A photo of an article in the newspaper detailing the layoffs that continue to happen around the world.

With record unemployment filings, federal stimulus will help, but more is needed

A photo of an article in the newspaper detailing the layoffs that continue to happen around the world.

COVID-19 will plunge the United States economy into a recession. Photo Credit: by James Yarema on Unsplash

As an economist and director of the California Policy Lab, Till von Wachter is continually spearheading research projects and policy recommendations related to labor and employment as well as homelessness, education and crime.

As the U.S. economy further slows because of how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many businesses to close, UCLA Newsroom asked von Wachter, who is also the associate dean of research for the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, to help parse through current employment statistics, why the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package called the CARES Act — which was signed into law March 27 — is so critical and what its immediate and far-reaching effects might be for U.S. workers and the economy.

How do you interpret the unemployment numbers that came out April 2?

The number of new claims to unemployment insurance — 6.6 million — was deeply alarming because that number is so much higher than what we’ve seen in previous recessions. Moreover, these numbers do not capture the many people out of work that are self-employed, have low wages, or for some other reason do not qualify for unemployment insurance. As CNBC noted, even in the worst week of the Great Recession, the number of claims were only 665,000 in March of 2009. The highest since the 1960s was 1,073,500 in the 1982 recession. Having studied unemployment, recessions and the policy responses to them for most of my academic career, I’m deeply concerned that if policymakers don’t act quickly, we could see a recession the likes of which our country has never experienced before. It will impact Americans for decades to come. There is still hope that the economy will turn back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic is contained, but prolonged large-scale unemployment may be hard to reverse.

What will this mean for the U.S. economy and Americans who could be laid off in the coming weeks?

I have studied a range of situations where workers were hit by a sudden shock in the labor market, such as a job loss when a business suddenly lays off a large number of workers. The key here is to compare people who lost their jobs to a counterfactual of luckier workers who kept their jobs and that otherwise would have looked like them. The result from my research is that a worker with a steady job at a good employer that loses their job during a mass layoff in a recession will die 1.5 years sooner than they would have if they had not been laid off.  When you extrapolate that to an expected unemployment rate of 10% (approximately 10 million additional unemployed workers, which given the most recent week’s numbers may be a conservative scenario), my back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest a loss of 15 million life years. Beyond increased mortality, in separate research I have found these workers also suffer immediate and permanent earnings losses. Again, if those accrued to 10 million workers, it would amount to over $1 trillion dollars in earnings capacity lost over their lifetimes.

It’s also important to keep in mind more than 6 million individuals will graduate high school or obtain a college degree this year, and about 13 million workers age 16-24 are currently in the labor force. Hence about 20 million young individuals are of particularly high risk of exposure to a recession. Existing evidence suggests that unlucky labor market entrants suffer losses in earnings that last 10 to 15 years, depending on the severity of the recession. Yet, it appears their socioeconomic status declines again in middle age, and several studies have found that they experience higher rates of death over the long term. For example, entering the labor market during a large recession appears to reduce life-expectancy of young workers by about half a year. There would be an additional 10 million of life years lost from a prolonged recession.

Will the CARES Act help? 

The CARES Act is a good start. It includes significant funding spread out in a variety of ways to help sustain the economy while people practice safe distancing to defeat COVID-19. The additional pandemic unemployment assistance provided to the self-employed and others not covered by unemployment insurance benefits is of course an important aspect of the law. Yet, I argue in a recent proposal (PDF) that states need to act decisively and creatively to quickly scale up programs included in the CARES Act.

The funding Congress included for several programs that help firms to keep workers on their payroll could be a game-changer. This includes federal funding for “short-time compensation,” or STC, programs, sometimes also called work-sharing, as well as short-term emergency loans that include provisions for job stability.

In the same way that we are all “sheltering in place,” state employment departments — the agencies that administer unemployment benefits in every state — can use STC programs and equip companies to keep their employees in place. Under STCs, firms are able to reduce the hours of a large group of their employees (instead of laying just a few of them off), and employees can partially make up the difference in pay through receiving unemployment benefits. For a state like California that already has a functioning STC program, these STC benefits will be paid entirely by the federal government. This could lead to substantial saving for the state’s finances that will be likely very stretched in other ways.

