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TV shows with diverse writers rooms, casts resonated with pandemic audiences

By Jessica Wolf

The latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, published today, reveals that television viewers during the COVID-19 pandemic leaned into content that came out of diverse writers rooms and that featured diverse casts.

“We have seen this appetite for diverse content repeated over the history of our analyses,” said Darnell Hunt, co-author of the report and UCLA’s dean of social sciences. “The fact that shows with diverse writers rooms did well last year also illustrates that audiences are looking for authentic portrayals.”

The report, which covers statistics for the 2019–20 TV season, tracks racial and gender diversity among key job categories, as well as ratings and social media engagement for 461 scripted shows across 50 broadcast, cable and streaming providers.

The new study found a continued correlation between the racial makeup of shows’ writers and TV ratings. For example, among households of all races in 2019–20, the scripted broadcast shows that earned the highest ratings were those in which people of color made up between 31% and 40% of the credited writers.

Overall, racial diversity improved in almost every job category tracked by the report, and representation among women improved in about half of the job titles.

And for the first time in the report’s history, people of color had a higher percentage of scripted broadcast TV acting roles, 43.4%, than their overall percentage of the U.S. population.

Across all three platform types, there were more people of color credited as writers than in the previous report. Overall, people of color made up 26.4% of the credited writers for broadcast series last season (up from 23.4%), 28.6% of credited writers for cable (up from 25.8%) and 24.2% of credited writers for streaming (up from 22.8%). Most of those modest gains were recorded by women, according to the study.

But people of color are still largely underrepresented among TV writers, given that 42.7% of Americans are nonwhite.

Lagging representation among Latino actors, directors

Latino representation in all job categories remained flat from the previous year, and Latinos hold far fewer TV jobs than their share of the U.S. population overall would predict. Latino actors held just 6.3% of broadcast TV roles, 5.7% in cable and 5.5% in streaming. Meanwhile, Latino directors were responsible for only 5.4% of broadcast TV episodes, 3.5% of cable episodes and 3.0% of streaming episodes.

“This UCLA report clearly demonstrates that more work is necessary to achieve more accurate representation and truly authentic portrayals in American television,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas. ”I hope this report encourages entertainment executives to reevaluate their systems for recruiting, retaining, and promoting Latinx talent, work in earnest to make changes, and create a more inclusive culture.”

According to the report, a significant proportion of 2019–20 TV content — 35% of broadcast shows, 22.9% of cable and 25.7% of streaming — was made in Los Angeles, where census data shows that 48.6% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.

“Diversifying the workforce means bringing equity to the economy and ensuring inclusionary practices in Hollywood,” said California State Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo. “As Latinos make up the largest population in the state of California, yet only a dismal percentage in Hollywood, I’m looking forward to ensuring the Latinx community is not subsidizing its own exclusion via California’s Film Tax Credit Program, which the legislature oversees.”

The Hollywood Diversity Report recently received funding from the state of California that will enable UCLA researchers to continue to support such progress.

Diversity in acting

Over the decade since the Hollywood Diversity Report began, diversity has improved the most among acting jobs, especially in TV, compared with all other TV and movie job types. In 2019–20, television shows with majority-nonwhite casts were more prevalent than ever.

For the first time since the researchers began tracking data, a plurality of shows on cable (28.1%) and streaming platforms (26.8%) featured casts in which the majority of actors were nonwhite. And 32.1% of broadcast shows had majority-nonwhite casts, up from just 2.0% in the first report, which covered the 2011–12 season.

Photo of Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón

Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón. Photo: Mike Baker

The new report provides further support for the fact that audiences favor shows with diverse casts. During 2019–20, among white households, ratings for scripted broadcast shows were highest for shows whose actors were 31% to 40% nonwhite. Among Black households, scripted broadcast shows with the highest ratings where those in which casts were more than 50% nonwhite.

For streaming programming, which is dominated by Netflix, ratings among white, Black and Asian households were highest for shows with casts that were from 31% to 40% nonwhite.

The report’s authors also analyze audiences’ interaction with TV programs on social media, and how those trends correspond with cast diversity. For scripted cable shows during 2019–20, for example, they found that programs with majority nonwhite casts had the highest engagement on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And for streaming shows, audience engagement on Twitter specifically was highest for programs with majority nonwhite casts.

