Till von Wachter


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.



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.


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.”


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.



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:



Women in the Social Sciences

The road to gender balance among tenure-track faculty

By Jessica Wolf

At UCLA and across the nation, expanding the pipeline of graduate students to be more reflective of our diverse society will transform university research and teaching, according to several campus leaders. In terms of gender balance, progress continues, with women now earning more than half of all doctoral degrees nationally over the past decade, according to the American Council on Education.

Laura Gómez

Gradually, women are also catching up among the ranks of tenure-track faculty. As of 2014, women make up more than 37 percent of tenure-track faculty at all American postsecondary institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Yet this statistic masks significant differences among types of institutions, disciplines and levels of seniority. For example, at most universities (and especially at research universities), there are relatively small proportions of female faculty at the full professor level (which is typically achieved after 12 or more years on the tenure track) and larger proportions at the assistant professor level, reflecting the growth in the number of female Ph.D. students. Within the UCLA College, three of four divisions–social sciences, humanities and life sciences–have proportions of women among tenure-track faculty that exceed the national average, according to the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion.

“We’ve made great strides in the United States in reaching gender parity in rates of college graduation and, especially in the humanities and social sciences, in rates of Ph.D. completion,” said Laura E. Gómez, who just completed a term as interim dean of social sciences, the first woman to head that division.

“UCLA’s Ph.D. students are tomorrow’s professors,” Gómez said. “So diversifying the ranks of our graduate students is a high priority if we are to continue the progress made over the past several decades.”

UCLA’s social sciences division is home to nine Ph.D.-granting departments, with the share of female graduate students ranging from a high of 97 percent in the gender studies department to a low of around 20 percent in economics. In almost every field of study, the proportion of female faculty has grown dramatically since the 1980s, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Pathways to leadership

Nancy Levine

While there are now more female faculty members throughout the division, long-established departments such as anthropology, economics, political science and sociology have only recently been chaired by women for the first time. Generally limited to full professors, serving as chair is virtually a prerequisite for top leadership roles such as dean, provost and university president.

Consider anthropology, which used to be dominated by male professors and male graduate students. When she was a graduate student in the late 1970s, Nancy Levine, who just completed a four-year term as chair of the anthropology department, said she could count on one hand the number of women in her doctoral cohort as well as on the UCLA faculty when she joined it.

Today, women are 50 percent of all tenured and tenure-track professors in the department. In addition, from 2005 to 2015, women were 67 percent of all recipients of anthropology Ph.D.s at UCLA, compared with 61 percent nationally, according to the National Science Foundation.

A closer look at the dynamics

Having women in each field not only has an impact on research and teaching, but also plays a subtle and positive role in the ethos of a department and how students maintain support systems during what can be a very grueling time in their lives, said Barbara Geddes, who is the first woman to chair the political science department.

Currently, about a quarter of UCLA’s political science faculty are female, comparedwith 37 percent of political science professors nationwide. From 2005 to 2015, 39 percent of doctoral recipients in the department were women, versus 41 percent nationally.

According to Geddes, there has traditionally been a divide in political science: research and courses heavily related to mathematics, statistics and data generally are taught and pursued by men, while women fall into the more humanities-driven areas, such as comparative politics, where Geddes, a scholar of Latin American politics, focuses. Geddes said she sees the lines starting to blur along this front, with more women teaching and conducting research in statistically based sub-fields.

Getting young women interested very early in data, math and statistics may be the best way to bridge the persistent gender gap in economics, said economics professor Adriana Lleras-Muney, who for three years has led her department’s faculty hiring efforts.

During the period 2005-2015, women made up 31 percent of the doctoral recipients in economics at UCLA, on par with the national trend.

Kathleen McGarry

Kathleen McGarry, who recently completed four years as the first female chair of economics, noted that  now “nearly 50 percent of our students are women, a percentage that is among the highest of any major university.”

She said this trend bodes well for the academic pipeline, suggesting that today’s economics undergraduates will become tomorrow’s Ph.D. students and, eventually, professors. Moreover, while economics has fewer women faculty than several departments in the social sciences at UCLA, it boasts a greater percentage of female faculty than nearly all of the other top 20 economics departments in the country.


The next generation

Sociology professor Judith Seltzer, who joined the faculty 20 years ago, recalled, “When I first arrived at UCLA, one of my senior colleagues, a very distinguished sociologist of women’s employment, told me that when she joined the faculty, it was so unusual for a woman to be a professor that people often thought she was a secretary for her male colleagues. That mistake would not happen today.”

