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UT tracking Lake Erie harmful algal bloom to help water treatment plant operators

During a weekly water sampling expedition in late July aboard The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center’s 28-foot research vessel, UT senior Alex Lytten holds the buoy steady as fellow senior Zach Swan sprays and scrubs it clean of algae and bird droppings.

For the third year in a row, UT’s water quality and sensor buoy floats in Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay providing live data accessible 24/7 to anyone by smart phone.

Dr. Tom Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and professor of ecology, examined a water sample aboard the UT Lake Erie Center research vessel.

It’s one piece of UT’s battle plan to track and combat the growing harmful algal bloom in order to sound the early warning for water treatment plant operators as they work to provide safe public drinking water.

“The bloom is on its way,” said Dr. Tom Bridgeman, UT algae researcher and professor of ecology, who has been focused on this problem for nearly two decades. “The blue-green algae is growing very rapidly right now. It’s growing leaps and bounds.”

Nearby at the city of Toledo water intake that pumps raw lake water to the plant, Bridgeman uses a pulley to draw a water sample and concentrates it into a jar.

It holds a mix of bright green and olive green algae. The olive green algae — “the good algae called diatoms,” according to Bridgeman — sinks to the bottom of the bottle. The bright blue-green algae — “the bad algae responsible for producing toxins such as microcystin” — stays at the top.

Eva Kramer, UT graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in ecology, lowered the YSI EXO sonde into the water. The instrument is comprised of several probes to measure various water quality parameters, including the amount of blue-green algae present, oxygen levels, water temperature and pH.

“Looks like more blue-green algae than we had yesterday,” Swan said.

“It’s growing exponentially,” Bridgeman said.

The researchers also spot a spiny water flea, an invasive species from the Caspian Sea, in the water sample. It’s eating the other zooplankton moving in the jar.

Eva Kramer, a UT graduate student researcher who is pursuing a master’s degree in ecology, mans the big blue wand called a YSI EXO sonde, which is comprised of several probes to measure various water quality parameters, including the amount of blue-green algae present, oxygen levels, water temperature and pH. It’s the same instrument mounted inside UT’s buoy.

Kramer first lowers the sonde for a surface reading and then even lower for a deeper reading.

Alex Lytten, UT senior, drew a water column sample using a long, white tube.

“Here it’s about six meters deep,” Kramer said.

Swan submerges the black-and-white Secchi disk to measure how far below surface it disappears from view.

“It’s 160 centimeters,” Swan said.

“That’s higher than I thought,” Kramer said.

Lytten, who also serves as boat captain, uses a long tube that reaches the bottom of the lake to draw a water column sample.

“We’re collecting a plug of water, instead of just on the surface,” Bridgeman said.

The research team takes the samples collected throughout Maumee Bay and the open waters of the western basin back to the Lake Erie Center lab to process and analyze for algal toxins and chemical signals that will provide clues to help predict future blooms.

“We are watching very closely and prepared,” Bridgeman said. “We expect to get a big bloom this year, but it’s not necessarily going to cause a problem. It’s usual, but it’s not acceptable.”

Bridgeman and his team will continue these sampling trips throughout the summer as one part of the University’s efforts to address harmful algal blooms.

In addition to the environmental scientists, UT has experts conducting water quality research in a diverse breadth of areas, including economics, engineering, business, pharmacy, law, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

Students to share water quality research July 26 at Lake Erie Center

Eleven undergraduate students from universities across the country spent the last nine weeks researching a variety of environmental issues at The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center and will share their findings during a poster gala Wednesday, July 27.

The students enrolled in UT’s National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program have been studying harmful algal blooms, climate change, invasive species and other water quality concerns in an effort to help combat these problems. Their work will be on display from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Lake Erie Center, located at 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

The scientific research program is open to undergraduate students in the fields of environmental sciences, biology, engineering, chemistry, geography or geographic information systems from across the United States. Students are partnered with scientists, engineers, graduate students and agency professionals to conduct cutting-edge research on important land-lake environmental challenges.

In addition to visiting wetlands and lake sampling, students learn to use and apply top technology, including sensor networks, water quality, environmental DNA, next-gen sequencing and drones to their research.

Engineering student wins big on ‘The Price Is Right’

Since 1972, contestants on “The Price Is Right” have “come on down” for the chance to appear on television and win prizes. Jacob Mattoni, a UT student majoring in electrical engineering, never thought one day he would be among them.

Mattoni was on a trip to California with his girlfriend and fellow UT student, Kendall Bialecki, who is majoring in biology/pre-med, during spring break while taping of the show took place.

