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.

Book Honors UC Davis Microbiologist

A new book, “The Lure of Bacterial Genetics,” honors the contributions and achievements of John Roth, distinguished professor of microbiology in the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences.

Written and edited by Roth’s former students and colleagues, the book provides a complete overview of the field and its history. The final chapter, written by Roth, offers a look at the future of bacterial genetics.

Roth’s laboratory uses Salmonella bacteria as a model to explore the basic genetics and biochemistry of all bacteria, including how bacteria evolve and adapt to their environment. Roth is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Bill Gates Recommends “Tomorrow’s Table”

Bill Gates writes on his blog that he has been reading “Tomorrow’s Table” by UC Davis plant pathology professor Pam Ronald and her husband, organic farmer Raoul Adamchak. In the book and the blog of the same name, Ronald and Adamchak argue that genetic engineering and organic farming can go hand in hand to create a new agriculture that can feed the world while protecting the environment.

“This is an important book for anyone who wants to learn about the science of seeds and the challenges faced by farmers,” Gates writes.  “I certainly recommend this book to people who are curious about the future of agriculture and the controversies around it.”

Faculty opine: What next after Guantanamo?

Contributed by Clifton B. Parker. This item was first published in Dateline, the UC Davis faculty/staff newspaper.

President Obama’s decision last week to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention camp shows that America is changing its War on Terror strategy, UC Davis faculty say.

Kathryn Olmsted, a history professor who has written extensively about secret governments and conspiracy theories in America, said that after 9/11 many people throughout the world thought the U.S. considered itself above the law.

“The Bush administration alienated millions of people who initially felt great sympathy for America after the attacks,” she said. “Now President Obama is signaling that the U.S. government will play by the rules.”

Can GM foods benefit the environment?

Yes, argues University of Texas professor James E. McWilliams, writing on Slate. Millions of acres of land around the world (in the U.S., 90 percent of soy beans and 80 percent of corn) are planted with genetically modified crops. These technologies can be harnessed to reduce the environmental impact of farming, McWilliams argues — from cutting methane emissions from grass-fed beef cattle to cutting nitrogen pollution from fertilizer use.

McWilliams cites UC Davis plant pathologist Pam Ronald, who with her husband Raoul Adamchak — an organic farmer — has argued for a merger between organic farming and biotechnology. Their book, Tomorrow’s Table, was published last year. Ronald’s blog of the same name is here.

Congress should set auto standards, not pick technologies

If Washington wants a new generation of clean vehicles, Congress should follow California’s example and set tough emissions and efficiency standards rather than trying to pick winning technologies, argue Dan Sperling and Deborah Gordon in a post on the Oxford University Press blog. Sperling and Gordon are the authors of a new book published by OUP, “Two Billion Cars.”

New book: How Wikipedia works

UC Davis reference librarian Phoebe Ayers is co-author of a new book about the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “How Wikipedia Works — And How You Can Be a Part of It.” The book explains how to use Wikipedia, both as a reader looking for information, and as a contributor creating and editing new entries.

Ayers has been involved with Wikipedia since 2003.

(Via the Digital Life blog at the New Jersey Star-Ledger).