Retaining walls shaken in test, but not broken

UC Davis civil engineering professor Dawn Cheng recently carried out a series of tests at UC San Diego’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center. The center has the largest outdoor shake table in the world — meaning that you can build a structure on it then shake it to simulate an earthquake.

Retaining wall on shake tableCheng was carrying out the first tests on retaining walls, used for example to hold back soil from freeways or support bridge abutments across the state. There are thousands of miles of such walls across California, but surprisingly their behavior in earthquakes is not well understood. The tests, which were funded by the California Department of Transportation, will ensure that new retaining walls are designed to high seismic standards.

Virtual Reality demos at AGU

If you are among the 16,000 people attending the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week, scientists from the UC VR imageDavis KeckCAVES facility will be running several demonstrations of their interactive virtual reality technology. The demonstrations will be run on a laptop and displayed on a large monitor, so will not have the full immersive, 3-D experience of the KeckCAVES lab itself, but they will use real data in real time and show how scientists can use virtual reality to work with their data.

Water Myths and Reality in California

It has been said that all politics in California is ultimately about water. With almost everyone in the state, from farmers to fishermen to urbanites who want clean drinking water, having a stake in the issue, opinions and allegations about California’s water supply abound. Depending on your point of view, villains range from big ag to thirsty cities to tiny fish.

Now the Public Policy Institute of California in collaboration with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences have released a new report, “Myths of California Water — Implications and Reality.” Accompanying the report is this elegant web site, which runs through issues such as subsidized agriculture, the Peripheral Canal, the Endangered Species Act and water use by Southern California cities, presenting facts to address the arguments.

Scientists at work III: Antarctica

It’s been a few weeks since we checked on UC Davis geology professor Dawn Sumner and postdoc Bekah Shepard, who are spending several Ponds in Pearse Valley, Antarcticaweeks by an Antarctic lake investigating strange microbes that are something like the earliest life on Earth.

Internet access from the camp has been spotty, but both have been blogging about their experiences.

In her most recent entry, Sumner takes a walk and takes in the local landscape, discovering frozen ponds that (in the summer) feed into Lake Joyce as well as traces of previous visitors.

Scientists at work II: Brain slicing at UCSD

While physicists at CERN are living on coffee and adrenaline, neuroscientists at UC San Diego are engaged in a patient, painstaking procedure: over several days, they have been slicing the brain of HM, an amnesic patient who died in December last year, into extremely thin slices. And you can watch the whole thing live on their website.

Henry Gustav Molaison (“HM”) developed severe memory problems after an operation to treat epilepsy in the 1950s. His case was widely studied, leading to insights into the workings of memory. He was able to perform tasks that require working memory, and recall memories from before his operation, but was not able to form new long-term memories.

Scientists at work I: Large Hadron Collider

Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider have already had their first paper accepted for publication. In nine days, from collecting data to acceptance, which makes the pace of publication in other disciplines look not so much glacial as geological.

This blog post from Zoe Louise Matthews, a graduate student from Birmingham University, England vividly captures the atmosphere: