LEARNING HISTORY FROM HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

 

At age 15, Ann Signett was surrounded by war. Every morning she would go out on her balcony and watch B-17 bombers as they flew over her hometown of Rome during World War II.

Knowing that German occupation meant death for his Jewish family, Signett’s father led them to the mountain village of Alvito, 100 miles away. There they were sheltered by a Catholic family for 10 months.

Signett’s story is just one of the personal histories shared with more than 100 students through UCLA’s student-run Bearing Witness program and the Fiat Lux seminar, “Bearing Witness: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors.”

Bearing Witness hosted four sessions at UCLA Hillel during which students met one-on-one with a group of 25 survivors. The students listen, learn, record and “bear witness” to the unique histories presented to them.

With every passing year, there is urgency on the part of survivors to get their message out. The oldest is 105 and the youngest is 76.

Signett, now 89 and surrounded by UCLA students, shared her story with the hope that it will never be forgotten.

“I survived because I was hidden,” she said. “But there are survivors who survived the death camps. I was never in a death camp. I was the lucky one.”

A group of 20 students learned more about the Holocaust as part of a Fiat Lux seminar taught by professor Todd Presner, who is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

Presner has partnered with the Bearing Witness program for the last 10 years because he wants to engage students early in their academic careers. As part of his seminar, freshmen discuss historical issues and oral histories, and visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

“Several students, year after year, come back and talk about their experience,” he said. “It deepens their interest in history, their interest in social justice issues, and their interest in community engagement.”

Students stand with survivors

Nadine Avari, a freshman in the UCLA College and originally from Pakistan, was immediately drawn to the Fiat Lux course. It offered her the perfect opportunity to interact with and learn directly from Holocaust survivors.

Before coming to UCLA, Avari says she had neither experienced much diversity nor met anyone from the Jewish community.

“Many freshmen come from really small, closed communities with narrow viewpoints,” Avari said. “UCLA is a diverse campus and hearing about the survivors’ experiences is an opportunity for students to be open and experience cultural diversity.”

Now, after studying the Holocaust in Presner’s class and hearing survivors’ personal testimonies, Avari said she feels empowered to “bear witness” on their behalf.

“There are people who disagree that the Holocaust happened,” Avari said. “And I can say,

‘No, I heard it firsthand from someone who went through it.’ No one can argue with that.”

Carol Roth, 76, is the youngest of the survivors. While Roth calls herself the “baby” of the group, she says that as long as she is living, it’s her responsibility to both educate a new generation and fight Holocaust deniers.

With a shaky voice, Roth tells students of the day she was walking on the beach with her husband and saw a blimp in the sky that read, “The Holocaust never happened.”

“I started crying because it was ­horrendous,” said Roth, who is originally from Couillet, Belgium. “It’s real, believe me. My mother was arrested by Nazis on the bus only because she was Jewish. They took her to the concentration camp Auschwitz. She was never heard from again.”

Honoring a disappearing generation

Sonia Khrapkova, 80, and a native of Stalingrad, Russia (now Volgograd), is also a child survivor.

In one session with students, Khrapkova shared a sobering reality. “We will go, my generation,” Khrapkova said. “I’m 80 and soon there will be no people to talk to you.”

Although Khrapkova was 4 years old when the Germans arrived in Stalingrad, she tells students that she remembers details from 76 years ago “like it was yesterday.”

She recalled her family’s escape during the decisive Battle of Stalingrad.

“We put logs together, and we were on the Volga River,” Khrapkova said. “We were running and running. The pilots were flying above us; the river was burning; the city was so slippery from the blood.”

Senior Daniella Chernak, a communication major and co-chair of the Bearing Witness program, understands the importance of personally hearing stories from survivors like Khrapkova.

“We are the last generation to bear witness to survivor testimonials and stories firsthand,” Chernak said. “Day after day, week after week, survivors actively choose to relive the unimaginable hardships of their lives by sharing them with us.”

When Khrapkova continued her story, she spoke of fleeing to Kyrgyzstan and eventually Ukraine. It was there, in a small forest, that she witnessed Jewish parents and their children digging their own graves and being buried alive.

“I remember the earth looked like it was breathing,” said Khrapkova, whose family was fortunate enough to survive.

Khrapkova’s tragic memories have endured throughout the decades and are now in the hands of a new generation.

“Hearing survivor testimonial is a constant reminder that we cannot stand idly by while others face atrocities,” Chernak said. “The hundreds of students who participate each year leave the program more open-minded, knowledgeable and committed to stopping biased injustices.”

Today, Khrapkova says that Bearing Witness gives her hope that this period of history will not be forgotten and will live long after she is gone.

“These UCLA students brought back my faith in the future generation,” Khrapkova said. “I am proud.”

 

MOVING HOLLYWOOD BEYOND ‘BLACK PANTHER’

By Jessica Wolf

Two remarkable UCLA alums working in the film and television industries hope that Hollywood is leaping toward a “movement,” not just a “moment” when it comes to celebrating and investing in diversity.

As part of the recent launch of UCLA’s fifth annual Hollywood Diversity Report, Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, welcomed to campus Gina Prince-Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson to talk about diversity issues in film and television.

Prince-Bythewood is writer-director of the award-winning 2000 film Love and Basketball as well as Beyond the Lights and The Secret Life of Bees. Her upcoming projects include a film adaptation of author Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State. Prince-Bythewood is also the first African-American woman to direct a major-studio superhero film, as she takes the helm of Sony’s Silver and Black, set in the Spider-Man universe.

