Researcher Protection bill passes Assembly

The California Assembly passed the Researcher Protection Act of 2008 (AB 2296) today on a 68-0 vote. The bill now goes to Governor Schwarzenegger for signature. The bill was strongly supported by the University of California: over the past year, researchers at several campuses, notably UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, have been targeted by animal rights extremists with threats, vandalism and firebombings.

“The University of California applauds the Legislature’s passage of this legislation, which provides new tools to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against academic researchers and their families,” said UC President Mark G. Yudof in a statement. “The Legislature, led by Assemblymember Mullin, has taken an important step in supporting university research that aims to enhance the health and well-being of people throughout California and around the world.”

The causes of bankruptcy

Americans go bankrupt primarily because they spend too much money, according to a study by Ning Zhu at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. Medical costs also contribute to a lesser extent to bankruptcy, but unemployment and other adverse events have little effect, Zhu found. He notes, however, that when households are already financially stretched by overspending, they become more vulnerable to unexpected costs such as a big medical bill.

Zhu studied all bankruptcy records from the year 2003 in the state of Delaware, compared to the Federal Reserve Board’s national survey of consumer spending for households that had never declared bankruptcy.

Memories are made of…

A complete memory is made up of different items — the what, who, where and when — that are linked together by the brain. From common experience, there seem to be two different processes involved in recalling a memory: familiarity, or knowing that we’ve seend something before; and recollection, the rush of associated details that comes back when the madeleine hits the tea.

Lizards start the day with feats of strength

Male Anole lizards start their day with push-ups and other visual displays to announce to their rivals, “I survived the night, I’m still here so stay off my territory,” according to Terry Ord, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and Harvard University.

Displaying lizardMale Anoles spend much of the day sitting on tree branches defending their territories from rivals. The lizards display visually, by bobbing their heads and inflating their throat pouches. Sometimes, they have to contend with a “noisy” visual background of waving branches and shadows, and in a previous paper Ord showed that they deal with that by “shouting:” making their motions bigger and more vigorous.

Researcher Protection Bill passes state Senate

AB 2296, which would increase protections for academic researchers targeted by animal rights extremists, passed a vote on the Senate floor today by a 29-0 bipartisan vote. The bill now goes to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety and to the Assembly for concurrence, which should be the last step before it is ready for signature by the Governor.

More information about AB 2296 and animal research at the University of California can be found here.

Previously: UC Davis Professor of Nutrition, and former Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz M.R.C. Greenwood co-authored an editorial in Science on threats to researchers, and testified in support of AB 2296.

Robots play follow-the-robot

Sanjay Joshi’s lab in the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering has been working on having robots pick up behavioral cues so that they can more easily follow humans or other robots.

The “following problem” is a fundamental problem in robotics, Joshi said. At one level, you can fit a robot with a camera and program it to follow a leader at a certain distance. But if the leader goes round a corner or disappears from view, the follower is lost.

Asian Americans and suicide risk

Time magazine reports on work by UC Davis psychology professor Stanley Sue and his students, who surveyed thousands of Asian Americans on mental health issues. They found that family conflict had a particularly strong impact on Asian Americans, even leading to an increased risk of suicide.

Overall, Sue notes, Asian Americans have similar rates of suicide and self-reported suicidal thoughts as the rest of the population. But the risk factors seem to be different, he says.

“Because of the great emphasis on harmony and family integration in many Asian cultures, family conflict is an important factor to consider when studying suicidal behaviors among Asian Americans,” says Sue.

Mmmm, food studies

Academic programs on “food studies” are hitting the academic mainstream, according to this article in the Washington Post. Universities such as Yale and the University of New Hampshire are launching courses where students study food and food culture, hitting the kitchens and farmer’s markets as well as the books.

At UC Davis, Carolyn de la Pena is introducing a “food concentration” for American studies majors this fall. “Food studies answers the craving for interdisciplinary exchange among professors across the sciences and humanities that has been growing for a decade,” she told the Post.

How to choose and apply for college

With the new crop of freshmen students for our centennial year due to descend on campus in a few weeks, high-school juniors are thinking about applying to college. Richard Dorf, a professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, has a new book out to guide parents and children through that process.

“The College Journey: From College to Career 2009” goes through a seven-step process of identifying values and goals, developing and narrowing a list of colleges, and selecting a final choice. Which seems like a sensible approach to an apparently fraught process.

Mosquitoes really don’t like DEET

DEET is the world’s most popular chemical insect repellent, but although it’s been around since the 1940s not much is known about how it actually works. Current thinking holds that it masks scents that the mosquito uses to find her prey, or somehow interferes with the insect’s sensory apparatus.

Professor Walter Leal and researcher Zain Syed at the UC Davis Department of Entomology have now shown the real reason: mosquitoes just don’t like the smell. The work is published in PNAS today.

Leal and Syed have identified the neurons (nerve cells) on the insect antenna that specifically detect DEET. They found that they were located next to other neurons that detect a mosquito attractant.