Jacob Mattoni celebrated as “The Price Is Right” host Drew Carey announced his 95 cents qualified him to advance to the Showcase Showdown.

“Her sister-in-law was looking into getting tickets for a show in Los Angeles because we would be traveling there for a few days to visit. The day of the taping, we showed up and stood in line waiting to get into the registration area. The registration process took about three hours,” Mattoni explained. “Part of this process was the interview, which is when they take about 20 people at a time and ask them a simple question just to see how they respond.”

When asked by the interviewer what he does, Mattoni responded enthusiastically, telling him about going to The University of Toledo and studying electrical engineering.

Drew Carey reached out to shake hands with Jacob Mattoni who won the Showcase Showdown.

“He then responded with, ‘I bet you could use a new computer,’ which is when I said, ‘I could, but I’d rather win a new car,’” Mattoni said.

Luck appeared to be on Mattoni’s side when he was called on to participate in the game show, after putting on a performance in the audience to act “as obnoxious as possible” in an attempt to gain the attention of those running the program.

“I thought I heard my last name, but with everyone cheering in the audience, I couldn’t hear a thing. I then look on stage and see a man holding up a poster board with my name on it. At that point, I basically blacked out and couldn’t remember anything,” Mattoni recalled. “Out of 300 people in the audience, I never would have imagined getting my name called.

Jacob Mattoni, second from right, posed for a photo with the Bialecki family, from left, Ken, Dawn, Jayne and Kendall.

“Participating in the show is all a blur, to be honest. With dozens of cameras in your face and people screaming and cheering for you, there wasn’t much focus on the actual objective of the show,” he continued.

Mattoni did express thanks to his girlfriend and her family for their help from the audience throughout the show, which aired May 25.

After a brief setback during one of his prize games, Mattoni won a chance to compete for a showcase prize after spinning 95 cents on “the Big Wheel,” the closest amount to $1 that was spun without going over.

He then bested his opponent with his bid on a showcase prize that included a roundtrip to Yosemite National Park, a Mongoose ATV and a 2017 Honda Fit, which he said he traded for a more “age appropriate” 2017 Honda Civic, which has plenty of room for his golf clubs.

2017 report for Ohio’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative highlights UT water quality research

Ohio Sea Grant released today its 2017 update on the statewide Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative documenting two years of progress seeking solutions for harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

The University of Toledo, situated on the western basin of Lake Erie, is one of the lead universities in the initiative, which consists of 10 Ohio universities and five state agencies and is funded by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and matching funds from participating universities.

The city of Toledo’s water intake is regularly monitored by UT researchers and students during the summer algal bloom season to check for toxins.

The 54-page report features a variety of important research activity underway by members of the UT Water Task Force to protect the public water supply and public health, including:

• Early warning system for toxic algae in Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay by Dr. Tom Bridgeman, professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Ricky Becker, associate professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences;

• Developing methods to help water treatment plant operators make decisions on lake water pumping rates according to time of day and weather conditions in order to reduce exposure to algal toxins at the Lake Erie water intake, also by Bridgeman and Becker;

• Transport and fate of cyanotoxins in drinking water distribution systems, such as pipes and storage tanks, by Dr. Youngwoo Seo, associate professor in the UT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering;

• Investigating alternative biological filtration for algal toxin removal in water treatment through better understanding of microcystin-degrading bacteria, also by Seo;

• Examining the influence of potassium permanganate treatment on algal cell integrity and toxin degradation, also by Seo;

• Developing microcystin-detoxifying water biofilters to upgrade water treatment filters with friendly bacteria through the discovery of enzymes and pathways responsible for microcystin degradation by Dr. Jason Huntley, associate professor in the UT Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology;

• Studying the accuracy of ELISA, the standard test measuring harmful algal toxins, in comparison to a more time-consuming but reliable method, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry by Dr. Dragan Isailovic, associate professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry;

• Developing lab tests for detecting microcystin exposure through biological samples and measuring how much remains inside the body, also by Isailovic;

• Evaluating the ability of commercially available home purification systems to remove algal toxins from tap water by Dr. Glenn Lipscomb, professor and chair of the UT Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering;

• Reconsidering recommended healthy exposure limits by studying the impact of algal toxins in experimental models of pre-existing liver disease by Dr. David Kennedy and Dr. Steven Haller, assistant professors in the UT Division of Cardiovascular Medicine;

• Studying health effects of recreational and work exposure to harmful algal blooms through fishing, swimming or boating by Dr. April Ames and Dr. Michael Valigosky, assistant professors in the UT School of Population Health; and

• Creating an online database to help inform the public about harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie by Dr. Patrick Lawrence, UT geography professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

Ohio Sea Grant, which manages the statewide Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, is soliciting proposals for a third round of funding to continue the efforts underway to address toxic algae in Ohio’s Great Lake.

