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Total Immersion: The art and science of water in our world

Sunset over the water

Carolina launched a new, two-year academic theme focused on water, which kicked off this fall. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

For more stories about water initiatives in the College, click on the links at the bottom of this story.

Water. Life depends on it, and this fall the Carolina campus is becoming immersed in it.

On World Water Day last spring, UNC announced that water would be the focus of a two-year, campus-wide academic theme called “Water in Our World.” It’s the first time the University has adopted a theme meant to saturate every corner of campus: from professors’ research agendas to classroom curricula to student activities.

The water initiative is being led  by Terry Rhodes, former chair of the department of music and the new senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Jamie Bartram, a distinguished professor and director of the UNC Water Institute in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. (Bartram is the keynote speaker for University Day.) Rhodes says that the theme will bridge the humanities and the sciences, and it seeks to make interdisciplinary connections among researchers on campus who work on water issues but may be unaware of each other.

Jamie Bartram and Terry Rhodes

Water committee co-chairs Jamie Bartram (left) and Terry Rhodes. (photo by Donn Young)

While the theme will encompass technical issues about water such as water purity and supply, the University will also host “a water and health conference, dramatic performances, film screenings, directed book readings, visiting scholars, symposia, special academic courses, writing and photography competitions all tied to water,” according to Rhodes.

Bartram, who was one of the originators of the water initiative, says, “It was one of the very few topics that was relevant to every part of campus.”

Within the College, new courses are being developed in anthropology, African and Afro-American studies, Asian studies, geological sciences and history. Five professors in the College have received grants from the Center for Global Initiatives to support the development of new courses and curricula based on water

Outside the classroom, events and lectures are being planned as well as artistic ventures. Lee Weisert, an assistant professor in the department of music, previously designed two sound installations which explored the aesthetic qualities of water, and he plans to showcase those again as part of the new water theme.

The first installation, called the “Argus Project” will be presented at a nearby pond encircled by speakers. The second sound installation, titled “Cryoacoustic Orb,” will take place in a campus gallery space where large spheres of ice will have embedded microphones to amplify the sound of melting as the spheres are warmed by heat lamps.

Water In Our World“Both of the projects focus attention on the natural characteristics of aquatic environments and processes, with technology primarily functioning as a way of accessing and magnifying them,” Weisert says.

Bartram also hopes the University will create a mobile Web application that will allow students to calculate their “water footprint,” or how much water they use on campus.

“It’s a real opportunity to see how our individual day-to-day lives affect a major natural resource,” Bartram says. Other campus discussions may include the effect of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on local water sources, an issue the state of North Carolina has grappled with; water conservation; and connections between water, public health and poverty.

One goal of the campuswide theme is to address problems that are both global and local, such as water scarcity, potability and pollution. This fall, UNC will host the 2012 Water and Health Conference: Science, Policy and Innovation from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2. For information, visit

UNC is the only academic institution to be one of five founding partners in the U.S. Water Partnership. The partnership is a countrywide initiative which brings together the best of the U.S.— through NGOs, academia or the private sector — to confront and respond to big water challenges, primarily in developing countries.

Rhodes and Bartram are eager to hear your ideas about the water theme. Email them to For more, visit

[ By DeLene Beeland, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine ]

Precious Resource: Scientist saves lives through clean water

Greg Allgood

UNC alum Greg Allgood on a trip to Tanzania. Allgood has traveled to more than 60 countries to promote safe drinking water. (photo courtesy of Greg Allgood, Procter & Gamble).

Greg Allgood (B.S. ’81, M.S.P.H. ’83), a Procter & Gamble scientist, knew his company had developed a packet of chemicals that could clean dirty water in 30 minutes. The product drew widespread interest, but it was almost nixed.

Yet one day at a muddy watering hole in Kenya, Allgood learned its deeper value. He watched a woman and her children marvel as a bucket of filthy, germ-ridden water became drinkable using a purification packet. Seconds later, a man lurking in the distance grabbed the bucket and bolted off. The woman fell to her knees and begged Allgood for more packets.

