Photograph of homeless tent encampment.

L.A. could better target homeless prevention services with predictive analytics

Photograph of homeless tent encampment.

Photo credit: California Policy Lab

Each year, 2 million single adults receive housing, health, and emergency services from Los Angeles County. About 2% of them — around 76,000 people — will become homeless. Predictive modeling could help address the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles County, according to a report by researchers from the California Policy Lab at UCLA, and the Poverty Lab at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Using data from seven Los Angeles County agencies about services they provided to county residents between 2012 and 2016 — the residents’ names and personally identifiable information were omitted and each person was assigned an ID number for the study — researchers developed a model to predict which 3,000 residents were most likely to become homeless in 2017.

The researchers then checked the accuracy of their predictions against county records, and found that 46% of the people predicted by the model to be at risk for first-time homelessness or a repeat spell of homelessness did in fact become homeless at some point during 2017.

“Bringing together data from multiple county agencies gave us a more nuanced understanding about what’s happening to people right before they slip into homeless and how services can be better targeted to prevent that from happening,” said Till von Wachter, a UCLA economics professor and co-author of the report.  Von Wachter is also faculty director at the California Policy Lab.

The California Policy Lab pairs UCLA and other UC researchers with policymakers to solve urgent social problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime and education inequality.

The research informed an action plan that was developed by the county-led Mainstream Systems Homelessness Prevention Workgroup. That plan, which was submitted to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 16, recommends that the county use predictive models to intervene with adults who are identified as having a high risk for homelessness before they reach a crisis.

It also suggests that the county launch a multidisciplinary homelessness prevention unit that includes representatives of the county’s departments of mental health, health services and social services, and the sheriff and probation offices. The unit would accept referrals from the risks lists generated by the predictive models, identify which programs or services would be most helpful for each individual, and then reach out to people to connect them to those services.

The plan is expected to receive $3 million in funding during 2020 from Measure H, a sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2017 to help address the homeless crisis, in addition to drawing some existing resources from Los Angeles County departments.

“Last year, despite providing housing to tens of thousands of people, we saw more and more individuals and families becoming homeless,” said Phil Ansell, the director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative. “The county is focused on using strategic approaches to preventing homelessness, and these groundbreaking models will make it possible to reach those who need us the most before they reach the crisis point and fall into homelessness.”

The models allowed researches to identify warning signs that could help local governments intervene early, especially for residents living in deep poverty, said Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and a co-author of the study. The research that led to the new recommendations was begun at Chicago.

“The models suggest that sharp spikes in service use, increasingly frequent service use and the receipt of multiple services from a single agency are all warning signs that someone is at high risk for homelessness,” Pollack said. “We’re now diving deeper into the models with our Los Angeles County partners to learn more and to see how these results can help focus public health and social services to this vulnerable population.”

Janey Rountree, executive director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA, said using the predictive models could go a long way toward making sure homeless prevention services reach the right people at the right time.

“Predictive modeling can help ensure that happens, before they’re in a full-blown crisis,” she said. “We look forward to seeing its impact in connecting people to the help they need.”

The study also found:

  • Effectively serving the 1% of county clients who have the greatest risk for a new homeless spell would prevent nearly 6,900 homeless spells in one year.
  • County residents who have the highest risk for homelessness are interacting with multiple agencies.
  • Falling into homelessness happens very quickly, typically within six months of a precipitating event, meaning that Los Angeles County and service providers must react quickly.

The research was provided at no cost to the county. Financial support was provided by Arnold Ventures and the Max Factor Family Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Chronic opioid treatment may raise risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, study finds

Senior author Michael Fanselow said the research suggests that chronic opioid use increases susceptibility to developing anxiety disorders. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

While opioids are often prescribed to treat people with trauma-related pain, a new UCLA-led study suggests doctors should use caution before prescribing the drug to those they believe may experience severe stress in the future, in order to reduce the risk the patient will develop PTSD.

In the study, researchers administered doses of the opioid morphine to a group of 22 mice for one week, then gave the mice relatively strong foot shocks. After the morphine wore off, the mice were given mild electric foot shocks. These mice showed a substantially longer “freezing response” than a second, control group of 24 mice that had not been given morphine. When mice recall a frightening memory, they freeze. Their heart rates and blood pressure go up, and the more frightening the memory, the more they freeze.

“While we are generally aware that drug use, such as that in the current opioid crisis, has many deleterious effects, our results suggest yet another effect — increased susceptibility to developing anxiety disorders,” said senior author Michael Fanselow, UCLA distinguished Staglin family professor of psychology and director of UCLA’s Staglin Family Music Festival Center for Brain and Behavioral Health. “As opioids are often prescribed to treat symptoms such as pain that may accompany trauma, caution may be needed because this may lead to a greater risk of developing PTSD, if exposed to further traumatic events, such as an accident, later on.”

“The foot shocks produced lasting fear and anxiety-like behaviors, such as freezing,” Fanselow said.

“Our data are the first to show a possible effect of opioids on future fear learning, suggesting that a person with a history of opioid use may become more susceptible to the negative effects of stress,” Fanselow said. “The ability of opioids to increase PTSD-like symptoms far outlasted the direct effects of the drug or withdrawal from the drug, suggesting the effect may continue even after opioid treatment has stopped.”

Fanselow’s view is if there is reason to believe a patient is likely to experience severe emotional stress after opioid treatment, then doctors should use caution about prescribing an opioid. If opioid use is medically called for, then the patient should be kept away from potentially stressful situations. So, for example, a soldier treated with opioids for pain should not be sent back into combat for a period of time, he said. The development of post-traumatic stress disorder requires some stressful experience after opioid use, he said.

The researchers also gave some of the mice morphine after the initial trauma had occurred but before exposing them to the second, mild stressor. They found that mice treated with morphine after the initial trauma did not show enhanced fear learning following exposure to the mild stressor. This finding suggests that chronic use of opioids before — but not after — a traumatic event occurs affects fear learning during subsequent stressful events.

The researchers concluded the mice given morphine were more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder than the control group of mice not given any opioids, and inferred that people with a history of using opioids are more susceptible to PTSD than the general population.

The study is published in Neuropsychopharmacology, an international scientific journal focusing on clinical and basic science research that advances understanding of the brain and behavior.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute of Mental Health.

An opiate is a drug naturally derived from the opium poppy plant, such as heroin, morphine and codeine. Opioid is a broader term that includes opiates and any substance, natural or synthetic, that binds to the brain’s opioid receptors — which play a key role in controlling pain, rewards and addictive behaviors. Synthetic opioids include the prescription painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as fentanyl and methadone.

Substance abuse and PTSD often go hand-in-hand, Fanselow said, and people with PTSD often take drugs to self-medicate. Nearly 40% of people with PTSD also have a drug disorder.

Fanselow and colleagues reported last month that a traumatic brain injury causes changes in a brain region called the amygdala; and the brain processes fear differently after such an injury.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Image of interstellar comet.

New NASA image provides more details about first observed interstellar comet

Image of interstellar comet.

The interstellar comet Comet 2I/Borisov (blueish image at right) near a spiral galaxy (left), in an image taken Nov. 16. Photo credit: NASA, ESA and David Jewitt/UCLA

A new image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provides important new details about the first interstellar comet astronomers have seen in our solar system.

The comet, called Comet 2I/Borisov (the “I” stands for interstellar), was spotted near a spiral galaxy known as 2MASX J10500165-0152029. It was approximately 203 million miles from Earth when the image was taken on Nov. 16.

“Data from the Hubble Space Telescope give us the best measure of the size of comet 2I/Borisov’s nucleus, which is the really important part of the comet,” said David Jewitt, a UCLA professor of planetary science and astronomy who analyzed and interpreted the data from the new image.

Jewitt collaborated on the new analysis with colleagues from the University of Hawaii, Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The scientists were surprised to learn that the nucleus has a radius measuring only about half of a kilometer — or less than one-fifteenth the size that earlier investigations suggested it might be.

“That is important because knowing its size helps us to determine the total number, and mass, of other similar objects in the solar system and the Milky Way,” Jewitt said. “2I/Borisov is the first known interstellar comet, and we would like to learn how many others there are.”

The comet is traveling at a breathtaking speed of 110,000 miles per hour — one of the fastest comets ever seen, Jewitt said. More commonly, comets travel at about half that speed.

