The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 weeks ago

75-million-year-old sea turtle fossil in Alabama a key discovery

(McWane Science Center/Contributed)

Paleontologists in Alabama have discovered a new genus and species of fossil turtle that may fill an important evolutionary gap.

Scientists named the animal Asmodochelys parhami for Asmodeus, a deity that, according to Islamic lore, was entombed in stone at the bottom of the sea, and parhami in honor of James Parham, former curator of paleontology at the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

According to the UAB study, Asmodochelys parhami swam the oceans about 75 million years ago and may have been one of the most recent common ancestors of modern sea turtles.


“The origin story of sea turtles is one of the great unsolved mysteries in evolutionary biology,” said Drew Gentry, a College of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study. “There is a great deal of evidence indicating that turtles may have evolved to live in the ocean several times over the past 150 million years. The trick is determining which of those species are actually the direct ancestors of the species we see today.”

MORE: Grad student uncovers Alabama fossils likely from oldest ancestor of modern sea turtles

To determine how A. parhami is related to present-day sea turtles, scientists performed a phylogenetic analysis. It is a method that compares the features of many different species of turtle to figure out how closely or distantly related those species may be. The analysis results in a phylogenetic tree, or genealogy, of sea turtles.

The UAB study found A. parhami is one of the youngest species to fall just outside of the group containing every species of modern sea turtle. This makes A. parhami of particular interest in the study of the sea turtle origins.

“Although it’s tempting to say ‘problem solved’ when we recover such a well-resolved tree, this is only one hypothesis in a long line of suggested sea turtle genealogies,” Gentry said. “Right now, there are several distinct trees proposed by different groups of scientists that are the front-runners in the race to solve sea turtle evolution, each with its own unique arrangement of fossil and modern species. Determining which tree most accurately represents the evolutionary history of these animals can be challenging, to say the least.”

In an effort to test the accuracy of each tree, Gentry and his colleagues examined the  proposed sea turtle genealogies and which most accurately fits the fossil record. That is to say, if the genealogy indicates that a certain species evolved first, does that species actually show up first in the fossil record?

Still lots to learn about ancient sea turtle unearthed in Alabama

Surprisingly, Gentry discovered that, although his proposed genealogy matched up relatively well with the fossil record, it was not the best fit. “Actually, a phylogeny proposed more than a decade ago matched nearly perfectly with the fossil record,” Gentry said. “The problem with that analysis was that it didn’t include nearly as many species as subsequent analyses, which may have influenced the results.”

Despite scientists around the world working for more than a century on sea turtle evolution, Gentry thinks there is still much to be learned.

“New methods for testing how fossil species are related to modern species are constantly being developed. Also, discoveries of new fossils have the potential to radically change our understanding of how certain features and species evolved in the history of life on our planet,” Gentry said. “Our study is just another piece of evidence in an ongoing mystery that shows no sign of being solved any time soon.”

The study, titled “Asmodochelys parhami, a new fossil sea turtle from the Campanian Demopolis Chalk and the stratigraphic congruence of competing marine turtle phylogenies,” was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

UAB offers parents tips about kindergarten readiness

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Each year, about 4 million children enter kindergarten in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education. For parents, it is often hard to know if a child is ready for kindergarten or even how best to prepare them.

“Kindergarten readiness is not just about learning your letters, numbers and shapes through flashcards,” said Cora Causey, Ph.D., instructor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education. “There is so much more that parents and early childhood educators can do. We need to look at social-emotional, cognitive and language development in order to best prepare children for interaction in the classroom.”


Each child develops differently, but there are certain aspects of development that a parent can help progress. Causey encourages parents to meet children where they are in their development.

Social-emotional development

Executive function, relationship development, coping and self-regulation play important roles in a child’s overall development, but most importantly in their social-emotional development so that they can handle a collaborative environment, like kindergarten. This includes sharing, taking turns, and learning when to speak and listen, and to do this respectfully.

“Everyday situations provide a platform for parents to work with their children in executive function,” Causey said. “Asking open-ended questions fosters the natural curiosity and wonder that kids are born with. You can do this as you are riding in the car, going to the grocery store or any other activity throughout the day.”

Find ways to have positive child and adult interactions that consist of back and forth conversational loops.