Henderson is the creator and executive producer of the BET drama The Quad and co-executive producer of Netflix’s The Punisher. Her credits also include Fringe, Gossip Girl and the seminal Showtime series Soul Food. “We are seeing a change, but not consistent change,” Henderson said, pointing to the fact that 2013 was a banner year for filmmakers of color, but one that did not play out in the following years. “The more you see a success story like Black Panther, while you celebrate it, it also freaks you completely out, because you don’t want it to just be a moment.”

Henderson noted the powerful marketing and budget around Black Panther, and the ways in which stars like Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross got behind the film — even buying out theaters in neighborhoods so members of the black community could see it.

“How do you make it a consistent change or ‘normal’ to have such movies as opposed to a moment?” said Henderson to the audience of people from campus and the industry at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center. “How do we do that so it’s a movement instead of a moment?”

Answering that question and others that seek to explain Hollywood’s slow progress toward gender and racial parity is what makes the Hollywood Diversity Report and its year-over-year tracking incredibly important, she said.

As this year’s Hollywood Diversity Report shows, white men still fill a majority of credited roles in front of and behind the camera. And their continued domination of executive suites has a major influence on what kind of projects get a green light, Prince-Bythewood said.

She shared her experience pitching An Untamed State to several studios. Prince-Bythewood is an award-winning writer and director, the book upon which the project is based is a critically acclaimed best-seller, and also attached to the project is a three-time Academy Award nominee, Michael De Luca. The book and film are a survival story about a Haitian-American woman who is abducted, tortured and raped as she is held for ransom.

Prince-Bythewood said the first three pitch meetings were to rooms of white men, who listened politely, but were clearly uninterested.

But there was a palpable difference in the tone of the meeting when she pitched to Fox Searchlight, where the decision makers were two women of color. They bought the project before the meeting was over.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Prince-Bythewood said. “They just got it. They just felt it in their souls. We’re ­passionate about this project, but they might even be more passionate about it. The people we are pitching to, who are sitting across from us, they are going to greenlight what they respond to.”

Inclusion riders

During her Oscar acceptance speech this year, Frances McDormand, star of Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, called for the industry to use “inclusion riders,” contracts that would require film and ­television projects to aim for gender and racial parity both on screen and off.

This is something Henderson committed to 15 years ago with Soul Food, requiring that half of all the episode directors in the series be women.

“I got a call from the Directors Guild marveling that just by me doing that, the number of female directors in that year went up 75 percent,” Henderson said. “That should not be. Things should not be so dismal that one showrunner’s choices can make that big of a difference.”

Another UCLA alumna, Ava DuVernay, who directed this spring’s A Wrinkle in Time, has taken steps to increase representation behind the camera. The first African-American woman to helm a film with a budget of more than $100 million, DuVernay required all her department heads to be prepared to show proof that they had considered women and people of color for jobs. On her television show Queen Sugar, all the episodes have been directed by women.

Henderson observed that women and people of color are making more progress in television, pointing to Shonda Rhimes as an example. She said she hopes that film and television artists and producers embrace the creation of storylines and casting that specifically highlight the cultures, behaviors and belief systems of people of color.

Experience is at the center

Henderson said that for executives, the easiest way to show diversity is to hire some black people, which is one of the reasons numbers continue to improve for this segment of the population in Hollywood. But if all characters are written with homogenous behavior and attitudes, that’s not really diversity, she contended.

Despite Soul Food’s critical and popular success, Henderson said doors didn’t exactly fling open for her ideas.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just going to be able to pitch all kinds of stories about black folks; this is going to be amazing,’” she said. “And yet what I found literally for five years of trying to pitch things that had the black experience at the center of it was excuses for Soul Food’s success, rather than a desire to extend it. I got a lot of, ‘Well, it was cable so you could depend on language and nudity,’ as if my storytelling depended on those things, which is incredibly offensive.”

When asked for advice for students or aspiring artists, Prince-Bythewood said passion and stamina are key.

“Love and Basketball took a year and a half, every studio turned it down, and then with Beyond the Lights, everyone turned that down twice,” she said. “You will get a thousand ‘nos’ in this business so make sure you are passionate about the story you want to tell because that’s going to get you up off the floor and keep fighting.”

Henderson pointed out that for artists of color there is a different reality at play, especially when they are the only person of color in a room.

“I always tell my students, you do not have to be the smartest person in the room, but you do need to be the one who works the hardest,” she said. “Particularly for a person of color, just being as good as everyone else is not good enough.”

A sense of humor is critical, Henderson said. As the only African-American writer for The Punisher, all eyes often turn to her when discussing plotlines for the show’s only African-American character.

“I just pick up my cellphone and go, ‘hold on, I have to call the committee,’” she joked.

GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE

By Jessica Wolf

Modern Judeo-Christian rhetoric and imagery purport that Satan is an evil opponent to all that is good and godly — a literal opponent of God.

But that characterization doesn’t hold up

under critical scrutiny of the Bible, says Henry Ansgar Kelly, UCLA distinguished research professor of English and one of the world’s leading experts on Satan. His 2006 book Satan: A Biography was a top seller for Cambridge University Press.

His latest book, Satan in the Bible, God’s Minister of Justice, combs through all the relevant passages of the Old and New testaments, tracking evidence of stories of the devil we think we know. The early appearances of the word “satan,” when literally translated from Hebrew, simply mean “adversary.” None of the passages that use the word refer to an inherently evil spirit, Kelly said.

“A frequent assumption about Satan is not only that he is as bad as can be, but also that he has always been considered this bad,” Kelly said. “I have been researching and writing about the devil for over 50 years now, and have been making many of the same points without really being able to get across my main point, that no matter when we have heard about Satan and his nature and history, and activities, most them are not to be found in the Bible, where he is a much different person.”