Mixed progress among show creators

Another area in which diversity improved was among show creators. That’s an important datapoint because show creators have influence over which stories are developed, whose stories they represent and how they’re told, said Ana-Christina Ramón, co-author of the report and the director of research and civic engagement in the UCLA Division of Social Sciences.

Women made up 29.0% of the creators of scripted cable shows, up nearly 7 percentage points over the prior season, marking the largest one-year gain for women in that job category since the report began. And people of color made up 20.6% of scripted cable show creators in 2019–20, up from 14.5% the previous season and nearly triple the share (7.4%) from 2011–12.

However, women held creator positions for fewer broadcast shows in 2019–20 (24.1%) than they did the prior year (28.1%) — and even fewer than women held in 2011–12 (26.5%).

“We also see that when women and people of color hold high-level creative positions, there is greater diversity down the line in casting and likely for crew hiring,” Ramón said. “Women and people of color are still very underrepresented in these and other behind-the-camera jobs, which is why this report continues to exist.”

Other takeaways:

  • The number of acting roles for women in 2019–20 was nearly equal to those of men across all three platform types. Women made up 46.3% of total cast in scripted broadcast shows, 45.3% in cable and 46.9% in streaming.
  • Trans and nonbinary actors were virtually absent across all platforms.
  • Out of a total 2,932 credited actors, just 13 were Native people, including just three Native women.
  • People of color directed 25.8% of broadcast episodes, 27.2% of cable and 21.4% of streaming, up from 24.3% and, 22.9% and 18.2% in the 2018–19 season.
  • Women directed 30.6% of broadcast episodes, 31.3% of cable and 33.4% of streaming, up from 29.3%, 29.7% and 29.1% the prior season.
  • Latinos made up just 4.8% of the credited writers for broadcast programs, 4.7% in cable and 4.3% in streaming.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Karen McKinnon

Karen McKinnon receives Packard fellowship

Photo of Karen McKinnon

Karen McKinnon

UCLA climate statistician Karen McKinnon was selected to the 2021 class of Packard Fellows for Science and Engineering. The honor is given annually to 20 innovative early-career scientists and engineers, and it comes with an award of $875,000 over five years.

McKinnon’s research uses climate dynamics, statistics and machine learning to understand and predict climate variability and change. Her goals include informing policymakers’ and planners’ ability to respond to the effects of climate change, particularly in vulnerable regions that are susceptible to wildfires, major storms and other extreme events.

“At a time when we are confronting so many difficult, intertwined challenges, including climate change, a global pandemic, and racial injustice, I am buoyed by the determination and energy of these 20 scientists and engineers,” said Nancy Lindborg, Packard Foundation president and CEO.

The award was introduced by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in 1988 to give early career scientists and researchers more freedom to pursue their own research with few restrictions. Fellows meet annually to discuss their research and explore possibilities for collaboration.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Picture of Anastassia Alexandrova

Chemist Anastassia Alexandrova receives Max Planck-Humboldt Medal

Picture of Anastassia Alexandrova

Anastassia Alexandrova. Credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Anastassia Alexandrova, UCLA professor and vice chair of chemistry and biochemistry, has been selected to receive the Max Planck-Humboldt Medal, which honors extraordinary scientists outside Germany with outstanding future potential.

The medal, awarded jointly by Germany’s Max Planck Gesellschaft and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, will be presented to Alexandrova in a ceremony in Berlin in November 2022 (delayed one year because of COVID).

Alexandrova and her research team design new materials and develop new algorithms, guided by insights into electronic structure and chemical bonding, using a wide range of methods, including artificial intelligence and machine learning. She and her research team design new catalysts, building up from detailed understanding of their electronic structure, to the shapes, stability and catalytic properties.

She is being honored for her research in theoretical chemistry, in particular her studies on the catalysis of chemical reactions and materials science. Alexandrova has developed methods that simulate how a catalyst behaves during a chemical reaction, which structures mediate between the reaction partners in detail and how the reaction conditions — such as temperature, pressure and concentration of the starting materials — influence the states of the catalyst and this interaction states the press release announcing the medal.

“I am deeply honored to receive the Max Planck-Humboldt Medal,” said Alexandrova, a member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. “My laboratory is a warm home for students of many different backgrounds, from chemistry and biochemistry to physics, material science and engineering, computer science and applied mathematics.”

