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CONVERGENCE The Magazine of Engineering and the Sciences at UC Santa Barbara SEVENTEEN, FALL 2012

Oceans of Change

Can sea species adapt to global ocean acidification? Q&A with the Visionaries

Interview with Oracle’s Jeff Henley

Bridging the Digital Divide

Bringing rural African communities online

Dead Clever

Hypervirulent Salmonella’s ‘Trojan Horse’ trick

Second Life

Recycling bioplastics into value-added chemicals

Redshift into Focus New detector is changing our search for the stars

A Note From the Top

Rod Alferness Dean of the College of Engineering

PIERRE WILTZIUS Dean of Science, College of Letters & Science

DAVID AWSCHALOM Scientific Director, California NanoSystems Institute

In this 17th issue of Convergence magazine, we explore research at UC Santa Barbara that goes beyond our familiar coastline of California to the farthest reaches of rural Africa, the frigid waters of Antarctica, and the outer limits of space. We look under the surface of what’s visible to illuminate the fringes of hacker culture and the microscopic world of bacteria. Look for the icons indicating new “web extras” as we offer exclusive content online at Watch video interviews and listen to special Convergence podcasts, produced by Jai Ranganathan, which offer additional depth to the feature stories in this issue. Our cover story “Oceans of Change” takes the reader across many oceans—from Antartica to the tropics—to dive into a study by scientists who are asking, “Will critical sea species be able to adapt to global ocean acidification, and how will this affect humans?” The study is the largest of its kind and an impressive model of collaboration—forming a worldwide, multi-campus consortium between four UC campuses and other top research institutions, such as Scripps Oceanographic Institute. In “Bridging the Digital Divide,” we highlight the work of a collaborative team in engineering and media studies to bring new wireless internet technology to rural Africa. This project could have a significant impact on public health in these remote villages—and, in the future, any rural area—opening doors to education and working with the community to establish technology that will succeed in the long-term. Our special fold-out story “Dead Clever” looks at the discovery of a strain of Salmonella enterica that uses a “Trojan Horse” stealth mechanism to invade its hosts without detection while it replicates in a hypervirulent mode, and how it has helped researchers develop new vaccines that outsmart these clever bacteria. On the flip side, “Second Life” examines the work of materials researchers who have turned bioplastic food packaging into value-added chemicals. Their work is a promising innovation in materials that could help launch a new industry in harnessing the entire lifecycle of bioplastics. This has been a tremendous year for physics and astrophysics in the public eye, and there is more happening at UCSB than we can fit in one issue. In “Redshift into Focus,” astrophysicists are developing a new low resolution spectroscopy detector that returns spectra of billions of galaxies at a time, a thousand-fold leap above the current standard. This technology could quickly broaden our knowledge of entities in the Universe and our understanding of Dark Energy. Earlier this year, in a historic moment for UCSB and the College of Engineering, Jeff and Judy Henley invested $50 million dollars this year to support the College and the Institute for Energy Efficiency. Dean Rod Alferness and John Bowers, Director of IEE, sat down with Henley to discuss the future of discovery and achievement at UCSB. Read “Q&A: The Visionaries” then visit to watch the video interview with Henley. There’s more exciting research to explore in this issue than ever, and new content every week at Convergence online. We hope you enjoy all that Convergence has to offer.


Q & A: The Visionaries Jeff Henley, Chairman of Oracle, talks with Rod Alferness and John Bowers about the future of science and technology research.

Bridging the Digital Divide New wireless network technology aims to bring the communities of rural Africa up to internet speed.

Dead Clever How do we outsmart hypervirulent Salmonella strains that have an evolutionary edge over our immune systems?

Oceans of Change From Antarctica to the tropics, scientists investigate whether critical sea species will be able to adapt to increased ocean acidification.

Undergraduates in Research Undergraduates students in science and engineering launch their careers through research internships at UCSB.

Redshift into Focus Astrophysicists are designing a detector that could accelerate our understanding of Dark Energy and reveal new stellar energies.

Second Life Researchers turn food packaging into specialty chemicals worth more after recycling.

The Magazine of Engineering and the Sciences at UC Santa Barbara


UCSB Professor Makes Higgs Boson Announcement at CERN Joe Incandela, UCSB physics professor, had the honor of making the historic Higgs boson observation announcement on July 4, 2012, as spokesperson for the Compact Muon Solemoid (CMS) experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The Higgs boson particle, named for physicist Peter Higgs who predicted the particle’s existence 50 years ago, is thought to be the missing key to explain why most of the fundamental particles of matter have mass. A culmination of decades of international collaboration by thousands of scientists, two CERN teams announced they had produced a Higgs-like particle with a mass that is 130 times the mass of the proton. More research will determine whether the particle has an angular momentum of zero. Incandela was named spokesperson in 2010, the first U.S. scientist to hold such a position for the LHC. His election was supported by high energy physics institutions from around the world. Incandela was a CERN Fellow in the 1980s and has been based at CERN since 2007. The UCSB High Energy Physics group has contributed a large effort to the CMS experiment, involving approximately 30 faculty, engineers, and students.

David Gross (left) and Lars Bildsten

Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics Welcomes a New Director

Gift Creates Endowed Chair in Semiconductor Research

Lars Bildsten, professor of physics, was welcomed as the new director for UCSB’s renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics on July 1. He will be following in the footsteps of 2004 Nobel laureate Professor David Gross, who will remain at KITP as a permanent member.

James Speck, professor of materials at UCSB, has been named the Seoul Optodevice Chair in Solid State Lighting to support research in the area of gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors for electronics and solid state lighting. The new chair was made possible by a $500,000 endowment from Seoul Optodevice Company to the Solid State Lighting & Energy Center (SSLEC). It represents an important partnership between UCSB and a company that is a global leader in lighting, LCD, and LED products.

Since 1999, Bildstein has been a fixture at UCSB and KITP, which is ranked the No. 1 highest-impact national research facility for non-biomedical research. Bildsten is the Wayne Rosing and Diana Raab Chair in Theoretical Astrophysics at UCSB. He has made significant contributions to our understanding of the ways in which stars die. Bildsten’s current research focuses on white dwarfs and the thermonuclear instabilities that lead to explosions, such as type 1a supernovae.

Speck is a recognized leader in gallium nitride materials and crystal growth, and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Wide Band-Gap Semiconductors at UCSB. He is a recipient of the IEEE Photonics Society Aron Kressel Award and the ISCS Quantum Device Award.

Bildsten was previously a member of the physics departments at UC Berkeley and Caltech. Winner of several prestigious awards, Bilsten received the Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society for fundamental work on stellar structure, including nuclear burning on neutron stars, the role of neutron stars as gravity wave sources, and the theory of lithium depletion.

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Matthew Fisher, professor of physics, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences for his research achievements in quantum condensed matter theory, including exotic quantum behavior of electrons in solids, quantum magnetism, and superconductivity.

PHYSICS PROFESSOR HONORED WITH PRESIDENTIAL EARLY CAREER AWARD Ania Bleszynski Jayich, assistant professor of physics, was recognized by President Obama with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). It is the highest honor the nation can bestow on a scientist or engineer at an early career stage.

Craig Hawker, professor of chemistry, biochemistry, and materials, and director of the Materials Research Laboratory, has received the 2012 Centenary Prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the 2013 ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry.

Jayich joined the UCSB faculty in 2010. She has been recognized for her research in the application of scanning probe techniques to study quantum electrical transport in nanoscale systems, and for developing ultra-high sensitivity magnetometry techniques to study quantum effects in mesoscopic systems.

Edward Kramer, professor of materials and chemical engineering, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Kramer is renowned his research in the fundamentals of block copolymer structure and self-assembly.

THREE ENGINEERING PROFESSORS ELECTED AS IEEE FELLOWS Three faculty members of the College of Engineering have been elected to the rank of Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. The honor recognizes an extraordinary record of accomplishments and is an important career achievement for distinguished engineering, computing, and technology professionals. The new IEEE fellows are: Divyakant Agrawal, professor of computer science, for contributions to large-scale data management in distributed and networked systems.

Tresa Pollock, professor of materials, has been awarded the Gold Medal by ASM International in recognition of her research accomplishments in the areas of microstrucutre, processing, and property relationships of structural alloys.

Kaustav Banerjee, professor of electrical and computer engineering, for contributions to modeling and design of nanoscale integrated circuit interconnects. Banerjee also received the Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation this year. Chris Van de Walle, professor of materials, for contributions to the theory of interfaces, doping, and defects in semiconductors.

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EXPERTS CONVENE TO SET ROADMAP FOR SOLAR TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency held a Technology Roundtable in July 2012, inviting key stakeholders from the private sector, academia, and government for a highly interactive, facilitated discussion about innovations in concentrator photovoltaic technology. Facilitated by Dick Swanson, Founder of SunPower Corporation, participants included representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Caltech, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, and Deutsche Bank. Concentrator photovoltaics offer the potential to provide the lowest cost solar energy in regions such as the desert southwest where the solar resource is enough to satisfy the entire energy needs of the United States many times over. The roundtable provided an opportunity for movers and shakers in energy to set a roadmap for research in concentrator photovoltaics.

LASER TECHNOLOGY BREAKTHROUGH FOR SOLID STATE LIGHTING TEAM LED pioneer Shuji Nakamura, Steven DenBaars, and their team have demonstrated the first violet nonpolar verticalcavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) based on m-plane gallium nitride semiconductors. It is the first report of a nonpolar VCSEL and one of the biggest breakthroughs in the field of laser diode technology, according to the researchers.

The event was co-hosted by UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency and the Center for Energy Efficient Materials, and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The VCSEL is a major achievement for researchers at UCSB’s Solid State Lighting and Energy Center, who have shown that such devices are naturally polarizationlocked along the crystallographic a-direction of the wurtzite crystal. Dr. Daniel Feezell, project scientist with Nakamura’s lab, explained that this is in contrast to the majority of VCSELs which are randomly polarized.

An in-depth report from the roundtable will be available in the coming months.

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Their discovery opens doors for higher optical efficiency lasers at greatly reduced manufacturing costs for a variety of applications, such as pico-projectors, smartphones, mobile cinema, and automotive lighting.

RESEARCHERS TAKE IMPORTANT STEPS TOWARD FUNCTIONAL QUANTUM COMPUTERS Research teams at UCSB have made leaps forward in building a functioning quantum computer, paving the way to more complex quantum machines. A group led by professor David Awschalom at UCSB’s Center for Spintronics and Quantum Computation developed a protocol to dynamically control qubits in a way that computes algorithms while protecting them from unwanted interactions with the environment. Because of susceptibility to errors in this way, it was previously thought that information could be stored in but not computed with qubits. The team exploited the new decoherence-protected gates to perform for the first time a quantum algorithm—searching a small database—with individual particle spins on a chip. In contrast to qubit systems which operate at just above absolute zero, theirs performed a search at room temperature. In a study led by Erik Lucero, a doctoral student who worked with physics professors Andrew Cleland and John Martinis, UCSB researchers demonstrated a solid state quantum processor capable of factoring a composite number (15) into its constituent prime factors (3 and 5) using Shor’s prime factoring algorithm. It is the first time such a computation has been demonstrated using quantum computing, and their prototype is a significant step toward scalable quantum architecture. Cybersecurity and cryptography in particular are two areas in which this breakthrough offers tremendous applications. The basic concepts behind Shor’s algorithm can be applied to factoring much larger numbers—such as the RSA Laboratory’s larges published number at over 600 decimal digits—which is at the core of cybersecurity protocols. Quantum processors could complete computations in minutes that would theoretically take today’s computers billions of years to execute.


A bioengineering team at UCSB has developed synthetic vessels that mimic thrombocytes, also known as blood platelets. Nishit Doshi and Samir Mitragotri of the Chemical Engineering department, in collaboration with Scripps Research Institute and Sanford-Burnham Institute, developed a polymeric platelet with the goal of matching essential chemical and physical properties of natural platelets. The resulting synthetic platelet is stable but flexible, and coated with proteins naturally found on the surface of active platelets that help with acceptance by the immune system. Platelets are responsible for blood clotting to prevent blood loss from a wound and are part of the family of white blood cells that support the body’s immune system. Synthetic platelets could lead to major advances in medical therapies, with potential applications in delivery of chemotherapy drugs to a tumor, imaging agents to damaged tissues, or blood thinners directly to a blood clot. Mitragotri, Doshi and their colleagues developed a synthetic red blood cell (sRBC) particle in 2009, engineered with oxygencarrying and physical properties that mimic natural erythrocytes. Biomimetic materials comprise a key area of research for UCSB’s Center for BioEngineering and Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies.

GROUNDBREAKING STUDY TESts DRUG TO Prevent Early-Onset Alzheimer’s UCSB neuroscientist Ken Kosik, co-director of the Neuroscience Research Institute, has begun a 5-year, $100 million study with a team of Alzheimer’s experts to test the new drug Crenezumab with a large family in Medellín, Colombia. The clinical study is a rare opportunity to work with a Colombian family of about 3,000 who have been particularly afflicted by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly all members of the family who test positive for a certain genetic mutation come down with Alzheimer’s early in life — onset at around 49 years of age. Kosik sees the study as a potential breakthrough in diagnosing Alzheimer’s before symptoms of cognitive impairment set in, which is often too late for treatment with current medications.

Alessandro Moretto, Chemical Lab Safety Officer

UCSB and Dow Forge New Lab Safety Partnership Program Dow Chemical Company has selected UCSB for a new pilot program that will put UCSB at the forefront of laboratory safety practices among academic research institutions. The Lab Safety Partnership program establishes an interdepartmental team from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Materials who will establish a baseline of safety culture and behavior, then develop a program to address critical needs.

A series of cognitive thinking and memory skill tests will help determine if Crenezumab is successful at delaying or stopping the onset of dementia. They expect results in as few as two years that will help steer the development of Crenezumab or new drugs for Alzheimer’s treatment, depending on the results of the study.

The Partnership creates a culture of lab safety that is in the same league as industry best practices, holding UCSB’s laboratory safety practices at similarly high standards found in corporate research environements. The alliance is seen as critical to the world-class educational mission of UCSB — providing students with the best preparation for future careers.

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Q & A: The Visionaries Convergence invited three leaders in academia, industry, and research to discuss the future of discovery and achievement at UC Santa Barbara. What emerged from their conversation was a shared notion that UCSB is poised to compete as a top institution in an increasingly global and cross-disciplinary research arena in science and technology.

Jeff Henley, Chairman of Oracle, spoke with Rod Alferness, Dean of the College

of Engineering, and John Bowers, Director of the Institute for Energy Efficiency, about why he and his wife invested $50 million in engineering and the sciences at UCSB — and how this is the beginning of an era of re-investment in the UC system.

Alferness: Jeff, when you announced that gift you spoke with great passion about your view of the importance of the UC system, the importance of UCSB, and of engineering and science.


: I do consider this an investment more than a gift. I went to school here in the 60s and worked 45 years so far in a career at seven companies, but my last 21 have been at Oracle. I’ve been in and out of tech as a business person. It’s been clear to me more and more over the years that virtually all the progress we’ve made since the Industrial Revolution has come through science and engineering.


Jeff Henley


There have been entrepreneurs who made an impact, changes in business models, and other factors. But underpinning all this, progress has been driven by science and engineering. And I think it’s going to continue.

What is your vision for the College of Engineering?

Fortunately for the UC system, and for UC Santa Barbara specifically, we’ve always had great science and engineering programs. This is by far the largest investment I’ve made. It’s because I really do believe this is so important for the future of the world: To keep attracting, educating, and retaining top scientists and top engineers.

Rod, you’ve come to UCSB from a career in the hightech industry. You’ve been here long enough now to know that you have some ideas about how you want to move the College of Engineering forward.



My predecessors as deans, our supporters, and the faculty have brought the College of Engineering to a level of excellence in the country, and quite frankly, in the entire global community that we should all be very proud of. My job is to keep that on track, to drive further the excellence we’ve achieved in our departments.

Remembering UC Santa Barbara in the 1960s Alferness: Jeff, tell us about your days as a student at UC Santa Barbara.

I believe engineers should address the grand challenges of society. They should be driven by curiosity, understanding, generation of knowledge, of how things work, how nature works. Then we should leverage that information and knowledge to solve real problems. We should also leverage one of the real assets of the campus, which is the collaborative spirit between engineering and the sciences, and potentially the social sciences.


I came here 50 years ago. My mom drove me up and dropped me off. I actually was going to go to the Air Force Academy. My dad had been in the service in World War II and so I just thought “gee, I should go to the AFA.” I was accepted and I had a medical problem, so I couldn’t go. And the only other place I had applied to was UC Santa Barbara. I’d never visited it. Back in those days you don’t do all those campus visits that you do today. It was a couple hundred miles from where I lived in Orange County, so it wasn’t that far away.

Rounding that out is the ability to take our knowledge and innovation from academia and get it into products and services that benefit society. I believe that partnering with industry is something that we’re going to have to do more and more of, especially as funding from state and federal agencies becomes more limited. Part of my job is to help industry understand that they need us as much as we need them.

There’'s no place I would have rather gone”

We need to attract the best engineers and scientists from around the world, bring them here as young researchers, and let them steer the path for where we should go. We need to produce the students of the future that are going to go out in the world and make a difference. Ultimately at UC Santa Barbara it’s the students that count.

Jeff Henley, on his undergraduate years at UCSB

I’ll never forget my mom driving me out to Ward Memorial Highway and dropped me off, I’m looking around on a nice, sunny September day and thinking “I think this is going to work out,” and it did. I never regretted my four years here. It was a phenomenal period. I think I actually got higher grades than I did in high school, so I was very motivated. I became a lot more intellectually stimulated going here. I made the Dean’s list my first semester and I graduated with Honors. But I guarantee you I had a great time, too.

Engineers in a Global Community Alferness:

My sense in coming from industry is that one of the areas that our graduates have to become more comfortable with is working in the global community. The competition is increasingly global. Our engineers will potentially work outside the borders of the U.S. and very often in large international teams. Jeff, have you seen that kind of phenomenon at Oracle?

Going away to school like that for four years, it’s a growing social experience as well as an intellectual challenge. I felt like I got a good balanced education and I’ve never regretted it. There’s no place I would have rather gone, so I was very lucky to fall into it and had a great experience.

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Rod Alferness

I believe engineers should address the grand challenges of society.

Accelerating Energy Efficiency


Even in my 21 years at Oracle, it’s gotten much more that way. When I started, most of our engineers were in the U.S. Today, we have 30,000 developers and probably half of them are overseas. It’s a very global arena. There are a variety of reasons for it. It’s not just cost, it’s being able to operate and develop “24 by 7.” We’ve acquired some foreign companies. But I think it is going to be very competitive.

Alferness: John, can you share your views about the research thrusts within the Institute for Energy Efficiency, its direction, and its importance both on campus and worldwide?


The problem we have as a society is that we waste more energy than we use. So, there’s a great opportunity here to use our precious resources of oil and coal and other fossil fuels more efficiently. We’ve done this, in what is the best materials department in the country, using materials to solve the fundamental limitations.

I think [the U.S. has] the greatest higher ed engineering and science programs in the world. Our higher ed is still our crown jewel. We educate a lot of foreign people that come over for undergraduate, especially graduate programs. I feel very strongly that we need to attract talent here in the U.S., encourage kids to get involved in math and science, but also keep bringing over those foreign students. I say “best and brightest: bring ‘em over.”

This started with a bunch of groups, but Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of the blue LED, is a good example of solving a fundamental problem that has led to breakthroughs in gallium nitride semiconductor technology.

Most of these students come here for a variety of reasons. Many of them would like to stay. As a matter of public policy, I hope our government will solve this problem. Because oftentimes they can’t get a green card or a visa, which is a tragedy in terms of American public policy in being able to maintain our economic leadership and technical leadership in the world. I’m hoping that our government will do a better job in that area.

We’ve gone on to a host of other materials, more efficient solar cells, such as the work with professors Alan Heeger and Guillermo Bazan. More importantly, we’re looking now at data centers and making data centers more energy efficient. We’re working closely with Oracle, Google, Hewlett Packard, and others to solve the problem. Some of that has been work like the hybrid silicon laser to solve the problem that silicon does not emit light.

Our universities do a phenomenal job in training top talent for science and engineering. We better make sure we do a better job of hanging on to that talent.


Other examples are the great Solid State Lighting group is very constrained in terms of abilities to characterize new solid state LEDs. We have a big need to characterize solid state refrigerators and passive cooling systems. Our goal is to use these new laboratories [funded by the Henleys’ gift] to investigate that area. It’s going to have a huge impact. The Institute has had a lot of great involvement with students. Engineers Without Borders and Unite to Light are two groups of people that taking these technologies and using them out in the world and we can really make things much better.

How Far Does an Investment Go? 1

Bowers: We have a lot of interest amongst faculty and

students to work on energy and energy efficiency problems, but there is a distinct lack of space and it’s very expensive to take existing space and investigate new opportunities. And of course the space that’s made available in the new Henley Hall building will open up other space on campus.


Exactly. And we need more than this one building. It is a good start. We’re trying to get funding for a bioengineering building. There are several that if we can get these behind us — and it’s not all going to come from the state anymore — we need more private support. When people understand the quality of what we’re doing here, the impact of what we’re doing here, I think we’ll be able to raise the money. 2

I think the problem is people probably don’t realize it’s called the University of California, but in the current year [the State of California] is only going to provide a little more than 20% of the operating funds. That’s been diminishing as a percentage, obviously, a lot over the years. I don’t think it’s going to change. The challenge for public universities across the country, not just California, is that they’re going to have to get better at the development that private universities have done for decades. We’re not going to solve this problem tomorrow. But it is a wake-up call for some. I don’t think some people fully recognize all the issues that all public universities face. We have a little more of a financial problem in California so it may be a little more acute here. Hopefully we’re going to continue to educate our alumni, other people who are interested in seeing the UC system continue to do well. It truly is one of the crown jewels of California. It really is. We just can’t let it falter. We’ve got to keep moving it forward.


The Campaign for UC Santa Barbara celebrated a kickoff event on May 12, 2012 for the final phase of a $1 billion campaign with a special announcement of a $50 million gift by Jeff and Judy Henley to the College of Engineering and Institute for Energy Efficiency. (1) Judy and Jeff Henley with Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree and UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang; (2) Light show during the ceremony held at Bren Hall; (3) Professors Shuji Nakamura and John Bowers; (4) Jeff Henley announces their gift to UCSB.



Bridging the Digital Divide People of rural Africa understand the Internet can open doors for community building, health care, and education. To fix sluggish connections in remote areas, UCSB researchers are designing wireless network technology that uses castoff radio frequencies in a new way. By Catherine Newell

The red dirt road to Macha floods during the

Between an overworked uplink connection and supersized websites, Internet connectivity in Macha is achingly slow. The problem is two-fold, explained Professor Elizabeth Belding, a Computer Science professor at UC Santa Barbara. The Internet should be opening doors for rural users to access the same popular social networking sites everywhere else in the world, but those sites are jamming the network.

One of the first things a visitor to Macha notices is the 40-foot shipping containers planted among simple buildings. Of the three vivid blue but rusting cargo containers in Macha, only one is currently functional. Wooden doors have replaced metal ones, revealing an interior of fluorescent ceiling lights and padded cubicles reminiscent of any modern office.

“The entire community is connected through a slow satellite uplink that operates at about 1Mbps, which is slower than the DSL or cable modem connection most people in the U.S. have in their homes,” said Belding. Her studies of Internet usage in rural Africa have shown that, more than any destination on the Internet, Macha’s people are Facebook power users. According to a study by Belding and her team, between 15 and 20% of all HTTP requests from Macha are to Facebook.

summer rainy season, isolating the small village from Choma, the nearest town in rural Zambia. About two-thirds of this 50km road was paved in recent years, but never completed. Before that, the journey through the African countryside required several hours by Jeep, or a chartered plane that lands on Macha’s red dirt runway.

Inside is a small miracle of innovation: an Internet “cyber café” where every computer is hooked up to a local wireless network. Here in one of the most rural areas of Africa, people in these shipping container Internet cafés are participating in the global network of ideas and communication through the World Wide Web. The Internet is as important to them as in any Western community, and so is their connection speed.

Traffic for Facebook has to bounce up to a satellite uplink, down to a server across the world, back up to the satellite, and finally back to Macha — all to send one wall post to a friend in a nearby city or down the road. Users’ patience with this redundant system is beginning to fray.


Most of the world hasn’t noticed this ballooning, though, because as websites got bigger and more sophisticated, Internet connectivity got faster. The clunky dial-up modem was upgraded to DSL, then cable modems, and download speeds kept up with the exponential growth of website size. That accelerated speed is the reason most people in the first world can view a Facebook page, join a hangout on Google+, or share files on Dropbox.

“People have experienced the Internet enough to understand the benefit it can bring,” Belding explained, “and they are extremely frustrated by the long waits and high rate of aborted sessions. That’s unfortunate because they have the most to gain from the wealth of information available on the Internet.” That limited access is why Belding’s research partner, Professor Lisa Parks of Film and Media Studies, and several graduate students are traveling to Macha this summer to help build a new Internet connectivity system — an integrated program known as VillageNet.

The village of Macha connects to the Internet by way of a 2Mpbs link to an Internet Service Provider. Actual connection speeds rival those of an old dial-up connection from fifteen years ago. Internet service is not only much slower than the cable connections used in the global West, it is also exponentially more expensive. The community pays between $3,600 US per month for the equivalent of a dial-up system — a steep expense for a village where people make an average of one dollar per day.

To understand Macha’s Internet problem, first imagine it’s 1997. Even a freshman in Professor Belding’s Introduction to Computer Communication Networks class remembers what it was like trying to access the Internet fifteen years ago: the shriek and clang of the dial-up modem, the glacial downloading speeds, and the stripped-down web sites. But while the process of connecting then was slow, Web surfing was smooth, because websites were fairly uncomplicated at an average size of about 14KB. By 2011, websites were running closer to 679KB — which is 48 times the size of a website in 1997.

The hospital, the school, and the cargo container Internet cafés all share a wireless mesh network — a system that is frequently crippled by a single user trying to upload media or download one large file, such as a PDF or a YouTube video. According to

“...At any time of day, up to three hundred people are trying to access the Internet on a connection no more powerful than a single modem was two decades ago.” Elizabeth Belding

People make camp outside the hospital in Macha waiting for their family members to be discharged.


Macha residents carry water from a well to their homes.

Belding’s research and personal interviews conducted by her doctoral student Veljko Pejovic in 2010, the top 0.1% of the largest traffic flows on the local mesh network holds up more than 50% of the bandwidth shared by several hundred people. Because of this cramped bandwidth up to 75% of uploads fail in Macha, which makes simple tasks both infuriating and impossible.

that were originally used for television broadcast before it went almost completely digital in recent years. These extra bands have the added advantage of good “foliage penetration properties” — ideal if you are trying to build a wireless network in a village full of trees. “It is challenging to cover areas with very sparse population. That is why we need to develop a technology that can provide wireless links over long distances,” commented Mariya Zheleva, one of Belding’s PhD students who spent the summer of 2012 in Macha.

Similarly, large downloads are frequently abandoned — either by the server or the user — because they are taking too long to load. But by the time the download is aborted it has already jammed the network. One YouTube video about a honey badger, or a PDF of a medical journal article, is all it takes to cause the network to crash and burn.

VillageCell will provide a low-cost cellular network, providing free local voice and SMS communication. Cell phones in Macha are only usable in the town square, and there are no landline phones in the surrounding region. Reliability is also an issue, added Zheleva, “When I was in Macha, the commercial cellular network was down every other day for a few hours.”

Belding and Parks, funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, are building a system to address exactly this problem. Together with Gertjan van Stam at Macha Works, a program that creates community-initiated solutions that re-invest in the community, Belding and Parks hope to build a socially-informed local network that serves the village and the surrounding area.

To address both these problems, VillageCell will include a localized cell phone system that will use OpenBTS (open base transceiver station) to intercept cellular signals and convert them into VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) packets.

VillageNet has three components: VillageLink, VillageCell, and VillageShare. Each component is designed to achieve the team’s goals of keeping local Internet traffic local, and to shift large uploads or downloads to periods of decreased traffic. The three elements of VillageNet are intended to bring Internet connectivity to the community of Macha — and, in the future, other remote communities just like it — through both new wireless technologies and network architectures.

In addition, VillageCell presents the opportunity to implement ImmuNet, a public health impact project by Belding and fellow Computer Science professor Amr El Abbadi. ImmuNet works on the VillageCell architecture, and keeps track of the vaccination status of a particular population.

Each of the three components of VillageNet solves a specific problem. VillageLink is intended to help alleviate some of the congestion of the wireless connection. It utilizes the white spaces spectrum, frequencies between 50 and 700 MHz,

PODCAST EXTRA Listen to a podcast interview with Elizabeth Belding online at

Professor Elizabeth Belding (far right) and her computer science research team, left to right: Arghyadip Paul, David Johnson, Mariya Zheleva, Maggie Weng, and Veljko Pejovic


Computer technical support staff member stands near a computer training school in Macha

El Abbadi and Belding received a Grand Challenge Explorations Award for $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for ImmuNet, a program that uses cell technologies to improve vaccinations in rural populations. ImmuNet is an information distribution system that contains an underlying database called VaccStore. The database helps doctors and families stay connected with one another, both by keeping track of an individual’s vaccination record and by providing a link between doctor and patient.

VillageShare is a time delayed proxy server designed to improve local traffic on the Internet. It has two components. The first is a time delay proxy that intercepts large file uploads that might put a squeeze on the bandwidth — images or videos, for example — and delays the upload until Internet traffic thins down for the day. Most of Macha’s computers are in public places, such as the Internet cafes or the schools, so there is more bandwidth available late at night. The second is a file sharing component that stores files locally, so that two local users can share content without needing to upload it to a remote server. Using a local server reserves the satellite bandwidth for downloads that require the Internet.

“The lack of technology makes the work of health care providers on the ground very challenging,” commented El Abbadi. “Our goal is to build an integrated communication and data storage system that maintains current health records and helps notify patients when they are due for vaccination, or when they travel to a highly infected region. The potential is very promising and exciting.”

Ideally, Belding explains, these three components will help make cellular communication and Internet connectivity ubiquitous throughout the area of Macha. “We want residents to have Internet access in their homes, offices, schools, and public buildings,” Belding says.

In Macha, a technology such as ImmuNet could help solve problems like keeping a child’s vaccination history available and sending reminders for important booster shots. Local health care providers have almost eradicated local spread of polio, a viral disease that leads to paralysis, and now they want to extend their reach to eliminate other potentially deadly diseases. ImmuNet is an incredibly powerful mechanism that could help achieve this goal, and all it requires is a cell phone.

Professor Amr El Abbadi (left) and graduate student Ceren Budak

Faster Internet in schools could mean a world of difference for local children. “Imagine going to a school with only a handful of books in the library,” Belding suggested, “and then suddenly having the information on the Internet available to you — what a difference that could make.” Schools are an especially important consideration, because nearly half of the local population is under 12 years old.

View from the water tower in Macha, the tallest point in the village and ideal site for installing wireless network equipment.


“The purpose of VillageNet is to foster dialogues between community members and those designing the network.” Lisa Parks

Professor Lisa Parks (left) and graduate student Abigail Hinsman.

Faster Internet in the local hospital means doctors can easily reorder medicines or consult with experts remotely. Farmers can research crop rotation strategies or new markets for their harvest. People in neighboring communities can exchange information and news helpful for daily living. A faster connection also means that family and friends can keep in touch with people both within and outside the village through Facebook and Skype, which are popular in the community. For Belding, Parks, and their team the real innovation of VillageNet isn’t the wireless technologies, it is the people of Macha. Development projects in villages like Macha often fail because they are conceived of and structured with no input from the community the project is intended to help. “If you don’t have buy-in from the local community,” Belding said, “and if you don’t understand the needs and wants of the community, the solutions you design are destined for non-use.” The ethnographic component of VillageNet is what makes the project unique, and hopefully what will make it successful. While there are hundreds of information and communication technology (ICT) development projects going on in countries around the world, VillageNet is one of the few that includes an ethnographic element. VillageNet’s intention, Parks explained, “is to foster dialogues between community members and those designing the network.” The collective goal of the VillageNet team is fused with the aim of Macha Works, which is that “the only people that can develop Africa are people from Africa itself.” Children play near a school in the village of Dwesa


People visit the village market in Macha to buy goods such as cell phones, food, and fabrics.

This is only the beginning of Belding and Parks’ research. Over the next three summers, Parks will reconnect with these same video partners and the locals they interviewed, and conduct new videotaped interviews that chronicle their Internet use and habits, their feedback on VillageNet, and how they feel Internet connectivity has impacted their community. Belding’s team will also return, implementing components of their technologies, testing them, and checking in with residents on how these changes have affected their Internet use. Their hope is that, by the end of the four-year grant, the difference in Internet connectivity will be like fast forwarding from 1997 to 2012.

With that in mind, said Parks, “It is important that the network be designed in a way that is sustainable, and not simply installed without any community input or involvement.” The best way to understand what a community needs is to ask members of that community “what do you need?” And that is why Parks conducted 60-minute, qualitative interviews with at least thirty Macha locals this summer. She will keep in touch with those same people in order to access how well this new network architecture has worked for the community. Parks and her graduate student, Abigail Hinsman, started their ethnographic study of ICT use in Macha this summer. They conducted what Parks describes as a “radial ethnography”: they recruited ten community members to be their video partners, and those video partners conducted interviews, asked useful questions, and uploaded videos of their interviews with other locals onto the server. These partnerships are actually a crucial component of the ethnography, Parks said, because it “is designed as a collaborative approach. We’re trying to break down the divide that’s characterized conventional ethnographic methods, between the ‘Western expert’ and the ‘racialized other.’ We want the people we’re studying to participate, evaluate, and benefit from the research being conducted.”

As excited as Belding, Parks, and their graduate students are to make a difference in Macha, they hope that Zambia is a beginning rather than an end. As they perfect the network and its use, their expectation is that there will be many more iterations of VillageNet around the world. “Ultimately,” Belding explained hopefully, “our goal is that our research is useful widely, and it is applicable to any remote community, anywhere in the world.”

PHOTO GALLERY View more stunning images from Africa by researcher Veljko Pejovic at

“Dr. Parks’ component is critical,” said Belding. “Her study can help make sure these technological solutions that are developed will be adopted by the community.”


Dead Clever New strains of Salmonella have developed a

“It basically alters the immune response in its favor,” said Heithoff. With the animal’s immune system unable to recognize them as a threat, they can make their way to target tissues in the body by hitching a ride with the host’s own macrophages — a type of white blood cell that normally engulfs and digests harmful invaders. Inside the macrophage, the Salmonella multiply, then, like the ancient tale from Virgil’s Aeneid, emerge like Greek soldiers from the Trojan Horse to invade the body.

“Trojan Horse” stealth mechanism that allow them to become hypervirulent in a host body. How do we outsmart bacteria that have an evolutionary edge over our immune systems? > by sonia fernandez

“Without a functioning immune system, the bacteria continue to replicate undeterred, causing more inflammation and tissue damage, resulting in accelerated disease manifestations and septic shock,” said Mahan. Organ failure and death may follow.

Salmonella bacteria are some of the most ubiquitous and oldestknown microorganisms, infamous for countless outbreaks and engaged in a perpetual game of one-upsmanship with their hosts. The most common form of foodborne illness, Salmonella poisoning comes at a national expense of $14.6 billion a year, including time lost from work and health care.

What makes these Salmonella strains particularly insidious is that they have evolved the ability to look and act just like their less-virulent cousins when outside of a host. With the implementation of a special laboratory culture media that mimics the host environment, Mahan and Heithoff were able to unmask these strains of Salmonella.

UC Santa Barbara researchers Douglas Heithoff, Project Scientist, and Michael Mahan, Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, have invested decades of extensive research into Salmonella. Their efforts are focused on a singleminded goal: beat them at the evolutionary arms race and prevent disease outbreaks before they make news headlines.

“What we think is that these strains have a heightened capacity to sense their surroundings and adapt very quickly,” said Heithoff. This trait allows them to conserve energy when there’s no food source and use it as needed.

Mahan and Heithoff have recently made a startling discovery in their research: strains of “hypervirulent” Salmonella enterica that are 100 times more capable of causing disease than the average strain of Salmonella.

“Outside their hosts they might switch to their less-virulent latent stage until the next host picks them up,” said Heithoff. “This ability to quickly alter their gene expression determines how well the bacteria are going to survive.”

Able to bypass conventional forms of detection, these naturallyoccurring strains of Salmonella trick the host’s immune system to multiply at optimal efficiency, explained Mahan and Heithoff, who isolated the strains from diseased livestock. In an evolutionary leap that would impress the most experienced army commander, these strains have become experts in stealth mode combat on many surprising levels.

Salmonella’s survival instinct seems brilliant, if not sobering. The Trojan Horse act is adaptation in action, and Mahan and Heithoff say scientists must stay one step ahead to prevent other strains, perhaps other pathogens, from evolving a hypervirulent state. The implications could overrun the global food industry’s current standard of prevention practices, and have a major detrimental impact on the public health system. Among the researchers’ counter-strategies is the development of a live, attenuated vaccine for livestock, which, the scientists say would reduce contamination and spread between the animals — and to humans. The key to their research is developing stronger and smarter cross-protective vaccines that protect against several hundred strains of Salmonella at a time. To date, Mahan and Heithoff have screened these Salmonella strains isolated only from livestock. What they haven’t found out yet is whether these Salmonellae have caused increased disease in humans, although, they say, that situation can’t be too far off. “It is just another way nature wins — by the maintenance of bugs that switch to combat mode only in the animal, but need to switch back to a latent state out of the animal to survive in the environment,” said Mahan. “Other strains do this also, but hypervirulent strains do it in the extreme.”

Douglas Heithoff (left) and Michael Mahan


‘Hypervirulent’ Salmonella poses a risk to food safety

Salmonella is a leading cause of infection, hospitalization, and death With an estimated 1.4 million cases annually in the U.S., Salmonella control efforts are difficult due to its widespread distribution in animals and water supplies, providing an ongoing source of contamination for a wide range of foods.

UCSB researchers found ‘hypervirulent’ strains that are 100 times more virulent than common strains; just 1% of the concentration of a common infection could be lethal. These strains were derived from livestock and rendered current vaccines obsolete. Without preventative action, an outbreak could contaminate a wide range of food and water supplies.


Half of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are for livestock; multi-drug resistant Salmonella strains have emerged because of chronic antibiotic exposure.

THE CELL HACKER ‘Hypervirulent’ strains overproduce a toxin that destroys cells These strains switch their gene expression pattern from a less virulent state to a ‘hypervirulent’ state during infection. This results in the overproduction of its toxin, an actin-destroying protein which severely weakens the outer structure of cells, such as macrophages, disgestive tract lining, and bodily tissues.

Like a Trojan Horse and drug mule of the microbial world

The diversity of Salmonella strains found on farms and feedlots calls for vaccines that cross-protect against hundreds of strains, not just a few. Proper administration can reduce pathogen exposure, transmission, disease, and contamination of food products.

Bacteria behave like a Trojan Horse, exposing their weapons only after initiating infection. ‘Hypervirulent’ strains do this in the extreme, disguising themselves as a non-threat to the immune system while disabling a protective response and using that system to spread throughout the body. Once in target tissues, the strain replicates undeterred and causes septic shock.

Survival experts: Bacteria like Salmonella rapidly evolve antibiotic resistance Half of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are for livestock to prevent disease and also fatten animals. Multi-drug resistant Salmonella strains have emerged that present a bona fide risk to human health. The FDA has recommended suspending the use of antibiotics in animal feeds for growth promotion, and limiting of their use for disease control.

Salmonella outbreaks from ‘tainted food’ are now occurring with unprecedented regularity— a clear indicator of how fragile food safety has become. For every confirmed case of Salmonella food poisoning, there are roughly 30 that go unreported — meaning an outbreak of 250 individuals affects more than 7,500 people.


Cross-protective vaccines and food safety solutions are needed

Warning Signs

Salmonella infections are responsible for up to 50% of bacteremia in young children and in patients with compromised host immunity in developing countries.

Fighting Back Recent advancements have resulted in the development of cross-protective vaccines that confer protection against several different strains simultaneously. In-water delivery of cross-protective vaccines shows considerable promise as a low-cost, low-stress method for livestock immunization. Knowing the molecular mechanism by which ‘hypervirulent’ Salmonella causes disease provides a means for the development of vaccines that stimulate potent immune responses to combat them. Developing cross-protective vaccines and understanding ‘hypervirulent’ Salmonella can also help researchers combat other drug-resistant infectious bacteria, such as C. difficile and E. coli. The FDA has recommended bar-code methods for source product identification; irradiation of post-harvest foods; and suspension of the use of antibiotics in animal feeds for growth promotion. Human bodies are 90% non-toxic bacteria and 10% mammalian cells. Understanding how we interact with these microbes is vital to disease prevention and maintenance of better health.

Illustrations by Peter Allen

Second ife

Researchers develop a simple way to turn plastic food packaging into valuable specialty chemicals worth more after recycling By MELISSA VAN DE WERFHORST

an organocatalyst molecule and ethanol to depolymerize the PLA, breaking down the long chains of lactide into individual molecules. The resulting soup of molecules is distilled to isolate component products.

Americans go through 14 million tons of plastic food packaging on a yearly basis, more than any other country in the world. Factors such as food safety, food preservation, and consumer appeal drive the packaging market, a multi-billion dollar global industry. With more than 90 percent of these millions of tons of plastic ending up as landfill or litter, researchers at UC Santa Barbara are asking if there’s a more practical approach to harnessing the lifecycle of valuable polymers that can benefit industry, the consumer, and nature.

“The entire process takes about 10 minutes at room temperature,” explained Leibfarth. “We cut up plastic packaging, add a little ethanol and 1 percent of a very active organic catalyst. The catalyst does all the work.” “This is very translatable for industry,” he added. One of the resulting components is ethyl lactate, a sweet-smelling, clear liquid commonly used by the cosmetics and food industries. Because it’s soft, creamy, and smells slightly of coconut, it’s often used as a fragrance in hair and skin products. It is a non-toxic food preservative and found naturally in wine and fruits. Perhaps the largest demand for ethyl lactate is as a degreaser and industrial solvent that is far less toxic than chlorinated or halogenated solvents.

Traditional recycling is a process that turns used plastics into a raw but impure form of the original material. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most commonly used plastic in packaging materials, can be recycled into a lower grade material to make bottles, carpet fibers, or a canvas bag, as examples. Recyclingsavvy consumers know to look for the number on the bottom of a soda bottle or container of tomatoes. Of these resin identification codes, numbers 1, 2, and 3 are the most commonly accepted plastics by curbside recycling services — largely thanks to the recycling industry infrastructure in place in the U.S. But the mysterious code number 7 is considered “other” materials that are typically non-recyclable. Code 7 includes bioplastics, or polymers made from biomass — such as the oils, fibers, and starches from corn, sugarcane, and other plants. Biomass used by commercial producers of bioplastics is typically made from throw-away scraps: unused crops, postharvest chaff, or waste brush. It’s this increasingly popular bioplastic packaging that chemistry PhD student Frank Leibfarth and his colleagues have been deconstructing in the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB. They are transforming the bioplastic material polylactide into value-added materials, or specialty chemicals that are already used in large quantities by industrial and food manufacturers. It was easy to find: Leibfarth and his research team purchased 4-packs of fruit at the local Trader Joe’s store and cut up the packaging for their experiments. “For the same reason you can compost it, polylactide plastic is much easier to work with,” said Leibfarth. “If you look at its chemical bond structure, it’s easier to manipulate than petroleum based plastics.”

Packaging based on Polymerized Lactic Acid, or PLA, is becoming more attractive to distributors and stores that want to see more sustainably sourced materials on the shelves. The PLA packaging market annual growth is close to 19% with a projected market value of around $3.8 billion by 2016. It’s the fastest growing market segment of bioplastics, making it cost competitive with petroleum-based plastics. “There’s a major bioplastic resin plant in Blair, Nebraska, that produces about 150,000 tons of PLA per year, but before that it was a very niche product.” This Nebraska plant is the world’s largest lactic acid manufacturing facility. It’s run by NatureWorks, LLC, an independent company with a list of clients that have a strong interest in bioplastic for products ranging from cell phones to copy machines. Their manufacturing process uses half the energy as traditional polymers like PET, and produces about 60 percent less greenhouse gases.

The problem is the current lack of infrastructure to divert PLA and other bioplastics from the landfill. Even though polylactide is capable of biodegrading into soil-enriching compounds, it takes exposure to oxygen over several years. It will biodegrade in an aerobic compost heap, but not necessarily in a covered and compacted landfill that tends toward anaerobic conditions. The modern way to recycle PLA into new PLA relies on harshly acidic (low pH) or basic (high pH) conditions and high temperatures in an energy intensive process.

Turning millions of tons of postconsumer PLA into ethyl lactate makes even more sense, according to Leibfarth. Recycling PLA into ethyl lactate actually adds economic value to the supply chain. The current market price of commodity PLA is around $1.00 per pound. Ethyl lactate is twice as valuable.

“Industry is not that good at recycling this kind of plastic,” said Leibfarth. “PLA is so new to the market that the recycling infrastructure isn’t in place. It makes more sense to turn polylactide into value-added materials than to use tons of energy to recycle it.”

Another product of depolymerizing PLA in this way is methyl lactate, a lactate ester very similar to ethyl lactate. Methyl lactate as an industrial commodity is used to make flavors, fragrances, and dyes, but is also a common chemical base for producing many pharmaceuticals. For example, Leibfarth added, “Pfizer starts with methyl lactate to eventually produce an antiretroviral drug to treat HIV that is currently in clinical trials.”

Leibfarth’s research team engineered a catalysis process to break down polylactide into useful component chemicals. Their novel process is surprisingly fast and energy efficient. It uses


Ethyl lactate has historically been produced from petroleum sources. Producing it directly from biomass is a relatively simple process of adding yeast or bacteria to ferment the biomass. The end result is a chemical compound identical to that made by processing petroleum.

“If we can take people’s garbage and make ethyl lactate, we’re extending the lifecycle of this non-petroleum based material,” added Leibfarth.

L to R: Frank Leibfarth and research team Alex Hakwer, Justin Shand, and Nicolas Moreno,

“People think of recycling as producing an imperfect or less valuable product from used plastics. But we can take plastic and turn it into new materials that are equally useful and valuable.”

Leibfarth and other polymer scientists see prospects in the chemical afterlife beyond single-use plastics. Lactate esters are just the beginning, and polylactide just one of many biomassbased materials.

PODCAST EXTRA Listen to a podcast interview with Frank Leibfarth online at

“Having such a synthetically versatile material in the waste stream is an opportunity that is ripe for exploiting and makes sense from both energy and environmental viewpoints,” said Craig Hawker, Director of the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB and advisor for Leibfarth’s study. Details of their study will be published online in the Journal of Polymer Science this September. “The entire lifecycle of biomass to plastic to value-added materials could be extended,” added Leibfarth. “People think of recycling as producing an imperfect or less valuable product from used plastics. But we can take many kinds of plastic and turn them into new materials that are equally useful and valuable.”

Ingeo™ resin pellets. Image courtesy of NatureWorks LLC



Researchers wonder whether critical sea species will be able to adapt to global ocean acidification from carbon emissions in our lifetime BY CATHERINE NEWELL

The tiny invertebrate Thecosomata has

several names. Sometimes marine researchers call them sea butterflies for the delicate, wing-like lobes they use to propel themselves through the water. Other scientists know them as pteropods or “flapping snails.” Dr. Gretchen Hofmann, an eco-physiologist at UC Santa Barbara, is concerned that the tiny sea butterfly of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica has become an unlikely harbinger of change. “They’re these not terribly charismatic little gastropods,” Hofmann explains, “about the size of a peppercorn. They make this beautiful shell, and they occur in clouds in the water, and they’re an incredibly important part of the food chain because fish eat them. And then other things eat the fish.” But now the sea butterfly is a canary in a coalmine. As more and more anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2 produced by human activity) cycles through the Earth’s atmosphere and into its oceans, the fundamental chemistry of the oceans is changing. The world’s oceans are becoming at least 30 percent more acidic than they were a century-and-a-half ago. Ocean acidification is a problem that has scientists all over the world worried, because it could mean the end of the line for sea creatures like mollusks, urchins, corals, and sea butterflies. The Southern Ocean is already a tough place to make a living as a marine animal: because of the sub-zero water temperatures, it’s also the world’s most acidic ocean. “It’s more acidic down there because cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide gas. The water is just right above the freezing point of seawater, at minus 1.86°C [28.7°F],” which, Hofmann points out, is “really cold!” The pH of the world’s oceans is a product of atmospheric carbon dioxide being absorbed into the water. In the water, dissolved carbon dioxide molecules join water’s hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and is strung into a longer chemical called carbonic acid (H2CO3). This means that under normal circumstances, a lot of the free-flowing carbon atoms in the water are being recruited to make carbonic acid. “It’s just chemistry,” Hofmann explains. Photography by Lydia Kapsenberg


“I can change the pH of a glass of water just breathing into it. CO2 from my breath dissolves right into the water. Ocean acidification is like that, but on a larger scale.”

And because more CO2 dissolves into the Southern Ocean’s freezing, already-acidic water, the process of ocean acidification is expected to accelerate around Antarctica. “More gas will dissolve into that cold water,” Hofmann says, “and over time the rate of decline of pH, the reduction of the carbonate ions, is going to happen in Antarctica first, and possibly faster and sooner in time than anywhere else.”

Nearly half of the atmosphere’s carbon is dissolved into the world’s oceans. This carbon moves in a cycle from carbon dioxide to carbonic acid to carbonate, the mineral used by mollusks, corals, and other sea creatures to build shells and skeletons. The carbonic acid not used as carbonate sinks and eventually settles on the ocean floor, where it remains sequestered for decades. Studies have shown that this cycle has changed since the Industrial Revolution. As humans create more carbon dioxide, the oceans absorb much of the excess carbon. A third to half of the atmosphere’s excess carbon dioxide ends up in the ocean – sometimes referred to as the oceanic sink. These surplus carbon atoms become surplus carbonic acid.

“Even though these organisms are adapted to this environment, will we start hitting the guardrails of their tolerance? How acidic is too acidic?” GRETCHEN HOFMANN

This is bad news for the pteropod, and other creatures like it that use the ocean’s carbon to build their shells. “The saturation of calcium carbonate in the water in Antarctica is very low already,” she continues, “so making a shell there, if you’re a pteropod or a scallop or a mussel, is challenging. Their shells are incredibly brittle and thin.” In fact, Hofmann accidentally crushed the first Antarctic urchin she picked up. Pteropods are the bottom rung of a delicately constructed food chain in Antarctica, one that goes all the way up to penguins, elephant seals, albatrosses, and whales. Hofmann explains, “pteropods are an important pressure point for the whole ecosystem in terms of food.” By 2050, the world might see what happens when an ocean becomes too acidic for species like the sea butterfly to survive. The big question is, for Hofmann, “Even though these organisms are adapted to this environment, will we start hitting the guardrails of their tolerance? How acidic is too acidic?”

Urchins and Upwelling Hofmann and her team’s interest in the effects of changing ocean pH began quite literally in their own backyard with the purple urchins at Campus Point, a stone’s throw from their lab on UCSB’s campus. The California purple urchin is important for two reasons. The first is because urchins are among the only sea creatures adapted to regular changes in pH. The acidity of their Pacific Coastal waters, from the Santa Barbara Channel north nearly to Alaska, fluxes on a cyclical basis. “It’s a well known and well studied oceanographic process that there’s a global circulation of the ocean,” says Hofmann. At certain times of the year, and in certain areas of the world’s oceans, winds blowing across the surface of the water cause deeper water to be pulled up toward the surface. This process is called “upwelling,” and all of the creatures up and down the western Pacific coast are used to this periodic change in their water. They’ve even adapted to cope with the changing chemical composition caused by the movement of the water. “That deep water holds a lot of CO2,” Hofmann continues. “Oceanographers can tell you that the CO2 in the deep ocean is on average about 50 years old. As that CO2–rich water comes up from deep in a process called ‘shoaling’, it drifts up onto the coast.”

Red sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus franciscanus

At any given time, the winds and the upwelling can cause the pH of the Santa Barbara Channel to fluctuate. “So we can’t just say that the average pH in the Channel is 8.1,” says Hofmann. “A lower pH might only last for three, maybe five days, but then it goes away. And then it comes back again when the winds come. It’s episodic.” Marine creatures, such as the purple urchin, are physiologically adapted to this shoaling of acidic water. They’ve learned how to wait out the pulses, and gather the carbon they need to make their skeletons and shells after the shoaling passes. The


Emperor penguins, Aptenodytes forsteri, on the Antarctic ice were not shy about interacting with the research crews. (Below) A hole in the ice made large enough for a diver and equipment was also the right size for curious Weddell seals.

trouble is that the urchins, oysters, and other marine life along the Pacific coast are used to pulses of water containing levels of CO2 from a half-century ago. Researchers began to wonder how urchins will cope with water that contains twenty-first century levels of CO2. This concern made Hofmann and her team wonder: could they create a facsimile of the Pacific Ocean 50 years in the future in their lab? And once they did that, how would they know if the variations in acidity and temperature were irrevocably harming the urchins? This is the second important physiological point of interest about purple urchins: They have the distinction of being one of the only creatures to have their embryonic development recorded by microscope, and they were the first chordate whose entire genome was sequenced. Knowing the entire purple urchin’s sequenced DNA code means scientists could theorize whether changes in its environment, for example, will be immediately visible in its genes. Completed in 2003, the U.S. Human Genome Project developed new techniques to test which genes were responsible for which characteristics, from eye color to cancer predisposition. “As they developed these techniques,” says Hofmann, “animal ecologists and biologists like me were excited to co-opt that technology for our research. So we asked: can we pick up signatures of physiological response to stress from the environment by using genomics?” The answer was: Yes.


(From left) Emily Rivest, Lydia Kapsenberg, and Evan Hunter drilling holes in the Antarctic sea ice to measure the thickness.


The Hofmann Research Team (L to R): Oliva Turnross, Tyler Evans, Jacqueline Padilla-Gamino, Morgan Kelly, Emily Rivest, Professor Gretchen Hofmann, Lydia Kapsenberg, Pauline Yu, and Paul Matson. Not pictured: Geoff Dilly.

Simulating Future Oceans Hofmann’s team has recreated a variety of future oceans in their lab. Dr. Pauline Yu, the lab’s senior post-doc and an expert on larvae, studies the physiological responses of larval urchins to a variety of scenarios based on projections of anthropogenic warming and ocean acidification. Yu and the Hofmann team “ask” the urchin larvae about stress responses by extracting their RNA and checking for a physiological response to stress. They discovered that laboratory conditions of increased dissolved CO2 inhibit the ability of the urchin larvae to complete certain molecular processes necessary for their development. At both increased CO2 levels and higher temperatures, many larvae died before they’d even had a chance to develop. The lab’s interest in urchins isn’t just ecological: the urchin is hugely important to local fisheries. Uni, or urchin gonad, is considered a sushi delicacy and its market price reflects that. In recent years, the California urchin catch—which averages 10 million pounds per year—has been valued at over $15 million wholesale.

Both Hofmann and Dickson wanted to learn more about what was going on chemically to cause these changes, and whether the effects were localized or diffused across a broader region. Hofmann presented a proposal for a multi-campus research initiative to the UC Office of the President, and it was funded. She brought in colleagues from the Bodega Marine Laboratory at UC Davis who were investigating how ocean acidification was affecting northern California oyster and mussel hatcheries. “We immediately understood that studying ocean acidification would be a multi-disciplinary effort over a longer period of time,” Hofmann says of the consortium’s origins. “We needed to train students and post-docs in this new, synergistic field where we integrate a knowledge of oceanography—and the SeaFET sensor technology—with its significance in biology.” The consortium has also set the stage for other collaborations including OMEGAS [Ocean Margin Ecosystems Group for Acidification Studies] and C-CAN [California Coastal Acidification Network]. OMEGAS is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and includes researchers from

Urchin fishermen all along the Pacific coast began to notice that their carefully managed populations of urchins were either shrinking in size or disappearing completely. Several local urchin fishermen asked Hofmann if something about the ocean was changing. So they began working with local fishermen to answer their questions about changes to the Pacific purple urchins’ environment. Meanwhile, Hofmann’s colleague at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Andrew Dickson, was also interested in the ocean change going on right in his backyard. He and other oceanographers wondered what was going to happen when anthropogenic CO2 dissolving into the ocean met other stressors, such as fertilizer run off, in the “urban ocean” between San Diego and Santa Barbara. They used pH sensors called SeaFETs — an ion sensitive field effect transistor — to monitor the pH of ocean water around the world, and offered to share the SeaFETs’ data with researchers who were trying to answer similar questions.

Graduate student Lydia Kapsenberg attends to live urchins in the lab at UCSB.


The Ocean’s Lungs

the original three UCs, as well as UC Santa Cruz, Oregon State University, Stanford, the University of Hawai’i, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. C-CAN is a collaborative project between researchers like Hofmann and Dickson and people with an economic stake in ocean acidification, such as owners of oyster hatcheries and urchin divers. C-CAN’s goal is to identify the causes of shellfish depletion along the Pacific coast and explore solutions that can help sustain populations.

Antarctica and the Pacific Coast are not the only two outposts of investigation for Hofmann and her team. On Moorea, an island in French Polynesia nine miles from Tahiti, several of Hofmann’s graduate students are studying the effects of acidification on corals at an LTER — Long Term Ecological Research laboratory.

Soon, groups like the National Forest Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration became involved. With funding from the National Parks Service, UCSB graduate student Lydia Kapsenberg installed SeaFETs in the Channel on two islands in the Channel Islands National Park. Other sensors in the area are run by Dr. Carol Blanchette, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UCSB, and Libe Washburn, a professor of geography who studies coastal circulation and air-sea interaction. “Any single group attempting to understand the genetics, physiology, and oceanography at once would be spread too thin, explains Hofmann. This is a collaboration that not only extends across many labs, but many universities, several oceans, and, as it turns out, many continents.

The National Science Foundation funds 26 LTERs all over the world. Over the last two decades, the intention of the LTERs has evolved from studying ecology to studying environmental change. The laboratories range from the Arctic and Antarctic, to stations in the deserts, grasslands, mountains, and oceans — including the Santa Barbara Channel — of North America, all the way out to Moorea, the only LTER dedicated to studying the ecological processes of a coral reef. In Moorea, graduate student Emily Rivest examines how the dual stressors of high temperature and acidification affect coral larvae. Much like they have done in their UCSB lab, Rivest and her fellow researchers built a system of seawater filled buckets, and calibrated each to a particular range of stressors — high temperature, low pH, or some combination thereof. As with the urchins, the team checks the coral larvae’s physiological response to these changes.

PHOTO GALLERY View more stunning images from Antarctica by researcher Lydia Kapsenberg at

Site of the NSF Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) laboratory on Moorea, an island in French Polynesia.


The Bottom Line

Corals are very narrowly adapted to their environment. While urchins have adapted to the pulses of acidic water washing up from the deeper Pacific, coral larvae will only flourish in water that fits into a narrow band of pH and temperature. Thanks to the SeaFET sensors, researchers now know that the pH of coral reefs is diurnal.

Ocean acidification is not just a pollution problem: it’s an economic and food security problem. This rings true for Hofmann, her research lab, members of the consortium — and people who run fisheries, urchin harvesters, or tour operators. “Global-change biologists talk about four outcomes when environments start to change,” Hofmann explains. “One option is that the organism can migrate — change its range, go somewhere else where conditions are most hospitable to them. They can also acclimate or climatize, use their plasticity and their flexibility to stay where they live and keep functioning. Or, they can truly adapt, come up with a new genetic solution to the problem. And the fourth option is extinction. Populations that are less able to adapt or climatize are very vulnerable to extinction.”

This means that the pH of the water in a coral reef is regulated by the respiration of the Symbiodinium — the algae that are symbionts in the cells of the invertebrate coral — on a daily basis. Coral reefs are therefore among the only places in the world where the pH of the water is not due to outside forces, such as upwelling on the Pacific coast or the extreme temperatures of the Southern Ocean. Hofmann points out, “Out there on the reef, it’s biology driving the exchange of carbon in the water.”

The same set of choices might be what’s in store for human beings. Economically, says Hofmann, when changes due to acidification start to happen “the intensity of the impact will be local, really focal and intense.” Bleached or algaecovered corals will translate to less revenue for people who rely on tourism or fishing, and more acidic waters will stunt or exterminate the larvae of pteropods, urchins, and corals.

This “diurnal signature of respiration” in coral reefs is significant not only because it creates its own pH levels, but because coral reefs are, in a certain sense, the lungs of the ocean. The massive exchange of CO2 between reefs and the atmosphere is hugely important for the health of the atmosphere, as well as the oceans. Hofmann reminds us, “You could also argue that coral reefs are economically important, too, because a lot of nations are dependant upon the health of coral reefs for their economy.” Besides being home to nearly a quarter of the entire world’s marine species, tropical coral reefs are major tourist attractions. Globally, travel and recreation associated with tropical coral reefs is valued at over 100 billion dollars. As with urchin harvesting and oyster farming, Hofmann feels that the degradation of tropical reefs by ocean acidification could mean economic disaster for people who depend on the biodiversity there not just for food, but for tourism, too. “The Maldives and little island nations are in big, big trouble,” said Hofmann. The people of these nations rely on the ocean for their economy.” Despite their small carbon footprint, people in small island nations like French Polynesia, New Guinea, or Indonesia could have their whole lives upended by the effects of ocean acidification.

“If ocean acidification is allowed to take hold, people who depend on the ocean for their livelihood might have to give up and move away. Further down the line, people who love seafood might have to adapt to a world with fewer options and less food security. It’s not an exaggeration to say,” she warns, “that there could be some things that aren’t around in a hundred years that used to be around. If things get bad enough, important seafood will be really challenged.” The question of future food security is just one way Hofmann and her team make the threat of anthropogenic ocean acidification real for the public. In Hofmann’s experience, “I haven’t heard a lot of skepticism about it. When I talk to people, it clicks really quickly. People love the oceans, and ocean acidification is basic chemistry.” “That’s how I explain ocean acidification to the average person. And it resonates.”

VIDEO EXTRA Watch the research team dive deep below icebergs to place SeaFET sensors. Video produced by Henry Kaiser



Rising Star Stephanie Moffitt (Chemistry, ’12) launched a career in materials research through undergraduate internships at UCSB and a research summer abroad in Ireland BY CATHERINE NEWELL

When materials professor Ram Seshadri gave his Honors Chemistry class a tour of his lab during Stephanie Moffitt’s freshman year, he opened a door for Moffitt to become a bright, new protégé in his research on functional inorganic materials. “He encouraged everyone to get involved in research,” recalls Moffit, and she took that encouragement to heart and became a valuable member of his research team. Moffitt spent nearly four years as an undergraduate researcher in Seshadri’s lab, affectionately called “The Stephanizer” by her colleagues. There’s no irony in Moffitt’s bold nickname, because she seized many opportunities to excel as an undergraduate, from participation in the UCSB Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program, to a summer studying abroad in Ireland at Trinity College. Today she also counts herself as an author on two published scientific papers well before her graduate school career began. At the end of her freshman year, Moffitt participated in the RISE program. “RISE brings undergrads from around the country to UCSB to participate in a research experience,” said RISE Program Director Julie Standish. “It’s a very competitive program. Students apply for a 10-week summer research experience and are matched with mentors to gain first-hand experience in research.”

During her junior year she presented her work at the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium. Soon after she began working with Moureen Kemei, a graduate student in the Seshadri group, on magnetic frustration in chromate compounds, which required a trip to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. Their research on magnetic frustration was published in January, and they were later invited to Argonne to present their results. Moffitt was active in mentoring new undergraduates in the lab, and encouraged them to get involved in research opportunities through the RISE and CISEI programs. Professor Seshadri commented, “It is important that our undergraduates seek to inform themselves of these opportunities.”

By her sophomore year, Moffitt was a full-fledged member of the Seshadri group, a real “part of the team.” She attended lab meetings and Materials colloquium talks, and participated in research on multi-metal oxide complexes and intermetallics. Moffitt honed her skills as a lab assistant by completing complex techniques, such as sol-gel prep and arc melting. Her contribution to the research was recognized when she was listed as an author on graduate student Josh Kurzman’s article on gold oxide complex research. Her work with Kurzman lead to another internship opportunity: A summer at Dublin’s Trinity College as part of the CISEI (Cooperative International Science and Engineering Internship) program.

Seshadri is proud of Moffitt’s bright future. “I think the experience of working in our lab has really turned Stephanie on to a career in research,” he explained. The Seshadri group and UCSB bid farewell to Stephanie Moffitt as she begins a PhD program in Materials Science this fall at Northwestern University.

At Trinity College, Moffitt and other CISEI interns studied functionalizing carbon nanotubes in order to build lightactivated switches. Outside of the lab, Moffitt experienced being part of an international group of students that practiced new laboratory techniques, toured a research hospital, and explored Ireland. When the students presented their research at the end of the summer, Moffitt won Best Poster Presentation.




P2P Wizard

Through a research internship, undergraduate Christopher Badger (Computer Science, ‘12) boosted the security of peer-to-peer networks


Christopher Badger was eager for research experience as an undergraduate when professors Louise Moser and P. Michael Melliar-Smith of the Computer Science department were looking for an intern to assist with a peer-topeer (P2P) network project. By the time Badger graduated in June 2012, he walked away with the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, a published paper in P2P networks, and a job secured in software technology. “I always had an interest in P2P, so I was grateful for the opportunity to help out among a team of grad students,” said Badger. “After a while, I stumbled on some stuff that I thought was more interesting. They gave me free leave to delve into it more, which was great.” That “stuff” became Badger’s published research on the iTrust project, a new P2P networking system that is robust and secure in the presence of restrictive entities or malicious attacks. Peerto-peer (P2P) networks are systems of individual computers that share information with each other, instead of connecting through a large server—the way most websites are hosted on the Internet. In recent years, P2P networking has grown to user bases in the hundreds of millions. Some P2P networks, such as the infamous Napster, have gained notoriety in the past decade for enabling the illegal trade of copyrighted content. However, P2P technology is a legitimate business application in many ways. The VoIP application Skype, for example, is a modified P2P network. Its live video messaging service uses logged-in users as a network, passing around each “video call” encrypted data via its 650 million users worldwide. To bolster the security of vulnerable P2P networks, Badger’s idea was to “decluster” peers within a network, randomizing how they connect to each other “instead of clustering in what’s called a neighborhood,” explained Badger. “The result is a robust network that is a lot harder to attack because the connections are random.”

iTrust was conceived by Moser and Melliar-Smith to combat security threats, but also to address potential Internet censorship associated with centralized search engines. It aims to provide reliable information retrieval that cannot easily be censored or disabled by large entities such as governments that seek to restrict search engine access. iTrust’s declustering algorithm goes even further by reducing the “expectation of cooperation” between peers. This means node connections are short-lived and rely less on the information provided by their peers, so therefore less predictable by security threats. “When you lower the expectation of cooperation, maybe the network’s peak performance isn’t as good,” said Badger. “But in the event of an attack, you have what’s called a “graceful degradation” instead of a full meltdown. When things start to fail, the network can still function for longer while someone addresses the breach.” Badger was encouraged by his faculty advisors to submit his work to WEBIST, the International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies. His paper was accepted as a full length presentation, among 8-9 percent of total submissions for programming. In April 2012, Badger traveled to Porta, Portugal to present at WEBIST among other accomplished researchers and corporate technology experts in mobile and internet technology, eBusiness, and web intelligence. Professor Melliar-Smith commented that “Chris’s intellectual development as a researcher has been exceptional. His work is quite different from that of typical undergraduate students, and is fully comparable to the work of our doctoral students.” Participation in research has given Badger a boost in his postgraduation career. He attended a career fair hosted by UCSB Career Services and was offered a position with Santa Barbarabased Green Hills Software, a technology company that specializes in embedded software.


Redshift into Focus By scanning at a low resolution, a revolutionary new detector developed by UCSB astrophysicists could accelerate our understanding of Dark Energy and the Universe BY SONIA FERNANDEZ

Call it a wide shot on the universe: Microwave Kinetic Induction Detectors (MKID), a technology being developed by UC Santa Barbara astrophysics assistant professor Benjamin Mazin and an international team of colleagues, promises to give astronomers a new — and markedly more efficient — way to measure the light given off by celestial entities such as galaxies and supernovae. “One of the hardest things in astronomy is figuring out what to look at. The sky is pretty big,” Mazin said, aptly summarizing one of the key problems faced by astronomers and astrophysicists. You almost can’t see the forest for the trees — or, in this case, the Universe for the stars. With the increasing sensitivity of astrophysical instrumentation, it’s possible to discover galaxies billions of light years away, but it has proven difficult — and expensive — to get detailed information on these faint sources. “Using low resolution spectroscopy, MKID technology will be incorporated into instruments that can return spectra of billions of galaxies instead of the millions one gets with traditional multi-object spectroscopy,” said Mazin. It has the potential to save countless hours by allowing scientists to look at a broad brush picture of the sky and then hone in on the elements of interest. “It’s a leap of a factor of 1,000 in the number of sources you can take spectroscopic data on,” he said. “It opens up this massive new parameter space.” Mazin and his lab, which includes postdoctoral scholars Danica Marsden and Gerhard Ulbricht; and graduate students Seth Meeker, Eric Langman, Matt Strader, and Paul Szypryt are the only group in the world that is working with optical UV and near infrared superconducting detectors


for astronomy. Other researchers — including Mazin’s grad school mentors and MKID pioneers Jonas Zmuidzinas and Sunil Golwala at Caltech, and Rick LeDuc at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory — have used MKID with success in the submillimeter wavelength ranges. Mazin is also working with other research groups at UCSB, including professors Crystal Martin and Tommaso Treu. Treu’s research team is tracking observations as part of the Brightest of Reionizing Galaxies (BoRG) survey using the Hubble Space Telescope. They made news earlier this year when the project spotted the most distant galaxy protocluster ever observed, developed at an estimated 600 million years after the Big Bang. For the astronomy layperson, this is very young on the timeline of the origins of the Universe. Off campus, Mazin is collaborating with UCLA’s Infrared Instrumentation Lab, Caltech, Yale Astronomy, and University of Illinois, to build two detectors called Mega-z and Giga-z. When hooked up to powerful telescopes, both instruments will allow scientists to observe and measure two of the most intriguing phenomena in astrophysics: Dark Energy and the related accelerating expansion of the Universe. At UCSB, Treu and Martin are also collaborators on Giga-z. The “z” in Mega-z and Giga-z represents the astronomical term for redshift—a Doppler-effect phenomenon that occurs as light sources move father away from the observer and shift towards the longer-wavelength red end of the spectrum. Mega-z, which is currently in the proposal stage, is planned for installation at the Keck Observatory 10 meter telescopes in Hawai’i to measure the redshifts of a million very faint galaxies. Dark Energy is another mystery that MKIDs could help illuminate. A hypothetical mass-energy that dominates three quarters of the universe, Dark Energy is credited for the universe’s accelerating expansion. “We know the universe’s expansion has been accelerating. That’s something that was discovered a decade ago by Hubble,” said Mazin. It was the Hubble Space Telescope observation that galaxies that are constantly moving away from the observer, and from each other due to the constant expansion of the universe, that won Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, and Adam G. Riess the 2011 Nobel Prize. “It totally changed the way people look at the universe.” “While astronomers and astrophysicists now know something weird is going on out there,” said Mazin, “we’re only slightly closer to understanding it, and it doesn’t look like it will be the kind of thing that physics experiments in the lab are going to have the power to probe.” Enter Giga-z, a far more ambitious instrument, which would be able to detect the redshift of billions of galaxies. By looking at the galaxies’ angular correlation function, astrophysicists will be able to determine their distances from one another. “When you do that, you find that there’s a scale built into the expansion and structure of the universe, imprinted by inflation.

Astrophysicist Benjamin Mazin stands next to an MKID detector.

It’s a scale of 150 co-moving megaparsecs,” Mazin said. Using a technique called Baryon Acoustic Oscillation (BAO) as a ruler, and then observing how that scale changes over time, astronomers can get a measurement of the rate of change of the universe’s expansion. This, Mazin said, could give astronomers more information about Dark Energy, helping to identify the physics behind it. What makes Mega-z and Giga-z unique is the built-in spectral resolution of the MKIDs, which allows the use of direct lens-coupled, aperture mask spectroscopy as opposed to the more conventional, expensive, and complicated fiber-fed spectroscopy. Fiber-fed instruments can take the spectra of about 5,000 galaxies at a time, while the MKID devices can measure 100,000, or a million at a time, a far more efficient use of the telescope, said Mazin. “The wavelength coverage also extends to the near infrared,” he added, “which is extremely important for observations of high redshift galaxies.” The low-resolution aspect also allows scientists to measure some of the physical properties of the galaxy, including the stellar population, stellar ages, metallicities, and redshift. “It’s broad brush astronomy but we’ll be doing it on 1,000 times more galaxies than anything else has done. That is where the real power comes in,” said Mazin. Mazin and his colleagues are seeking the funds to build the approximately $3 million Mega-z instrument—a much smaller pricetag compared to a conventional fiber-fed instrument at $100 million. Should they get the funding, said Mazin, the Mega-z will take about three or four years to build. Once built, it’s headed for the Keck telescope for about 20 to 30 nights of observation over a two-year period.

“Then we would have a big science team work on extracting as much science as we can from these observations, and that science is going to be very broad,” Mazin said. Galaxy evolution, active galactic nuclei, and subluminous dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way are all part of the research, said Mazin, with spectroscopy that goes deeper than the current magnitude of the faintest surveys. “We’ll be looking at galaxies with i-band magnitude between 24 and 26.” They’ve already assembled a prototype called ARCHONS, the ARray Camera for Optical to Near-IR Spectrophotometry, a simpler version of Mega- and Giga-z. The team has tested it at Caltech’s Palomar telescope and the Lick Observatory in the Diablo Range near San Jose. In the optical and near-infrared ranges, Mazin said he predicts MKIDs becoming a standard replacement for charge-coupled device (CCD)-based instruments for many applications in the next few decades. “This technology will completely revolutionize astronomy,” said Omer Blaes, chair of the Physics department at UCSB. “Right now most astronomers use CCDs, the same detectors in digital cameras. The detectors aren’t sensitive to different energies. These MKIDs will both sense the photons and measure their energy simultaneously. You can measure rapidly variable sources all with a simple detector.” Mazin credits his “coming of age” as an astronomer in this era of precision cosmology as the inspiration for using this novel way of observing the universe. “It brought up some very interesting questions and pointed out that between Dark Matter and Dark Energy we have 96 percent of the universe that we don’t understand. There’s still a ton of work to do and I’m happy to be part of it,” he said.



Microwave Kinetic Induction Detector (MKID) Artist’s (Peter Allen) concept of a Superconducting Multobject Spectrograph (SuperMOS). As described by Benjamin Mazin, “The light from the telescope passes through a metal mask in the focal plane that contains holes drilled at the known locations of astronomical objects. The light from the object passes through the hole, but the light from neighboring objects and sky background is rejected. A reimaging system focuses the light that gets through the mask onto a large plate scale MKID array positioned behind it, providing low resolution optical through near-IR spectroscopy. This allows the light from a single object to be mapped to a single MKID, allowing scaling to a very large number of simultaneous objects.”


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The Art of Convergence Peter Allen, creative director and illustrator for Convergence magazine, is the Director of Marketing for UCSB’s College of Engineering. Allen is a talented 3D and traditional media artist and former professional animator. A native of New Zealand, Allen attended UCSB as an undergraduate many years ago and has worked at UCSB for more than 25 years. He has been the creative director for Convergence since it launched in 2005 and is credited for every illustration, including this issue’s cover, as well as countless scientific illustrations for research articles and journals.

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Convergence Issue 17  

Convergence: The Magazine of Engineering and the Sciences at UCSB

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