UC Davis Magazine Spring issue out

Mag coverThe Spring issue of UC Davis Magazine is out and up on the web. Features for your reading delectation include Pat Bailey on E. coli contamination in spinach; Kathleen Holder on mental illness rates among college students; Teri Bachman on students in fashion and textiles; and L.M. Bogad on Guerilla Theatre. Plus all the usual class notes, letters and news.

Telemedicine video online

At the last UC Regents meeting, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef and Tom Nesbitt, executive associate dean of the School of Medicine, presented an overview of the pioneering UC Davis telemedicine program, started by Nesbitt in 1992. As part of the presentation, the Regents saw a 10-minute video on the impact of telemedicine, produced by Paul Pfotenhauer of the UC Davis News Service and freelance videographer Ken Zukin.

The video isn’t posted anywhere very obvious right now, but you can find a Quicktime version here or a Windows Media file here.

Charlie Casey’s write up of the presentation for Dateline is here.

Events for your calendar

April 3: Miller speaks on God, Darwin and Design

Kenneth R. Miller, author of “Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution” (2000), will speak on “God, Darwin, and Design: Faith and Certainty in the Scientific World.” Miller is a professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Brown University. He is well known as a prominent defender of evolution and a critic of “intelligent design,” and was a witness for the plaintiffs in the recent Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board case, in which a federal judge rejected the introduction of intelligent design into public school science classes.

Robots rampage this weekend

The Davis/Sacramento regional FIRST Robotics competition takes place this Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, in the Pavilion (Rec Hall) of the Activities and Recreation Center. The event is a lot of fun and is free and open to the public. Numerous local high school teams are taking part, including teams from Davis, Woodland, Vacaville, Elk Grove and Sacramento.

Doors open at 8 am, opening ceremonies at 9.30 am and competition runs until about 4 pm both days.

The rookie team from Woodland High is being mentored by students from CALESS, the Chicanos and Latinos Engineering and Scientists Society. News Service intern Tom Dotan wrote about the team for Dateline recently.

Hexagon on Saturn

Ooooo picture of the day: the Cassini space probe images a giant hexagon, four times the size of the Earth,Saturn Hexagon surrounding Saturn’s north pole. The pictures were taken with an infrared camera, as the area is still in Saturn’s 15-year winter. The hexagon was apparently also imaged by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in the 1980s. Studying it could tell scientists more about what is happening in the giant planet’s atmosphere.

Monster animal of the day: Toadzilla

A cane toad weighing nearly two pounds has been caught in the northern Australian city of Darwin. Video of the beast here.

Cane toadCane toads are one of the most disastrous examples of an invasive species. They were introduced from Hawaii in the 1930s to control an insect pest in sugarcane fields (apparently, no one realised that the toads don’t actually eat the pest in question). They do, however, breed prolifically, eat pretty much anything that moves and will fit in their mouths, and have poisonous skin that renders them near-invulnerable to predators. They have been hopping and munching their way across Australia, and now number about 200 million.

Rat poison: Even a dog shouldn’t eat that

The deaths of fifteen pets that led to a mass recall of pet food now seem to be due to poisoning. The food was contaminated with aminopterin, once used as a cancer drug, sometimes used as a rodenticide outside the U.S.. It might have contaminated wheat gluten used as an ingredient in food.

Brad Smith, director of the veterinary teaching hospital at UC Davis, is not optimistic. “I think we’re going to see hundreds if not thousands of cases,” he told the Contra Costa Times. “It’s going to take some time to sort this out.”

Plate tectonics pushed back to 3.8 bn years ago

The BBC has a detailed report — complete with long words like “asthenosphere” — on the discovery of some ancient sea floor in Greenland. The significance is that this shows that plate tectonics, the process that pushes the continents around the planet like paper boats on a pond (and on the scale of our puny lifetimes gives rise to earthquakes) was going on billions of years earlier than thought.

‘”What this tells you unequivocally is that the process of sea-floor spreading that we observe today appears to be present in one of, if not the, oldest sequence of rocks on Earth,”‘ Eldridge Moores, professor emeritus of geology at UC Davis, told the BBC’s Jonathan Fildes. “That is a significant milestone.”

Fortune magazine on nutrition, genomics and “functional foods.”

Via CNN Money, Fortune magazine has an article on the developing trend of nutritional genomics and foods marketed with specific health claims.

‘”Consumers are beginning to realize that we bring two things to the dinner table – our appetite and our genotype,” says Raymond Rodriguez, director of the Center for Excellence in Nutritional Genomics at the University of California, Davis.’

I think there’s a bit of merging of two topics here — the food companies mentioned in the article are developing foods that they say have health benefits, presumably for everybody, while nutrigenomics is about understanding why some people respond to a component in food and others do not.

Wikipedia is good for academia

“Wikipedia is good for academia,” declares historian Eric Rauchway in The New Republic (free registration required to read), comparing the growth of open source documents on the internet to the coffee-house intellectual culture of the 17th century.

Rauchway’s article highlights Middlebury College in Vermont, which has banned students from citing Wikipedia in their essays. The college says Wikipedia can be inaccurate because of its open source nature.

Rauchway argues that, firstly, college students shouldn’t be relying solely on encyclopedias but on sources closer to the events; and secondly, that peer-reviewed studies have shown that Wikipedia does not contain significantly more errors than a certain commercial encyclopedia.