Author Archives: William Earnhardt

About William Earnhardt


The Old Well: Past, Present and Future

Old Well Color IllustrationThe thing about the Old Well is, it wasn’t always old: For years after it was built people referred to it as the New Well, because there wasn’t a newer well within 50 miles. A typical conversation would go something like:

– I’ll meet you over by the New Well.

– The New Well? I have no idea where that is. 

– And why would you? It’s new. I’ll draw you a map.

Finally people figured out where the New Well was, but by then it was old, and it’s been old ever since.


There used to be a lot of water in the Old Well. For a long time there was nowhere else on campus you could get water — nowhere. Of course, Sutton’s had lemonade, hot dogs and fries but, curiously, no water. True story. You had to go to the Old Well to get it.

The nineteenth century didn’t make much sense.


The original well looked like this, just a pleasant little wooden structure appropriate for wells:

Old Well b/w illustration

But in 1897 all that changed. The neoclassical rotunda we now know was modeled after the Temple of Love in the Garden of Versailles. Campus tradition dictates that a drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes will bring a student straight A’s, but since when does drinking from the Temple of Love improve studying habits? This is a tradition that demands further examination. They also say that if you leave a five dollar bill beside one of the columns someone will eventually come along and pick it up.


The image of the Old Well can be seen everywhere these days. It’s the official stamp for Carolina apparel, for all of our publications, and more. It’s a law: The Old Well has to be visible on everything. Plans to tattoo incoming freshmen with the Old Well were scrapped due to the budget crunch, but the proposal is still out there if the economy ever turns around. Pray for sluggish growth.


From a hole in the ground to a Temple of Love, the Old Well has come a long way. And if you’re wondering just how old the Old Well is now? It’s so old that it’s not even a well anymore: It’s a water fountain. That’s what wells become when they grow up.

[Essay and illustrations by Daniel Wallace, the J. Ross McDonald Distinguished Professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at Carolina. His fifth novel, The Kings and Queens of Roam, will be released in May 2013. This Final Point column appeared in the fall 2012 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine. Watch a time-lapse video of students stopping by the Old Well on the first day of fall classes.]

Meet the Teacher: Jean DeSaix, biology

Jean DeSaix

Jean DeSaix won UNC’s 2012 Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement. (photo by Dan Sears)

Jean DeSaix left her hometown of Williamston, N.C., years ago. But it never left her. DeSaix, a UNC biology master lecturer, understands those university students from small towns and rural areas. Many students are overwhelmed by what seems at first to be an enormous campus.

DeSaix has always been an advocate for these students. “People born in rural counties are just as smart as those born in Greensboro,” she quipped. “But some arrive at UNC not as confident or not aware of how smart they are.” She sees a dual role with her students: helping those who are already on the fast track but also focusing on the diamonds in the rough. “Those students are special to me,” she said.

A Mentor and a Scholar

DeSaix arrived in Chapel Hill in 1967 for graduate school. One of two female students in the zoology program, she was occasionally asked to serve cookies and punch during special events. Nonplussed, she earned a master’s in zoology and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from UNC.

DeSaix has taught about 800 students in each of her nearly 40 years at Carolina. But she also chose a role that extends her reach beyond the biology lecture hall. DeSaix also serves as director of the Health Professions Advising Office, faculty adviser for UNC’s Habitat for Humanity program, and, along with her husband Peter, adviser to the Episcopal Campus Ministry.

Paying it Forward

Desaix in class

In addition to teaching, DeSaix is director of the Health Professions Advising Office. (photo by Dan Sears)

Meredith Gilliam (chemistry/Asian studies ’07) recalls DeSaix’s welcoming demeanor at the Episcopal Campus Ministry gatherings. “She was a constant presence, welcoming new students, collecting updates on our personal lives and making us feel at home,” said Gilliam, who is now pursuing an MD/MPH degree from UNC. She said DeSaix is someone who truly enjoys helping people. Once Gilliam left her planning notebook in DeSaix’s office. By the time Gilliam checked her email, DeSaix had alerted her where her notebook was and emailed her the appointments she had the next morning.

Alumnus Paul Shorkey (biology ’11) believes DeSaix was instrumental in his receiving a Rhodes Scholarship. “It was through her incredible support that I had the confidence to apply. She was extraordinarily helpful in keeping me grounded in the weeks before the interview.”

Ryan C. Vann, one of DeSaix’s former teaching assistants, said he has not made any major professional decisions without first seeking her advice.

“When I think of all the individuals who have had profound effects on my academic and professional development, no one comes to mind more often than Jean DeSaix,” said Vann (biology ’98, clinical lab science ’03). “That a shy freshman from rural Yadkin County caught her eye as a potential instructor speaks to her eye for teaching talent and to her willingness to nurture that talent.”