Looking back through the Old and New testaments, Kelly said it becomes clear that Satan, no matter what we may think of him or imagine him to be now, was not originally presented as the implacable enemy of God, but rather God’s heavenly assistant in dealing with human beings.

As Kelly contends, Satan is more like an old-guard authority figure committed to the status quo and as such is an obstructer of social welfare or change — such as the ideas preached by Jesus. Satan is looking out for God’s interests and is distrustful of humans, but that doesn’t necessarily make him “evil” per se.

“In our government, he would correspond to the head of the Department of Justice, the attorney general,” Kelly said.

In his book, Kelly looks at the ways in which later interpretations of and additions to the Old and New testaments, as well as post-biblical texts — some from as late as the 10th century A.D. — led to an evolving image of Satan.

Questioning the identity of the serpent

Even the notion that Satan assumed the guise of a serpent to play a role in the Judeo-Christian idea of “original sin” when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden doesn’t hold up under a critical lens, Kelly said. While the story of Adam and Eve leads off the Book of Genesis, there is no reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament, which indicates that it was a late insertion. And in the original story there was certainly no connection of the serpent with Satan.

“I conclude that Satan was not associated with Adam until the second century A.D., when the Samaritan philosopher Justin Martyr identified him with the serpent,” Kelly said. “I like to say that Justin was a good Samaritan but a bad philosopher. He was also, more importantly, a bad linguist. The reason he was convinced that the serpent was Satan was that he believed Jesus said so.”

Kelly outlines that Martyr came to his conclusion by way of folk etymology. The Hebrew word “satan” had given way to Aramaic “satanah,” which in the Greek New Testament is rendered as “satanas.” Martyr thought that when Jesus named the devil “Satanas,” he was calling him “Satah Nahash,” which means “apostate serpent” in Hebrew.

Martyr found verification of this idea in the Book of Wisdom in the Greek Old Testament, which says that death entered the world through the envy of a devil (“diabolos”), but that text was referencing Cain, the first killer, who murdered his brother Abel.

Study of the Bible in school

Fostering research about religious ideals and practices is very important, since religion is such an integral aspect of human culture, said Kelly, who studied as a Jesuit in the 1960s. He has been teaching at UCLA for 50 years and said he is grateful for the existence of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Religion.

“One should think that studying and teaching about the Bible’s formation, content and influence would be a very big part of university education,” Kelly said, “but partially because of misguided ideas of the separation of church and state very few people are exposed to sophisticated examinations of the Bible, and most are left with childhood instruction or vague allusions they have picked up on their own.”

Christian and Jewish scholars tend to agree it’s best to read the Bible along with notes that explain the scholarship behind the text — something like the New Oxford Annotated Bible, he said.

“The Bible, and especially the New Testament, is arguably the most influential book in the whole of human history,” Kelly said. “But most people don’t have a clue about the huge amount of scholarship that has gone into explaining it.”

GENES IN SONGBIRDS HOLD CLUES ABOUT HUMAN SPEECH DISORDERS

By Stuart Wolpert

Insights into how songbirds learn to sing provide promising clues about human speech disorders and may lead to new ways of treating them, according to new research published in the journal eLife.

There are about 9,000 species of birds, about half of which are songbirds. When these birds sing, the activity of a master gene called FoxP2 declines in a key region of the brain involved in vocal control known as Area X. The decrease in FoxP2 produces changes in the activity of thousands of other genes.

FoxP2 also plays an important role in speech in humans. Stephanie White, a professor of integrative biology and physiology and senior author of the study, thinks FoxP2 and the changes it causes could be a part of the molecular basis for vocal ­learning. In both humans and birds, cells process this gene in a way that produces both a ­full-length protein and a shorter version of the protein. The long version regulates other genes; what the short version does remains a mystery. Humans with a mutation in the long version have problems with their speech.

To prevent this decline in Area X, White’s research team used methods similar to human gene therapy to insert a version of FoxP2 in male zebra finches. After doing so, when the birds sang, instead of their FoxP2 levels declining, the levels remained high. This uncoupling of FoxP2 levels from the birds’ singing impaired their song learning.

“In a sense, this may be the molecular version of ‘practice makes perfect,’ and why one needs to repeat motor skills over and over to learn them, rather than just having someone tell you,” White said.

New treatment possibilities for humans

Few treatments for language impairments have been developed, White said, because scientists have only a poor understanding of the molecular basis for vocal ­communication. The findings of this study could lead to the

creation of new treatments for speech

problems in people, including children with autism and people with mutated versions of FoxP2. White is interested in human behavior, but said humans are difficult to study at the cellular and synaptic level.

Through trial-and-error practice during a critical period, the birds develop a song ­suitable for courtship. Songbirds, much like in humans, have a critical period in youth when they are best at learning vocal communication skills. In birds, this is when they learn a song they will use later in life as a courtship song. In humans, this is when language skills are most easily learned. After this critical period ends, it is more difficult for people to learn languages, and for certain bird species to learn their songs. Male zebra finches learn to sing a courtship song from 35 to 100 days after hatching.

White and her colleagues set out to ­identify how FoxP2 affects thousands of other genes in zebra finches before and after the critical period for learning closes.

“We found sets of genes in young birds whose levels change when they sing, and are linked to learning,” said White, who is also a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. “These patterns disappear in older birds. Many of these genes are essential to human language development.”

New drugs could be next

The researchers found that applying methods similar to gene therapy to the long version of FoxP2 disrupted learning. To their surprise, applying the methods to the short version did not. Instead, it led to songs with less variability between renditions.

“We identified networks of genes involved in critical-period vocal learning, including human speech-related genes,” White said. “Pharmacologically targeting these pathways could lead to the development of new drugs to treat communication deficits in humans.”

