Q and A: Information theory and social evolution

Big Data has a problem right now. We produce an avalanche of information every day by just walking around with our smartphones or posting on social media. Researchers in the social sciences today are collaborating across disciplines to turn this wealth of information into knowledge.

Martin Hilbert, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, is developing new ways to think about how social scientists can use this data to understand societies. In this Q&A, he discusses what Big Data and living in an information society could mean for our social evolution.

Read the Q&A at the ISS website: http://socialscience.ucdavis.edu/iss-journal/research/turning-big-data-into-big-knowledge.

Math links ecological flash mobs and magnet physics

By Kat Kerlin

How does an acorn know to fall when the other acorns do? What triggers insects, or disease, to suddenly break out over large areas? Why do fruit trees have boom and bust years?

The question of what generates such synchronous, ecological “flash mobs” over long distances has long perplexed population ecologists. Part of the answer has to do with something seemingly unrelated: what makes a magnet a magnet.

Nobel winner headlines math/biology workshop

2013 Nobel laureate Michael Levitt of Stanford University will headline a one-day workshop on mathematics and biology to be held at UC Davis Nov. 22. Biology and Mathematics in the Bay Area aims at “creating a fairly informal atmosphere to explore the role of mathematics in biology,” according to the advance flyer. “Our goal is to encourage dialogue between researchers and students from different disciplines in an atmosphere that promotes the open exchange of ideas and viewpoints.”

Also speaking: Ileana Streinu at Smith College; Sean Mooney, Buck Institute; Sharon Aviran and Steve Kowalczykowski, UC Davis.

UC Davis to offer summer internships in physics, math to students from Mexico

Undergraduate math and physics students from Mexico will be able to take up research internships at UC Davis this summer under a new program supported by the Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento.

The program will add an additional place each to the existing Research Experience for Undergraduates programs in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics. The REU program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but NSF rules allow non-citizens to be added to the program if other funds are used, said Manuel Calderón de la Barca Sánchez, associate professor of physics at UC Davis.

Robots teaching math: C-STEM Day and one-day conference

Two upcoming events showcase how teachers can bring robots into the classroom to help teach algebra, math and science and get kids fired up about careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

C-STEM Day, May 4 — Middle and high school students from across the region will test their skills in math, robotics and programming May 4 at the third annual C-STEM Day, organized by the Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education at the University of California, Davis.

Teachers, want to be a robotics fellow?

The UC Davis C-STEM Center has two fellowship opportunities, Robotics Fellows and CREST Fellows, for teachers in science, technology, engineering and math. Application deadline for both fellowships is April 5.

The Center is also once again offering its Summer Institute, June 24-July 5, with two week-long courses for teachers on robotics technology and computer programming and on algebra/pre-algebra teaching with robotics.

The programs culminate on C-STEM Day, when participating students and teachers gather to showcase their robots and take part in the Roboplay competition. This year’s C-STEM Day is May 4.

UC Davis C-STEM Center Wins NSF Grant for Learning Math with Robots

10-graders from Hiram Johnson High School working with robots at C-STEM Day, UC Davis, May 2012

Contributed by Harry Cheng

The UC Davis C-STEM Center has received a grant of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to study collaborative mathematics learning with robots. The two-year project aims to transform math education by integrating computer programming, robotics, and handheld computing into middle and high school math classrooms.

“Algebra is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult courses for students in K-12 grades,” said Harry H. Cheng, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Center’s director.

Weekend workshop prepares “Counselors for Computing”

School counselors will gather at the UC Davis Conference Center Saturday for a workshop on how to guide and advise school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The counselors will hear from both teachers and students from schools that partner with the UC Davis K-14 Outreach Center for Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM) about their experiences, especially in encouraging female students and other underrepresented groups into science and engineering.

The workshop is jointly organized by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the California Association of School Counselors and UC Davis C-STEM.

Tonight, Through the Wormhole

UC Davis cosmologist Andreas Albrecht appears on “Through the Wormhole” airing tonight on The Science Channel, 10 p.m., hosted by Morgan Freeman.

Tonight’s episode asks Albrecht and other experts, “Why do we care?” about the size and shape of the universe — which may in fact may be just one of teeming universes in the multiverse.

Learning robotics and programming at C-STEM Day

(Contributed by Harry Cheng, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)

The 1st UC Davis C-STEM Day was held on April 30, organized by the UC Davis K-14 Outreach Center for Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM) and College of Engineering with help from the UC Davis Robotics Club and assistance from the California Scholarship Federation in Davis Senior High School.

The 2011 C-STEM Day included four distinct events: UC Davis Secondary School Programming Competition; a Symposium on Computing and STEM Education in the 21st Century; C-STEM Awards for K-12 teachers and students; and demonstrations of robots developed by UC Davis faculty and students. The overall focus of the day was the integration of computing with STEM education. Detailed information about the 2011 C-STEM Day and pictures can be found here.