Brews and Brains
Brews and Brains
Are you interested in honing your communication skills? Want to practice engaging a general audience in your research? The graduate student-led research communication group, Brews and Brains, is the place for you!
We meet every other Tuesday at 6:30 pm at the Fireside Tavern in Costa Mesa. Join us to listen to UCI researchers discuss their latest cutting-edge research on nearly every topic imaginable, from neuroscience and physics, all the way to humanities, social sciences, and the arts! Recent topics have included how artificial intelligence can learn to detect lung cancer, how butterflies see the world, why meth-addicted rats can’t get through rehab, and why the data show it really was a bad idea for your teacher to give you detention back in the 8th grade. There’s a new topic every meeting followed by a lively Q&A session that always generates exciting dialogue across every discipline imaginable.
Use this friendly forum to enhance your presentation skills and be creative with your research talks! Practice that future TED talk you dream of giving, or are currently scheduled to give! Engage with the broader Orange County community and share your groundbreaking research. Communicating complex ideas eloquently is important now more than ever, and we want to help bring your work to life. Speakers from all disciplines are welcome!
Check out our YouTube channel for videos from past speakers, and stop by every other Tuesday at 6:30pm at the Fireside Tavern in Costa Mesa to hear other graduate students and postdoctoral scholars share their research.
Interested in getting more involved? We’re looking to expand the leadership team. Email Sarah Cross (email@example.com) for more information.
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Anjelica Cardenas, PhD Student, Department of Pharmacology
Testing Nicotine’s Gateway Effects (July 24, 2018)
Drug initiation typically begins during adolescence. In fact, 90% of smokers report starting before the age of 18. A pattern in adolescents has been observed where the use of legal substances, such as nicotine, during adolescence precedes progression to illicit substance use (i.e., cocaine, heroin). This is known as the “gateway hypothesis.” Preclinical studies have consistently drawn a connection between adolescent nicotine exposure and sensitization to illegal substances. Yet, nicotine’s gateway effects are not entirely understood. In recent years, e-cigarette use has increased among middle and high school students with many users unaware of the nicotine content in their e-cigarettes. My work focuses on further understanding the impact and mechanisms underlying nicotine’s gateway effects on subsequent drug use in adolescents. My research is necessary to educate the general public and inform regulatory agencies like the FDA, so that policies can be implemented to prevent nicotine initiation and so that effective prevention programs can be developed to target nicotine use in adolescents.
Stephen Mahler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Adolescent Cannabis Use (July 10, 2018)
The cannabis industry is gearing up for recreational legalization in California, and an ever-increasing number of other states. Yet the actions of drugs in cannabis on the brain are surprisingly poorly understood. It is difficult to argue that cannabis is more harmful than other legal drugs used by adults such as tobacco and alcohol (i.e. “brews”). This said, there is increasing evidence that teen use of cannabis is associated with increased prevalence of cognitive deficits, schizophrenia, and depression. In animal models, cannabinoid drug exposure causes long-lasting changes in brain function and behavior. Does teenage cannabis use cause psychopathology, or is early cannabis use a symptom of it? How does the brain work differently after adolescent use, and why? Are animal models of adolescent use relevant to humans? We have just started asking these questions in my UCI neuroscience lab, and I’d love to hear input from your “brains!”
Brittney Cox, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Mechanisms Underlying Emotional Enhancement of Episodic Memory (June 26, 2018)
What were you doing when you heard about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Most people can immediately recall in great detail where they were, and what they were doing at that time. At 9:00am that day, nothing seemed unusual, and the details of your day-to-day activities seemed destined to be resigned to the dustbin of memory, as had so many days before. However, when you heard about the nature of the unfolding situation and realized its implications, something changed that allowed you to recite these details of your comings and goings years later, almost as if they had happened this morning. Episodic memory is the seemingly effortless integration of semantic (‘what’), spatial (‘where’), and temporal (‘when’) information into a continuous narrative stream that can be recalled in the future. Episodic memory therefore encodes enormous amounts of information, but not all episodes are recorded similarly—the neural representation of these memories which must be modifiable in retrospect—allowing strong emotions to enhance memory for episodes that occurred before a highly salient event. Given these points, it is surprising that very little is known about how emotional events can affect storage of a newly formed episode in such a profound manner. I will discuss how we are using pharmacology, an animal model of episodic memory, and viral technology to examine the brain mechanisms underlying this form of memory.
Hurik Muradyan, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry
Velcro Spaghetti: Strong Self-healing Materials (June 5, 2018)
As of 2015, we have produced over 8 billion tons of plastic. This plastic ends up in our environment in staggering amounts. Minimizing the adverse effects on the environment remains a challenge. Recycling is an ongoing effort; however, still only accounts for around 10% of the plastic waste. An alternative approach is to increase the functional lifetime of the plastics we use. This can be done by making materials that can self-heal. Much like human skin can heal it itself, self-healing plastics could regain mechanical properties, extending the lifetime of usage. Typical plastics rely on the permanent crosslinking between polymer chains to form robust plastics. Self-healing plastics rely on dynamic crosslinking of polymer chains. Dynamic crosslinks can break and reform, allowing for constant shuffling of the bonds throughout the plastic. Unfortunately, these is an inherit trade off between strong materials and self-healing efficiency. So making strong self-healing materials remains a challenge. My research aims to make a strong plastic that can be triggered with a specific wavelength of light to self-heal. This mean the plastic will function as a typical strong plastic in day-to-day use but upon damage can be triggered into a weak self-healing state.
Will Thrift, PhD Candidate, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Infection Detection: Artificial Nose Smells Bacteria (May 22, 2018)
In the US over 2 million people are infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria every year. Reducing this number requires a method to detect the bacteria. We need to detect them before they become entrenched in our bodies. Before we even know that we are getting sick. Using bacteria
smelling dogs as inspiration, I have developed an artificial nose capable of early bacteria detection. Like a dog, the artificial nose detects small molecules that are uniquely produced by the bacteria. The nose works by trapping light and forcing it to interact with these molecules. The nose is capable of measuring single molecules and I have developed an artificial intelligence method of analyzing this data. With this method, I have shown that the nose is capable of detecting bacteria six hours before it becomes resistant to antibiotics. In the future, this platform will be used in residences for early disease detection.
Jessica Monterrosa, PhD Student, Department of Environmental Health Science
Health Effects from Exposure to Biomass Smoke (April 24, 2018)
Solid fuels, also known as biofuels, include natural carbon based products such as wood, coal, dung, and crop residues that are burned or “combusted” for energy. Biofuel smoke has a unique chemistry influenced by on the type of fuel used and cookstove efficiency. The emissions include irritant gases and toxic particles, many of which are known to cause cancer. Biofuels are the leading environmental risk factor for death. However, approximately 40% of the worldwide population currently rely on biofuels to cook and heat their homes daily. Even though humans have been burning biofuels for thousands of years we still don’t understand how these emissions cause such a wide range of diseases. Without the answer to fundamental biological questions, it is difficult to create informed policy to regulate air pollution or imagine solutions that are realistic for vulnerable populations around the world. So how do we start to make people safe from biofuels? My talk will focus on how “test tube” studies are used to model how the lung responds to air pollution and begin to understand how air pollution makes us sick.
Christie Mortales, PhD Candidate, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Interview with a Scientist (April 10, 2018)
Video of previous talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhhSFCA_0B8&t=4s
Edward Jenner, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemical Engineering
Modeling, Prediction, and Monitoring of Chemical Species for Advanced Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing (March 27, 2018)
Advanced nuclear fuel recycling can significantly reduce storage time, volume, and radioactivity of nuclear waste, while also increasing energy output. However, in doing so, a proliferation concern is created in the form of purified plutonium. This research sets out to create a safeguard to monitor special nuclear material in close to real time, to allow for safe nuclear fuel recycling in the United States.
Kellen Kartub, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry
Keeping Cool with Nanomaterials (March 13, 2018)
If you have ever wondered why your room gets so hot in the summer, this talk is for you. I use nanostructures to make materials that can, among other things, absorb heat from the sun. By focusing on size, shape, and composition, I hope to keep you, and your rooms, a little bit cooler.
Autumn Holmes, PhD Candidate, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Interview with a Scientist. (February 27, 2018)
Kara Dimitruk, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics
Politics and Property Rights Change in 17th Century England (February 13, 2018)
England was the first country to industrialize and become the first modern economy. Understanding this transition serves an important lesson for the processes underlying development. English political and property rights institutions are argued to be the backbone of its economic success with seminal works hypothesizing the 17th century saw the institutional origins of industrialization. The evidence in support and against this argument, however, has been mixed. The current consensus is that 17th century did not see any immediate changes that were important for English institutions and development. My research provides a fresh perspective and the most comprehensive evidence on this classic debate. It finds the 17th century saw important political and institutional changes that improved its property rights system. My starting point is that English property rights institutions made land use and transformation difficult. Property holders go to parliament to solve these problems. It provided a special type of legislation that allowed land and property to be sold, mortgaged, and leased. My research constructs and combines new datasets on this legislation, Members of Parliament, and politics to study the political economy of this legislation. A main finding is that political changes with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 mitigated the effects of conflict in parliament and allowed parliament to provide more of this legislation. The evidence supports work arguing this era was important for improving the adaptability of English institutions, which in turn facilitated its economic development.
Tyler Albin, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry
Tuning the Immune Response with Chemistry for Next Generation Vaccines (January 30, 2018)
Abstract: Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools of modern medicine. They save millions of lives and billions of dollars in medical costs. Although traditional vaccine development has been successful in addressing many diseases, it has failed to combat others, like HIV and malaria. This demonstrates the need for more effective, rationally designed vaccines. We are working to better understand the process of activating the immune system to make more efficacious vaccines. Successful vaccines elicit potent immune responses by activating pattern recognition receptors, proteins on cells evolved to recognize pieces of pathogens and alert the body. We have developed new ways to activate these receptors by mixing combinations of pathogen pieces. By activating the receptors in the appropriate way, we can create direct, targeted immune responses. Currently, we aim to develop an effective immune response for a Q-fever vaccine. At Brews & Brains, I will explain how vaccines work, how new ones are being designed, and describe our efforts to make a Q-fever vaccine.
Richard C. Prince, PhD Candidate, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Letting Evidence Lead the Way: How Scientific Principles Can Improve Government (January 16, 2018)
Policymaking is inherently a process of values, compromise, and uncertain futures. While science itself doesn’t prescribe policy, it can be used as a way to better outcomes for government programs and inform decisions based on actual evidence. In this talk, Richard Prince, President of the Science Policy Group at UCI, will talk about how scientists are able to step out of the laboratory and into the world of government. Included will be the principles of evidence based policy making, and how people can get involved locally to encourage the use of evidence in government.
Ted Yoo, PhD Student, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Percolation Theory: Clumps, Math, and Life (January 2, 2018)
The universe works because things are clumpy. Matter has a weird habit of attaching itself to other matter. Small things can turn into big things. And the physics throughout the entire scale of sizes has different rules. Potentially, this can give forth complex life such as us. But there are fundamental questions that can be asked about the nature of clumps in general. Percolation theory is one such topic. This is so for two reasons. It is the study of a simple phase transition, where the properties of a system dramatically changes once it reaches some critical point. And it exhibits what is known as universality. The property that controls that critical point is the same for similar problems and across different systems. I will touch briefly on these two points, and then talk about what I have done in this field.
Rachel J. Smith, PhD Candidate, Department of Biomedical Engineering
The Brain’s “Memory” Reflects Treatment Response in Patients With Epilepsy (November 21, 2017)
Infantile spasms is a potentially devastating form of epilepsy affecting children between six months and two years of age. The developmental outcome of these patients is closely tied to how quickly they are diagnosed and treated. Thus, we are looking for ways to differentiate normal brain activity from the diseased brain activity in these patients to better diagnose the disease and assess treatment response. The brain signals of infantile spasms patients are often described as disorganized, so we measured the level of organization in the brains of infantile spasms patients by measuring the strength of “memory” in a given region of the brain. We found that patients with infantile spasms had reduced “memory” when compared to controls, but after successful treatment, the level of “memory” increased to match controls. We believe that this measure can be used as a marker of treatment success in this disease, aiding doctors in clinical decisions about diagnosis and treatment of infantile spasms, hopefully expediting the treatment process and improving outcomes.
Samantha Leigh, PhD Candidate, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Beyond the Jaws: Shark Digestive Physiology" (November 7, 2017)
Sharks compose one of the most diverse groups of consumers in the ocean. Consumption and digestion are essential for obtaining nutrients and energy necessary to meet a variable range of metabolic demands. Despite years of studying prey capture behavior and feeding habits of sharks, there has been little exploration into the nutritional physiology of these animals. My research uses a combination of techniques such as digestive biochemistry, digestibility analyses, stable isotope analyses, and more in order to understand how sharks process the diverse food items that they consume, and in turn, how these consumption and excretion patterns impact the ecosystems in which sharks inhabit globally. I aim to use the physiological data that I collect to inform bioenergetics models that construct shark conservation and habitat management policy. Since sharks control the biodiversity of lower trophic levels that humans depend on for food and economic resources (the fishing industry provides over one million jobs and over $70 billion/year to our nation’s economy) the impact that this research could have on the public is vast.
Amanda McQuade, PhD Student, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Understanding the Role of the Innate Immune System in Alzheimer's Disease (October 24, 2017)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of age-related dementia, affecting over 5 million Americans alone. Everyone knows that our memory weakens as we age, but for AD patients, this memory loss is so severe that it impacts their ability to function. Patients show progressive memory loss causing them to be unable to recognize their loved ones. Many scientific efforts have gone into studying this horrible disease, but currently there remains no cure. Researchers have discovered that memory loss is preceded by a build up of proteins in the brain and significant neural loss. Clinical trials targeting the proteins or neurons have yielded little progress. Recent genetic data suggests that we need to re-evaluate what might cause Alzheimer’s disease - suggesting immune cells in the brain play a larger role than previously thought. My research investigates how these immune cells, microglia, function in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Daniella McCahey, PhD Candidate, Department of History
Extreme Environments and the Production of Scientific Knowledge (October 10, 2017)
Curious to know about the practice of science in Antarctica during the 1950s-60s? Join us to hear Daniella McCahey discuss her work and how this knowledge of Antarctica fits within a greater history of science and the world!
