Posts

Best in snow: New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall

UCLA researchers and colleagues have designed a new device that creates electricity from falling snow. The first of its kind, this device is inexpensive, small, thin and flexible like a sheet of plastic.

“The device can work in remote areas because it provides its own power and does not need batteries,” said senior author Richard Kaner, who holds UCLA’s Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation. “It’s a very clever device — a weather station that can tell you how much snow is falling, the direction the snow is falling, and the direction and speed of the wind.”

The researchers call it a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator, or snow TENG. A triboelectric nanogenerator, which generates charge through static electricity, produces energy from the exchange of electrons.

Findings about the device are published in the journal Nano Energy.

Maher El-Kady and Richard Kaner

Maher El-Kady and Richard Kaner

“Static electricity occurs from the interaction of one material that captures electrons and another that gives up electrons,” said Kaner, who is also a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. “You separate the charges and create electricity out of essentially nothing.”

Snow is positively charged and gives up electrons. Silicone — a synthetic rubber-like material that is composed of silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen and other elements — is negatively charged. When falling snow contacts the surface of silicone, that produces a charge that the device captures, creating electricity.

“Snow is already charged, so we thought, why not bring another material with the opposite charge and extract the charge to create electricity?” said co-author Maher El-Kady, a UCLA assistant researcher of chemistry and biochemistry.

“While snow likes to give up electrons, the performance of the device depends on the efficiency of the other material at extracting these electrons,” he added. “After testing a large number of materials including aluminum foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material.”

About 30 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by snow each winter, during which time solar panels often fail to operate, El-Kady noted. The accumulation of snow reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches the solar array, limiting the panels’ power output and rendering them less effective. The new device could be integrated into solar panels to provide a continuous power supply when it snows, he said.

Hiking shoe with device attached

Hiking shoe with device attached

The device can be used for monitoring winter sports, such as skiing, to more precisely assess and improve an athlete’s performance when running, walking or jumping, Kaner said. It also has the potential for identifying the main movement patterns used in cross-country skiing, which cannot be detected with a smart watch.

It could usher in a new generation of self-powered wearable devices for tracking athletes and their performances.

It can also send signals, indicating whether a person is moving. It can tell when a person is walking, running, jumping or marching.

The research team used 3-D printing to design the device, which has a layer of silicone and an electrode to capture the charge. The team believes the device could be produced at low cost given “the ease of fabrication and the availability of silicone,” Kaner said. Silicone is widely used in industry, in products such as lubricants, electrical wire insulation and biomedical implants, and it now has the potential for energy harvesting.

Co-authors include Abdelsalam Ahmed, who conducted the research while completing his doctoral studies at the University of Toronto; Islam Hassan and Ravi Selvaganapathy of Canada’s McMaster University; and James Rusling of the University of Connecticut and his research team.

Kaner’s research was funded by Nanotech Energy, a company spun off from his research (Kaner is chair of its scientific advisory board and El-Kady is chief technology officer); and Kaner’s Dr. Myung Ki Hong Endowed Chair in Materials Innovation.

Kaner’s laboratory has produced numerous devices, including a membrane that separates oil from water and cleans up the debris left by oil fracking. Fracking is a technique to extract gas and oil from shale rock.

Kaner, El-Kady and colleagues designed a device in 2017 that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars. This year, they published research on their design of the first fire-retardant, self-extinguishing motion sensor and power generator, which could be embedded in shoes or clothing worn by firefighters and others who work in harsh environments.

Kaner is among the world’s most influential and highly cited scientific researchers. He was 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.

Photo of UCLA professor Kent Hill and graduate student Stephanie DeMarco

Scientists identify a key gene in the transmission of deadly African sleeping sickness

Photo of UCLA professor Kent Hill and graduate student Stephanie DeMarco

Research by UCLA professor Kent Hill and graduate student Stephanie DeMarco, as well as colleagues at the University of Bern, could lead to new approaches to treat African sleeping sickness.

 

Life scientists from UCLA and the University of Bern have identified a key gene in the transmission of African sleeping sickness — a severe disease transmitted by the bite of infected tsetse flies, which are common in sub-Saharan Africa.

The disease is fatal if untreated, as the parasite responsible moves from the bloodstream to the central nervous system. Tens of millions of people in 36 African countries are at risk. There is no vaccine, and conventional drug treatments, which include an arsenic derivative, are antiquated, not very effective and have severe side effects.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, could lead to new approaches to treat the disease. It also provides scientists with the first detailed understanding of how the parasite moves through the fly and what genes enable it to do so.

The tiny, single-celled parasite that causes African sleeping sickness in humans, and debilitating diseases in other mammals, is called Trypanosoma brucei, or T. brucei. To become infectious, the parasite must travel through tissues of the fly, from the midgut to the salivary gland — and then into the human or other animal, through a bite.

In the study, Stephanie DeMarco, a UCLA graduate student in molecular biology, and Sebastian Shaw, a graduate student at Switzerland’s University of Bern, worked with two sets of the T. brucei parasite. In one set, they made a mutation in one of the parasite’s genes, called phosphodiesterase-B1, or PDEB1.

Then, they infected 2,000 tsetse flies with some 20,000 parasites each — half of the flies received blood containing normal T. brucei parasites and the other half received blood with the mutated versions.

When tsetse flies drink infected blood, the parasites from the blood typically travel to the midgut and then into a tissue closer to the head, called the proventriculus, before moving on to the salivary glands.

But the researchers saw a striking difference in the proventriculus between the two sets of flies. Among the flies that received the normal parasites, those that had parasites in the gut also had parasites in the proventriculus; but among the 1,000 flies that received mutant T. brucei, only a single one that had parasites in the gut also had a parasite in the proventriculus.

“The normal parasites were able to get to the proventriculus just fine, but for the mutants, we saw only one lonely parasite swimming around,” DeMarco said. “That told us that phosphodiesterase-B1 is really important for the parasites to move from the fly midgut to the proventriculus.”

Shaw said, “When we saw the huge difference between the mutants and normal parasites, at first we couldn’t believe it.”

Kent Hill, a UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and one of the study’s senior authors, said the findings also suggested that there must be a barrier preventing the mutants from getting from the midgut to the proventriculus.

To learn where that barrier is, the scientists made fluorescent parasites and fed the flies a fluorescent dye that stained different tissues in the fly different colors, enabling the researchers to track the parasites.

To go from the midgut to the proventriculus, the parasites have to cross the peritrophic matrix, a sheet-like structure produced by the proventriculus that protects the midgut.

“We found the normal parasites could get through the peritrophic matrix just fine, but the mutants were mostly stuck on one side of it,” DeMarco said.

That finding indicated that the peritrophic matrix was the barrier the scientists were looking for.

The research identifies for the first time the genes that enable the parasites to sense where they are and allow them to survive their journey in fly tissues; those mechanisms had not been understood well until now.

“We think the way the parasites perceive where they are may be similar in the tsetse flies and in mammals — including humans — as they go through barriers and tissues,” said co-senior author Isabel Roditi, a University of Bern professor. “If so, there could potentially be a new drug that might disrupt their ability to do that.”

The researchers also uncovered another clue to African sleeping sickness: In parasites with mutated PDEB1, there was a dramatic increase in the number of cyclic AMP molecules, signaling molecules that play an important role in the disease.

Normal parasites are social and coordinate their behavior, DeMarco said. But the research revealed that without PDEB1, the parasites have too much cyclic AMP in their cells and can’t communicate with one another.

“When Sebastian and Stephanie got rid of PDEB1, the parasites got flooded with cyclic AMP,” Hill said. “Then, when the signal came in telling the parasites, ‘You’re in the stomach and you need to move,’ they couldn’t hear the sound. That’s what we think the problem is for the mutant parasites.”

Hill said the new insights from the UCLA–Bern study could apply to other disease-causing parasites as well. For example, T. brucei parasites are related to parasites found in the U.S. and elsewhere that cause Chagas disease, in which parasites invade heart tissue, leading to inflammation and enlarged heart tissue, and in some cases, heart failure.

Hill’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Roditi’s research is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Photo of Brenda Elaine Stevenson

Brenda Elaine Stevenson receives inaugural 2019 Germany residency at the University of Augsburg

Photo of Brenda Elaine Stevenson

Brenda Elaine Stevenson

During its annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) announced that Brenda Elaine Stevenson, University of California, Los Angeles, has been selected to receive the inaugural 2019 residency at the University of Augsburg.

 

2019 Germany Residency Program
Thanks to a generous grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the OAH is pleased to continue the Germany Residency Program in American history at the University of Tübingen. Funding from the University of Augsburg will also enable an extension of the program to the University of Augsburg in 2019. The resident scholar at each university will offer a seminar on a U.S. history topic of his or her design.

The residency was announced on April 5 by OAH’s 2019–20 President Joanne Meyerowitz.

 

About the Organization of American Historians
Founded in 1907, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship. With more than 7,500 members from the U.S. and abroad, OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, encouraging wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of history practitioners. It publishes the quarterly Journal of American History, the leading scholarly publication and journal of record in the field of American history for more than a century. It also publishes The American Historian magazine. Formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA), the association became the OAH in 1965 to reflect a broader scope focusing on national studies of American history. The OAH national headquarters are located in the historic Raintree House on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

Photo of the DVD cover for the Nollywood film 'Water of Glod'.

Social scientists partner with Nollywood film industry to test a corruption-reporting campaign in Nigeria

Photo of the DVD cover for the Nollywood film 'Water of Glod'.

Researchers said that using popular entertainment can help create a consensus among people to take up behaviors that benefit the community.

 

A team of social scientists, including UCLA political science professor Graeme Blair, commissioned filmmakers in Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving film industry, to see if media can be used to instigate civic engagement — and the results were promising.

The Niger Delta a is a resource-rich land with high poverty rates and is perceived both inside the country and globally as a place where corruption is rampant. Blair was part of a team that worked with local artists and an activist group called Integrity Nigeria to create a feature-length Nigerian movie about corruption — and launch a subsequent text-messaging campaign designed to report instances of government graft.

The experimental data-collection project led a record number of Nigerian citizens to report acts of corruption, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

The two-part campaign generated 241 corruption reports from 106 communities in just seven months, according to the researchers, who are based at Princeton University, UCLA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A previous corruption-reporting campaign yielded less than 140 reports in a full year.

The idea was to test what the researchers called “norms and nudges.”

“There is existing evidence you can motivate people to take up behaviors even before there is a social consensus,” said Blair, who was a graduate student at Princeton as he helped conduct the research in 2014 in Nigeria, and now teaches courses on comparative politics and experimental fieldwork in UCLA’s political science department. “Role models in media can build the idea that a pro-social behavior, such as reporting instances of corruption, is something other people are doing, and other people think is valuable, and thereby build a social consensus.”

Blair conducted the study with Rebecca Littman, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at MIT, and Betsy Levy Paluck, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The larger implication of the team’s findings is that norms and nudges combined do work, Paluck said.

“The policy messaging of our study is clear: campaigns should make it easy for people to do the things they are already motivated to do,” she said. “In this case, the texting campaign made it free and simple for people to reply to a message that came to their phone, regarding an issue they found to be important. The film provided role models of other Nigerian citizens reporting corruption by text.”

Photo of Graeme Blair.

Graeme Blair

They commissioned a movie from IROKOTV, the third-largest producer of Nollywood films in Nigeria. The two-hour film, “Water of Gold,” was written by Kabat Esosa and produced by Iroko Partners with Magic Movies Productions. It starred two big Nigerian stars: Yemi Blaq and Mike Ezuruonye.

The movie took place in four states in southeastern Nigeria, home to roughly 14.2 million people. Despite the region’s rich supply of crude oil, corruption at the level of international corporations, Nigeria’s federal government, and state and local officials, have contributed to poverty and under-development or have not translated into local development. Today, local residents name corruption as the top problem faced by their country.

The film follows the story of a poor fisherman named Natufe and his rags-to-riches brother Priye. The two are close until Priye leaves their village, eventually returning years later as a wealthy businessman. Against Natufe’s wishes, Priye begins to work with corrupt local politicians. Eventually, Natufe becomes outspoken against the corrupt system in which they live.

The researchers rolled out two different versions of the film. In both, a number was displayed on the screen four times, urging viewers to call a hotline to report corruption. It said: “See corruption? Let us hear from you! SMS 50500 to report corruption to Integrity Nigeria. Tell us your story. Text for FREE. Your number kept secret.”

What differed was the plotline of the film. In the “treatment version,” Natufe and a local activist set up a toll-free “short code” telephone number, used for mass text messaging, to encourage community members to report corruption. This took place in six scenes. In the “placebo version,” this part of the storyline is removed. In some regions, viewers were able to watch the treatment version of the film, whereas in other regions, viewers were exposed to the placebo version.

The second part of the study involved a mass text sent on a random day to all the people who watched the film. This allowed the researchers to study the effect of the messaging before and after the text nudge.

All told, the researchers received 3,316 messages from 1,685 different people. Among these, 241 individuals sent concrete corruption reports explicitly mentioning a specific act, or a person or institution that had committed malfeasance. People most commonly reported bribes and embezzlement perpetrated by politicians, law enforcement and those in the education sector.

Seeing the role models of corruption reporters in the film encouraged viewers to report corruption, and separately, individuals who received the text message encouragement were significantly more likely to report corruption. The researchers think the film campaign may have caused reporting due to a perceived shift in norms regarding the community’s anger toward corruption.

“Using Nollywood for social change is already something that’s in the minds of lots of directors and producers,” Blair said. “There are social messages baked in overtly and explicitly throughout the industry. So this wasn’t a new idea, but we were able to develop some evidence about how and when these campaigns can change behaviors.”

Funding for the study came from an anonymous private donor and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

Diagram of Vegetation density in California in 2011 versus 2014.

California ‘browning’ more in the south during droughts

Diagram of Vegetation density in California in 2011 versus 2014.

Vegetation density in California, 2011 versus 2014, when the state was in the midst of a drought that had especially severe effects in the southern part of the state.

 

Like a climate chameleon, California turned brown during the 2012–16 drought, as vegetation dried or died off.

But the change wasn’t uniform. According to research from UCLA and Columbia University, large areas of the northern part of the state were not severely affected, while Southern California became much browner than usual.

“Southern California is more prone than the northern part of the state to getting severe droughts,” said UCLA climate scientist Glen MacDonald, one of the paper’s authors. “But that difference seems to be increasing.”

That means additional stress will be placed on wildlife ecosystems and resources that the approximately 24 million people living in Southern California need to survive, including energy, food and water supply.

The problem isn’t just a lack of precipitation. Hotter temperatures due to global warming — which accelerate evaporation and make drought effects worse — are playing play a major role in many locations, including Southern California and some parts of the Sierra Nevada.

One band of low-to-middle elevation forest in the western Sierra was hit particularly hard and showed drastic browning, MacDonald said. That area of the Sierra Nevada experienced a high concentration of tree deaths, which contributed to California’s overall loss of more than 129 million trees since 2010.

In contrast, some parts of California became greener — mostly at high elevations and in the far northwestern part of the state, where it’s cooler and moister.

The researchers examined satellite images dating back to 2000 and historical records dating to 1895. They combined that data with information about drought severity and vegetation indexes — which analyze imagery to determine how densely green a patch of land is.

The research was partially funded by UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which seeks to develop informed strategies to transition L.A. County to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050.

Lead author Chunyu Dong, who worked on the project as a UCLA postdoctoral researcher, said the findings reveal a century-long trend in Southern California toward a drier climate that won’t affect only plants, but also the lives of millions of people.