DeSaix was surprised to receive UNC’s 2012 Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement for contributions to teaching and mentoring beyond the classroom. Her students and colleagues were not. “While we’re here on this earth we can all make things better,” she said. ”All who do well can point to those who helped them. We all need a mentor.”

By Eleanor Lee Yates ’78, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine ]

Parker named director of faculty diversity initiatives

Patricia Parker

Patricia Parker (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

Patricia S. Parker has been appointed Director of Faculty Diversity Initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences, a new position recommended by the College’s Faculty Diversity Task Force.

Parker, associate professor of communication studies, will advise the dean and senior associate deans, and work with department diversity liaisons on initiatives that will enhance the recruitment, retention and advancement of faculty from diverse backgrounds. She also will coordinate a speaker series highlighting diversity issues and initiatives, and help to implement other aspects of the 2011 Faculty Diversity Task Force Report.

“Enhancing faculty diversity across the College is one of my top priorities,” said Dean Karen M. Gil.  “Pat is an expert on race, gender and organizational leadership.  I look forward to her leadership and advice on best practices and policies to strengthen faculty diversity going forward.”

Parker writes and teaches about race, gender and class in organizational and collaborative processes. She joined the UNC faculty in 1998 and was promoted to associate professor in 2004. She is also the founder and executive director of The Ella Baker Women’s Center for Leadership and Community Activism, which engaged teenage girls in vulnerable communities as leaders and advocates for positive change in their neighborhoods and beyond.

Parker has been a frequent faculty fellow and mentor in UNC’s Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP), which encourages minority students interested in academic careers. She also was a Burress Fellow at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, a Scholar in Residence at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, a Kauffman Faculty Fellow for Entrepreneurship and an Academic Leadership Program Fellow.

She received a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in speech communication from California State University, Long Beach, and a B.A. degree in speech, theater and journalism at Arkansas Tech University.

Whirligig Wonders: Preserving the folk art of Vollis Simpson

Past tobacco fields down a winding country road, the drive is reminiscent of many of North Carolina’s rural landscapes. But around the bend, at the intersection of Willing Worker and Wiggins Mill roads in Lucama, they start to rise up out of the field — massive, 50 and 60-foot-tall spinning sculptures that look like pinwheels on steroids.

You feel like you’ve entered another world — a larger-than-life game board, a Santa’s tree-top workshop for giants.

Vollis Simpson

‘Back in the ’50s or ’60s when you got 60 years old, you retired. … I never did retire,’ says Vollis Simpson (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

For more than 25 years, both locals and visitors from near and far have traveled to the “whirligig farm” of 93-year-old folk artist Vollis Simpson, a former machine repair shop owner and World War II veteran.

He made his first windmill for utilitarian purposes when he used a junked B-29 bomber to power a large washing machine on the South Pacific island of Saipan during the war. He lost his best buddy there, 18 years old, on their third day there.

After returning from the war, Simpson and his friends opened a machinery repair shop, and following in his father’s footsteps, a house-moving business. But when retirement time rolled around in 1985, Simpson didn’t want to sit by idly twiddling his thumbs. He started using junk he had collected — HVAC fans, bicycle parts, ceiling fans, stovepipes, textile mill rollers, highway road signs and the like — to create intricate whirligigs in the field across from his shop. Airplanes, animals and bicycles are often themes in his work.

A UNC connection

Whirligigs by Vollis Simpson

UNC friends are among the conservationists working to restore the folk art of beloved N.C. folk artist Vollis Simpson. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

Over the years, Mother Nature has not been kind to the whirligigs, and Simpson is not able to climb and repair them like he used to do. That’s where UNC folks are stepping in through a unique public-private partnership that could be an economic, artistic boom for the area where tobacco was once king. They are dismantling about 30 of the sculptures — some weighing several tons — and restoring them to their former glory in an old warehouse in downtownWilson.  Simpson’s now famous works will be moved to a two-acre park nearby that will offer an amphitheatre, a performance stage, a water feature, park benches and more. Organizers envision a site for concerts, reunions, weddings, festivals, a farmer’s market. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is scheduled to open in November 2013.

Wilson native Betty McCain (music ’52), former long-time secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, is a champion of the project. She believes it will draw tourists off I-95 into downtown, which already boasts an art gallery, a science museum and a revitalized community theater.

“We’ve really had to diversify because we were the world’s largest Brightleaf tobacco market,” she said on a visit to the restoration headquarters. “There’s a great deal of tobacco still being done on contract, but the warehouse system is over. The people in the tobacco industry worked all over the world, and they know what this whirligig park will mean.”

When project manager Jenny Moore (art education ’72, art history ’86) first heard about the conservation venture, she immediately called Henry Walston (business ’70), head of the project committee, and told him she wanted to return home to be involved. The effort has received grants from significant funders, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Kresge Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America and the N.C. Arts Council. Retired engineers, welders and master machinists are helping with the project, and a new grant from the N.C. Rural Center will help support job training for under-privileged youth.

