Reminder: No UC Davis email Dec. 26-27

The UC Davis Data Center will be shut down for essential maintenance and upgrades from 7 a.m., Dec. 26 (Sunday) for up to 48 hours. During this time, UC Davis e-mail services — incoming and outgoing — will not be available. Some other computing services hosted by the Data Center will also be temporarily offline.

All e-mail will be delivered once the Data Center reopens.

On Twitter, follow @UCDavisStatus for updates.

For more information, see here.

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‘Father of the Plug-in Hybrid’ gets a Chevy Volt

UC Davis engineering professor Andy Frank has been called ‘The Father of the Plug-in Hybrid,’ and yesterday he picked up one of the first to be sold. The Chevrolet Andy Frank with his new VoltVolt made by General Motors has both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, and it’s EPA sticker says it can get up to 93 mpg in city driving. That’s because the Volt can drive for up to 30 miles — enough for most in-town commuting — on electric power alone, and can recharge its batteries either from the gasoline engine or from a 110 volt socket.

Mori Seiki to open Davis factory

Japanese machine tool manufacturer Mori Seiki is to open a factory in Davis. The plant will be next door to the company’s existing DTL subsidiary off Second Street in East Davis.  The company will invest about $50 million in the new plant that will employ 150 people, in addition to the 80 already working at DTL.

The company has long-standing ties to UC Davis, especially through the work of Professor Kazuo Yamazaki of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. For several years the company has supported Yamazaki’s research on using computers to control and run machine tools, including gifts of $3 million in 2003 and another $4.25 million in 2007. Many graduate students trained by Yamazaki have gone on to work for Mori Seiki and DTL.

Hacking Kinect for 3-D video chat, lightsaber duels

Oliver Kreylos is still working on Microsoft’s Kinect game controller, which he has already adapted to create 3-D video. In his latest videos Oliver demos 3D chatusing Kinect for a virtual reality video chat, and, well, for a lightsaber duel.

In this first video, he uses two Kinects to capture a 3-D image of a person and put her into a virtual office on a 3D TV screen. Because his volunteer is sitting in the KeckCAVES 3-D virtual reality environment, she can also see a 3-D image that Oliver projects back at her. It’s one half of what could be a two-way, virtual chat — but with real people, instead of avatars, dropped into a computer-generated environment.

Planck Telescope’s Map of Everything

A map of the Universe when it was just 300,000 years old is #7 on Discover magazine’s list of Top 100 Stories of 2010. The map comes from the Planck space telescope, launched by the European Space Agency in 2009 and now sitting in space almost a million miles from Earth.

UC Davis physics professor Lloyd Knox is leading the U.S. side of the effort to analyze the data from Planck. By providing a more precise and detailed map of the sky, Planck will help cosmologists test theories about the beginning and early development of the universe. Planck’s predescessor, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe or WMAP, lead to major advances in our understanding of the Big Bang — and to several Nobel Prizes.

Talk: Daylight into windowless office building cores

Lorne Whitehead, professor of applied physics at the University of British Columbia, will give a talk at 6 pm, Jan. 25 on the new SunCentral Core Sunlighting System, a device that harnesses daylight to illuminate the windowless cores of buildings. The talk will take place in the Ballroom of the UC Davis Conference Center and is free and open to the public.

UC Davis is partnering with the University of British Columbia to install and test one SunCentral Core Sunlighting System at the Veterinary Medicine Facility N-2 Building on campus, with a second installation planned. The system allows daylight to be used instead of or in conjunction with electric light throughout a building, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

More on Mono Lake bacteria

Following up on Friday’s post on the arsenic-eating bacteria of Mono Lake, John Roth weighed in with some sceptical comments. Roth is Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at UC Davis, and one of the nation’s leading experts on bacterial genetics. The data presented just don’t support the claim that GFAJ-1 bacteria are not only tolerating arsenic but using it instead of phosphorous in their metabolism, he says.

“The main problem is that arsenate is so similar to phosphate that you can’t buy it without contaminating phosphate — enough phosphate to permit slow growth,” Roth said in an email.

Aliens in Mono Lake? Not so fast

There was a lot of coverage yesterday of the discovery of microbes that can apparently use arsenic instead of phosphorous in their metabolism. Phosphorous is a key element for life: the backbone of DNA is made of phosphorous atoms, and it is a key component in cell membranes and energy-carrying molecules. Phosphorous can make up as much as 20 percent of the dry weight of a rapidly-growing bacterium, according to UC Davis microbiologist Doug Nelson.

Arsenic is one space down the Periodic Table from phosphorous, and is poisonous because it is so similar that it can insert itself into biomolecules in place of phosphorous and mess them up.

New approaches to earthquake forecasting

In this interview with Thompson Reuters ScienceWatch, UC Davis interdisciplinary professor John Rundle talks about the new approaches that he and his collaborators have developed to understanding earthquakes over the past 20 years or so. Rather than treating them as elastic rebound movements, Rundle began considering earthquakes as a phase transition — a term physicists use to talk about systems that change abruptly from one state to another.

Rundle and colleagues have now set up a website,, to make earthquake forecasts available to the public.