By

Yohannes Abate (left) works with Ph.D. student Xingyang Li in the Nano Optics Lab (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

By Krista Richmond

Yohannes Abate and Sudeep Bag both hope their “small” discoveries lead to big changes.

“From plant biologists to animal biologists to physics to chemistry, UGA offers so much,” Abate said. “For my kind of research, this collaborative setup is key.”

Abate, an associate professor of physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Bag, an assistant professor of crop virology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, were recruited as part of a $2 million hiring initiative to bring more outstanding faculty researchers to UGA.

Launched by President Jere W. Morehead in 2017, the initiative provides startup funding to outfit new labs, support graduate assistantships and activate their research programs at UGA. In January 2018, another $2 million in funding was added to expand the impact of the initiative. Funds provided through this hiring initiative will be matched by unit-level support to help fill 26 critical faculty positions across nine schools and colleges.

“As I have said before, the lifeblood of this great institution is its outstanding faculty,” said Morehead, “and this initiative ultimately is an investment in making our world-class faculty even stronger. It also is an investment in the university’s thriving research enterprise, which is helping to expand knowledge, improve our quality of life and foster economic development across this state and the nation.”

University of Georgia researcher Yohannes Abate

Yohannes Abate (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Abate’s research focuses on nano-optics, studying properties of very, very small things that measure only a few nanometers, roughly 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

He knows that the laws of nature are different from everyday large-scale experiences at that microscopic level in what he says is “a world without gravity,” and he wants to learn more about the technological applications of nano-optics, such as creating and probing materials with new functions.

Valuable resource

“Nanomaterials are at the heart of modern technologies, and what we do is try to investigate the fundamental laws and properties of matter at that scale,” he said. “If it weren’t for this initial package of startup funding, I wouldn’t be able to do this research. Having that initial resource is very valuable.”

Abate is developing tools to investigate new phenomena at the nano-level and working with eight students on various projects in his lab thanks to support that was made possible through the hiring initiative. The funding not only provides valuable experiential learning opportunities for those students, but also demonstrates the university’s commitment to innovative research.

University of Georgia researcher Sudeep Bag

Crop virology professor Sudeep Bag checks leaves in a field with tobacco plants on the UGA Bowen Farm near the Tifton Campus. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

For Bag, the move to UGA was all about location and the prospects of virus research on diverse cropping systems in south Georgia. His research centers on viruses in vegetables, peanuts and cotton, and he found the Tifton campus to be a “hub of research on viruses in vegetable and peanut crops.” Specifically, Bag has worked on the spotted wilt virus since the early 2000s.

“This is ground zero of that particular disease, and a lot of work has been done at UGA since the 1980s,” Bag said. “There are many renowned scientists I can collaborate with and learn from, in addition to adding my expertise. That was one of the reasons
I wanted to work here. The diverse and intense cropping system in south Georgia made it the hub for virus research and developing sustainable management strategies.”

Bag started his position in March 2018 and is getting his lab ready to work with students and postdoctoral scholars this semester. His ultimate goal is to better understand plant viruses and help develop healthier and economical disease management strategies.

New research faculty

In addition to Abate and Bag, other faculty hired to date as part of this initiative are:

Sheng Li, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences;
Le Guan, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences;
Charlotte Garing, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences;
Oluyinka Olukosi, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences;
Govindaraj Kumar, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences;
Takao Sasaki, Odum School of Ecology;
Kalsea Koss, College of Family and Consumer Sciences;
Dee Warmath, College of Family and Consumer Sciences;
Jewon Lyu, College of Family and Consumer Sciences;
Eva‐Maria Strauch, College of Pharmacy;
Neil Grimsey, College of Pharmacy;
Geoffrey Sheagley, School of Public and International Affairs; and
Jeremy Gibbs, School of Social Work.

The startup research hiring initiative continues a series of strategic investments since July 2013 to strengthen even further the university’s world-class faculty. Past efforts have helped to reduce class sizes, expand research in key areas of strengths, such as infectious disease and informatics, and foster interdisciplinary scholarship and education on campus.