Whirligigs by Vollis Simpson

Champions of the project hope the Whirligig Park will draw people to downtown Wilson. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

“There’s a real focus in the country, from the NEA and private foundations, on economic development in relation to the arts,” said Moore, who is among many with UNC ties involved in the endeavor, including historian Bill Ferris of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South who serves as an adviser. “Most of our funding has come to this project not just as a sculpture park, but more of what it’s going to mean to the community. … When you get people coming to the park because they want to have a picnic with their kids and have fun, they are having an art experience in a public place whereas they might not have intentionally gone to a museum to see art.”

At 93, still making art

On most days, you’ll find Simpson in his repair shop early in the morning, dressed in blue jeans and wearing his U.S. veterans baseball cap, still creating colorful works of art and trying new things — but on a smaller scale. His work can be found at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. Four whirligigs were commissioned for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He has won honors ranging from the North Carolina Award (the state’s highest civilian honor) to Southern Living magazine’s “Heroes of the New South.”

Whirligig by Vollis Simpson

Jeff Curie, who’s pursuing his master’s in folklore at UNC, says “Vollis’ life informs his work.’ (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

“When I started this here, you never heard tell of the word art,” he said, as a black cat meowed at his feet. He has mixed feelings about the sculptures being moved, but knows that the timing is right. The work can be dangerous — he caught on fire in a serious welding accident several years ago– but he said “everything I’ve ever done is dangerous.”

“I’m not able to climb no more and I reckon it’s a good thing. I really hate to see them go, though,” he said, pausing. Then with a big grin he added, “But we’ve all got to go.”

Art can change the world

Jeff Currie, who is pursuing his master’s in folklore at UNC, is overseeing surface conservation and documentation of the initiative. Simpson’s life informs his work, Currie said.

“He is a great engineer and mechanic and a very good artist, but he’s also really, really patient,” Currie said. “Some of the things he does, you feel the patience in them. Doing one thing — [like cutting and drilling tiny pieces of reflectors] — 2,000 times. He’s among that generation that has to work.”

Parts used by Vollis Simpson to construct whirligigs

Vollis Simpson uses objects such as road signs, HVAC fans, ceiling fans, mirrors, stovepipes, textile mill rollers and ball bearings in his work. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

Like many of her project colleagues, working with Simpson has been a labor of love, said Laura Bickford (art history and folklore ’10), who is an intern with the project and will be doing a master’s thesis at The Art Institute of Chicago on Simpson’s work.

“Vollis’ work to me is so honest,” Bickford said. “And to see it here, now being restored by people from this same place, and seeing how it can become a new source of pride for the town is so amazing, and it’s what art should be doing everywhere. That is the point of art. ”

“Art can change the world. It can make a difference.”

[Story by Kim Weaver Spurr ’88, multimedia feature by Mary Lide Parker ’10. This story is featured in the fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine. ]

Monumental synagogue building discovered in excavations in Galilee

Jodi Magness and UNC Students

UNC professor Jodi Magness (center) and UNC students (left to right) Brian Coussens, Caroline Carter, Jocelyn Burney, Jonathan Branch, and Kelly Gagnon, with the Huqoq mosaic. (photo by Jim Haberman)

A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (ca. 4th to 6th centuries C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.

The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.

Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). This second season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15).  In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refers to rewards for those who perform good deeds.

Huqoq mosaic

A closeup of the Huqoq mosaic with female face. (Photo by Jim Haberman)

“This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq),” said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue’s walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly.”

Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2013.

They, Robots: The future is already here

Ron Alterovitz in his lab

UNC computer scientist Ron Alterovitz in his lab. (photo by Donn Young)

If you haven’t come across a robot lately, it’s because they’re still not very good with people, says UNC computer scientist Ron Alterovitz. Humans are unpredictable — robots are limited by their programming. Humans are soft to the touch — robots are used to interacting with rigid materials. In the world of manufacturing, for example, robots do great at tasks involving wood or steel.

In Alterovitz’s lab, he and his team are teaching robots to work in the human world of variability and living tissue. Researchers don’t have to build whole machines from scratch — those already exist, Alterovitz says, and some of them are pretty impressive. Robots can wield a needle with precise control, or run, throw objects and carry things.

“We already have hardware that’s close to what we need,” Alterovitz says. “The challenge is, how do you actually program these robots so they can do something useful?”

He thinks of an elderly relative in an assisted-living center. “She had been this independent, spunky woman,” he says. “But the number of tasks that she couldn’t do by herself started increasing. One thing that was giving her trouble was putting on her compression stockings every day. I thought, why is it that we don’t have a robot that can help her do things like that?”

It wouldn’t make much sense to write a computer program just to have a robot help people put on their stockings. It would take a huge amount of code, and the result would be a robot extremely limited in its usefulness — what if you changed to a different type of hosiery?

Teaching robots human tasks

Instead, Alterovitz’s team writes code that allows a robot to be taught new tasks by ordinary people. You guide the robot’s limbs by hand through a task several times, and the robot notices what changes on each repetition and what stays the same.

“There are so many things that seem trivial to our minds,” Alterovitz says. “For example, at some young age we learned that you have to hold a plate of food level or all of it will slide off onto the floor.

“A robot knows nothing. You can try to program all these nuances, or you can create a method to teach a robot to perform skills and have the robot be able to do those things again in new environments.”

Alterovitz and grad students in his lab have been working with a robot called Nao (“now”), a little two-foot humanoid made by a French company called Aldebaran Robotics. They’ve taught Nao how to add sugar to tea and how to wipe down a table. These are small steps, Alterovitz says, on the road to more complicated tasks such as putting on stockings. The important thing his group has shared with other computer scientists is how to have a robot judge what’s important about a new task it’s learning, like keeping the spoon level or maneuvering around obstacles.

On the surface, little Nao looks like the most advanced technology in the Alterovitz lab. But another robot that looks like just a couple of rods and boxes may start helping people sooner than humanoid robots will. It’s a surgery robot that wields a flexible, bevel-tipped needle that Alterovitz and his collaborators patented. When the robot twists the needle’s base, the needle slides through tissue in a curving path governed by the direction of the slant on the needle’s head.

Robots’ use in surgical procedures

Human surgeons with regular needles are limited to pretty much a straight-shot path when they’re operating. This means a lot of places in the body are hard for them to reach without damaging other organs. The prostate gland, for example, is a difficult target, and when a patient has prostate cancer, a common treatment is radiation seed therapy, in which a doctor has to place tiny doses of radiation precisely on the gland to damage the cancer while hurting as little of the surrounding tissue as possible.

Studies have showed that experienced physicians frequently misplace the radiation therapy. “Patients may end up with these seeds giving a high dose of radiation to healthy tissue, and the actual cancerous tissue isn’t getting enough of a dose,” Alterovitz says. “That can lead to reoccurrence and to side effects on the healthy tissue.”

The robot, on the other hand, can analyze medical images such as ultrasounds to figure out the safest path around organs, predicting how tissues will shift in response to a needle. It can also use the bevel-tipped needle, which is hard for a human hand to wield because our brains can’t easily predict the curved path the needle will travel as it turns.

The Alterovitz lab has tested its medical robot on animal organs, but mostly it practices with tissue phantoms — gels that bend like animal and human tissue. They place obstacles in the tissue, and the robot figures out how to get a needle around them to the target. The robot is good at predicting how much and where the tissue will move in response to the needle.

There are a lot of medical procedures that need the same kind of help, Alterovitz says, such as removing a tumor near the surface of a lung. If surgeons go through the chest, they might disturb the pressure of the lung and collapse it accidentally. A robotic, curving needle could reach any point in the lung by going through the patient’s mouth.

Surgical robots won’t be outright replacing humans next to the operating table, Alterovitz says. But part of the point of robot-assisted surgery is to create a good digital replica of the patient. An accurate 3-D model, enhanced with information about the weight and resistance of each type of tissue, lets a robot, or a human, practice surgeries ahead of time.

“No one wants to be the first patient someone operates on,” Alterovitz says. “We want to let physicians realistically experience what a surgery will be like before they perform it.”

Alterovitz is an assistant professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences. His assistive robotics work, conducted with computer science grad students Gu Ye, Chris Bowen and Jeff Ichnowski, is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and is a collaboration with the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in the UNC School of Medicine. The needle steering project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is also the work of computer science grad students Sachin Patil and Luis Torres, and is a collaborative effort with the UNC School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley. To learn more, visit

[By Susan Hardy, a writer at Endeavors magazine. This story appeared in the fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine.]

College Bookshelf: Doris Betts

Doris Betts

Carolina will hold a gathering Oct. 7 to honor the late Doris Betts. (photo by Dan Sears).

On April 21, UNC lost one of its literary luminaries with the passing of creative writing professor Doris Betts, UNC Alumni Distinguished Professor Emerita. Carolina will host a gathering in her honor and memory Oct. 7 at 3 p.m. at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.

“Doris Betts was an extremely serious and unsentimental artist, a candid and powerful teacher, a devoted and constant friend, and a profound warmth and joy underlay it all. Her advice and counsel were the best there was, and if one person could really help another get through sad, tough, trying times, she was that one. Legendary were her genius for friendship, her compassion, her capacity for work, and her tenacity in crafting the clearest and most compelling prose. She was as a literary artist the same way she was as a woman: direct, penetrating, surprising and wise.” Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing


Books (fall 2012)

Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth(Harper Collins) by Bart Ehrman. Just when you thought you had UNC’s agnostic religious studies scholar figured out (he enjoys debunking sacred texts), Bart Ehrman has a surprise in store. His newest book provides persuasive historic evidence that Jesus, the man, was for real.  And it’s a page-turner. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies.

Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War (UNC Press) by Bland Simpson. A born storyteller fascinated by coastal history, Simpson weaves together the lives of two 19th century mariners who never met — an African-American and an Irish-American. It’s a real-life saga of race, hardship and conflict in the Civil War-era South. Simpson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and longtime member of the Tony Award-winning Red Clay Ramblers.

Woody Durham: A Tar Heel Voice (John F. Blair) by Woody Durham’63 with Adam Lucas ’03. Our State magazine once said this about the long-time radio play-by-play man known as the “Voice of the Tar Heels:” “To his listeners, he’s what powder blue sounds like.” In this autobiography, Durham takes readers behind the scenes with the coaches and players he worked with during his 30-year tenure.

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax: Words, Photographs and Music (W. W. Norton & Company) by Tom Piazza with an introduction by William Ferris. More than 50 years ago, Lomax traveled the South, uncovering little-known backcountry and blues music, with his camera as his constant companion. This new volume features a collection of 65 largely unpublished photographs. Ferris discusses the life and career of the man known for introducing musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters and Burl Ives to a mass audience. Ferris is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South.

Hearing Sappho in New Orleans: The Call of Poetry from Congo Square to the Ninth Ward (LSU Press) by Ruth Salvaggio. While sifting through trash in her flooded New Orleans home, Salvaggio discovered an old volume of Sappho’s poetry that was stained with muck and mold. In her efforts to restore the book, Salvaggio realized that the process reflected how the Greek poet’s own words were unearthed from the refuse of the ancient world. The UNC professor of English and comparative literature sets out to recover the city’s rich poetic heritage while searching through its flooded debris.

Enduring Injustice (Cambridge University Press) by Jeff Spinner-Halev. Governments today often apologize for past injustices, and scholars increasingly debate the issue, with many calling for apologies and reparations. Spinner-Halev, UNC Kenan Eminent Professor of Political Ethics, argues that there are “enduring injustices” — those that begin in the past, continue today and will continue into the future unless specifically addressed. A reviewer said “This is an insightful and provocative book by one of the country’s most consistently interesting political theorists.”

Johnny Johnson, Series I, Volume 13 (Kurt Weill Foundation for Music) edited by Tim Carter. Originally produced by the legendary Group Theatre in 1936, Johnny Johnson (with book and lyrics by UNC playwright Paul Green) marked Weill’s first contribution to American musical theater. UNC musicologist Carter draws on a variety of surviving source material for this volume, including not only Weill’s manuscripts but also rehearsal scores and sets of instrumental parts, to bring this edition to full score. Carter is David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music.

Neighbors and Other Strangers (Mint Hill Books) by Ruth Moose. Women in small-town life are the characters that populate this new collection of short stories — like Loretta, who makes a lemon pie with tofu for the second wedding of her first boyfriend. One reviewer wrote: “Ruth Moose is gifted with an unfailing ear for conversation, a sharp eye for details, a sympathetic heart and a wit Mark Twain would approve.” Moose has retired from UNC’s creative writing faculty.

Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip Hop DJ (Oxford University Press) by Mark Katz. It’s all about “the scratch” in this new book about the figure that defined hip-hop: the DJ.  Katz (chair of UNC’s music department and an amateur DJ) delves into the fascinating world of the DJ, tracing the art of the turntable from its humble beginnings in the Bronx in the 1970s to its place in global culture today. DJs discuss a wide range of topics, including the transformation of the turntable from a playback device to an instrument in its own right.

The Tree of Forgetfulness (LSU Press) by Pam Durban. In her new novel, UNC’s Doris Betts Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing recovers the largely untold story of a brutal Jim Crow-era triple lynching in rural South Carolina. By interweaving several characters’ voices, Durban produces a complex narrative that resurrects a troubled past and the individuals who chose silence over justice.

The Evening Hour (Bloomsbury USA) by Carter Sickels. The coal-mining world of Dove, Creek, W.Va,. vividly comes to life in this debut novel by UNC alum Sickels (M.A. folklore ’10). Born and raised there, 27-year-old Cole Freeman has sidestepped work as a miner to become an aide in a nursing home. He’s also a drug dealer, reselling prescription drugs his older patients give him. Freeman has always dreamed of leaving, but when disaster befalls his hometown, he is forced to confront his fears and take decisive action.

27 Views of Asheville and 27 Views of Durham (Eno Publishers). Authors with UNC ties contribute to the third and fourth in this series of anthologies of contemporary Southern towns. In Asheville, writers address everything from UNC alumnus Thomas Wolfe’s powerful legacy to the town’s celebrated Art Deco architecture. UNC creative writing professor Michael McFee’s poem, “McCormick Field” tells of the time Babe Ruth fainted right after his arrival in Asheville. Durham writers capture the essence of the city known for its tobacco, diversity, sports and grit. UNC folklore M.A. grad and News & Observercolumnist Jim Wise opens the Durham anthology with the piece “A Sense of Place.”

