Posts

Photo of baby laughing

Babies Know the Difference between the Laughter of Friends and Strangers

Five-month-olds may use chuckles to identify information about social interactions

Photograph of baby laughing

Credit: Aarti Kalyani Getty Images

Most people can share a laugh with a total stranger. But there are subtle—and detectable—differences in our guffaws with friends.

Greg Bryant, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues previously found that adults from 24 societies around the world can distinguish simultaneous “co-laughter” between friends from that between strangers. The findings suggested that this ability may be universally used to help read social interactions. So the researchers wondered: Can babies distinguish such laughter, too?

Bryant and his fellow researcher Athena Vouloumanos, a developmental psychologist at New York University, played recordings of co-laughter between pairs of either friends or strangers to 24 five-month-old infants in New York City. The babies listened longer to the laughs shared between buddies—suggesting they could tell the two types apart, according to a study published in March in Scientific Reports.

The researchers then showed the babies short videos of two people acting either like friends or strangers and paired those with the audio recordings. The babies stared for longer at clips paired with a mismatched recording—for example, if they saw friends interacting but heard strangers laughing.

“There’s something about co-laughter that is giving information to even a five-month-old about the social relationship between the individuals,” Bryant says. Exactly what components of laughter the infants are detecting remains to be seen, but prior work by Bryant’s team provides hints. Laughs between friends tend to include greater fluctuations in pitch and intensity, for example.

Such characteristics also distinguish spontaneous laughs from fake ones. Many scientists think unprompted laughter most likely evolved from play vocalizations, which are also produced by nonhuman primates, rodents and other mammals. Fake laughter probably emerged later in humans, along with the ability to produce a wide range of speech sounds. The researchers suggest that we may be sensitive to spontaneous laughter during development because of its long evolutionary history.

“It’s really cool to see how early infants are distinguishing between different forms of laughter,” says Adrienne Wood, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, who was not involved in the study. “Almost every waking moment is a social interaction for [babies], so it makes sense that they are becoming very attuned to their social worlds.”

This story originally appeared in the Scientific American.

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion

UCLA College Celebrates Centennial Graduates

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion taking selfies

Graduates in Pauley Pavilion

 

Amid cheers and tears of happiness, the centennial class of UCLA celebrated both its graduation and the 100 years of UCLA’s existence at today’s commencement ceremonies, embracing the message that extraordinary changes don’t happen inevitably, but because people like this year’s graduates fight for it.

About 6,000 seniors were expected at the UCLA College commencement ceremonies in Pauley Pavilion at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., joined by more than 20,000 friends, family members and guests. At dozens of ceremonies across campus this graduation season, UCLA awarded roughly 8,400 undergraduate degrees and 5,000 graduate degrees, including just over 600 Ph.D.s.

Anna Lee Fisher speaking

Anna Lee Fisher speaking

This year’s UCLA College graduates include students like Haya Kaliounji, a Syrian immigrant whose organization, Rise Again, has helped more than 40 Syrian amputees get prosthetic limbs, and Helen and Rachel Lee, first-generation college students and twins who are working with state legislators to repeal the sales tax on menstrual products.

In its first 100 years, UCLA has become the most applied-to university in the country and is often ranked as the nation’s No. 1 public university. Bruins have earned 13 Nobel Prizes and three Pulitzers. Roughly a third of UCLA undergraduates are first-generation college students, and a similar number come from low-income families.

For the first time, the commencement program included an acknowledgment of the Tongva people as the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles basin. In his address, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block reminded the audience that students led or aided many positive changes – like the creation of UCLA’s prestigious ethnic studies centers, or programs to support students who are veterans, undocumented, transfers, parents or foster youth.

While UCLA can still improve, it has made dramatic changes for the better since 1919, Block said.

“We better embody the aspirations of all our members, and we are a lot more diverse — we represent a much more diverse and interesting family than we did when we started,” Block said. “All that has changed on this campus hasn’t changed by accident. It’s changed because of students, faculty and staff, alumni and others like you, who said ‘UCLA can do better.’”

Astronaut and three-time UCLA alumna Anna Lee Fisher delivered the keynote address at both ceremonies, telling students that her path to success was neither smooth nor guaranteed, but the result of perseverance in the face of setbacks, learning from mistakes, and back-up plans.