Even better, the CARES Act also included a substantial subsidy for firms that were impacted by COVID-19 to help pay their workers’ wages. A small to mid-size firm that pays average wages could reduce the hours of their workers by 50% through shared-time compensation and have up to half of the remaining 50% of wages paid for by the federal government. This would be an instantaneous reduction of their wage bill by 75% while workers are kept on the job instead of flooding unemployment offices. Some businesses may find it hard to pay for even part of their workforce, perhaps because of large reductions in revenues or substantial fixed costs. The CARES Act also provides struggling businesses with the option to apply for short-term emergency loans through the Small Business Administration that would help them pay rent, wages and other operating costs. The key is that the repayment of these loans can be waived if the firm refrains from laying off their workers. Overall, firms now have a range of options to adjust to the economic conditions without laying off their workers.

How would states use short-time compensation?

Twenty-six states, including California, already have STC programs, meaning about 70% of the U.S. workforce could be covered. There is also funding in the law for the administrative costs of expanding these programs. For those 26 states, the federal government agreed to pay 100% of the benefits under STC programs.

Unfortunately, many employers are not currently aware of the program. Yet, states can be proactive in making the STC more attractive than layoffs to employers. Typically, if a firm lays off workers who receive unemployment insurance benefits, its payroll tax increases to help offset the costs to the unemployment insurance system. Yet, states could choose to pass on some of the cost-savings (from the federal government paying 100% of STC benefits) by committing not to raise the payroll tax for those firms that use STC instead of unemployment insurance. This incentive would help states to make a strong case for employers to use this program.

The key is to dispatch these funds quickly because failure to do so will likely lead to skyrocketing claims for unemployment insurance and serious bottlenecks in processing claims. It can also lead to substantial long-term effects on the income and health of people who are losing their jobs, young labor market entrants and others directly affected by the economic crisis. Unfortunately, many states’ STC programs are understaffed, such that there is a concern that bottlenecks may arise. In a recent proposal, I outline a proposal as to how states could quickly enroll thousands of firms despite these issues, such that these problems could also be surmounted.

The CARES Act also included $100 million in start-up grants for states that do not yet have STC programs, and if they do create them, the federal government will fund 50% of the benefits. While this is less than existing programs receive, it is still a great deal for workers, for firms, and for states because it means fewer layoffs, lower payroll taxes, and lower program expenditures, respectively.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Meredith Cohen.

Bringing Notre-Dame and Other Buildings Back to Life, UCLA Professor Reconstructs the Lost Monuments of Medieval Paris

A photo of Meredith Cohen.

Meredith Cohen, Associate Professor of Art History (Photo Credit: UCLA)

When Notre-Dame burned last April, people all over the world – Catholics and atheists, French people and Australians – felt it like a body blow. One of them was Meredith Cohen, associate professor of art history at UCLA. “I didn’t believe it was happening,” she says. “It was terrifying.”

Buildings, as Californians know all too well, burn all the time. But Notre-Dame has a special place in cultural history. Constructed primarily from the 11th to 13th centuries, Notre Dame’s early years coexisted, Cohen says, with the consolidation of Paris as “a center of wealth and cultural power.” Its religious weight – the cathedral is consecrated to the Virgin Mary and houses the Biblical crown of thorns – is just as substantial.

Now, centuries later, the question of how to restore the cathedral after the fire, which destroyed a 300-foot spire and badly damaged its wooden roof, is generating strong opinions. Journalists are seeking Cohen’s point of view; she’s also a member of the Scientifiques de Notre-Dame association, a scholarly group that advocates for a responsible restoration to the French government.

Cohen, grew up on L.A.’s Westside and was pleasantly surprised – after a decade in New York and Europe – to find herself returning to California in 2011 to take a post at UCLA. Besides teaching, research and her public role in the restoration, she is the Principal Investigator of a project called Paris, Past & Present, a site that allows her, with help from students, to virtually reconstruct the city’s medieval monuments.

“The majority of these buildings are lost,” she says. “Many were destroyed in the French Revolution. But we have a lot of information on them – fragments of drawings and engravings. I piece them together like puzzles in a 3-D environment.”