Buenas Noches, American Culture (Indiana University Press) by María DeGuzmán. Often treated like the night itself — both visible and invisible — Latina/os make up the largest minority group in the U.S. In her newest work, DeGuzmán explores representations of night in art and literature from the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the U.S., calling into question night’s effect on the formation of identity for Latina/os. She is professor of English and comparative literature and director of Latina/o studies at UNC.

Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars’ Club (UNC Press) by Christopher B. Teuton, with Hastings Shade, Sammy Still, Sequoyah Guess and Woody Hansen. This collection features 40 interwoven stories, conversations and teachings about Western Cherokee life, beliefs and the art of storytelling, known in the Cherokee language asgagoga, literally translated as “he or she is lying.” The book reveals how the members of the Liars’ Club understand the power and purposes of oral traditional stories. Teuton, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is UNC associate professor of American studies.

Colonial Entanglement (UNC Press) by Jean Dennison. From 2004 to 2006, the Osage Nation conducted a contentious governmental reform process in which sharply differing visions arose over the new government’s goals, the Nation’s own history and what it means to be Osage. UNC anthropologist Dennison, a member of the Osage Nation, brings to light the many complexities of defining indigenous citizenship and governance in the 21st century.

The Renegades (Putnam) by Tom Young. A catastrophic earthquake ravages Afghanistan, and American trops rush to deliver aid, among them Afghan Air Force adviser Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson and his interpreter, Sergeant Major Sophia Gold. The devastation facing them is like nothing they’ve ever seen, however — and it’s about to get worse. This is the third in a series by Young (RTVMP B.A. ’83, M.A. ’87) who has logged nearly 4,000 hours for the Air National Guard in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere.

[College Bookshelf appears in the fall 2012 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine. ]

Climbing El Capitan

Roger Putnam

Geology graduate student Roger Putnam is scaling the granite monolith El Capitan this summer for his research.

UNC geology graduate student Roger Putnam is busy doing research this summer, but he won’t be sitting in front of a computer all day. He’s currently scaling El Capitan, a 3,000-foot granite cliff in Yosemite Valley that is a favorite challenge of rock climbers. He’s mapping the cliffs as part of his master’s work. Taking a break from the mountain, Putnam answered some questions about his research in this e-mail interview. When he’s not rock climbing for work or play, Putnam also enjoys surfing, skiing, fishing and trail-running.

Q: You are working on creating the first comprehensive map of the southeast face of El Capitan to help understand magmatic processes. Give us a brief history of El Capitan’s formation.

Between 105 and 90 million years ago, the west coast of California geologically resembled the Pacific Northwest today. It was an area where an oceanic tectonic plate is being overridden by a continental plate, a tectonic setting that geologists call a subduction zone. These areas are typified by chains of large volcanoes (once again, think about the Pacific Northwest where Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood are located.). Granite bodies (known to geologists as plutons), including the entire Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and El Capitan, are thought to be the roots of these ancient volcanos.

Around 10 to 4 million years ago, crustal extension began in the western part of North America. In places of crustal extension, large blocks get uplifted. This process raised these granitic volcanic roots from the considerable depth at which they formed to form the tallest mountain range in the continental United States.

Approximately 2 million years ago, the earth began to enter a series of ice ages, during which time the mountain range was subjected to massive glaciation. These large glaciers carved out many valleys in the Sierra Nevada that display the characteristic U-shaped profile. Yosemite Valley was exhumed in this fashion.

Putnam is studying the large cliff’s formation and also contributing to the understanding about the dangers of rock-falls.

Putnam studying cliff's formation

Putnam is studying the large cliff’s formation and also contributing to the understanding about the dangers of rock-falls.

Q: What goals are you trying to achieve with the research? How will it help advance what we already know about El Capitan?

The significance of this study is threefold:

This project will greatly contribute to the understanding of the mechanics of pluton emplacement; how granite plutons form and how they get emplaced in the crust. This study will also provide understanding of the chemistry of plutons in the vertical dimension. The product of this study will be 3D reconstruction of a volcano’s roots and will help lead to a better understanding of how volcanic systems in (these) environments behave.

Perhaps the most immediate significance of this study will be its contribution to the field of rock-fall analysis. Yosemite’s cliffs are among the most accessible in the world, making them particularly prone to accidents. Over 600 rock-falls have been recorded in Yosemite National park since documentation began in 1857, most of which occurred in Yosemite Valley. This study will contribute to understanding rock-fall genesis and frequency in Yosemite Valley — helping to save lives and property.

Finally, this study will create an immensely valuable interpretive tool. Yosemite National park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts an annual visitation of over 4 million people from around the world. While in Yosemite Valley looking at the majestic cliffs, the majority of visitors are having the most intimate experience with plutons they will ever have. Having knowledge of the mechanisms whereby the cliffs were created is paramount to communicating their natural history as well as the discipline of geology in general.

