Explore Magazine Volume 4 Issue 2


Female Ministers Face Unique Challenges

Women have hit the stained glass ceiling when it comes to making it in the male-dominated field of the ministry, a new University of Florida study finds.

"Clergywomen face the same conflicts as (other) professional women, those of balancing work and family, social isolation and having to win acceptance from peers and superiors," said Jesse Schultz, a UF sociology graduate student who did the study for her thesis. "But they also must interpret Scriptures that are biased against women and struggle with a traditional male model in their denominations."

The newly released study by Schultz, UF sociology Professor Constance Shehan and Marsha Wiggins Frame, a professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, is based on a 1995 survey of 190 ordained United Methodist clergywomen representing all geographic regions of the United States.

The study found that clergywomen extend the traditional female roles of mothering or caregiving to their work with congregations as a way of overcoming resistance to their occupying a traditionally male role, Schultz said.
"Because the Scriptures are used as a firm argument that women have no place as church leaders, clergywomen must take extra steps to be taken seriously and earn trust," said Schultz, adding that the findings likely hold true for women in other denominations.

Unfortunately, this extra caring work, along with a stressful life that includes moving an average of once every four years, results in high levels of depression, the study found.

Sixty percent of the women said their sleep was restless, 56 percent said they felt tearful and more than one-third (35 percent) said they "could not shake off the blues even with help from family or friends."

When asked to describe the greatest challenge of her job, one woman answered, "Staying sane amidst the pettiness, the patriarchy and the pressures of the ministry."

The ordained ministry remains one of the most male-dominated of all professions, with women making up no more than 14 percent of the clergy in any major religious denomination in the United States, Shehan said.

Traditionally, many church-related duties are performed by ministers' wives, Shehan said. But when a woman is the minister, she may be compelled to perform all of the "wifely" duties herself, she said.

Despite the enormous stress the clergywomen in the study reported, many expressed high levels of satisfaction with their job. Nearly all reported that their work is interesting (89 percent) and important to them (93 percent).

Constance Shehan, shehan@soc.ufl.edu
Jesse Schultz, jschultz@tampabay.rr.com

Cathy Keen

New Geographic Analysis Can Curb Urban Decay

A new geographic market analysis technique that forecasts demand for office space can replace white elephants with black ink for taxpayers, says a University of Florida researcher.

Overbuilding of office space in many American cities in the 1970s and '80s led to vacant buildings, urban decay and enormous losses for taxpayers and investors. But that can become a thing of the past with a new geographic technology that has unprecedented levels of accuracy in long-range forecasts, said Grant Thrall, a UF geographer who developed the procedure.
A large office building can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years to complete, Thrall said.

"If the market changes after construction begins, when the office building is completed it may not be able to be rented," he said. "The investors and the city alike end up with a multi-million- dollar white elephant. A large vacant office building, even if it's new, can contribute to urban decay because an oversupply of office space diminishes property value and discourages investment.

"Our market analysis can forecast which neighborhoods have potential for future office market growth, and which do not," Thrall said. "Applying the technology can result in sustained and more vibrant commercial centers, with improving employment opportunities."

Before shopping malls, restaurant chains and other establishments begin construction, businesses consult a geographer to advise them where to build, Thrall said. Locating in the right spot can increase their revenues by more than 25 percent, he said.
Glenn R. Mueller, managing director of real estate research at Legg Mason Inc. and a faculty member of The Berman Real Estate Institute at Johns Hopkins University, called Thrall's technique "one of the major real estate analysis tools of the next century."

The computer software Thrall uses for the procedure is like a spreadsheet except the information is mapped. It can be thought of as a "spatial spreadsheet" with a map being a computerized spatial database, he said.
Because of desktop computer hardware, availability of commercial geographic data and geographic information systems software, an analysis that required years to complete in the 1970s now may require only a few minutes, he said.

With some changes, the method also works for housing, said Thrall, who used it in St. Lucie County to calculate how many homes could be built and sold, by neighborhood.

The new procedure hones in on an individual neighborhood, projecting future office space needs by considering available space and proposed development nearby, as well as employment projections, he said.

The procedure was developed using information for the Tampa Bay area as a case study. Thrall worked with UF graduate student Paul Amos, now director of geographic information systems projects for the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Grant Thrall, thrall@geo.ufl.edu

Cathy Keen

Researcher Estimates Rate of Florida Land Conversion

Natives grumble about it all the time - the rate at which Florida land, seemingly overnight, is transformed from pasture to pavement, hammock to highway, scrubland to skyscraper.

But how fast is it really happening? And what does the future hold?