The scientists studied thousands of genes in Area X that are an important part of the bird’s song circuitry. (Area X is located in the male finch’s basal ganglia, beneath the brain’s cortex.)

These genes in Area X change in a coordinated way, much like an orchestra being led by a conductor, with FoxP2 as the conductor, White said.

“It’s not that all the genes (or instrumentalists) became loud or became quiet; it’s that they change in a coordinated way,” White said. “We refer to these as ‘suites of genes,’ and one of these suites of genes is highly correlated to learning in young birds.”

The research was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Co-authors are Xinshu Xiao, UCLA professor

of integrative biology and physiology; Zachary Burkett, a former member of White’s research team; Nancy Day, a postdoctoral scholar in White’s laboratory; Todd Kimball and Caitlin Aamodt, graduate students in White’s laboratory; Jonathan Heston, a former member of White’s research team; and Austin Hilliard, a former graduate student in White’s laboratory.

First-of-its kind crowdfunding campaign raises over $69,000 for undergraduate research

A first-of-its-kind crowdfunding campaign raised more than $69,000 for the UCLA Undergraduate Research Centers in the span of two weeks, providing critical funding for students to pursue mentorship and research opportunities throughout campus.

Tama Hasson, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Research, sees first-hand how these resources can transform a student’s career path.

“When you are in a certain major, and you’re exploring a career, undergraduate research is a way to explore your interests in that career,” she said. “Research is useful for any career. Every discipline is going to ask you to take information and synthesize it.”

Pauley Pavilion fills with students on Research Poster Day

Undergraduate Research Week is an opportunity for students across campus to share their research.

Hosted on the UCLA Spark crowdfunding site, the campaign launched just before Undergraduate Research Week, an annual event that brings student researchers from across campus to present their work. After just two weeks, more than 200 donors had contributed nationwide.

For the students who rely on the research centers to deepen their research portfolio, this funding will have a significant impact on their undergraduate experience.

“If it wouldn’t have been for undergraduate research I have no idea what my UCLA experience would have been like,” said Evelyn Hernandez ‘18, who will be pursuing her Ph.D. in the fall. “I’m just glad I got to focus on something – with the money that I got from C.A.R.E., and the fellowships – that I got to focus my extra time solely on research.”

Generations of students and faculty have relied on the Undergraduate Research Centers as catalysts for academic and professional growth. UCLA is the only university in the country to have two research centers, one focused on the sciences and another focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences. Together, the centers connect students with mentorships and opportunities to conduct research with top UCLA faculty, providing hands-on experiences that shape their careers.

The campaign also accomplished something invaluable – visibility. As a result of this dedicated effort, the Undergraduate Research Centers have built a community of supporters who are invested in the success of their students.

That community will prove vital as the centers continue their work providing crucial resources for undergraduate researchers. Whitney Arnold, Director of the Undergraduate Research Center–Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, is optimistic about the show of support. 

“What I think is the coolest thing is how people at all levels and in all places in their careers contributed to the undergraduate research campaign,” Arnold said. “It just shows you the breadth and the impact of undergraduate research.”

Till von Wachter

HOW DATA DRIVE POLICY, AND HOW THE SOCIAL SCIENCES PLAY A PART

By Jessica Wolf

All scientists rely on data derived from a variety of efforts — evidence gathered from experiments, fieldwork, surveys and data generated by government programs, and now increasingly data generated by firms, social media and electronic devices. Social scientists use data to conduct research in many ways, from basic science to direct analyses of policies, and they are regularly invested in data-gathering efforts that could have far-reaching impacts on government policies that affect the public.

Basic science in the social sciences
The ability to explore questions motivated by abstract theories and to solve puzzles that might not otherwise have been tackled are unique services that academic institutions can bring to the world of data-driven policymaking, said Judith Seltzer, UCLA professor of sociology and director of the UCLA California Center for Population Research.

“Basic science is important,” Seltzer said.

Judith Seltzer

Judith Seltzer

“The findings from some basic science projects may not be directly relevant to a specific policy. But these kinds of projects can provide new insights and identify important new questions that can have an eventual impact on policy.”

Seltzer was recently named to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics. The committee seeks to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policy decisions are based and works to foster better measurement and understanding of issues ranging from the economy, public health and immigration to the environment and crime.

There are several ways data can inform policy, Seltzer said, from describing the population and how it changes over time, to understanding behavior and causal mechanisms, to evaluating the costs and benefits of programs.

Gaining access to raw data

In September UCLA’s California Census Research Data Center hosted the annual conference of the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers, which included more than 150 participants from UCLA, the Census Bureau and more than 20 other data centers from across the country.

At the meeting, Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the United States, presented findings from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy, which lays out recommendations for creating a national secure data service that would increase privacy and security measures and create consistent access to big data.

Big data means different things to different people, said Till von Wachter, UCLA professor of economics. It can mean large sets of real-time data derived from devices or the web, or administrative information like medical records. It can also describe smaller data sets with complex elements, such as location-specific inventory management for a company like Amazon.
Recently named associate dean of research for the Division of Social Sciences in the UCLA College, von Wachter is focused on helping faculty to “capitalize on opportunities for cutting-edge research with complex and innovative data sources.“When it comes to big data,” he said, “It’s important for social scientists to be at the table.”

From research to policy

Ideally, for data to have an impact on policy, there should be an existing relationship with government entities, but this is not always the case, von Wachter said.

“A lot in finding out how policy works is about data and research, but if you really want to affect outcomes, that’s unlikely to be sufficient,” von Wachter said. “If you want research to improve the lives of individuals, there has to be a process in place to help with actual implementation.”