Participating universities include UT, Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University, Central State University, Defiance College, Heidelberg University, Kent State University, Sinclair Community College, the University of Akron and the University of Cincinnati. UT and OSU serve as leaders of the university consortium.

To view the full report, go to http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/p/ib57m/view.

For Ohio Sea Grant’s news release, go to http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/news/2017/gz884/habri-report-year-2.

The UT Water Task Force, which is comprised of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University, serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics; engineering; environmental sciences; business; pharmacy; law; chemistry and biochemistry; geography and planning; and medical microbiology and immunology.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With $12.5 million in active grants underway, UT experts are studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

Researchers and students help to protect the public drinking water supply for the greater Toledo area throughout summer algal bloom season by conducting water sampling to alert water treatment plant operators of any toxins heading toward the water intake. UT’s 28-foot research vessel and early warning buoy enable UT to partner with the city of Toledo and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor the health of Lake Erie and provide real-time data.

Public invited to CDC chemist’s talk at UT on exposure to algal bloom toxins

The University of Toledo Water Task Force is hosting a free, public event about algal bloom toxins and the impact they can have on people.

Elizabeth Hamelin, analytical chemist for the Division of Laboratory Sciences in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta, will give a talk titled “Monitoring and Measuring Human Exposure to Algal Toxins” Thursday, June 29, from 9 to 10 a.m. in the Center for Creative Instruction Room 1200 on Health Science Campus.

Hamelin

Hamelin develops analytical methods to detect human exposure to toxins and poisons.

“Elizabeth Hamelin is a collaborator on microcystin research projects at UT, and her visit to campus is a great opportunity for the community to learn how scientists are examining what safe limits are for the public,” Dr. David Kennedy, assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences, said.

Kennedy’s UT team is studying effects of algal bloom toxins on the liver using mice as a model.

“Microcystin is a toxin that specifically targets the liver, a vital organ that needs to be healthy in order to process the food you eat,” Kennedy said. “We are re-evaluating the level of microcystin exposure being called safe, whether it’s swallowed while swimming at the beach or through the tap should toxic algae contaminate the public water supply.”

The UT Water Task Force, which is comprised of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University’s colleges, UT Medical Center and UT Lake Erie Center, serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics, engineering, environmental sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With $12.5 million in active grants underway, UT experts are studying algal blooms, invasive species such as Asian carp, and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

Researchers and students help to protect the public drinking water supply for the greater Toledo area throughout summer algal bloom season by conducting water sampling to alert water treatment plant operators of any toxins heading toward the water intake. UT’s 28-foot research vessel and early warning buoy enable the University to partner with the city of Toledo and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor the health of the lake and provide real-time data.

Class of a lifetime: Studying coral reef ecosystem in the Bahamas

Last month, our Ecology Field Study class traveled to the Bahamas to examine coral reef ecosystems. There were nine excited students on the learning excursion led by Dr. Tom Bridgeman, professor of environmental sciences, and Dr. John Turner, professor of physiology and pharmacology.

Coconut palms and tropical Abaco pines resembling Dr. Seuss’ truffula trees filled the gaps between the three houses rented for our research team. The cottage I stayed in is everything one might imagine a beach house should be. Conch shells line the sandy path toward the blue water. The beach sits not even 20 feet from the house and stretches for miles in both directions. The soft white sand is finer than any Floridian beach I have ever been to, and there are no other people in sight. The crystal blue water is mesmerizing.

Students in the Ecology Field Study class posed for a photo on the beach on Great Abaco Island. They are, from left, Matthew Bender, Sarah Carter, Wendy Stevens, Bianca Caniglia, Jordan Penkava, Jessica Duez, Katie Condon and Brittany Layden. Dr. Rick Francis, director of research advancement and information systems, also a member of the class, shot photos and video during the trip.

For our first snorkel, Dr. Turner took us to a private beach access point called Mermaid Reef. The water was warm (78 degrees maybe) and does not require the use of wet suits or weights. Mermaid Reef is a calm, clear location ripe with parrotfish (of various species), queen angelfish, and swarms of sergeant majors. We saw a few spiny lobsters hiding beneath the smaller reef shelves. If it weren’t for their long antennae protruding from the rock, we might not have even noticed they were there. Blue tangs (Dory fish), schools of yellowtail snappers, and a few shy squirrel fish swam to try to hide from us along the reef sides. After a few hours, everyone was hungry, and we left the site to stock up on groceries, make lunch, and recharge.

After lunch, we head out to a patch reef just beyond the beachfront cottages we’re staying in. Most of the students swam out in a small school. Some of us paddled out on a small zodiac boat a few hundred yards out into the blue. I am nervous. I don’t like to admit that I am afraid of anything, but I am eager to see my first reef shark, so I scan the horizon looking for any gray triangles breaking the surface. I’ve been fascinated and fearful of sharks for the better part of two decades. However, I know that I have greater odds of dying by a cow tipping over on me or possibly getting struck by lightning. Despite my fears, I plunge into the ocean with the others.

A hawksbill sea turtle hiding on the patch reef was spotted on the first day of the trip.

Enormous purple sea fans, rusty-orange sponges, and sea kelp cover the live rock. The top of the reef is only a foot or two below the surface, and I find myself being pushed and pulled gently by the waves. I am trying — and failing — not to go directly atop the reef. Meanwhile, my fins are killing the tops of my feet. I swim toward the others so I don’t feel exposed or alone. After about 10 minutes, the paranoia subsides. I calmly start to visually scan every nook and cranny I see. There are so many things moving in and out of the little coral reef niches that I have a hard time focusing on any single fan or fish.

Then I see it! A mottled oval with two eyes, but I am unsure. I intently stare at the reef until the outline of a shell and flippers emerge from its camouflage. I burst toward the surface and shout “Sea turtle!” It wasn’t actively swimming, just sitting there patiently waiting for us to leave, I imagine. It wasn’t unusually large or small, but it is hard to gauge size and distance underwater. That hawksbill sea turtle made the first day of our trip very special.

Students snorkeled at Mermaid Reef.

After a late dinner, the whole team gathered to record all the species of fish that we could confirm we saw throughout the day. I think there were close to 20 different fish recorded. We projected some of Dr. Rick Francis’ pictures onto a large white sheet for all to see.

On the second day, Dr. Turner and Dr. Bridgeman coordinated an exciting boat day. We had to organize our gear and leave early in the morning to meet our captain and guide. Tim is an islander whose family originally settled on Great Abaco Island back in the 1600s. He told me he was a professional fisherman who fishes for mahi mahi (dolphin fish), red snapper and spiny lobsters. However, that day he was taking us to some special reef sites: Snake Key, a national Abaco-protected marine reserve, as well as an open-ocean drop with gorgeous reef wall. We boarded around 9 a.m. and motored out a few miles away to the first location, a historical shipping channel.

The shipping channel, otherwise known as Snake Key, has a fast current. The plan was for Tim to drop us off far upstream and allow us to drift to a pickup site farther downstream. The channel wall had some nice corals and a few spiny lobsters, but the quick current made it challenging to photograph. Tim picked us up and then drove us back upstream to do it again. There were some large rays that were seen from the boat — a few outlines and shadows moving under the surface and away from the boat.

Dr. Tom Bridgeman examined a live conch with, from left, daughter Mirabel Bridgeman and students Jordan Penkava, Matthew Bender and Katie Condon.

After that, we trolled along the waters of the key. There were small mangrove islands and many rocky, seemingly uninhabited mini-tree isles all around us. The water was crystal clear and shallow. I saw cushion sea stars (starfish) from the boat and sea turtle shadows darting away from our path. We stopped the boat atop a blue hole, where the shallows disappeared and a deep dark hole (which I chose to avoid) was located. Rick launched his remote-controlled camera drone to get aerial footage of our snorkeling. I think most of us were betting on spotting sea turtles, but instead I mostly saw only sea cucumbers.

Once all the students were back on board, we headed out into the blue toward the protected marine preserve. As we navigated toward the site, I became awestruck with how the ocean changed color. Growing up and around Lake Erie for most my life, I have never seen so many shades of blue in a single body of water. It turns from teal to clear, then aquamarine to a deep blue and then back to teal again; it was breathtakingly beautiful.

Dr. Rick Francis took an aerial shot by quadcopter of the patch reef.

As we approached the Pelican Cay marina park, I noticed a couple other boats had snorkelers in the water. Dr. Turner told us where to head once we were in the water. He prefaced our swim with descriptions of large elkhorn and staghorn corals, and Tim reassured us that if we were in any distress to wave to him and he would bring the boat to pick us up. Here the water was nearly true blue, and I definitely could not see the bottom.

When I finally got my mask to seal tight and put my face down, I saw a great expanse of coral and life that I could only describe as an endless reef filled with color and fish everywhere! The fish were so numerous and the mass of reef so long that I became somewhat disoriented underwater as my eyes tried to adjust focus. I don’t remember how long we were in the water here, but I could have stayed much longer.