Alexandrova is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the American Chemical Society’s 2016 Rising Star Award, which recognizes exceptional women chemists on a national level; a J. William Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant; a 2020 Early Career Award in theoretical chemistry by the physical chemistry division of the American Chemical Society; a 2019 UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award and 2018 UCLA Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor Award.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Picture of Richard Kaner

Richard Kaner wins award from American Chemical Society

 

Picture of Richard Kaner

Richard Kaner, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering at UCLA.

Richard Kaner, the Dr. Myung Ki Hong Professor of Materials Innovation at UCLA, was selected to receive the 2022 American Chemical Society’s Award in Applied Polymer Science. The award, sponsored by Eastman Chemical Company, recognizes “outstanding achievements in the science or technology of plastics, coatings, polymer composites, adhesives and related fields.” He will be presented the award at the society’s national meeting in San Diego, California, in March.

Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, is among the world’s most influential and highly cited scientific researchers. Among his many awards and honors, he was elected a 2020 fellow of the American Physical Society and selected as the recipient of the American Institute of Chemists 2019 Chemical Pioneer Award, which honors chemists and chemical engineers who have made outstanding contributions that advance the science of chemistry or greatly impact the chemical profession. He is a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

Kaner and his research team have designed a series of materials. These include creating a membrane that separates oil from water and cleans up the debris left by oil fracking and scaling up a single layer of carbon known as graphene for use in energy storage devices. His research spans a wide range of topics within materials science and inorganic chemistry.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Picture of Aradhna Tripati

Climate scientist Aradhna Tripati receives honors from two science organizations

Picture of Aradhna Tripati

Aradhna Tripati. Courtesy of Aradhna Tripati

Aradhna Tripati, an associate professor affiliated with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, has been named recipient of the Willi Dansgaard award from the American Geophysical Union.

Tripati, who is the founder and director of the Center for Diverse Leadership in Science at UCLA, has also recently been elected as a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. Fellows of the academy are a group of distinguished scientists nominated and appointed in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the natural sciences.

She has been a mentor and advisor to many and has established a number of laboratories. Tripati’s research is focused on using the chemistry of natural compounds as well as models as tools to understand how the Earth works. Her work is relevant to understanding climate change, the oceans, and the transfer of carbon between the biosphere, atmosphere and oceans.

The Dansgaard Award is presented annually and recognizes significant contributions to the fields of paleoceanography or paleoclimatology from a mid-career scientist within eight to 20 years of receiving their doctorate. Named in honor of Willi Dansgaard, a paleoclimate pioneer, this award is presented at the union’s fall meeting.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Terence Tao in his UCLA office

Terence Tao named to President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Terence Tao in his UCLA office

Terence Tao in his UCLA office. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Terence Tao, UCLA professor of mathematics, has been selected by President Joe Biden as one 30 of America’s most-distinguished leaders in science and technology who will serve on his President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

A direct descendant of the scientific advisory committee established by President Eisenhower in 1957 in the weeks after the launch of Sputnik, the council is the sole body of external advisers charged with making science, technology and innovation policy recommendations to the president and the White House to address the country’s most pressing challenges.

Tao, who holds the James and Carol Collins Chair in the UCLA College, became the first mathematics professor in UCLA history to be awarded the Fields Medal in 2006, often described as the “Nobel Prize in mathematics.” He has earned many other honors, including the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, Royal Society’s 2014 Royal Medal for physical sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Crafoord Prize and the first Riemann Prize in Mathematics, established by Italy’s Riemann International School of Mathematics. National Geographic magazine featured him in its “What makes a genius?” May 2017 issue.

The new council includes two Nobel laureates, 20 elected members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, five MacArthur Foundation Fellows and two former cabinet secretaries.

The council advises the president “on matters involving policy affecting science, technology, and innovation, as well as on matters involving scientific and technological information that is needed to inform public policy relating to the economy, worker empowerment, education, energy, the environment, public health, national and homeland security, racial equity, and other topics,” the White House said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Aurora borealis in Alaska

‘Surfing’ particles: Physicists solve a mystery surrounding aurora borealis

A photo of Aurora borealis in Alaska

Aurora borealis in Alaska (Photo Credit: Jean Beaufort)

The spectacularly colorful aurora borealis — or northern lights — that fills the sky in high-latitude regions has fascinated people for thousands of years. Now, a team of scientists has resolved one of the final mysteries surrounding its origin.

