On August 17, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) notified astronomers around the world of the possible detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars.
Above: A small team of UC Santa Cruz astronomers was the first to observe the light from the violent merger of two neutron stars. Illustration by Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for ScienceFrom that moment, the race was on to detect a visible counterpart, because unlike the colliding black holes responsible for LIGO’s four previous detections of gravitational waves, this event was expected to produce a brilliant explosion of visible light and other types of radiation.
A small team led by Ryan Foley, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics, was the first to find the source of the gravitational waves, located in a galaxy 130 million light-years away.
“This is a huge discovery,” Foley said. “We’re finally connecting these two different ways of looking at the universe, observing the same thing in light and gravitational waves, and for that alone this is a landmark event.”
Among other things, the results could resolve a hotly debated question about the origins of gold and other heavy elements in the universe.
A horse is a horse, of course—or is it?
Researchers discovered a previously unrecognized genus of extinct horses that roamed North America during the last ice age.
The new findings are based on an analysis of ancient DNA from fossils of the “New World stilt-legged horse.”
Prior to this study, these thin-limbed, lightly built horses were thought to be related to the Asiatic wild ass or onager, or simply a separate species within the genus Equus, which includes living horses, asses, and zebras.
The new results, however, reveal that these horses, now named Haringtonhippus francisci, were not closely related to any living population of horses.
“The horse family, thanks to its rich and deep fossil record, has been a model system for understanding and teaching evolution. Now ancient DNA has rewritten the evolutionary history of this iconic group,” said Peter Heintzman, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz.
At the end of the last ice age, both Equus and Haringtonhippus francisci became extinct in North America, along with other large animals like woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Equus survived in Eurasia, eventually leading to domestic horses.
Taking on poverty
Among the greatest challenges facing the Golden State is that one in five Californians live in poverty.
Students at UC Santa Cruz are focused on the problem, gaining hands-on experience in community-engaged research with an eye toward reducing poverty and promoting economic justice.
Each year, student scholars of the Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance dive into a range of issues related to fiscal equity, affordable housing, and food insecurity as they build the skills they’ll need to help create a more equitable society.
“We are training the next generation of scholars and advocates in the ongoing war on poverty,” said Heather Bullock, a professor of psychology and the director of the UC Santa Cruz Blum Center, which recently received a $500,000 gift to deepen and expand its reach.
Planned activities include the creation of a new micro-lending program for low-income students and an initiative to bolster food security among students.
Schooling the education system
As a professor of education, Rod Ogawa spent 30 years studying public schools, trying to figure out how to improve student performance. In retirement, Ogawa is getting high marks for a new approach.
The answer lies in sharing information, said Ogawa, now a research professor at UC Santa Cruz and the higher-education leader of the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust (SVRDT), a major new data-sharing initiative.
The data trust will link school districts and offices of education in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties with health and human services agencies, enabling teachers, principals, social workers, and others to share information in real time about students and the services they’re receiving.
In the current system, separate agency “data silos” make it labor intensive and time consuming to try to get an accurate, timely picture of how a child is doing.
“The thing that was always missing was information,” said Ogawa. “This isn’t working within organizations to help them improve. This is changing the ground on which they’re standing.”
In the latest analysis of the world’s top universities published by Times Higher Education (THE), UC Santa Cruz ranked third in research influence as measured by the number of times its faculty’s published work is cited by scholars around the world.
The analysis measured overall research influence based on the average number of citations per paper, using a database of almost 62 million citations to more than 12.4 million research publications published over five years, from 2012 to 2016.
With a citation score of 99.9, UC Santa Cruz tied for third place with Stanford University. St. George’s University of London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tied for first. UC Berkeley ranked just behind UC Santa Cruz and Stanford with a citation score of 99.8.
The THE website explains that the citations show whose research has stood out, has been picked up and built on by other scholars, and has been shared around the global scholarly community to expand the boundaries of our understanding.
Heart monitors on narwhals that were released after entanglement in nets showed the animals did a series of deep dives, swimming hard to escape, while their heart rates dropped to unexpectedly low levels of three to four beats per minute.