“Parents should not throw words at children, but create more of a narrative by asking questions,” Causey said. “Our goal should be to have more face-to-face interaction, rather than pixel-to-pixel interaction.”

Coping and self-regulation can be tough for children at this age. Acting out situations can help a child learn to deal with a situation. This can be taught through role play, playing with figurines or even through books.

“At times, we find that children receive rewards for bad behavior,” Causey said. “When a child is given a tablet or phone, they are not learning how to self-regulate in these situations. As a child enters school age, they are not as easily able to cope with challenging situations, because they have not learned these skills.”

At home, parents and other family members should be modeling the behaviors of making friends, sharing or following expectations. Children will learn from the models and be better prepared for situations that arise at school.

As a child learns a new skill or way to cope with happenings around them, the caregiver can identify books that relate to this issue and lead by example. When a book comes to an arc in a situation, families are able to discuss what is happening and the behavioral choices that can be made alongside each one’s impact on how the situation ends.

“Bibliotherapy shouldn’t be overused in children, but it is a great way to talk through new experiences and challenges,” Causey said.

Screen time, especially as a reward for bad behavior, can have a negative effect on social-emotional skills, according to Causey. Family members should take the opportunity to talk about recovery and how a proper response to a situation looks. Ask the child questions to gauge comprehension.

“The primary caregiver should always stay in communication with the teacher,” Causey said. “There will be an instance that arises, and it is important that you work through it as a team. It is important that the caregiver, teacher and student work together to come up with a proper plan of action that can be adhered to by all parties.”

So often, there is a parent-teacher conference where they come to a solution and move forward without the child’s input. Having the child present allows for discussion and working together for a common goal to better ensure the solution will work for everyone.

Cognitive development

How a child learns, connects with experiences, and uses symbols and images relates directly to their cognitive development. Causey suggests enhancing cognitive development through literacy opportunities and mathematical language to prepare children for the kindergarten classroom.

Reading aloud to your children is the best way to cultivate cognitive development, according to Causey. She suggests asking your children questions as you read books related to the content, illustrations or even the child’s feelings.

“When reading, we should consider what and how we are reading to our children,” Causey said. “Reading a traditional book versus reading a book on a tablet is significantly different. When reading a traditional book, we are able to interact with our children on a more personal level. Tablet reading often has interaction built in that doesn’t allow for engagement at that child’s pace.”

Early math experiences through qualitative mathematical language help with a child’s cognitive development. Causey recommends using household items to improve cognition. For example, when a child is in a sandbox and pours sand in two cups, ask which one has more.

“In using this type of language with children early on, research has shown that children will progress in mathematics and literacy more fully,” Causey said.

Language development

Children should have the opportunity to listen, speak, read and write as they develop. This helps children further their language development orally. Everyday conversations help children understand language.

“Primary caregivers typically focus on the reading and writing aspect of language development,” Causey said. “It is equally important that they have listening and speaking opportunities during the early years to positively affect later literacy learning.”

Easy tips for listening and speaking with your child include reading a book but stopping to look at the pictures and talking about them organically.

For example, when traveling from one destination to another, asking questions about what the child sees; connecting it with additional questions, like colors, smells, noises, etc.  In the grocery store, taking time to look at the produce and asking questions about taste, texture, color and other noticeable features.

By creating conversational loops in natural situations, children are taught to think, creating a higher level of cognition. Ask higher-order thinking questions, letting the child come up with an explanation. As questions are asked, give the child time to think.

At 4 and 5 years old, children should be able to have one conversational loop. For example, if asked a question, the child should come back with an answer. Then, the child should be able to ask another question or come back with additional information to the answer.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

UAB graduate pursues UPS career after bout with childhood cancers

(Alicia Rohan/UAB)

A two-time childhood cancer survivor, Rusty Duvall will graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with his bachelor’s degree in industrial distribution Saturday, Dec. 15, and start his dream job with the United Parcel Service in January.

When Duvall was 7 years old, physicians found a brain tumor that his parents knew would affect his life. At age 11, Duvall was diagnosed with a rare cancer in the bones of his eye socket.