Elizabeth Hemming-Schroeder, PhD Candidate, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Drug Resistant Malaria (September 26, 2017)
Antimalarial drug resistance has significantly hindered malaria control efforts and played a key role in shaping global drug policies since the first reports of drug resistance arose from Southeast Asia in 1957. Since then, due to widespread drug resistance, global recommendations for the first-line treatment of malaria have changed twice over, most recently in the early 2000s. Since drug resistance has historically arisen in Southeast Asia before spreading to Africa, the most recent emergence of drug resistance in several Southeast Asian countries and a recent report on the emergence of indigenous drug resistance in Africa triggers major concern on the effectiveness of current malaria control programs in Africa where most of the global malaria burden falls. Understanding the impacts of changing antimalarial drug policy on resistance is critical for drug resistance management. For my research, malaria parasite samples were collected from[masked] in Kenya and analyzed for genetic markers associated with resistance to antimalarials. In addition, household antimalarial drug use surveys were administered. We found evidence of highly prevalent resistance to an antimalarial drug that was phased out for first-line treatment of malaria in Kenya in 2006. Additionally, we found evidence that resistance to the currently recommended drug has significantly increased in prevalence since its distribution in Kenya in 2006. These findings call for careful surveillance of the current malaria control program in Kenya and potential implementation of multiple or rotating first-line antimalarial treatments.
Jie Zheng, PhD Student, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Your Memory Bias: an Asymmetric Effect of Emotional Modulation (September 12, 2017)
Honyin Chiu, PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Targeted Immunotherapeutics for Lupus (August 29, 2017)
When bacteria or viruses invade our bodies, our immune systems are responsible for fighting them and keeping us healthy. One of the cells involved in fighting the infections are known as B cells. B cells mainly secrete molecules, called antibodies, which tag the invaders for destruction by other cells of the immune system. B cells can produce different flavors of antibodies depending on the function needed to fight the invader. The production of these antibodies is important for staying healthy, but if this process is not regulated properly, B cells can produce antibodies that attack our own bodies in a disease known as systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). My research is focused on how this process is regulated by the mTORC1 cell signaling pathway. Part of my research is testing a new drug that inhibits this pathway in the hopes that we could one day use it to reduce production of the harmful antibodies.
Linh Anh Cat, PhD Candidate, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
It’s a Fungal World (August 15, 2017)
While they aren’t as charismatic as polar bears and penguins, fungi help make the brews we enjoy on a regular basis. In the environment, fungi are diseases of humans and crops, decomposers that release carbon dioxide into the air, and beneficial symbionts that help increase plant growth. They have measurable impacts on our health and food sources, and in carbon cycling (both the release and storage of carbon). In the environment, fungal communities are altered under climate change. My research explores how these different groups (diseases, decomposers, and symbionts) disperse through the air and soil and the implications of climate change on fungi. This has subsequent effects on ecosystem function and human societies. Through next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques and fieldwork which covers spatial and temporal aspects of fungal communities, I aim to answer questions that can help us adapt to climate change impacts.
Alyssa Frederick, PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Abalone Decline Through the Ages – Overfishing, Climate Change, and Disease, Oh My! (August 1, 2017)
Abalone are marine snails that live in rocky shores. They help maintain healthy kelp forests and historically provided Californians with an abundant food source. A huge commercial fishery once existed in California, but the intense fishing pressure depressed abalone populations. Then in the mid-1890s, a particularly strong El Niño arrived and brought with it a disease called Withering Syndrome (WS). Caused by a bacteria, WS resulted in extreme and widespread losses of the remaining abalone. Two species, black and white abalone, became the first invertebrates to be federally listed as Endangered. Yet, some species, like OC natives pink and green abalone, are particularly resistant to WS. I use genetics, anatomy, and physiology to discover what functional differences exist between abalone species, and the mechanisms that underpin those differences. What we’ve found so far is that pink and green abalone form a separate clade within the other California taxa, which means they may have evolved a unique ability to resist WS. I’m currently trying to determine what that mechanism is, and whether it is unique to these two species, or whether it is shared with distant relatives. Understanding disease resistance and tolerance to increases in El Niño events allows us to better conserve and protect abalone, and predict changes to their populations in the future.
Carley Ellefsen, PhD, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Repeat, Repeat, Remember: How spaced training enhances memory (July 18, 2017)
Repetition makes memories stronger; we all know this. What we don’t all know is how. Studies in our lab have shown that mice remember the locations of objects with as little as one tenth the usual study time if study occurs over multiple sessions, as opposed to a single session. We have investigated two likely reasons for this. First, integrins, proteins that help bring brain cells close to one another and are critical to memory formation, are inactivated shortly after study and require rest time before they can be activated again. Second, brain regions involved in decision making and planning that are not typically needed for location memory are engaged by, and required for, memory enhancement via repetition. My results suggest a possible role of attention and reward processes in the spaced training effect. Future studies will further probe the relationship between activation of different brain areas and neuron-to-neuron signaling in this potentially improved model of learning.
Ceazer Nave, PhD Student, Department of Physiology and Biophysics
Social Jet Lag: Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow (June 6, 2017)
Billions of people around the world look forward to the weekend. We endure long weeks so that when Friday night hits, we can stay up late, and then sleep in. This ritual of relaxation puts us in a constant state of jet lag that happens EVERY WEEK! We simulate travel from New York to California and back during the weekends. This is because changing our sleeping habits on weekends, and how we expose ourselves to light signals, we place ourselves in a jet lagged environment. This explains why we feel so groggy on Mondays—it’s like we just took a trip to a different time zone. Our research studies the biological clock when it is jet lagged due to social obligations induced by the weekend. The result: certain brain cells that control the biological clock become disrupted. These cells, called circadian neurons, lose track of time, and eventually lose their rhythm. However, there is a “bright side” to this situation. A quick blast of light, at the right time of the day, can allow for the recovery of biological rhythmicity. This is a warning for those that party too much during the weekends. Our research shows that it’s to an individual’s best interest to treat Friday nights the same as you would during the week. If you find yourself unable to stop partying, fear not—a way to cure jet lag could soon be making a landing!
James Pratt, Jr., PhD Student, Department of Criminology, Law, and Society
“All Our Lives We’ve Had to Fight”: Violence and Law’s Legacy in the Southern Black Belt (May 23, 2017)
The South has had the highest rates of violent crime for decades. Within the South, the area called “The Southern Black Belt” has historically felt the brunt of the violence, as well as negative health outcomes, low economic status, and low levels of education. Along with this, this area has been the site of many civil rights struggles, with some of the earliest considered to have failed to achieve complete enfranchisement for black locals. In theory, areas that have a mismatch between the dominant goals in society - in this case, attainment of the American Dream and rights - and the means to attain these goals, have high levels of anomie, or normlessness, often resulting in the use of alternative actions, including crime, as an adaptation for attainment. My work considers how the conditions that may have produced anomie in the Southern Black Belt have shaped understandings of attainment and the use of violence and the law to protect interests. Using in-depth interviews, observations within schools, churches, and the judicial system, along with archival data from newspapers and recorded oral histories, I help paint a historical picture that maps the spread of cultural norms associated with violence, the American dream, and the law. Using the key themes obtained from these data, preliminary results display the idea of delayed success placed in offspring, as well as a legacy of distrust and self-protections when individuals attain some sense of ownership of property and control. I also discuss implications for reckoning with this legacy and empowerment.
Zachary Destefano, PhD Student, Department of Computer Science
Using Machine Learning for Lung Cancer Detection (May 9, 2017)
Lung cancer strikes 225,000 people every year in the United States alone. Early detection is critical in order to give patients the best chance at recovery and survival. Currently if a doctor suspects you have lung cancer, a CT scan is taken. If the radiologist analyzing the scan determines that potentially cancerous lesions are shown, then a biopsy is done. Unfortunately this determination has a high false positive rate. Biopsies are costly for both patient and healthcare provider so there is a huge incentive to reduce this false positive rate. This year, a competition was held to see if machine learning techniques can be used to analyze lung CT scans and determine whether or not the patient will be diagnosed with lung cancer. There was $1,000,000 in prizes awarded to the top teams who performed the best at predicting the probability of cancer. My research group participated in this competition and ended up ranking at number 48 and 110 of 1972 teams. In this talk I will give an overview of the techniques employed which were similar to the techniques of the top teams. I will also be happy to answer questions you may have about machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence, and big data.
Monique Kelly, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Racial Inequality and the Recognition of Racial Discrimination (April 25, 2017)
A growing body of literature posits that a population's denial of the salience of racial discrimination acts to perpetuate it. Moreover, scholars locate a population’s propensity to deny racial discrimination in contemporary ideologies of racial mixing or ethnic fusion. Most quantitative studies of public opinion on these issues are limited to Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. However, I focus on Jamaica. Through national census data and the Americas Barometer social survey, I have examined the extent of Jamaica’s contemporary racial inequality and how recognition of discrimination characterizes Jamaican public opinion. Additionally, I have explored the salience of an ideology of racial mixing in Jamaica and tested whether that ideology affects the likelihood that Jamaicans acknowledge contemporary racial discrimination. My findings document dramatic social inequality by skin colour in Jamaica and suggest that a majority embrace an ideology that racial mixing is negatively associated with Jamaicans’ recognition of racial discrimination, providing us with a better understanding of ideologies of racial mixing and racial inequality in the Americas.
Miles Davison, PhD Student, Department of Sociology
Restorative Justice for All? An Evaluation of Restorative Justice (April 11, 2017)
Schools often use suspension and expulsion to discipline students that misbehave in the classroom. Over the past two decades, a growing number of scholars and policymakers have begun to speak out against such practices because they negatively impact student achievement and disproportionately impact Black and Latino students. As a result, many schools have begun to adopt restorative justice practices that aim to transform student behavior through mediation rather than through suspension. My research evaluates the effectiveness of restorative justice practices in an urban school district, and findings indicate that the practices have a differing impact on students from different racial groups. While these findings are puzzling, previous research on race-based policies such as affirmative action can help us understand why the restorative justice practices have differential racial outcomes.
Joe Heras, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Diet Specialization in Marine Fishes (March 28, 2017)
Diet specializations (adaptations) are still not completely understood, which has major implications in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and aquaculture. We can use marine prickleback fishes from the Pacific Ocean to understand which types of genes influence diet specialization. Pricklebacks are elongated marine fishes which live in intertidal (i.e. marine tide pools) and subtidal habitats (i.e. deep ocean waters adjacent to the intertidal zone). In addition, these fishes use the three major diets: carnivores (high protein consumers), herbivores (high carbohydrate consumers), and omnivores (consumers of both protein and carbohydrates).Interestingly,, all prickleback species start off as carnivores but some species naturally shift diets to either herbivory (high carbohydrates) or omnivory (both protein and carbohydrates) as they become adults. We see all three specialized diets within pricklebacks that occupy intertidal habitats, whereas subtidal prickleback species are primarily carnivores. My research objectives are to identify the genetic patterns of multiple prickleback species associated with diet adaptations. I will focus on genes that are associated with digestion in . violaceus species and identify and compare these genes with those from from other prickleback fish species. These data will expand our understanding of fish biology and beyond.
Kay Linker, PhD Student, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
The Immune System and Adolescent Nicotine Use (March 14, 2017)
Tobacco costs the United States 300 billion dollars annually. Tobacco dependence is a significant problem, and 90% of smokers start before the age of 18. As such it is important to understand how teen tobacco use is different than adult. Many studies have looked at differences in the brain after adolescent nicotine exposure compared to adult nicotine exposure. However, no studies have looked at how the brain’s immune system changes after adolescent nicotine exposure. My work focuses on the unique effects of the immune system on the adolescent brain after nicotine exposure. The adolescent immune system is especially sensitive to nicotine, and this has consequences for brain development and function.
Christie Mortales, PhD Candidate, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down (Feb 28, 2017)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the neurons of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This leaves people affected with MS with any number of disabilities such as impaired speech and mobility. There is no cure, and current treatments often have toxic side effects. My research focuses on (1) how a molecular network called the galectin-glycoprotein lattice controls the functions of immune cells, (2) how a compromised lattice on specific immune cells cause them to promote MS, and (3) how one special sugar can fix a damaged lattice and become a potential, safe treatment for MS.
Thomas Baker, PhD Candidate, Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Machines Learn Physics (Feb 14, 2017)
Tired of brittle metals, flimsy non-conducting fabrics, using the same old catalysts to make fertilizer, or batteries that catch on fire? Can't wait for those flexible computer screens, new medicines, and room temperature superconductors? Spend an evening (re-)learning how it's hard to solve physics problems. Be enchanted and moved at the story of how too many electrons makes the equations of quantum mechanics harder to solve. A sneaky solution, known as density functional theory, is known to exist but no one has seen the full answer. I discuss how machine learning can learn the required physics equations--and solve the problem--and what exactly all of that means. (Happy Valentine's Day)
Francisco Carranza, PhD student, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
(January 31, 2017)
Kyle McCulloch, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Exceptional color vision in butterflies: How does color vision evolve and how can we measure this? (January 17, 2017)
Have you ever thought about how or why you see the colors that you see? Imagine trying to pick out something good to eat and not being able to tell the difference between ripe and unripe fruit, or worse, something that will make you sick. Detecting light in the environment is vital for many animals’ survival. All animals with eyes, and many without eyes, use a variety of the same special molecules for detecting light called visual pigments. These protein-based visual pigments receive light energy and change it into electrical signals in cells. Although this process is similar in all animals, much variation on this basic theme can be found in nature. For instance, most mammals only have two color visual pigments, while primates have three, and butterflies have up to nine. Why do these differences in color vision exist and how do they occur throughout evolution? I will talk about differences in visual pigments and the cells that produce them in animals, and how we study butterflies to discover answers to these sorts of questions.
Amber Habowski, PhD Student, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
The Molecular Basis of Colon Cancer (November 22, 2016)
Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer associated deaths in the United States and prognosis is grim when diagnosed in late stages. The molecular basis of colon cancer is unique in that more than 80% of patients have mutations in the same protein leading to increased activity of the Wnt signaling pathway. This cell communication pathway plays many important roles in the human body such as aiding in early development, stem cell maintenance, and growth control. We are still uncovering new roles of Wnt signaling in cancer, but better understanding its effects can lead to improved treatment and earlier diagnosis. To do this research we use several different model systems involving human cells, mouse model systems, and most recently, organoids. Organoids are a new system which allows for better recapitulation of the tissue microenvironment and structure; this is very important for the colon. Use of this model systems will advance my research and allow for increased investigation of the diverse role Wnt signaling has in colon cancer.
Ted Yoo, PhD Student, Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science
Using Molecular Dynamics to Understand Novel Synthetic Proteins (November 8, 2016)
Nature has done a spectacular job of designing the multitude of proteins responsible for the existence of complex life. However, engineers can create novel proteins that have interesting and useful material properties without worrying about serving a biological function. One such synthetic protein is the recently discovered anti-parallel coiled-coil hexamer, which behaves like electrical wire. With the tools of molecular dynamics, we can probe important questions regarding the protein's formation and stability. This is crucial knowledge when thinking about design optimizations of the protein. This talk will discuss findings on the stability of the hexamer, as well as theorized pathways to assembly.
Amy Magnus, PhD Student, Department of Criminology, Law and Society
Specialized Justice (October 25, 2016)
‘Specialized justice’ is deeply rooted in a movement toward socializing crime and justice. This movement structurally influenced courts to maintain their bureaucratic and law-upholding purposes while simultaneously operating as a public service to communities in need. Based on this ideological and structural shift, specialized justice via specialty courts is one mechanism through which citizens should be able to access justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, and restorative forms of justice. Given this reality, my work interrogates alternative and specialized justice initiatives, their historical roots, their limitations, and the potential collateral consequences of specializing justice for youth and families within the juvenile delinquency and child welfare systems. Currently, there are approximately 2 million children in the U.S. who have been identified as “crossover youth,” those simultaneously involved with the child welfare system, such as dependency and foster care, and the juvenile delinquency and criminal justice systems. My current work posits some of the challenges of crossover youths’ experience with alternative justice initiatives that sometimes extend yet another arm of the criminal justice system to address non-criminal justice issues.
Martín Jacinto, PhD Student, Department of Sociology
Interrupting the Domestic Democratic Peace: Understanding Democratic Transitioning and State Repression in Latin America (October 11, 2016)
Scholars who study the interaction between democracy and state repression (with state repression defined as enhanced surveillance, police presence, curfews, beating, tear gas, shooting, and massacres [Davenport and Moore, 2012]) have observed how democracy can weaken repression. However, despite the spread and development of democratic reform across Latin America between 1970-2005, high levels of state repression continued to occur throughout this period. Many Latin American countries can be defined as semi-democracies, which are often violent in nature. While many scholars study this, they lack an engagement with the transition from two types of government, authority and democracy. I propose to study what key political (e.g., voting, judicial reform) and economic (e.g., free trade, foreign direct investment) factors explain surges in state repression during political transitions to democratic government in Latin America. This study uses fuzzy-set qualitative (fsQCA) methodology, a new and innovative method stemming from set theory in mathematics that allows the comparison of cases as a “set” or grouping to analyze the era of democratic transition in four Latin American countries (Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina). My analysis finds that surges in state repression during the transitional period is likely to occur when protest combines with either two combinations: 1) low democracy and inflation, and 2) presence of both democracy and neo-liberal reform aimed at deregulating the economy. A complimentary analysis supports these findings by showing that absence of high levels of repression is likely to occur when there is high democracy and absence of austerity measures.
Maliheh Movassat, PhD Candidate, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Gene regulation by alternative splicing (September 27, 2016)
Who we are and what we can do, is determined by the information stored in our DNA. Our genetic makeup determines how we as humans differ from other organisms. Furthermore, regulating this genetic information is key to our differences. For our genes to be read, this information has to be transcribed from one style into another, namely DNA into a messenger RNA (mRNA) template, by a process called transcription. mRNA is then translated into a language our cells can understand, namely proteins. Proteins determine how our cells and most importantly organs can function. However, the step to generating the final product (proteins) is not that simple. All of the important information (coding regions) in our genes (DNA) is present in regions called exons, which are separated by non-coding regions called introns. A way to think of introns is as the string that separates the beads or exons on a necklace. Before a functional mature mRNA can be made, the introns have to be cut out, and exons glued together in a process called splicing. Splicing involves the coordinated dance of many different proteins and small RNAs coming together to cut and join the exons together.
There are approximately 26,000 human genes, but over 500,000 proteins. How is it possible then to have so many more proteins than genes? The answer lies in a process termed alternative splicing. Alternative splicing involves the selective joining of exons, parts of exons or parts of introns to generate a mature mRNA thereby allowing for an increase in genetic diversity. However, the correct placement of exons and introns and which parts of the exons and introns are used is highly regulated. One misstep could generate a gene that can destroy the human body. The regulation of alternative splicing is complex but mainly it involves the use of a specialized group of proteins and important sequences on the mRNA that determines where these proteins should bind and how they should behave.
A group of proteins called SR proteins were previously believed to function only as activators of splicing while hnRNPs were known as repressors – inhibiting the ability of an exon from being included during mRNA generation. However, the classical definition of these regulatory proteins has been challenged recently by findings that demonstrate dual roles or role reversal for both these protein families; SR proteins can also repress and hnRNPs can also activate. How this role reversal is accomplished is the topic of my research in the Hertel lab
Aaron Soffa, PhD Student, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Searches for Physics Beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics at the Large Hadron Collider (September 13, 2016)
In an invisible arena that surrounds our everyday experience, unimaginably small bits of energy perform dances all around us. The number of molecules in an ordinary cup of water is more than ten million million million million, and each molecule is further made of atoms. Each individual atom is further made of even smaller subatomic particles, and if we peer closely enough, everything that we observe around us is made of what we have come to call the “elementary particles” of the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model has been remarkably successful in describing all known particles and forces (except for gravity) and has provided the most precise predictions in all of science. However, lingering inconsistencies continue to keep particle physicists awake at night. For starters, the Standard Model describes only about 5% of the observed energy content of our Universe. The remaining 95% is attributed to dark matter and dark energy, so called “dark” because we have so far not been able to detect them directly.
