May 2016

With commencement only a couple of weeks away, the UCI campus is a flurry of excitement. Graduating seniors are already planning their next moves, students are finishing up their class projects and internships, and faculty members continue to dedicate their time to important research that is changing the world.

Math CEO

At the core of the University of California’s mission are three vital principles: research, education and public service. In everything we do at UCI, we strive to carry out this mission and truly impact the lives of others. A tremendous example of Anteaters living our values is the Math Community Education Outreach program, which primarily serves underprivileged Hispanic schoolchildren in Orange County. Launched in 2014 by UCI math lecturer Alessandra Pantano and Associate Professor of Math Li-Sheng Tseng, it provides free afterschool tutoring in math fundamentals (taught by UCI students) for disadvantaged middle-schoolers from Santa Ana. In just one year, enrollment in Math CEO quadrupled in size. Nearly all the participants are from low-income families, and many have parents who did not finish high school. Professor Tseng says the program not only introduces kids to critical thinking at a young age, but provides a roadmap to a college education in STEM and hope for a brighter future.

Solving problems 

Empowering student teaching

Learning to develop course materials, plan lessons and captivate an audience constitute an invaluable skill set for future educators. At UCI, juniors and seniors from across campus have an opportunity to take the reins on their own education by participating in the UTeach program. Housed under the Division of Undergraduate Education, UTeach lets undergraduates design and teach lower-division seminar classes on topics related to their major, giving them an innovative, hands-on way to master their subject. The yearlong program pairs students with faculty members who guide them through the course planning process and advise them on classroom effectiveness before the UTeachers are allowed to conduct classes in the spring. Seminars have ranged from mythology in contemporary literature to water resource management.

A leader in biosafety

UCI's BSL-3 biosafety training program
UCI's BSL-3 biosafety training program instructor Tran B. Phan inspects a student for contamination under UV light during a spill simulation. Steve Zylius/UCI

As the Ebola and Zika viruses continue to grow as public health concerns, it is essential that scientists are equipped with the right tools to engage safely in research related to infectious diseases. I’m delighted to share that UCI’s state-of-the-art high-containment biosafety level 3 laboratory has been designated a National Training Center by the National Institutes of Health, making the facility the first of its kind in the U.S. to be built and solely utilized for educational purposes. To date, more than 1,000 people have completed the program at UCI and taken their newly acquired skills to federal and state government, military and public health agency laboratories around the globe. The designation is a reflection of UCI’s instrumental role as a leader in public health research and will ensure that thousands of research professionals have an opportunity to receive first-class training in a safe environment.

UCI’s new biocontainment lab to be designated a National Training Center 

Powerful research

Mya Le Thai
UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai has developed a nanowire-based technology that allows lithium-ion batteries to be recharged hundreds of thousands of times. Steve Zylius/UCI

Any researcher can attest to the incredible power of inquiry. By changing our thinking to see things differently, even the tiniest element of an experiment can yield big results. UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai recently discovered a way to create a battery that can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times more than a conventional lithium ion battery. Her team uncovered the solution by coating gold nanowires with manganese dioxide and encasing them in an electrolyte gel. This ingenious combination prevents the nanowires from cracking or wearing down over time, allowing the battery to be recharged indefinitely. The breakthrough significantly advances the lifespans of batteries for computers, smartphones, cars and spacecraft.

All powered up 

Student Achievements

Truman Scholar Daniela Estrada
Truman Scholar Daniela Estrada

Anteaters are often pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo and seeking new opportunities to make their mark. With the right support, that unwavering spirit of curiosity, passion and determination found across campus can lead to remarkable achievements. Daniela Estrada, a political science major, recently won the prestigious Truman Scholarship – the nation’s highest honor for college juniors who show commitment to a career in public service. The award, which includes $30,000 for graduate studies and access to special leadership training and federal government internships, was bestowed on 54 promising scholars nationwide. Daniela, a first-generation college student, hopes to make a difference by aiding the underprivileged with their legal needs and changing negative perceptions of public defenders. This summer, she will intern at the Washington, D.C., public defender’s office, where she will learn first-hand from some of the best lawyers in the U.S. Daniela credits much of her success to her mentor, Mark Petracca, associate dean of social sciences, who nominated her for the scholarship. Congratulations, Daniela!

Recently, 29 current and five incoming UCI graduate students were awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Additionally, 55 UCI graduate students received honorable mentions. The fellowships offer three years support for STEM-based research projects, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to a recipient’s institution. This year’s cohort was selected from nearly 17,000 applicants.

Faculty highlights

UCI attracts not only some of the best and brightest students, but also some of the most prolific and accomplished faculty members in the world.

Sven Bernecker, professor of philosophy, was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Professorship, an honor given to esteemed international researchers to conduct long-term research at German universities. He is one of only a handful of winners of Germany’s most prestigious international research award this year. An expert in classical German philosophy and the philosophy of memory, Professor Bernecker will use the $4 million prize to establish and lead the Centre for Contemporary Epistemology and Kantian Tradition at the University of Cologne, while continuing to teach one quarter per year at UCI.

Distinguished Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Said Elghobashi will receive the Senior Award at the ninth International Conference on Multiphase Flow later this month. Presented only once every three years, it recognizes the recipient’s noteworthy scientific and technical contributions to the field of multiphase flow research as well as outstanding leadership in scholarship, development and education.

Distinguished Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Soroosh Sorooshian has been appointed chair of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, a program of the UC’s California Institute for Water Resources. In this role, he will be responsible for convening top water scholars and officials from around the globe to share news and advances in water management policies. He will serve as chair through 2022.

Kristin Turney, associate professor of sociology, was recently named a William T. Grant Scholar. The recognition comes with $350,000 to support her research on how the well-being of children is negatively affected by the incarceration of their parents. Professor Turney will examine the intergenerational consequences of incarceration, including how it may contribute to inequality.

Congratulations to our outstanding faculty members!

Global food summit

It’s a phenomenal thing when researchers from contrasting disciplines come together to solve the big problems. These partnerships serve as a reminder that by working together, we can make a difference and make the world a better place. This month, UCI’s Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation hosted the annual UC Global Food Summit in conjunction with the UC Office of the President and the UC Global Food Initiative. This year’s theme focused on the development of sustainable solutions for global food security. Dozens of internationally recognized academic experts – including UCI University Professor Francisco J. Ayala, Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences Mahtab Jafari, School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and UC President Janet Napolitano – gathered to discuss ways to improve nutrition through applied science, extend human life through pharmacology, and utilize the legal system to establish equitable food systems. You can learn more about what UCI and the Blum Center are doing to combat food insecurity and create a more sustainable environment below.

Food for thought 

Money matters

In closing, I’d like to share a fun piece of information with you. School of Social Sciences Dean Bill Maurer, an expert in the anthropology of money, had the pleasure of serving on the official advisory panel to redesign the $10 bill last year. When the U.S. Treasury announced last month that Harriet Tubman would appear on the new $20 bill, it came as no surprise to Dean Maurer. In fact, he had accurately predicted that the extraordinary abolitionist would be the winning selection as the new face of U.S. currency. Dean Maurer’s involvement in the bill’s redesign led to him being prominently featured in the Los Angeles Times, in the Orange County Register and on KTLA news.