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Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics at UCLA, receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford University on June 26, 2019. Ghez is with her sons.

UCLA astronomer receives honorary degree from Oxford

By Lisa Garibay

Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics at UCLA, receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford University on June 26, 2019. Ghez is with her sons.

UCLA’s Andrea Ghez with her sons at Oxford University.

Andrea Ghez, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy and director of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, was awarded an honorary degree today from Oxford University during its annual Encaenia ceremony.

Ghez demonstrated the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, with a mass 4 million times that of our sun. Her work provided the best evidence yet that these exotic objects really do exist, providing an opportunity to study the fundamental laws of physics in the extreme environment near a black hole, and learn what role this black hole has played in the formation and evolution of our galaxy.

She joins an eclectic group including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, and UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna, who developed the CRISPR-Cas9 technology for gene editing.

Ghez, who is the Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics, earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1987 and her doctorate from Caltech in 1992, and has been on the faculty at UCLA since 1994.

This article was originally published on the UCLA Newsroom.

Student researchers on the beach hold up water samples for the camera

Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research to develop courses that bring research to L.A. community organizations

Student researchers on the beach hold up water samples for the camera

Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research to develop courses that bring research to L.A. community organizations

With the launch of the inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research, both undergraduate students and faculty have new opportunities to pursue research that impacts not just academia, but also local communities of Los Angeles.

The Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research comes from the UCLA Center for Community Learning and the Chancellor’s Office and has awarded six faculty members each a $10,000 research grant to develop a new undergraduate research course. In each course, students will carry out research activities in partnership with local community organizations. The course will advance their professor’s research goals and also benefit the communities served by each organization.

Over the next academic year, the six faculty will participate in a workshop on best practices for teaching undergraduate community-engaged research and attend quarterly meetings to advance their course design. By the end of spring 2020, each faculty will have a new course syllabus, ready to be offered to undergraduates in 2020-21 or 2021-22.

Shalom Staub, director of the Center for Community Learning, said the research reflects some of the most critical issues affecting people in and around UCLA.

“The range of issues includes representation of minority communities, health disparities, education disparities, environmental justice – that’s a catalogue of the big issues facing Los Angeles and southern California communities,” he said.

Maylei Blackwell, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, will develop a course called “The Latin American Indigenous Diaspora in Los Angeles: Mapping Place through Community Archives and Oral Histories.” Students will work with Zapotec and Mayan community organizations in Los Angeles to conduct interviews with community leaders and archive historical records such as community newspapers and home videos.

“I thought this course would be a perfect opportunity for community engagement: how do we produce those histories, how do we support those communities in documenting their own history, and [how do we] let the communities control how the process happens?” Blackwell said.

Chancellor Gene Block said the benefits of the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research are threefold.

“Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty, and benefits our community,” Block said. “The Community-Engaged Research Scholars will deepen UCLA’s commitment to public service by creating more opportunities for students and faculty to pursue research that has a positive impact on our world.”

Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology, is developing a course titled “Making Data Useful for Educational Improvement.” Students will analyze student and staff survey data from elementary, middle, and high schools, and present those data to school and district staff to help inform school improvement efforts.

The idea for the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research is “brilliant,” Phillips said.

“This award recognizes faculty for their community-engaged research efforts and at the same time creates a new set of community-engaged course offerings for undergraduates,” she said. “This first set of courses is just the beginning of what I expect will eventually be an extensive suite of courses, across a wide range of disciplines, that will connect UCLA students’ research training with the needs of our local community.”

Read more about the inaugural 2019-2020 cohort 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.

Meredith Cohen

Professor Meredith Cohen Discusses Rebuilding and Restoring Notre Dame Cathedral

Meredith Cohen

Meredith Cohen

Feelings of grief and despair were felt across the globe on Monday, April 17, 2019, when a devastating fire erupted at Notre Dame Cathedral. Individuals around the world collectively mourned the state of the 850-year-old Paris landmark, posting photos and exchanging memories of the cathedral.

After officials began to assess the damage, it became clear that it will take multiple experts to develop a plan to restore and rebuild the structure, including conservators, engineers, and art historians.

Meredith Cohen, associate professor of medieval art and architecture in the UCLA Art History Department, is a specialist in Gothic architecture of Paris and high medieval Europe (c. 1000 – c. 1450). Below are some statements that she gave to various media publications regarding the Gothic building’s significance and the complicated question of how to rebuild and restore Notre Dame.

Cohen explained to Slate that the building is “the origin of our concept of Paris as a center of art and culture.” It was constructed over the course of three centuries, beginning in 1160, and “symbolically transformed the city into the center of European culture during the medieval period through its display of the new and innovative Gothic architecture and its singular architectural and artistic ambition.”

Not only did Notre Dame symbolically and culturally transform the city, but it also represents “an extraordinary feat of mankind” because it was built by hand during a time without heavy machinery. Cohen also notes that the building was “a kind of utopian vision for people in the Middle Ages, and they really wanted it to last forever.”

With most of the building’s structure still intact, Cohen told Slate that the cathedral itself is “the artwork” and that “all the other works of art attached to church are different details of it.” She expressed concern over the loss of the “Forest,” the cathedral attic’s wooden frame with beams that were each made from an individual tree.

Speaking to National Geographic about the wooden structure, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, Cohen added that it was a “rare example of medieval engineering.” She also stated that the cathedral’s choir might be missing some key features, including some sculptures and graffiti that medieval worshippers etched into the choir stalls.

