testino

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Save the Bats! (Not to mention the bees and the snakes)

The treatment could also combat a disease decimating honeybees, whose pollination is crucial to food production. And who, of course, produce honey, a key ingredient in candy corn.
The treatment could combat a disease decimating honeybees, whose pollination is crucial to food production. And who, of course, produce honey, a key ingredient in candy corn.

Although the bat has a reputation for being the airborne, bloodsucking form of Count Dracula, it performs less creepy tasks. With devilishly insatiable appetites, bats gorge on insects the way trick-or-treaters feast on their sugary loot. A 10-gram bat can consume more than eight grams of bugs in one night; economically, that represents billions of dollars annually in free pest control for the U.S. So a decline in bats—a population depletion of 6 million since 2006—leaves quite a large dent in natural insect extermination. This presents an interesting research opportunity for scientists like Christopher Cornelison.

Cornelison, a postdoctoral research associate at Georgia State University, has been studying ways to treat white-nose syndrome (WNS), the fungal disease primarily responsible for the decline in bat population. He anticipates that a naturally occurring bacteria called Rhodococcus rhodochrous could be used to treat an entire colony—without scientists ever having to come in contact with an individual bat or even enter a cave.

In one potential application, the bacteria is injected into semipermeable plastic sheets, which could be spread in caves or other bat habitats, oozing out naturally occurring compounds that can inhibit the growth of the deadly fungus on the bats. “We’re hoping that we can slow down the disease enough to allow the bats the opportunity to evolve,” Cornelison says. In Europe, the region hypothesized as the origin for WNS, bats have been found sporting white-fungus-capped noses without subsequent fatalities, indicating possible adaptation.

And as it turns out, Cornelison’s research shows that Rhodococcus rhodochrous also has the ability to combat the growth of other fungi, including the particular fungus that causes chalkbrood disease—a pathogenic factor contributing to rapid population decline among honeybees. An estimated one in every three bites of food comes from a honeybee-pollinated plant. Cornelison hopes additional field research he is conducting this fall will aid in the conservation of honeybees and bats. —Laura Testino

What about the snakes?

Photograph by John Jensen/Georgia DNR
Photograph by John Jensen/Georgia DNR

Fungal disease not only threatens bats; it’s also killing wild snakes, affecting at least eight species across the Midwest and in the Eastern United States. A serpentine form of fungal infection is credited with wiping out half of the endangered timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire. The reptilian ailment has made its way to Georgia; in late summer, researchers with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, a research cooperative based in Athens, determined that a mud snake found near a Statesboro swamp had snake fungal disease, indicated by a positive test for the Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola fungus. Infected snakes develop scabs, nodules, and crusty scales, and their molting patterns change.

Studying how the disease spreads and developing treatment strategies is particularly tricky since, unlike communal bats and bees, most snakes are loners. “We were surprised to find it in a mud snake; they tend to be solitary,” says Jessica McGuire, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.

The offending fungus is found in soil and could inadvertently be spread by people handling or collecting snakes during research. “This case definitely highlights the importance of disinfecting field gear,” says McGuire. —Rebecca Burns

Illustration credit: Bee: Agne Alesiute from The Noun Project; Honey: Cassie McKown from The Noun Project; Candy Corn: Theresa Stoodley from The Noun Project

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue with the headline “Savings the Bats and the Bees.”

Israeli dance company Vertigo explores “Reshimo”

Courtesy of Rialto Center for the Arts
Courtesy of Rialto Center for the Arts

Some life events surprise us; like explosions, they leave tremendous impressions. Other episodes fall into repetitive patterns—less dramatic but equally memorable in aggregate. Kabbalah practitioners define recollections—big or small—as “reshimo,” a resurfacing of memories akin to the images frozen in your mind’s eye the instant the lights are shut off. Vertigo, a contemporary dance company based in Jerusalem, explores the concept in a new repertoire piece that incorporates variations on repeated phrases, steps done in unison, and movement between partners—echoing life’s strange mix of surprise and the mundane.

Reshimo, October 18, Rialto Center for the Arts, rialto.gsu.edu

This article originally appeared in out September 2014 issue.