Allgood knew had something special, something needed enough that people would plead for it, something good enough to steal. The scene spurred him to lead the charge to create a nonprofit to provide safe water globally.

“It was life-changing for me that it could mean so much to people if we could reach the right people that really had dirty water,” Allgood recalled.

Allgood is director of P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, which provides more than a billion liters of clean drinking water annually using packets developed in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allgood led the program’s creation in 2004 after he urged the company to shift from selling packets for profit to a not-for-profit model that would disseminate them in the developing world.

The Cary native, who also is a senior fellow in sustainability at P&G, received his undergraduate degree in biology and master’s in public health from UNC before getting a doctorate in toxicology from N.C. State University. He joined P&G in 1986.

P&G sells the packets at cost to more than 100 humanitarian groups, including FHI 360, Population Services International, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, CARE and Save the Children. Each treats 2.5 gallons of water, even if it’s extremely contaminated. The packets contain iron sulfite, which works like a dirt magnet to pull particles like worms and parasites together, and a disinfectant that kills bacteria and viruses that cause cholera, dysentery and typhoid fever. After contaminants settle, water is strained through a clean cloth.

Allgood estimates that the program has provided 5 billion liters of clean drinking water since its inception. P&G plans to celebrate this milestone with a Malawi family that is part of a UNC School of Medicine program for people with AIDS. A video by UNC students will mark the occasion. AIDS is a key focus since it’s critically important that people prone to diarrhea and infections have clean water.

The program has received numerous awards, including the Ron Brown Award — the highest given by the U.S. government for corporate citizenship — and the U.S. Secretary of State’s Corporate Excellence Award..

Allgood, based in Cincinnati, has traveled to more than 60 countries in Central America, Latin America, Africa and Asia. His previous passport became so thick that the director of P&G’s archives seized it to showcase.

The program has other close ties to UNC. The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health did packet development research, and P&G works closely with the UNC Water Institute to promote household water treatment.

Allgood lectures on sustainability annually at Kenan-Flagler Business School and has worked with faculty there on program case studies. He’s also worked with Morehead-Cain Scholars and UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication students. In July 2012, he joined a team in Malawi to document the P&G and UNC collaboration and create a series of short films.

On University Day in October 2012, Allgood will be honored with a UNC Distinguished Alumni Award. He’s also co-chair of the advocacy and communications working group of the WHO and UNICEF International Network to Promote Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage and serves on the advisory board of the Clinton Global Initiative.

To date, Allgood estimates that the packets have saved more than 25,000 lives. But he’s even more excited about the future. P&G hopes to grow the program until it saves one life an hour — or around 8,760 lives per year.

“We’re already more than halfway to that goal,” Allgood said. “It’s mind-blowing to me that we could actually be saving one life every hour in the not too distant future.”

[Story by Pamela Babcock, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine]

Oyster Culture: Cultivating the foodways of a Virginia coastal community


UNC cultural historian Bernie Herman

UNC cultural historian Bernie Herman, chair of the American Studies department, in Westerhouse Creek. (photo courtesy of Bernie Herman)

Bernie Herman is not a marine biologist, but he knows an awful lot about oysters. For instance, it doesn’t take much space to grow the mollusks. The gathering space on campus between UNC Student Stores and Lenoir Hall fondly known as The Pit “would easily grow a million,” he says.

There’s more. One oyster filters roughly 50 gallons of water a day. It takes about 24 months for a native oyster to grow to “market size.” Oysters need substrate — a hard surface like recycled oyster shells — on which to settle.

Herman, the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore, raises about 70,000 oysters in a private restoration effort on roughly five acres of “lease ground” owned by the state of Virginia. Herman’s “Westerhouse Pinks” are cultivated in Westerhouse Creek on the Eastern Shore, a slender saltwater peninsula across the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from touristy Virginia Beach. The shore community, which has a long history of persistent poverty, is also rich in local food, from oysters and clams to soft-shell crabs, spot fish and snapping turtles. Locals from miles around gather to consume the latter at an annual turtle party hosted by Theodore Peed. This is quite literally, Herman says, “the South you never ate.”