When she couldn’t become an astronaut because women weren’t allowed to be test pilots, she decided to become a doctor so NASA would send her up to care for other astronauts. When she didn’t get into medical school on her first try, she got her master’s degree in chemistry – a degree that was instrumental in her selection as one of the first six female astronauts.

“Sometimes, when you read or hear about a person who appears to be successful, it sounds as though it was smooth sailing the entire time,” Fisher said. “I’ve had many missteps and disappointments along the way, and inevitably, you will, as well. Learn from those experiences and use that newfound knowledge to continue to pursue your dreams.”

Through it all, she said the hardest things she ever did were leaving her then-14-month-old daughter during her first space flight, and returning to NASA after the birth of her second daughter.

“I also, incidentally … became the first mother to fly in space,” Fisher said. “I did not consider it a big deal, as most of my male colleagues had children as well. But of course my daughter says I owe it all to her. … For you parents and families, as you can see, even though I have three degrees, have been a doctor and an astronaut and have flown in space, I am still ‘just Mom’ to them.”

Graduating senior Kaitlyn Kim delivered the student speech at the 2 p.m. ceremony, noting that she has seen first hand how UCLA’s embrace of first-generation college students, immigrants and low-income families can lift up the generations that follow – because her parents were South Korean immigrants who both graduated from UCLA.

Student speaker Kaitlyn Kim

Student speaker Kaitlyn Kim

“Just because my parents and I went to the same school does not mean we had the same experience,” Kim said. “My dad worked as an on-campus vending machine cart driver in order to pay for his tuition, and my mom was a commuter student, responsible for taking care of her two younger siblings.”

Kim’s parents made it possible for her to live on campus and focus on her studies instead of working long hours at a job, she said. Soon, the California native and communications major starts her new job as a fashion buyer for a Fortune 500 company.

“Because of the sacrifices they made, my parents paved the path for me,” Kim said. Just as her parents lit the way for her and UCLA lit the way for them, she added, “let us hope to bring light to the entire world, one Bruin at a time.”

Graduating senior Ashraf Beshay delivered the student speech at the 7 p.m. ceremony. Beshay came to the United States as an asylum seeker to escape threats after taking part in the Egyptian Revolution. His mother, whom he hadn’t seen for five years, was able to visit UCLA for the first time to see Beshay and his sister both graduate, and the siblings have kept his role as student speaker a secret to surprise her. Commitment to each other and the betterment of society should be the graduates’ promise, according to his prepared speech.

“It is that promise that manifests into our social justice movements and strengthens our conviction that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that immigration is beautiful, that we are now standing on Native American land, that women’s rights are human rights, and equal labor deserves equal pay, and that ‘the world is over-armed and peace is so sorely underfunded,’” Beshay wrote in his remarks. “These very basic human principles must guide our engagement with a world so far from where it needs to be, to be just.”

As Friday’s first commencement ceremony drew to a close, Block formally conferred the bachelor’s degrees to raucous applause. Kim stepped forward once more to lead her fellow students in the turning of the tassels to the left, one of their last college rituals.

“Graduates, let me congratulate all of us on becoming the newest alumni of UCLA – as the Class of 2019!” Kim said. The new graduates flung their hats in the air before pouring out of Pauley Pavilion to greet family members, perhaps remembering some of Fisher’s final words – words with extra resonance, coming from an astronaut.

“You, too, can aim for the stars,” she told them. “The sky is the limit.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Eyes on the horizon, mortarboard reads
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.

Photo of Haya Kaliounji

UCLA graduate helps victims of Syrian war ‘rise again’

Photo of Haya Kaliounji

Through her non-profit, Haya Kaliounji has provided free prosthetic devices to more than 40 people who lost limbs in the Syrian civil war. Credit: Rebecca Kendall/UCLA

Haya Kaliounji’s nonprofit provides wounded people in her home country with free prosthetic limbs

When Haya Kaliounji thinks of Iron Man, she doesn’t envision the Marvel superhero. Instead she sees the 6-year-old boy who lost his legs after his home was struck by a missile as he played on his balcony.