High Museum partners with MoMA to bring Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet

Courtesy of the Artist and Luhring Augustine, New York
Courtesy of the Artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Coming to the High Museum of Art through a partnership with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, artist Janet Cardiff’s installation The Forty Part Motet explores the experience of sound. It’s composed of forty speakers to which she assigns fifty-nine vocalists, whose voices rise and fall, blend and harmonize in a performance of “Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui,” a masterpiece composed by Thomas Tallis in 1556. The title translates to “In No Other Is My Hope,” but the uplifting lyrics are not the most inspiring element, says Michael Rooks, the High’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “The work lends itself to audience members coming to it as a place of solace and a place of meditation.”

Situated on eye-level stands, the loudspeakers form an oval and broadcast a fourteen-minute looped recording: the first eleven minutes reserved for the song and the last three for an intermission. The layout invites visitors to meander, ultimately becoming engulfed by a choral crescendo. But what follows is equally compelling. As the song’s final note transitions to the intermission, it’s almost as though the curtains draw to a close on a stage. But rather than solidifying the fourth wall between performers and audience, the transition allows visitors to hear the singers engage in post-performance chat: a hustle and bustle if heard collectively or, if caught at single speakers, snippets of private talk.

The contrast between motet and intermission creates a dynamic that Rooks likens to the ancient concept of the sacred and profane, or dichotomy of earthbound and heavenly, “reminding ourselves of mortality . . . and at the same time allowing this moment of transcendence.”

The Forty Part Motet, October 11–January 18, 2015, runs with the installation Make a Joyful Noise: Renaissance Art and Music at Florence Cathedral, featuring sculpture by Luca della Robbia. high.org

This article originally ran in the September 2014 issue under the headline “A Sound Idea.”

Six events to check out this Labor Day weekend in Atlanta

Whether your enthusiasms lean toward the literary, the leisurely, or death-defying speed, you can find a way to indulge them over the long weekend. Here’s a roundup of ways to spend the holiday.

Chick-fil-A Kickoff
8/28, 8/30
Nothing helps you bid farewell to summer and welcome fall like a double dose of college football at the Georgia Dome. The 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff features two first-ever matchups: Boise State versus Ole Miss on Thursday evening and Alabama versus West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.

AJC Decatur Book Festival
8/29–8/31
The country’s largest independent literary festival includes signings, readings, panels, and, of course, countless book-filled booths. This free extravaganza isn’t bookworm exclusive; stroll Decatur for live music or cooking demos. A highlight: a screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, a contest pairing kid filmmakers with children’s books that won the Newbery Medal.

Night Racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway
8/29–8/31
Start your engines, and prepare for three nights of pedal-to-the-metal competition billed as the “Biggest Labor Day Party in the USA.” On the lineup: a Friday night qualifying race, Saturday evening’s Great Clips 300, and the Sunday night 500-lap Sprint Cup Series race.

Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival
8/29–8/31
The sixteenth annual festival at Callaway Gardens provides activities for enthusiasts of music, fitness, photography, and pyrotechnic skydiving. You can keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, mesmerized by the Friday Night Balloon Glow, or take to the sky for a daytime balloon ride.

Dragon Con
8/29–9/1
Sure, you never miss the iconic parade, but why not actually attend the pop culture/sci-fi convention this year? The 3,000-plus hours of programming include: workshops (belly dancing, anyone?); costume contests (who will be crowned Miss Star Trek Universe?); and chats by authors, artists, and actors (Star Trek/X-Men fixture Patrick Stewart and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus Fring, to name two). Along with recognizable celebs, meet folks you’ve heard but not seen, such as the voice of Disney’s Goofy and Pluto or Granny from Squidbillies.

Art in the Park
8/30–9/1
Paintings, photography, pottery, jewelry, and other works by 175 artists fill booths in and around Marietta Square. Be sure to set aside time to meander through the boutiques, restaurants, and galleries in the town’s historic district.

For more things to do this weekend, check out this roundup from Central Atlanta Progress, which also includes an interactive map and tips for getting around town.

Atlanta Science Festival

Illustration by Studio Muti
Illustration by Studio Muti

A smartphone, a tasty beer, and a drum concert by a musician with a prosthetic arm: All brought to you by . . . science. To explain the how and why of these phenomena and many others—and to demonstrate how science connects to everyday life—Atlanta Science Festival was launched last year. It culminated with a free daylong expo attended by 16,000. The next fest is scheduled for spring 2015.

 

Community Guilds’ STE(A)M truck

Illustration by Studio Muti
Illustration by Studio Muti

With all the focus on STEM education, one piece seems to be missing: training for kids who might not work in labs but want to do something hands-on. Community Guilds cuts to the chase (literally) by traveling to schools in the STE(A)M truck, tricked out with scientific and artistic equipment—including a 3-D printer. Apprenticeships are also available for high school students to refine skills.

 

Kennesaw State University’s Campus Awareness, Resource, & Empowerment Center

Georgia is now one of ten states identified by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth for having a higher-education network to combat collegiate homelessness. Every university in the state assigns a “single point of contact” for homeless students and those in foster care, and Kennesaw State University’s Campus Awareness, Resource & Empowerment Center has been a model for other universities: It provides homeless, hungry, and at-risk students with assistance; collects and distributes donations at Owl’s Closet; and collaborates with the Homeless Awareness Week program at the university to involve and educate the entire campus.

Get to know Zack Everhart of “So You Think You Can Dance”

Courtesy: FOX
Courtesy: FOX

“Hey, will you drop me off at the Fox at 5:30 in the morning?” A strange request in the bitingly cold month of January.

But in the dance world, taking leaps of faith are just as important as reaching extravagant heights with graceful leaps across the stage. So for Zack Everhart, a 20-year-old dancer from Kennesaw, attending the early morning audition for a spot on So You Think You Can Dance Season 11 was an opportunity he had to seize.

Michael Everhart, Zack’s father, remembers replying to the request with a, “Sure! Yeah.” A life-changing pair of words, in fact, because Zack made it to the final cuts of the audition process, earning a spot in the season’s Top 20.

Michael and Zack’s mother, Tammy Everhart, own Great Gig Dance Company in Kennesaw, where they watched Zack’s dance training begin and grow as he became “laser-focused” on his craft.

Zack became particularly serious about dance around the seventh grade, training in multiple styles, but tap has always been his favorite. Zack chose to audition in this style–heavily technical and not easily mastered by all dancers—to help set him apart on the show.

Zack said he “really wanted to make sure that tap was still being represented on the show,” and added that it doesn’t hurt to surprise judges and viewers when Season 11’s only male tapper can glide through other styles (even African jazz) with equal ease and confidence.

Despite the praises Zack has received weekly from the So You Think You Can Dance judges, audience votes placed him in the bottom three male contestants on last Wednesday’s episode, meaning that he would still perform but faced elimination.

More than 100 family members, friends, and “Zack Pack” supporters watched his performances at a viewing party at Kennesaw’s California Dreaming restaurant. While Zack kept a cool, smiling demeanor throughout the show, he said the cameras don’t capture what’s happening backstage. “I was definitely stressed—really stressed—backstage,” he said.

Michael and Tammy Everhart and many others at the viewing party had written  “Don’t Panic” in Sharpie on their wrists, to match the phrase Zack had tattooed on his own when he turned 18. The tattoo, inspired by one of his favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, helps to calm his nerves. “It’s just something to remember when you’re stressed out and times are tough,” he said.

Zack’s performance in a contemporary group number choreographed by Mandy Moore, and in a jazz duet and contemporary small group choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, impressed the judges, and he was saved from elimination. He will be back to perform again in next week’s show, and Michael and Tammy plan to be in the live audience—a relatively rare experience for the studio owners, who usually watch Zack perform from the wings of the stage. (Tammy is a dancer and dance teacher, and Michael usually works in the light or sound booth.)

Zack has been a fan of the show since its debut and was just short of being a Top 20 finalist in Season 9. “It’s great watching somebody live their dream. Anybody living their dream is a beautiful thing, but when it’s your own child, that just makes it even better,” Michael said.

Whatever the outcome of the show, Zack said he is planning on a professional dance career. “I don’t really have a particular place I want to be, I just know that I want to end up dancing,” he said.

If you want to bust a move and show off your own fancy footwork (or at least learn a few steps), you can celebrate National Dance Day this Saturday in Atlanta at local studios Gotta Dance and Dance 411. If enjoying the moves of a professional is more your style, attend LIFT at the Woodruff Arts Center.

Just how much of a college football fanatic are you?

Informing either a Georgia Dawg or a doctor, “I bleed white and gold,” will likely cause sincere concern. Both will question your health. One will question your sanity . . . but only because when it comes to college sports, team loyalty runs deep.