Crimean astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the comet on Aug. 30, using a telescope he built. Based on precise measurements of its changing position, the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center calculated a likely orbit for the comet, which shows that it came from elsewhere in the galaxy. Jewitt said its precise point of origin is unknown.

A second Hubble Space Telescope image of the comet, taken on Dec. 9, shows the comet even closer to Earth, approximately 185 million miles from Earth, he said.

Comets are icy bodies thought to be fragments left behind when planets form in the outer parts of planetary systems.

Observations by numerous telescopes show that the comet’s chemical composition is similar to that of comets previously observed in our solar system, which provides evidence that comets also form around other stars, Jewitt said. By mid-2020, the comet will have zoomed past Jupiter on its way back into interstellar space, where it will drift for billions of years, Jewitt said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Lynn Vavreck.

UCLA political scientists launch one of largest-ever public opinion surveys for run-up to 2020

As the nation heads into another contentious presidential campaign, what will drive people’s choices? What sacrifices are Americans willing to make to see their preferred politicians take office and their policy preferences take hold?

UCLA political science professors Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch plan to tackle those questions through the 2020 election with an ambitious data-gathering and analysis project called Nationscape. The effort is a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Fund, and the surveys are being fielded by Lucid, a New Orleans-based market research firm.

Every week until the end of 2020, Nationscape will survey 6,250 Americans, asking them to choose between two groups of policy positions and political attributes, among hundreds of other questions.

What makes Nationscape unique is the way it asks respondents to make choices. The survey includes 41 different policy statements and eight hypothetical attributes of potential candidates, all of which are randomized to appear in two sets of issues that voters must choose between. For example, respondents could be asked to choose one of the following sets of statements:

Each bundle of policies and outcomes could contain views that respondents disagree with, mixed with ideas they favor, but Vavreck said posing the questions that way will give researchers a better sense of what really makes the electorate tick.

“We designed the project to learn what people’s priorities are when they are forced to choose among states of the world they want to live in,” she said. “This will help us sort out what is really important to people who, in traditional surveys, tell us they ‘strongly agree’ with all sorts of issues. That response doesn’t really tell us how people will vote if a choice has to be made, and voting is all about making a choice.”

Researchers will share insights and analysis from the surveys regularly throughout election season on Nationscape’s website. By November 2020, the team will have completed a half million interviews — including at least 1,000 interviews in every congressional district.

“Our measurement approach, coupled with the massive scope of the project, will allow us to track both attitude change and shifts in the impact or importance of issues and candidate traits over time and space,” Vavreck said.

Data gathering began in late July. Among the initial findings: Even when Democrats and Republicans agree that children shouldn’t be separated from their parents at the southern border, that there should be a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children, or that the size of the military should be preserved, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to concede on the other issues to preserve their preferred stances on immigration issues, while Republicans are more likely to make tradeoffs to preserve the military.

The results also hint at how people’s priorities change — or don’t — in relation to current events. For example, Vavreck said, few people changed their opinions about the need for universal background checks for gun purchases after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“But the importance of that issue changed quite a bit,” she said. “It became significantly more important to people in choosing policy packages after the shootings, even though only about 1.8 percent of them changed their positions on the issue.”

Vavreck is the co-author of critically acclaimed books about the two most recent presidential elections, “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election” and “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” She is UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy.

Tausanovitch, an expert on political representation, is the co-principal investigator — along with Chris Warsaw of George Washington University — of the American Ideology Project, which characterizes the conservativism and liberalism of states and voting districts through a 275,000-person survey.

Tausanovitch combed through studies, programs and policies to develop the lists of scenarios that respondents are confronting in the Nationscape surveys. He’s interested in the tradeoffs people are willing to make based on their political leanings and where they come from.

“Data is already demonstrating to us the way people’s attitudes and priorities change in response to events taking place in the country and showing us how Democrats and Republicans prioritize things differently, even when they agree on policies,” Tausanovitch said. “This helps to explain how Americans agree on many things, but also illustrates that their priorities are different.”

The overarching goal of Nationscape is to engender more informed and productive political deliberations, said Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund.

“Nationscape goes beyond horse race polls and battleground states and gets to the real issues that are driving voters and their decisions,” he said. “The unparalleled size and scope of this survey will help us understand how opinions differ across small geographic areas and groups of voters in a way that isn’t possible with traditional surveys, providing a deeper understanding of the electorate in this vital election.”

By the end of the election cycle, Nationscape will have reached people in every state and congressional district, America through Lucid’s platform.

“We were very eager to partner with the UCLA team and help apply their expertise on a scale that reflects the complexity of contemporary American politics,” said Patrick Comer, Lucid’s founder and CEO.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center: 50 years of providing Native peoples a voice

This video for Carrying Our Ancestors Home features interviews with UCLA leadership and tribal cultural heritage and repatriation practitioners.

As a quiet darkness descended over the several thousand people gathered between Royce Hall and Powell Library eagerly waiting to celebrate UCLA’s Centennial, a voice broke the silence:

“UCLA acknowledges the Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of the Los Angeles basin. As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to the ancestors, elders and relations of the past, present and emerging.”

Those 15 seconds of alumna Cari Champion’s narration for the “Lighting the Way” light and projection show were a culmination of years of work and advocacy from dozens of people, including members of the Tongva community who collaborated with the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. It was also an opportunity for UCLA to demonstrate a commitment to acknowledging the history of the indigenous peoples of Southern California.

“It is an important gesture in Native tradition to ‘place yourself,’” said Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), who in 2018 was named special advisor to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block on Native American and Indigenous affairs. “Introductions and acknowledgements place us in relationship with specific families, nations, geographies, cultural and political lineages. It is something we are taught to do from a young age as an anti-colonial tool to find connections between one other and remember that we are the result of bitter survival.”

The inclusion of the message in such a high-profile public forum — “Lighting the Way” capped the biggest UCLA Alumni Day ever — was for Goeman, who is chair of the American Indian Studies interdepartmental program and former associate director and interim director of the American Indian Studies Center, and her colleagues just a part of their tapestry of the center’s achievements.

The center’s work is not limited strictly to campus, of course. Over the years, people in the American Indian Studies Center have been at the forefront of efforts to build bridges between UCLA as an institution and members of local and state communities of people from indigenous backgrounds, especially the Gabrielino/Tongva, whose ancestors called the Los Angeles basin home for thousands of years before UCLA existed.

Shannon Speed (Chickasaw), director of the center, and Goeman were instrumental in convincing the Los Angeles City Council to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 2018.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of UCLA’s four ethnic studies centers, which together make up the Institute of American Cultures. All four were launched in 1969 and designed to invest in research and projects that illuminate the struggles and uplift the experiences of people from marginalized communities.

For the American Indian Studies Center, known as the AISC, that involves embracing students and faculty from multiple indigenous backgrounds, those who continue to make up the smallest numbers in UCLA’s diverse population. Part of the AISC’s inclusive mission is to empower a strong campus community that helps recruit Native students and faculty and once here, support their academic success.

UCLA recognizes the cultural history of the region

Goeman shepherded the creation of the official statement that acknowledges the Tongva people. In August, Block encouraged all campus groups to adopt a form of the following statement at significant public events. (Click on links to hear the Tongva words spoken aloud):

UCLA acknowledges the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (Los Angeles basin and So. Channel Islands). As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to Honuukvetam (ancestors), ‘Ahiihirom, (elders) and ‘eyoohiinkem (our relatives/relations) past, present and emerging.

The land acknowledgment was used on behalf of UCLA officially for the first time at Bruin Day in April, an event that invites thousands of admitted high school students and their families and caregivers to campus, and the “Lighting the Way” centennial launch in May. American Indian Studies Center leaders and some campus units and professional schools had been incorporating it into their events and materials for a year before that.

“Sometimes if feels like very small steps, but they are important nonetheless, because for many decades, universities didn’t even take small steps at recognitions like this,” Speed said. “And this builds momentum for other policies and programs that consider the needs and desires of tribal communities.”

The American Indian Studies Center is hosting a conference on Oct. 15–16 titled, “Lighting a Path Forward: Land Grants, Public Memory and Tovaangar.” The first day is open to the public and includes a series of presentations on the history of land grant institutions, of which UCLA is one. Other presentations and panel discussions will highlight the state of American Indian education and consider how all of the University of California campuses can continue to forge stronger relationships with tribal communities.

A California tribal listening session includes representatives from the Gabrielino/Tongva, the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, Chumash, and Acjachemen communities, as well as from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Wintu.

“We want people to come away feeling like they made new connections and collaborations around important issues, and that they understand the responsibility of land grant institutions” Speed said.

A second day of closed workshops, as part Goeman’s special advisor programming, will hopefully yield ideas for white papers that will lay the groundwork for how universities might embrace those responsibilities, by prioritizing best practices that benefits indigenous people to establishing tangible government-to-government relations with tribal nations.

Leading efforts to return remains

For much of its 50-year history, faculty and students affiliated with the American Indian Studies Center have been deeply involved in efforts to return human remains of indigenous people to their ancestors. UCLA has been a leader in repatriations, much of its efforts led by Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology in the Fowler Museum at UCLA and a lecturer in UCLA’s American Indian studies interdepartmental program.

A website launched this summer called “Carrying Our Ancestors Home” includes a timeline tracking UCLA’s path to almost complete repatriation. Videos featuring interviews with campus leadership and tribal cultural heritage and repatriation practitioners help underscore the powerful impact of repatriation. A large part of this project is giving communities their own space to work out tribal matters around repatriation and providing archival source material online, Goeman said.

The site is meant to help tribes and indigenous people navigate a process that is extremely complex and often met with resistance, Teeter said in May at an event during which she and Goeman launched the website.

In one of his final events as UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost of UCLA, Scott Waugh commended the efforts of the AISC to an invited audience from the Native community at that event.

“I know it is important for us to acknowledge where we are in place as well as time, to acknowledge the responsibilities of our shared history,” Waugh said. “I am also well aware that the history between Native peoples and institutions like ours can often be painful. While we cannot ignore our past, we can take steps to shoulder with respect and obligations that history places upon us. We can remember that the beauty of our state — the rivers, the ocean, mountains and deserts — was first experienced by the native and indigenous peoples who watched it before us and were the caretakers of it.”

Geography is something AISC-affiliated faculty take very seriously, knowing that Los Angeles and California are both home to some of the largest populations of humans of American Indian and indigenous descent.

Speed’s approach is to also invite students and faculty to also consider the nature of North American indigeneity at large and for scholars to confront ideas and stories about the indigenous people of Mexico and how their experiences with colonization are interconnected with American identities.

The center has offered critical support in recent years to scholars working on a web project called Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles, which seeks to tell layered stories from the city’s original inhabitants, especially the Gabrelino/Tongva and the Tataviam, as well as indigenous peoples who have come to call Los Angeles home by using digital maps and oral histories.

The AISC is about to embark upon one of its most ambitious research projects to date thanks to a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation that will help a team of researchers affiliated with the center tackle issues of race and water.

Speed, along with professor of anthropology Jessica Cattelino and Aradhna Tripati, professor in the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, will conduct community engaged research on water in the context of global warming in the southwestern United States.

“We’re really hoping this project brings together many disparate communities,” Speed said. “As a community collaboration project, part of what we are trying to do is decolonize the STEM field. With this research we’re bringing de-colonial methodologies into the sciences.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA named No. 1 U.S. public institution by U.S. News & World Report for third consecutive year

UCLA consistently performs well in a broad range of national and international rankings.

UCLA once again tops the list of U.S. public universities in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings, which were published today. This is the third year in a row UCLA has captured this honor.

At just 100 years old, UCLA, which placed No. 20 among all private and public institutions, is the youngest of any public or private institution in the ranking’s overall Top 33.

“We are thrilled to once again be ranked the nation’s top public university, particularly as we celebrate our first 100 years,” Chancellor Gene Block said. “Even as UCLA becomes more competitive, we work hard to remain accessible to exceptional students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds who will help ensure our continued success in UCLA’s second century.”

UCLA also excelled in category-specific rankings published as part of the report. UCLA was ranked No. 1 for economic diversity among the top 25 universities, based on the number of undergraduate students receiving Pell Grants (36 percent at UCLA).

In addition, UCLA was named as the No. 1 public institution among the “best colleges for veterans,” and No. 4 among all universities. In 2018–2019, there were 572 members of the military enrolled at UCLA, the highest among the top 26 schools ranked in the category. UCLA is also among the list of colleges where students incur the least amount of debt.

Four other University of California campuses were among the top 10 public universities in the overall rankings: UC Berkeley (No. 2), UC Santa Barbara (7, tied), UC Irvine (9), and UC San Diego (10). UC Davis placed No. 11.

The top 19 institutions on the list are private universities, led by Princeton and Harvard, with Columbia, MIT and Yale tied for third.

The publication’s methodology includes factors that tend to favor private universities, such as endowment size, rate of alumni giving and student-faculty ratio. It also includes data related to academic reputation, student excellence and student retention and graduation rates, with a particular interest in students from lower income households.

In addition:

  • UCLA tied for No. 7 among U.S. public universities (tied for 11 overall) for ethnic diversity.
  • UCLA tied for No. 8 among public universities’ engineering schools that offer doctorates (tied for 15 overall)

UCLA consistently performs well in a broad range of national and international rankings.

Earlier this month, UCLA was named the No. 1 U.S. public institution in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings — also for the third year in a row. In addition, UCLA was recently ranked No. 2 among American public universities and No. 11 worldwide among public and private universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the No. 2 U.S. public university (9 overall) in the Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings. In April, UCLA was ranked the No. 4 best-value university by Forbes.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA is No. 1 public college in 2020 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking

For the third consecutive year UCLA has been selected as the No. 1 public institution in the nation in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings.

In addition, of the more than 800 public and private institutions that were assessed, UCLA placed fifth among all public and private colleges in the area of environment, No. 11 overall in the engagement category, No. 16 in terms of outcomes, and No. 25 overall.

The rankings focus on student success and learning in four key areas: student resources, student engagement, educational outcomes and learning environments. The results are based on data from the Times Higher Education U.S. Student Survey, which collected the opinions of more than 170,000 current university students, government data sources and findings from the Times Higher Education Academic Reputation Survey.

Leading the overall list of colleges were Harvard (No. 1), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 2) and Yale (No. 3). Among leading public universities, UCLA was followed by the University of Michigan, second (No. 27 overall), and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, third (No. 33).

Other University of California campuses included in the Top 10 public universities were UC Berkeley, fourth (No. 34 overall), followed by UC Davis, fifth (No. 36), and UC San Diego, sixth (No. 37).

UCLA consistently performs well in multiple rankings regardless of methodology or criteria. In 2018, UCLA was named the No. 1 U.S. public university in both the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges ranking and Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education survey. UCLA was also named the No. 2 U.S. public university (17 overall) by Times Higher Education in its 2019 World University Rankings and No. 2 (No. 9 overall) in its 2019 World Reputation Rankings.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Maripau Paz, Inaugural Arthur Ashe Scholar

UCLA College senior Maripau Paz has been selected as the first ever recipient of the 2019-2020 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, established to recognize and support students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

Since arriving at UCLA as a first-generation college student, Paz has committed herself to inspiring others on campus. Paz has worked in various leadership roles to aid student retention and enhance the undergraduate experience for her peers at UCLA, all while pursuing a double major in political sciences and global studies.

Paz spent three years as the head administrative clerk for New Student Programs in UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program, a federally funded diversity-outreach program that supports low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, and students with disabilities, by connecting them to the resources they need to succeed. In addition, she served for two years as a new student advisor for the incoming Freshman and Transfer Student class, providing academic counsel to more than 200 students and their families.

Paz also served as professional outreach director in the Student Alumni Association, where she helped prepare students for the world post-graduation by hosting workshops on resume building, applying for internships and interview skills. During her senior year, Paz is serving as executive director of the professional development committee on the board of directors for the Student Alumni Association.

On the academic front, Paz presented her research on immigration and public opinion at UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week in May and is starting work on an honors senior thesis that will further expand on this topic. Following graduation, she plans to pursue a joint Law and Master’s degree in Public Policy and work on issues pertaining to human rights, refugees and immigrant communities.

Read more: https://www.college.ucla.edu/2019/08/23/arthur-ashes-most-impactful-serve-the-national-junior-tennis-league/

Black hole at the center of our galaxy appears to be getting hungrier

Rendering of a star called S0-2 orbiting the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It did not fall in, but its close approach could be one reason for the black hole’s growing appetite. Photo credit: Nicolle Fuller/National Science Foundation

The enormous black hole at the center of our galaxy is having an unusually large meal of interstellar gas and dust, and researchers don’t yet understand why.

