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 University Communications, and mostly edited by Andy Fell.
While the LHC smashes positively charged protons into each other (and sometimes lead atoms), the ILC will take a different approach. It will drive negatively charged electrons into positively charged positrons. The resulting measurements will — physicists hope — provide more information about the Higgs boson, and extend the work done at the LHC. If the LHC is able to observe the particles of dark matter and dark energy that make up most of the universe, the ILC will be able to study these particles in more detail.
The UC Davis team finished in third place overall at the National Student Steel Bridge Competition finals, held at the University of Washington last weekend, May 31-June 1.
In the competition, teams have to design and build a scale-model steel bridge and then assemble it against the clock. Points are awarded for strength, lightness and speed of assembly as well as design and efficiency. The UC Davis team took first place for construction speed and second for lightness. Overall winners were UC Berkeley, followed by MIT.
UC Davis students have now competed in the competition, which is sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Steel Construction, for several years running. They won the national title in 2005.
Photo: The UC Davis team with their prize. Left to right, starting from the back row: Quincy Dahm, Shaun Miller, Jon Carlo, “Andrew,” Michael Rey Alaguena, Christopher Salazar, Tadd Tsui, Matthew Diaz, Jocelyn Wong, Jennifer Yasui, Kristy Chang, Franklin Dang, Eva Ng (Univ of Washington, hosts) and in front, Brian Giffin.
Five UC Davis faculty members joined more than 500 top global change scientists in signing a statement that outlines the key environmental issues – from climate change to pollution and population growth — policymakers must address to avoid an approaching global tipping point.
The statement, released today, is a response to a challenge by California Gov. Jerry Brown for scientists to translate their findings into terms policymakers, industry and the general public can understand and begin to address.
The five UC Davis signatories include: parasitology professor Patricia Conrad, environmental science and policy professor Alan Hastings, oceanography professor John Largier, geology professor Geerat Vermeij, and evolution and ecology professor Susan Williams.
The leaders of the initiative, spearheaded by UC Berkeley and Stanford University, plan to join Gov. Brown today to release the 30-page statement, “Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century,” during the 2013 Water, Energy and Smart Technology Summit and Showcase, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
UC Berkeley professor Anthony Barnosky was the statement’s lead writer. Hastings and Vermeij, co-authored a study led by Barnosky about Earth’s tipping point, published June 7, 2012 in Nature. That study called for global cooperation to reduce world population growth and per-capita resource use, replace fossil fuels with sustainable sources, develop more efficient food production and distribution systems, and better protect land and ocean areas not already dominated by humans. Such themes were echoed in today’s consensus statement.
“Meeting the challenges of climate change will require real action based on scientifically sound principles, both right now and for the foreseeable future,” said Hastings. “This call to action by leading scientists should help to serve as a wake-up call and should spur both action by policymakers and further efforts by scientists to develop plans for action.”
The scientists identify five key threats:
High rates of extinction for both animals and plants.
The loss of ecosystems around the planet as they are paved over, plowed or tamed.
Human population growth.
The full text of the statement and a list of the 520 signatories — they hail from 44 countries and include two Nobel laureates, 33 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and members of other nation’s scientific academies — will be on the website of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, where it will be available for signing by other scientists and the general public.
The statement does not recommend specific strategies but pinpoints the major issues that need to be addressed. Among the recommendations are:
Decrease greenhouse gas emissions and plan now to adapt to the consequences of climate change already underway. To achieve this, replace fossil fuels with carbon-neutral energy sources, such as solar, wind and biofuels; promote energy-efficient buildings, transportation and manufacturing systems; conserve forests and regulate land conversion to maximize carbon sequestration; and develop plans to deal with climatic impacts such as rising sea levels and shifting patterns of agricultural productivity.
Slow the global loss of biodiversity by recognizing the long-term economic benefits and intangible gains that come from protecting natural ecosystems from ocean acidification, overfishing, forest conversion and other pressures.
Curb the manufacture and release of toxic substances into the environment with regulations on existing and new chemicals. Bolster research to develop safer alternatives.
Slow land conversion by improving the efficiency of food production in existing agricultural areas and better food distribution while decreasing waste. Encourage urban growth rather than suburban sprawl.
Slow and eventually stop world population growth, with a peak of no more than 9 billion, decreasing to less than 7 billion by 2100. Do this by ensuring access to education, economic opportunities and health care, including family planning services, with a special focus on women’s rights. Promote environmentally friendly changes in consumer behavior.
“As members of the scientific community actively involved in assessing the biological and societal impacts of global change, we are sounding this alarm to the world,” the scientists write in the summary. “for humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all – individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists and people in every walk of life – must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today.”
Calderón organized the new internship program with Jesus de Loera, professor of mathematics, who like Calderón is from Mexico. The professors came up with the idea after meeting the Consul, Carlos González Gutiérrez, at a campus event intended to promote ties between U.S. and Mexican universities.
“I thought about a summer research internship because I was a beneficiary of one such opportunity when I was in college in Mexico, and it made a huge difference in my career,” Calderón said.
At their recent meeting in Mexico, President Obama and President Peña Nieto pledged to increase student exchanges between the two countries.
If successful, the program will continue next year, Calderón said. In addition to the consulate, the internship program is being supported by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and two non-profit organizations, the Cien Amigos (100 Friends) which promotes links between California and Mexico, and MATLAC, which develops projects based on the talents of Mexicans living abroad.
Meeting the demand for more data storage in smaller volumes means using materials made up of ever-smaller magnets, or nanomagnets. One promising material for a potential new generation of recording media is an alloy of iron and platinum with an ordered crystal structure. Researchers led by Professor Kai Liu and graduate student Dustin Gilbert at the UC Davis Department of Physics have now found a convenient way to make these alloys and tailor their properties.
“The relatively convenient synthesis conditions, along with the tunable magnetic properties, make these materials highly desirable for future magnetic recording technologies,” Liu said. The iron/platinum alloy has the ability to retain information even at extremely small nanomagnet sizes, and it is resistant to heat effects.
Previous methods for making the ordered iron-platinum alloys involved high temperature treatments that would be difficult to integrate into the rest of the manufacturing process, Liu said.
Atomic force microscopy shows how adding copper (Cu) to the alloy affects the structure.
The researchers, including Liang-Wei Wang and Chih-Huang Lai, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan; and Timothy Klemmer and Jan-Ulrich Thiele, Seagate Technologies, Fremont, Calif. used a method called atomic-scale multilayer sputtering to create a material with extremely thin layers of metal, and rapid thermal annealing to convert it into the desirable ordered alloy. They could adjust the magnetic properties of the alloy by adding small amounts of copper into particular regions of the alloy.
A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters and featured in its Research Highlights. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation Materials World Network Program.
Hunter studies the process of homologous recombination in meiosis, the process cells use to make gametes (sperm and eggs). It’s crucial to ensure that each gamete gets the right number of chromosomes, or the pregnancy will miscarry or result in birth defects.
As an HHMI Investigator, Hunter will continue to work at UC Davis and devote some of his time to teaching and service as a faculty member, but he is technically employed by the HHMI which will fund his salary, research staff and lab for the next five years with the option of renewal. The HHMI’s intent is to fund “people, not projects” giving them as much freedom and flexibility as possible to follow their ideas.
Hunter was previously an HHMI Early Career Scientist, appointed in 2009. Two other UC Davis faculty, plant biologists, Jorge Dubcovsky, professor of plant sciences, and the late Simon Chan, Department of Plant Biology, were among the first-ever class of HHMI-GBMF Investigators, funded jointly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support research leading to improved crops.
Hunter said he is grateful to his colleagues in the college and former and present deans Ken Burtis and James Hildreth, department chairs Doug Nelson and Wolf-Dietrich Heyer for their support.
“This award immediately brought to my mind memories of my UC Davis and HHMI colleague, Simon Chan,” Hunter said. “His loss will be felt for a very long time, but his singular character and spirit will continue to buoy and spur us on.”
Professor Howard Spero, chair of the Department of Geology, has received a Humboldt research award from the German government. Spero will use the award of 60,000 Euros (about $78,000) towards a sabbatical in Germany next academic year.
Spero studies changes in past climate and ocean circulation based on chemical traces in the fossil shells of tiny marine organisms called foraminifera, or “forams.” When they die, forams settle to the ocean bottom and accumulate in layers of sediment, creating a record of past ocean conditions.
Spero has carried out lab experiments with modern foraminifera to check how the properties of their shells relate to conditions of salinity, temperature and acidity. This has allowed his team to reconstruct past ocean and climate conditions from the fossil record.
During his sabbatical, Spero plans to work with colleagues at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany on developing new geochemical tools to extract novel information from these sediment cores. The ultimate aim is to link studies of climate change in the past with predictions of climate change in a future with higher levels of CO2.
The Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics is holding a symposium next Tuesday, May 7, to mark its recent name change. Headline speakers are David Botstein, Anthony B. Evnin professor of genomics and director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute at Princeton University, who will speak on “Yeast, evolution and cancer;” and Jillian Banfield, professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who will talk about “Extraordinary phylogenetic diversity and ultrastructural novelty in subsurface bacteria.”
Botstein will also give a special seminar on May 7, at 10 a.m. in 1022 Life Sciences building, on “Coordination of growth rate, stress response and metabolic activity in yeast.”
In January this year, the Department of Microbiology in the College of Biological Sciences officially became the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. The new name better reflects what the research activities of the department, while reflecting its history, said department chair Wolf-Dietrich Heyer.
David Botstein (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)
“The department has a breadth of interests that goes beyond microbiology,” Heyer said, citing for example work on telomeres, DNA repair and gene transcription, as well as on interactions between microbes and the environment. Yet all these research areas originally grew out of microbiology, and microbes such as yeast and Salmonella or E. coli bacteria are routinely used as model systems.
The symposium is jointly supported by the Storer Life Sciences Endowment of the College of Biological Sciences and by the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.
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.
“STEM is the core of American ingenuity. If we get kids to see that they can build something, that it is fun, sexy, and attainable, we can get them excited about it, and that’s what we need for our economic engine.”
Christine Gulbranson on the set of Big Brain Theory. Discovery Channel courtesy photo.
Each week, the 10 contestants work in teams to solve a tricky engineering challenge. In the first episode, they have to come up with a way to stop explosives from detonating in a pair of colliding trucks. Later challenges include building a robot that can compete in athletic events and building a portable bunker to resist fire, storm and flood.
Gulbranson holds five degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor’s degree in physics; a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and materials science; and a MBA. She currently runs her own consulting firm, advising businesses, governments and startups especially in the areas of clean technology and renewable energy, “with a bit of nanotechnology sprinkled in,” she says.
Gulbranson said that judging the show drew on her educational background.
“There’s a lot of physics and a lot of mechanical engineering involved in these challenges and I definitely drew on that,” she said. “And of course my MBA, because a lot of it is about team dynamics, how they work together.”
“As a venture capitalist, you judge not just technology but people on a daily basis,” Gulbranson said.
Team dynamics are especially complicated in Big Brain Theory because of the way the show works. In most reality shows losing contestants leave the show each week. In Big Brain Theory, the contestants — who lived and worked together in near-isolation throughout the filming — remained on the show to help their teams, even after they were eliminated from winning the $50,000 prize.
It’s Gulbranson’s first experience with television, but not as a judge. She has previously acted as judge the Harvard Innovation Challenge, the Arab Technology Business Plan Competition and MIT’s Clean Energy Prize, among others.
Appearing as a guest judge in one episode is another UC Davis alumn, NASA engineer Adam Steltzner.
More than 70 teams from the greater Sacramento region have signed up to take part in the Roboplay Challenge, Roboplay Video and Math Programming competitions, said Harry Cheng, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis and director of the C-STEM Center.
RoboPlay competitions are open-ended design challenges that integrate computer programming and math with elements of writing, art, music, choreography, design and filmmaking. Students in the Roboplay competitions work with the Mobot modular robot manufactured by Barobo, Inc. The team can also make their own robot and accessories using a 3D printer.
In the Roboplay Challenge Competition, the teams have to program their robots to achieve a particular task, such as using a robot to retrieve an item at a space station.
“It’s designed to test their real-world problem solving skills in a competitive environment, the challenge tasks are assigned on the day of competition. The team members have to solve the problems with modular robots on their own within the time constraints.” Cheng said.
In the Roboplay Video competition, teams have to produce a unique, creative video showcasing their robots.
C-STEM Day will be held at the UC Davis Conference Center, beginning at 8.30 A.M. and ending with an awards ceremony at 4 P.M.. The event is free and open to the public.
Watch: Video from last year’s C-STEM Day.
Conference on robotics in teaching, May 18 — The Center will also hold the Third Annual Conference on Integrated Computing and STEM Education on May 18. The keynote speaker will be UC Davis Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph Hexter, who will speak on the role of a land-grant research university in K-12 STEM education and outreach.
Other plenary speakers include Debra Richardson, professor of informatics at UC Irvine and former Dean of the School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine; and Jonathan Raymond, Superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD). There will also be a plenary panel discussion with principals and math, science and engineering teachers from SCUSD, talking about their experience on integrating computing and STEM education with computer programming in C/C++ from seventh to 12th grade.
Breakout sessions will include speakers from regional school districts, UC Davis and the California Department of Education, addressing integrating algebra education with computer science, technology and engineering; closing the achievement gap for underrepresented groups; and integrated computing and STEM education for after-school programs.
Among those taking part will be: Karen Shores, STEM Administrator, California Department of Education; Deputy Director Michael Hardwick of Sandia National Laboratories; Winfred Robinson, superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District; Aida Buelna, superintendent of the Esparto Unified School District; and David Butler, CEO of NextEd, a nonprofit organization that works to develop partnerships to enhance the academic performance and career readiness of students in the Sacramento region.
The C-STEM Center also offers summer professional development programs and fellowships for STEM teachers to get experience in computing and robotics research that can be applied in their teaching.
Both C-STEM Day and the conference are sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the UC Davis College of Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories, and industrial partners.