Geoscientists Take Part in Frontera Supercomputer

UC Davis scientists are taking part in a project to build the new “Frontera” supercomputer at the University of Texas at Austin. Funded by a $60 million grant from the National Science Foundation announced last week, Frontera will be the fastest computer at any U.S. university and among the most powerful in the world.

Global simulation of Earth’s mantle convection by the NSF-funded Stampede supercomputer at UT Austin. Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics, headquartered at UC Davis, is developing software for Earth sciences that will run on the new Frontera system. [Courtesy of ICES, UT Austin]

Higgs Boson News: Decays to Bottom Quarks, Upholds Standard Model

Six years after its discovery, the Higgs boson has at last been observed decaying to fundamental particles known as bottom quarks. The finding, presented Aug. 28 at CERN by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is consistent with the hypothesis that the all-pervading quantum field behind the Higgs boson also gives mass to the quarks. Both teams have submitted their results for publication.

The CMS detector catches a Higgs boson decaying to two bottom quarks (b) in association with a Z boson decaying to an electron (e-) and an antielectron (e+). (Image: CMS/CERN)

New Insights into Semiconductors for Spintronic Applications from Hard X-Ray Photoemission

“Spintronics” holds promise for new types of devices for information processing and data storage, with ones and zeros being stored in the spin state of electrons as well as their electric charge. Such devices could be faster and more energy efficient than current electronics.

Dilute magnetic semiconductors such as manganese-doped gallium arsenide are a promising material for spintronics, said Slavomir Nemsak, staff researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and former postdoc in the UC Davis Department of Physics, working with Professor Charles Fadley and Adjunct Professor Claus Schneider. They have ferromagnetic properties but are not themselves metals. They are called “dilute” because the dopant makes up a small amount (a few percent) of the semiconductor material.

Seabird Study Provides Insights into Sexual Selection

By Greg Watry

What scent attracts a seabird’s mate?

Gabrielle Nevitt holds a Leach's storm-petrel.

Professor Gabrielle Nevitt has studied Leach’s storm-petrels since 1996, first on Kent Island and then Bon Portage Island. (Courtesy photo)

It’s a question on the mind of Professor Gabrielle Nevitt, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. An expert on the chemical senses of birds, Nevitt and members of her lab have been studying Leach’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucohoa) for over 20 years with the goal of making the species a model for chemical ecology in birds.

“Grit in the Gears” Costs Energy in Modular Information Systems

Digital information may appear to exist as abstract ones and zeroes, flipping effortlessly from one to another. But in fact there is a minimum amount of energy required to run any computation system, regardless of how “energy efficient” are its component parts. A recent paper from Jim Crutchfield and Alex Boyd at the UC Davis Complexity Sciences Center with Dibyendu Mandal at UC Berkeley shows that there is some inescapable friction, or “grit in the gears” between the levels of organization in an information system.

There and Back Again: Mantle Xenon Has a Story to Tell

By Talia Ogliore

The Earth has been through a lot of changes in its 4.5 billion year history, including a shift to incorporating and retaining volatile compounds such as water, nitrogen and carbon from the atmosphere in the mantle before spewing them out again through volcanic eruptions.

This transport could not have begun much before 2.5 billion years ago, according to researchers at UC Davis and Washington University in St. Louis, published Aug. 9 in the journal Nature.

Markers of Cellular Aging Improve During Insight Meditation Retreat

By Anahita Hamidi

Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences that act as protective “caps” at the end of DNA strands. As cells age, either as a function of time or as a result of stress and poor health, telomeres tend to shorten. As such, telomere length can be used as a crude biological marker of health and well-being.

Telomeres are caps at the end of a chromosome. They become shorter with aging. (Getty Images)

A recent study by researchers at the University of California Davis, Center for Mind and Brain, measured changes in telomere length, telomerase (the enzyme which replenishes telomeres), and telomere-regulating genes in a group of individuals who participated in a month-long Insight meditation retreat.

Study Challenges Evolution of How Humans Acquired Language

By Karen Nikos-Rose

A gene implicated in affecting speech and language, FOXP2, is held up as a “textbook” example of positive selection on a human-specific trait. But in a paper in the journal Cell on Aug. 2, researchers challenge this finding. Their analysis of genetic data from a diverse sample of modern people and Neanderthals saw no evidence for recent, human-specific selection of FOXP2 and revises the history of how we think humans acquired language.

Brain graphic

What makes us human? The FOXP2 gene has been associated with uniquely human language abilities. But a new study with a wider variety of people shows no evidence of selection for FOXP2 in modern humans. (Image by Brenna Henn, UC Davis)

Gene Discovery Pushes Back Origins of Insect Sense of Smell

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

Doctoral candidate Philipp Brand and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, had just finished compiling the genome, or complete set of genetic material of the firebrat — a tiny wingless, nocturnal insect found throughout much of the world — when something surprised him.

Adult firebrat (left) and developmental stages. Firebrats are among the most ancient types of insects and can be pests attacking paper and fabrics. Photo by Dong-Hwan Choe, UC IPM.

There they were–odorant receptor genes, the scent-detecting genes thought to have evolved with winged insects more than 400 million years ago. But this groundbreaking discovery indicates they evolved millions of years earlier.

Defend Against Predators or Run? Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Butterflyfish

How does a fish avoid being eaten by a bigger fish? Evolution could build up defenses such as spines or armor, or favor avoidance strategies such as quick reactions, swimming away and hiding. The rules of evolution are tough, so you cannot really have both, the argument goes.

But this hypothesis has been difficult to test in practice. Now Jennifer Hodge, a postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Peter Wainwright and colleagues in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, College of Biological Sciences, has carried out a survey of hundreds of specimens of butterflyfish, carefully measuring their physical traits and defenses compared to feeding style.