“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole,” said Andrea Ghez, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a co-senior author of the research. “It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.”

paper about the study, led by the UCLA Galactic Center Group, which Ghez heads, is published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The researchers analyzed more than 13,000 observations of the black hole from 133 nights since 2003. The images were gathered by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The team found that on May 13, the area just outside the black hole’s “point of no return” (so called because once matter enters, it can never escape) was twice as bright as the next-brightest observation.

They also observed large changes on two other nights this year; all three of those changes were “unprecedented,” Ghez said.

The brightness the scientists observed is caused by radiation from gas and dust falling into the black hole; the findings prompted them to ask whether this was an extraordinary singular event or a precursor to significantly increased activity.

“The big question is whether the black hole is entering a new phase — for example if the spigot has been turned up and the rate of gas falling down the black hole ‘drain’ has increased for an extended period — or whether we have just seen the fireworks from a few unusual blobs of gas falling in,” said Mark Morris, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and the paper’s co-senior author.

The team has continued to observe the area and will try to settle that question based on what they see from new images.

“We want to know how black holes grow and affect the evolution of galaxies and the universe,” said Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics. “We want to know why the supermassive hole gets brighter and how it gets brighter.”

► UCLA astronomers discussed the project in a Keck Observatory video

The new findings are based on observations of the black hole — which is called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* — during four nights in April and May at the Keck Observatory. The brightness surrounding the black hole always varies somewhat, but the scientists were stunned by the extreme variations in brightness during that timeframe, including their observations on May 13.

“The first image I saw that night, the black hole was so bright I initially mistook it for the star S0-2, because I had never seen Sagittarius A* that bright,” said UCLA research scientist Tuan Do, the study’s lead author. “But it quickly became clear the source had to be the black hole, which was really exciting.”

One hypothesis about the increased activity is that when a star called S0-2 made its closest approach to the black hole during the summer 2018, it launched a large quantity of gas that reached the black hole this year.

Another possibility involves a bizarre object known as G2, which is most likely a pair of binary stars, which made its closest approach to the black hole in 2014. It’s possible the black hole could have stripped off the outer layer of G2, Ghez said, which could help explain the increased brightness just outside the black hole.

Morris said another possibility is that the brightening corresponds to the demise of large asteroids that have been drawn in to the black hole.

No danger to Earth

The black hole is some 26,000 light-years away and poses no danger to our planet. Do said the radiation would have to be 10 billion times as bright as what the astronomers detected to affect life on Earth.

Astrophysical Journal Letters also published a second article by the researchers, describing speckle holography, the technique that enabled them to extract and use very faint information from 24 years of data they recorded from near the black hole.

Ghez’s research team reported July 25 in the journal Science the most comprehensive test of Einstein’s iconic general theory of relativity near the black hole. Their conclusion that Einstein’s theory passed the test and is correct, at least for now, was based on their study of S0-2 as it made a complete orbit around the black hole.

► Watch a four-minute film about Ghez’s research

Ghez’s team studies more than 3,000 stars that orbit the supermassive black hole. Since 2004, the scientists have used a powerful technology that Ghez helped pioneer, called adaptive optics, which corrects the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere in real time. But speckle holography enabled the researchers to improve the data from the decade before adaptive optics came into play. Reanalyzing data from those years helped the team conclude that they had not seen that level of brightness near the black hole in 24 years.

“It was like doing LASIK surgery on our early images,” Ghez said. “We collected the data to answer one question and serendipitously unveiled other exciting scientific discoveries that we didn’t anticipate.”

Co-authors include Gunther Witzel, a former UCLA research scientist currently at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy; Mark Morris, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy; Eric Becklin, UCLA professor emeritus of physics and astronomy; Rainer Schoedel, a researcher at Spain’s Instituto de Astrofısica de Andalucıa; and UCLA graduate students Zhuo Chen and Abhimat Gautam.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation, W.M. Keck Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Lauren Leichtman and Arthur Levine, and Howard and Astrid Preston.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

What wolves’ teeth reveal about their lives

Biologist Blaire Van Valkenburgh has spent more than three decades studying the skulls of large carnivores. Here she displays a replica of a saber-toothed cat skull. At left are the skulls of a spotted hyena (in white) and a dire wolf (the black skull). Photo credit: Christelle Snow/UCLA.