“He was under the rubble and his mother was looking for him,” said Kaliounji, who will graduate from UCLA this week with a bachelor’s degree in physiological sciences. “I don’t think he was crying, she just saw his hair from under the rubble and they took him out.”

Today, he runs and plays like other kids and is healing psychologically and physically.

“His friends call him Iron Man,” she said.

It is children like him who were on her mind in 2015 when Kaliounji, a Syrian immigrant, founded Rise Again, a non-profit organization that provides free prosthetics to people — mostly children — who have been victims of violence during the ongoing war in Syria. It is their stories Kaliounji tells when she’s trying to raise money and awareness about the losses these children and their families have experienced and continue to experience.

When Rise Again started it was estimated that there were 40,000 people living with war-related amputations. That number is even larger now, Kaliounji said.

According to the World Bank, more than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. In addition, 5 million have sought refuge in other countries, including thousands who have come to the United States. Another 6 million people have been displaced within Syria. And 540,000 people continue to live in areas under siege.

Rise Again began as a project designed to help Kaliounji earn her Gold Award, the most prestigious honor given by the Girl Scouts. Her goal was modest — to help three people.

Naim Maraashly, a well-known medical technician in Syria, remembers the day Kaliounji called him to tell him about her project.

“I didn’t really believe it,” said Marasshly, who produces the prosthetics and teaches the recipients how to walk and use their new limbs. “I told myself it would be for a recipient or two. But she surprised me with her work and dedication.”

Over the years Kaliounji has raised money for Rise Again by speaking to community groups, organizing fundraisers at St. Anne Melkite Catholic Cathedral in North Hollywood, and through a GoFundMe campaign, recycling drives and sales of hand-made crafts. One of her professors at Pasadena City College, which she attended prior to enrolling at UCLA, even wove Rise Again into a graded fundraising opportunity for her class.

During the past four years, Rise Again, with assistance from St. Anne’s, and Maraashly, have assessed, fitted and supplied more than 40 individuals, ranging in age from 3 to 60, with prosthetic limbs, which range from $300 to $1,000 depending on if the device is being fitted for a child or for an adult and how many joints the prosthetic has.

“I feel like it gives them hope,” Kaliounji said.

One recipient was 4-year-old who got fitted with a new hand. There was the young man who lost a leg and who has since been able to return to his job as a baker. There was also the mother of six who lost both legs above the knee and whose inability to walk and work left her and her children in desperate need.

“Helping her meant I was helping an entire family,” said Kaliounji, whose dream is to expand Rise Again so she can provide sustained service in Syria and to become a doctor to help underserved communities around the world.

Maraashly, who works out of a small clinic that has also endured several bombings, said the need remains desperate.

“The war has been on for eight years now, with no electricity, no gas, no fuel,” he wrote in an email. “Medications and food are very expensive compared to income. It’s very hard to find work, people are displaced from their homes. Some children are able to go to school, others can’t.”

He said Haya’s work is imperative because there are many people in need who don’t have the means to pay for prosthetics or to replace them.

“We always try to find the poorest of people, especially those who show the will to go back to school and work after getting the device,” Maraashly wrote, noting that many people who have benefited from Rise Again have resumed their studies and employment.

Kaliounji has fond memories of growing up in Aleppo. She attended a local French school, took painting and drawing classes and piano lessons, was a dedicated Girl Scout and a member of the Syrian national under-14 tennis team. Then in 2011 violence erupted. She was 13.

By February 2012, Aleppo was under siege and enveloped in the violence. In the months that followed there were shootings and noise bombs, Kaliounji said.

“Our piano was next to the balcony window,” she recalled describing a day her lesson was interrupted. “Our house shook and we saw smoke in the horizon.”

When Kaliounji’s school closed, the family decided to move to neighboring Lebanon until it reopened. Her sister was already in Beirut for college and her brother was set to enroll at school there that fall.

“After three or four months we realized that the situation was getting worse and worse and that it was not a good idea to go back to Syria, especially for the safety of the kids,” said her mother, Fadia Kaliounji.

The family was able to move to Southern California, where some of their extended family had settled. They arrived in 2013.

“I feel like a lot of people got lucky to be able to leave, but there are so many people still there and they don’t have anything left,” Haya said. “This is why I do this work.”