Tom Gallivan shows off his Shooting Point Oysters

Eastern Shore oyster grower Tom Gallivan shows off his Shooting Point Oysters. (photo courtesy of Bernie Herman)

July 6, 2012 : The temperature and stillness relegate oyster work to the early hours in the day when the air is still cool and the morning winds are stirring. … The first cage was full to bursting — in fact, the oysters were pushing the lid up and off. These are older native oysters that possess a pinkish hue to their shells that is particularly evident on new bill growth. — from Bernie Herman’s oyster diary

Herman lived here as a small boy, eating oysters and clams and puffer fish, also called “swelling toads.” It’s a place “defined by a powerful sense of belonging, a place where you drive around on the back roads and you always wave, a place where folks pull together,” he says.

How do you play to the strengths of an area with a distressed economy? What does this place already do best?  These are the questions that Herman the cultural historian brought to the table with an idea for heritage-based, sustainable economic development.

“Does the Eastern Shore of Virginia have a cuisine that is as complex and varied as say New Orleans or Charleston — no it doesn’t. But it has a special cuisine,” he says. “And so I started talking with folks, documenting local foods, collecting recipes (like clam fritters) and listening to the narratives that go with food and place.”

A reconstructed reef that will provide a place for oyster larvae to grow

Mesh bags of shell (cultch) will be set out as a reconstructed reef that will provide a place for oyster larvae to grow. (photo courtesy of Bernie Herman)

He also involved his undergraduate students in the effort. Lauren Shor (American studies ’11), wrote her senior honors thesis on the cultural history of clam farming. She and Dylan Hubbard (business administration ’11) helped Herman bring 10 of the nation’s top food writers, chefs and culinary historians for a two-day immersion on the Eastern Shore in 2010. Author Molly O’Neill included stories and recipes from the Eastern Shore in her cookbook, One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking.

“It’s one thing to bring the food to somebody; it’s very different to get out there on Hog Island and you’re seven or eight miles off shore and you’re standing knee deep in water … with seven or eight million clams at your feet,” Herman says.

May 15, 2011: [Last] November, we held an oyster tasting in Chapel Hill at 3Cups; in March we convened with Lorraine Eaton [food writer at The Virginian-Pilot] and conducted a six-creek-plus seaside taste test. Not unsurprisingly everyone held forth that their oyster was best. The larger point is that from creek to creek the flavor profiles varied as significantly as if we were tasting wines. — from Bernie Herman’s oyster diary

In addition to what has become an annual oyster love fest at 3Cups, Herman worked with oyster grower and mentor Tom Gallivan of Shooting Point Oysters and Eastern Shore seafood trucker Dean Hickman, who now makes a weekly run down South to area restaurants. One of the star chefs who has been supportive of Herman’s efforts is Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill’s Lantern restaurant, praised for fusing fresh local ingredients with Asian flavors. Herman regularly sets aside some of his “Westerhouse Pinks” for Reusing’s use.

Herman has also written essays about the cuisine of the Eastern Shore for Southern Cultures journal. He’s had some successes promoting the region’s unique foodways, yet “there’s still a lot of work to do,” he says.

“It’s important to keep up the effort to get the word out there, create awareness and hopefully increase market demand,” he says. “I hope this could serve as a model for other communities. It would be great to work with UNC students and a North Carolina community.”

“Environmentalists, scientists and others would do very well to listen to the anecdotal knowledge of a person who has spent 10, 15 or 50 years working on the water. … That’s part of what a real liberal arts education should teach you is how to listen.”

Read Herman’s essay on Peed’s turtle party, watch a video of an oyster filtering water, and learn aboutUNC marine scientists’ oyster work.

[Story by Kim Weaver Spurr ’88, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine ]