South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance holds manufacturing camps at General Motors

The South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance held their last two “Go Tech” Advanced Manufacturing Academy camps this week at General Motors of Spring Hill. The all day two-day camp was designed to expose high school students to high tech jobs in advanced manufacturing while giving them the chance to work with local engineers  and doing team-based simulations.

With the assistance and grants of LaunchTN, General Motors-Spring Hill Manufacturing and the partnership with Columbia State Community College, the students were able to register for this camp for free. The grant money was also used to fund five code camps, two robotics camps and three advanced manufacturing camps. 

The first day of the camp consisted of touring the GM facility, meeting the senior staff and gaining insight to what is done in the facility. On the second day, the students worked in a low-tech environment to teach them the importance of standardized work. They worked in teams to assemble parts on a wooden car in four 15-minute segments.

“This shows why standardized work is so important,” Mike Gruhn, Paint Group Leader at GM said. “You have to know how to put parts on a car.”

The first round of the simulation was designed for the students to fail because the instructors gave little help and almost no training. The students then went through a second round after the instructors provided more training

“Each student had their own job to do,” Danny Adams, an Electromechanical and Mechatronics teacher at Spot Lowe Technology Center said. ”If they didn’t do their job right, it was going to affect the person in front of them and behind them, so they had to learn how to do it faster, safer and keeping up with their parts.”

“I want to be an electrical engineer,” Seroberto Moreno, a recent Marshall County High School graduate said. “I was very surprised by this facility because it’s so organized and clean and they’re alway enhancing their own technology. The main part is they always want good teamwork effort and good work ethic.”

For students looking to work at GM, Gruhn says punctuality and the willingness and want to do something is important.

“If you want to work here and you show that when you first get here, you’ll do very well,” Gruhn said.

For more information on GM, visit their website


Featured image and video by Kaitlin Flippo

Edited by Taylor Owens


Professor discusses Earth-like world of Saturn moon

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At the March 4 Quest Science Forum, UT professor Devon Burr spoke about the “surprisingly earth-like world” of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Even though it is in the outer solar system, Titan shares many similarities with Earth and other terrestrial planets. For example, like Earth, Titan’s atmosphere is predominately made of nitrogen. This fact was confirmed by the Voyager Spacecraft in 1980, though Burr said it is highly unusual for an Outer Solar System planet to even have an atmosphere.

This thick atmosphere makes it difficult for scientists to see down to the surface of Titan. Burr compared the moon’s atmosphere to Los Angeles smog— yellow and hazy. Seeing through the atmosphere requires looking at radar images to study the surface features.

With radar and mapping technologies, scientists have learned that Titan’s surface has many dry river channels that move in patterns similar to those of Earth’s river systems. Scientists believe that Titan has subsurface oceans, meaning that the rock below the surface is extremely saturated with water.

The radar also picks up images of sand dunes on Titan, which are about 100 meters high and cover about 20 percent of the surface. Burr said these dunes are made up of particles similar to those found in the atmosphere, leading them to believe that the dunes are created by aerosols that rain down from above.

Titan’s extreme distance from the sun causes it to receive only one-hundredths of the energy from the sun that Earth does. In 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission was sent to Titan as one of NASA’s last billion dollar missions.

“Because the spacecraft was so far away from the sun, it wasn’t possible to use solar energy like we would with an inner solar system mission,” Burr said. “So we basically used nuclear energy.”

In the next decade, Burr said, NASA is prioritizing going to Venus, the moon, the Trojan Asteroids and Uranus. She also noted missions launching to the Asteroid Belt next year and Mars in 2020.

The science forum will not be held for the next three Fridays, but will begin again on April 1 with a discussion on Pluto.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson

UT professor explores causes of pollinator decline

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“Why do we need bees?” John Skinner asked his audience at the Quest science forum on Friday, Feb. 26. “Because we like to eat.”

Skinner, professor of entomology and plant pathology at the University of Tennessee, gave a presentation titled “Examining Factors of Pollinator Decline, Progress and Future Directions,” to students, faculty and community members at the weekly forum.

Known by some simply as “the bee guy,” Skinner began his presentation by having the audience members introduce themselves and say one thing they would like to know about bees. This activity was a first for the science forums and opened an atmosphere for discussion.

Skinner first gave his listeners a crash course in plant anatomy and reproductive processes— a lesson that most haven’t studied since elementary school.

“There are many pollinator plants that have discreet male and female parts, so you’ve got to have pollinators,” Skinner said. “Nature resists self-pollination.”

He then addressed the questions that most of the audience were concerned with: What is Colony Collapse Disorder? What’s happening? What are we doing to stop it?

CCD is the name given to the trend of the recent significant decline of bee hives in the United States. This issue is important, Skinner said, because bee pollination is crucial in producing our food supply.

Additionally, pollinators play a huge role in agricultural economy. In the US, the annual pollinated crop value is upwards of $25 billion. In Tennessee, that value is about $500 million.

There are many possible causes for the declining populations of bees, Skinner said. Mites, diseases, pesticide contaminations and poor nutrition could all be factors in the mysterious problem, causing them to disappear at disturbingly rapid rates.

Still, many people deny that pollinator decline exists. Skinner said these beliefs are somewhat justified by data showing that bees have been through similar periods of decline before. Due to the appearances of new symptoms, Skinner believes he has proof that the problem is very real.

Along with many scientists around the country, Skinner is working to create “sustainable solution to problem affecting honey bee health.” Through the Coordinated Agricultural Project, he works to protect managed bees, determine causes of CCD, breed resistance to pathogens and transfer this knowledge to beekeepers and the public.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Ashley Sharp


UT neuroscientist speaks on importance of sleep

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At the Quest science forum, held on Friday Feb. 19, UT professor Ralph Lydic spoke to students, faculty and community members about the human body’s need for sleep and the consequences that can result from neglecting what he says should be a priority.