As for Notre-Dame, there is no consensus on the route forward. Because some of its iconic status arrived thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which rescued the Gothic style from disfavor, some want to return the cathedral to its brooding 19thcentury grandeur. Others want to leave it as is, damage included. “There are different schools of thought,” Cohen says. Her view is nuanced, and tries to honor both past and present without faking anything: In short, don’t pretend it’s 1860. “Rebuild it in a way that’s of our time,” she says, “but still respect the building’s proportions.”

A photo of Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.

A Global Lifeboat: Evolution and Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus Podcast

A photo of Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.

A Global Lifeboat: Evolution and Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus Podcast

Daniel Fessler, Anthropologist and Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, discusses how an understanding of humanity’s past and present can help us to meet the personal, social, and political challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A Global Lifeboat: Evolution and Kindness in the Time of Coronavirus

A photo of the UCLA campus.

Photoessay: The UCLA Campus during Coronavirus

A PHOTO ESSAY

Photos of UCLA’s beautiful campus, most of them taken on March 17, one week after classes moved to remote instruction in the face of the growing pandemic. We can’t wait to see Bruins back on Bruin Walk when it’s safe to return. In the meantime, be kind and be well. #bruinstrong

ROYCE HALL

A photo of Royce Hall.

© Christelle Snow

BRUIN WALK

A photo of Bruin Walk.

© Christelle Snow

JANSS STEPS

A photo of Janss Steps.

© Christelle Snow

POWELL LIBRARY

A photo of Powell Library.

© Christelle Snow

INSIDE POWELL LIBRARY

A photo inside of Powell Library.

© Christelle Snow

UCLA CAMPUS

A photo of the UCLA campus.

© Pete Saloutos

A photo of Cecilia Menjívar.

Don’t call it ‘social distancing’

Opinion by Cecilia Menjívar, Jacob G. Foster and Jennie E. Brand

Editor’s Note: Cecilia Menjívar is Professor of Sociology and Dorothy L. Meier Social Equities Chair, Jacob G. Foster is Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Jennie E. Brand is Professor of Sociology and Statistics, all at the University of California at Los Angeles. The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) – Public health officials tell us to minimize physical contact in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. While the public, thankfully, is hearing the message, there is a hidden danger: As we retreat into our homes, we can lose sight of our essential connections to one another and forget about the plight of those most vulnerable to the fraying of social bonds.

It is important for us all to realize that when they recommend “social distancing” — a phrase that has rapidly entered the public lexicon — what health experts are really promoting are practices that temporarily increase our physical distance from one another in order to slow the spread of the virus.

They are not recommending social disconnection, social exclusion, or rampant individualism.

To combat those social ills, we should replace the term “social distancing” with the more precise “physical distancing.” In fact, when we practice physical distancing, we need social connectivity and social responsibility more than ever.

A photo of Cecilia Menjívar.

Cecilia Menjívar (Photo Credit: UCLA)

On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced strict new measures for isolation (as California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom did the day before). In his televised remarks, Cuomo noted the difficulty — but crucial necessity — of maintaining physical distance from loved ones.

But even as he rolled out these drastic measures (including civil penalties) to ensure physical distance, he underscored the importance of maintaining social connections, touchingly recounting how he is doing this himself with his daughter, who was in isolation for two weeks.

“I was very aware of what she was dealing with and what she was feeling,” he said. “I tell you the truth I had some of the best conversations with her that I have ever had … we talked about things in depth that we didn’t have time to talk about in the past, or we didn’t have the courage or the strength to talk about in the past.” He urged people to be “mindful” that those “three word sentences can make all the difference: ‘I miss you;’ you know ‘I love you, I’m thinking about you; I wish I was there with you; I’m sorry you’re going through this’…”

Indeed, a large body of research points to the immense physical and mental health benefits of such social connections. Social isolation, by contrast, brings risk, especially for older folks.

In the difficult circumstances we are facing now, we can still connect and take social responsibility — even as we are trying to stay physically distant. Social responsibility and connectivity come in different forms, and they go hand in hand with empathy, compassion, and humanity.

So how do we remain socially connected and responsibly engaged at a time when physical distance is critical?

For one, we can use technology to strengthen friendships and support one another through telephone, social media, text, video chat, and even gaming. If you are able to work from home, consider taking the time you would have spent commuting to reach out to family, friends, and neighbors — even and especially those who might not have heard from you in a while.