Von Wachter also serves as faculty director of the California Policy Lab. CPL’s mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence to solve California’s most urgent problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime and education inequality.

CPL Executive Director Janey Rountree comes from a background in government, and in this pilot year of the lab she has been working to establish relationships with government agencies across L.A. County.

“Connecting researchers to data is important, but it’s only the beginning of a process. If the ultimate goal is to improve public policy and improve people’s lives, we need an active
partnership between government and researchers to understand the data, develop research questions, translate results, and hopefully adopt policy changes as we learn. That’s the investment that we are making.”

New methods to answer the question of causation

A crucial step in the process of creating evidence-based policy is showing causation — illustrating whether or not a government program or policy actually improves the outcome of participants, and how individuals’ choices are affected by the policy, von Wachter said.

This isn’t always easy to do and a straight one-to-one comparison of an individual who participated in a program versus one who did not is not entirely effective.

Till von Wachter

Till von Wachter

Social scientists regularly seek out random experiments or quasi-experiments among a selected population of a program. For example, a team of researchers at Santa Clara County is helping the county to randomly offer housing assistance to certain homeless individuals who would otherwise not have been eligible for housing, and measuring outcomes for the different groups. In another example, a team of researchers in Chicago has randomly assigned kids into different math tutoring schemes, von Wachter said, to see which approaches are more effective.

But the UCLA Center for Social Statistics, which brings together faculty from the social sciences and statistics, is invested in finding a better way to establish causation by developing new quantitative methods, Seltzer said.

“You might not think that the development of new methods is directly policy related, but a new way of asking a question or solving a
puzzle can have an impact on evidence-based policy,” she said.

 

VIOLENT, HEAD-ON COLLISION PRODUCED THE MOON

By Stuart Wolpert

The moon was formed from a violent, head-on collision between the early Earth and a “planetary embryo” called Theia approximately 100 million years after the Earth formed, almost 4.5 billion years ago, UCLA geochemists and colleagues reported in the journal Science.

Scientists knew about this high-speed crash, but many thought the Earth collided with Theia at an angle of approximately 45 degrees or more — a powerful sideswipe. New evidence substantially strengthens the case for a head-on assault.

The researchers analyzed seven rocks brought to the Earth from the moon by NASA missions Apollo 12, 15 and 17. They alsoanalyzed six volcanic rocks from the Earth’s mantle — five from Hawaii and one from Arizona.

How were they able to reconstruct the giant impact? The key to their detective work was a chemical signature revealed in oxygen atoms. (Rocks are 90 percent oxygen by volume, comprising half their weight.) Most oxygen atoms contain eight protons and eight neutrons and are represented by the symbol 16O. More than 99.9 percent of Earth’s oxygen is 16O, but heavier oxygen isotopes (variants) exist in trace amounts: 17O, with one extra neutron, and 18O, with two extra neutrons.

The Earth, Mars and other planetary bodies in our solar system each have a unique ratio of 17O to 16O — a distinctive fingerprint. A team of scientists from Germany reported last year in Science that the Earth and moon have different ratios of oxygen isotopes too.
The new research finds that is not the case.

“We don’t see any difference between the Earth and the moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” said lead author Edward Young, professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry.

Paul Warren, Edward Young and Issaku Kohl. Young is holding a sample of a rock from the moon.

Paul Warren, Edward Young and Issaku Kohl. Young is holding a sample of a rock from the moon.

Young’s research team used state-of-the-science technology and techniques to make extraordinarily precise and careful measurements, and verified them with UCLA’s new, larger mass spectrometer.

What does the absence of unique chemical signatures between the Earth and moon reveal? If the Earth and Theia had collided in a glancing side blow, the vast majority of the moon would have been made mainly of Theia, and the Earth and moon should have different oxygen isotopes, Young said. A head-on collision, however, likely would have produced a thorough mixing of the Earth and Theia — both in the Earth and the moon, he said.

“Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them,” Young said. “This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the moon versus the Earth. A glancing blow would not be consistent with this.”

Theia, which did not survive the collision (except as a large part of the Earth and moon) was growing and probably would have become a planet if the crash had not occurred, Young said. Theia was probably similar in size to the Earth, he believes.

The core of Theia and the core of the early Earth merged to form the Earth’s iron core, he said. The moon is approximately 100 times less massive than the Earth.

Co-authors of the Science paper are Issaku Kohl, a UCLA researcher in Young’s laboratory; Paul Warren, a UCLA researcher in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences; David Rubie, a research professor with Germany’s Bayerisches Geoinstitut, University of Bayreuth; and Seth Jacobson and Alessandro Morbidelli, planetary scientists with France’s Laboratoire Lagrange, Université de Nice.

The research was funded by NASA, the Deep Carbon Observatory and the European Research Council Advanced Grant ACCRETE.

The moon is older than scientists thought

Young is part of another UCLA-led research team that reported the moon is significantly older than some scientists believe. Their precise analysis of zircons bought to Earth by
Apollo 14 astronauts reveals the moon is at least 4.51 billion years old and probably formed only about 60 million years after the birth of the solar system — 40 to 140 million years earlier than recently thought.

Despite many scientific attempts, using a variety of techniques, the age of the moon has never been accurately determined and remains hotly debated among scientists.

“We have finally pinned down a minimum age for the moon; it’s time we knew its age and now we do: 4.51 billion years old,” said Mélanie Barboni, lead author and a research geochemist with the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences.

“Whatever was there before the giant impact with Theia has been erased,” Barboni said. “It’s important to know when Earth started its evolution.”

The early Earth likely had many large colli-sions over its first 60 million years, Young said.