Today, almost 40 percent of sociology’s tenure-track faculty at UCLA are women, and the number of female Ph.D. recipients in recent years has been on par with the proportion nationally, at around 62 percent.

Sociology professor Vilma Ortiz, who is frequently sought out as a mentor by female doctoral students and especially by women of color, applauds UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion for raising awareness about the role unconscious bias may play in the faculty hiring process. She noted, however, that creating a more diverse pool of faculty candidates must start even earlier by recruiting women, minorities and first-generation college students into Ph.D. programs and ensuring they receive great mentoring throughout graduate school.

Gómez agreed, noting as well the powerful influence of role models in the undergraduate classroom.

“It makes an incredible difference for a young woman to see someone like herself standing at the head of the class,” Gómez said. “It allows her to imagine herself in the same position one day.”

UCLA Mathematicians Bring Ocean to life for Disney’s Moana

By Stuart Wolpert

The hit Disney movie Moana features stunning visual effects, including the animation of water to such a degree that it becomes a distinct character in the film. A senior software engineer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Alexey Stomakhin M.A. ’11, Ph.D. ’13, led the development of the code used to simulate the movement of water in the movie.


They infuse the magic of realism in animation and apply knowledge to solve real-world problems

UCLA mathematics professor Joseph Teran, a Walt Disney consultant on animated movies since 2007, is under no illusion that artists want lengthy mathematics lessons, but many of them realize that the success of animated movies often depends on advanced mathematics.

“In general, the animators and artists at the studios want as little to do with mathematics and physics as possible, but the demands for realism in animated movies are so high,” Teran said. “Things are going to look fake if you don’t at least start with the correct physics and mathematics for many materials, such as water and snow. If the physics and mathematics are not simulated accurately, it will be very glaring that something is wrong with the animation of the material.”

Joseph Teran

Teran and his research team have helped infuse realism into several Disney movies, including Frozen, where they used science to animate snow scenes. Most recently, they applied their knowledge of math, physics and computer science to enliven the 3-D computer-animated hit Moana, a tale about an adventurous teenage girl who is drawn to the ocean and is inspired to leave the safety of her island on a daring journey to save her people.

Teran’s former doctoral student, Alexey Stomakhin, played an important role in the making of Moana. After earning his Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 2013, he became a senior software engineer at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Working with Disney’s effects artists, technical directors and software developers, Stomakhin led the development of the code that was used to simulate the movement of water in Moana, enabling it to play a role as one of the characters in the film.

“The increased demand for realism and complexity in animated movies makes it preferable to get assistance from computers; this means we have to simulate the movement of the ocean surface and how the water splashes, for example, to make it look believable,” Stomakhin explained. “There is a lot of mathematics, physics and computer science under the hood. That’s what we do.”

Moana has been praised for its stunning visual effects in words the mathematicians love hearing.

“Everything in the movie looks almost real, so the movement of the water has to look real too, and it does,” Teran said. “Moana has the best water effects I’ve ever seen, by far.”

Building your own universe with math

Stomakhin said his job is fun and “super-interesting, especially when we cheat physics and step beyond physics. It’s almost like building your own universe with your own laws of physics and trying to simulate that universe.

“Disney movies are about magic, so magical things happen which do not exist in the real world.”

Added the software engineer, “It’s our job to add some extra forces and other tricks to help create those effects. If you have an understanding of how the real physical laws work, you can push

parameters beyond physical limits and change equations slightly; we can predict the consequences of that.”

To make animated movies these days, movie studios need to solve, or nearly solve, partial differential equations. Stomakhin, Teran and their colleagues build the code that solves the partial differential equations. More accurately, they write algorithms that closely approximate the partial differential equations because they cannot be solved perfectly.

“We try to come up with new algorithms that have the highest-quality metrics in all possible categories, including preserving angular momentum perfectly and preserving energy perfectly. Many algorithms don’t have these properties,” Teran said.

Stomakhin was also involved in creating the ocean’s crashing waves that have to break at a certain place and time. That task required him to get creative with physics and use other tricks. “You don’t allow physics to completely guide it,” he said.

“You allow the wave to break only when it needs to break.” Depicting boats on waves posed additional challenges for the scientists.

“It’s easy to simulate a boat traveling through a static lake, but a boat on waves is much more challenging to simulate,” Stomakhin said. “We simulated the fluid around the boat; the challenge was to blend that fluid with the rest of the ocean. It can’t look like the boat is splashing in a little swimming pool — the blend needs to be seamless.”