Haya’s mother, who was a Girl Scout leader for 28 years in Syria, said that she wasn’t surprised by her youngest child’s ambitions because she has always been a kind-hearted person who thinks about and cares about others.

“I was so proud of her that she wanted to give back to her community in Syria,” mom said. “Especially for these young kids who have nothing to do with this war, but are affected.”

When the family enters UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on June 14 to attend Haya’s graduation, they will take pride in knowing that she will be the second one to earn a UCLA degree. Haya’s brother, Aboud, graduated magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2017 and is entering his second year of medical school in Grenada.

“I feel so proud of Haya and so proud for the family because we had the chance to have two children graduate from UCLA,” Fadia said. “Coming from Syria and from the war and have the opportunity to have two children graduate from UCLA, one of the best in the nation, is a big deal. I am so proud of them because they really worked hard.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model.

UCLA students touch space with a microgravity experiment

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model.

Bruin Space team members Chloe Liau, Andrew Evans, and Alexander Gonzalez holding their final flight model. Credit: Andrew Evans/Bruin Space

Magnetic pump built by Bruin Space launches on Blue Origin reusable rocket

It took only 10 minutes and a ride aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard reusable rocket for 11 students in the Bruin Spacecraft Group to make history.

At 6:32 a.m. on May 2, their experimental pump designed for use in zero-gravity environments, named “Blue Dawn,” completed its flight into a low-Earth orbit and freefall — thereby becoming the first space payload developed and built entirely by a UCLA student group.

“The goal was to see if we could design an efficient fluid pump without any moving parts to work in zero-gravity, which has never been done before,” said Alexander Gonzalez, fourth-year physics major and undergrad science lead on the project. Such a low-maintenance pump would be ideal for moving various liquids on the International Space Station, and could reduce the risk of motorized pump failures for rovers and even future bases on the moon or Mars.

The New Shepard rocket roared into the deep blue West Texas sky, ferrying a suite of 38 separate microgravity research experiments, including two built by student groups at UCLA and Case Western Reserve University.

For Blue Dawn, the UCLA team had to design a system containing the fluid, pump tubing, magnets and electronics in a custom aluminum frame that was about the size of a football and with a maximum weight of one pound.

Work began on the project in fall 2017. After designing it, the team of 11 students from several majors then manufactured and tested the pump entirely on campus. The Bruin Spacecraft Group, known as Bruin Space, secured primary funding for their project in 2017 by winning a grant from the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research Ken Souza Spaceflight Competition.

“It’s super exciting to directly apply the knowledge we gained in classes and actually build something that went into space,” said Andrew Evans, a third-year majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering and who served as chief engineer. He stressed the value of hands-on team experience gained in such projects.

“That’s what Bruin Space is all about, solving real science questions while giving students an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of spaceflight,” Evans said.

To be judged a success, Blue Dawn had to operate fully autonomously during its 10-minute flight and freefall back to Earth. Once the capsule chutes deployed and it touched down softly in the desert, Chloe Liau, fourth-year mechanical and aerospace engineering student and structure/fabrication lead, breathed a sigh of relief.

“Seeing all our hard work pay off with a perfect launch and landing, it was nothing short of amazing,” Liau said. “But we still have a job to finish.”

The payload and flight data will be returned to UCLA this week, so that the team can analyze the pump’s performance in microgravity. They expect the flow in space to be more efficient compared to its performance in ground tests under the influence of gravity.

The team plans to publish the results of this first study and present at conferences, giving these students the experience of seeing a space mission end-to-end.

Team members said that it would not have been possible without the expert guidance of two geophysics and space physics Ph.D. students from the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences: science advisor Emily Hawkins and project manager Lydia Bingley. The group was also supported by Richard Wirz, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, and Chris Russell, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences, whose prototyping lab facilities were used to build and test Blue Dawn.

What’s next for Bruin Space?

“We have several other exciting projects in development, from weather balloons and rocket campaigns, to designing a microsatellite propulsion system,” Evans said. “We are always looking for new members, check out our website at BruinSpace.com to learn more.”