“Sleep is a major risk factor for disease,” Lydic said, “And it’s something we all devalue. It’s something we do to get it over with.”

According to Lydic, everyone has two major sources of disease risk: those genes inherited from our parents and modifiable risk factors that stem from lifestyle choices and behaviors. Sleep is a major component of the second category. Lydic says sleep has an under-recognized significance.

Lydic said it is only recently that people have begun to realize what an impact sleep, or lack thereof, can have on human life. There has only been a national center for sleep research since the 1970s, a relatively short period of time given that humans have lived and slept for 160,000 years.

Lydic reported that approximately 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, of which there are 90 distinct disorders. These various sleep deficiencies can cause all sorts of other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression and even strokes.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, which affects around 1 in 3 people according to the Sleep Health Foundation. The second most common disorder is sleep apnea, a treatable issue that repeatedly disrupts breathing during sleep.

Lydic spoke extensively on the dangers of getting too little sleep, especially before driving. He says of the 212 million drivers in the US, 24 percent have admitted to dozing off at the wheel on at least one occasion.

One study Lydic cited showed that 17 hours of wakefulness impairs function the same way as having a blood alcohol level of .05. Sleep is also crucial in recovering from an injury and can impact mental health, immune function, metabolism and performance.

Lydic said the creation of the National Sleep Foundation is “a sign that people are finally starting to take sleep seriously.”

The science forum is held every Friday at noon in the Thompson-Boling Cafe. On Feb. 26, there will be a presentation by John Skinner that will discuss pollinator decline.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson

Paleontologist, author discusses link between humans and fish

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Humans and fish have a lot more in common than most people know, according to fish paleontologist and author Neil Shubin. On Thursday, the lecture “Your Inner Fish” explained how Shubin began his search for the fossil link between fish and land creatures and why this discovery matters today.

Shubin’s search began as a second year Ph.D. student, after his professor showed him a diagram of a fish changing to a land creature.

“It captured my imagination,” he said, “that is, to find evidence how fish, and the descendants of fish, evolved to walk on land. That became my quest in 1987 and it hasn’t changed since.”

These similarities arise from what Shubin calls “a common history with the rest of life on earth.” Scientists find these similarities when they study fossils, embryos and DNA.

“Often some of the best road maps to our own bodies lie in other creatures,” Shubin stated. “Some of the best road maps to the bones of our arms lie in fish (…) some of the basic road maps to understanding the complex tangle of nerves inside our heads lie in sharks.”

Previous scientific research conducted by Ashton Embry in the 1960s led Shubin and an expedition team to the Arctic Islands. In 2004, they uncovered what they called the Tiktaalik, a large, freshwater fish that has both land and water creature characteristics.

This discovery was monumental because the creature had the first neck in fossil records, as well as similar wrist and neck structures to those of humans. These similarities have led biologists to discover other similarities between fish and humans including embryos, muscles and nervous systems.

Such connections have greatly increased medical research to help prevent and cure diseases.

“The breakthroughs that will ultimately enrich and extend our lives will be based in some way on worms, flies and in some cases even fish,” Shubin predicted.

Shubin believes that these advances make today “a very exciting time to be a biologist.” Robert Jacobsen, sixth year Ph.D. graduate student in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department, agrees with Shubin.

“It’s exciting to have people that have made great discoveries come and share those experiences,” he said. “I feel that it’s important to expose myself to those people that are seeking truth.”

After his lecture, Shubin signed copies of his book “Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body,” which was published in 2008.

This lecture was held as part of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department’s annual Darwin Day celebration, which ran from Feb. 9 to Feb. 11.

Featured image by Elizabeth Garrett

Edited by Hannah Hunnicutt

UT alumna speaks on climate change at science forum

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Melissa R. Allen of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory spoke for the 2015 UT Science Forum “Climate Variability and Change: What Fundamental Science and Modeling Tell Us.”

Allen opened by talking about a common debate between climate scientists and detractors; whether or not human activity causes the climate variability that has been observed.

“The scientists, in all of the observations they’d seen and all the modeling they had done worldwide, had come to the conclusion that warming was unequivocal,” Allen said.

To expand on her statement, Allen went on to describe what climate change is.

“We have an energy balance between the Earth and space. The sun’s radiation is coming in as light. Light color or bright color, it will just reflect the light back into space,” Allen said. “The darker surfaces will absorb that radiation and then they re-radiate infrared radiation or long-wave radiation, and that gets trapped then by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.”

Allen also stated that some greenhouse gasses are good, and that there would not be life on Earth without them.

Her lecture included other topics, such as talking about Sen. James M. Inhofe’s vocal stance against climate change, the infrared absorption spectrum and the polar ice caps.

“Antarctica goes through this cycle every year, that some melts and some melts and some grows back,” Allen said. “The issue, though, is are we losing more ice than we’re gaining?”

She then directed the audience’s attention towards a new study that suggested that the ice caps were gaining more ice than they were losing.

“Turns out, though, that the study that had been done was looking at data from 1992 to 2008, and really all that study said was that increase in ice was constant. What it did not say was that the rate of the decrease in ice was increasing,” Allen said.

Allen closed her lecture by likening the climate change denial to that of an unhealthy individual who refuses to change their lifestyle.

“If we ignore this, we’re kind of like ignoring a doctor that tells us that if we don’t shape up and lose weight and stop smoking, we’re going to have a heart attack,” Allen said. “And we tell the doctor ‘I’m sorry, you’re a heretic because you can’t tell me when I’m going to have a heart attack.'”

Featured image by Benjamin Webb

Edited by Courtney Anderson