This favorite of rock climbers is a perfect venue for study because of its clean, vertical exposure, easy access and stable weather conditions.

El Capitan

This favorite of rock climbers is a perfect venue for study because of its clean, vertical exposure, easy access and stable weather conditions.

Q: Why is this favorite of rock climbers an ideal place for this study?

There are few places in the world that display such perfect, clean, vertical exposure as El Capitan. Most of these places tend to be situated in remote places that are prone to poor weather such as Baffin Island, Chilean Patagonia and the Karakoram Region of Pakistan. El Capitan is located in central California and is subject to remarkably stable weather, making ascending the face particularly safe. Furthermore, the base of the cliff is also a scant 10 minute walk from a road.

Q: How many times have you climbed El Capitan before? How far up on the rock face will you go for this particular study?

Before this study began, I had climbed El Capitan 12 times by 9 different routes. My slowest time on the wall had been three and a half days and my fastest was 10 hours 27 minutes.

For this study, I have already (as I write this) climbed the entire face of El Capitan twice and rappelled it once. I have also climbed and rappelled various other small sections of the rock. If weather cooperates, I plan on climbing it once more before the end of my field season.

Q: For the uninitiated, what are the challenges and dangers for rock climbers in scaling El Capitan?

The difficulty of climbing El Capitan is of such an extreme nature that only a small percentage of climbers can do it. However, climbing it is almost a rite of passage among hard climbers worldwide. There are a multitude of dangers present while ascending El Capitan. There are many objective hazards that come from the environment such as storms, dehydration and rock-fall. One has to be extremely proficient at handling safety equipment and rope management. A small mistake in rope handling can be catastrophic. Some of the greatest challenges are psychological. One has to be prepared to emotionally deal with tremendous exposure for days on end.

Q: How will you go about undertaking your field research? Explain the processes you’ll undergo in studying this giant monolith?

We have taken a series of high-resolution gigapan images of the face of El Capitan. We will be overlaying these images on LiDAR (basically laser-radar) data in GIS. This will give us a 3D image of the face on which we can digitize the contact lines between the different types of granite. To determine what type of rock these polygons on the map are, these areas of the cliff must be visited. This is being accomplished by climbing and rappelling established climbing routes. We are also “crowd-sourcing” part of this work to recreational climbers who are taking scale photographs of the rock as they climb up the rock. As I climb/rappel the rock, I am taking samples to help us better understand the rock units exposed on the face and how they geochemically interact.

Before this current study, Putnam had climbed El Capitan 12 times by 9 different routes.

Roger Putnam on El Capitan

Before this current study, Putnam had climbed El Capitan 12 times by 9 different routes.

Q: What funding did you receive to help with your research?

I have received generous support from many organizations including National Geographic, The Geological Society of America, Sigma Xi and the American Alpine Club. I have also received support from many companies including Maptek, Metolius Climbing, Bluewater Ropes and Patagonia.

Q: If you had to “tweet” about the experience of climbing El Capitan this summer, what would you write?

I am not in the Twitter world … so this is my best shot:

I am blessed to be here, climbing one of the most famous monoliths in the world, trying to understand how it formed.

The Future of the Outer Banks: Climate change’s effect on N.C.’s barrier islands

North Carolina Coastline

The North Carolina coastline as seen through the window of a U.S. Coast Guard plane (photo by Brett Clark)

Sometime when you’re in the mood to be amazed, take a look at a satellite view of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. They don’t look like much — just a sliver of terra firma standing between our coast and the deep, dark North Atlantic. But those barrier islands are our mainland’s first line of defense. They absorb energy from big ocean waves, protect estuaries, and help reduce flooding when tropical storms and hurricanes come barreling up the eastern seaboard every year.

The shape of the Outer Banks has slowly changed over the centuries, says Laura Moore, an assistant professor of geology in the College of Arts and Sciences. And now changes in the climate are speeding up the process. Bigger and stronger storms, rising sea levels, bigger waves and even changes in the islands’ vegetation have already subtly altered their topography.

Moore uses historical maps, geologic data and computational modeling tools to create simulations that show how the barrier has moved since it first formed about 8,500 years ago, and to calculate how the islands may continue to evolve in the decades and centuries to come.

Barrier islands wander continually. They sit hunkered low in the water, their heads held just above the surf. When a big storm comes along and the water level rises, wind and waves wash over the surface, picking up sand from the shore face and sweeping it to the other side of the island. Alongshore currents also drag some of the sand and sediment up or down the coast.

All of these processes combine to send barrier islands on a slow, landward migration. As long as currents and waves don’t carry away the islands’ sediment too quickly, there will be sand available to resupply the other side of the island and enough of a foundation to keep the top of the barrier above water.