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, first mother in space, to deliver 2019 UCLA College centennial commencement address

Photo of Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher

Chemist, physician, astronaut and UCLA alumna will speak at Pauley Pavilion, June 14

­

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, a chemist, physician and member of NASA’s first astronaut class to include women — as well as the first mother in space and a three-time UCLA graduate — will be the distinguished speaker for the UCLA College commencement on Friday, June 14.

Fisher will speak at both commencement ceremonies, which are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion, as the campus continues the celebration of its centennial year.

“Anna Fisher is an extraordinary illustration of what one person can achieve with determination, focus and hard work,” said Patricia Turner, senior dean of the UCLA College. “She is an example to all Bruins that one can truly reach beyond the stars. I know our graduates and their guests will be inspired by her wonderful journey as we celebrate all that UCLA has accomplished over the past 100 years and look forward to all that is yet to come.”

Fisher was selected by NASA in 1978 to be among the agency’s first female astronauts. In 1983, just two weeks before delivering her daughter, she was assigned to her flight on the space shuttle Discovery, and she embarked on mission STS-51A in 1984 when her daughter was just 14 months old — making her the first mother in space.

She has served NASA in several capacities throughout her career. In addition to serving on space missions, Fisher was the chief of the Astronaut Office’s Space Station branch, where she had a significant role in building the foundation for the International Space Station. She also worked in the mission control center as a lead communicator to the space station.

Before retiring in 2017, Fisher was a management astronaut working on display development for NASA’s pioneering Orion spacecraft, which will take astronauts farther into the solar system than they have ever gone.

Prior to orbiting the Earth, Fisher pushed into new frontiers at UCLA. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1971, an M.D. in 1976, and a master’s in chemistry 1987.

UCLA will hold two centennial commencements — the June 2019 ceremonies help kick off the campus’s 100th year, and the 2020 ceremonies wrap up the yearlong celebration. More information about the ceremonies are available at the UCLA College Commencement website.

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.”

Karida Brown and Robert Dallek

Two professors will be part of the Obama Presidency Oral History Project

Karida Brown and Robert Dallek

Karida Brown and Robert Dallek

Karida Brown, assistant professor of sociology, and Robert Dallek, professor emeritus of history, have been named to the advisory board of the Obama Presidency Oral History Project.

The Obama Foundation teamed with the Columbia Center for Oral History Research to produce the official oral history of Barack Obama’s presidency. The project will provide a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions and effects of his time in office.

Brown and Dallek join an advisory board made up of a distinguished list of presidential historians and authors; acclaimed journalists such as NPR’s Michele Norris and The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb; and other scholars in history, political science, sociology and public health from Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine. They will be responsible for shaping the project and uncovering narratives of how the Obama administration affected the lives of those inside and outside of Washington, D.C.

Starting this summer and during the next five years, the Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with some 400 people, including senior leaders and policy makers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists, and other key figures — Republican and Democrat — outside the White House.

The project also will incorporate interviews with individuals representing different dimensions of daily American life, whose perspectives enable the archive to weave recollections of administration officials with the stories and experiences of people who were affected by the administration’s decisions. This project will also examine Michelle Obama’s work and legacy as first lady.

This project builds on a longstanding tradition of presidential oral histories. For more than 50 years, oral history has been used to record the stories of people inside and outside the White House that shed light on a president’s time in office. This will be the second presidential oral history project conducted by Columbia, home to the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, including the Eisenhower Administration Oral History project. Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia from 1948 to 1952. As part of this effort, Columbia and its academic partners will have full control on all editorial aspects of the project.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.

New simulations suggest that carbon (C) routinely bonded with iron (Fe), silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) deep within the magma ocean that covered Earth when it was young.

New insights about carbon and ice could clarify inner workings of Earth, other planets

New simulations suggest that carbon (C) routinely bonded with iron (Fe), silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) deep within the magma ocean that covered Earth when it was young.

New simulations suggest that carbon (C) routinely bonded with iron (Fe), silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) deep within the magma ocean that covered Earth when it was young.

 

Most people behave differently when under extreme pressure. Carbon and ice are no different.

Two new studies show how these key planetary ingredients take on exotic forms that could help researchers better understand the composition of Earth’s core as well as the cores of planets across the galaxy. Craig Manning, a UCLA professor of geology and geochemistry, is a co-senior author of one of the papers, which was published today in the journal Nature, and senior author of the other, which was published in Nature Communications in February.