Stomakhin spent more than a year developing the code and understanding the physics that allowed him to achieve this effect.

“It’s nice to see the great visual effect, something you couldn’t have achieved if you hadn’t designed the algorithm to solve physics accurately,” said Teran, who has taught an undergraduate course on scientific computing for the visual-effects industry.

Alexey Stomakhin

From silver screen to surgery

While Teran loves spectacular visual effects, he said the research has many other scientific applications as well. It could be used to simulate plasmas, to simulate 3-D printing or for surgical simulation, for example. Teran is using a related algorithm to build virtual livers to substitute for the animal livers that surgeons train on. He is also using the algorithm to study traumatic leg injuries.

Teran describes the work with Disney as “bread-and-butter, high-performance computing for simulating materials, as mechanical engineers and physicists at national laboratories would. Simulating water for a movie is not so different, but there are, of course, small tweaks to make the water visually compelling. We don’t have a separate branch of research for computer graphics. We create new algorithms that work for simulating wide ranges of materials.”

Teran, Stomakhin and three other applied mathematicians — Chenfanfu Jiang, Craig Schroeder and Andrew Selle — also developed a state-of-the-art simulation method for fluids in graphics, called APIC, based on months of calculations. It allows for better realism and stunning visual results. Jiang, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in Teran’s laboratory, won a 2015 UCLA best dissertation prize. Schroeder is a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who worked with Teran and is now at UC Riverside. Selle, who worked at Walt Disney Animation Studios, is now at Google.

Their newest version of APIC has been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Computational Physics.

“Alexey is using ideas from high-performance computing to make movies,” Teran said, “and we are contributing to the scientific community by improving the algorithm.”

Fructose and head injuries adversely affect hundreds of brain genes linked to human diseases

By Stuart Wolpert

Consuming fructose, a sugar that’s common in the Western diet, alters hundreds of brain genes that may be linked to many diseases, UCLA life scientists report. However, they discovered good news as well: an important omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) seems to reverse the harmful changes produced by fructose.

“DHA changed not just one or two genes, but seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable, and we can see why it has such a powerful effect,” said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology.

DHA is found in brain cell membranes, but “the brain and the body are deficient in the machinery to make DHA; it has to come through our diet,” said co-senior author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and of integrative biology and physiology.

DHA, which strengthens synapses in the brain and enhances learning and memory, is abundant in wild salmon and, to a lesser extent, in fish oil and other fish, while its biochemical precursors are high in walnuts, flaxseed, and to a less extent, fruits and vegetables, Gomez-Pinilla said.

Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener made from cornstarch, as well as from sweet drinks, syrups, honey, ice cream and other desserts, he said. It’s also in baby food. Fruit contains fructose, but has high levels of fiber, which substantially slows the absorption of fructose and increases the feeling of fullness, Yang said. Fruits also contain many other healthy components that protect the brain and body, they noted.


The researchers trained laboratory rats to escape from a maze, then randomly divided the rats into three groups. They gave one group of rats water with fructose added for six weeks that would be roughly equivalent to a person drinking about a liter of soda a day. A second group of rats was given the water with fructose and a diet rich in DHA for six weeks, and a control group was given water without fructose and not given the DHA supplement.

The rats that had been given the fructose had significantly higher blood glucose, triglycerides and insulin levels than the control group, and had impaired memory when navigating the maze; they were about 30 percent slower than the control group in escaping from the maze. The rats given the

DHA supplement, however, showed very similar results to the control group.

Yang and Gomez-Pinilla’s research team sequenced more than 20,000 genes in the rats, and discovered that fructose adversely affected more than 700 genes in the hypothalamus and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus – genes that interact to regulate metabolism, cell communication and inflammation.

Xia Yang and Fernando Gomez-Pinilla

Humans have genes that are counterparts to the genes affected by fructose in rats, and the human genes are associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other brain diseases, said Yang, a member of UCLA’s Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences.

The researchers identified two genes, called Bgn and Fmod, that are important for cell communication, and are potential targets for new pharmaceuticals. Fructose seems to act first on these genes, which then affect many other genes, in a cascade effect, Yang said. After the researchers removed these genes in mice, the mice had substantially higher levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

The research, which used state-of-the-science genomic technology, was published last year in the journal EBioMedicine.

This research is the first comprehensive genomics study of all the genes, pathways and gene networks affected by high fructose consumption in brain regions controlling metabolism and brain function.