University of Florida agricultural economist John Reynolds can hazard some pretty good guesses. The food and resource economics researcher specializes in models that provide estimates of the rate of land conversion from rural to urban.

Using population projections and data from aerial photography and satellite imagery, Reynolds estimates that 130,000 acres per year will be converted from rural to urban uses in Florida from 2000 to 2020.

"The conversion of rural land to urban uses is considerably more important to Florida than to most of the rest of the nation," said Reynolds, a professor in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "Only about 2 to 3 percent of the total land area of the United States is accounted for by urban development, and only small fractions of percentages are being converted to urban uses each year.

"By contrast, Florida's urban land uses account for 10 to 11 percent of land area, and that is expanding more rapidly."

Reynolds has determined that for each additional person who moves to Florida, a half-acre of land is converted to urban uses. Florida's population broke the 15 million mark in 1998, and roughly 673 people move to Florida every day.

"We will continue to see the conversion of rural land to urban uses because we will continue to see people move to Florida," Reynolds said.

In Florida, many of the urban counties are still important agriculturally, too.

Eight of the top nine counties in agricultural sales are metropolitan statistical areas or urbanizing areas. These counties - Palm Beach, Dade, Collier, Hillsborough, Manatee, Orange, St. Lucie, Polk - sell more than $200 million in agricultural products annually and, according to 1992 figures, account for 49.3 percent of all agricultural products sold in Florida.

Today, urban and agricultural uses in these areas co-exist quietly, but Reynolds sees the potential for conflict in the future. Between 2000 and 2010, population growth in those eight counties will result in the conversion of 340,291 acres, or 531.7 square miles, to urban uses, he said. While all the new urban land would not come out of farmland, the conversion will affect agriculture.

"Most of the coming growth will be concentrated around the current major population areas. In some of these areas there will be competition for water and concern about a number of environmental land issues, along with conflict between urban interests and agricultural interests," Reynolds said. "There's going to be fairly intense competition for the rural land."

John Reynolds, reynolds@fred.ifas.ufl.edu

Cindy Spence

Research Awards Approach $300 Million

The University of Florida's research enterprise received a record $296 million in awards during fiscal year 1998-99, up 5.7 percent from the previous year.

The increase from last year's $280 million reflects the hard work and dedication of UF's faculty and graduate students, said Win Phillips, UF vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.

"The growth in our sponsored research indicates continued outstanding performance of our faculty and graduate students," Phillips said. "It's clear the university is meeting the state's expectations as a major research institution."

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, industry was responsible for the bulk of the roughly $16 million increase in research funding, with corporate support for research increasing about 40 percent from $37 million to $52 million.

"Industry is depending more and more on the University of Florida as a top-quality research laboratory," Phillips said.

Federal support for research continued to make up more than half of UF's total, contributing about $160 million, up slightly from the previous year. State and local support also remained nearly level with a combined total of $42.5 million.

As was the case last year, the biggest funding agency was the National Institutes of Health, the source of more than $63 million. Foundations contributed more than $34 million, while UF received more than $6 million from miscellaneous sources.

UF President John Lombardi welcomed the results.

"The competitive context for research is very intense, and the success of our faculty, staff and students in capturing this support speaks eloquently to the commitment of our colleges, departments and programs to bringing the best research support possible to the University of Florida and its community," Lombardi said.

Phillips said the steady rise in UF's research funding has a significant ripple effect in Gainesville and statewide.

"Enhanced funding for research translates into support for people who live and work here," he said. "The economic impact is significant."

While no reliable figures are available comparing research funding among universities, the most recent rankings from the National Science Foundation place UF 12th in total research-and-development spending among public universities in the prestigious Association of American Universities

Win Phillips, wphil@ufl.edu

Aaron Hoover

Farmers Can Tap Into New Market With Flower Crops

Panhandle farmers can trade in snap beans for snapdragons in a move to boost their earnings.

University of Florida extension specialist Dan Mullins says adding sunflowers, zinnias and verbena to fields of corn, cotton and beans could make a big difference in the bottom line for farmers.

"Diversity is the name of the game these days. Growers, even successful growers, are always looking for alternatives so they can spread out the risk and avoid investing their resources in only one crop," said Mullins, a horticulture and vegetable specialist with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "With cut flowers, we believe we've found an alternative crop with good potential in north Florida."

There are more than 300 retail florists and two large wholesale florists in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties alone, but most flowers sold in the region are being imported from the western United States and South America.

"We asked ourselves, 'Why are we growing such a small percentage of the flowers used in our state?'" Mullins said.

Mullins started the three-year study when he realized there was little information available on varieties, plant spacing, fertilization, harvesting and marketing of cut flowers for the northern Gulf Coast region.