The Nature Communications paper revealed that high pressure deep inside the young Earth may have driven vast stores of carbon into the planet’s core while also setting the stage for diamonds to form. In the Nature report, researchers found that water ice undergoes a complex crystalline metamorphosis as the pressure slowly ratchets up.

Scientists have long understood that the amount of carbon sequestered in present-day Earth’s rocks, oceans and atmosphere is always in flux because the planet shuffles the element around in a vast cycle that helps regulate climate. But researchers don’t know whether the Earth locked away even more carbon deep in its interior during its formative years — information that could reveal a little more about how our planet and others like it are built.

To pursue an answer to that question, Manning and colleagues calculated how carbon might have interacted with other atoms under conditions similar to those that prevailed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, when much of Earth was still molten. Using supercomputers, the team created simulations to explore what would happen to carbon at temperatures above 3,000 degrees Celsius (more than 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit) and at pressures more than 100,000 times of those on Earth’s surface today.

The experiment revealed that under those conditions, carbon tends to link up with iron, which implies that there might be considerable quantities of carbon sealed in Earth’s iron core today. Researchers had already suspected that in the young planet’s magma ocean, iron atoms hooked up with one another and then dropped to the planet’s center. But the new research suggests that this molten iron rain may have also dragged carbon down with it. Until now, researchers weren’t even sure whether carbon exists down there.

The team also found that as the pressure ramps up, carbon increasingly bonds with itself, forming long chains of carbon atoms with oxygen atoms sticking out.

“These complex chains are a form of carbon bonding that we really hadn’t anticipated at these conditions,” Manning said.

Such molecules could be a precursor to diamonds, which consist of many carbon atoms linked together.

Solving an icy enigma

The machinations of carbon under pressure provide clues as to how Earth-like planets are built. Frozen planets and moons in other solar systems, however, may also have to contend with water ice. In a separate paper, Manning and another team of scientists looked at how the molecular structure of extremely cold ice changes when put under intense pressure.

Under everyday conditions, water ice is made up of molecules laid out in honeycomb-like mosaics of hexagons. But when ice is exposed to crushing pressure or very low temperature — in labs or possibly deep inside remote worlds — the molecules can assume a bewildering variety of patterns.

One of those patterns, known as amorphous ice, is an enigma. In amorphous ice, the water molecules eschew rigid crystalline order and take on a free-form arrangement. Manning and colleagues set out to try and understand how amorphous ice forms.

First, they chilled normal ice to about 170 degrees below zero Celsius (about 274 degrees below zero Fahrenheit). Then, they locked the ice in the jaws of a high-tech vice grip inside a cryogenic vacuum chamber. Finally, over the span of several hours, they slowly stepped up the pressure in the chamber to about 15,000 times atmospheric pressure. They stopped raising the pressure periodically to fire neutrons through the ice so that they could see the arrangement of the water molecules.

Surprisingly to the researchers, the amorphous ice never formed. Instead, the molecules went through a series of previously known crystalline arrangements.

However, when the researchers conducted the same experiment but raised the pressure much more rapidly — this time in just 30 minutes — amorphous ice formed as expected. The results suggest that time is the secret ingredient: When pressure increases slowly, tiny seeds of crystalline ice have time to form and take over the sample. Otherwise, those seeds never get a chance to grow.

The findings, published May 23 in the journal Nature, could be useful to researchers who study worlds orbiting other suns and are curious about what conditions might be like deep inside frozen planets.

“It’s entirely likely that there are planets dominated by ice in other solar systems that could obtain these pressures and temperatures with ease,” Manning said. “We have to have this right if we’re going to have a baseline for understanding the interiors of cold worlds that may not be like Earth.”

Both papers were funded in part by the Deep Carbon Observatory, a 10-year program started in 2009 to investigate the quantities, movements, forms and origins of deep carbon inside Earth. The Nature Communications paper was also funded by the European Research Council and was co-authored by researchers at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France, one of whom — Natalia Solomatova — completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA. The Nature paper was co-authored by UCLA geologist Adam Makhluf and researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Research Council of Canada.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Newsroom.