How food affects the brain

Fructose damages communication between brain cells, and increases toxic molecules in

the brain, Gomez-Pinilla’s research team reported in 2015. Earlier research has demonstrated how fructose contributes to cancer, diabetes, obesity and fatty liver.

Gomez-Pinilla recommends reducing the sugar and saturated fat we consume, including reducing drinking soda and eating dessert. “Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” said Gomez-Pinilla, also a member of UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center.

Co-authors include lead author Qingying Meng, a postdoctoral scholar in Yang’s laboratory; Zhe Ying, a staff research associate in

Gomez-Pinilla’s laboratory; and colleagues from UCLA, the National Institutes of Health and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Ties to head trauma

In February 2017, Yang, Gomez-Pinilla and colleagues reported in EBioMedicine that head injuries can adversely affect hundreds of genes in the brain that put people at high risk for diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s,

Examples of gene networks in the hippocampus affected by brain trauma. UCLA researchers report that the “master regulator” genes (in red) influence many other genes responsible for the effects of brain trauma.

post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, ADHD, autism, depression and schizophrenia.

“Very little is known about how people exposed to brain trauma, such as football players and soldiers, develop symptoms for other neurological disorders later in life. We hope to learn much more,” Gomez-Pinilla said.

The researchers have identified for the first time potential master genes, which they believe control hundreds of other genes that they linked to many neurological and psychiatric disorders. These master genes are likely targets for new pharmaceuticals to potentially treat many diseases of the brain.

“We believe these master genes are a kind of hub responsible for traumatic brain injury adversely triggering changes in many other genes,” Yang said.

Traumatic brain injury can do damage first to the master genes and then to other “downstream genes” in a couple of ways, she said. One way is to produce different forms of a protein. Another is to reduce, or increase, the number of expressed copies of a gene in each cell. Both can prevent a gene from properly performing its cellular function.

“If a gene turns into the wrong form of protein, it could lead to Alzheimer’s disease, for example,” Gomez-Pinilla said.

Implications for treating a range of diseases

More than 100 of the genes that changed following the brain injury have human counterparts that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and other neurological and psychiatric disorders, the researchers report.Targeting these genes to treat disease seems promising. “We now know which genes are affected by traumatic brain injury and linked to serious disease, and have predicted which genes are the likely master regulators that may have strong therapeutic potential,” Yang said.

The research team is further studying whether modifying some of the master genes also modifies large numbers of other genes. If so, then targeting the master genes will be even more promising.

One of the genes, Fmod, is also a master regulator in the brain that becomes altered by fructose.

The research may lead to new treatments for traumatic brain injury to get the genes to return to their normal state. In addition the researchers potentially could target and modify the master genes so they won’t lead to disease. They may also be able to identify chemical compounds and foods that can fight disease.

Yang’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Gomez-Pinilla’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center.

LGBTQ Studies Program Celebrates 20 Years

By Jessica Wolf

For two decades, the field of queer studies has been thriving and evolving within the Humanities Division of the UCLA College. Now Alicia Gaspar de Alba, chair of what is currently known as LGBTQ studies, is ready to take the program to the next level by introducing a Ph.D. It would the first in the nation.

A mural depicting the 1967 LGBTQ rights protests outside the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake was installed in the LGBTQ Studies offices in Haines Hall in 2014.

“It’s great that we are still here, that we have survived, but now I’m ready to move forward,” said Gaspar de Alba, a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies. Her Ph.D. proposal is in the works and she is confident it will succeed – particularly because she was the architect of UCLA’s Ph.D. program in Chicana and Chicano studies. A concurrent proposal for changing the program from a freestanding minor to an interdepartmental program with 50 percent full-time faculty is also in progress.

Fall 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the interdisciplinary program. The program was originally called Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Studies in 1997, but soon after expanded to add the word Transgender.

Recently, faculty and students decided it was important also to add Queer to that title, catching up to the vernacular of the community. It is now formally known as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Studies.

“It’s the most inclusive word, and absolutely about reclaiming the word ‘queer’ from a pejorative use,” said Gaspar de Alba, who began teaching at UCLA in 1994 and was among the first to participate in the Faculty Advisory Committee that launched the minor.

Pioneering efforts

The formation of UCLA’s LGBTQ studies was championed by former UCLA professor of anthropology Peter Hammond and initially chaired by Jim Schultz, emeritus professor of Germanic languages. At the time it was one of a few but growing number of academic units in the country to examine the history, culture and challenges of queer individuals.

Other comparable programs exist, though at other universities many are housed within a women’s studies or gender studies department.