Scientists know that electrons and other energized particles that emanate from the sun as part of the “solar wind” speed down Earth’s magnetic field lines and into the upper atmosphere, where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules, kicking them into an excited state. These molecules then relax by emitting light, producing the beautiful green and red hues of the aurora.

What has not been well understood is precisely how groups of electrons accelerate through the magnetic field on the last leg of their journey, reaching speeds of up to 45 million mph. In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, that question is answered by physicists from UCLA, Wheaton College, the University of Iowa and the Space Science Institute.

A popular theory has been that electrons hitch a ride on Alfvén waves — a type of electromagnetic wave that spacecraft have frequently identified traveling Earthward along magnetic field lines above auroras. While space-based research has provided strong support for the theory, limitations inherent to spacecraft measurements have prevented a definitive test.

To overcome these limitations, the physicists conducted laboratory experiments on the Large Plasma Device at UCLA’s Basic Plasma Science Facility, a national collaborative research site supported jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

After reproducing conditions that mimicked those in Earth’s auroral magnetosphere, the team used specially designed instruments to launch Alfvén waves down the plasma device’s 20-meter–long chamber. Because Alfvén waves are thought to collect only a small portion of electrons in the plasma of space, the physicists focused on determining whether there were electrons that appeared to be traveling at a rate comparable to the electric field of the waves.

“This challenging experiment required a measurement of the very small population of electrons moving down the chamber at nearly the same speed as the Alfvén waves, numbering less than one in a thousand of the electrons in the plasma,” said Troy Carter, a professor of physics and director of the UCLA Plasma Science and Technology Institute.

“Measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergoes ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfvén wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave,” said Gregory Howes, an associate professor of physics at the University of Iowa.

Electrons surfing on Alfvén waves (yellow) streaming toward Earth collide with nitrogen and oxygen molecules (white); in upper altitudes, these collisions result in the emission of red light, while in lower altitudes the emitted light is green.

Electrons streaming toward Earth as they surf on Alfvén waves (yellow) collide with nitrogen and oxygen molecules (white); in upper altitudes, these collisions result in the emission of red light, while in lower altitudes the emitted light is green. (Photo Credit: Austin Montelius, University of Iowa)

Howes noted that these Alfvén waves appear following geomagnetic storms, space-based phenomena triggered by violent events on the sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These storms can cause what is known as “magnetic reconnection” in the Earth’s magnetic field, in which magnetic field lines are stretched like rubber bands, snap and then reconnect. These shifts launch Alfvén waves along the lines toward Earth.

And because regions of magnetic reconnection shift during a storm, the Alfvén waves — and their accompanying surfing electrons — travel along different field lines over that time period, ultimately leading to the shimmering glow of the aurora’s curtains of light, Carter said.

In physics, electrons surfing on the electric field of a wave is a phenomenon known as Landau damping, in which the energy of the wave is transferred to the accelerated particles. As part of their research, the team used an innovative analysis technique that combined measurements of the Alfvén waves’ electric field and the electrons to generate a unique signature of the electron acceleration by Landau damping. Through numerical simulations and mathematical modeling, the researchers demonstrated that the signature of acceleration measured in the experiment agreed with the predicted signature for Landau damping.

The agreement of experiment, simulation and modeling provides the first direct test showing that Alfvén waves can produce accelerated electrons that cause the aurora, Carter said.

“This experimental confirmation of the physics behind the aurora is due to persistent ingenuity of research groups at the University of Iowa and UCLA,” said Vyacheslav (Slava) Lukin, program director for Plasma Physics at the National Science Foundation, who was not involved in the research. “From student support via an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, to the NSF CAREER program for early career faculty, to the 25-year partnership between NSF and the Department of Energy that has enabled the unique capabilities of the Basic Plasma Science Facility, this is a success story of a discovery made possible by consistent support of the university research community.”

In addition to Howes and Carter, study authors included James Schroeder of Wheaton College, Craig Kletzing and Frederick Skiff of the University of Iowa, Stephen Vincena of UCLA, and Seth Dorfman of the Space Science Institute.

Further information on the research findings is available on Howes’ website.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

The Uneven Impact of Remote Learning

 

By Robin Migdol  |  Illustration by Jeannie Phan

 

Among the classes in UCLA’s vast course catalog, “Health Disparities and the Environment” might not stand out, but undergraduates who enroll in it have a remarkable opportunity: They get to do research under the guidance of senior faculty in the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

A yearlong research course series with biology professor Paul Barber, the class is geared toward sophomore pre-med students from underrepresented groups to support their success in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors and maintain their path to medical school.

