A gas tax to save the auto industry, possibly the planet

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies, and transportation policy consultant Deborah Gordon propose using a variable gasoline tax to set a minimum price of $3.50 for a gallon of gas. If the price at the pump falls below this, the tax would kick in to make up the difference; if it goes above, it would disappear.

This blog is now twittering

Egghead now has a twitter address. If you use the Twitter microblogging service, follow us at @egghead95616.

California salmon, trout in collapse

Two-thirds of California’s salmon and trout species could go extinct in the next 100 years, warns a new report from California Trout. Lead author of the report was UC Davis fisheries biologist Peter Moyle.

“The fish don’t lie, and they are right now telling us the truth about the future of the water in our state,” Moyle told the Associated Press. “We have a choice right now: We can allow the degradation of our waters to continue … or we can take action and bring them back from the brink of extinction.”

Chemical car places ninth

Blue Steel, the UC Davis Chem-E-CarA chemical-powered model car built by UC Davis students finished ninth from a field of 29 at the national Chem-E-Car competition sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and held in Philadelphia recently. The teams had to build a vehicle, powered by some form of chemical reaction, that could transport 250 milliliters of water 60 feet. A team from Cornell University won the competition, with a car that actually managed to cross the finishing line; UC Davis’s car, “Blue Steel” (pictured) stopped three feet short.

Oxygen levels tied to sudden death from seizures

Significant drops in blood oxygen levels are more common than previously thought in patients undergoing an epileptic seizure, and may be linked to sudden, unexplained death in epilepsy, according to a report from UC Davis neurologist Masud Seyal and colleagues Lisa Bateman and Chin-Shang Li.

Seyal and his colleagues examined records of 300 seizures in 57 epilepsy patients with chronic, recurrent, unprovoked seizures. One-third of all seizures were associated with drops in blood-oxygen levels below 90 percent.

The findings suggest that some cases of SUDEP may result from the brain not signaling the patient to continue breathing during seizures, though more conclusive evidence is needed, Seyal said.

Lunar science: a to-do list

Spaceprobes from three countries are currently orbiting the Moon, and there are plans to send robotic rovers back to our nearest neighbor. A recent paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored by UC Davis geologist Qing-zhu Yin, sets out some things to do when they get there — ways that lunar soils could tell us about the early history of the Earth.

A conversation with Freeman Dyson

Thinker, physicist and author Freeman Dyson spent two weeks at the end of October, 2008 on the UC Davis campus. His visit was sponsored by the Department of Physics as part of their Centennial Speaker Series.

Dyson was born in England and served as a researcher for the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War. In 1947, he moved to the U.S. and was a professor of physics at Cornell University and then at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, where he is now professor emeritus. He is the author of several popular books about science and the future, including Disturbing the Universe, Weapons and Hope, Origins of Life, Infinite in All Directions, Imagined Worlds, and The Sun, the Genome and the Internet.

Spotty dogs with bladder stones

Dalmatian dogs might be aw-shucks cute, but they universally suffer from high levels of uric acid in their blood, making them prone to develop bladder stones. Now researchers at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have identified the genetic mutation that predisposes dalmatians to have high uric acid.

The defect has been known for nearly a century and was probably unintentionally introduced as breeders worked to select more distinctive spotting patterns, said veterinary geneticist Danika Bannasch, who lead the study.

“It is now possible that this trait can be removed from the breed by crossing Dalmatians with the normal offspring of the original Dalmatian-pointer breeding that occurred in the early 1970s,” Bannasch said.

Post-election roundup

The Obama/Palin ticket: Law professor Vikram David Amar asks, why not have separate votes for President and Vice President?

Dancing in the streets: Professor emeritus of history Ruth Rosen writes that the last time Americans danced in the streets was 1945.

Conceding gracefully: Bob Ostertag, professor of technocultural studies, asks why politicians seem to give their best speeches when conceding defeat.

Blogviating: More post-election blogging from UC Davis historians at The Edge of the American West.

Campus resists rampaging squirrels

If you think there are a lot of squirrels on campus this year, you’re right. That’s because the eastern fox squirrels arrived a couple of years ago and their numbers have boomed, pushing out native squirrels, damaging trees and potentially causing other problems (apparently, like rats, they like to chew electrical wiring).

Campus wildlife researchers are working with grounds staff on a plan to control the squirrels by trapping them and giving them birth-control shots. Phase 1 of the plan — trapping and releasing the animals, to see if it affects their behavior — goes into effect this month.