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Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Drifters deployed

Welcome to the Department of Biology at Georgia Southern University.

Whether you are a student or someone seeking research expertise in the life sciences, I am confident that we can meet your needs. The broad expertise of our faculty gives students the opportunity to excel in the full range of modern biology, including choices of six pre-professional programs. While our department is large enough to give you access to state-of-the-art equipment in both teaching and research labs, our dedicated faculty will take a personal interest in making you feel like you are a member of a much smaller department.

CFc-lhhWoAAawRtAbout the satellite

Track satellite enabled drifters deployed by Georgia Southern Biology PROFs Danny Gleason & Risa Cohen & their research team.

How to build a Dragon- Brian Burns

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Georgia Southern Own Brian Burns walks into his lab — room 2113 in the engineering building on Georgia Southern University’s campus—and comes face to face with a dragon.
The black reptile, roughly the size of a large dog, sits curled on a table in the middle of the room. When Burns walks in, it raises its head and flares its wings. Fixing Burns in its catlike stare, the dragon watches as Burns moves cautiously around the room. It turns its head to follow his progress. Occasionally, it growls or beats its tail against the table. When Burns leaves the room, it folds its wings and lays its head down, closing its bright green eyes to return to its nap until the next person comes in.
His name is Kronos, and he is Burns’ master’s thesis project: an animatronic dragon equipped with person-tracking technology. Without a puppeteer or a control of any kind, dictated by an infrared camera and a computer program Burns wrote mostly from scratch, Kronos can turn his head to face people in the room and follow them with his bright green, catlike stare.
He is the end result of several years of research and development, and he just landed Burns his dream job with the Disney Imagineers.

How to build a dragon

Burns — a fitting name for a builder of dragons — began his project as an undergrad after returning from a term with the Disney College Program his sophomore year. He comes from a family of Disney enthusiasts; in fact, his younger brother Eric is currently enrolled in the same college program at the park working in Animal Kingdom. Burns had already wanted to work for Disney, but the college program inspired him to go after a job in the animatronics and show effects division.
But to get in, he needed a flashy project to showcase his animatronics skills and catch Disney’s attention. To up the ante and fit the project for a research-based master’s thesis, Burns added the person-tracking component.
“The purpose of the project was to have an animatronic platform where we could test passive and interactive behaviors and get responses from guests, and see, based on their ratings, if they think it’s more entertaining in an interactive mode or a passive mode,” Burns said. His findings, based on many surveys conducted with people encountering Kronos in both modes, indicated that guests were most engaged when it seemed like Kronos was actively responding to them.
Burns also designed many of Kronos’ interior components, 3D-printeding the vertebrae for Kronos’ neck and the smaller mechanisms that allow the dragon to blink. Kronos’ skull is made of laser-cut acrylic, and the components for his wings are laser-cut plywood. Clearly, an astonishing amount of time, effort and department funding went into the Kronos’ creation.
“It’s a larger project than most students intend to take on, but it’s something I was very excited and passionate about, so it wasn’t as difficult for me to spend late nights working on it or most of my free time,” said Burns, who spent many 12-hour days holed up in his lab with only the dragon for company.
As for Kronos’ exterior appearance, Burns enlisted the help of junior 3D arts student Justin Hinckley to help with the design. Between the two of them, they created a look initially modeled on the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, with textured scales based on an armored Asian mammal called a pangolin. They created oil-based clay models to press the scales and other features into a mold made of silicon. They then filled the mold with polyurethane foam, which expanded and hardened into Kronos’ body. The completed cast was then fitted over Kronos’ interior mechanisms.
“(Brian) wanted it to be gentle-looking enough to interact with children, but also wanted it to have the realistic appearance of a carnivorous reptile to appeal to adults,” Hinckley said. In his final form, Kronos resembles a mix between Smaug from The Hobbit movies and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon­ — reptilian enough to be thrilling, but also somehow cute and approachable.

Disney bound

Kronos started in Burns’ junior undergraduate year as a project funded by an undergraduate research grant. Burns completed the prototype (later named “Hyperion”) by the time he graduated from GSU’s new mechanical engineering program in 2013. He carried the project into his master’s program in mechatronics, a hybrid of the mechanical and electrical engineering fields. Burns was the first GSU student to pursue a mechatronics master’s degree in the program’s short history.
Pioneering a subfield for GSU’s engineering school is not Burns’ only claim to fame, nor is Kronos the only dragon he has worked on. Last summer, Burns took an internship with Universal Studios effects team in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, where he worked on the flame system for the giant, fire-breathing dragon perched atop Gringotts Bank.
“That’s impressive to see, whenever it’s in the commercial, knowing that one of our students worked on that project,” said Dr. Brian Vlcek (pronounced “VAL-check”), the department chair of the mechanical engineering program who sat on Burns’ thesis committee and who has taught Burns since his undergraduate classes.
As the end of his master’s program approached, Burns reached out to a contact he’d made in the Disney Imagineers. He sent along a link to his online portfolio, which features several videos tracking the progress of his dragon project. Soon after, he received a call from the Imagineering show and animation team. Two days after his interview, he received a job offer.
“I accepted that pretty quick,” Burns said. “It’s exactly what I wanted as a job, and I’m very excited to be starting there.”