When UCLA transitioned to remote learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Barber and his students were faced with a question: How do we continue the research component of the class?

They had been preparing to research food-insecure communities of color in Los Angeles by interviewing people fishing at local piers and testing fish samples for chemical and microbial contaminants. But with the rise of COVID-19 and UCLA’s switch to remote learning, interviewing people in the community became impossible.

The students could easily have put all their research projects on hold until they could return to campus. Instead, they embarked on a new project to research disparities in how they and their peers were adjusting to remote learning.

RESEARCH IN REAL TIME

“The students decided they wanted to develop a survey to under-stand the experiences of UCLA students during remote instruction and try to understand whether the challenges that they were facing were unique to them,” Barber said.

Soon after UCLA had transitioned to remote learning, the campus launched several initiatives to help students. The Bruin Tech Grant provided laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots and tablets to students who needed them. The Administrative Vice Chancellor, UCLA Student Affairs and UCLA Library also published guides to help students stay organized, access digital resources, and manage their health and wellness.

Yet despite UCLA’s efforts to support students as they began learning remotely, the students in Barber’s class knew there were gaps in how they and their peers were managing.

“Our students realized that the experience they were having with remote learning was not necessarily the same experience that other students were having,” said Barber, who also directs the Undergraduate Research Center’s Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS).

With the support of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Center for Educational Assessment, the Academic Advancement Program, the registrar’s office, and then-Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia Turner, the students created a survey that was distributed to a random sampling of 20% of the undergraduate student body.

The survey included questions about student satisfaction with remote learning, technological barriers, ability to focus, student time demands, living situation, added responsibilities, financial issues, food insecurity and other COVID-19 related obstacles. The results showed that first-generation students and students from underrepresented communities, as well as STEM students, found the transition to remote learning more difficult than other students.

“One staggering statistic found was that technology limited the ability to engage in remote instruction for 42% of first-generation and 36.6% of underrepresented minority students,” said Jennifer Navarez, one of the student researchers who is now a senior majoring in human biology and society. “In addition, STEM students were less satisfied than non-STEM students with remote instruction.”

Student researcher and junior psychobiology major Alison Menjivar said, “All three groups experienced technological challenges such as Wi-Fi problems because they didn’t really have any access to a computer at home; they always relied on the technology at school. And then, this probably interfered with their participation in the classroom. So some people might not have been able to participate in discussions or attend lectures.”

INSIGHTS INFLUENCING CHANGE

Barber and the students organized their data in a report that was shared with Turner and others in the UCLA administration, including the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) and the COVID-19 continuity task force. Barber said there was “tremendous” interest in the survey’s findings, and while the campus had already enacted initiatives to support students during the pandemic, simply raising awareness of students’ experiences made a difference.

“Just by understanding the challenges students are facing, it increases faculty empathy for what students are going through,” Barber said. “Having that data and seeing the results is quite sobering. It’s made me think a lot more about the welfare of my students, and I checked in with them more to see how they’re doing.”

Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, director of CAT’s Center for Educational Assessment, said for him the report’s most important takeaway is that challenges faced by underrepresented and first-generation students are the result of disparities that existed long before remote learning began.

“Given that feedback from quarterly surveys of our students during COVID remote learning was generally positive, minus challenges with feeling a sense of community, this deeper look at different groups was enlightening,” he said.

The resulting paper was accepted for publication in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. Levis-Fitzgerald pointed out that completing and publishing a research paper in less than a year is a rare achievement, especially for undergraduates.

Doing research about their own challenges, then presenting that research to campus leaders who have the power to positively influence the students themselves, was a significant opportunity, Barber and the students said.

“I think the most significant outcome of this paper is that it will be used to influence change at UCLA and help assist professors in making equity-minded decisions to support all UCLA students,” Navarez said.

 

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Advancing Equality with Better Data

 

By Elizabeth Kivowitz  |  Photo by Matika Wilbur

 

A proud Northern Cheyenne Indian and Chicana, Desi Small-Rodriguez says that she’s a relative first, then a researcher and teacher, and thus considers herself a bit of an anomaly in academia.

“I need to remain accountable to my community,” said Small-Rodriguez, an assistant professor of sociology and Amer-ican Indian studies in the UCLA College and the first Indigenous woman to be jointly hired by the sociology department and the American Indian studies program. “That’s how many Indig-enous faculty feel. Academia can take you far away from the communities, lands and waters that ground you. I’m consistently reminded by mentors, ‘Always lift as you climb,’ because this is such a lonely path.”