“The Southern California water shortage will be more severe in the coming decades, especially when we consider the population here is increasing quickly,” Dong said.

The changes also have implications for wildfires, he added. Additional dry vegetation and hotter, windy weather could lead to more large fires that are difficult to control.

That lines up with 2017 research by MacDonald, who used the natural climate record contained in ancient tree rings to understand how climate variability and droughts have changed over hundreds of years. That paper found that California is in an unprecedented scenario in which the climate has warmed at the same time that variations in temperature and precipitation have been magnified, supporting rapid plant growth in wet years and then drying in hot summers, which provides more fuel for wildfires.

The 2019 rainy season made California drought-free for the first time since 2011, greening the state and causing wildflower superblooms, even in deserts. But MacDonald said the relief could be short-lived.

“The one thing that seems to keep coming up is that we’ll have more swings in precipitation,” he said. “We’re going to have our seasonally dry summer and that fine fuel is going to dry out. If it’s a hot summer, conditions are ripe for wildfire. The worst thing we can possibly do is say we don’t have to worry about this anymore.”

How climate change and drought will reshape the state’s vegetation in the long term remains to be seen. Some coastal sage scrub and chaparral could be replaced by grasslands, and low-elevation shrubland and woodland might even replace some coniferous forest, MacDonald said, but more study is needed.

Photo of Professor Stephanie Jamison.

Professor Stephanie Jamison to share how she finds women in ancient, often patriarchal, texts

Photo of Professor Stephanie Jamison.

Stephanie Jamison

For four decades, UCLA’s Stephanie Jamison has been somewhat defiantly seeking the stories of women among some of the oldest texts in the world. Jamison’s expertise lies in Indo-Iranian, especially Sanskrit and middle Indo-Aryan languages with an emphasis on linguistics, literature and poetics, religion and law, mythology and ritual, and gender.

Jamison will share some of what she has unearthed on April 3 as she delivers UCLA’s 126th Faculty Research Lecture titled “Looking for Women Between the Lines in Ancient India.” They will be names and stories of women we have likely never heard of before.

“It is often said that the kind of scholarship that I do, which is very traditional examination of written language, cannot be used to study women and marginal groups, because it’s just not there,” said Jamison, distinguished professor of Asian languages and cultures and also Indo-European studies in the UCLA College.

But Jamison would argue that the tools employed through traditional philology (the study of language in literary texts and other written records) are actually well suited for digging beneath the surface of text for exactly those stories, even among the works from colonialist and patriarchal cultures.

Even back as far as 1500 B.C. in India.

For 15 years, Jamison and her co-author Joel Brereton worked on a translation of the “Rig Veda,” India’s oldest Sanskrit text. Published in 2014, theirs is the first full English translation in well over a century of the text that is considered crucial to the understanding both of Indo-European and Indo-Iranian cultural prehistory and of later Indian religious history and high literature.

It’s an era and a place that essentially has no archaeology to help interpret meaning, so we are completely dependent upon text for context, Jamison said. She often summarizes philology as the work of “text and context.”

“In the Rig Veda there was a debate going on underneath the surface about the place of women in religious life,” Jamison said. “There are very enigmatic snatches of narrative about women or female goddesses or demigoddess and they are being deployed by two different sides of the debate as examples of either the terrible or wonderful things that will happen if you let women in. But none of this is actually conveyed on the surface.”

So looking for and finding women in these ancient texts requires burrowing in as deeply as possible, she said, starting with a very close attention to grammar, literary devices and rhetorical devices, alongside trying to uncover the religious system and whatever we can uncover about history.

Jamison was trained as a historical and Indo-European linguist, and earned her doctorate from Yale in 1977. She’s been teaching at UCLA since 2002. She regularly teaches courses in Sanskrit, Middle Indo-Aryan, and old Iranian language and literature, Indo-European and Indo-Iranian linguistics, and undergraduate courses on classical Indian civilization.

Jamison said she also enjoys teaching in a freshman cluster course called “Neverending Stories: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Myth.”

