Hearing chapel bells into the night

Published 4:02 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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If you are a resident of the Classic City of Athens and an impassioned Bulldog fan, chances are you know all there is to know about Georgia and its championship teams along with the signature achievements of a plethora of accomplished athletes, past and present.

Nothing warms the heart like hearing the chapel bell ring into the night, pealing out good tidings of another victory between the hedges.

That will never grow old, but it also makes one take great pride in the fact that on campus, there are countless scientists and researchers who are as accomplished in their academic disciplines as Herschel Walker was on Vince Dooley Field when he toted a football for extraordinary yardage. Difference is, we often don’t know about Dawg researchers and their exalted work.

You may know knock-your-socks-off stats that confirms greatness in the Bulldog pantheon, but do you know about exalted scientists such as Steve Stice, who is head-turning close to developing a cure for strokes; or the work of Ted Ross with regard to developing a vaccine for combating the flu, which, according to the CDC, kills 56,000 each year. (He is hard at work researching the coronavirus pandemic as we speak).

We are abusing and strangling the planet, kicking the environment in the teeth, and nobody is more familiar with these frightful ruinations than Samantha Joye, the UGA oceanographer who was raised on a farm along the North Carolina/South Carolina border, holds three degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, and could have written the motto of the University of Georgia: “To teach, to serve and to inquire into the nature of things.”

“At times such as these,” UGA President, Jere W. Morehead says. “I am reminded how important it is that some of the very best scientists in the world are members of our faculty.”

That would include the aforementioned Samantha Joye, better known as Mandy to her good friends and colleagues.

“I am always inspired by how Mandy combines remarkable expertise with a tenacious determination to maximize positive impact, excite the next generation of scientists, and engage the public in understanding the fragility of our world,” says Dr. David Lee, UGA Vice President for Research. “These traits are recognized by leaders and champions of environmental scientists around the world.”

Down on the farm, Mandy was a tomboy, who appreciated sports, but when other kids were getting bats and balls for Christmas, she got a microscope. She was into climbing, running and jumping, aspiring to compete, but she was a kid who was motivated to learn what made things work. She got a farm license to drive a truck when she was 14-years-old which helped stimulate an appreciation for the work ethic.

She read the Farmers’ Almanac with an abiding curiosity about the “tricks of growing different plants and the best times to plant crops.” She learned things that she did not find in other books. To this day, her mother still sends her an annual subscription to the popular periodical which dates back to 1818, even though her gardening now is driven by more solid scientific approaches.

Her father’s principal crops were cotton, soybeans and tobacco. His curing barn straddled the state line between the two Carolina’s. She observed him rotating his crops when neighboring farmers leaned toward heavy usage of fertilizers and insecticides. She appreciated that her dad used a different approach, allowing nature and the environment to trump artificial ingestion into the soil.

However, when he killed a turkey for Thanksgiving, she became a vegetarian. Even as a teenager, she was concerned about health issues and developed good habits in every facet of her life. She took to fishing early on and witnessed a lot of change in the environment over time, which influenced, in part, her antipathy for the pollution of the earth’s oceans.

The first time I heard her speak, and I could listen to her for hours, she said that we are fast reaching the point where there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This sobering statistic: We dump 17.6 billion pounds of plastic—the equivalent of the weight of 57,000 blue whales—in the ocean each year.

She is an international expert in biogeochemistry and microbial ecology. She spends days in research submarines and glories in each startling discovery. She has testified before Congress about all this and remains angered that oil companies—when there is a spill—are most concerned about damage control that keeps profits generating. “The Gulf oil spill, which took place a decade ago, continues to impart negative impacts on the system with some issues expected to persist for decades to come,” she says.

There are things each of us can do to improve environmental health such as using cloth shopping bags instead of plastic. We can avoid using plastic sipping straws. In the U. S. alone, we use 500 million such straws a day. Use a bamboo or stainless steel straw instead. Do yourself and the environment a favor—buy a bamboo toothbrush.

Patronize cotton products. Tie up your tomato or bean vines with cotton pantyhose and the cotton will disintegrate in less than three years. Use nylon hose and it will take 30-40 years to degrade.

We are fast moving to a crisis with the environment she says. There is good news, however. “We can solve our problems if we act now. We must enhance biodiversity, improve the quality of habitat and control pollution.”

Mandy Joye, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences, works out of a modest office on Sanford Drive with a resonating message we all should take time to absorb and practice its tenets. The entire world should cup an ear.

It is okay to swoon to the glory that comes Georgia’s way on fall Saturdays, but remember to cheer for those dedicated faculty members whose bent is to make the world a better place for all of us.