In her research Small-Rodriguez examines those on the periph-ery of mainstream data collection efforts like government surveys and the U.S. Census, to understand the ways people in these groups are or are not being counted. She says these efforts often do a poor job of collecting data on Indigenous peoples, undocu-mented migrants, those experiencing homelessness, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, which causes harm and perpetuates inequality.

“The U.S. is the most unequal country of any of the developed countries in the world,” said Small-Rodriguez, who joined the UCLA faculty last fall. “I’m interested in how systems amplify suf-fering and why suffering is being disproportionately experienced by certain populations, and also systems of erasure and how erasure perpetuates inequality. If your literal presence is com-pletely erased, that is a unique form of inequality and injustice.”

MAKING DATA WORK TO BUILD EQUITY

Small-Rodriguez sees wide-ranging applications for her work that could drive systemic change in how data collection efforts are organized and operated – leading to better government decision-making and policy.

“Ultimately, I’m an optimist. I believe that just as structures of inequality were built and maintained, so too can they be dismantled and replaced,” Small-Rodriguez said. “And like most Indigenous scholars, I am called upon to work, advocate and serve in different directions. Being a professor is simply one of my dream jobs. I have many paths that will sustain me, and I believe that eventually all roads lead home.

“This means that part of my work in academia includes making myself literally obsolete. I want to train enough young scholars to take over this work, so that one day I can be back full-time on my homelands living the Cheyenne way of life in good relation with all that is seen and unseen.”

With her move to Los Angeles delayed due to the pandemic, Small-Rodriguez resides on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana where she grew up. Over the past few months, she has been encouraging people in her community to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially given the disproportionate impact of the virus on Indigenous peoples early in the pandemic.

“I’m thankful for all the brave and amazing frontline medical workers and our tribal leaders who continue to exercise tribal sovereignty so that we can get all of our people vaccinated regardless of age or health status,” she said.

Small-Rodriguez also co-hosts “All My Relations,” the mostpopular podcast in the Indigenous world with more than 1 million downloads.

A LEAP OF FAITH INTO DEMOGRAPHY

As a student, Small-Rodriguez became interested in demography and social science because her sociology professor, one of the only Indigenous sociologists and demographers in the world, noticed her abilities in the field. He offered her a job with a Māori doctoral student he was advising who was doing research in New Zealand. She learned how to be a researcher and demographer working for tribes in New Zealand for many years, and then con-ducting the same type of work for tribes in the U.S.

“My time in New Zealand was life changing,” she said. While there, Small-Rodriguez worked on tribal census projects, community surveys, and social determinants of health and policy research. “It’s where I learned how to do research and build data by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples. I also learned about the boundaries of indigeneity and tribal belonging in ways that are far different than for Indigenous Peoples in North America. In New Zealand, Māori kinship is affirmed in very inclusive ways as compared to minimum blood quantum policies that we use here. That led to another area of my research understand-ing the boundaries of belonging for Indigenous peoples.”

Small-Rodriguez points out that the word data comes from the Latin “datum,” meaning something given. For Indigenous Peoples, the term more often means “something taken” – and that data has been used as another method by which others extract some-thing from the Indigenous, leaving behind very broken systems to rebuild and repair. She references everything from Indigenous bodies, to language, to knowledge of the important connections with lands, water and animals as having become disrupted. She calls that “data erasure” an ongoing effort of genocide.

Amid all the loss, the recent vaccination effort illustrates an area of hope. “The only reason that Indigenous Peoples now have some of the highest rates of vaccination uptake is because of tribal sovereignty,” Small-Rodriguez said. “Tribes exercised sovereignty and have been able to protect their people in ways federal, state and local governments have not. Tribal sovereigns know how to get their people onboard because of their deep commitment to collective survival. In Indigenous communities, we are born and raised with a collective survival strategy, and we’ve been doing this since we were invaded 500 years ago. This is something that we have seen shine through in the middle of this pandemic — something positive amidst so much negative.”

LEARN MORE

Listen to the “All My Relations” podcast co-hosted by professor Small-Rodriguez.

 

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A photo of Mars and Venus.