UCLA evolutionary biologist Blaire Van Valkenburgh has spent more than three decades studying the skulls of many species of large carnivores — including wolves, lions and tigers —  that lived from 50,000 years ago to the present. She reports today in the journal eLife the answer to a puzzling question.

Essential to the survival of these carnivores is their teeth, which are used for securing their prey and chewing it, yet large numbers of these animals have broken teeth. Why is that, and what can we learn from it?

In the research, Van Valkenburgh reports a strong link between an increase in broken teeth and a decline in the amount of available food, as large carnivores work harder to catch dwindling numbers of prey, and eat more of it, down to the bones.

“Broken teeth cannot heal, so most of the time, carnivores are not going to chew on bones and risk breaking their teeth unless they have to,” said Van Valkenburgh, a UCLA distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who holds the Donald R. Dickey Chair in Vertebrate Biology.

For the new research, Van Valkenburgh studied the skulls of gray wolves — 160 skulls of adult wolves housed in the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Montana; 64 adult wolf skulls from Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior that are housed at Michigan Technological University; and 94 skulls from Scandinavia, collected between 1998 and 2010, housed in the Swedish Royal Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. She compared these with the skulls of 223 wolves that died between 1874 and 1952, from Alaska, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho and Canada.

Yellowstone had no wolves, Van Valkenburgh said, between the 1920s and 1995, when 31 gray wolves were brought to the national park from British Columbia. About 100 wolves have lived in Yellowstone for more than a decade, she said.

In Yellowstone, more than 90% of the wolves’ prey are elk. The ratio of elk to wolves has declined sharply, from more than 600-to-1 when wolves were brought back to the national park to about 100-to-1 more recently.

In the first 10 years after the reintroduction, the wolves did not break their teeth much and did not eat the elk completely, Van Valkenburgh reports. In the following 10 years, as the number of elk declined, the wolves ate more of the elk’s body, and the number of broken teeth doubled, including the larger teeth wolves use when hunting and chewing.

The pattern was similar in the island park of Isle Royale. There, the wolves’ prey are primarily adult moose, but moose numbers are low and their large size makes them difficult to capture and kill. Isle Royale wolves had high frequencies of broken and heavily worn teeth, reflecting the fact that they consumed about 90% of the bodies of the moose they killed.

Scandinavian wolves presented a different story. The ratio of moose to wolves is nearly 500-to-1 in Scandinavia and only 55-to-1 in Isle Royale, and, consistent with Van Valkenburgh’s hypothesis, Scandinavian wolves consumed less of the moose they killed (about 70%) than Isle Royale wolves. Van Valkenburgh did not find many broken teeth among the Scandinavian wolves. “The wolves could find moose easily, not eat the bones, and move on,” she said.

Van Valkenburgh believes her findings apply beyond gray wolves, which are well-studied, to other large carnivores, such as lions, tigers and bears.

Extremely high rates of broken teeth have been recorded for large carnivores — such as lions, dire wolves and saber-toothed cats — from the Pleistocene epoch, dating back tens of thousands of years, compared with their modern counterparts, Van Valkenburgh said. Rates of broken teeth from animals at the La Brea Tar Pits were two to four times higher than in modern animals, she and colleagues reported in the journal Science in the 1990s.

“Our new study suggests that the cause of this tooth fracture may have been more intense competition for food in the past than in present large carnivore communities,” Van Valkenburgh said.

She and colleagues reported in 2015 that violent attacks by packs of some of the world’s largest carnivores — including lions much larger than those of today and saber-toothed cats — went a long way toward shaping ecosystems during the Pleistocene.

In a 2016 article in the journal BioScience, Van Valkenburgh and more than 40 other wildlife experts wrote that preventing the extinction of lions, tigers, wolves, bears, elephants and the world’s other largest mammals will require bold political action and financial commitments from nations worldwide.

Discussing the new study, she said, “We want to understand the factors that increase mortality in large carnivores that, in many cases, are near extinction. Getting good information on that is difficult. Studying tooth fracture is one way to do so, and can reveal changing levels of food stress in big carnivores.”

Co-authors are Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, professors of forest resources and environmental science at Michigan Technological University; and Douglas Smith and Daniel Stahler, wildlife biologists with the National Park Service.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Park Service.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.