The Faculty Research Lecture — a UCLA tradition since 1925 — is free and open to the public and will be held on April 3 at 3 p.m. in the Schoenberg Music Building.

The galactic chimneys (yellow-orange areas extending vertically) are centered on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Giant X-ray ‘chimneys’ are exhaust vents for vast energies produced at Milky Way’s center

The galactic chimneys (yellow-orange areas extending vertically) are centered on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

The galactic chimneys (yellow-orange areas extending vertically) are centered on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

 

The center of our galaxy is a frenzy of activity. A behemoth black hole — 4 million times as massive as the sun — blasts out energy as it chows down on interstellar detritus while neighboring stars burst to life and subsequently explode.

Now, an international team of astronomers has discovered two exhaust channels — dubbed “galactic center chimneys” — that appear to funnel matter and energy away from the cosmic fireworks in the Milky Way’s center, about 28,000 light-years from Earth.

Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of astronomy and astrophysics, contributed to the research, which will be published March 21 in the journal Nature.

“We hypothesize that these chimneys are exhaust vents for all the energy released at the center of the galaxy,” Morris said.

All galaxies are giant star-forming factories, but their productivity can vary widely — from one galaxy to the next and even over the course of each galaxy’s lifetime. One mechanism for throttling the rate of star production is the fountain of matter and energy whipped up by the heavyweight black hole that lurks at a galaxy’s center.

“Star formation determines the character of a galaxy,” Morris said. “And that’s something we care about because stars produce the heavy elements out of which planets — and life — are made.”

To better understand what becomes of that outflow of energy, Morris and his colleagues pointed the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, which detects cosmic X-rays, toward the center of the Milky Way. Because X-rays are emitted by extremely hot gas, they are especially useful for mapping energetic environments in space.

In images they collected from 2016 to 2018 and in 2012, the researchers found two plumes of X-rays — the galactic center chimneys — stretching in opposite directions from the central hub of the galaxy. Each plume originates within about 160 light-years of the supermassive black hole and spans over 500 light-years.

The chimneys hook up to two gargantuan structures known as the Fermi bubbles, cavities carved out of the gas that envelops the galaxy. The bubbles, which are filled with high-speed particles, straddle the center of the galaxy and stretch for 25,000 light-years in either direction. Some astronomers suspect that the Fermi bubbles are relics of massive eruptions from the supermassive black hole, while others think the bubbles are blown out by hordes of newly born stars. Either way, the chimneys could be the conduits through which high-speed particles get there.

Understanding how energy makes its way from a galaxy’s center to its outer limits could provide insights into why some galaxies are bursting with star formation whereas others are dormant.

“In extreme cases, that fountain of energy can either trigger or shut off star formation in the galaxy,” Morris said.

Our galaxy isn’t quite that extreme — other galaxies have fountains powered by central black holes weighing a thousand times more than ours — but the Milky Way’s center provides an up-close look at what might be happening in galaxies that are more energetic.

“We know that outflows and winds of material and energy emanating from a galaxy are crucial in sculpting and altering that galaxy’s shape over time — they’re key players in how galaxies, and other structures, form and evolve throughout the cosmos,” said lead author Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany. “Luckily, our galaxy gives us a nearby laboratory to explore this in detail, and probe how material flows out into the space around us.”

Morris said the centers of the nearest galaxies are hundreds to thousands of times farther away than our own. “The amount of energy coming out of the center of our galaxy is limited, but it’s a really good example of a galactic center that we can observe and try to understand,” he said.

Nine authors from five countries contributed to the study. The research was funded by NASA, the French National Center for Space Studies, the French National Agency for Research, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the German Aerospace Center and the Max Planck Society.

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 a UCLA Chemistry lab

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

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

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

 

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

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

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

Three UCLA professors awarded 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships

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

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

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

UCLA’s 2019 recipients are:

 

Photo of Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chertverikov

Denis Chetverikov

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

 

 

Photo of Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

Yongjie Hu

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

 

 

Aaswath Raman

Photo of Aaswath Raman

Aaswath Raman

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