I was most excited to see my first French angelfish! It was so pretty, its grayish body covered in bright yellow scales. I have yet to see another one, but I don’t think I will ever forget how gracefully it moved below me. I tried to free-dive down for a better look, but I was far too buoyant to get any closer than about 4 feet. Additionally, I saw a chubby porcupine fish (puffer) hovering at the reef’s edge nearer to the bottom. He wasn’t inflated; to me, he seemed kind of adorable, doe-eyed with a big ol’ mouth. But it was the elkhorn coral that took my breath away. I never thought I would get to see a coral reef the way it looks in my dreams. Its color and vastness were overwhelming, spiritually uplifting, and magical. I have to go back there — before it disappears forever.

Various sea fans were seen on the coral reefs.

By the time the last snorkel site of the day, I was exhausted. The open-ocean drop-off was a destination I knew we were going to get to snorkel, but I didn’t realize we were going to see so many locations in a single day. I counted eight snorkel drops in six hours. My back, ankles and arms were sore, and I really did not want to wear my wetsuit any longer, so I removed it thinking I was done. Little did I know that we were about to snorkel the largest wall of coral imaginable.

The first one in the water was Brittany Layden; within minutes, she came to the surface and said, “I just saw a barracuda!” It didn’t take long for everyone else to grab their gear and jump into the dark water. I asked Dr. Turner if we would see another site like this on the trip, he said, “No,” and I realized I had to go in.

Students also saw this spotted trunkfish with a remora hitching a ride.

Putting a wet wetsuit on after it has already been removed is an exhausting task in itself. The tops of my feet were raw from my fins. I decided to take the chance and go in unprotected and with only my mask and snorkel. It was an opportunity that I wasn’t sure I would ever get again, so I went in.

By the time I got in, the barracuda had disappeared into the blue. I swam over to the others and saw an even larger reef wall than in Pelican Cay. It was easily 50 feet tall, and I could see all the way to the bottom. I quickly scanned the water surrounding me for jellyfish because I didn’t want to get stung. I looked down and saw a spotted trunkfish and tried to get the attention of Dr. Bridgeman or Rick who were filming underwater.

Swimming alongside the great wall of coral, we spooked a sea turtle, which quickly darted up and over the reef out of sight. Myself and a few others followed, but without fins I was slower and clumsier in the water. As I continued to try and keep up, I spotted a Nassau grouper 30 feet below me.

Whenever I spotted a new species, I tried to get the other’s attention so they could see it, too. However, trying to talk with a snorkel in your mouth is impossible, and half the time I’d surface and everyone else still had their heads down. I carried on nonetheless. After about 20 minutes, I was done — out of breath, out of the water, and heading back to the dock. This day was going to be impossible to top. A couple other students managed to see the outline of a shark, but they were too far away to make a positive ID. I had hoped to see a shark and yet felt completely satisfied having not seen one. It was a remarkable experience learning in the ocean.

Stevens graduated in May with a bachelor of science degree in environmental science.

Professor, students on team selected to participate in $5 million national solar competition

A University of Toledo physics professor and students are members of a Toledo team awarded $60,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy to participate in a $5 million prize competition called the Solar in Your Community Challenge.

The team, which is named Glass City Community Solar, aims to expand solar electricity access to low- and moderate-income residents. It’s comprised of community partners, including UT, Vistula Management Co., the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the city of Toledo.

UT senior Evan Nichols was interviewed by NBC 24 about the Solar in Your Community Challenge.

Glass City Community Solar is one of 35 teams nationally to be selected to receive seed funds from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to support project planning and to raise awareness. All teams will compete for $1 million in prizes, which will be awarded by judges based on each project or program’s innovation, impact and replicability.

Over the next 18 months, Glass City Community Solar will demonstrate innovative financing for commercial solar installations.

“It is extremely exciting for us to be able to have a hand in a project that has so much potential to benefit families by reducing electric bills, as well as educating the Toledo community about the use of renewable energy,” said UT student Blaine Luszcak, who is co-president of the UT student group called Building Ohio’s Sustainable Energy Future.

Glass City Community Solar will develop 300- to 750-kilowatt photovoltaic systems on rooftops and vacant lots to serve low- and moderate-income housing across the metro Toledo area. The cost savings will reduce electricity expenses and also support residents interested in pursuing education and training in the solar energy field.

“Our students will benefit tremendously from these real-world photovoltaic projects as they create an extended learning lab that will result in several large, operational photovoltaic power systems,” Dr. Randy Ellingson, UT professor of physics, said.

“We are thrilled that our team was selected to join the challenge,” said John Kiely, president of Vistula Management Co. and the team leader of Glass City Community Solar. “Our projects will benefit the people of Lucas County, and bring The University of Toledo’s leadership and passion for photovoltaic technology to real-world applications that benefit the people in our community that need it most.”

Find more information about the competition at solarinyourcommunity.org.

Eclipse photo by UT alumnus featured on new stamp; ‘Mr. Eclipse’ to give talk June 15

March 7, 1970, was on Fred Espenak’s radar for years.

“I was an amateur astronomer as a teenager, and I thought wow, it’s not that often a total eclipse crosses some part of the United States, so this may be my chance of a lifetime to see one,” the UT alumnus recalled.

Fred Espenak took the solar eclipse photo featured on the new Forever stamp in Jalu, Libya, March 29, 2006.

At 16, he convinced his parents to let him borrow the family car and drove 600 miles from his home in Staten Island, N.Y., to Windsor, N.C.

“When the eclipse took place, I thought I was prepared because I had read magazine articles and books about it. I had my telescope set up to take some pictures,” Espenak said. “But when that shadow of the moon hit and we were plunged into this eerie twilight, it was so phenomenal and all-encompassing that when it was over, I thought: Oh, this can’t be once-in-a-lifetime; that went way too quickly; I’ve got to see another one.

“And the next one was in Canada two years later. That was the start of my very long career of chasing eclipses around the world.”

Planes, trains and automobiles have taken Espenak to 27 total eclipses on seven continents.

“The one in 1995 in India was unique. It was a short eclipse; it was only about 40 seconds long,” he said.

Yet it was momentous.

“It happened to be the eclipse trip that I met my wife on. She was on the trip to see her first total eclipse,” Espenak said. “It turns out, back in the States, Patricia lived about a six-hour drive from me, but we had to travel halfway around the world to run into each other.”

Fred Espenak’s photos are featured on the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp to commemorate the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. It is the first U.S. stamp that uses thermochromic ink; with the touch of a finger, the image changes from the total solar eclipse to the full moon.

Together, the retired astrophysicist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the retired chemistry teacher operate the Bifrost Astronomical Observatory in Portal, Ariz., and continue their quest to experience total eclipses.

Next up: The Great American Total Eclipse Monday, Aug. 21. The sensational sky show that stars the moon passing between the sun and Earth will be visible in the contiguous United States for the first time since 1979 — weather permitting.

“The track of the moon’s shadow will cut diagonally across the nation from Oregon to South Carolina through 14 states. Inside the 70-mile-wide path of totality, the moon will completely cover the sun as the landscape is plunged into an unsettling twilight, and the sun’s glorious corona is revealed for more than two minutes,” Espenak explained.

He may be in Casper, Wyo., to watch the awe-inspiring event.

“There’s a big astronomy conference there called AstroCon 2017, and they invited me to speak four years ago. I think that’s the longest lead time I’ve had for a speaking invitation,” Espenak said. “Casper is right in the eclipse path.

“But I don’t know where I’m going to be on eclipse day because it depends on what the forecast is one or two days before the eclipse. If the forecast is good for Casper, I’ll stay there. But if it’s not promising, I’m going to drive Sunday because I can get 600 or 800 miles east or west of Casper on the day before the eclipse.”

No passing fancy, but a passing obsession with astronomical objects led to Espenak’s nickname: Mr. Eclipse.

Fred Espenak operates the Bifrost Astronomical Observatory in Portal, Ariz.

That memorable moniker and his international reputation as an eclipse expert helped land an ultra-cool gig with the U.S. Postal Service. While working on two books, “Eclipse Bulletin: Total Solar Eclipse 2017” and “Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse 2017,” his phone rang.

“I got a call over a year ago that they were considering a commemorative stamp for the eclipse, and they wanted to know if I would act as a consultant on the technical information for the map on the back of the sheet and a description of the eclipse path,” Espenak said. “They also said they were looking for some photographs to possibly use as the stamp, and I said I would submit some images.”

Millions have seen his work; Espenak’s photos have been published in National Geographic, Nature and Newsweek. Check out mreclipse.com.

“It turned out the U.S. Postal Service decided to use two of my images for this new stamp with thermochromic ink. Other countries have used this technology, but it’s the first time in the United States. When you rub the stamp, a second image appears from the warmth of your finger. You’ll see the total eclipse of the sun and, with the touch of your finger, you’ll see the full moon,” he said.

To commemorate the Aug. 21 event, the Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamp will be released Tuesday, June 20, during a ceremony at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Espenak and his wife will be there.