New Insights into Mars and Venus

 

By Christopher Crockett and Stuart Wolpert

 

David Paige is deputy principal investigator of Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment, or RIMFAX, one of seven instruments on NASA’s Perseverance rover.

About the size of a car, the Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18. Over the next two years it will explore Jezero Crater in Mars’ northern hemisphere for signs of ancient life and new clues about the planet’s climate and geology.

Among other tasks, Perseverance will collect rock and soil samples in tubes that a later spacecraft will bring back to Earth. The experiments will lay the groundwork for future human and robotic exploration of Mars. RIMFAX will probe beneath the planet’s surface to study its geology in detail.

“Jezero Crater is a very interesting location on Mars because it looks like there was once a lake inside the crater, and that a river flowed into the lake and deposited sediments in a delta,” Paige said. “We plan to explore the delta to learn more about Mars’ climate history, and maybe something about ancient Martian life. What we’ll be able to see once we start roving and what we will actually learn is anybody’s guess.”

RIMFAX will provide a highly detailed view of subsurface structures and help find clues to past environments on Mars, including those that may have provided the conditions necessary for sup-porting life, he said.

Paige emphasized that RIMFAX is an experiment. “We’ve never tried using a ground-penetrating radar on Mars before, so we can’t really predict what types of subsurface structures we might be able to see. But we have done some fairly extensive field testing of RIMFAX on Earth to learn how to use it and how to interpret the data. Here, ground-penetrating radars can be very useful for clarifying subsurface geology.”

Is he hopeful of finding water, or evidence of water, beneath the planet’s surface?

“There are all kinds of evidence for past liquid water all over Mars,” Paige said. “At Jezero, there must have been a lot of water at some point, but we don’t expect that the ground beneath the rover will still be wet. Mars today is a very cold place, and any water in the shallow subsurface should be frozen at Jezero. What we’re interested in finding are geologic features that wouldn’t be expected to form under present climatic conditions, as those would be especially interesting targets to search for signs of past life.”

UCLA College graduate students Max Parks and Tyler Powell in Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences are part of the science team, and Mark Nasielski, a UCLA graduate student in electrical engineering, is part of the operations team.

VENUS IS AN ENIGMA

Venus is the planet next door yet reveals little about itself. An opaque blanket of clouds smothers a harsh landscape pelted by acid rain and baked at temperatures that can liquify lead.

Now, new observations from the safety of Earth are lifting the veil on some of Venus’ most basic properties. By repeatedly bouncing radar off the planet’s surface over the last 15 years, a UCLA-led team has pinned down the precise length of a day on Venus, the tilt of its axis and the size of its core — findings published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“Venus is our sister planet, and yet these fundamental properties have remained unknown,” said professor Jean-Luc Margot, who led the research.

Earth and Venus have a lot in common: Both are rocky planets and have nearly the same size, mass and density. And yet they evolved along wildly different paths. Fundamentals such as how many hours are in a Venusian day provide critical data for understanding the divergent histories of these neighboring worlds.

Changes in Venus’ spin and orientation reveal how mass is spread out within. Knowledge of its internal structure, in turn, fuels insight into the planet’s formation, its volcanic history and how time has altered the surface. Plus, without precise data on how the planet spins, any future landing attempts could be off by as much as 30 kilometers.

The new radar measurements show that an average day on Venus lasts 243.0226 Earth days — roughly two-thirds of an Earth year. What’s more, the rotation rate of Venus is always changing: A value measured at one time will be a bit larger or smaller than a previous value. The team estimated the length of a day from each of the individual measurements, and they observed differences of at least 20 minutes.

Venus’ heavy atmosphere is likely to blame for the variation.

The UCLA-led team also reports that Venus tips to one side by precisely 2.6392 degrees (Earth is tilted by about 23 degrees), an improvement on the precision of previous estimates by a factor of 10. The repeated radar measurements further revealed the glacial rate at which the orientation of Venus’ spin axis changes, much like a spinning top. On Earth, this “precession” takes about 26,000 years to cycle around once. Venus needs a little longer: about 29,000 years.

The team has turned its sights on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. Many researchers strongly suspect that Europa hides a liquid water ocean beneath a thick shell of ice. Ground-based radar measurements could fortify the case for an ocean and reveal the thickness of the ice shell.

And the team will continue bouncing radar off Venus. With each radio echo, the veil over Venus lifts a little bit more, bringing our sister planet into ever sharper view.

This research was supported by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Science Foundation.

 

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