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!

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.

Film screening April 26: The Atom Smashers

The High Energy Physics group is hosting a public screening of “The Atom Smashers,” a documentary about the race to find the Higgs boson. The screening will be on Sunday, April 26 at 7 pm in Chem 194. After the movie, directors Clayton Brown and Monica Ross, and UC Davis professors John Conway and Robin Erbacher, who appear in the movie, will be on hand to answer questions. Tickets are $4. More information here.

What to rent for Black History Month

Patricia Turner, professor of African American Studies at UC Davis, Roberto Pomo and Michelle Foss Snowden at CSU Sacramento give the Sacramento Bee some recommendations of films that accurately portray African American history and culture.

Among their recommendations: “The Great Debaters;” the TV miniseries “Roots;” “Amistad;” “Malcolm X” (and pretty much anything else by Spike Lee); “Bird” and “Lady Sings the Blues.”

Skip: “Gone with the Wind,” “Glory,” “Mississippi Burning” and “Birth of a Nation.”

Patricia Turner talked about race, rumor and Hurricane Katrina for our Frontiers TV show in November 2006. Video available here.

Friday link: Meet our grad students

From the Patricelli lab in Evolution and Ecology:

Jessica is working on her second album and a new fragrance. She is also inJessica J. Jessica negotiations to develop a new reality show about grad students called “The Scholarly Life”, in which she will show her intellectual side by wearing reading glasses. Her research addresses the signaling value of bright sweaters on small dogs, and is funded by proceeds from her new line of handbags.

(Picture caption: The pom poms (“pseudo-poodles”) on Jessica’s Uggs act as lures to attract the ankle-biting dogs, who are angered by them. This innovative technique is one of Jessica’s many contributions to the methods of field ecology.)

Computer animation pioneer honored

Nelson Max, a professor of computer science at UC Davis and at Lawrence Livermore National Lab who pioneered computer animation in the 1970s and 1980s, will be presented with the 2007 Steven A. Coons Award by the ACM SIGGRAPH conference this week.

Carla’s islandThe Coons Award is the highest honor accorded by ACM SIGGRAPH. It is given in odd-numbered years to individuals for lifetime intellectual and creative contributions to computer graphics and interactive techniques. The award is named for Steven A. Coons, an early pioneer in the field of computer graphical methods.

Summer Math Fest: Hear about Movie Math from Pixar

The Mathematics Department is holding a Summer Math Fest this Thursday, July 26, 7-9 p.m. at the Social Sciences building with games, puzzles and advice for school kids about careers in mathematics.

Headlining is a talk by Tony DeRose from Pixar Studios, who will give a talk about “Math in the Movies.” The movie industry is going through a digital revolution, he says, and mathematicians and computer scientists are leading entertainment in new directions.

DeRose has a bachelor’s degree in math from UC Davis and was a computer science professor at the University of Washington before he went into movies with Pixar.