Patricia Totten Espenak and Fred Espenak

“I’m honored to have my photographs on a stamp. But more importantly, the stamp will spread the news about America’s Great Eclipse to many more people,” he said. “And what a fantastic opportunity. For a lot of people, this is the chance of a lifetime to see a total eclipse.”

Meanwhile, he is giving talks around the country to preview the celestial spectacle.

Espenak will return to his alma mater to speak Thursday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Field House Room 2100.

“Fred Espenak is another great example of a ‘rocket scientist’ who has really lived up to that name,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy; and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy. “He has made solid contributions to NASA science missions for many years, and is also doing a wonderful job of sharing his passion for and knowledge of eclipses with the public both on national and international stages. We’re really proud that he is an alumnus of The University of Toledo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.”

During the free, public talk funded by the Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professorship in Astronomy, the 1976 UT graduate who received a master of science degree in physics will discuss eclipses and share his eyewitness accounts around the globe through video and photos.

And he’ll offer two words of advice: road trip.

“I’m going to show people what they can expect to see in Toledo and how to watch it using safe eye protection, but I’m also going to encourage people to start making plans for a car trip to the eclipse path of totality because that’s where you have to be to see the total phase of the eclipse, and it’s worth the drive.

“It’s something you remember your entire life because it’s so unusual from anything you’ve seen before,” Espenak said. “The bright sun is completely gone in the sky, and you see this very strange-looking black disc, which is the unilluminated side of the moon, and it’s surrounded by this gossamer, feathery halo that’s the sun’s corona, which is two million degrees. It’s the only time you can see something that’s two million degrees with the naked eye. It’s such a stunning, overwhelming experience: The temperature drops probably 10 degrees as you go into totality, so you feel a chill in the air; animals react strangely; birds quiet down as if they’re going to roost at night.

“And it’s only for a few minutes. When it’s over, you really have a desire to see it again.”

UT scientist named Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News

When asked how she first became interested in plants and nature, Dr. Jennifer Boldt attributed her passion to her family.

“For most of my life, my parents owned and operated a greenhouse and garden center in Florida. I have literally grown up surrounded by plants. My sister and I would help out in the afternoons after school and during the summers. I have fond memories of helping my parents and grandparents transplant seedlings,” she recalled.

Dr. Jennifer Boldt, adjunct research assistant professor of environmental sciences, was named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News.

“My sister and I thought it was great because we got to spend time with [family] and nobody minded that we got dirty. As we got older, we assumed more and more responsibility in both the production and retail aspects of the business. We saw all the hard work, dedication and passion that our parents had for growing beautiful plants, helping customers find the right plants for their gardens and landscapes, and providing a sense of community for their employees and customers,” Boldt continued. “My dad was a very patient teacher and cultivated our interest in learning how plants grow. As I got older, I decided that this could be a career path for me, too.

“I studied horticulture and business administration as an undergraduate, and had planned to one day take over the family business. However, I discovered research and have taken a slightly different career path, but I am still very much involved in the horticulture industry and enjoy it immensely.”

Boldt was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by Greenhouse Product News. She is a research horticulturalist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, housed in Wolfe Hall. She and her colleagues utilize space in the Wolfe Hall greenhouse and at the Toledo Botanical Garden. The Wolfe Hall greenhouse also is utilized by members of the departments of Biological Sciences and Environmental Sciences.

In addition, Boldt is as an adjunct research assistant professor in environmental sciences at UT.

Listed among Boldt’s accomplishments in Greenhouse Product News was her research program that studied how different factors and practices influenced the growth and development of greenhouse crops.

“The Agricultural Research Service is the chief in-house scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has more than 90 research locations and 690 research projects, but our group is the only one whose project is focused specifically on the production of greenhouse-grown ornamentals. This includes primarily flowering plants, like what you would plant in a home garden or in container planters, but also vegetables and culinary herbs. Our research looks at how light, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, fertilizers, and the growing medium influence how quickly a plant grows, how quickly it flowers, how it looks (its architecture), and/or how well it is able to tolerate stress,” Boldt explained.

“For instance, one project looks at what growing conditions optimize a plant’s photosynthetic rate. We have developed models and incorporated them into a software tool that growers can use to see how adding supplemental lighting or increasing and/or decreasing the greenhouse temperature will affect plant growth. They can compare the predicted change in plant growth to the costs associated with changing the greenhouse environment and determine if it is worthwhile from an economic perspective. We want to provide information and recommendations to growers that can help increase their productivity and profitability, while at the same time reduce the quantity of inputs — water, fertilizer, energy, etc. — required to successfully grow plants in greenhouses and other controlled environments.”

Though her work may seem complicated to outsiders, Boldt enjoys her day-to-day research.

“There never is a typical day, which keeps things interesting. Most of my time is spent in the office, planning upcoming research, analyzing data from experiments, writing manuscripts, reviewing manuscripts, and checking in with our fabulous greenhouse and lab technicians to see how plant care, data collection and laboratory analyses are going. I have ongoing research collaborations with a few Agricultural Research Service and university researchers, so there are planning and update meetings that occur. When we have ongoing plant trials, I routinely check in on the plants — like a doctor making rounds at a hospital — to see how they are growing.

“I do enjoy the days when I get to spend some time in the greenhouse; we lease greenhouse space at the Toledo Botanical Garden and conduct many of our research trials there,” she said.

As for her colleagues, Boldt said, “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great team of scientists, postdocs, technicians and undergraduate students that work daily to accomplish the research goals of our group. Current members include Mona-Lisa Banks, Douglas Sturtz, Cindy Carnicom and Mitchell Caris. We also had two terrific UT undergraduate students in spring semester — Amy Towell and Maithili Kulkarni.”

There was another member of the horticulture industry that Boldt was especially pleased to be recognized alongside: her twin sister, Jessica Boldt.

“It was a wonderful surprise. We are very close and have very similar interests. Our undergraduate degrees are the same, and we even had the same adviser for our master’s degrees. We have cheered on each other’s accomplishments, and so it’s very special to be nominated by different individuals and selected for this recognition together in the same year,” Boldt said. “We found out that we both had been selected when someone emailed me instead of Jessica to congratulate her. We had a good laugh, since we get mistaken for the other all the time, even though we now live in different states.

“In case you can’t tell, I’m very proud of Jessica,” she said and then laughed.

The two share the same passion for horticulture and the large role that it plays in society.

“On a basic level, plants are a source of food, fiber and fuel. They provide vitamins and nutrients. Many contain compounds that have medicinal uses. Plants improve the air quality. Trees, shrubs and green roofs lower the energy costs of homes and buildings. Exposure to plants and nature reduces our stress levels. Gardening is therapeutic and provides a way to stay active. There are so many benefits that plants provide that positively impact our well-being,” Boldt explained.

“Have you seen how someone’s face lights up when you give her or him a basket of fresh-picked strawberries or a bouquet of beautiful flowers? There is joy in planting bulbs in the fall and watching them emerge from the ground the following spring. Without waxing poetic too much, we need to feed and nourish the body, mind and soul, and horticulture allows us to do that. Also, career opportunities abound in horticulture — plant breeding, greenhouse flower and vegetable production, public garden management, teaching, research, education, and marketing, to name a few.”

She beamed as she looked at the pink petunias lined up in the greenhouse at Toledo Botanical Garden.

“From my little corner of horticulture, it’s very satisfying to not just advance our understanding of plants, but also provide practical recommendations to growers so that they can continue to be successful.”

Fellows selected for new conference leadership initiative

Three UT faculty members have been named fellows to participate in the new Mid-American Conference Academic Leadership Development Program.

The program was created to foster preparation and advancement of future academic leaders through working with MAC administrators and colleagues.

Dr. Andrew Hsu, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said, “The University of Toledo is excited to join the Mid-American Conference Academic Leadership Development Program, and we are happy to announce the fellows from our institution who will benefit from this tremendous opportunity.”

Fellows for the 2017-18 academic year are:

• Dr. Patrick Lawrence, professor of geography and planning, and associate dean of social and behavioral sciences in the College of Arts and Letters;

• Holly Monsos, professor of theatre and associate dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts in the College of Arts and Letters; and

• Dr. Amy Thompson, professor of public health in the School of Population Health in the College of Health and Human Services; faculty fellow in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; and 2017-18 president of Faculty Senate.

All tenured faculty with experience in administrative leadership and service were eligible to apply for the MAC Academic Leadership Development Program. Candidates needed to submit a letter of support from their dean, as well as an application and curriculum vitae for consideration.

“Our fellows will participate in a development program with UT leaders to gain valuable insight and experience,” Hsu said. “In addition, they will work with MAC school administrators and peers to better understand how universities operate.”

All MAC Academic Leadership Development Program fellows will attend one three-day workshop each semester. Topics to be addressed include conflict resolution, budgeting, accreditation and accountability.

“Thanks to this program, our fellows will see firsthand the challenges and rewards of institutional service as they prepare for potential leadership positions,” Hsu said.

Read more about the MAC Academic Leadership Development Program at utoledo.edu/offices/provost/MAC-ALDP.html.