UCLA’s program has remained autonomous and unique. It was among the first in the country to host an annual graduate student conference, called QGrad. That conference changed in 2005 to a broader Queer Studies Conference. Since becoming chair in 2013, Gaspar de Alba has revived QGrad and added an undergraduate conference called QScholars, both of which are programmed, curated and produced by students under her mentorship. In 2015, the program launched an e-journal called Queer Cats Journal of LGBTQ Studies.

Learning across disciplines

Alicia Gaspar de Alba

More than 120 students have graduated from UCLA with the LGBTQ minor. Exponentially more students have taken cross-listed LGBTQ courses as part of other majors.

Students pursuing the minor choose from relevant courses in a variety of humanities and social sciences departments – English, gender studies, Chicana/Chicano studies, history, sociology – as well as education, law, public policy, musicology and courses from within the Department of World Arts and Cultures and the School of Theater, Film and Television. The program annually hires several UCLA Ph.D. candidates to design new courses, which keeps the curriculum reflective of the issues of the moment.

The minor also requires students to participate in a service-learning course where they intern at local LGBTQ-focused nonprofits.

According to Gaspar de Alba, many former students have gone on to work at those nonprofits or have become journalists, filmmakers and artists. Some go on to pursue graduate degrees, while others aspire to law school and policymaking careers.


Many students join LGBTQ studies out of a desire to know more about the community with which they personally identify. In recent years more students who don’t identify as queer, but want to be allies, also elect to take courses or even commit to the minor, said Tomarian Brown, administrative manager for the program.

Schultz, who returns once a year to teach a section of the introductory course he originally created, said he hopes students take away from queer studies courses a more complex understanding of gender and sexual minorities, and the way those identities intersect with race and social status.

“I think it’s eye-opening,” he said. “Many students will talk about how these courses have opened up their thinking.”

First-year student Meredith Yates specifically chose to attend UCLA because of the LGBTQ studies program. She is the first in her family to leave her home of Virginia to study, and had never traveled outside of the South or East Coast before.

Yates, who volunteers as part of Project One, a team of UCLA students who mentor, befriend and advise queer high schoolers in Los Angeles, hopes to major in communication studies. She plans to return to the South and use her minor in LGBTQ studies to help spread awareness of existing and emerging resources for queer youth who might find themselves feeling isolated. She’s already learning a lot about queer history, she said.

“In the case of the queer rights movement of today, a lot of times we forget that the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., the people who brought it to light, were black and transgender and Latina, people who at the time had been pushed to the very bottom of society,” she said.

Honoring LA’s role in the movement

In the LGBTQ common spaces in Haines Hall there is a remembrance of Los Angeles’ role in fighting for those hard-won rights – and a reminder that the fight is ongoing – by way of a mural depicting the 1967 protests outside the Black Cat Tavern on Sunset Boulevard. It was created in 2014 by UCLA lecturer Alma Lopez and students from her “Queer Art in LA” course.

The mural depicts a scene from 50 years ago this year when members of the queer community and their allies gathered to formally protest the violent New Year’s Eve arrests of patrons of the Black Cat Tavern. These protests predate the well-documented Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village.

UCLA lecturer Alma Lopez led students in creating the mural through her “Queer Art in LA” course.

“Stonewall is seen as the birthplace of the movement,” Gaspar de Alba said. “But we’re here in LA and I wanted to commemorate that the movement for gay rights was actually happening here even earlier.”

Queer studies students are keenly aware

of the challenges this community continues to face, Gaspar de Alba said. Nevertheless, they forge ahead with conviction as they

learn to think and write critically; to inquire, debate and attempt to understand opposing points of view; and to understand themselves.

“These spaces become sacred,” she said, especially for young students who are just coming out. “These classes become places where they can talk about their own lives and issues, but also truly learn to understand others.”


Learn more: http://lgbtqstudies.ucla.edu

Mapping the costs of incarceration in Los Angeles

Million dollar hoods website provides unprecedented access to jail data

By Jessica Wolf


Image: The Million Dollar Hoods website lets users examine incarceration data for dozens of areas in Los Angeles County. In this screen grab from the site, the red sections of Los Angeles County show where the most money is spent locking up people from that area.


As the realities of mass incarceration face increased scrutiny across the nation, UCLA researchers have launched Million Dollar Hoods, a website and digital mapping project that shows the disparate impact of the Los Angeles jail system — the largest in the United States.

Million Dollar Hoods maps how much money the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department spend per neighborhood to incarcerate residents in county and city jails.

