Photo of students on a study abroad program in Scotland.

Early graduation within reach for most bruins

 

Photo of students on a study abroad program in Scotland.

Students on a study abroad program in Scotland. Photo Credit: Michael Le

To her surprise, Qiyuan (Grace) Miao realized during her sophomore year that she could graduate a year early, allowing her to begin graduate school ahead of schedule.

Miao is one of many Bruins who choose to complete their undergraduate degrees in less than the traditional four years. Although on different academic paths, these students all share a common message: With good planning and by taking advantage of UCLA programs designed to reduce time to degree, almost anyone can graduate early.

Miao, who graduated in June, pointed to several opportunities at UCLA that enabled her to get ahead on her coursework and finish her communication degree in three years while still enjoying a full undergraduate experience.

Opportunities start freshman year

UCLA offers two intensive programs to introduce incoming students to campus and academic life: the Freshman Transfer Summer Program in the Academic Advancement Program, for students from underrepresented populations, and the College Summer Institute (CSI). Students in both programs take courses that fulfill graduation requirements, giving them a head start before their first fall quarter even begins.

CSI is where Miao first met with Brian Henry, an academic adviser who helped her map out her academic path — something all undergraduates are encouraged to do at least once a year. In advising sessions, students discuss their academic, personal and career goals and learn about opportunities to enrich their university experience. Academic counselors can also advise students on effective ways to maximize their time to degree if their goal is to graduate early.

Another way Miao optimized her time at UCLA was by taking a Freshman Cluster course, “Frontiers of Aging.” These are year-long general education courses offered on topics such as “Evolution of the Cosmos and Life” and “History of Modern Thought.” Each cluster, over the course of a year, satisfies four general education requirements and the Writing II requirement.

“Clusters are a great way to fulfill a lot of requirements very quickly,” Miao said.

UC’s study-abroad intensives

Graduating early doesn’t require students to sacrifice meaningful experiences outside of the classroom.  Michael Le, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience in winter 2019, one quarter early, was still able to study abroad one summer at the University of Glasgow, where UC offers an intensive three-course physics program over two months.

“I completed all three courses in a mere eight weeks, something that would [normally] take 30 weeks,” Le said. “This is an excellent way to get your study abroad ‘fix’ in and be efficient with course planning.”

Shrey Kakkar, a junior majoring in computer science, is on track to graduate one or two quarters early and said many of his peers could do the same, even in a demanding major like computer science. He credits his fast track to his commitment to enroll in four classes every quarter, plus one summer class.  And he still has had time for other activities such as doing research and working for a startup.

Fitting more into four years

Graduating early isn’t every student’s goal. For some, like Mac Casey, maximizing time to degree meant packing a lot into the traditional four years: He was in the rigorous College Honors program, studied abroad for a year, and graduated in 2016 with degrees in both political science and business economics.

“The faculty at UCLA are excellent, and I loved taking courses – the more courses the better,” Casey said. “I really wanted to learn as much as I could and interact with great faculty and researchers.”

Casey said that accomplishing so much in four years is not out of reach for most students. By choosing courses strategically and enlisting the expertise of his honors academic counselor, he was able to complete all his major requirements and stay on track.

Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia Turner said that although UCLA already does an excellent job of graduating students in a timely manner, she will continue to work with her faculty colleagues to develop new opportunities to allow students to graduate on time or early while still having a personalized, fully engaged undergraduate experience.

“A student’s undergraduate years are the perfect time to discover what they’re most passionate about,” Turner said. “Students who take advantage of credit-earning opportunities such as service learning, civic engagement and entrepreneurship often find themselves on career paths they otherwise might not have discovered. And because of the way these programs are designed, students can still graduate in four years or less.”

Photo of Richard Kaner, with Maher El-Kady, holding a replica of an energy storage and conversion device the pair developed.

Creating electricity from snowfall and making hydrogen cars affordable

Photo of Richard Kaner, with Maher El-Kady, holding a replica of an energy storage and conversion device the pair developed.

Richard Kaner, with Maher El-Kady, holding a replica of an energy storage and conversion device the pair developed. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson

Professor Richard Kaner and researcher Maher El-Kady have designed a series of remarkable devices. Their newest one creates electricity from falling snow. The first of its kind, this device is inexpensive, small, thin and flexible like a sheet of plastic.

