About Egghead

Egghead is a blog about research by, with or related to UC Davis. Comments on posts are welcome, as are tips and suggestions for posts. General feedback may be sent to Andy Fell. This blog is created and maintained by UC Davis Strategic Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.

How Do You Make an Earth-like Planet?

Astronomers have spotted many Earth-like worlds around other stars, but are these exoplanets really similar to our home, and could they support life? The CLEVER Planets project, including UC Davis professor Sarah Stewart, has received a $7.7 million NASA grant to explore how rocky planets like Earth acquire, sustain, and nurture the chemical conditions necessary for life.

Recipe for a planet

Credit: Courtney Dressing, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

If Pigeons Were Brilliant, Would They Flock?

UC Davis Study Finds People Flock, or Behave Similarly to Others, Despite Reasoning Abilities

By Karen Nikos-Rose

Crowd panics, market bubbles, and other unpredictable collective behaviors would not happen if people were smart about these things and just thought through their behavior before they acted. Right? That’s the perspective in economics, and even psychology and sociology.

Pigeons

“Let’s be smart about this, guys” (Via PBS.org)

But a UC Davis researcher looked at how people behave in simple reasoning games and found that people are usually driven to “flock,” or behave similarly to others in a given situation. Seth Frey, an assistant professor of communication at UC Davis, said this happens “even when people use the fancy reasoning processes that are supposed to make humans so special.”

Agricultural Index Insurance Pairs Economics, Natural Sciences For Climate Resilience in East Africa

By Alex Russell

For poor and subsistence farmers in developing countries, a severe drought, flood or other catastrophe can cost them everything. In response to these kinds of climate-related risks, farmers often choose to minimize their exposure to loss. They might avoid higher-cost improved seeds that promise bigger harvests or riskier but profitable cash crops. Both of these strategies can keep them poor.

Maize farmers in Tanzania. Agricultural index insurance could help small farmers like these invest in higher-value crops and increase their income.

Newly Discovered Enzyme is “Firing Pin” for Plant Immunity

SIK1 Gene Opens Possibilities for Treating Disease, Breeding Resistant Crops

Just like humans, plants have an immune system that helps them fight off infections. Plant immunity has some important differences: they don’t make antibodies and can’t fight off the same bug more quickly months or years later. However, plant cells can identify pathogens and react to them, often by producing a burst of reactive oxygen which is toxic to bacteria or fungi. Cells around an infected site will go into programmed cell death to seal off the disease.

Podcast: Intensive Training for Parents Referred to CPS Improves Child Physiology

Traumatic experiences, such as maltreatment as children, can influence how our mind and body react to stressful situations. UC Davis psychologist Paul Hastings and colleagues at the University of Washington have shown that intensive training for parents referred to Child Protective Services can improve physiological reactions to stress in their young children.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: Parenting and Child Physiology (Soundcloud)

More information

Training for Parents Referred to CPS Improves Toddler’s Physiological Regulation (UC Davis News)

Listen to more episodes of Three Minute Egghead on Soundcloud or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Maureen Kinyua: Waste Not

By Aditi Risbud Bartl

As an undergraduate physics major, Maureen Kinyua discovered her passion for science—combined with a sincere interest in helping others—could lead to a fruitful career in engineering.

Maureen Kinyua is taking new approaches to recycling animal waste. (UC Davis College of Engineering)

“I liked how you could combine physics, chemistry and biology into something more applied,” she said. “Engineering also gave me a way to mix my interest in science while actually doing good for the environment.”

Beetle Adapts Chemical Mimicry To Parasitize Different Bee Species

By Kathy Keatley Garvey

A beetle that tricks bees into carrying it into their nests where it can live off their pollen, nectar and eggs adapts its deceptions to local hosts, according to research by Leslie Saul-Gershenz, a graduate student in entomology at UC Davis.

Aggregations of the larvae of Meloe franciscanus beetles lure male digger bees (genus Habropoda) with chemical signals that mimic female sex pheromones. The larvae, also known as triungulins, attach themselves to males, transfer to female bees during copulation and hitch a ride back to the nest, where they feed on bee eggs and provisions and emerge as adult beetles the following winter.

Karen Moxon: Decoding the Brain

Engineering professor in lab

Karen Moxon, professor of biomedical engineering, in her lab at UC Davis. Photo by Reeta Asmai/UC Davis.

By Aditi Risbud Bartl 

In the last decade, researchers in academia and the technology sector have been racing to unlock the potential of artificial intelligence. In parallel with federally-funded efforts from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, heavy-hitters such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google are deeply invested in artificial intelligence.

As part of the BRAIN Initiative, many UC Davis investigators are studying the nervous system and developing new technologies to investigate brain function.

Geoscientists Take Part in Frontera Supercomputer

UC Davis scientists are taking part in a project to build the new “Frontera” supercomputer at the University of Texas at Austin. Funded by a $60 million grant from the National Science Foundation announced last week, Frontera will be the fastest computer at any U.S. university and among the most powerful in the world.

Global simulation of Earth’s mantle convection by the NSF-funded Stampede supercomputer at UT Austin. Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics, headquartered at UC Davis, is developing software for Earth sciences that will run on the new Frontera system. [Courtesy of ICES, UT Austin]

Higgs Boson News: Decays to Bottom Quarks, Upholds Standard Model

Six years after its discovery, the Higgs boson has at last been observed decaying to fundamental particles known as bottom quarks. The finding, presented Aug. 28 at CERN by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is consistent with the hypothesis that the all-pervading quantum field behind the Higgs boson also gives mass to the quarks. Both teams have submitted their results for publication.

The CMS detector catches a Higgs boson decaying to two bottom quarks (b) in association with a Z boson decaying to an electron (e-) and an antielectron (e+). (Image: CMS/CERN)