Barboni analyzed eight pristine zircons from two rocks and samples of soil brought to the Earth from the moon by the Apollo 14 mission. From most moon rocks, it is very difficult to determine their formation ages
because they contain a patchwork of fragments of multiple rocks.

“Zircons are nature’s best clocks,” said Kevin McKeegan, co-author and a professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry in the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences. “The most ancient pieces of the Earth that we have are zircons, which are the best mineral in preserving geological history and revealing where they originated.”

“Zircons are the best mineral at giving up their secrets,” Young said. “They can’t keep a secret.”

The researchers in effect used two clocks with high precision, the first time this has been achieved to date the age of the moon. In the zircons, they analyzed the chemical elements uranium-lead (uranium decays to lead) and lutetium-hafnium (lutetium decays to hafnium). This research was reported in the journal Science Advances.

The Earth’s collision with Theia created a liquefied moon, which then solidified. Scientists believe most of the moon’s surface was covered with magma right after its formation. The uranium-lead measurements reveal when the zircons first appeared in the moon’s initial magma ocean, which later cooled down and formed the moon’s mantle and crust; the lutetium-hafnium measurements reveal an earlier event: when its magma formed.

“Together, they tell us the whole story,” Barboni said. “The pieces now fit together.”

Earlier research on the moon has been based on moon rocks that were contaminated by multiple collisions. “They dated some event, but not the age of the moon,” McKeegan said of some previous researchers.

Mélanie Barboni holding  a moon rock containing zircons.

Mélanie Barboni holding a moon rock containing zircons.

Co-authors are Patrick Boehnke, a former UCLA graduate student in Professor Mark Harrison’s laboratory and now a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar; Christopher Keller, a former Princeton University graduate student who is now a UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar; Issaku Kohl, a research geochemist in Young’s laboratory; and Blair Schoene, associate professor of geosciences at Princeton University.

The research was funded by NASA, and Barboni received support from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

UCLA geochemists led by Harrison reported in 2015 that life likely existed on Earth at least 4.1 billion years ago, shortly after the planet formed — and that rather than being dry and desolate, the early Earth was probably much more like it is today than was previously thought.

Harrison’s research indicating the early Earth was wetter and cooler than scientists used to think fits much better with the 60-million-year date for the moon than a 200-million-year date would fit.

REVITALIZING AN OASIS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY

By Stuart Wolpert and Margaret MacDonald

Not many people know there’s a 7 1/2 acre oasis on the UCLA campus that is home to 3,000 plant species, or that it’s been there since 1929 — the year the university moved to Westwood.

Open to the public, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is a botanical wonder hidden in plain sight on the UCLA campus.

The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is undergoing the largest, most comprehensive upgrade in its history, one that will allow UCLA to better highlight the natural beauty, utility and incredible diversity of the plant kingdom for the benefit of the campus community and the general public.

The garden, which includes many plants not found anywhere else in California, has a wide range of environments within its borders, from the sunny, dry desert and Mediterranean sections on the eastern edge to the shady verdant interior. Among the garden’s offerings are collections of tropical and subtropical trees, Australian plants, conifers and Hawaiian plant species.

Dean of Life Sciences Victoria Sork said the garden is an important outdoor laboratory for undergraduate science courses and plant research, a learning destination for the more than 1,500 K-12 students from Los Angeles who visit each year, and a venue for community events ranging from music recitals to poetry readings.

Nurturing a neighborhood treasure

“The garden is a cherished part of our community, but has been desperately in need of improved infrastructure and maintenance,” Sork said. “Chancellor Gene Block is committed to achieving this, and we intend to raise $25 million over a decade to do so.”

The latest improvement is the La Kretz Garden Pavilion, which houses a new welcome center and classroom and meeting space. Made possible by a lead gift from UCLA alumnus Morton La Kretz, the pavilion is part of the first phase in a series of renovations to increase the garden’s visibility and upgrade its infrastructure, including improving the trails and adding an irrigation system.

There are also plans to build an informal patio with a fountain, improve pathways, add a new Westwood entrance, renovate a 200-foot stream that is home to turtles and koi, upgrade the garden’s outdoor amphitheater, add plants that increase the diversity of specimens, and expand plant collections from California and Baja California.

Sork praised the “beautiful building and creative design work” of Michael Lehrer, president of Lehrer Architects, and Roberto Sheinberg, the firm’s director of design, who are leading the garden’s revitalization project. They are working on the project in partnership with Mia Lehrer + Associates and UCLA Life Sciences.

Roots in research

Beyond a teaching space, the garden is an active research site used by UCLA science faculty and students to delve into projects such as studying plants’ DNA to reconstruct their evolutionary histories, conducting surveys to better understand plants’ susceptibility to climate change and drought, and experimenting with restoring degraded soils for food and biofuel production.

But the main draw for the general public is the tranquility of this natural space in the middle of an urban area.

“When I give tours, everybody is amazed by the beauty of the garden,” said Philip Rundel, director and a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who holds a joint appointment in the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “They can’t believe they are in West L.A.”

“We are preserving and improving this magnificent garden for future generations so that people can reconnect with nature and plants,” Sork said. “Many people don’t even know this treasure exists, but it’s free and open to everyone. While visitors enjoy the garden’s beauty, they can also learn about ecosystems, biodiversity and conservation.”

HISTORY

The garden was started in 1929 along an arroyo on the east side of the campus, where native willows grew along the creek bed and dry hills supported coastal sage scrub, native to Southern California. By 1947, the garden contained about 1,500 species and varieties of plants, and by the 1950s it included eucalyptus and other Australian plants, gymnosperms, palms, succulents, aquatics, and camellias.