Laura Moore

UNC geologist Laura Moore on the beach at Corolla. (photo by Brett Clark)

Some states have tried to prevent barrier island migration by building seawalls and other structures. But these are only a temporary fix, Moore says, and they can do more harm than good. Eventually the sea will scour away the sand that makes up the beach — a huge structural loss for the island. As sea level rises, water will creep over the wall, or a storm will breach it. The island, having lost the protection of the beach, will be inundated by waves and storm surge.

For the moment, North Carolina law doesn’t allow seawalls. “But this is going to be an issue the state will face in the future,” Moore says. According to her models, it’ll take a high rate of migration over the next few centuries to keep the Outer Banks above sea level. “The islands need to be able to move,” she says. “But this is not something that many folks would want to see. We’ve got homes built on the barrier islands. There will be more pressure to build structures to keep our homes and infrastructure where they are. In this case, though, structures will only hasten the loss of the islands.”

When Moore first started studying barrier islands and climate change 12 years ago, she says, the field was mostly focused on sea level rise. And while that’s a big part of the changes coming for the Outer Banks, the picture is more complicated than that.

Moore and her team of students and postdocs are now putting their modeling tools to work on the complex questions of ecomorphodynamics — the relationships between biological and physical processes. Take, for example, the way grass, wind and changing temperatures all influence on another.

Temperature determines which species of vegetation can grow on an island. And the vegetation determines what paths the wind will take as it races over the dunes, scraping up sand from some spots and dumping it in others. The placement of the sand affects which vegetation is able to grow and where — which, in turn, determines the wind patterns. All of these things together shape the shoreline, which then affects the way the island is able to hold up to storms.

Computational modeling tools can help us better understand these complex interactions and their role in the future of the Outer Banks, Moore says. Knowing what our barrier islands are in for could help us to keep their heads above water.

By Margarite Nathe. Nathe was a writer at Endeavors magazine. This story appeared in the fall 2012 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine. ]

Fluid Music: UNC musician explores sounds created by water

Lee Weisert records water sounds

UNC music professor Lee Weisert records water sounds at a rock quarry pond in Caswell County, N.C. (photo by Steve Exum)

When Lee Weisert first heard the chords in “The Rite of Spring” as a high school student, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“There was a physical quality to the music that created a direct engagement with sounds I had never heard before,” says Weisert, an assistant professor in the department of music. Inspired by Stravinsky’s opus and influenced by John Cage’s pioneering work in seeking out new models for musical composition, Weisert embarked on a path toward music composition.

Weisert composes three types of music. “I create acoustic chamber pieces for various combinations of cello, piano and other traditional instruments,” he says. “There are purely electronic pieces that I write for the computer, usually for a fixed multichannel playback. And then there are sound installations on which I collaborate with a colleague, Jonathon Kirk, a professor at North Central College in Illinois.”

These installations explore the sounds created by water in its liquid and solid states. Last year, Weisert and Kirk created “Cryoacoustic Orb,” which featured multiple illuminated acrylic orbs filled with slowly melting ice. Hydrophones (underwater microphones), frozen inside the ice, amplified the sounds of the melting process. Those sounds were then electronically processed and broadcast through the gallery space, creating a soundscape that evolved over the course of several hours.

“I’m interested in the acoustic ecology movement which is a cross between the natural sciences and music composition,” says Weisert. “People have been recording interesting sounds in the environment from different areas of the world with some of the most beautiful recordings being the ice floes cracking and moving in the Arctic.”  Weisert says that this work was a trigger for his project as were the hydrophones he and Kirk purchased for their 2008 collaboration, “The Argus Project.”

Cryoacoustic Orb

Weisert and his collaborator Jonathon Kirk created “Cryoacoustic Orb,” which featured multiple illuminated acrylic orbs filled with slowly melting ice. (photo by Steve Exum)

That site-specific sound installation explored the sound sources from beneath the surface of a natural pond. “The pond supplied all the sonic material, like the gurglings and bubblings and the occasional fish trying to eat the microphones,” says Weisert. “All of those sounds were captured by the hydrophones. In addition, we had sensors that picked up changes in the environment, such as temperature and light, which was translated into data that the computer altered into sounds.” Weisert says that the pond becomes both the instrument and the performer. He plans to stage this piece in Chapel Hill in 2013.

“I am intrigued by the sonic accessibility to a place that you can’t access in a normal situation without all of this technology,” says Weisert. “That direct simple discovery of this sound world is exciting.”  Weisert says that the sound installations inspire his other musical compositions.

“I, along with other composers of instrumental and computer music, am always looking for new things to base my compositions on outside of the traditional forms, ideas or gestures,” says Weisert. “These sound installations offer textures that I would never think of myself.”

Weisert says that he can take the sounds he discovers and reshape them for a string quartet or another more traditional piece of music. “Some of the sound worlds, behaviors and shapes that came out of the installation are definitely creeping in to the electronic part of a piece I am now writing for saxophone and electronics,” he says.

Watch a video of “Cryoacoustic Orb.”

[Story by Michele Lynn, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine]