January 2017

Happy New Year! Anteaters have returned from winter recess and have hit the ground running to make 2017 our most stellar year yet. Academics and scientists have begun work on exciting new research projects, schools and units are partnering with community members to establish programs at home and abroad, and students are making the most of their time at UCI by studying hard and turning their passions into tangible paths to success.

Investing in doctoral students


As we start this new year, it’s clear to see that UCI as a whole is well on its way toward reaching some important milestones. Our strategic plan aims for growth in research innovation, degrees awarded and faculty impact. Another area in which we’re investing is our doctoral programs. In the next five years, we plan on increasing the number of doctoral students by 35 percent to ensure that UCI remains a leader in world-class research and high-level education. Bolstering our doctoral programs means that UCI will continue to be a place where future educators, policymakers, inventors and experts receive the best-quality training in their fields before sharing their talents with the world. In order to prepare these students for their calling, Vice Provost for Graduate Education Frances Leslie has championed mentorship relationships, fostered a spirit of creativity accompanied by deep analysis, and emphasized the need for exceptional communications skills. Jessica Kizer, a doctoral student in the School of Social Sciences, took a drama class for graduate students to learn how to cope with nerves and hone greater public speaking skills to effectively share her research. She plans on becoming a professor after completing her dissertation in June. By tailoring the doctoral student experience to each scholar, UCI hopes to become a destination for these brilliant minds.

UCI opens doctoral programs to hundreds more students 

Rejuvenating research

One of the best things about UCI is the phenomenal research that takes place on our campus that has the potential to enhance lives. One such example is a new study published in Science by Maksim Plikus, assistant professor of developmental & cell biology, who collaborated with University of Pennsylvania scientists to uncover a natural way to stimulate scar-free skin repair. They discovered that myofibroblasts, the primary cell type found in wounds, are able to convert into new fatty cells that are vital for healthy skin. By manipulating these cells in hair follicles, researchers were able to spur skin regeneration without scarring. The technique could prevent unsightly or debilitating scarring and become a part of anti-aging and beauty treatments. You can learn more about the study here.

Steering the future of driverless cars

The future of driverless cars holds promise for easy, convenient and safe commuting. But this new technology with so much potential must be thoroughly vetted. As advancements in machines steer away from the need for physical human oversight, the need for software with humanistic values is ever more important. Azim Shariff, assistant professor of psychology & social behavior, is working with colleagues at the MIT Media Lab and France’s Toulouse School of Economics to study the ethics of algorithms in driverless cars that determine who is protected in life-and-death driving decisions. While the advent of driverless cars should reduce the frequency of accidents, human error – such as pedestrians not using designated crosswalks – is sure to present moral dilemmas. To address these, the researchers developed the Moral Machine, an online survey with a wide range of driving scenarios that has drawn 2.5 million participants from more than 160 countries. By pooling societal concepts of morality, the work could help manufacturers implement algorithms with human values, perhaps increasing consumer trust in autonomous vehicles.

A matter of life or death 

Renewable energy

Jack Brouwer, associate director of UCI’s Advanced Power & Energy Program
Jack Brouwer, associate director of UCI’s Advanced Power & Energy Program. Steve Zylius/UCI

In a national first, UCI researchers have injected renewable hydrogen into the campus power supply by successfully implementing a power-to-gas pipeline project. P2G is a technique that converts excess energy from solar panels or wind farms into hydrogen that can be stored and used in power plants, appliances and cars. It allows us to harness previously wasted energy by incorporating it into existing natural gas pipelines, which could produce a large-scale hydrogen battery. The pilot project, supported by Southern California Gas Co. and Proton OnSite, advances the concept of a 100 percent renewable energy future.

Greening the grid 

Rainfall of data

Phu Nguyen, Soroosh Sorooshian and Kuo-lin Hsu
UCI Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing faculty members Phu Nguyen, Soroosh Sorooshian and Kuo-lin Hsu led the creation of the iRain mobile app. Steve Zylius/UCI

At UCI’s Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing, several faculty members have launched a new mobile app called iRain to deliver precipitation-sensing satellite data to the public. Phu Nguyen, assistant adjunct professor of civil & environmental engineering and lead developer of the app, said iRain provides a free public access point for a system that quickly detects, tracks and studies precipitation on the planet. A key issue for sharing weather information has been the wait time between retrieving satellite images, analyzing the data and distributing it through government servers. iRain has made it possible to complete the cycle in about an hour. The unique service includes the top 50 current extreme weather events around the world, animations showing rainfall intensity and the ability to zoom to a local area. It also allows users to record their own weather observations. This global collection of precipitation data processed at UCI is being accessed by people in more than 180 countries.

UCI introduces iRain smartphone app 

Excellent doctors

This month, more than 150 top-notch UC Irvine Health doctors were listed as “Physicians of Excellence” by the Orange County Medical Association. UC Irvine Health had the most doctors recognized of all medical groups in the county, a reflection of the tremendous talent and healthcare services available at our medical center. Last year, UC Irvine Health received its fifth consecutive top grade for patient safety from The Leapfrog Group and was lauded as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for the 16th year in a row by U.S. News & World Report.

OC Medical Association recognizes 150 UC Irvine Health doctors as Physicians of Excellence 

Faculty achievements

Michelle Khine, professor of biomedical engineering, and Enrique Lavernia, provost & executive vice chancellor and Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering & materials science, were recently named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. The distinction is awarded to those who demonstrate a prolific spirit of innovation with outstanding inventions that have improved the quality of life, economic development or the welfare of society. Professor Khine and Provost Lavernia are UCI’s fourth and fifth NAI fellows.

Richard Schoen, professor of mathematics, has won the 2017 Wolf Prize in Mathematics for his contributions to geometric analysis. Each year, the prestigious award honors a handful of outstanding scientists and artists for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people. Professor Schoen, who is the math department’s Excellence in Teaching Chair, is one of eight laureates this year.

Peter Navarro, professor of economics/public policy in The Paul Merage School of Business, was recently selected to lead the newly created White House National Trade Council. Professor Navarro was lauded for his expertise and thorough research on trade and manufacturing economics in relation to China. The council will be responsible for advising the president on trade negotiations and will oversee a program that seeks to increase infrastructure and defense sector jobs. We extend our congratulations and best wishes to Professor Navarro as he takes on a high-profile role in the new U.S. administration.

Lauds & Laurels

Gary Singer ’74
Gary Singer ’74, senior adviser to RSI Holding and RSI Development and a member of the UCI Foundation’s board of trustees

On March 30, UCI will continue one of its oldest traditions of recognizing outstanding Anteaters for their contributions to the community and the campus. Our 47th Lauds & Laurels award ceremony will celebrate 19 individuals, including alumni, staff, faculty and students, for their service to UCI. This year’s Extraordinarius award goes to Gary Singer ’74, senior adviser to RSI Holding and RSI Development and a UCI Foundation trustee. He has been actively involved with UCI for more than 40 years, having been a member of the Chancellor’s Club, the Dean’s Leadership Society at the School of Social Sciences and the UCI Alumni Association board of directors. We are thankful for his longtime commitment to making UCI an anchoring institution of Orange County and being a terrific ambassador for all the good our university does each and every day. You can learn more about the event and our additional honorees here.