The fun side of the engineering field

Many other engineering students work in bio-inspired robotics for the ever-evolving prosthetics field, or in the field of computational processing, Vlcek said. While those fields may seem more practical than designing attractions for theme parks, he argues that Burns’ work — in addition to being, and providing, fun — helps advance the study of robotics.
“Part of the underlying premise of what Brian was doing was not just to create an animatronic device or robot,” Vlcek said. “He was also looking at the interfacing of the animatronic device with humans. Another big component was how Kronos reacted when you came in the room, how people reacted to Kronos, and in that manner, to make future generations of robots more accepted by society, more user-friendly, shall we say, in the way that word is usually used. So that’s a big element of his project not to be downplayed.”
“When I came to work in this department, I never would have connected Disney with mechanical engineering,” said Brenda Albanese, secretary to the department chair, whose office has become Kronos’ home where Albanese shows him off to prospective students. “A lot of (students), when they come in as freshmen, don’t know where they’re going in the engineering field. This was a method of letting the kids see, as a student, what a 22-year-old student was capable of.”
Burns thinks the project’s unique angle is part of its draw for the department, and why the department’s faculty members have been so supportive through the process.
“It is a good example of what you can do here and what you can do after,” he said. “If you have an idea or an inspiration and you want to go after it, follow your dream there.”
At the very least, Kronos has inspired a budding departmental interest in animatronics. Burns’ younger brother, Eric, will be working on an animatronic bald eagle after he returns from the Disney program in the fall. The eagle, which will be something like the animatronic sibling of GSU mascot Freedom, will be an actor-controlled robot responding to commands sent through a falconry glove.

The dragon at rest

For now, Kronos spends most of his days “sleeping” in Albanese’s office in the mechanical engineering department, enjoying his status as department “pet” and ambassador as his creator goes on to his post-graduate career. He gets wheeled out for open house days and elementary school visits as an example of what an engineering student can accomplish. At technology fairs and field trips, he is a big hit with the kids.
Vlcek says that future students will likely want to pursue their own projects and allow Kronos to enjoy retirement, but Albanese said it is possible future students may want to add their own upgrades. She said, jokingly, that one day Kronos might be able to run down the hall and bite people’s ankles.
When Brian heard this, he laughed.
“It’s possible. That could happen eventually,” he said — adding, with a creator’s glint in his eye, “I would be down for working on something like that.”

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Georgia Southern Receives Funding for New Classroom Building, Degree Program

GovDeal-web-650x433Gov. Nathan Deal signs HB 76, a part of the 2016 budget, on the steps of the Marvin Pittman Administration Building at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, on May 11 as engineering students and University officials look on.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal visited Georgia Southern University on Monday, May 11, to sign into law HB 76, an important part of the 2016 Fiscal Year Budget, on the steps of the Marvin Pittman Administration Building on Sweetheart Circle on the Georgia Southern campus.

Included in HB 76 is $33.6 million in funding for a new multidisciplinary classroom building, and $1 million in funding for the University’s operating budget that will help build a world-class manufacturing engineering program.

“We call on higher education, both in our college and university system and in our technical college system, to help us prepare the workforce of today and certainly the workforce of tomorrow,” said Deal. “For those institutions of higher learning, we continue to provide financial support.”

The multidisciplinary classroom building, Deal said, will provide much-needed space for classes essential to high demand careers such as software developers, computer programmers, business support roles, mechanical and electrical engineering and advanced manufacturing.

“These are investments in the education community that we think will pay dividends for our state in the years to come,” he added.

The $1 million will fund the advanced manufacturing degree program and the hiring of world-class faculty to educate the future students in the program.

“In Georgia, manufacturing jobs account for about 350,000 Georgians,” Deal said. “And with the establishment of this program at Georgia Southern, I am told it will be the only program in the Southeast that is dedicated to that manufacturing degree arena and I think it is certainly a welcome one.”

University President Brooks A. Keel, Ph.D., thanked Deal for the state’s support of Georgia Southern and the mission to educate and train the future workforce and leaders of Georgia and beyond.

“Governor Deal’s support of Georgia Southern has been nothing short of strong, steadfast and True Blue,” said Keel. “The signing of House Bill 76 on our campus today is indeed a historic moment and a great honor for us. It serves as a reminder that, to whom much is given, much is expected and Governor Deal, we promise to be good stewards of the trust you have placed in us.”

This is the third time Deal has signed legislation on campus. Previous signings included funding for a new military science building and legislation to create the Herty Advanced Materials Development Center at Georgia Southern. Deal has also offered his support of funding for the new Biological Sciences Building, funding for a new Health Center and much more.

State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, was on hand for the occasion, and local dignitaries including Bulloch County Commissioner Garrett Nevil, chairman of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners; Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson; Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore; and Roy Kilpatrick, commissioner for the Georgia Student Finance Commission, were also in attendance. Other area representatives of the House were unable to attend due to a caucus meeting in Atlanta, but Keel offered a thanks for their support of the University as well.

Georgia Southern University, a Carnegie Doctoral/Research University founded in 1906, offers 125 degree programs serving more than 20,500 students. Through eight colleges, the University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs built on more than a century of academic achievement.  Georgia Southern is recognized for its student-centered approach to education.

BIG April News!

April was an exciting month. One of our 3DS student teams traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to present their company, Advinup, at OneSpark. They were among 555 budding entrepreneurs that span across downtown Jacksonville to share their concept with more than 300,000 attendees. They represented Georgia Southern extremely well.

At the Economic Development Administration regional staff meeting, we presented an update with our Incubator and Fab Lab. The response was extremely positive as our efforts continue to serve as a model in university and city collaboration. As you will read below, our conduit and fiber extension project with the City of Statesboro is on schedule. With this extension, our Incubator will provide area entrepreneurs with unparalleled band-width, making our space a premiere spot to launch a new business.
Our students with Enactus made their annual presentation at City Campus. A special thanks to Ric Stapleton, Tina Banks, Allen Muldrew, Joe Roussseau, PhD, Steve Stewart, PhD and Kania Greer, PhD for helping judge the presentation and provide valuable feedback. They did a fantastic job! We have very high hopes for the group when they return in fall and begin preparing for the Enactus National Competition.
Our 2015 Entrepreneur Lecture Speaker, Lucy Beard, CEO of Feetz, gave a very inspiring message. Her story of perseverance and innovation served to not only motivate our students and entrepreneurs, but demonstrate the power of 3D printing technology and power of the national Fab Lab network.
After concluding a national search, it is my pleasure to welcome U.S. Army Colonel Angie DiCiro to the BIG family. Col. DiCiro is our new area director for the Small Business Development Center.
On the academic side, entrepreneurship faculty member Steve Stewart, PhD, was named the College of Business Administration 2015 Bank of America Outstanding Faculty Award recipient.
We continue to build momentum and encourage your help and support to Think BIG… One More Time.
You can visit the full website of all the great things going on here.

Georgia Southern University Receives Georgia Peach Green Building Award

IMG_0534-650x485Kelly Wilson accepts the Georgia Peach Green Building Award on behalf of Georgia Southern University for the Biological Sciences Building.

Georgia Southern University was granted the Georgia Peach Green Building Award by the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC) for the new Biological Sciences Building, which meets requirements of the Georgia Peach Green Building Rating System.

“Georgia Southern University is excited to have received the Peach Certification for the Biological Sciences Building,” said Bonnie McMakin, project architect for Facilities Planning, Design and Construction. “This building is the first of this magnitude and the goals were to make it as sustainable and environmentally-sensitive as it was economically-feasible. Over the years sustainable practices have been incorporated into the buildings and campus infrastructure that are environmentally-sensitive and ‘green’ features. This project is the accumulation of these practices, and together they have made the project a success by incorporating so many of these features into the project.”

The “Peach Certification” was established in 2008 by the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Construction Act of 2008. Buildings that optimize energy performance, increase the use of Georgia-produced materials and products, protect the state’s natural resources and reduce the burden on the state’s water supply receive points toward the award.

The Biological Sciences Building was constructed using 60.3 percent of Georgia-based materials, and by using low-flow faucets, sinks and toilets, the building uses 40 percent less water than it would with standard fixtures. Additionally, with the use of 57 Solar Photovoltaic Panels, five Solar Thermal panels to produce hot water for the building and other energy efficient products, the building’s total energy usage is 20.5 percent less than with normal usage of electricity.

“To be recognized by the GSFIC and the Board of Regents for incorporating these sustainable features is an honor that Georgia Southern is proud to receive,” McMakin said. “The Peach Certification has become a standard for our projects as we move forward with new buildings, renovations and maintenance of the existing buildings on campus.”

Georgia Southern University, a Carnegie Doctoral/Research University founded in 1906, offers 125 degree programs serving more than 20,500 students. Through eight colleges, the University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs built on more than a century of academic achievement.  Georgia Southern is recognized for its student-centered approach to education.

Office of Vice President for Research and Economic Development • P.O. Box 8140, Statesboro, GA 30458 • (912) 478-8641 •