“The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” said Kaner, the senior author who holds the Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation.“It’s a very clever device — a weather station that can tell you how much snow is falling, the direction the snow is falling and the direction and speed of the wind.”

The researchers call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG. Findings about the device are published in the journal Nano Energy.

The device generates charge through static electricity. Static electricity occurs when you rub fur and a piece of nylon together and create a spark, or when you rub your feet on a carpet and touch a doorknob.

“Static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons,” said Kaner, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing.”

Snow is positively charged and gives up electrons. Silicone — a synthetic rubber-like material that is composed of silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen and other elements — is negatively charged. When falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, that produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.

“Snow is already charged, so we thought, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to create electricity?” said El-Kady, assistant researcher of chemistry and biochemistry.

“After testing a large number of materials including aluminum foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material,” he said.

Approximately 30 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by snow each winter, El-Kady noted, during which time solar panels often fail to operate. The accumulation of snow reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the solar array, limiting their power output and rendering them less effective. The new device could be integrated into solar panels to provide a continuous power supply when it snows.

The device can be used for monitoring winter sports, such as skiing, to more precisely assess and improve an athlete’s performance when running, walking or jumping, Kaner said. It could usher in a new generation of self-powered wearable devices for tracking athletes and their performances. It can also send signals, indicating whether a person is moving.

The research team used 3-D printing to design the device, which has a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge. The team believes the device could be produced at low cost given “the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone,” Kaner said.

New device can create and store energy

Kaner, El-Kady and colleagues designed a device in 2017 that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars.

The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt — elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel.

“Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air — just water,” Kaner said. “And this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.”

The technology could be part of a solution for large cities that need ways to store surplus electricity from their electrical grids. “If you could convert electricity to hydrogen, you could store it indefinitely,” Kaner said.

Kaner is among the world’s most influential and highly cited scientific researchers. He has also been selected as the recipient of the  American Institute of Chemists 2019 Chemical Pioneer Award, which honors chemists and chemical engineers who have made outstanding contributions that advance the science of chemistry or greatly impact the chemical profession.

Co-authors on the snow TENG work include Abdelsalam Ahmed, who conducted the research while completing his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, and Islam Hassan and Ravi Selvaganapathy at Canada’s McMaster University, as well as James Rusling, who is the Paul Krenicki professor of chemistry at the University of Connecticut, and his research team.

More devices designed to solve pressing problems

Last year, Kaner and El-Kady published research on their design of the first fire-retardant, self-extinguishing motion sensor and power generator, which could be embedded in shoes or clothing worn by firefighters and others who work in harsh environments.

Kaner’s lab produced a separation membrane that separates oil from water and cleans up the debris left by oil fracking. The separation membrane is currently in more than 100 oil installations worldwide. Kaner conducted this work with Eric Hoek, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Laure Murat roils the #MeToo debate in France

Photo of Laure Murat

Laure Murat. Photo: Courtesy of Laure Murat

In a recent book, Director of the UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies Laure Murat argues that #MeToo is the first serious challenge to patriarchy in modern times, and dismisses the current discussion of #MeToo in France as a polemical misdirection. Instead, she calls for a genuine debate on the issues of sexual harassment and assault that engages French young people, men and women, philosophers and intellectuals.

Born and raised in Paris, Murat is a well-known independent author and intellectual in France, but has lived and worked in the United States for the last 12 years, where she is a UCLA professor of French and Francophone studies. As a result, she has a unique perspective on #MeToo and its divergent receptions in the United States and France.

Focusing on the issues

Her book, Une révolution sexuelle? Réflexions sur l’après-Weinstein [A Sexual Revolution? Reflections on the Weinstein Aftermath], has fueled an ongoing rancorous debate about #MeToo in France, with Muratappearing on leading French television and radio shows to discuss the book, while also being interviewed by multiple French newspapers and online publications.

To give American readers an idea of the nature of the debate in France, some 100 well-known French women — including actress Catherine Deneuve — published an open letter in the left-leaning Le Monde that rejected the #MeToo movement and defended men’s “freedom to pester.”

The month before Une révolution sexuelle? was released, French journalist Eugénie Bastié of the conservative Le Figaro newspaper published Le Porc Émissaire: Terreur ou contre-révolution? [Blame the Pig: Terror or Counter-Revolution?], which decries the #MeToo movement for its supposed encouragement of victimization. Rightly or wrongly, one sentence in Bastié’s book has become emblematic of the French critique of #MeToo: “Une main aux fesses n’a jamais tué personne, contrairement aux bonnes intentions qui pavent l’enfer des utopies [A hand on someone’s ass never killed anyone, contrary to the good intentions that pave utopian hells].”

