His “hoot-dash” brings all the girls to the yard

Anyone who’s spent time near male peacocks knows that they can be noisy birds. At the height of his courtship dance, the male gives a distinct two-part whoop before leaping on the female.

“Peacocks have a number of different courtship calls, but this is the only one specifically associated with the moment before copulation, a time when the female is finally right in front of the male. It’s called the hoot-dash display,” said Jessica Yorzinski in a story for the Duke University research blog. Yorzinski, now a postdoc at Duke, studied peacock behavior as a graduate student at UC Davis.

Garen Wintemute on preventing gun violence

UC Davis emergency physician Garen Wintemute is one of the nation’s leading experts on gun violence, and has long argued that it should be treated as a public health problem. In this Q&A with The Nation he says that the prohibition route followed by countries like Australia and Great Britain is closed to the U.S. — there are just too many guns already out there. But real steps can be taken that would make a dent in gun violence that kills 88 Americans every day.

Undergraduate discovers the physics behind the music

(Contributed by Siv Schwink, University of Illinois)

For Meredith Powell, science and music form a natural union. The fourth-year physics major has been playing piano and viola for as long as she can remember and plans to graduate with a minor in music. And her talents have not gone unrecognized — she has performed as principal violist in the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, and plays regularly around the Sacramento area with her quartet.

Meredith Powell

UC Davis undergraduate student Meredith Powell  in the lab of Steve Errede, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Photo by Steven Errede.

“Mothers and Others” wins book awards

UC Davis Professor emerita of Anthropology Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has been awarded the J. I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe for her book, Mothers and Others: The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding (Harvard University Press, 2009). The Staley Prize, which includes a cash award of $10,000, is awarded to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding, innovative scholarship and writing in anthropology, especially books that cross disciplinary boundaries.

Synchrotron gives insight into green energy enzymes

UC Davis chemists have been using a Japanese synchrotron to get a detailed look at enzymes that could help power the green economy. The work was published online Nov. 8 by the journal Angewandte Chemie and is featured on the cover of the Nov. 26 issue.

One option for powering clean, environment friendly vehicles is to run them on hydrogen fuel rather than carbon-based fuels. Cheap catalysts to prepare hydrogen gas (H2) are key to this future “hydrogen economy.”

Puzzling galaxy cluster not so puzzling after all, maybe

Astronomers have been taking another look at a merging galaxy cluster that threw up some surprising results earlier this year, and they think that it’s behavior is not so strange, after all.

Many astronomers have been taking a close look at merging galaxy clusters, because they may be able to help resolve one of the big mysteries of cosmology — the nature of dark matter.

BGI President Yang: “Let’s collaborate” on century of life science

Big numbers — of DNA base pairs sequenced, numbers of genomes completed, volumes of data collected and dollars invested — were in the air Nov. 9 when Dr. Huanming (Henry) Yang, president and cofounder of BGI (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) gave a talk on campus.

Henry Yang

Huanming (Henry) Yang, president of BGI, answering a question following his talk at UC Davis, Nov. 9. (Joe Proudman)

During his visit to campus, Yang visited the new BGI@UC Davis joint facility at the Sacramento campus as well as the Genome Center on the Davis campus. His visit was sponsored by the Office of Research and the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

Filling the tank at dark matter detector experiment

Contributed by the LUX Collaboration

An experiment to look for one of nature’s most elusive subatomic particles is finally under water, in a stainless steel tank nearly a mile underground beneath the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The Large Underground Xenon experiment, nicknamed LUX, will be the most sensitive device yet to look for dark matter. Thought to comprise more than 80 percent of the mass of the universe, dark matter has so far eluded direct detection. The LUX detector, under construction for more than three years in South Dakota, was installed underground in a protective tank in July. The tank was filled with water last week, and all systems are functioning well.

Pigs join the genome club

The genome of the domestic pig is published in the journal Nature today, Nov. 14. The pig genome was completed by an international team led by researchers at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, the Univesity of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and included Harris Lewin, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. Lewin became involved in the project when he was heading the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign before joining UC Davis.

UC Davis receives Gates Foundation “Grand Challenges Explorations” grants

Three UC Davis research teams are winners of Grand Challenges Explorations grants to support innovative global health and development research projects, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A group led by Professor Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar of the Department of Plant Biology and Genome Center, will pursue making cassava, one of the Africa’s most important crop plants, resistant to viruses. Elizabeth Maga, associate research biologist in the Department of Animal Science, will work on preventing diarrhea in children. And plant sciences professor Pam Ronald is collaborating with Oregon State University on making rice more nutritious and disease-resistant.