“Sometimes I feel like my childhood was ripped from me in the blink of an eye,” said Duvall, a senior in the UAB Collat School of Business from St. Clair County. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital. I didn’t get to grow up doing a lot of the things that I wanted to do. When I did get to go home, I was really weak and tired.”

Within the first four weeks of his brain tumor diagnosis, Duvall had four surgeries related to the brain tumor and a fifth surgery later that year. At one point, Duvall had fluid leaking from his brain and had to have emergency surgery to place a shunt in order to stop the drainage.

Duvall did not suffer any serious problems from brain surgery, but has felt the lifelong effects from the high dosage of chemotherapy and the surgeries that followed. Duvall has chronic periphial neuropathy, where the nerves in his right leg are dead, leaving him without muscle strength. He had several surgeries over the course of three and a half years to fix the nerve damage in his leg and eventually help him walk better in the future.

“I have a slight limp when I walk from the lack of muscle strength in my right leg,” Duvall said. “Unfortunately, they were never able to fully repair the nerves, but were able to prevent further damage. My legs and ankles are still very weak.”

The high dosage chemotherapy made Duvall very sick, lose his hair and extremely underweight. Because of the surgeries and chemotherapy, Duvall missed most of his second- and third-grade years in school. His teachers at Odenville Elementary School made sure he did not miss out on his education by working with his parents to allow him to complete assignments at home.

“School was always important to me, but it was hard to keep up with the work during this time,” Duvall said. “I would try my best to get up and go to school, but I was just physically too weak and sick to be there. Luckily, my teachers and my mom helped me through, and I passed both grades.”

Four years later, he was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer near his eye that was unrelated to the brain tumor. Duvall was devastated to learn that he had cancer again and became depressed. The physicians at Children’s of Alabama did a biopsy on the bone cancer and determined that it was easily treatable. Duvall underwent two surgeries to remove the cancer and another year of chemotherapy and steroids.

“My parents and I couldn’t believe that we had to go through this again,” Duvall said. “The treatments made me very sick, and I was out of school for most of my sixth-grade year, too.”

Duvall’s teachers worked with him to help him finish the school year on time. On Aug. 18, 2008, he received his last chemotherapy treatment just in time to start seventh grade. He had 13 surgeries related to the two cancer diagnoses, with the last surgery taking place when he was a senior in high school.

“Cancer has changed me and made me a better person,” Duvall said. “Every day is a new day, and each day is a chance to get better and improve myself.”

In 2005, Duvall started attending Camp Smile-A-Mile, an organization that provides year-round programming that serves children and their families from diagnosis throughout the years of treatment. Taylor Lawrence was his camp counselor from 2010-2014 and is a UAB Collat School of Business alumni. Lawrence and Duvall discussed his future and what he wanted to do. Lawrence would tell Duvall what college classes were like and the career opportunities that could follow graduation.

“I knew I wanted to go to UAB to pursue my degree and secure my future,” Duvall said. “But college was not looking like an option because of financial constraints. My parents worked hard to provide for me and my siblings, but college just seemed far-fetched.”

After graduating from St. Clair County High School in 2014, Duvall continued to pursue his dreams of higher education by applying for The Smith Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships to deserving Alabama students who have served their communities and have also faced adversity throughout their lives.

“Rusty is the type of person we should all want to be: kind, considerate and dedicated,” said Ahrian Dudley, executive director of the The Smith Scholarship Foundation. “He achieves through perseverance and grit. Securing his degree and job was not easy. Rusty learned to adapt both academically and professionally by maturely dealing with obstacles. He combined his hard work and support systems in place at UAB, the foundation and community to succeed. He has accomplished more than he dreamed possible when he first set foot on campus. We are so proud of him and the positive impact he has already made on so many people.”

During Duvall’s high school years, he had volunteered and served his community for more than 300 hours. His ability to overcome his challenges, alongside giving back to his community, led to his selection as a Smith Scholar. The scholarship and support programs enabled him to attend UAB and complete his degree.

In fall 2014, Duvall started UAB in pursuit of a nursing degree. He had been in and out of hospitals so much as a young child, and thought this was his calling. After speaking with his mentor, Lawrence, he learned about the UAB Collat School of Business’s Industrial Distribution program. During Duvall’s junior year, he switched his major looking to find a career in the business industry.

Duvall received an internship with UPS before his junior year at UAB, where he learned the inner workings of industrial engineering at the Memphis distribution center. Duvall was invited back to intern with UPS before his senior year at the Birmingham distribution center. Upon graduation, Duvall will work at UPS full time as an industrial engineer supervisor.

“The experience I received at UPS really proved that I had taken the right career path,” Duvall said. “When they offered me a job, I couldn’t believe that I achieved my dreams amid all of the challenges I faced as a child.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Prevention, therapy may be key to slowing down how we age successfully


It is becoming increasingly clear that the biological rate of aging can be slowed, and Steven Austad, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Biology, believes the geroscience hypothesis holds great promise for dramatic increases in life expectancies – including the eradication of many chronic health problems now and in future generations.

In the paper “Aging as a biological target for prevention and therapy,” Austad and colleagues from The Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine stated their view that addressing the aging process itself is key to alleviating many health-related issues associated with aging.


“Treating the underlying aging process, which we actually know a lot about now, would allow us to basically delay the onset or get rid of diseases or disabilities of later life such as cancer, heart disease, vision and hearing problems, and joint pain at the same time with one form of treatment,” said Austad, a distinguished professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “It is a very different concept of medicine as we now know it.”

While those researching the biology of aging have long held this view, Austad says the subject is coming more and more into focus in light of the continuing aging of the global population, which in the United States and elsewhere is having a profound impact on the cost of health care and pension plans.

“Chronic health problems attendant on the unprecedented aging of the human population in the 21st century threaten to disrupt economies and degrade the quality of later life throughout the developed world,” according to the paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

UAB’s $37.5 million state-of-the art Collat School of Business opens

(Adam Pope/UAB)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham bridges collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship with the opening of the $37.5 million state-of-the-art facility that will house the Collat School of Business and Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HIIE).

“This beautiful new building changes everything,” said Collat School of Business Dean Eric Jack. “This addition to UAB’s campus heralds a new era of leadership in business education that will help drive innovation at UAB and in Birmingham for many years to come.”

The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Friday, Aug. 24, at 10 a.m. at 1201 University Blvd. Students began classes for the fall semester Monday, Aug. 27.


The 108,000-square-foot building was designed with input from students and community business leaders so that every detail enhances the learning experience while preparing students to work in modern business environments. The facility features breakout rooms, an innovation lab, classrooms designed for team-based learning, a high-tech finance lab, sales role-playing rooms, a three-story atrium, an auditorium, a career center and quiet study spaces.

“The generous gift from Charles and his late wife, Patsy, for our new Collat School of Business has already enabled us to build on our reputation as one of the premier business schools in the nation,” said UAB President Ray Watts. “The Collats have been actively engaged with our School of Business and contributed to its success for nearly three decades, and their outstanding example of philanthropy underscores the power of partnership to advance all areas of UAB’s mission. This is a transformational moment for the Collat School of Business and our university, and we look forward to the tremendous impact this facility will have for years to come – providing exceptional opportunities for tomorrow’s business leaders and entrepreneurs and helping to grow a robust innovation-based economy for Birmingham and Alabama.”

Located along the north side of University Boulevard between 12th and 13th streets south, the building will offer a modern learning environment and the technology infrastructure expected to competitively recruit the next generation of business leaders, as well as top faculty and staff dedicated to educating them. Open seating areas throughout the building promote collaboration and a sense of community, affiliation and connection to UAB while furthering innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Locating the HIIE in the new Collat School of Business Building creates a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship right in the heart of campus that serves students, faculty and also the wider Birmingham innovation community,” said Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., associate vice president and executive director of the Bill L. Harbert Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The new space supports our commitment to leveraging UAB’s powerful research engine to transfer discoveries into products that positively impact quality of life and highlights our goal to generate a pipeline of companies that promote economic development within the region.”

The facility houses administrative and student function space for the Collat School of Business and HIIE, as well as the Center for Sales Leadership, the Nielsen Innovation Lab, the Healthcare Leadership Academy and the Regions Institute for Financial Education. The co-location of these cross-discipline entities will foster increased collaboration and create a bridge between undergraduate and graduate students and the marketplace.