In her LA Times response to the current debate on how to rebuild and restore the iconic cathedral, Cohen puts forth another question to consider: “Should you fake history or create something of our time?” She suggests a design that acknowledges the building’s status and relevance in the 21st century, which could mean replacing the 19th century spire with something different instead of replicating it. As a more modern addition to the cathedral, Cohen reminds the public that this spire is a piece of the cathedral’s layered history. “A carbon copy is a false history because you can’t re-create the past. It would still have a completion date of 2019.”

The question of how to rebuild and restore the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral will not be answered overnight. As a symbol of Paris’ history, this process will require a collaborative effort between various experts and stakeholders looking to preserve the history and cultural significance of this beloved architectural structure.

The Humanities Division would like to thank Professor Cohen for sharing her insight with the public in the aftermath of this destruction.

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

The parallels of female power in ancient Egypt and modern times

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book cover of When Women Ruled the World

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

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

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

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

Why are we so hostile to female power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

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

Photo of Shane Campbell-Staton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His students agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

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

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

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

 

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

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

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

Photo of Lynn Vavreck

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

Photo of Lynn Vavreck

Lynn Vavreck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the bestseller "Identity Crisis"

“Identity Crisis” cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indonesia’s devastating 2018 earthquake was a rare ‘supershear,’ according to UCLA-led study

Photo of the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last September

In supershear quakes, the rupture moves faster than the shear waves, which produces more energy in a shorter time making superhsears unusually destructive.

The devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last September was a rare “supershear” earthquake, according to a study led by UCLA researchers.

Only a dozen supershear quakes have been identified in the past two decades, according to Lingsen Meng, UCLA’s Leon and Joanne V.C. Knopoff Professor of Physics and Geophysics and one of the report’s senior authors. The new study was published Feb. 4 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Meng and a team of scientists from UCLA, France’s Geoazur Laboratory, JPL/Caltech, and the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech analyzed the speed, timing and extent of the Palu earthquake. Using high-resolution observations of the seismic waves caused by the temblor, along with satellite radar and optical images, they found that the earthquake propagated unusually fast, which identified it as a supershear.

Supershear earthquakes are characterized by the rupture in the earth’s crust moving very fast along a fault, causing the up-and-down or side-to-side waves that shake the ground — called seismic shear waves — to intensify. Shear waves are created in standard earthquakes, too, but in supershear quakes, the rupture moving faster than the shear waves produces more energy in a shorter time, which is what makes supershears even more destructive.

“That intense shaking was responsible for the widespread landslides and liquefactions [the softening of soil caused by the shaking, which often causes buildings to sink into the mud] that followed the Palu earthquake,” Meng said.

In fact, he said, the vibrations produced by the shaking of supershear earthquakes is analogous to the sound vibrations of the sonic boom produced by supersonic jets.

Photo of Lingsen Meng

Lingsen Meng

UCLA graduate student Han Bao, the report’s first author, gathered publicly available ground-motion recordings from a sensor network in Australia — about 2,500 miles away from where the earthquake was centered — and used a UCLA-developed source imaging technique that tracks the growth of large earthquakes to determine its rupture speed. The technique is similar to how a smartphone user’s location can be determined by triangulating the times that phone signals arrive at cellphone antenna towers.

“Our technique uses a similar idea,” Meng said. “We measured the delays between different seismic sensors that record the seismic motions at set locations.”

The researchers could then use that to determine the location of the rupture at different times during the earthquake.

They determined that the minute-long quake moved away from the epicenter at 4.1 kilometers per second (or about 2.6 miles per second), faster than the surrounding shear-wave speed of 3.6 kilometers per second (2.3 miles per second). By comparison, non-shear earthquakes move at about 60 percent of that speed — around 2.2 kilometers per second (1.3 miles per second), Meng said.

Previous supershear earthquakes — like the magnitude 7.8 Kunlun earthquake in Tibet in 2001 and the magnitude 7.9 Denali earthquake in Alaska in 2002 — have occurred on faults that were remarkably straight, meaning that there were few obstacles to the quakes’ paths. But the researchers found on satellite images of the Palu quake that the fault line had two large bends. The temblor was so strong that the rupture was able to maintain a steady speed around these bends.

That could be an important lesson for seismologists and other scientists who assess earthquake hazards.

“If supershear earthquakes occur on nonplanar faults, as the Palu earthquake did, we have to consider the possibility of stronger shaking along California’s San Andreas fault, which has many bends, kinks and branches,” Meng said.

Supershear earthquakes typically start at sub-shear speed and then speed up as they continue. But Meng said the Palu earthquake progressed at supershear speed almost from its inception, which would imply that there was high stress in the rocks surrounding the fault — and therefore stronger shaking and more land movement in a compressed amount of time than would in standard earthquakes.

“Geometrically irregular rock fragments along the fault plane usually act as barriers preventing earthquakes,” Meng said. “However, if the pressure accumulates for a long time — for decades or even hundreds of years — an earthquake will eventually overcome the barriers and will go supershear right away.”

Among the paper’s other authors are Tian Feng, a UCLA graduate student, and Hui Huang, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. The UCLA researchers were supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leon and Joanne V.C. Knopoff Fund. The other authors are Cunren Liang of the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech; Eric Fielding and Christopher Milliner of JPL/Caltech and Jean-Paul Ampuero of Geoazur.