People and organizations are also rapidly re-thinking membership and group participation in imaginative ways. They are holding virtual religious gatherings, and other social events — famously, now, singing together from balconies in Italy; streaming opera nightly (as the Metropolitan Opera began this week), having virtual parties, happy hours and celebrations.

Now is the time to unleash our capacity for collective creativity and find new ways to build meaningful community and connection.

We can also turn our creative energies toward social action. Seattle, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, is witnessing an impressive flourishing of outreach: people helping each other out. One Seattle resident — an artist — made a Facebook live video where he read guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Ethiopian-American community — in Amharic — in order to replace swirling rumor and misinformation with hard science.

Even the writing of this piece has been a group effort — by UCLA sociologists concerned that the call for “social distancing” risked doing unintentional harm — and needed to be replaced with the more precise language of “physical distancing.”

Physical (but not social) distancing still allows us to provide material support to the most vulnerable in many ways, like asking neighbors if we can pick up groceries, pet food, and other essentials for them — delivered from a safe distance — to minimize travel. We can refrain from panic shopping and the hoarding of essential resources, which creates artificial scarcity that affects everyone.

We can organize to provide enrichment for youngsters who are suddenly being homeschooled, as in the #openschools project. We can combat the spread of misinformation online and enhance the collective intelligence of social media discourse about Covid-19. And we can call on our leaders, employers, and corporations to provide needed resources and coverage for people who cannot afford to work from home so that they too can practice physical distancing.

In California, the most populous state in the country, Gov. Newsom has ordered residents to stay home and closed restaurants, bars, gyms, retail stores, offices, and all non-essential establishments to ensure physical distancing.

Gov. Cuomo’s mandate directs 75% of the New York workforce stay home. Similar mandates across other states will follow. These radical but necessary steps to ensure physical distance will result in significant job losses and likely a recessionary economy — and undoubtedly create considerable stress for millions of workers.

We must be particularly supportive of those among us who are vulnerable to contagion — unable to “physically distance”– precisely because of the work they do. This includes not only health care workers but also service and delivery workers, domestic and home care workers, cashiers, sanitation workers, janitors, store clerks, farm workers, and food servers who quietly but vitally sustain our collective lifestyles, even in a pandemic.

They cannot afford to be absent from work, cannot work remotely, and often do not have health insurance.

In large cities, like our own Los Angeles, these workers are often immigrants who also bear the weight of negative stereotypes and discrimination and often experience social and institutional exclusion. Our notions of social connection and responsibility must be big enough to include the vulnerable among us. As coronavirus has made abundantly clear, health is not an individual matter. Such diseases do not respect social or political divisions.

While the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually pass, its consequences will be with us for years. The fallout will disproportionately harm many of the same people who are suffering now: the socially and economically marginalized. But this is not inevitable.

Just as physical distancing can give us a fighting chance of combating this virus, finding creative and socially responsible ways to connect in crisis can have positive and long-lasting effects on our communities.

We must be physically distant now — our health depends on it. But we should redouble our efforts to be socially close. Our health depends on that, too.

This article originally appeared on CNN.com.

A photo of James Lloyd-Smith.

Study reveals how long COVID-19 remains infectious on cardboard, metal and plastic

The virus that causes COVID-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

The study suggests that people may acquire the coronavirus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. Scientists discovered the virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

A photo of James Lloyd-Smith in his office.

James Lloyd-Smith

“This virus is quite transmissible through relatively casual contact, making this pathogen very hard to contain,” said James Lloyd-Smith, a co-author of the study and a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “If you’re touching items that someone else has recently handled, be aware they could be contaminated and wash your hands.”

The study attempted to mimic the virus being deposited onto everyday surfaces in a household or hospital setting by an infected person through coughing or touching objects, for example. The scientists then investigated how long the virus remained infectious on these surfaces.

The study’s authors are from UCLA, the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Princeton University. They include Amandine Gamble, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in Lloyd-Smith’s laboratory.

In February, Lloyd-Smith and colleagues reported in the journal eLife that screening travelers for COVID-19 is not very effective. People infected with the virus — officially named SARS-CoV-2 — may be spreading the virus without knowing they have it or before symptoms appear. Lloyd-Smith said the biology and epidemiology of the virus make infection extremely difficult to detect in its early stages because the majority of cases show no symptoms for five days or longer after exposure.

“Many people won’t have developed symptoms yet,” Lloyd-Smith said. “Based on our earlier analysis of flu pandemic data, many people may not choose to disclose if they do know.”

The new study supports guidance from public health professionals to slow the spread of COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, and dispose of the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a household cleaning spray or wipe.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of students during lecture.

UCLA offers undergraduates emergency financial support for remote learning technology

WESTWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 1, 2014. College of Letters and Science photography.

As universities across the nation adjust to remote instruction in an effort to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, UCLA is working to make the transition smooth and to ensure that amid the stress of an uncertain time, no undergraduate student is left behind because of financial need.

An innovative program showcasing the strength of the UCLA community, called the Bruin Tech Award, launched this week, initiated by Patricia Turner, senior dean of UCLA College. The program offers an emergency award of up to $1,000 to support students who may not have the technology at home needed to access online classes, such as up-to-date computers or wi-fi. More than 40 awards were approved on the first day the funds were offered.

“This is an award, not a loan, that we hope will help UCLA students who may not have the resources to purchase the technology at home on their own to continue to excel in their courses in a virtual environment,” said Turner, who, in addition to her role at the College, also serves as vice provost of undergraduate education.

Bruin Tech funds will be distributed through UCLA’s financial aid office. Turner has been working closely with Roxanne Neal, assistant vice provost, to roll out aid rapidly to any undergraduate student in need who already is approved for financial aid. The office also is taking a variety of factors into account before determining eligibility.

“Our hope was to match the technical needs that students have for their courses without them worrying about the financial implications,” Neal said. “We want to make sure that students have the same access they traditionally get from campus computer labs and services. Dean Turner was instrumental in making this happen.”

Eligible undergraduate students may purchase laptops, tablets or hotspots at the UCLA Store in the Ackerman Union, which is the fastest method, or purchase their own equipment and submit the receipt for reimbursement. Financial aid administrators are asking students to use only the funds they need so that other students also may benefit.

Turner is currently using “every penny” of her vice provost’s discretionary undergraduate education scholarship fund, given by donors to UCLA’s Centennial Campaign for “rainy day” needs, which totals about $90,000. She was concerned it may not be enough. But when she unveiled the idea at a leadership meeting this week, other leaders across campus were quick to jump in and offer support.

“I am so touched and heartened by how the UCLA community demonstrates how much it cares for our most vulnerable students during this crisis,” said Eileen Strempel, dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “The Herb Alpert School of Music also is pledging to support the Bruin Tech award for students across campus — transcending school affiliations.”

Others schools and divisions across campus, including the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA the Anderson School of Management — neither of which have undergraduate enrollments — also have been quick to pledge support.

Antonio Bernardo, dean of UCLA Anderson, has transferred $100,000 to the effort. The fund has now grown to about $280,000, and Turner said she hopes that once word is out, others both on and off campus will want to be part of this effort to support students.

“This is another example of the commitment of our leadership to ensuring that every student is successful at UCLA,” said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management.

UCLA as an institution had a head start in its transition to nearly all remote classes, thanks to its online teaching and learning initiative launched in 2014 in cooperation with the University of California.

“We are fortunate, but no matter how much we prepare, there are always going to be additional needs that arise in the moment,” Turner said.  “I’m so proud to be here at UCLA, where colleagues across campus are looking out for all Bruins who need support — that’s truly what makes UCLA an unparalleled learning community.”

For more information or to submit a request for Bruin Tech Award support, visit https://ucla.in/2TR1G2a.

To support UCLA students in need, visit this UCLA Spark page.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Professor Neil Garg

How did organic chemistry become so beloved at UCLA? Professor Neil Garg is glad you asked

People who don’t know Neil Garg may be shocked to learn he has made organic chemistry — the chemistry of molecules made of carbon — one of UCLA’s most beloved and popular undergraduate courses. Students wait for years to get into his class and do celebratory dances when they learn they’re enrolled.

Garg, the Kenneth N. Trueblood Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, recently explained how he made the subject so popular and shared some of his teaching techniques in an article published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. In 2018, Garg became the recipient of the country’s premier university teaching award, the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, given once every two years by Baylor University.

His undergraduate course Chemistry 14D, “Organic Reactions and Pharmaceuticals,” is very demanding. On exams, he asks students — mostly second-year, non-chemistry majors — to solve difficult problems he did not learn to solve until his first year of graduate school at Caltech. Students, for example, are asked to create a reasonable chemical synthesis of molecules they have never seen before. By the end of his course, more than two-thirds of the class can solve these problems.

A photo of Professor Neil Garg

Neil Garg reveals the teaching techniques that helped him to win the country’s premier university teaching award. (Photo Credit: Coral von Zumwalt)

“What is also striking,” Garg writes, “is that the students show impeccable creativity in their solutions, often providing reasonable responses that bear no resemblance to what is shown on the answer key, earning full credit. … My goal is always for students to do extraordinary things and learn to solve the hardest problems I can offer.”

In student surveys about Chemistry 14D more than two-thirds of the students rate their interest in organic chemistry as high, and fewer than 4% rate their interest in the subject as low. This is a dramatic shift from the start of the course when fewer than 10% reported a high rating, and more than 60% reported their interest as low.

In the article, Garg, who is also chair of UCLA’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, but not currently teaching organic chemistry, offers more than a dozen tips for teaching complex science. Among his practices:

-It’s essential to explain the relevance of organic chemistry to students and focus the class on problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity, rather than memorization. He teaches students that for each chemical reaction, there is a logic associated with how and why the reaction takes place. One of his students said she feels “like Sherlock Holmes when solving retrosynthesis problems.”

-He and his teaching assistants continually show students how much they care. Former student Elizabeth Matusov said, “He feels like a friend who happens to be teaching a really difficult class. He’s easily the best professor I’ve ever had. I would take any class with him. We all would.”

-He learns students’ names and calls on them by name, even in a class with 400 students. He stays in touch with hundreds of his former students, including some from 20 years ago.

-He teaches the fundamental vocabulary of organic chemistry and the rules of chemical reactivity, and performs in-class demonstrations with students.

-He poses questions that students answer with clickers, so he can immediately learn what they understand and what concepts require further explanation.

-More than 1,300 of his students have teamed up to make hundreds of music videos that have been viewed around the world hundreds of thousands of times. Many of the best are in Garg’s Chemistry 14D Music Video Hall of Fame, which features such student classics as “I Will Survive,” “Alkenes Are Used for These,” “Chem 14 Dreams Mashup” and “Say Alkane.” While teaching a semester at Baylor University last year, his undergraduate students teamed up to create 37 videos, including a chemistry adaptation of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”

-He has created educational resources for students, including BACON (Biology And Chemistry Online Notes), a set of fun and engaging online tutorials that make connections between organic chemistry and sports, health, genetics and popular television shows, among other topics. Other chemistry resources that are free and being used worldwide are a smartphone app called “Backside Attack” that teaches organic chemistry concepts; qrchem.net; and rschemistry.com. QR Chem, a molecule visualization app created by Garg and some of his UCLA students, is being used in more than 160 countries.

Summing up his teaching philosophy, Garg asks, “How did organic chemistry become one of UCLA’s most popular classes? Teaching is all about the students. We must challenge them, support them, make them feel connected to the class and give them opportunities to do amazing things.”

In an acknowledgment at the end of the article, Garg thanks, among others, his “thousands of inspiring students.”

Garg and his family live in a campus residence hall as part of UCLA’s faculty-in-residence program, which allows him to dine with students, advise them, go on trips with them and inspire them daily with his passion for chemistry.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a 3D atomic structure information of a 2D material that was previously inaccessible due to the limitations of 2D images. A 2D image is shown beneath the 3D atomic coordinates of molybdenum in blue, sulfur in yellow and rhenium dopants in orange.

UCLA-led research team produces most accurate 3D images of ‘2D materials’

A photo of a 3D atomic structure information of a 2D material that was previously inaccessible due to the limitations of 2D images. A 2D image is shown beneath the 3D atomic coordinates of molybdenum in blue, sulfur in yellow and rhenium dopants in orange.

Image showing the 3D atomic coordinates of molybdenum (blue), sulfur (yellow) and added rhenium (orange). A 2D image is shown beneath the 3D model. (Photo Credit: Dennis Kim/UCLA)

A UCLA-led research team has produced in unprecedented detail experimental three-dimensional maps of the atoms in a so-called 2D material — matter that isn’t truly two-dimensional but is nearly flat because it’s arranged in extremely thin layers, no more than a few atoms thick.

Although 2D-materials–based technologies have not yet been widely used in commercial applications, the materials have been the subject of considerable research interest. In the future, they could be the basis for semiconductors in ever smaller electronics, quantum computer components, more-efficient batteries, or filters capable of extracting freshwater from saltwater.

The promise of 2D materials comes from certain properties that differ from how the same elements or compounds behave when they appear in greater quantities. Those unique characteristics are influenced by quantum effects — phenomena occurring at extremely small scales that are fundamentally different from the classical physics seen at larger scales. For instance, when carbon is arranged in an atomically thin layer to form 2D graphene, it is stronger than steel, conducts heat better than any other known material, and has almost zero electrical resistance.

But using 2D materials in real-world applications would require a greater understanding of their properties, and the ability to control those properties. The new study, which was published in Nature Materials, could be a step forward in that effort.

The researchers showed that their 3D maps of the material’s atomic structure are precise to the picometer scale — measured in one-trillionths of a meter. They used their measurements to quantify defects in the 2D material, which can affect their electronic properties, as well as to accurately assess those electronic properties.

“What’s unique about this research is that we determine the coordinates of individual atoms in three dimensions without using any pre-existing models,” said corresponding author Jianwei “John” Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. “And our method can be used for all kinds of 2D materials.”

Miao is the deputy director of the STROBE National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. His UCLA lab collaborated on the study with researchers from Harvard University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Rice University.

The researchers examined a single layer of molybdenum disulfide, a frequently studied 2D material. In bulk, this compound is used as a lubricant. As a 2D material, it has electronic properties that suggest it could be employed in next-generation semiconductor electronics. The samples being studied were “doped” with traces of rhenium, a metal that adds spare electrons when replacing molybdenum. That kind of doping is often used to produce components for computers and electronics because it helps facilitate the flow of electrons in semiconductor devices.

To analyze the 2D material, the researchers used a new technology they developed based on scanning transmission electron microscopy, which produces images by measuring scattered electrons beamed through thin samples. Miao’s team devised a technique called scanning atomic electron tomography, which produces 3D images by capturing a sample at multiple angles as it rotates.

The scientists had to avoid one major challenge to produce the images: 2D materials can be damaged by too much exposure to electrons. So for each sample, the researchers reconstructed images section by section and then stitched them together to form a single 3D image — allowing them to use fewer scans and thus a lower dose of electrons than if they had imaged the entire sample at once.

The two samples each measured 6 nanometers by 6 nanometers, and each of the smaller sections measured about 1 nanometer by 1 nanometer. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.)

The resulting images enabled the researchers to inspect the samples’ 3D structure to a precision of 4 picometers in the case of molybdenum atoms — 26 times smaller than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. That level of precision enabled them to measure ripples, strain distorting the shape of the material, and variations in the size of chemical bonds, all changes caused by the added rhenium — marking the most accurate measurement ever of those characteristics in a 2D material.

“If we just assume that introducing the dopant is a simple substitution, we wouldn’t expect large strains,” said Xuezeng Tian, the paper’s co-first author and a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But what we have observed is more complicated than previous experiments have shown.”

The scientists found that the largest changes occurred in the smallest dimension of the 2D material, its three-atom-tall height. It took as little as a single rhenium atom to introduce such local distortion.

► Read a Nature analysis of the UCLA-led study

Armed with information about the material’s 3D coordinates, scientists at Harvard led by Professor Prineha Narang performed quantum mechanical calculations of the material’s electronic properties.

“These atomic-scale experiments have given us a new lens into how 2D materials behave and how they should be treated in calculations, and they could be a game changer for new quantum technologies,” Narang said.

Without access to the sort of measurements generated in the study, such quantum mechanical calculations conventionally have been based on a theoretical model system that is expected at a temperature of absolute zero.

The study indicated that the measured 3D coordinates led to more accurate calculations of the 2D material’s electronic properties.

“Our work could transform quantum mechanical calculations by using experimental 3D atomic coordinates as direct input,” said UCLA postdoctoral scholar Dennis Kim, a co-first author of the study. “This approach should enable material engineers to better predict and discover new physical, chemical and electronic properties of 2D materials at the single-atom level.”

Other authors were Yongsoo Yang, Yao Yang and Yakun Yuan of UCLA; Shize Yang and Juan-Carlos Idrobo of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Christopher Ciccarino and Blake Duschatko of Harvard; and Yongji Gong and Pulickel Ajayan of Rice.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Research Office, and STROBE National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. The scanning transmission electron microscopy experiments were conducted at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE user facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of the Owens Valley lakebed.

Effort to limit dust pollution in Owens Valley is advancing, but still room to improve

A photo of the Owens Valley lakebed.

The Owens Valley lakebed with currently approved dust mitigation measures. (Photo Credit: David Colgan/UCLA)

The century-long battle over water between California’s Owens Valley and Los Angeles is nothing short of epic.

In 1974, the conflict was immortalized in the film “Chinatown.” The latest chapter comes in a more stoic but important form: a 157-page report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The publication was created by a panel of experts that includes UCLA atmospheric dust specialist Gregory Okin.

Beginning in the late 1800s, William Mulholland quietly bought up land and water rights in Owens Valley, and in 1913, he started delivering the water from Owens Lake 233 miles south via aqueduct to a fast-growing Los Angeles.

The population of Los Angeles was 102,000 in 1910, but it had reached 319,000 in 1920 and then soared to 2 million by the middle of the century. Owens Valley, its lake drained of water, had become the largest source of dust in North America.

That dust included particulate matter measuring 10 micrometers or less in diameter, pollution that gets deep into people’s lungs and causes respiratory problems, particularly for sensitive groups. Ranchers, indigenous people and other residents of the valley were incensed, having lost their water and gained unhealthy air in its place.

The National Academies’ peer-reviewed report comes following decades of litigation that required the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to take actions to mitigate the dust problem. Over the past two decades, the department has spent $2 billion on the effort.

And researchers found good news: Efforts between the department and Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District to control the issue have gone well. The work includes using gravel, managed vegetation and shallow flooding to mitigate dust. The air pollution district is a government agency responsible for protecting air quality in the east-central part of the state, near the Nevada border. It battled the Department of Water and Power in court for decades, but outside the courtroom the relationship is less contentious.

“The teams of people working on the ground together have been very successful,” said Okin, who is also a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “There are still air quality exceedances that occur, but they are drastically smaller in magnitude and frequency than they were prior to 2000.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. The report also recommended that processes for minimizing dust established 20 years ago should be updated with new technology and processes that would also help save water and power and preserve cultural and aesthetic values.

“Despite the fact that they’ve done a great job, they’ve done it in an ad hoc manner,” Okin said, referring to the two agencies. “There’s not a lot of logic as to what is being done and where.”

A photo of a crowd of 30,000 people who watched the first water cascade through the aqueduct in the San Fernando Valley.

A crowd of 30,000 watched the first water cascade through the aqueduct in the San Fernando Valley. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of waterandpower.org)

The methods workers can use to mitigate dust are strictly controlled by a series of legal agreements. And testing new methods poses a challenge, because testing is prohibited in the areas of the valley in which dust pollution has been substantially controlled.

“The only place you can test new measures is in areas that don’t need to be controlled, which is crazy,” Okin said.

The report suggests that the air pollution control district and the Department of Water and Power work together to redesign the entire system of dust control in the lakebed.

“The current work is probably using more water, power and heavy machinery than it needs to,” Okin said.

Better managing the area could also be a boon for wildlife. Currently, one of the main approaches to mitigating dust in the area is to plant grass, which requires a lot of irrigation. Okin suggested other native species could replace grass in some areas, which would save water and create new living spaces for birds, rare aquatic life and other species wildlife.

The report also notes that planning for future efforts must account for also climate change, which is projected to increase temperatures and make precipitation patterns and dry spells more extreme. The 2017 rainy season, for example, flooded the valley with more water than the Los Angeles Aqueduct could take, causing water levels in the mostly-dry lake to rise substantially.

The competing interests of the two main players could make it difficult to improve the situation further, Okin said. While the air pollution control district is primarily interested in dust mitigation, the Department of Water and Power cares mostly about conserving water as a resource. Bringing new efficiency and sustainability to the process would likely require further involvement of third parties such as the academies that created the report.

It’s been more than a century since Mulholland said, “There it is, take it,” as the first Owens Valley water flowed through the aqueduct into Los Angeles. Now, the question is how the next century of this drama, which affects the lives of millions, will unfold.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.