Chick-fil-A and the soon-to-open College Football Hall of Fame would like to award those who take this undying devotion to the highest level. Those of you who schedule each and every aspect of life around gamedays. The ones who choose body paint and foam fingers over coats and gloves on brisk fall nights. And especially the ones who defy medical research and bleed obnoxious color combinations (white and gold can’t be healthy).

The First 100 at the Hall contest enhances the already-present eat, sleep, and breathe college football mentality, granting finalists free Chick-fil-A meals for a year, an invitation to spend the night on the Hall’s Playing Field, and the chance to experience the exhibits and activities offered in the College Football Hall of Fame before its official opening later in August.

To qualify, describe your loving commitment to college football in 250 words or less, and submit the essay no later than July 27. The sports fanatics who write the 100 most passionate and creative essays will be chosen as finalists, receiving the sneak-preview of the Hall and the chance to win other prizes from Coca-Cola, AT&T, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and Kia.

The College Football Hall of Fame opens on August 23. Tickets go on sale on August 1 at cfbhall.com.

Q&A: Chris Conley, UGA football player, Star Wars fan film creator

His middle initial, “R,” may as well stand for “Renaissance Man.” After leading the Dawgs in receptions last season, Christian Conley decided to lead his campus in the production of a Star Wars fan film, titled Retribution. And according to his Twitter bio, he’s also a lover of Christ and aspiring writer. Plus, he can carry a tune quite better than most. I think the only thing this guy doesn’t do is wear jorts. “Yeah, I wouldn’t be caught in those,” he said when we talked about the surprise response to his film.

Conley said he knew he had support for the film, but has been pleasantly surprised by receiving over more than a quarter million views since its July 5 YouTube debut. He’s thankful for the support, and hopes “people continue to enjoy it and realize that ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter who you are; if there’s something that you enjoy, pursue it.’ ” Following his own mantra, he’s already in the planning process for a second film that will shoot at the end of the year.

In honor of the six original episodes of the Star Wars series, here are six highlights from a talk with the football-playing filmmaker (or filmmaking football player, if you will):

Why Star Wars?

I’ve been a fan of it since I was a kid. And I had the idea, and I just thought, “Why not? Let’s not talk about something, let’s do it, and let’s make it as awesome as possible.”

What inspired the theme of retribution?

Initially when we started writing, we wanted to have the story centered around the University of Georgia campus, but as we started developing the characters, mainly the Sith, and developing his story, I thought he was kind of an intriguing character. The title came later. Retribution: It has a nice ring to it. As we were writing the script, we ran with it, and it stuck.

What attracted you to Khari Vion, the character you play in the film?

It’s just something different. He’s interesting once you look at his past, and I really knew the way I wanted that character portrayed, because if he wasn’t portrayed correctly, I just don’t think that the film would have had as much oomph to it, and the fight scenes wouldn’t flow or feel the right way. So that’s what made me want to play that character, because I had a distinct vision for how I wanted him to look and feel.

How do you feel that Retribution connects all of the interests that you have?

I think it does just by the nature of what it is. It’s film. It’s Star Wars. And it has to do with football. And the University of Georgia. So it involves and includes all of these different groups, and brings them together in something that they all can enjoy. Whereas before, maybe a football fan wouldn’t watch a Star Wars film. Maybe a Star Wars fan wouldn’t care about the University of Georgia. So it just includes a lot of people, and allows all of these different groups to come together and have some fun.

Were the humorous aspects–especially at the beginning–added to make it more appealing across the board?

Ya know, I wrote that just to be funny. I wanted this project to have moments where they would take it seriously, and other moments where they’d realize how absurd it really is. And we really wanted to mesh the two worlds, and so at the University of Georgia, we know that the Gators wear jean shorts, and so I decided to put that in there. Some of the other comedic moments, like the Todd Gurley scene and the Coach Richt scene, I just thought they would be really cool cutaways, and a little bit of relief for the people who are watching and cool for some fans.

What was the most surprising part of the filmmaking process for you?

Just learning about what it is to be a filmmaker. I’ve never taken a film course. I’ve never taken a script-writing course. Over the past eight months, I’ve had to learn all of that. I’ve had to learn how you go about the filmmaking process, how you act as a director and as a producer, how you write a script in the right format, how you work with actor’s scheduling, getting permission to use locations and all of these different things, and the cost of filming. And working in post. And that’s the most surprising thing–the amount of information that I’ve gained and the things that I’ve learned within this period of time.

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