During the trials, Mullins tried to determine if marketable cut flowers could be produced under field-crop conditions. His second goal was to screen as many species and cultivars as possible so potential growers would have plenty of options.
Fifty-seven species were tried, with cool-season flowers planted in mid-October and warm-season flowers planted in mid-March.

The flowers were evaluated for stem length, number of flowers and quality. Flowers were delivered to wholesale and retail florists after harvest, and an evaluation form was provided so the florists could answer questions about the locally produced flowers.

"Florists were surprised at the size and quality of the locally produced flowers," Mullins said. "They were especially impressed with the freshness and encouraged us to proceed with other studies and with production for the local market."

The florists were unanimous in saying the trial produced beautiful flowers but said they needed longer stems for floral arrangements. Still, about 75 to 80 percent of the flowers tried in the field were acceptable to florists, Mullins said.

Dan Mullins, demu@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu

Cindy Spence

Common Compound Can Reduce Air Pollution

University of Florida researchers have found a possible solution to a problem that has plagued air pollution control efforts for years: how to control smog-causing emissions from small sources ranging from industrial boilers to lawn mowers.

UF environmental engineering doctoral student Max Lee's findings could lead to new technology for reducing pollution in smog-ridden U.S. cities as well as in developing countries, where cheap, effective pollution controls are desperately needed.

"Everything for small sources currently is very, very expensive," said Eric Allen, professor emeritus of environmental engineering sciences and the chair of Lee's dissertation committee. "The importance of this technique is that it is oriented to the control of small sources and it is economical."

Lee, whose research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force, said conventional pollution control techniques involve injecting a "reducing" gas into exhaust fumes to convert nitrogen oxides, pollutants that are the primary ingredient in smog, to inert gasses.
This technique requires precise proportions at specific temperatures, variables that are difficult to achieve with smaller engines. Additionally, the design and equipment costs for the reducing gas technology are extremely high.

Seeking a better method, Lee released concentrations of nitrogen oxides through pellets of alumina coated with a special absorbent material. The coated alumina removed 95 percent of the nitrogen oxides under conditions similar to combustion exhaust.

Alumina is a common material readily available in various forms such as highly durable pellets, Allen said.

Lee also found the pellets could be cleaned and then used again, he said.

Eric Allen, eallen4762@aol.com
Max Lee, maxlee@ufl.edu

Aaron Hoover

Seedless Watermelons On Verge Of Making It Big

Champion watermelon-seed spitters may revile University of Florida researcher Don Maynard, but consumers whose only interest in watermelon is culinary will cheer him.

Maynard is working on perfecting the seedless watermelon. With up to 1,000 seeds each, the traditional watermelon can give even diehard melon fans a fit. And in addition to having no seeds for a melon muncher to navigate, the seedless watermelons are sweeter, Maynard said.

"These are just a pleasure to eat," Maynard said. "We've taken thousands of measures of the sugar content, and seedless fruit are always higher in sugar. It's a premium, sweet watermelon."

The seedless watermelon fits in nicely with the latest trend in the fruit and vegetable industry toward fresh-cut produce that can be purchased ready-to-eat at the supermarket. With seedless, Maynard said, there's virtually no waste, just solid flesh beneath the rind.

The absence of seeds also extends the watermelon's shelf life, Maynard said. When a watermelon becomes just a bit overripe, flesh around the seed begins to disintegrate and leaves a hollow area, which speeds up deterioration. Occasionally, a few seeds appear in a seedless watermelon, but by and large it's seedless.

"After 40 years of trying, recently we've come up with some improved seedless varieties," Maynard said. "They can become the standard now, rather than being experimental."

Until recently, growers have been reluctant to invest heavily in seedless watermelons because they are several times more expensive to grow. But greater returns at the market and advances in production are making farmers more confident about growing them, Maynard said.

"The price difference is substantial; as much as 10 cents a pound is not uncommon," Maynard said. "But they're worth it."
Still, the seeded varieties are not obsolete. Seedless watermelons, which produce little pollen, must be interplanted with seeded varieties to provide for germination and pollination. They also have a distinctive rind that distinguishes them from seeded varieties.

Don Maynard, dnma@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu

Cindy Spence

UF Researchers Explore Gene Therapy For Obesity

University of Florida scientists have successfully used gene therapy to control appetite and weight in obese animal models. While testing in humans is years away, the research holds promise that a single injection may someday be a viable option for treating obesity, a widespread health problem that continues to defy most control efforts.

The researchers presented their findings in June at the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene Therapy.

