Campus News

Gift expands access to cutting-edge geographic imaging technology at UGA

Gift expands access to cutting-edge geographic imaging technology at UGA

Athens, Ga. – Students and faculty members at the University of Georgia in fields as diverse as agriculture, landscape architecture and geography will benefit from a gift that allows them to use satellite images and aerial photographs to better understand the world around them.

UGA alumnus Matt Heric (BS, 1985), chairman of Durham, North Carolina-based IAVO Research and Scientific, has donated 114 copies of his company’s GeoGenesis software to four schools and colleges at UGA. The gift is valued at nearly $3.5 million.

“The University of Georgia is fortunate to have alumni like Matt Heric, whose generosity enriches the experiences of students and enhances the research and service activities of our faculty members,” said Tom Landrum, UGA senior vice president for external affairs.

In a class taught by Tommy Jordan, associate director for the university’s Center for Remote Sensing and Mapping Science in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate and graduate students are using GeoGenesis to turn aerial photos into data that can be used to model how fires would behave in environmentally sensitive areas. Other students in the same class are using the software to map Native American archeological dig sites. The software can also be used to help decide where to place cell phone towers to maximize coverage, Jordan added, or to assess the impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

“There is not a single question that 3D information can’t at least help answer,” Jordan said. “I work with people from archeology and anthropology, marine science, behavioral psychology, forestry, veterinary medicine, marine science, history-everything has a relationship in space or time.”

In the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, assistant professor Nate Nibbelink said that the advanced tools that GeoGenesis provides will improve land use, vegetation, and animal habitat maps derived from satellite imagery.

“We hope to use the improved elevation data along with the other products to determine species habitat use and answer questions about how land use change and other human activities influence the distribution and abundance of animals,” Nibbelink said.

Other colleges that will be using the software in teaching, research and outreach efforts include the College of Environment and Design and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Heric has deep ties to UGA. His father, the late Eugene Heric, taught chemistry at UGA from 1956 until his retirement in 1985 and also served as assistant graduate dean and coordinator of instructional grants at the university. Matt Heric’s two sisters are UGA graduates, and several other family members have earned degrees from UGA.

“This gift is a very personal way for me to support current and future students at the university,” Heric said. “GIS (geographic information systems) is used in so many applications, from public health to pharmacy to geography-you name it. The students are going to be more employable when they graduate, are going to do better in their careers and will ultimately be more successful-and then hopefully will give back to UGA.”