Chemwiki free textbook effort expands with $600,000 grant

By Becky Oskin

College students in the STEM fields could see sizable savings thanks to a $600,000 grant awarded to an open source textbook project developed at the University of California, Davis.

The ChemWiki project recently received $600,000 from the National Science Foundation to support further expansion of its open source textbooks into fields including statistics, math, geology, physics, biology and solar energy.

Digital course materials are steadily climbing in use in response to textbook cost concerns, according to an annual survey released in July by the National Association of College Stores. In August, the University of Maryland announced plans to completely eliminate print textbooks this academic year.

Engineering student builds machines for battlebots

Travis Smith has always been interested in building things. This summer, the UC Davis graduate student will be on national television building robots and then watching his creations stand up to spikes, chainsaws and flamethrowers as a team member in the sixth series of “Battlebots” on the ABC network.

Travis Smith, a Ph.D. student in engineering, is taking part in the sixth season of the TV show "Battlebots."

Travis Smith, a Ph.D. student in engineering, is taking part in the sixth season of the TV show “Battlebots.”

In the show, teams build armed robots that fight it out in an arena full of hazards. Think FIRST Robotics, but with chainsaws.

“Real Revolutionaries Carry a Banjo:” Jesse Drew on Pete Seeger

Jesse Drew of the Cinema and Technocultural Studies program at UC Davis met legendary musician Pete Seeger several times, most recently during filming of his documentary, “Open Country.” Seeger died Jan. 27, and Prof. Drew just posted a remembrance, “Real Revolutionaries Carry a Banjo.”

Seeger should be considered a founder of country music, Drew argues:

Not folk music, mind you, as that has been around for some time. Coun­try music. Nashville, I believe, owes Pete a statue in the cen­ter of town.

Read the whole article here.

Seeger also recorded an intro for Davis community radio station KDRT:

Alumn judges the Big Brains on TV

UC Davis multi-alumna Christine Gulbranson is bringing her talents to a new challenge starting today, May 1: She is one of two regular judges on a new reality TV show, “Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” which begins an eight-week run on the Discovery Channel tonight.

Gulbranson said she hopes the show can help get young people excited about in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“In my experience, it was when I was working in a physics lab, doing things, that a lightbulb clicked on and I realized, ‘I can do this,'” she said.

Great new apps on the move: Mileage and music

Jason Moore and Tai Stillwater, two researchers at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, have developed a neat little smartphone app that monitors fuel economy as you drive. They have already been awarded $2,000 in phase one of the White House Apps for Vehicles Challenge and are in the running for $34,000 in phase two. Vote for Drive5 here and help them to their goal!

Rock to Renaissance musicologist wins UC Davis teaching prize

The “History of Rock” class taught by Professor Christopher Reynolds of the music department was interrupted this morning by Chancellor Linda Katehi, bringing a cake styled like a Fender electric guitar. guitar-cake-lg

Yes, Reynolds is the 2013 winner of the  UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

Established in 1986, the $45,000 prize is believed to be the largest of its kind in the country and is funded through philanthropic gifts managed by the UC Davis Foundation. The winner is selected based on the nominations of other professors, research peers, representatives from the UC Davis Foundation Board of Trustees, and students.

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.

Memorial Day special: Let There Be Light

In 1945, legendary director John Huston was assigned by the US Army to make a documentary about men returning from war with “shell shock” or “psychoneurosis” — what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. But after the documentary, “Let There Be Light,” was completed, the Army refused to allow it to be shown and it disappeared from view. It was shown in a poor quality print in 1980, but not widely appreciated by critics.

Now the National Film Preservation Foundation has released a new, restored version of the film, available online. Scott Simmon, professor and chair of English at UC Davis and a well-known film historian, supplied notes for the NFPF site.

Dogs are from China, Cats are from Iraq

A new genetic study from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine shows that Western dog breeds are descended from animals that originated in Southeast Asia, rather than in the Middle East or Europe as previously thought. An earlier study of the genetics of cats, however, shows that they originated in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the Middle East, running from the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean through Turkey and Iraq.

UC Davis researchers lead by Ben Sacks, director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Group in the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, with collaborators in California, Taiwan, Israel and Iran, studied genetics markers from hundreds of domestic and wild dogs including Western pure-breds, dogs from Middle Eastern villages and Australian dingoes.

Free movie screening: Lost in Africa

Actress Connie Nielsen will be interviewed by Steve Currall, dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, before the U.S. premiere Nielsen picof her film “Lost in Africa” in the Vanderhoef Studio of the Mondavi Center May 21st.

The interview will begin at 6.30 pm and the film showing will be at 7 pm. Tickets are available free through the Mondavi Center box office with code “KIBERA.” More information about the event here.

A trailer for the movie, about a Danish boy lost in the vast slum outside Nairobi, Kenya, is on Youtube.