“We also want to thank our incredible business community, alumni, faculty, staff and students,” Jack said. “We would not have this incredible new learning facility without their generous support.”

Gifts given by local businesses such as the Joy and Bill Harbert Foundation, Medical Properties Trust, Regions Bank and Kassouf & Co. exemplify the support of the community in furthering this project, which is the cornerstone of efforts to expand technology commercialization to attain positive impacts on economic development for the community, state and beyond.

From an exterior perspective, the overall architecture of the building is in keeping with the recently completed Hill Student Center and soon-to-be completed School of Nursing, featuring a combination of traditional building materials and contemporary building elements.

The building is four stories in total, with a primarily traditional brick enclosure and conventional windows on the western and eastern elevations, while the northern and southern elevations are primarily glass storefront. Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York City and Williams Blackstock Architects of Birmingham designed the building so that all 100-plus offices have a window that is exposed to natural light from the exterior of the building. This was accomplished by having full-height atriums, or light-wells, on the east and west ends of the building.

The Coca-Cola UNITED Dining Alcove offers dining options for students, faculty and staff, including Jamba Juice and Sandella’s Flatbread. UAB’s student-run investment fund, the Green & Gold Fund, will be housed in the new Chad Thomas Hagwood Finance Lab.

Blazer Pride Plaza, a large landscaped courtyard on the east side of the building, leads students to the main entrance of the Collat School of Business, while the main entrance to the HIIE will be on the northern side of the building.

The auditorium in the basement of the building has a FEMA-rated storm shelter that can accommodate more than 200 people in the event of severe weather.

Williams Blackstock and Robert A.M. Stern served as the architects of record on this project. Brasfield & Gorrie served as general contractor and self-performed all concrete work, including foundations, foundation walls and site hardscapes.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

UAB study explains one reason hair can turn gray


Hair’s graying can be caused by activation of the innate immune system, according to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The article, published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, highlights the negative effects of innate immune activation on hair pigmentation cells, called melanocytes, suggesting a connection between viral infection and hair’s graying.

“Our research looks primarily at how stem cells are affected by age,” said Melissa Harris, Ph.D., corresponding author and assistant professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology. “Using current genomic tools, we are able to look at the whole genome to gain a better understanding of which genes are expressed and when, and this allows us to better address the question of why we age the way we do. Hair-graying and melanocyte stem cells make up the models we use to study this process.”


Hair pigmentation over the course of a lifetime is dependent on the presence of melanocyte stem cells that reside in the hair follicle. As old hairs fall out and new hairs grow in, melanocyte stem cells serve as a reservoir for the melanocytes that produce the pigment that give hair its visible color. The loss of these stem cells leads to the growth of nonpigmented, or gray, hairs.

“Evaluating mouse models of hair-graying using genomic tools can reveal key aspects of melanocyte stem cell biology,” Harris said. “Using this approach, we discovered a novel role for the melanogenesis-associated transcription factor, or MITF, in repressing the expression of innate immune genes within cells of the melanocyte lineage in mice.”

The importance of this repression is revealed in animals that have a predisposition for hair-graying. In these animals, artificial elevation of the innate immune response either through a genetic mechanism or via exposure to a virus mimics results in significant melanocyte and melanocyte stem cell loss and leads to the production of an increased number of gray hairs.

When a virus attacks the immune system, infected cells respond by producing interferons. Interferons signal to neighboring cells, telling them to protect themselves. In the study completed by Harris and colleagues, it is clear that, while these signals are normally good, in excess they can also lead to the loss of melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, stopping the production of hair pigmentation. It is unknown whether these observations in mice will extend to humans, but Harris speculates that this may explain why some individuals acquire gray hair early in life.

“Perhaps, in an individual who is healthy yet predisposed for gray hair, getting an everyday viral infection is just enough to cause the decline of their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells, leading to premature gray hair,” Harris said. She further explains that gray hair itself is not a definitive indication of infection, and that at least in mice, there are many ways in which gray hair can be induced. This study highlights just one mechanism that helps us better understand biological contributions to the visible signs of aging.

Harris’ research team and co-authors on the paper include Joseph Palmer, a graduate student in the UAB Department of Biology, and Autumne Lee, an undergraduate student in the UAB Department of Biology.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)