An estimated 54 percent of adults in the United States are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. Treating obesity and its related conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, is estimated to cost more than $45 billion annually.

The UF scientists injected mice and rats with genes that increased the production of two appetite-controlling compounds already existing in the body - leptin and ciliary neurotrophic factor, or CNTF.

Leptin is a naturally occurring protein, produced by fat cells, that inhibits appetite and increases energy expenditure. It affects the brain's secretion of appetite-regulating signals. Such signals include neuropeptide Y, a chemical that UF researchers found stimulates appetite, said Satya Kalra, a professor of neuroscience in UF's College of Medicine. This process is thought to be faulty in most obese people so that even high levels of leptin fail to turn off the hunger signal.

"The concept is that if you can turn off the production of neuropeptide Y and other appetite-stimulating signals by increasing leptin levels, it is possible to control body weight," said Kalra, who also is affiliated with UF's Gene Therapy Center and Brain Institute.

Researchers injected leptin-producing genes into obese mice that did not produce the protein. To deliver the genes, researchers used a molecular vehicle known as the adeno-associated virus, a harmless virus that already exists in the majority of the adult human population. The genes were engineered to be passengers inside the vehicle virus.

Once inside the mice, the genes integrated into their cells and acted like small factories, producing increased levels of leptin. The result was weight loss in less than three weeks. Normal, lean rats given the leptin genes maintained their body weight for three months, the duration of the experiment.

Because some obese people have a resistance to leptin, the research team also experimented with an alternative appetite-suppressing protein, CNTF.

The enhanced CNTF gene was inserted into the adeno-associated virus and administered to rats. After six weeks, researchers observed a decrease in body weight and food intake in the rats similar to that in the mice treated with the leptin gene. The CNTF rats have been under observation for six months and had no side effects.

UF researchers now are looking to evaluate other proteins that affect appetite control. Kalra said human application of these drugs still is in the distant future. Clinical study of CNTF and leptin gene therapy in humans will not be approved until researchers can prove that these gene treatments are safe and without side effects.

Satya Kalra, skalra@ufbi.ufl.edu

Eric Benjamin Lowe

Sorter Uses Magnets To Cull Best Seeds For Planting

Drought or pests get most of the attention, but vegetable farmers lose millions each year to an invisible but expensive source: bad seeds.

A University of Florida agricultural engineering researcher has created a machine that uses electromagnetism to help solve this problem. Irek Debicki's prototype separates poor seeds from good ones based on their internal composition, an advance he says may save farmers millions of dollars by improving conventional machines that determine seed quality based on color, size or weight.

"My method looks into whether any changes have taken place within the seed itself," said Debicki, a doctoral student in agricultural and biological engineering.

Depending on plant type and soil quality, today's vegetable farmers may lose 5 to 15 percent of healthy plants to bad seeds, said L.N. Shaw, a UF professor of agricultural and biological engineering. These losses can occur in the greenhouse, where many vegetables are grown before transplanting, or at first planting in the field. As a result, workers have to sort through plant trays to find viable plants, and farmers may not wind up with enough quality transplants.

For field-germinated plants, farmers may have to overcompensate by planting too many seeds. That, in turn, can increase labor costs as workers are required to thin excess plants, Shaw said.

Debicki's machine sorts seeds by subjecting them to an electromagnetic field.

Poor seeds have deteriorating cell membranes, Debicki said. When soaked in deionized water, they absorb more moisture than seeds with intact membranes so they conduct electricity better than good seeds.

To take advantage of this property, Debicki's machine subjects the seeds to an electromagnetic force generated in a channel between two coils of copper wire. The force pushes high- and low-conducting seeds in opposite directions, sorting good seeds from bad ones.

Tests using soaked okra seeds had promising results. The prototype upgraded the quality of 100-seed lots from 80 percent good seeds to 93 percent good seeds, Debicki said. He determined the machine's success rate by drying all the seeds, then propagating them in controlled identical conditions.

If the results were applied on a national scale, the machine could save U.S. farmers $45 million lost to poor seeds annually, Debicki said.

Irek Debicki, Irek@acceleration.net

Aaron Hoover

New Joint Program Trains Artist-Engineers

The University of Florida is launching a Digital Arts & Sciences Program aimed at turning out graduates who are as comfortable programming computers as sketching landscapes or writing a score for a battle scene.

The program, a collaboration between UF's College of Fine Arts and College of Engineering, is a response to high demand for skilled workers in the growing digital effects industry behind movies, CD-ROM games, educational media and other areas.
"Computer nerds are not usually artists, and artists tend to know very little about computers," said Paul Fishwick, a computer engineering professor and member of an interdisciplinary committee that crafted the program. "But art and computers converge in movies, games and scientific pursuits today, and employers need people who cross traditional boundaries."

