Astrophysicist France Córdova to deliver UCLA’s Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership

France Córdova, internationally renowned astrophysicist and the first woman to be appointed chief scientist for NASA, will deliver UCLA College’s fifth Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership on Nov. 10, titled “The Learn’d Astronomer Discovers the Policy World.” Córdova is the former director of the National Science Foundation and served in five presidential administrations.

A photo of Astrophysicist France Córdova.

Astrophysicist France Córdova (Photo Courtesy of France Córdova)

Córdova will discuss the world of science policy, which affects scientific progress as much as scientific discoveries themselves. Through examples such as the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the present day challenges faced by universities and federal science agencies, she will illustrate how difficult — and important — it can be to form good policy.

Registration is required for this virtual event, which is free and open to UCLA students, alumni and the general public. Following her talk, Córdova will take part in a moderated discussion informed by questions submitted by students and alumni.

“As an influential leader and trailblazer in science, engineering and education, France Córdova offers invaluable perspective on meeting the challenges of our rapidly changing world,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said.

During her career as a scientist, Córdova specialized in multi-spectral research on X-ray and gamma ray sources and in developing space-borne instrumentation. She was the first woman to be appointed president of Purdue University and the first Latina chancellor of UC Riverside. She previously served as vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara. Córdova also served as chair of the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of Mayo Clinic. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

Among her numerous honors, Córdova is the recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal — the agency’s highest honor, and the Kilby International Award, which is presented for significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a National Associate of the National Academies, an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science. She was appointed to the board of trustees of Caltech in June.

“France Córdova’s groundbreaking achievements are inspiring to all who value progress and discovery,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College. “Her Luskin Lecture will undoubtedly motivate and challenge all of us to create a better world through education and exploration, as she herself as done.”

The Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership was established in the UCLA College by Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2011 as part of a transformative gift to UCLA. Their vision in establishing the endowed lecture series gives the UCLA College an opportunity to share knowledge and expand the dialogue among scholars, leaders in government and business, and the greater Los Angeles community.

This article, written by Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Vahagn Aldzhyan Selected as Second Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholar

While volunteering with the UCLA undergraduate-led International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI), which aims to provide healthcare to underserved communities in Los Angeles, UCLA senior Vahagn Aldzhyan and his coworkers completed a needs assessment survey on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. When they asked the people there if they had access to medical care and health insurance, most said no.

“I always knew about Skid Row, I always drove past South LA, but just being there in person, talking to the people and getting a glimpse of what these people have to go through every day made me want to do a lot of work to empower people who are living in those situations,” said Aldzhyan, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major and Los Angeles native.

A photo of Vahagn Aldzhyan.

A portrait of Vahagn Aldzhyan. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The desire to bridge healthcare gaps and disparities has been the driving force throughout Aldzhyan’s time as Bruin. And it’s also part of what landed him the 2020-21 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, an annual award that recognizes and supports students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

In addition to working as a grant writer for the ICHI, Aldzhyan is a research assistant in the lab of Dr. Richard J. Pietras and Dr. Diana Marquez-Garban, developing therapeutics to treat triple-negative breast cancer. He presented his research about this aggressive form of cancer, which disproportionately affects young black women, at Undergraduate Research Week this year.

Aldzhyan works as an undergraduate learning assistant in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and physics and astronomy and a board member of the Armenian Engineers and Scientists Association. He’s also an Emergency Medical Technician, and a Health Scholar at COPE Solutions, where he volunteers and rotates through different departments at a local hospital.

After graduation, his goal is to apply to medical school and complete dual degrees in medicine and business so that he can have a greater impact on underserved communities, including in Armenia where his parents both immigrated from.

“I feel like when I’m working directly with patients, I’m impacting one life, but with a business degree, I can do a lot more to implement community service programs and reach an audience at a much greater level,” he said.

Aldzhyan said he is inspired by Arthur Ashe’s commitment to helping people facing discrimination, racism and hatred even after he had already achieved astronomical success as an athlete. Although Ashe himself had experienced the same challenges, he didn’t let it stop him from succeeding as well as creating opportunities for others.

“He was able to reciprocate positive energy and help communities and people that were in the same kind of situation as he was growing up. So that was really inspiring.” Aldzhyan said.

And the advice he’s taken away from Ashe’s story?

“When you hit a roadblock, don’t stop, just go through it. And then when you get to a goal and achieve it, don’t forget who helped you and help them too,” he said.

Aldzhyan said that while he’s grateful that the scholarship will help him with his tuition this year, he’s even more humbled to be part of The Arthur Ashe Legacy at UCLA as a recipient of the scholarship named in Ashe’s honor. He’s already looking forward to aiding future students who find themselves on a similar path.

“I can come back 10, 15, or maybe even a couple years from now and give back to those students who are interested in embodying what Arthur Ashe stood for as a community leader and as a Bruin,” he said.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.

This article, written by Robin Migdol, originally appeared on The Arthur Ashe Legacy website

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

The parallels of female power in ancient Egypt and modern times

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

 

Over the course of 3,000 years of Egypt’s history, six women ascended to become female kings of the fertile land and sit atop its authoritarian power structure. Several ruled only briefly, and only as the last option in their respective failing family line. Nearly all of them achieved power under the auspices of attempting to protect the throne for the next male in line. Their tenures prevented civil wars among the widely interbred families of social elites. They inherited famines and economic disasters. With the exception of Cleopatra, most remain a mystery to the world at large, their names unpronounceable, their personal thoughts and inner lives unrecorded, their deeds and images often erased by the male kings that followed, especially if the women were successful.

In her latest National Geographic book, “When Women Ruled the World” Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture and chair of the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, tells the stories of these six women: Merneith (some time between 3000–2890 B.C.), Neferusobek (1777–1773 B.C.), Hatsepshut (1473–1458 B.C.), Nefertiti (1338–1336 B.C.), Tawroset (1188–1186 B.C.) and Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.).

As we ponder Women’s History Month, and look forward toward a U.S. presidential primary campaign that includes more women candidates than ever before, we asked Cooney about themes of female power and what Egypt can illuminate for us.

Your book illustrates that Egyptian society valued and embraced women’s rule when it was deemed necessary, but these are not instances of feminism. Their attempts to rule was really about keeping the set structure in place.

Studying Egypt is a study of power, and specifically of how to maintain the power of the one over the many. That story also always includes examples of how women are used as tools to make sure the authoritarian regime flourishes. This is the most interesting part to me because then the whole tragedy of the study, of the book, is that this is not about feminism at all. It’s not about feminists moving forward, it’s not about the feminist agenda. It’s not about anything but protecting the status quo, the rich staying rich, the patriarchy staying in charge and the system continuing. We still do this, us women. Women work for the patriarchy without thinking about it, all the time. In the end, did women rule the world? Yes, they did rule the world but did it change anything? No.

I want to look at our world the same way. It doesn’t matter if we have a female president. What matters is how people rule and whose agendas are served.

People who have been to Egypt probably know the name Hatshepsut and maybe Nefertiti, but clearly the most pervasive female cultural Egyptian reference is Cleopatra. Why is she the one? Do we just have more materials related to her?

No, it’s because when you are successful, you can very easily be erased. Cleopatra failed in her efforts to hold on to power and hold onto native rule in Egypt. When you are a failure, it’s aberrant, strange and it spins a good tale. It’s a great story, failure. Whereas success is doing what everyone did before you and what everyone will do after you. It’s the same and nobody cares. It’s the same as being a successful female in a meeting or a successful female who shares a great idea with her boss and her boss takes that idea into the meeting while she sits there meekly, letting the boss take it for his or her own because it’s a successful, great idea.

So it’s the women who are the greatest successes in the story who are the most successfully erased. The women who did it all wrong and didn’t leave their land better than when they found it, who are remembered as cautionary tales. That’s our cultural memory. That’s why everyone can pronounce the name Cleopatra and no one has any idea how to pronounce Hatshepsut. She is not in our cultural memory. It doesn’t serve our patriarchal system to add her to it.

But remember, in the Egyptian mindset Cleopatra wasn’t a failure. She fought Rome and lost, but in the Arabic sources Cleopatra is remembered as an adherent to Egyptian philosophy, a freedom fighter against Rome and as a learned patriot to her people.

Book cover of When Women Ruled the World

How does the framework of Egypt’s long and relatively well-documented history and culture inform our perspectives on power as American citizens, a country of such a comparatively short history and governance?

Egypt is such a gift. When I get asked — and I do — “Why bother devoting your life to this place that’s been gone for 2,000 years and studying people that are as old as 5,000 years?” the answer is that Egypt provides me with 3,000 years of the same cultural system, religious system, government system and language system. I can follow them through booms and busts, through collapse and resurgence and see human reactions to prosperity and pain. That’s really useful. We are in this infancy of 250 years and we think we are so smart, we think we are post-racial, post-sexist and all of these things. But we’re not. Egypt is a huge gift to compare the situation that you are in to the past to see how you might better face the future.

It must be difficult to unearth women’s stories because of the ways in which historical records from around the world largely excluded information about them.

That’s the frustration of working with Egypt. We can’t forget that this is an authoritarian regime. It’s not a competitive place where I can get a speech from a competitor and try to understand a different viewpoint and agenda. It’s my responsibility as a historian of this regime to try and break it down and see what the truth is between the lines. For these women in power it’s even harder because so many of them were erased when their stories did not fit the patriarchal narrative. My job is to be a historical reconstructionist without being a revisionist. I’m interested in seeing how people work within a system and why we are so opposed, even hostile, to female power.

Why are we so hostile to female power?

The stereotype is that the female is going to use emotionality, her own and others, to manipulate and lie, to shame and guilt people into doing something. The man somehow won’t do that. He will be a straight shooter.

There is the idea that there is the masculine emotionality and a female emotionality. This female emotionality, which many men also bear, is the reason we don’t allow them to wield power because they’re happy, sad, up, down. They feel too many emotions that cannot be allowed.

The men that we ask to lead must suppress those emotions and show this even-keeled strength or only anger and no other softer emotions and then only strategically. We demand a kind of emotionality from our leaders that I find quite stunted and I want to know what the evolutionary biology of that is because a lot of this is a knee-jerk reaction to what serves us better in a short-term, acute time of crisis. I think we all need to discuss what it is about that female emotionality, of connecting with our own emotions and others or even manipulating our emotions for our own gain, that is so problematic.

As of now, six women have announced Democratic presidential campaigns for 2020. What does our historical knowledge of what happens to women when they seek power bode for the coming election season?

I get rather cynical about it, to be honest. Already I see the dialogue revolving around deceit and not being a straight shooter.

Again, it’s that double standard that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a man. It’s interesting to see how people are judging women based on emotionality and how much of that they show, how ambitious they seem to be and how duplicitous they may or may not be.

That possibility for deceit is something we are quite obsessed with for female candidates. The possibility of lies by the female is that much more powerful than the outright, absolute fact of deceit by a male candidate or leader. That is very interesting to me. The female is assumed to be a liar, but when a man lies he’s doing it for a reason and he’s on my side so I’m cool with it.

We’ve been discussing racism for some time but we do not discuss our hostility towards females in power. Unless we start to talk about it and openly discuss it, it won’t change.

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

UCLA biology professor uses superheroes to help students sift fact from fiction

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

Shane Campbell-Staton, shown in his UCLA office, says comic books offer a fantastical look at biological concepts.

While Shane Campbell-Staton was working on his dissertation at Harvard in 2013, he walked into a comic book store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and saw a comic in which Superman fought Muhammad Ali. That was the first comic book he ever bought.

An evolutionary biologist, he spent his days writing about the evolution of a small green lizard that adapted from a warm, sub-tropical environment to the cold winters of Tennessee, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Before going to sleep, he read the comic book as a guilty pleasure.

“Pitting the peak of human performance in Muhammad Ali against the peak of science fiction performance in the Man of Steel, in a ring with gloves on, I had to see how that fight ended,” Campbell-Staton said. (He refuses to spoil the ending by saying who won.)

Campbell-Staton became curious about other comic book universes, and returned to buy a couple of other superhero comics, which he also read before falling asleep. He started to have strange dreams that combined the biology he was thinking about with the comic books he was reading. He had a dream about the Flash – the fastest person in the world whose super speed is coupled with superhuman reflexes – running faster than a bullet. Campbell-Staton woke up thinking about muscle fiber, friction and metabolism — things that fuel a body.

“Science fiction and comic books are a really good way of approaching classic questions in biology from a different angle,” said Campbell-Staton, a UCLA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, whose research focuses on how reptiles and other animal species adapt to extreme environments, and the physiology, biology and evolution behind that process. “Comic books offer a fantastical look at the same concepts.”

Campbell-Staton started his popular Biology of Superheroes podcast in late 2017, which was a top 20 iTunes science and medicine podcast this January.

This quarter he is teaching a new “Biology of Superheroes” course for juniors and seniors in the life sciences. He uses superheroes such as Batman, Captain America, Black Panther and Wonder Woman, as well as Jurassic Park and zombies, to teach his students the biology of aging, genetics, evolution, genetic engineering, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, the ethics of reviving extinct species, parallel universes, intelligent alien life and how biology shapes modern society.

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton giving a lecture to students.

Shane Campbell-Staton teaches his “Biology of Superheroes” course at UCLA.

Students read peer-reviewed research journal articles, chapters from science books and comic books. They can create their own science fiction or superhero podcast for their final project, or write a paper or a superhero short novel. Campbell-Staton said he would like to include some of their podcast material on his podcast.

Campbell-Staton said he wants to push students to think about biology in ways they typically would not.

“Regardless of whether these students go into medicine, research, politics, or other fields, my job is to help them sift fact from fiction,” Campbell-Staton said. “If you can sift fact from fiction in Spider-Man, that is a training ground for asking questions about what is true, what is not, and how to tell one from the other when it comes to complex ideas they will confront later in their lives.”

His students agree.

“Usually, we learn the biology of plants and animals. This class is refreshing and cool,” Fayt Sarreal said.

Student Andy Duong said Campbell-Staton cleverly weaves science into the superhero discussions in a creative and engaging way.

In a recent class session, Campbell-Staton raised a question posed by Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould (who died in 2002): If you replay the tape of evolution, will you repeatedly get the same results or different results?

The consensus among the students was the results would be different. One said the six-mile-wide asteroid that crashed to Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and approximately 75 percent of the world’s animal and plant species, might miss the Earth in an alternate scenario, and if so, the dinosaurs likely would still roam the Earth.

The 2018 movie, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” addresses this question with alternate universes. The character Peter Parker is Spider-Man in one universe, while Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman in another universe. The same characters appear in different universes, but as a superhero in one universe, a normal person in a different universe, and a supervillain in another universe. The role of determinism in evolution is a lively, ongoing debate in evolutionary biology — one this movie explores through the lens of the multiverse, Campbell-Staton said. Gould argued that replaying the tape of life repeatedly would yield different results, likely not including humans.

An earlier class session covered whether elite athletes have to be extraordinarily gifted genetically. Campbell-Staton discussed specific gene mutations that influence endurance and muscle strength. He plans to teach the “Biology of Superheroes” each year in winter quarter.

When Campbell-Staton was in high school, he took a memorable course on myths and legends that delved into broader issues. “That always stuck with me as a unique and enjoyable learning experience that forced me to push myself,” he said.

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

41 UCLA scientists among world’s most influential scholars, based on citations

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

A UCLA chemistry lab. The Clarivate report identifies researchers whose publications have “been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility.”

 

The world’s most influential scientific researchers in 2018 include 41 UCLA scholars.

In its annual list, Clarivate Analytics names the most highly cited researchers — those whose work was most often referenced by other scientific research papers for the preceding decade in 21 fields across the sciences and social sciences. (The 2018 list is based on citations between 2006 and 2016.)

The researchers rank in the top 1 percent in their fields in producing widely cited studies, indicating that their work “has been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility,” according to Clarivate. Current UCLA faculty members and researchers who were named to the list, noted with their primary UCLA research field or fields, are:

Three UCLA professors awarded 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships

Three young UCLA professors have been named recipients of 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships. The fellowships, which were announced today, were awarded to 126 scientists and scholars from 57 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” said Adam Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of 21st-century science.”

Winners of Sloan Research Fellowships receive a two-year, $70,000 award to support their research. The fellowships are intended to enhance the careers of exceptional young scientists and scholars in chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics.

UCLA’s 2019 recipients are:

 

Photo of Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chetverikov

Chetverikov, an assistant professor of economics at UCLA since 2013, studies econometrics, an area of economics that focuses on the use of mathematical and statistical methods to describe economic systems. His recent research includes work on high-dimensional models, shape restrictions and applications of empirical process theory in econometrics. He has been published in Econometrica, the Annals of Statistics, and the Annals of Probability. He is also the recipient of a 2016 grant from the National Science Foundation; and the MIT Presidential Fellowship in 2008. He received his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013 and his master’s from the New Economic School in Moscow in 2007.

 

 

Photo of Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

Hu, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, studies nanoscale transport processes and advanced materials for research into energy and micro/nanoscale sensor systems. His group’s discovery of the world’s most efficient semiconductor material for thermal management was featured in the Aug. 10, 2018 issue of the journal Science. His research has been recognized with a National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award, U.S. Air Force Young Investigator Award, and the American Chemical Society’s Doctoral New Investigator Award. Hu and colleagues also received a UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge grant, a program made possible by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation. Hu joined the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering in 2014. Prior to UCLA, he was a Battelle postdoctoral fellow at MIT and earned his doctorate from Harvard University.

 

 

Aaswath Raman

Photo of Aaswath Raman

Aaswath Raman

Raman, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, investigates how to control light and heat at the nanoscale. His laboratory brings together a multi-disciplinary computational and experimental perspective to design, fabricate and study metamaterials and new complex optical materials that can shape, absorb and emit light in highly unusual and useful ways over a broad range of wavelengths. Raman and his team are strongly motivated by climate change and the need for new energy technologies that better harness the light and heat around us. He has pioneered the development of radiative sky cooling as a new energy technology, showing how a natural phenomenon in which heat dissipates into the sky and space can, among other things, cool buildings without using electricity, and also generate electricity at night. In 2018, Raman gave a widely viewed TED talk on his research. His honors include being named to MIT Technology Review’s annual Innovators Under 35 list. He is a recipient of the Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction from the Government of Alberta, Canada; the SPIE Green Photonics Award; and the inaugural Nelson “Buck” Robinson Science and Technology Award for Renewable Energy from the Materials Research Society. Raman is also the co-founder and chief scientific officer of SkyCool Systems, a startup company based on his radiative sky cooling research.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu speaks with UCLA professor Abel Valenzuela during an audience Q&A following the Winston C. Doby lecture.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu says government can help make society more just for all

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu speaks with UCLA professor Abel Valenzuela during an audience Q&A following the Winston C. Doby lecture.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu speaks with UCLA professor Abel Valenzuela during an audience Q&A following the Winston C. Doby lecture.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu came from Taiwan to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old. And since then, he has tried to champion the ideals that propelled him and his family to success.

“In my mind, [my parents] achieved the American dream,” the California Democrat told the crowd as he delivered the UCLA Academic Advancement Project’s Winston C. Doby Distinguished Lecture. “They went from being poor, to owning a home, to giving my brother and I an amazing education.”

Lieu told his story to a rapt audience of students, faculty and alumni on Feb. 19 at the California NanoSystems Institute. This year was the seventh Doby lecture, which is put on by UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program.

Known as AAP, the Academic Advancement Program is the nation’s largest university-based student diversity program, with a tradition of more than 40 years at UCLA. It has reached more than 5,600 students through academic advising, collaborative learning workshops, mentoring, scholarships and a summer bridge program for entering freshmen and transfer students.

AAP established the Doby lecture to honor its creator and first director, Winston C. Doby, who devoted more than 40 years advocating for access and social justice in higher education for all students.

“He continues to be an inspiration to me,” said Charles Alexander, associate vice provost for student diversity and current AAP director. “He was very involved in many, many incredible things in terms of building this campus and building campus community.”

As Lieu considered the topic of how to make society more just and fair for everyone, he broke it down into three distinct areas for his approximately 45-minute lecture: education, immigration and criminal justice reform.

“The single best investment our nation can make is in education,” said Lieu, who added that he found inspiration in Doby’s work and the work of UCLA’s Academic Advancement Project. “We have to think about it, not just for higher education, but all the way down.”

Lieu emphasized the benefits of investing in education for children ages 0-5, and to also look for holistic solutions. He emphasized the need to lift families out of poverty as the best way to improve educational outcomes

“That would do more to improve public education than anything we could do,” Lieu said.

