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UCLA College scholars among most highly cited researchers for 2021

Montage of diverse images of researchers in the sciences and social sciences

UCLA researchers on the Clarivate list study a wide array of subjects, ranging from chemistry and medicine to ecology and engineering. Photo credit: UCLA

 

Editor’s note: Congratulations to the UCLA College scholars included in this year’s Clarivate Analytics list of the most highly cited researchers in the sciences and social sciences!

By Stuart Wolpert

The world’s most influential researchers include 43 UCLA scholars.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

UCLA internet studies and race scholar Safiya Noble awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Picture of Safiya Noble

Safiya Noble, an associate professor of gender studies and African American studies, and co-founder of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.

Professor Safiya Noble, director of an interdisciplinary research center at UCLA focused on the intersection of human rights, social justice, democracy, and technology — was announced today as a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In 2019, Noble, an associate professor of gender studies and African American studies, co-founded the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, with Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor of gender studies and information studies.

Noble’s scholarship focuses on digital media and its impact on society, as well as how digital technology and artificial intelligence converge with questions of race, gender, culture and power. She is the author of the bestselling book “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” which examines racist and sexist bias in the algorithms used by commercial search engines.

“Noble’s work deepens our understanding of the technologies that shape the modern world and facilitates critical conversations regarding their potential harms,” the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to people the foundation deems “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals.” Fellows are chosen based on three criteria: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of accomplishments, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work. Noble is one of 25 individuals the foundation selected for fellowships in 2021.

In addition to recognizing and supporting exceptional creativity, the fellowship is intended to inspire people to pursue their own creative interests.

For Noble, who is also affiliated faculty in UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies, that means launching her nonprofit EquityEngine.org, a leadership and empowerment initiative for women of color.

“The MacArthur Fellowship will have a transformative impact on the work I do to abolish the harmful and discriminatory effects of digital technologies,” Noble said. “It’s a great and unexpected honor, and I’m grateful to the selection committee and all my colleagues who made this possible. I plan to use this award to accelerate and amplify the work of other Black women and women of color.”

In addition to her research, Noble works with engineers, executives, artists and policymakers to think through the broader ramifications of how technology is built, deployed and used in unfair ways. She challenges them to examine the harms algorithmic architectures cause and shows the necessity of addressing the civil and human rights that are violated through their technologies.

With Noble’s award, seven current faculty in the social sciences are MacArthur Fellows, including historian Kelly Lytle- Hernández (2019), anthropologist Jason De León (2017), linguistic anthropologist Elinor Ochs (1998), sociologist Rogers Brubaker (1994), anthropologist Sherry Ortner (1990) and geographer Jared Diamond (1985).

“As social scientists, it is increasingly important for us to interrogate the power that technology holds over our social structures, cultures, behavior and potential for progress,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College. “Safiya’s work has done just that. We are deeply gratified and proud that the MacArthur Foundation has recognized Safiya for her ongoing commitment to engaging community, inspiring action and her efforts to build a more equitable world for all.”

Along with Roberts, Noble also serves as co-faculty director of the interdisciplinary Minderoo Initiative for Technology and Power held within the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.

“This recognition of Dr. Noble by MacArthur Foundation is so timely, and rightly recognizes her indefatigable efforts, her incredible scope of vision, and her ability to hold fast to her convictions in the name of justice and equity, often years before the rest of the world catches up,” Roberts said. “Time and again, I have watched her fearlessly, boldly and assuredly lead the vanguard, push the boundaries of the possible, demand and then pave the way for something better. This world is a better place for the work of Safiya Noble. I am so proud to see her recognized as the iconoclastic genius that she is.”

Noble joins 13 other UCLA faculty as MacArthur fellows in total, a list that also includes mathematician Terence Tao, director Peter Sellars, astrophysicist Andrea Ghez and historian of religion Gregory Schopen.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Coretta Harris, left, chair of the 2019 Gold Shield Faculty Prize Committee; Paul Barber; and Karen Sears, ecology and evolutionary biology department chair, who nominated Barber for the award.

Marine scientist Paul Barber named 2019 Gold Shield Faculty Prize winner

Coretta Harris, left, chair of the 2019 Gold Shield Faculty Prize Committee; Paul Barber; and Karen Sears, ecology and evolutionary biology department chair, who nominated Barber for the award.

Coretta Harris, left, chair of the 2019 Gold Shield Faculty Prize Committee; Paul Barber; and Karen Sears, ecology and evolutionary biology department chair, who nominated Barber for the award.

 

In the very first day of his “Introduction to Marine Science” class, Paul Barber tells his students an amusing story about himself. It has to do with how a guy from Tucson, Arizona — in the middle of the Sonoran Desert — became a marine scientist.

Full of twists and turns, the story is also an inspiring one. It tells how Barber, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, grew up in a low-income family and attended an inner-city middle school where he once had a .45 caliber handgun pointed at his head.

“It was in the middle of class, and my teacher never even noticed,” Barber said.

Military recruiters, not college recruiters, came to Barber’s high school. But he studied hard and won a full-ride Flinn Foundation scholarship, which enabled him to attend the University of Arizona. His interest in terrestrial evolutionary genetics was sparked by classes in animal behavior and herpetology, which is the study of amphibians and reptiles. Yet it took a roundabout series of adventures while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley — involving frogs, mongooses, hyenas, clownfish and mantis shrimp — to bring him to his current position at UCLA.

“The punchline I tell the students is that, here I am, teaching a marine science course, and I’ve never taken a marine science course in my entire life,” Barber said. “And the fact that they are in that class means that they are so much further ahead of where I was at this point in their studies. If I can do this, never having done a marine science course in my life, then they are well-positioned to succeed.”

It’s this humility that endears Barber to both his students and his peers, several of whom endorsed him for the 2019 Gold Shield Faculty Prize — a $30,000 award presented annually by Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA, to an exceptional mid-career full professor with a distinguished record of undergraduate teaching, research and university service.

Almost since his arrival at UCLA in 2008, Barber has served as the director of the Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences, known as PEERS, a two-year program for outstanding students who wish to pursue careers in the life or physical sciences. In particular, PEERS emphasizes the recruitment and retention of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science. Studies of the program show that its students are nearly twice as likely to complete a science degree and earn better grades than similar students not in PEERS.

Equally impressive is a summer program Barber founded 16 years ago, The Diversity Project, that he now runs with UCLA colleague Peggy Fong, also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. The Diversity Project is designed to increase diversity in marine science — a field with a very low percentage of traditionally underrepresented minorities — and provides undergraduate students with opportunities to conduct research outside the United States, ultimately inspiring them to continue in marine science.

“We go to amazing places, like Indonesia, that have the most diverse and spectacular coral reefs on the planet,” Barber said. Nearly 70% of program alumni go on to graduate school. Among the schools from which they have earned degrees: Harvard, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UCLA.

“Dr. Barber is a strong mentor, and I know for a fact that I am a stronger scientist because of his support,” said Camille Gaynus, an alumna of The Diversity Project. “His mentorship is embedded in me, and I strive to pass on the same sentiments to the undergrads and high school students I currently mentor. Because of Dr. Barber, I know I will become a professor and continue to provide opportunities to young scientists, particularly Black females like myself.”

Patricia J. Johnson

UCLA microbiologist Patricia J. Johnson elected to National Academy of Sciences

Patricia J. Johnson

Patricia J. Johnson

Patricia J. Johnson, UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of her “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors that a U.S. scientist can receive. Its members have included Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and Alexander Graham Bell. The academy today announced the election of 100 new members and 25 foreign associates.

“I am very honored to be include among the ranks of such distinguished scientists,” said Johnson, who has appointments in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the division of life sciences in the UCLA College.

Research in Johnson’s laboratory focuses on the molecular and cellular biology of a single cellular parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This microbe is responsible for the most prevalent, non-viral, sexually transmitted infection worldwide and is the most common parasite found in the U.S. population. An estimated 275 million people worldwide have the parasite, including approximately 3.7 million in the United States. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified trichomoniasis, the infection caused by T. vaginalis, as one of the “neglected parasitic infections in the United States.”

Johnson said that beyond its medical importance, T. vaginalis is a fascinating organism for conducting research on the evolution of biological processes present in all eukaryotes, from microbes to humans. The parasite’s atypical properties offer possible chemotherapeutic targets and vaccine candidates, she said.

Her laboratory focuses on several aspects of trichomonad biology, including its evolution, regulation of gene expression, drug resistance, genomics and biological processes vital for human infection.

“Our interdisciplinary research program merges several specialties, including structural and cell biology, biochemistry, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, evolution and medical sciences,” she said. “In recent years, we have narrowed our focus to defining and explaining critical pathogenic mechanisms that allow T. vaginalis to establish and maintain an infection. These studies include identifying critical parasite cell surface molecules and secreted vesicles, as well as defining human immune responses to parasitic infection. We have also investigated a possible link between infection with T. vaginalis and prostate cancer.”

The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. The academy is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare.