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.

UC Davis physicist praises 2015 Nobel prize for neutrinos

The sun, as seen in neutrinos captured by the Super-K experiment in Japan (R. Svoboda and K. Gordan).

The sun, as seen in neutrinos captured by the Super-K experiment in Japan (R. Svoboda and K. Gordan).

Robert Svoboda contributed to Nobel-winning neutrino experiments

By Becky Oskin

Billions of mysterious particles called neutrinos bombard your body every day. But catching even one neutrino is a huge effort. Nearly all neutrinos pass through people — and even our planet Earth — without a trace.

“There are 65 million neutrinos going through your thumbnail every second,” said Robert Svoboda, a UC Davis physics professor who has studied neutrinos for more than 25 years. “Only one will stop in your body during your lifetime.”

Magnetic skyrmions at room temperature: New digital memory?

An exotic, swirling object with the sci-fi name of a “magnetic skyrmion” could be the future of nanoelectronics and memory storage. Physicists at UC Davis and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have now succeeded in making magnetic skyrmions, formerly found at temperatures close to absolute zero, at room temperature.

“This is a potentially new way to store information, and the energy costs are expected to be extremely low,” said Kai Liu, professor of physics at UC Davis and corresponding author of a paper on the work, published in the journal Nature Communications Oct. 8.

Grant for natural hazards research at UC Davis centrifuge

The National Science Foundation will award almost $5 million over five years to UC Davis to include the large earthquake-simulating centrifuge at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling as part of the new Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments of the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

The geotechnical centrifuge at UC Davis is the largest of its kind in the world. It is used for scale model experiments on the effect of earthquakes on soils and buildings.

Oxygen oasis in Antarctic lake reflects distant past

At the bottom of a frigid Antarctic lake, a thin layer of green slime is generating a little oasis of oxygen, a team including UC Davis researchers has found. It’s the first modern replica discovered of conditions on Earth two and a half billion years ago, before oxygen became common in the atmosphere. The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Geology.

The switch from a planet with very little available oxygen to one with an atmosphere much like today’s was one of the major events in Earth’s history, and it was all because some bacteria evolved the ability to photosynthesize. By about 2.4 billion years ago, geochemical records show that oxygen was present all the way to the upper atmosphere, as ozone.

Galaxy cluster collision revives “radio phoenix”

The collision of two massive galaxy clusters 1.6 billion light years from Earth revived a radio source in a fading cloud of electrons, creating a “radio phoenix.” The phenomenon was recorded by a team of astronomers including William Dawson of the UC Davis physics department and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Composite image of colliding galaxy cluster Abell 1033 combines X-ray data from Chandra (pink) along with radio data (green) and optical data that reveals the density of the galaxies (blue). (NASA)

Composite image of colliding galaxy cluster Abell 1033 combines X-ray data from Chandra (pink) along with radio data (green) and optical data that reveals the density of the galaxies (blue). (Chandra X-ray Observatory)

According to a news release from the Chandra X-ray observatory,

Neutrinos leave mark on early universe

Much of the time, popular stories about science emphasize the broader impact, the implications for the field, what it might mean for our lives. But in reality, science is often about finding that some detail of the universe works the way we had already predicted, and for scientists that’s pretty cool too.

In one such discovery, UC Davis physicists have for the first time seen the signature of neutrinos spreading through the hot plasma of the early universe, at a time when light itself was still trapped in the plasma. The work is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Finding biomarkers for early lung cancer diagnosis

Despite decades of warnings about smoking, lung cancer is still the second-most common cancer and the leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. Patients are often diagnosed only when their disease is already at an advanced stage and hard to treat. Researchers at the West Coast Metabolomics Center at UC Davis are trying to change that, by identifying biomarkers that could be the basis of early tests for lung cancer.

“Early diagnosis is the key to fighting lung cancer,” said Oliver Fiehn, director of the metabolomics center and a professor of molecular and cellular biology at UC Davis.

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.

Warm winters can help wildfire recovery, as long as there’s enough rain

By Kat Kerlin

Using more than a decade’s worth of daily satellite images, researchers have determined ecosystems of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region bounce back from wildfires much more quickly in warmer winter weather.

However, there is an important caveat for other areas with Mediterranean climates at high risk of fires, such as drought-stricken California: The rate of recovery also depends on sufficient rainfall, especially in summer.

Data from South Africa shows how climate influences recovery from wildfire and could be generally applied to similar regions in California and Australia. (Andrew Latimer/UC Davis)

Data from South Africa shows how climate influences recovery from wildfire and could be generally applied to similar regions in California and Australia. (Andrew Latimer/UC Davis)