This combination of hard exercise and low heart rate while not breathing underwater is costly and could make it difficult for the deep-diving whales to get enough oxygen to the brain and other critical organs, according to a new study.
“These are deep-diving marine mammals, but we were not seeing normal dives during the escape period,” said Terrie Williams, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Narwhals live year-round in Arctic waters. They have been relatively isolated from human disturbances until recently, when declines in Arctic sea ice have made the region more accessible to shipping, oil exploration, and other human activities.
“The implications of this study are cautionary, showing that the biology of these animals makes them especially vulnerable to disturbance,” Williams said. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Alumna Morgan Brown’s life changed drastically shortly after she graduated.
Her mother was killed by a commercial truck driver on meth, who swerved into her mother’s lane and hit her car in a head-on collision.
Devastated, Brown (Kresge ‘12, history) began traveling to escape. Over a six-month period, she visited nearly two dozen countries.
“The highlight of the trip was in Iceland, where I realized I didn’t have to be ‘Morgan, whose Mom died’—I could just be someone who is traveling,” she recalled.
Brown returned to campus to display her latest project, “Conversations I Wish I Had.” She spent an afternoon in the Humanities courtyard, alongside a custom-made, collapsible wooden phone booth.
The idea was for people to enter the phone booth and have a conversation with a lost loved one.
If the participants agreed, some of their conversations were recorded for a podcast.
Brown spent several months going up the West Coast on a mini tour, doing a variety of pop-up events like this. It’s all part of her ongoing mission to make death and dying less taboo.
Hey, Mr. Librarian Man
Alumnus Mark Davidson has an interesting job title: “Bob Dylan librarian and collections manager.”
Last year, Davidson (M.A. ‘09; Ph.D. ‘15, music) became the head archivist and librarian of the Bob Dylan Archive, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Dylan Archive includes 6,000 mostly unseen items from Dylan’s personal collection. According to the New York Times, it was acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation for a reported $15 million–$20 million.
The Kaiser Foundation also owns and administers the Woody Guthrie Archives and the Woody Guthrie Center.
The Bob Dylan Archive is not open to the public—it’s instead a research collection that is designed to become a resource for academic study—but tourists shouldn’t despair. The Kaiser Foundation is sorting through bids to create a Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, which, like the Guthrie Center, will be the public face of the collection.
Highlights of the Dylan collection include hundreds of original tape reels, unseen concert films, lyric sheets, and personal correspondence.
Campus in demand
In a promising step toward increased transfer enrollment, UC Santa Cruz marked nearly a 12 percent increase in the number of applicants from California community colleges.
More than 9,800 California students applied to transfer to UC Santa Cruz for fall 2018. The campus received 11,282 transfer applications, a 12.8 percent increase over last year.
“Our admissions office has been working up and down the state to be sure that community college students are aware of the welcoming opportunities and distinct learning environment available at UC Santa Cruz,” said Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Richard Hughey.
California high school seniors also applied to UC Santa Cruz in record numbers, with the campus receiving 45,737 applications—a 7.1 percent increase over last year.
More than 56,000 students—a new record—applied to be new first-year students for fall 2018 quarter, a 6.9 percent increase over the previous year.
Really green greenhouses (that are magenta)
Tomatoes and cucumbers grown inside electricity-generating solar greenhouses were as healthy as those raised in conventional greenhouses, signaling that “smart” greenhouses hold great promise for dual-use farming and renewable electricity production.
“We have demonstrated that ‘smart greenhouses’ can capture solar energy for electricity without reducing plant growth,” said Michael Loik, professor of environmental studies.
These greenhouses are outfitted with transparent roof panels embedded with a bright magenta dye that absorbs light and transfers energy to photovoltaic strips, where electricity is produced. The systems absorb some of the blue and green wavelengths of light but let the rest through, allowing the plants to grow.
The technology was developed by Sue Carter and Glenn Alers, both professors of physics, who founded Soliculture in 2012 to bring the technology to market.
Reducing the energy consumed by greenhouses has become a priority as the global use of greenhouses for food production has increased six-fold over the past 20 years to more than 9 million acres today—roughly twice the size of New Jersey.