He cited an example of a Los Angeles nonprofit that went into schools and tested children’s eyesight. As many as 30 percent of students in several schools needed eyeglasses, which the nonprofit delivered. Once the students were able to see clearly, test scores improved. “If you could take into account these non-school factors, that is a big way to improve public education.”

On immigration, Lieu expressed his frustration that a deal to protect people who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program fell through, but vowed to continue to find a way to halt any unfair immigration laws that President Donald Trump’s administration might propose. Lieu said that he would still consider giving in to some of the administration’s demands — perhaps even a wall — if there was comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he and many others seek. Lieu said he did not want to rule that out.

Even though it can often be difficult to find political common ground in Washington, D.C., Lieu co-authored a recently passed criminal justice reform bill. The bill has lowered sentences for non-violent crimes, among other actions.

“It was not huge, but it was a step in the right direction,” Lieu said, adding that a good second step would be to implement bail reform. “If you really look into it, it is a disaster. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of people are locked up in prisons and jails, not because they’ve been convicted of anything, but because they are too poor to pay the fee to get out of jail or prison.”

Under current bail laws people get released because they can afford to pay a large bail, not because they committed a crime that makes them less of a threat to the community. Consequently, poorer people languish in jail.

Lieu said a newer risk analysis system that adjusts to that reality has been previously implemented in Washington, D.C. and Kentucky — and this year in California — has shown early positive results.

Lieu briefly discussed Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border between the United States and Mexico.

“Study after study after study say that both documented and undocumented immigrants commit less crime than people born here,” Lieu said, adding that he thinks there is a good argument to be made in the courts to halt the national emergency declaration.

Lieu concluded by taking the time to talk about the humanitarian crisis caused by the Yemen Civil War. He said his heart goes out to the Yemen civilians who are suffering, and he’s distressed by the mounting casualties from Saudi Arabian airstrikes — something he has fought to bring to the national consciousness. “War crimes are not a partisan issue.”

After his speech, Lieu fielded questions from the audience, assisted by moderator Abel Valenzuela, UCLA professor of urban planning and Chicana and Chicano studies, as well as UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s adviser on immigration. Topics included the 2020 presidential election, Green New Deal and affirmative action.

Lieu concluded by emphasizing the social justice aspect of the evening, and vowing to continue to fight for those ideals in Congress. “I’m in politics to make sure this [American] dream remains possible for people who want to work hard and succeed.”

Photo of Lynn Vavreck

Political science professor’s new bestseller illuminates America’s ‘Identity Crisis’

Photo of Lynn Vavreck

Lynn Vavreck

For almost a decade, UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck has been telling us the message matters when it comes to American politics, specifically presidential campaigns.

“Every election will create narratives about how the winner won,” said Vavreck, co-author of a recently released bestseller about the 2016 presidential election that uses data-driven analysis to dispel popular misconceptions about why Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

“But it’s common that those narratives don’t quite hold up under scrutiny when we look at polling data and electorate surveys and other data, and that’s particularly true of what we found when we looked closely at 2016,” said Vavreck, who was named the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy in January.

In “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America,”Vavreck and co-authors John Sides, professor of political science at George Washington University, and Michael Tesler, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine, methodically outline the primary battles that led to the eventual matchup between Trump and Clinton. The authors dissect media coverage, national polling, data about voters’ attitudes, the effects of Russian interference, the impact of social media on misinformation and the candidates’ messaging and overarching campaign strategies.

As the nation recalibrates after a contentious midterm election season punctuated by polarized rhetoric and high voter turnout, “Identity Crisis” takes a microscope to what mattered most in 2016.

While historically presidential elections are almost always a referendum on the party in power, and typically a referendum on how well the economy is performing under that power, it’s not ever solely about the economy, Vavreck contends, and which she outlined in her 2009 book “The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns.”

For the most recent election, which was always going to be a toss-up, as “Identity Crisis” painstakingly documents, the message that emerged was all about identity.

Photo of the bestseller "Identity Crisis"

“Identity Crisis” cover

“In 2016, the notion of identity, and how people think about their group compared to other groups was a prism that refracted voters’ ideas about the economy, which created a phenomenon we call ‘racialized economics,” Vavreck said.

Trump was particularly good at identifying and stoking the flames of in-group/out-group insecurities and flash points, with fiery rhetoric around complicated issues like immigration, criminal justice and fears of Islamic terrorism, as well as economic anxiety. Shortly after the election, a prevailing theme of voter rage and frustration began to emerge to explain Trump’s win.

But, according to Vavreck and her co-authors and the data they examined, voters weren’t markedly angrier in 2016 than they were in 2012 or even 2008. And, voters’ attitudes about race weren’t much different between those election time frames, either.

What was different in 2016 was the message, the players, and the fact that “outsider” Trump was willing to tap into racial fears and attitudes in ways that previous Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom campaigned against a black candidate, declined to do, Vavreck said.

“I think Trump is not held to the same standards as ‘professional’ politicians because of who he is — so in some way, he was able to do what a typical politician could not do — or certainly would not do,” she said.

This identity messaging strategy was again in play during the recent midterms when the president frequently held up a caravan of asylum seekers from Central America as a national threat while speaking in support of Republican candidates.

Meanwhile, although almost every week there’s a news story about Facebook’s effects on elections and democracies, Vavreck is doubtful about how much impact the social networking platform truly wields, mostly because of the nature of the interaction on the site. People mostly follow and see posts from people who already think very similarly to them.

And the oft-discussed Russian ads were seen by a relatively small number of people, and mostly within those echo chambers, Vavreck said.

“I’m pretty skeptical of the social media angle because of the self-selection into conversations on those media,” she said.

Vavreck has emerged as a respected voice in the world of presidential politics. She contributes regularly to the New York Times data-driven politics and economics blog “The Upshot,” and is a coveted local, national and international commentator on American presidential campaigns.

She’s already thinking about what 2020 will bring, this time planning to write a book on her own, without her collaborators from “Identity Crisis.” Along with Sides, she co-wrote the well-received “The Gamble:Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election.”

“I am really interested in the role of ‘authenticity’ in politics — what it is, how we can measure it, how people perceive it, whether it really does any work,” she said. “People evaluate art and music this way all the time, and I’d like to try to evaluate politicians as performers in this way.”

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Biologist chosen for $2.5 million Ben Barres Early Career Award

 

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Elaine Hsiao

Elaine Hsiao, assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College, has been awarded a five-year, $2.5 million Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award as part of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. The award, announced today, will support her laboratory’s research on mapping cellular networks to better understand microbiome contributions to neurodegenerative diseases.

Hsiao is among 17 researchers in the U.S. to receive the award, named for the late Ben Barres, an American neurobiologist at Stanford University who was a fierce advocate for young scientists, women, mentorship and diversity in science. She also has faculty appointments in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in departments of medicine and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics.

She and her research team reported in the journal Cell in May that they have identified specific gut bacteria that play an essential role in the anti-seizure effects of the ketogenic diet. This was the first study to establish a causal link between seizure susceptibility and the gut microbiota. Watch her TED talk on how the microbiome affects the brain and behavior.

The awards launch the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, which brings together research scientists from neuroscience, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology and genomics, along with computational biologists and physicians, to understand the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders.

Only UCLA, Harvard, UC San Francisco and Caltech have more than one recipient of the Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards. Inma Cobos, assistant professor of neuropathology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was also selected for this award.

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Psychologist honored for study of brain development in children, adolescents and adults

Photo of Adriana Galván

Adriana Galván

Adriana Galván, UCLA professor of psychology and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, will receive one of two 2019 Troland Research Awards, the National Academy of Sciences announced today.

The awards, established in 1931, are given annually to recognize outstanding achievement by young researchers in experimental psychology, and include support of $75,000. Galván will be presented the Troland Research Award on April 28.

Galván has made “pioneering discoveries,” the academy said, about brain development in children, adolescents and adults. “Her work, conducted with an eye toward informing policy on juvenile justice and related issues, has already transformed our understanding of adolescent neurobiological development.”

In 2006, Galván showed that the adolescent brain inadequately regulates feelings such as desire, fight and flight. Galván’s work has addressed critical environmental factors affecting behavior, such as the role of sleep and family disadvantages on the neurodevelopment of the parts of the brain associated with risk and reward.

Galván published research last year explaining the differences between people disturbed by the 2016 presidential election who suffered a loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and concentrating, compared with others equally disturbed by the election result who have not experienced such symptoms of depression.