Insects help convict killer

When two FBI agents and a Bakersfield detective hauled a radiator and an air filter, splattered with insects, into the Bohart Museum of Entomology, they weren’t there to contribute to the museum’s seven-million insect collection.

They wanted museum director Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis professor of entomology, to identify the insects and their geographical location for an upcoming mass murder trial.

“I saw it as a puzzle to be solved,” Kimsey said of the car parts embedded with several hundred insects. “I’ve never heard of anyone doing this.”

Steel bridge team place second in nationals

The UC Davis Steel Bridge team, nicknamed “Chrome Ollie,” took second place overall at the 2007 National Student Bridge Competition at California State University, Northridge, May 25-26. The team qualified for the national contest earlier this month by earning their fourth consecutive Mid-Pacific crown at the regional competition held at Santa Clara University, April 26-28.

The steel bridge contest pits teams of civil and mechanical engineering students against each other in the design and fabrication of scale-size bridge structures that are judged on such criteria as structural efficiency, economy, aesthetics, lightness and speed of assembly.

Barbeque meat and cancer

Luckily I didn’t read about heterocyclic amines before I fired up the barbie on Memorial Day. Fortunately I like my steak rare, and if I’d had more time I would have marinaded it, so marks for intention. Also scallops, prawns and don’t seem to be a problem. Neither is liver, not an ideal barbecue food, although I bet kidneys would be great.

Database of clinical trials at UC Davis

The UC Davis Health System has set up a database of current clinical trials. Topics range from drug trials in cancer, to autism studies, to sociology. In fact it appears to include all research protocols that include human subjects, not all of them medical — for example, studies of transportation habits and a survey of parrot owners.

The database is searchable and can be sorted for trials that are currently recruiting participants. There is also a FAQ document.

Health System spotlight feature on the database here.

Drug production in eggs

Drugs for cancer and other diseases could be harvested from the eggs of genetically modified chickens, according to Mary Delany, professor of Animal Science. Delany’s work is described in a feature article in the current issue of Synthesis, the UC Davis Cancer Center’s magazine.

Last year, Delany and colleagues at Origen, a biotech company in the Bay Area, showed that they could introduce novel genes into a chicken embryo so that they ended up in the “germ line” — the cells that make eggs and sperm. That means that the new genes would be passed on to the next generation. It also means that scientists could make a bird that produces a protein based on the new gene and accumulates it in the egg.

SacBee: Delta and Dawn pick up steam in Bay

The two whales that ventured upriver as far as West Sacramento now seem to be well on their way to the ocean. They just have to pass the Richmond bridge, then it’s the Golden Gate and blue water all the way. The antibiotics they received may have helped — maybe they’re just feeling a whole lot better.

According to the Bee,

This 20-day saga has been a virtual treasure trove for researchers seeking to understand whale psychology and physical health. They have been taking still photos, video, and studying the whales’ every move from tail lobbing to breeching -including their sometimes seemingly erratic behavior.

Mapping the action in the cosmic suburbs

Astronomers lead by Lori Lubin of the UC Davis physics department have mapped a ‘supercluster’ of galaxies about six billion light years away. The work, which was presented this past weekend at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, helps show how galaxies and galactic structures evolve.

Galaxies are not randomly spread through space, but collect into clusters linked by trailing filaments. At a stupendous scale, these clusters form superclusters.

In the past, telescope limitations forced astronomers to focus their studies on either the centers of large clusters or random regions in the cosmic web. Now, with the latest ground-based and space-based telescopes, scientists are able to map larger areas.

Nelson Max wins lifetime achievement award

Computer graphics pioneer Nelson Max, professor in the Department of Computer Science and the Institute for Data Analysis and Visualization, is the 2007 recipient of the Steven A. Coons Award from the Association of Computer Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques (ACM SIGGRAPH). The award is given in odd-numbered years to one individual to honor lifetime contributions to computer graphics and interactive techniques.

Windmill on Bainer Hall

WindmillNo, that’s not a propellor hat on the engineering building.

It is a 1-kiloWatt Bergey Excel wind turbine, used for teaching and demonstration purposes by Professor Case van Dam and the California Wind Energy Collaborative. It is used, for example, in the Small Wind Energy Systems course offered through UC Davis Extension.

The Collaborative also organizes an annual forum on wind power issues, carries out research, teaching and technical training for wind energy systems.
The Collaborative was established in 2002 with a grant from the California Energy Commission. It aims to bring together academics, industry, government and others to advance wind power in California.

Life will find a way

Fun story for the day: spacecraft can be dirty places. Astronauts on the Mir space station in the 1990s found free-floating blobs of water behind wall panels, that turned out to contain bacteria, fungi and even dust mites. Some microbes could corrode materials, especially around joints and seals.

However clean you make the spacecraft, you can’t sterilize everything that goes in or out — certainly not the people who visit it. So after a while some interesting things are going to start growing, especially where it’s warm and humid. It must also be quite difficult to clean surfaces properly in zero G, not to mention random crumbs and droplets of food and drink floating about.