Katie Hellier answers a question about why she loves physics by talking about shoes.
A stiletto heel will exert great pressure on the ground while a flat shoe will apply much less, and physics can illuminate why that is, says the UC Santa Cruz alumna (Porter ’14, applied physics) and current grad student, who also has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.
Thanks to a U.S. Energy Department grant, Hellier is doing research into new solar cell materials that may one day be able to generate high-voltage energy instead of the low voltage delivered now.
It was at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Calif., that Hellier took her first physics class and “fell in love.”
Transferring to UC Santa Cruz in 2011, she met physics professor Sue Carter and asked Carter for a spot in her lab.
Eventually she worked on projects that ranged from using algae for biofuels to researching luminescent solar concentrators, which use fluorescent dye to absorb light and make solar cells more efficient.
Alumnus Michael Scherer (Oakes ‘98, creative writing) in September joined the Washington Post as a national political reporter.
Scherer had been Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief since 2013. He first joined Time in 2007 and was named the magazine’s White House correspondent following the 2008 presidential campaign, traveling to more than a dozen countries with President Barack Obama.
One of the first students in the Creative Writing Program led by literature professors Micah Perks and Karen Yamashita, Scherer went on to graduate from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The author of more than 20 Time cover stories, Scherer won the National Press Club’s Lee Walczak Award for Political Analysis for his articles on the 2012 Obama re-election effort. He also received the 2014 New York Press Club Award for Political Coverage for a cover story about the 2013 government shutdown.
Seal story steals hearts
As field scientists in Antarctica, Roxanne Beltran and Patrick Robinson have enough stories to fill a book.
So, when a third-grader at an Alaskan elementary school asked Beltran if she would write a book about her work so the child’s father could read it to her every night, Beltran said, “Why not?”
The result is a 48-page children’s book titled A Seal Named Patches, which sold out half its 2,000-volume printing within two weeks of its release. In November, it received the 2017 DeBary Outstanding Children’s Science Book award.
Robinson (Rachel Carson ‘03, marine biology) is director of the UC Natural Reserve at Año Nuevo. Beltran (Stevenson ‘13, marine biology) is a visiting researcher at UC Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The two are engaged to be married.
Their book centers on scientists’ hunt for a seal named Patches that had been tracked since birth but seemed to have disappeared.
A Seal Named Patches is available at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
Rugby going strong at 50
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, the East Field rumbles with 40 or 50 pairs of running, cleated feet and echoes with the thuds of shoulders colliding with foam practice targets.
The men’s rugby team is practicing the skills they hope will carry them to a national championship.
“In our 50th year, I want to dominate the game,” Head Coach Robbie Bellue says.
It has been years since the Banana Slugs were this optimistic, but they have their reasons. New portable field lights, purchased with help by a donation from former player George Kraw (Cowell ‘71, history/Russian literature), enable more hours of practice in the evenings.
Work with an expert coach is improving training, and they’ve begun a fundraiser they hope will ensure ongoing wins.
The season will culminate March 24 with a homecoming match against Stanford University and the annual Slug rugby reunion, where all current and former players are invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
For information, visit www.ucscrugby.com. To hear a companion audio piece on this story, visit soundcloud.com/ucsantacruz/sets/storycruz.
Music bridges cultures
The 2017 Pacific Rim Music Festival, held at the Music Center Recital Hall in October, included a dazzling array of traditional and contemporary Korean music.
The festival offered five free public concerts of traditional music and 40 world premieres, featuring the 55-member Creative Traditional Orchestra of the Korean National Gugak Center, the center’s Chamber
Ensemble, the Borromeo String Quartet, the New York New Music Ensemble, and Festival Ensemble Korea.
It also featured a special collaboration between the UC Santa Cruz Music Department and the Creative Traditional Orchestra of the National Gugak Center of Korea (NGC). The word “gugak” translates as “national music,” and the NGC orchestra is responsible for preserving ancient musical traditions, as well as developing contemporary works for performance.
“The idea was conceived in 2014 when I resided in Korea as a Fulbright scholar,” noted Hi Kyung Kim, UC Santa Cruz professor of music and artistic director of the festival.