This and a variety of other unsatisfactory aspects and inconsistencies has led the particle physics community to search for new physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider is a particle accelerator that was built to push the frontier of our understanding of particle physics by colliding protons at 99.999999% the speed of light. It accomplishes this by accelerating two beams of protons around a 17-mile ring in opposite directions at over ten thousand revolutions per second, and the subatomic particles produced in these high-energy collisions are what the physicists of the ATLAS collaboration study. The high-energy collisions of the protons result in a large number of different types of interactions and produce particles of all sorts, most of which are in close agreement with the predictions of the Standard Model, at least as far as we have been able to measure so far. At the Large Hadron Collider, we have doubled the energy of the proton beams in the spring of last year. This is now allowing physicists to peer more deeply than ever before in the history of humanity at the structure of matter and the fundamental forces of Nature. Much no one knows, and what we discover over the next few years at the Large Hadron Collider may very well revolutionize our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of the Universe in which we live.
Sarah Cross, PhD Student, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Your (teenage) brain on drugs - Nicotine, alcohol, and an immature anti-reward system (August 30, 2016)
Tobacco and alcohol are the two most commonly co-abused drugs, and concurrent use can lead to worse health outcomes (i.e., increased risk of heart disease, cancers, and addiction) than single drug use. The use of both substances typically begins during adolescence; a vulnerable developmental period marked by major reorganization and maturation of the brain. Adolescents are uniquely sensitive to the rewarding effects of drugs, as well as uniquely insensitive to their negative effects. Using an animal model of addiction, our lab recently demonstrated that adolescent, but not adult, rats find combinations of nicotine and alcohol highly rewarding. This age difference may be due to an immature and underactive kappa opioid receptor (KOR) system, which usually acts to inhibit drug reward. The goal of my project is to understand how this anti-reward system develops during adolescence and how it influences nicotine and alcohol co-use.
Laura Ríos, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry
Observing Chemistry in Action with Chemiscopes (August 2, 2016)
A whole new world was revealed to us with the rise of the light microscope in the 1620s, a world that was previously inconceivable to science. There we found cells, spermatozoa, teeny tiny animals, and the inner machinations of how we understand biology today. My research is undertaking the next logical step, which is to create a microscope that is equipped to show us the world of the "nanoscopic."
The so-called "chemiscope" is composed of two existing technologies: one, the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which uses the quantum mechanical effect of electron tunneling to "see" directly inside a molecule. The second, ultrafast lasers which can time events and chemical reactions with femtosecond resolution (that's a hundredth of a millionth of a millionth of a second!!). In my talk, I will discuss primarily my work using the STM to reveal how tiny molecular switches and nanolubricators work (generally called molecular electronics), and venture lightly into speculation to discuss how we can use both of these techniques to observe chemistry in action.
Luz Meneghini, PhD, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Understanding the Pathogen that causes Dysentery (July 19, 2016)
Bacteria and humans need iron to grow and survive. However, the amount of iron that is available for biological use is very limited. Bacterial pathogens like Shigella dysenteriae, a bacterium that causes food-poising symptoms, has evolved ways to steal the iron commonly found in human blood. Usually iron is attached to hemoglobin, the main protein found in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. The goal of my project is to understand how Shigella dysenteriae uses a specific protein on its surface to grab hemoglobin and steal its iron. Understanding how the two proteins interact could lead to a new therapeutic approach that starves Shigella dysenteriae from an essential nutrient and combat infections.
Paul Stroik, PhD, Department of Economics
Technology Transfer Without Environmental Improvement: Supplying Domestic Foreign Firms Yields No Environmental Gain for Domestic Vietnamese Firms (June 21, 2016)
Trade agreements have been argued as environmentally detrimental to developed and developing countries, due to the shifting of dirty developed-nation industry to developing countries, where they pollute more than they would have in their home country. However, even if this mechanism for increased pollution from trade exists, it could be offset by more modern and cleaner production practices spreading to developing-country domestic firms that interact with domestic foreign firms. Studying Vietnamese manufacturing firms biennially from 2006-2012, I find as domestic Vietnamese firms become suppliers of domestic foreign firms, they on average become eight to ten percentage points more likely to have innovated than their peers that do not become suppliers of domestic foreign firms. In contrast to existing environmental spillover research, becoming a supplier of domestic foreign firms does not result on average in changes in environmentally-linked input intensities. Firms that become suppliers of domestic foreign firms on average do not experience significant and robust short-run changes in electricity, fuel, or water intensity. Developing-country firms may benefit from increased trade through increased technology gains from new local foreign firms, however they are not guaranteed to become cleaner as a result.
Brittney Cox, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology Oxytocin - Is 'the love hormone' a treatment for methamphetamine addiction? (May 17, 2016)
Methamphetamine (meth) addiction is a chronically relapsing disorder that is estimated to cost the United States over $23 billion a year through its effects on crime, unemployment, and other social issues. Despite the great need for effective behavioral and pharmacotherapeutic intervention, no FDA approved treatments for meth addiction currently exist. Studies with multiple addictive drugs indicate that oxytocin, an endogenous peptide commonly known as ‘the love hormone’, may be a potential treatment for addiction. We examined the pharmacotherapeutic potential of oxytocin for meth addiction using a translational animal model of addiction, where rats self-administer intravenous drug infusions by pressing a lever, in combination with a behavioral economic (BE) paradigm. Our rodent BE paradigm was modeled after BE procedures commonly used in humans, with the same variables measured across species, increasing translational potential of the animal data. We showed that this BE model can predict relapse behaviors, and that systemic oxytocin acts similarly in both males and females to decrease motivation for meth and relapse to meth seeking. We also demonstrated that oxytocin is most effective at decreasing meth seeking in rats with the strongest addiction phenotype. Overall, this work indicates that oxytocin-based therapies may be a promising treatment approach for meth addiction in humans, and emphasizes the importance of focusing on sex and individual differences for the development of efficacious treatments for addiction.
Jennifer Muz, PhD, Department of Economics
Crimes against morality: Unintended consequences of criminalizing sex work (May 3, 2016)
The regulation of sex work is a hotly debated issue in both developed and developing countries, with Amnesty International recently calling for the blanket decriminalization of sex work as the best way to protect sex worker human rights. However there is little objective evidence on the impact of criminalizing or decriminalizing sex work. In this research, we exploit a natural experiment that arose when local officials criminalized sex work in one district in East Java, Indonesia, and not in a neighboring district, to estimate the impact of criminalizing sex work on the health and risk behaviors of female sex workers and their clients. We utilize a unique dataset comprised of the first panel data on female sex workers and the first data on clients of sex workers at both the criminalized and non-criminalized worksites. We find evidence that criminalization increased the prevalence of STIs among female sex workers at criminalized worksites by 58 percent, measured by biologicals testing. The main mechanism driving this increase is decreased access to condoms at criminalized worksites by 62 percent, which translated into an increase in non-condom use of 90 percent during commercial sex transactions. We are able to rule out other changes, such as increased transactions or clients per sex worker. Therefore, this research presents new evidence that criminalizing sex work can put an already vulnerable population in a more precarious situation.
Kate Rodriguez, PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry, UCI
Orientation-dependent handedness of gold nanoparticles: Rotating a right hand into a left hand (April 19, 2016)
The term "chirality" refers to an object that cannot be superimposed with its mirror image; these two non-superimposable configurations are said to be of opposite handedness. Most of the world around us is chiral -- in fact, the term handedness itself is a nod to our non-superimposable (but mirror image!) left and right hands. My research focuses on the chirality of gold nanodimers specifically, as measured from the way in which the dimers scatter green laser light. The chirality in these samples arises from the overall size of the dimers with respect to wavelength (AKA energy) of the incident laser radiation. At this size, the electrons of the metal are excited by the laser such that they travel on a helical (and therefore inherently handed) path along the spheres. Remarkably, we find that the dimer handedness is highly dependent on how the nanostructure is oriented. This culminates in the phenomenon that a simple in-plane rotation takes the particle from a right hand to a left, a process that typically requires a reflection rather than rotation. I will discuss the nature of this orientation-dependent handedness in terms of the quantum mechanical excitation modes sustained by the nanoparticles.
Dr. Jessica Bolton, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, UCI
Mom matters - Early-life maternal care shapes the developing brain (April 5, 2016)
Emotional resilience and risk for stress-related disorders is generated by the complex interaction of genetics and environment. Experience, especially during sensitive periods early in life when the brain’s emotional systems are still developing, can “program” an individual’s coping abilities for life. Not surprisingly, maternal care is a principal source of environmental sensory signals to the developing brain. My lab has shown that the patterns and rhythms of maternal care behaviors during the neonatal period predicts the risk for emotional disorders and risk-taking behavior in adolescence. However, the mechanisms of HOW this occurs remain unknown, and are the focus of my work. Contrary to traditional thinking, my hypothesis is that the tiny and oft-overlooked immune cells of the brain, called microglia, are ideally positioned to mediate these changes in the developing brain, whether in response to stressful experiences, or to more nurturing conditions.
Jessica Kizer, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Skin color, race, and the likelihood of arrest (March 22, 2016)
Social scientists have demonstrated that skin color significantly shapes the life chances of Blacks and Latinos. Recently researchers have turned to examining how complexion impacts contact with the criminal justice system. However, the limited work in this area primarily estimates the effect across families. Thus, it is not clear the extent to which these effects can be found between families. Additionally, this research also focuses on Blacks and Latinos and so we know little about how skin color matters for other racial groups. Using both nationally representative data and a sample of siblings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, I examine the relationship between skin tone and an adult arrest. My analyses suggest that men with darker skin are significantly more likely to experience an adult arrest than their lighter-skinned counterparts, and that this relationship remains even when looking at members of the same family.
Conor Cox, PhD Candidate, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
Working memory: the hunt for a network mechanism (March 8, 2016)
We are constantly searching our memories to generate the series of words we say or series of actions we perform in day to day tasks. How do we generate these sequences in our brains? How many individual movements and phrases can we store in a sequence? We have developed a model that makes a startling prediction for how long an animal’s ‘working memory’ might be. The results from this model led us on a hunt to find a biological mechanism that shows how a network in the cortex processes throughput across many nodes. When our data was combined with physiological recordings from a seven link network, we we were able to predict the presence of a working memory mechanism. Studies on complex, sequential behavior are beginning to produce evidence for an animal working memory that falls within the predicted time frame.
Bobby Joachim, PhD Student, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Mastering the Flow of Heat: Measuring a Bizarre Quantum Phenomenon (February 23, 2016)
Heat radiation is an incredibly common occurrence. You probably encounter it everyday of your life without giving it much thought. It’s the mechanism by which the Sun warms the earth and a toaster warms your bagel. In physics terms radiated heat is heat exchanged via subatomic particles called photons. These photons, which are also responsible for the light emitted from an object, steal heat as they leave an object and impart this heat on whatever object they eventually collide with such as your bagel. What is remarkable about this process is that on nearly every scale, from the Sun to the toaster, it can be described using the same, simple theory. More remarkable still, if you look too closely, at distances finer than a human hair, this theory breaks down. A new mechanism takes over and heat will suddenly flow at astonishing rates, defying classical theory. My research studies the nature of this phenomenon.
James Pratt, Jr., PhD Student, Department of Criminology, Law, and Society
Violence and Immigrant Influx in the South (February 9, 2016)
Immigrant revitalization has been used to understand the crime reducing benefits associated with high levels of immigrant concentration. Recently, the South, specifically the southeastern region of the United States, has seen dramatic increases in the concentration of immigrants. This region, considered the “Old South,” has been anecdotally described and empirically demonstrated to be a region with a distinct appetite for violence and because of this, has become the most violent region in America. The Southern Culture of Violence (SCV) Thesis has been used as an explanation for this distinctness. Using negative binomial regression with 1990 and 2000 data from the National Neighborhood Crime Study (NNCS) supplemented with Census data, I examine the impact of immigrant concentration, the change in these concentration levels, and the lagged impact of the former on violent crime rates in the South, as compared to regions outside of the South. I also examine the effects of immigrant concentration in areas that have had low, average, and high levels of immigration in 1990. I find that immigration has negative effects on violent crime that vary in degree based on the region. I also find some evidence for a lagged effect and stronger effects when focusing on communities with higher levels of immigrant concentration, especially in the South. I discuss how the effect of revitalization may be weakened due to the SCV and the level of receptiveness of immigrants, and consider other mediating factors. I conclude by providing directions for future studies that more directly examine immigrant feelings of reception, opportunity, and ultimately the cultural conditions in specific regions along with additional studies that more deeply investigates the intersecting roles of immigration, race, crime, and inclusion.
Ted Yoo, PhD Student, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Chaos: The Underlying Structure Behind Mathematical Madness (January 26, 2016)
Our world is filled with systems that are chaotic and hard to predict. Such systems include the weather, neurons, pendulums, and the stock market. Yet, paradoxically, order is a fundamental property of disorder. Chaos theory is the study of that order. This talk will be a brief look at some of the beautiful patterns that emerge from chaotic systems and how chaos theory has contributed to a greater understanding of nature.
Mallory Hinks, PhD Student, Department of Chemistry
Climate Change - Beyond Carbon Dioxide (January 12, 2016)
Most people are familiar with the concept that putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere leads to a warmer climate. But there is more to climate change than simply carbon dioxide. Air pollution is a complex mixture of gases and aerosols that all have the potential to contribute to climate change. An aerosol is simply any solid or liquid that is suspended in the atmosphere. These aerosols come from a variety of sources, both man-made and natural, but the key to understanding how they will affect the climate is to understand how they interact with sunlight.
Julius Edson, PhD Student, Department of Chemical Engineering
A Dash of New and Old: Nanoparticle Drug Delivery (December 1, 2015)
Drug resistant infectious bacteria are becoming a pressing challenge. Conventional antibiotics are becoming less effective at treating certain bacterial infections. Most have resulted in bacterial resistances through efflux pumps, modifying/inactivating enzymes, or mutations at the drug target site. Therefore, effective therapy for combating these emerging superbugs requires innovative, techniques that combines conventional antimicrobial therapies with silencing drug-resistance processes in microbes.
Autumn Holmes, PhD Candidate, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Going Viral: Mechanistic Insights into the Life Cycle of the Picornavirus (November 10, 2015)
Viruses engage in complex interactions with their host cell to replicate and survive. The Picornaviridae, a diverse family of RNA viruses which includes both the common cold and poliovirus, are no exception; these viruses employ a number of elegant strategies to hijack the host’s molecular machinery for their own replicative advantage. Recently, the Semler lab at the University of California, Irvine uncovered yet another fascinating example of picornavirus ingenuity involving the host cell DNA repair enzyme, 5’-tyrosyl-DNA-phosphodiesterase-2 (TDP2). The lab demonstrated that during infection with poliovirus, TDP2 breaks a key chemical bond that links the viral protein VPg to the viral RNA genome. This discovery revealed the cellular identity of the “VPg unlinkase” that had eluded the field for more than 30 years. Yet, the nature of how this bond cleavage event impacts the picornavirus life cycle remains a mystery. Therefore, it is the goal of my PhD research to determine at what step in the virus life cycle TDP2 functions and how, mechanistically speaking, this enzymatic activity is usurped and regulated by the virus. Ultimately, my research will lead to a better understanding of picornavirus molecular biology and potentially illuminate new targets for therapeutic agents in an effort to combat the myriad illnesses associated with picornaviruses.
Candice Gellner, PhD Student, Department of Pharmacology
A “safer” cigarette?: A behavioral comparison of conventional and electronic cigarettes (October 27, 2015)
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 6 million people a year worldwide. Of the 42.1 million Americans who smoke, 9 out of 10 smokers report trying their first cigarette by the age of 18. Although current rates of conventional cigarette use have declined, the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) has tripled in the last year. E-cigarettes, which are marketed as safer alternatives and smoking cessation aids may actually increase the likelihood of continuing and increasing tobacco use among youth. Being that initiation of smoking typically occurs during adolescence, my project focuses on this period of development. The goal of my project is to understand how conventional and electronic cigarettes affect adolescent versus adult initiation of smoking.
Michaeline Nelson, PhD Student, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Exploring the Earth’s Microbiome through Traits (October 13, 2015)
Microbial communities, groups of bacteria, archaea, and fungi living in the same place, are intricately involved in the functioning of human, engineered, and environmental systems. In environmental systems, microbial communities (the Earth’s microbiome) play a key role in global nutrient cycling, including the nitrogen and carbon cycles. Without microbial communities, life wouldn’t exist on Earth. However, as with many organisms, information on which microbes live where, why they live in an environment, and how they impact the environments where they live, is still unclear. My research investigates the processes that determine the composition of microbial communities using a trait-based approach. Traits are measurable characteristics of an organism that can be linked to how the organism is affected by and/or might change the environment it lives in. Viewing microbial communities in terms of their traits can give insight into how ecosystems work and allow for predictions of how they might look in the future, for example, as the Earth faces ongoing global changes.
Laura Novoa, PhD Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Will electric vehicles break the grid? (September 29, 2015)
Start counting the Nissan Leafs around you. They are growing! In fact, if California was its own country, it would rank third on the list of electric vehicle fleet sales, beating entire countries like China. From scattered novelties, public charging stations have now become a basic need. And we all love the idea of using electricity instead of sending tailpipe pollutants to the atmosphere, right? But what would happen if electric stations became as popular as gas stations? The Advanced Power and Energy program at UCI has the perfect test bed for answering this question: A public charging station powered by Renewable Solar Energy. Research in the system will provide insights into what would happen if a hundred, or a thousand EVs were charging at the same time. How much would the grid be able to withstand? Even though we often take our electric energy for granted, a blackout can cause serious consequences, just think about a hospital, or an airport. Can you imagine LAX more chaotic than what it already is? I can't!
Goutham Ganesan, MD/PhD Student
A look under the surface: probing fat with light (September 1, 2015)
It is being increasingly appreciated that fat tissue changes in response to changes in weight and metabolism. For example, with significant weight loss, the average volume of fat cells in the body shrinks by a considerable fraction. There is reason to believe that such morphological changes correlate with improvements in overall health and cardiovascular risk. In this study, we used non-invasive near infrared optical spectroscopy to characterize the optical properties of fat tissue during weight loss. It is hoped that this may be useful some day in the evaluation of metabolic interventions to treat obesity and reduce cardiovascular risk.
Ted Yoo, PhD Student, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Better Living Through Molecular Dynamics (August 18, 2015)
Abstract: Molecular dynamics allows for an inside look at the kinetics of any reaction. Given that it is possible to model the reagents properly, molecular dynamics is a useful method for gaining insight into how a particular chemical system will behave. In addition, it can be a powerful predictive tool in determining the behavior of proteins and reactions. It will become increasingly important to better manage the pollution associated with the generation of electrical power as the energy needs of the world continues to grow. Nuclear fuel recycling will play a pivotal role in the detoxification of used nuclear fuel. Though it is a routine and fully industrialized process to extract uranium from used nuclear fuel, the underlying chemistry of the solvents and extractants used is still poorly understood. Targeting specific lanthanides and actinides becomes increasingly difficult and expensive. This is directly attributed to the lack of knowledge of the chemistry involved in these extraction processes. Techniques of molecular dynamics is an important tool in characterizing various extraction schemes.
Mathew Lynes, PhD
Power dynamics in robbery assault (August 4, 2015)
Summary: Most people think about crime via a legal paradigm. Examining robbery with an eye toward understanding interpersonal, social psychological power dynamics leads to a deeper understanding of robbery in specifics, and crime in general. In passing, I will discuss whether or not social research can be considered truly scientific, or is it just opinion / supposition.
Michael Bryant, MS Student, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Why is space so hard? From Earth to Pluto, recent failures and triumphs in space exploration (July 21, 2015)
Gia Nguyen, PhD Student, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Ice Cubes to Energy Cubes - Generating electricity efficiently using
solar panels, a fuel cell, and a battery (July 7, 2015)
Nayna Sanathara, PhD Student, Department of Pharmacology
Mapping neural circuits that regulate repetitive behavior (June 23, 2015)
Christian Herrera, PhD Candidate, Department of Cognitive Neuroscience
The Neuroscience of The Dress (June 9, 2015)
Peter Willette, MS Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Hydrogen as a future transportation fuel (May 26, 2015)
Michael Bryant, MS Student, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
A Solution to Pollution: Stored Solar Energy Cooking (May 12, 2015)
Suzi Klaus, MD/PhD Student, Department of Immunology
Intestinal Immune Cells: Soldiers Against Salmonella (April 21, 2015)
Van Wifvat, PhD Candidate, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Need a Ride? Ask Jeeves! – The Exciting Future of Self-Driving Cars (April 7, 2015)