In fact, the views of Murat and Bastié were compared by Elisabeth Philippe of Bibliobs in an article titled Où vont les femmes après #MeToo? Le match Eugénie Bastié – Laure Murat [Where are women headed after #MeToo? The Eugénie Bastié – Laure Murat Competition].

Renewed dialogue for the young generation

Murat argues that polemics are preventing a real debate on the issues of sexual harassment and assault in France, as made clear in a translation of En France, #MeToo est réduit à une caricature pour éviter le débat [In France, #MeToo is being reduced to a caricature to avoid debate], a Mediapart.fr interview conducted by Marine Turchi:

Today, one could say that France is the country of the non-debate. I am struck by the intellectual void and the deliberate desire of the media to extinguish the issues by means of false polemics.

Instead of posing good questions, they rekindle the war of the sexes and clichés of “hysterical feminists” and “poor men,” they invoke masculinity and the freedom to pester, they feel sorry for men who sexually harass women on the subway, they discuss the excesses and possible ambiguities of #MeToo while they haven’t begun to discuss the heart of the problem. They oppose X and Y, right and left, for and against. …

Far from reanimating the war of the sexes, the #MeToo movement is, on the contrary, an exciting opportunity to understand and resolve the gulf between men and women, the gaps in consent, the sufferings of misunderstood sexuality, the logic of domination and abuse of power that poison personal and professional relationships. It’s the promise of renewed dialogue for the young generation. I really like the proposal of Gloria Steinem: eroticize equality (in other words, not violence and oppression).

The #MeToo debate is far from over in either the United States or France. Murat’s book offers new perspectives as the conversation continues.

Visit https://ucla.in/2J6rUZy to read this article with links to the letters, interviews and news coverage mentioned.

The stone faces and human problems on Easter Island

Photo of Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, right, and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati. Photo credit: Easter Island Statue Project

In 1981, archaeology graduate student Jo Anne Van Tilburg first set foot on the island of Rapa Nui, commonly called Easter Island, eager to further her interest in rock art by studying the iconic stone heads that enigmatically survey the landscape.

At the time, Van Tilburg was one of just a few thousand people who would visit Rapa Nui each year. Although the island remains one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, a surge in visitors has placed its delicate ecosystem and archaeological treasures in jeopardy.

“When I went to Easter Island for the first time in ’81, the number of people who visited per year was about 2,500,” said Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project, the longest collaborative artifact inventory ever conducted on the Polynesian island that’s part of Chile. “As of last year the number of tourists who arrived was 150,000.”

Journalist Anderson Cooper interviewed Van Tilburg on the island for a segment that aired Easter Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Cooper spoke with Van Tilburg about efforts to preserve the moai (pronounced MO-eye) — the monolithic stone statues that were carved and placed on the island from around 1100 to 1400 and whose stoic faces have fascinated the world for decades. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Van Tilburg, who is research associate at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and director of UCLA’s Rock Art Archive since 1997, was the first archaeologist since the 1950s to obtain permission to excavate the moai, granted from Chile’s National Council of Monuments and the Rapa Nui National Park, with the Rapa Nui community and in collaboration with the National Center of Conservation and Restoration, Santiago de Chile.

She has spent nearly four decades listening, learning, establishing connections, making covenants with the elders of Rapanui society and reporting extensively on her findings. Major funding has been provided by the Archaeological Institute of America Site Preservation Fund.

“I think my patience and diligence were rewarded,” she said. “They saw me all those years getting really dirty doing the work.”

Photo of Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes interviews Van Tilburg.

Anderson Cooper of 60 Minutes interviews Van Tilburg. Photo credit: Keith Sharman.

Bringing together research and teaching

Van Tilburg credits the sustained support of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute as critical to her work on the island. She regularly includes both UCLA undergraduates from a variety of academic disciplines and passionate volunteers in the hands-on work on Rapa Nui.

Van Tilburg, who received her doctorate in archaeology from UCLA in 1989, is working on a book project that will harness her massive archive as an academic atlas of the island. She used the proceeds of a previous book to invest in local businesses, the Mana Gallery and Mana Gallery Press, both of which highlight indigenous artists. She also helped the local community rediscover their canoe-making history through the 1995 creation of the Rapa Nui Outrigger Club.

Her co-director on the Easter Island Statue Project, Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, is Rapanui and a graphic artist by trade. Van Tilburg exclusively employs islanders for her excavation work. She’s traveled the world helping catalog items from the island that are now housed in museums like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the British Museum in London. Van Tilburg does this to assist repatriation efforts.

Culture and environment at risk

Her work is important to the 5,700 residents of the island, who also are coping with increasing waves of tourists into their fragile ecosystem, Van Tilburg said. Only in the last decade or so have they been given governance of the national park where the moai are located.

“But by Rapa Nui standards, on an island where electricity is provided by a generator, water is precious and depleted, and all the infrastructure is stressed, 150,000 annual visitors is a mob,” she said.

What’s more disheartening are travelers who ignore the rules and climb on the moai, trample preserved spaces and sit on top of graves, all in service of getting a photo of themselves picking the nose of an ancient artifact, Van Tilburg said.

Hierarchy and inequity in Rapanui society

Van Tilburg’s original impetus behind studying the moai is rooted in her curiosity about migration, marginalized people and how societies rise and fall.

Rapanui society was traditionally hierarchical, led by a class of people who believed themselves God-appointed elites. These leaders dictated where the lower classes could live and how they would work to provide food for the elites and the population at large.

The ruling class also determined how and when the moai – used as the backdrop for exchange and ceremony – would be built.

“This inherently institutionalized religious hierarchy produced an inequitable society,” Van Tilburg said. “They were very successful in the sense that their population grew. But they were unsuccessful at understanding that unless they managed what they had better, and more fairly, that there was no future.”

Population growth and rampant inequity in a fragile environment eventually led to wrenching societal changes, she said. Internal collapse (as outlined in UCLA professor Jared Diamond’s book Collapse), along with colonization and slave-trading in the 1800s, caused the population of Rapa Nui to drop to just 111 in the 1870s.

As an anthropologist, Van Tilburg is concerned with equity.

“I’m interested in asking why we keep replicating societies in which people are not equal, because in doing so, we initiate a crisis,” she said. “Inequity is at the heart of our human problems.”

The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

LOS ANGELES HOUSING CRISIS REMAINS CRITICAL WITH THE DEFEAT OF PROPOSITION 10

The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

By Jessica Wolf

California voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins act of 1995 and allowed cities across the state to implement broader rent control policies as a response to California’s current affordable housing crisis.

It’s an issue that the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy tackled in its first major publication since the center’s founding in 2017. The paper, titled People Simply Cannot Pay the Rent, was released well before Election Day in an effort to inspire dialogue around and contextualize the history of rent control in Los Angeles. It also presented several options (including the repeal of Costa-Hawkins) that could help ameliorate the economic vulnerability and anxiety of the growing number of people who cannot afford rent in Los Angeles.

The center’s mission is to bring historical perspective to contemporary policy issues, and UCLA researchers will continue to push for meaningful policy decisions when it comes to this crisis.
“The defeat of Prop. 10 does not solve the problem of affordable housing,” said David Myers, a professor of history and the center’s director. “The logic of rent control as a valuable policy tool remains as valid as ever. This is what our working paper showed – that rent control can be an effective instrument to protect the most vulnerable residents of a city. We hope that it is read with growing interest as politicians and policy leaders continue to grapple with the acute housing crisis in California.”

Offering a historical perspective
Aimed at city and state officials, as well as concerned citizens, the report documents the history of rent control policy in Los Angeles from World War II through the present day, focusing on three important milestones: the implementation of federal rent controls during World War II; the introduction of the city’s current rent stabilization ordinance in response to high inflation in the 1970s; and today’s crisis.

Recent data indicate that Los Angeles residents face the nation’s largest rent burden, with median renters spending 47 percent of their income on rent. According to 2011 data, 57 percent of Los Angeles renters were considered “rent burdened,” up from 37 percent in 1980, when rent control was first established. The trend has also contributed to the region’s homelessness epidemic – approximately 53,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless.

“Los Angeles is experiencing a perfect storm of affordable housing shortfalls, rising rents and dropping incomes,” Myers said. “It is crushing the poorest citizens of the city, particularly Latinos and blacks, with disproportionate force, and this interplay has exacerbated homelessness – the great social and moral scourge of our time, and an epidemic that threatens the life and soul of our city.”

The report also suggests that public engagement is critical. Options proposed include requiring landlords and tenants to sign property registration forms so that tenants are aware of their rights, and a public relations campaign that would cast the crisis as a serious social and public health problem. Both of those actions were undertaken by the federal government during World War II, the paper notes.

A contentious issue
“Nearly $100 million was spent to defeat Prop. 10, four or five times what the proponents spent,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor, current senior fellow at the
center and author of the study’s introduction. “Money does make a difference. The legislature would be well-advised to pass legislation that removes some, if not all, of the shackles
that the Costa-Hawkins law places on local governments to address the affordable housing crisis. If they don’t, there will be another Initiative in 2020 to repeal the whole thing.”

The report’s author is Alisa Belinkoff Katz, fellow with the center and associate director of the LA Initiative, housed in UCLA’s Luskin School. Historical information was contributed by doctoral candidates Peter Chesney, Lindsay Alissa King and Marques Vestal.

During a campus panel conversation the center hosted leading up to the election, Ph.D. candidate Vestal said he thinks taking the historical long view can help depressurize the contentious issue.

Rent control policies date back to 1600s Rome when the Catholic Church imposed restrictions on Christian landlords who owned buildings in Jewish ghettos. Most countries in Europe immediately implemented rent control policies after World War II to benefit recovering economies, he pointed out.

“To an extent, housing crises are just a part of urban life,” he said. There is widespread agreement that more development is crucial to address Los Angeles’ current crisis, but even the most optimistic projections say it could take a decade to make a dent in that need, said state Assemblyman Richard Bloom.

“The issue is how to help those people who are suffering now and in this moment and over the next 10 years,” he said. “We can’t simply write them off and say this is a lost generation who will not have housing or who will have a lower quality of life. That’s the main reason I took on the Costa-Hawkins debate in the first place.”

Bloom was the first lawmaker to introduce legislation that would revise or repeal Costa-Hawkins. It died in committee. He thinks legislation is a more elegant solution than a ballot measure, and said he is certain there will be “folks banging on my door.”

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH INSPIRES ALUM’S FUTURE CAREER

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

By Robin Migdol

Douglas Yao discovered his passion for research as an undergraduate at UCLA. Now he’s embarking on a doctorate at Harvard in pursuit of his goal to run his own lab in the field of bioinformatics.

Yao, who graduated in June with a bachelor of science in molecular, cell and developmental biology, entered UCLA as a pre-med. Initially, he began working in labs on campus during his freshman year to prepare for applying to medical school, but he found that he enjoyed spending time in the lab so much that he wanted to make research his career.

Yao worked in four different labs throughout his undergraduate career as he homed in on the research topics that most interested him. Ultimately, his work in the labs of Thomas Graeber, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and Eleazar Eskin, assistant professor of computer science and human genetics, sparked a passion for the field of bioinformatics, in which scientists collect and analyze biological data.

“Bioinformatics brings together three disparate fields: biology, computer science and statistics,” Yao said. “I saw that as a good opportunity because there has to be a breed of scientist who knows all three subjects.”

Unique programs foster undergrad research
Yao presented his original research projects twice at Undergraduate Research Week and currently has a paper in review about gene expression and genomic instability in cancer cells.

This summer Yao began his first year in Harvard’s bioinformatics and integrative genomics Ph.D. program. He hopes to become a professor and run his own lab one day, a goal that he acknowledges would be much harder to reach if he hadn’t gotten his start at UCLA. Yao has seen how valuable the undergraduate research opportunities are at UCLA, and how they inspired and prepared him for his career ahead.

“If you don’t go to a big research school, it’s so much harder to get those research experiences,” he said. “I was really lucky to have picked UCLA because of the research environment.”

Conducting his own research not only taught him new skills such as how to analyze research papers and participate in scientific discussions, but also introduced him to the world of being a professional academic and researcher. He realized how much he loved learning.

“I don’t think there are a whole lot of careers that let you consistently learn every single day,” Yao said. “There’s so many interesting things out there in the world and we know so little. I think [research will] help me appreciate just how weird and amazing the world is.”

Eric Hudson

NARROWING THE GAP BETWEEN PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY

Eric Hudson

Eric Hudson

By Stuart Wolpert

UCLA physicists have pioneered a method for creating a unique new molecule that could lead to many useful applications in medicine, food science and other fields. Their research, published in the journal Science, also shows how chemical reactions can be studied on a microscopic scale using tools of physics.