The project’s goal is to provide unprecedented public access to jail data in Los Angeles and identify patterns of incarceration throughout the county. The maps also let users examine the data by race, gender, type of crime and leading cause of arrest for every neighborhood.

“What we have uncovered is that L.A.’s nearly billion-dollar jail budget is largely committed to incarcerating residents of just a few neighborhoods,” said Kelly Lytle-Hernandez, UCLA professor of history and African American Studies. “In some neighborhoods, such as Lancaster, Palmdale and Compton, tens of millions of dollars have been spent since 2010.”

Breaking down a billion-dollar jail budget

Since 2010 Los Angeles County spent more than $82 million incarcerating residents from Lancaster and more than $61 million incarcerating people from Palmdale, with DUI and possession of a controlled substance the top two causes of arrest. In that time, nearly $40 million was spent incarcerating residents from Compton, where the top cause of arrest was possession of a controlled substance.

Lytle-Hernandez, who led the project, secured the required data via requests to the sheriff’s department and LAPD through the California Public Records Act. The sheriff’s department repeatedly denied her requests but granted access in January 2016. Since then, she has worked with a team of UCLA geographic information systems experts to bring to Los Angeles a robust mapping database that has been successfully used in New York, Chicago, New Orleans and elsewhere.

“Much like the Million Dollar Blocks projects in New York and Chicago, we are looking at the costs of incarceration by identifying the communities where the most has been spent to incarcerate residents,” Lytle-Hernandez said. Million Dollar Hoods differs from those projects in that it uses local jail data versus state prison data.


Image: Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail in downtown. Los Angeles operates the largest jail system in the United States. PHOTO: Mike Fricano/UCLA


“We made this choice because Los Angeles operates the largest jail system in the United States and we wanted to betterunderstand the impact of L.A.’s jails and lockups,” Lytle-Hernandez said.

Lytle-Hernandez pointed out that the dollar amounts posted on the Million Dollar Hoods map are conservative estimates owing to gaps in how the departments track this information. For example, the sheriff’s department does not record the number of days spent incarcerated by people who may have posted bail but then returned to custody after trial. The data also do not capture information on prisoners transferred into the L.A. County jail system from city police departments or the California state prison system.

For many of the communities mapped in this project, the total cost of incarceration to the L.A. County jail system is actually much higher, Lytle-Hernandez said.

Connecting data to personal stories

“But the costs of incarceration are more than fiscal,” Lytle-Hernandez added. “So we are committed to also sharing the personal experiences that residents of L.A.’s Million Dollar Hoods have had with arrest and incarceration, allowing for a fuller accounting of the social costs of incarceration, to families, communities and society at large.”

The Million Dollar Hoods research team has partnered with the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, which is currently holding a series of public hearings on policing in Los Angeles. At these hearings, the commission is inviting community members to share their experiences with law enforcement officers and agencies. The Million Dollar Hoods website hosts video footage of testimony from these hearings.

Geographic information systems technologists Yoh Kawano and Albert Kochaphum from UCLA’s Institute for Digital Research and Education coded and mapped the data and built the website. Robert Habans, a fellow at the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, identified data trends and developed the formulas that revealed the rate of daily incarceration costs per prison bed.


Image: Incarceration data for Lancaster, California. PHOTO: milliondollarhoods.org


Collaborating with law enforcement, advocacy groups and media

The team plans to work with LAPD and the sheriff’s department to regularly add information to the maps. Million Dollar Hoods research partners also include several community-based organizations that are working to reform systems of incarceration in Los Angeles. Representatives from Critical Resistance-Los Angeles, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Dignity and Power Now, and Youth Justice Coalition are collaborators in the Million Dollar Hoods project.

Million Dollar Hoods also has partnered with Los Angeles public radio station KCRW for a six-episode series that launched Sept. 13. Off the Block will examine how a trip to jail, even for just a few hours or days, can upend many lives, tracing the path from city block to jail block and back.

Lytle-Hernandez will also release her new book City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles this spring. It is a history of incarceration in the city from the days of Spanish conquest to the outbreak of the 1965 Watts Rebellion.

In City of Inmates she marshals two centuries of evidence to show that incarceration has historically and consistently operated to remove, banish, and otherwise eliminate unwanted communities from the city. Across time, some of the communities most targeted for incarceration have been indigenous peoples, sexual minorities, non-white immigrants and African Americans.

UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project is supported by the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.


Visit Million Dollar Hoods at http://milliondollarhoods.org

Listen to episodes of KCRW’s Off the Block at http://kcrw.co/2ejmN5t