Since the early 1960s, efforts have been made to grow plants from the tropics and subtropics. Over the years, special collections have been established that include Malesian rhododendrons, the lily alliance, bromeliads, cycads, ferns, Mediterranean-type climate shrubs (e.g., chaparral), and native plants of the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1979, the garden was named for former director Mildred E. Mathias in recognition of her numerous contributions to horticulture.

Learn More

Visit the garden located west of Hilgard Avenue and east of Tiverton Avenue, just a short walk south from Parking Structure 2. The garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 4 p.m. during winter. It is closed on university holidays. Admission is free. https://www.botgard.ucla.edu/

Watch a video of the garden at https://youtu.be/g8idANssFRY

Open to the public, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is a botanical wonder hidden in plain sight on the UCLA campus.

Open to the public, the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is a botanical wonder hidden in plain sight on the UCLA campus.

 

WITH EXPANDED ACCESS AND RENEWED VIGOR, UCLA’S WILLIAM ANDREWS CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY REOPENS IN JANUARY

By Jessica Wolf

UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library will officially reopen Jan. 21, restoring public access to the university’s renowned collection of rare books and manuscripts from England’s Tudor period through the 18th century, including a large repository of materials related to Oscar Wilde.

An architectural and archival treasure surrounded by the constantly evolving West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Libraryhas been closed for more than two years fora major seismic retrofit and to bring the historic building into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The Clark is a gem and now we are letting the world know that we have restored this beautiful treasure for the 21st century, and we are going to continue to take care of it,” said Helen Deutsch, the new director of UCLA’s Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies and the Clark Library. Deutsch has always considered the Clark her intellectual home, having first arrived there as an Ahmanson-Getty postdoctoral fellow to work on a book about Alexander Pope.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will include a poetry reading by Maximillian Novak, professor emeritus of English; 18th century- themed desserts made from recipes curated from the library’s collection; and maybe even some croquet on the lawn, a favorite activity of prominent philanthropist and collector William Andrews Clark Jr., who bequeathed the library to UCLA in 1934.

Clark librarians are also putting together an exhibit highlighting the history of the Clark, featuring archival photos and documents from the collection, which will be on display for the grand reopening.

Anna Chen and Helen Deutsch

Anna Chen and Helen Deutsch

Culmination of two years of work

Retrofitting a building on the California historic registry was a massive undertaking requiring some creative problem solving. Contractors had to drill down through the roof to reinforce the building with earthquake-safe rebar. For part of the exterior of the new pavilion, they found the original brick maker, who was able to replicate the historic brickwork and unique lavender grout that is a signature of the original building. Much of the electrical system also had to be upgraded.

The project included major reinforcements for earthquake safety, as well as reallocating office spaces and building a new pavilion that allows space for an elevator and ramps that improve access for people with disabilities.

Clark staff and UCLA architects took the opportunity to make other changes as well, adding Wi-Fi access to all spaces, buildingan expanded annex to store the library’s burgeoning collection, constructing a new orientation room to introduce scholars and visitors to the Clark’s services, as well as creating a fully equipped smart classroom to facilitate interactions with the collections by students, faculty and other researchers.

Open doors

The space has been sorely missed by scholars in the 17th- and 18th-century studies community, Deutsch said. She is eager to work with faculty to restore the number of fellows who work on site to pre-closure levels.

“The thing that makes the Clark very special and part of UCLA, and unlike a place like the Huntington, is that the Clark is open to the public,” she said. “Anyone can come and work here. We are open to students of any level as well as to amateur scholars, and you don’t have to have a university affiliation. We really are looking forward to welcoming everyone back.”

With the support of generous donors, staff also took the opportunity to undertake a variety of cleaning and restoration projects including the intricately painted ceilings in the Clark’s vestibule, and the two large decorative stone urns and four fountains on the grounds. A 1930s sun dial was also repaired and now hangs prominently on the new building. A new, airier lounge area for visiting scholars will be named in honor of beloved Professor Novak, who has been a fixture at the Clark for decades.

Preservation of the collections

Deutsch said she plans to continue prioritizing access, preservation and conservation of the 1926 building as well as its eclectic and prolific collections of artwork, rare books and manuscripts.

Deutsch said, “We have so much valuable material at the Clark. The art collection alone has never been fully cataloged, and a grant from the Mellon Foundation will let us begin doing that right away.”

Finishing touches are still underway, but some of the much-loved Clark events have already begun anew on site, including an October chamber music performance from the Lincoln Trio. An opera based on Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park,” specially created for the Clark and directed by Peter Kazaras, director of Opera UCLA, was performed in June. The Clark’s monthly classical performances are back for the 2017-2018 season.

“There was a palpable sense of excitement for people to get back on the property,” Deutsch said.

As of August, the Clark also has a new head librarian, Anna Chen, who fell in love with the Clark at first sight.

“My first library job was to catalog 17th- and 18th-century bound manuscripts, which gave me a solid grounding and love for this time period,” Chen said. “Joining the Clark is such a privilege and, in some ways, a homecoming for me to shepherd the same kinds of holdings that first inspired me to become a librarian.”

Chen also is starting to think about other ways to enhance the visitor experience and effectiveness of the space, including seeking out sustainability experts at UCLA to discuss ways to manage the nearly five acres of gardens and lawns, Deutsch said.

Chen and Deutsch, along with Head of Research Services Philip Palmer and Manu-scripts and Archives Librarian Rebecca Fenning Marschall, are also keen to expand the Clark’s digitization and digital humanities efforts. A recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities provided $261,000 to produce digital facsimiles of 279 annotated volumes from the hand-press era (ca. 1455–1830) and make them freely available online.

Deutsch would also like to see more fellowship opportunities for grad students who are interested in librarianship.

“We have such great examples in Phil and Anna, both of whom hold Ph.D.s in literature, of how librarianship and literary studies energize each other,” she said. “Librarianship itself takes a lot of intellectual creativity and imagination.”

 

UCLA Disability Studies Program Celebrates 10 Years of ‘Redefining Normal’

By Rayna Jackson

Nasim Andrews knew exactly what she wanted to do when she was 10 years old: become a doctor. This small town girl from Los Alamos, New Mexico, had a plan. First, get into UCLA. Second, take every pre-med course, extracurricular activity and program that would get her closer to her dreams.

“Anyone who knew me at the beginning of my college career can tell you that I wanted to be a doctor,” recalled Andrews, who just graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in human biology and society. “I thought that the best way to make an impact on people’s lives was through medicine.”

Andrews didn’t realize it at the time, but now looking back at her academic career, she recognizes that she was about to have a ‘life-changing’ experience. Her major introduced her to “Perspectives on Disability Studies” as one of the electives she could take. After completing the class, Andrews says that her whole mindset about disability changed. She began to question concepts about ‘normalcy’ in society and began to look at her own perceptions about ability.

“A minor in disability studies signals to a potential employer that this applicant brings an intellectual perspective to the many issues of access and inclusion that are ubiquitous in 21st century workplaces,” said Patricia Turner, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education. “Beyond that, it is a great example of how UCLA embraces teaching innovation and applies contemporary societal issues to create a vibrant curriculum for our students.”

Since the disability studies minor began a decade ago, the class topics and discussions have created buzz among students. The result is that students’ level of interest has increased. The first disability studies course enrolled only a handful of students. Now there are more than 36 courses offered annually and more than 400 undergraduates enroll in disability studies courses each year. The minor has also graduated more than 100 students.

Nasim Andrews ’17 says that being part of UCLA’s disability studies program was a “life-changing” experience.

Disability activism

One out of five people, or 56.7 million Americans, have a disability, according to the 2010 U.S. census. As the number of people with disabilities increases, there is a growing national and global movement to understand and accept disability.

UCLA students who are a part of disability studies take their new understanding and become disability advocates in their own sphere of influence. In the last decade, students have completed close to 25,000 service hours through the minor, benefiting 36 local, state and national organizations that work directly with disabled communities.

“We have the opportunity to change our built environment, our policies and our laws,” chair of disability studies Vic Marks said. “That is to say that we can be change makers within our own lives, our families and in our larger community. Disability studies students do this every day.”

Disability studies also gives students the opportunity to practice disability activism through the lens of philanthropy. Last spring, students had the rare opportunity to distribute a $75,000 grant to local nonprofits that served people with disabilities through the philanthropy course “Confronting Challenges of Serving the Disabled.”

In the philanthropy course, students had to collectively decide how to distribute grant monies to local nonprofits that served people with disabilities. They researched 20 local organizations, made site visits, developed requirements and a process for funding, and then negotiated who the awardees would be and how the funds would be distributed.

Shane’s Inspiration, a local nonprofit organization that designs and develops inclusive playgrounds and educational programs to unite children of all abilities, received $25,000 from the philanthropy course. The investment will allow the organization to reach more students and educators within the Los Angeles community. Additionally, Shane’s Inspiration has been able to use the grant monies to expand its reach into higher education.

Andrews was among the students in the philanthropy course that awarded grant money to Shane’s Inspiration. She immediately saw the importance of their work with children. Andrews quickly became the nonprofit’s biggest advocate in class and even sought an internship opportunity with the organization. Both the class and her work at Shane’s Inspiration prompted her to think differently about her lifelong goal of becoming a doctor.

“I would always say, ‘When I grow up I want to go to work as a doctor and know that I am making an impact on somebody’s life,’” Andrews said. “To get that same feeling from being on the playground at Shane’s Inspiration was the exact same feeling I was looking for.”

Tiffany Harris, CEO and co-founder of Shane’s Inspiration, believes that the disability studies program gives students like Andrews the opportunity to challenge misconceptions about disabilities,

Andrews (left) with families at Shane’s Inspiration site in Anthony C. Beilenson Park in Los Angeles. UCLA disabilities studies students awarded a grant to Shane’s Inspiration through the philanthropy course “Confronting Challenges of Serving the Disabled.”

which in turn will allow them to be better at their chosen profession.

“Every one of us within our lifetime is going to be in a position to interface with someone with a disability, or perhaps face a disability ourselves,” Harris said. “By having access to a class like this, students are able to expand their understanding of their perceptions of people with disabilities, and by doing so, create a new opportunity for connection in the future.”

After years of planning her life, Andrews did not graduate as a pre-med student. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Joining the minor was one of the best decisions that I made while at UCLA,” Andrews said. “There is no doubt that the classes and experiences in the minor helped me to learn more about myself and helped me realize that even with my diverse interests, I can have an impact in people’s lives.”

Andrews now combines her passion for health care with her passion and understanding of disability in a new role with Triage Consulting Group in San Francisco.

Expanding the global reach of disability studies

In a milestone for the program, disability studies marked its 1-year anniversary in April by hosting UCLA’s first international conference, “Disability as Spectacle.” The conference brought together thought leaders from the United Kingdom, Taiwan, South Africa, India, Malawi, Sweden and the United States to examine how spectacle can be used as a tactic for social change.

As disability studies continues to grow, more attention will be brought to the vibrant nature of the program both locally and abroad. And undoubtedly, like Andrews, more students will have “life-changing” experiences through the disability studies program at UCLA.

Learn more:

http://www.uei.ucla.edu/dsminor.htm