For the past 200 years, scientists have developed rules to describe chemical reactions that they have observed, including reactions in food, vitamins, medications and living organisms. One of the most ubiquitous is the “octet rule,” which states that each atom in a molecule that is produced by a chemical reaction will have eight outer orbiting electrons. (Scientists have found rare exceptions to the rule).

The molecule created by professor Eric Hudson and colleagues violates that rule. Barium-oxygen-calcium, or BaOCa+, is the first molecule ever observed by scientists that is composed of an oxygen atom bonded to two different metal atoms.

Normally, one metal atom (either barium or calcium) can react with an oxygen atom to produce a stable molecule. However, when the UCLA scientists added a second metal atom to the mix, a new molecule, BaOCa+, which no longer satisfied the octet rule, had been formed.

Ultra-cold physics tools
Other molecules that violate the octet rule have been observed before, but the UCLA study is among the first to observe such a molecule using tools from physics – namely lasers, ion traps and ultra-cold atom traps.

Hudson’s laboratory used laser light to cool tiny amounts of the reactant atoms and molecules to an extremely low temperature – one one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero – and then levitate them in a space smaller than the width of a human hair, inside of a vacuum chamber. Under these highly controlled conditions, the scientists could observe properties of the atoms and molecules that are otherwise hidden, and the “physics tools” they used enabled them to hold a sample of atoms and observe chemical reactions one molecule at a time.

The ultra-cold temperatures used in the experiment can also be used to simulate the reaction as it would occur in outer space. That could help scientists understand how certain complex molecules, including some that could be precursors to life, came to exist in space, Hudson said.

The researchers found that when they brought together calcium and barium methoxide inside of their system under normal conditions, they would not react because the atoms could not find a way to rearrange themselves to form a stable molecule. However, when the scientists used a laser to change the distribution of the electrons in the calcium atom, the reaction quickly proceeded, producing a new molecule, CaOBa+.

The Hudson group’s approach is part of a new physics-inspired subfield of chemistry that uses the tools of ultra-cold physics, such as lasers and electromagnetism, to observe and control how and when single-particle reactions occur.

Practical applications
Graduate student Prateek Puri, the project’s lead researcher, said the experiment demonstrates not only how these techniques can be used to create exotic molecules, but also how they can be used to engineer important reactions. The discovery could ultimately be used to create new methods for preserving food and developing safer medications.

“Experiments like these pave the way for developing new methods for controlling chemistry,” Puri said. “We’re essentially creating ‘on buttons’ for reactions.”

Food decays, he said, when undesired chemical reactions occur between food and the environment. Similarly, many medicines induce chemical reactions that can cause harm to the body. Perhaps in the future, scientists could prevent these types of reactions from occurring, or reduce their frequency, Hudson said.

Hudson said one key to the success of the new study was the involvement of experts from various fields: experimental physicists, theoretical physicists and a physical chemist.

Co-authors of the study are Christian Schneider, a UCLA research scientist; Michael Mills, a UCLA graduate student; Ionel Simbotin, a University of Connecticut physics postdoctoral scholar; John Montgomery Jr., a University of Connecticut research professor of physics; Robin Côté, a University of Connecticut professor of physics; and Arthur Suits, a University of Missouri professor of chemistry. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and Army Research Office.

Findings lead to new areas of study
“We realized we could create molecules in ways we had not appreciated before,” Hudson said. “That led us to start thinking about designing molecules differently.”

As an outgrowth of this insight, a research team involving Hudson and led by Wesley Campbell, associate professor of physics, has been awarded a three-year, $2.7 million U.S. Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Research Award. The emerging, multidisciplinary field of quantum information science is expected to lay the foundation for the next generation of computing and information processing, as well as many other innovative technologies.

Quantum computers, once fully developed, will be capable of solving large, extremely complex problems that are beyond the
capacity of today’s most powerful supercomputers. Among other applications, quantum systems hold the promise of potentially
exquisitely sensitive sensors, with a variety of possible medical, national security and scientific applications.

With this funding, faculty in chemistry and physics will develop and study “molecules functionalized with optical cycling centers,” accelerating research into next-generation chemical systems for quantum information storage and processing.

The primary investigators of this grant are Campbell; Hudson; Justin Caram, a UCLA assistant professor of chemistry; Anastassia Alexandrova, UCLA associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Anna Krylov, USC professor of chemistry; John Doyle, Harvard University professor of physics; and Nick Hutzler, Caltech assistant professor of physics.

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

8,000 NEW ANTIBIOTIC COMBINATIONS ARE SURPRISINGLY EFFECTIVE

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

By Stuart Wolpert

Remarkably, 8,119 new combinations of antibiotics are surprisingly effective at killing harmful bacteria, UCLA biologists reported Sept. 3 in the journal npj Systems Biology and Applications (a Nature research journal). The discovery of so many potent new antibiotics may help avert a post-antibiotic era in which severe, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and common infections can injure and kill large numbers of people, as the World Health Organization warned in a 2014 report on antibiotic resistance as a worldwide threat to public health.

Analyzing eight antibiotics that are grouped by six mechanisms of attacking E. coli bacteria, the researchers tested every possible combination of four antibiotics, and five antibiotics at a time. The researchers expected some of the combinations would be very effective, but were startled by how many potent combinations they discovered.

“We expect several of these combinations, or more, will work much better than existing antibiotics,” said Pamela Yeh, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and one of the study’s two senior authors.

“We shouldn’t limit ourselves to just single drugs or two-drug combinations in our medical toolbox. There is a tradition of using just one drug, maybe two; we’re offering an alternative that looks very promising.

“Traditionally, scientists have thought the interactions among many drugs combined — such as four and five drugs together — would be too small to matter, or would cancel one another out. We have shown that is not the case.”

The biologists tested 5,670 four-antibiotic combinations and 12,608 five-antibiotic combinations, including many where they tested varying dosages.

The researchers report that 1,676 four-drug combinations are unexpectedly effective at decreasing the growth of E. coli bacteria and 6,443 five-drug combinations are substantially more effective at killing the bacteria than the scientists predicted based on their knowledge of how pairs of the antibiotics work together.

Surprising results
“I was blown away by how many effective combinations there are as we increased the number of drugs,” said Van Savage, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of biomathematics and the other senior author. “People may think they know how drug combinations will interact, but they really don’t.”

Why are these multidrug combinations so effective?

“Some drugs attack the cell walls, others attack the DNA inside,” Savage said. “It’s like attacking a castle or fortress. Combining different methods of attacking may be more effective than just a single approach.”

“A whole can be much more, or much less, than the sum of its parts, as we often see with a baseball or basketball team, and as we are finding when combining antibiotics,” Yeh said. She cited the decisive upset victory of the 2004 Detroit Pistons — a cohesive team with no superstars — over a Los Angeles Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, and coached by Phil Jackson, in the NBA championship.

Scientists must combine antibiotics carefully and methodically. In this study, 2,331 of the four-drug combinations had reduced effectiveness compared with two-drug and three-drug combinations, and 5,199 of the five-drug combinations had reduced effectiveness compared with those with two-, three- and four-drug combinations, said lead author Elif Tekin, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar in both Yeh’s and Savage’s laboratories.

Van Savage

Van Savage

New mathematical model tested
The biologists developed and used a mathematical formula for analyzing how multiple factors interact. They call their framework Mathematical Analysis for General Interactions of Components (MAGIC).

“We think MAGIC is a generalizable model that can be applied to other diseases, including cancers, and in many other areas with three or more interacting components to better understand how a complex system works,” Tekin said.

The research team reported in 2016 that combinations of three antibiotics can often overcome bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, even when none of the three antibiotics on its own — or even two of the three together — is effective. The biologists reported in 2017 two combinations of drugs that are unexpectedly successful in reducing the growth of E. coli bacteria and provided the first detailed explanation of how they created their mathematical framework that can help predict which combinations of drugs will be most effective.

Other co-authors of the new research are Cynthia White, who conducted research in Yeh’s laboratory for four years as an undergraduate and worked on this project as a research technician after she graduated; Tina Kang, a doctoral student in Yeh’s laboratory; Nina Singh, an undergraduate in Yeh’s laboratory; Mauricio Cruz-Loya, a doctoral student in Savage’s laboratory; and Robert Damoiseaux, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and director of UCLA’s Molecular Screening Shared Resource.

The research was funded by a James S. McDonnell Foundation Complex Systems Scholar Award, the National Science Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Advancing Translational Science, and a UCLA Faculty Career Development Award.

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.