Students in the program take an eclectic mix of classes. Required for computer engineering undergraduates, for example, are Analytic Geometry & Calculus 3, Drawing: Form and Space, and Intro to Electronic Music. Art students' classes include Analytical Geometry, Calculus 1, Drawing Studio, and Intro to Music Literature.

Corporate backers of the program include Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), a graphics, server and super-computer company that created the dinosaurs in the movie "Jurassic Park," and Cinesite Visual Effects, a Kodak company and special-effects studio that contributed to "The Mummy" and "Titanic," among other films.

Richard Kidd, a computer graphics supervisor at Cinesite and a 1994 UF computer engineering graduate, said he doesn't know of any other university with a similar program.

"Some schools address artistic development like animation and lighting, but they don't usually teach problem-solving and math and science skills," Kidd said. "Other institutions, usually universities, produce great computer scientists who can program graphics code, but they don't know anything about animation and lighting design.

"What makes UF's program great is that it truly marries art and science in the educational process."

SGI is donating 10 computer work stations to UF for the program. David Stamation, an account manager with SGI in Orlando, said he expects the program will reduce the need for costly and time-consuming employee training.

"What UF is doing is producing candidates who are ready to work in a production environment in the company," he said. "In the past and currently, these people spend up to two years learning the same skills."

Teachers and administrators in the schools of Art and Art History and Music say the program will help students apply artistic skills to modern media.

"The art field in particular has changed tremendously in the past few years, and we find the traditional boundaries between disciplines blurred," said Maria Rogal, an assistant professor in the School of Art and Art History.

James Paul Sain, an associate professor in the School of Music, said musicians who rely on computers for their work may require many of the same skills as computer scientists.

"The tools that are used in the creation of electroacoustic music are the same as those in computer science research," he said. "This program will allow students from across the disciplines to gain the much-needed breadth of knowledge utilized in today's music industry."

Paul Fishwick, fishwick@cise.ufl.edu
Aaron Hoover

Autism, Schizophrenia And Diet Links Are Studied

Findings from two novel animal studies indicate autism and schizophrenia may be linked to an individual's inability to properly break down a protein found in milk, University of Florida researchers report.

The digestive problem might actually lead to the disorders' symptoms, whose basis has long been debated, said UF physiologist Dr. J. Robert Cade, cautioning that further research must take place before scientists have a definitive answer.

When not broken down, the milk protein produces exorphins, morphine-like compounds that are then taken up by areas of the brain known to be involved in autism and schizophrenia, where they cause cell dysfunction.

The animal findings suggest an intestinal flaw, such as a malfunctioning enzyme, is to blame, says Cade, whose team also is putting the theory to the test in humans. Preliminary findings from that study showed 95 percent of 81 autistic and schizophrenic children studied had 100 times the normal levels of the milk protein in their blood and urine.

When these children were put on a milk-free diet, at least eight out of 10 no longer had symptoms of autism or schizophrenia, says Cade, a professor of medicine and physiology at UF's College of Medicine and inventor of the GatoradeT sports drink. His research team includes research scientist Dr. Zhongjie Sun and research associate R. Malcolm Privette.

More than 500,000 Americans have some form of autism, according to the Autism Society of America. The developmental disability typically appears during the first three years of life and is characterized by problems interacting and communicating with others. More than 2 million Americans suffer from schizophrenia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

In the UF studies, researchers injected rats with the protein beta-casomorphin-7, one of the key constituents of milk. They then observed their behavior and later examined brain tissue to see whether the substances accumulated there.

Beta-casomorphin-7 was taken up by 32 different areas of the brain, Cade said, including sections responsible for vision, hearing and communication.

Researchers suspect the process begins in the intestine.

"We think this process is linked to the production of antibodies in the gut when you eat something you're sensitive to," Cade said. "We think that with autism and schizophrenia, the basic disorder is in the intestine, and these individuals are absorbing beta-casomorphin-7 that they normally should break down in the body."

Dr. Bennett L. Leventhal, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and director of child adolescent psychiatry at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, said other studies exploring a dietary link to autism or schizophrenia have been less than convincing, and the notion has not generally been accepted in the field.

"Autism and schizophrenia certainly are distinctly different disorders," Leventhal said. "I think the best hypothesis sitting out there today is that some genetic abnormality is causing these disorders. It is certainly possible that these genetic abnormalities could lead to the metabolic effects Dr. Cade mentions, though there is not substantial support for that at this time."

Melanie Fridl Ross