CONVERGENCE The Magazine of Engineering and the Sciences at UC Santa Barbara
Extinction Q&A: Sumita Pennathur Goo and Gas More than Meets the Eye From the Ivory Tower Beyond Fantastic Voyage
FOURTEEN, WINTER 2010
A Note From the Top
Larry Coldren Acting Dean, College of Engineering
Pierre Wiltzius Dean of Science, College of Letters & Science
David Awschalom Scientific Director, California NanoSystems Institute
This issue of Convergence continues our biomedical research series with an article on drug delivery, a field which is changing more rapidly than just about any other in medicine. Materials research and nano- and micro-device engineering, fields in which UC Santa Barbara is an acknowledged leader, are making possible advances in both therapeutics and diagnostics that were inconceivable ten years ago. Imaging is field in which we’ve led major advances in the past, developing new modalities that have led to greater understanding of our world at the atomic and molecular levels, and one in which we continue to break ground. Our article on imaging in this issue covers just two of the many imaging modalities in which our scientists and engineers are providing better “pictures” of our world. We’ll cover some of the others in a future article. In our Q&A, we chat with Sumita Pennathur, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, about how she manages to pack so much into her busy life, both in the lab and classroom and outside of work. We’ve also included features on undersea hydrocarbon seeps, which our location on the Santa Barbara Channel gives us unparalleled opportunities to study and understand, and on species extinction and survival, a complex subject impacted at least in part by human activity. Finally, we take a look at how technologies make their way from the laboratory to the marketplace—a process in which our Office of Technology & Industry Alliances plays midwife. Today’s media world is changing very rapidly, with publication staffs and their printed products shrinking and not infrequently disappearing altogether, as more and more of our news and entertainment move from “traditional” media to the online world. Convergence is part of that world. We take pride in the editorial quality and look and feel of our printed magazine, and we believe the Convergence website (Convergence.UCSB.edu) does a good job of presenting it online. The website also lets us keep the content current—as news happens in engineering and the sciences, we can post it to the website without waiting for the next issue of the magazine to be printed. Recognizing the budgetary realities of the UC environment, we’re scaling back our print output from three issues a year to two, while we keep current content moving to you by getting it up on the website as it happens. More and more publications are also offering electronic delivery as an alternative to paper “hard copy”—electronic delivery is far more economical than printing and mailing printed copies, and has the added advantages of speed, the ability to embed video and audio, and conserving resources and reducing the publication’s carbon footprint. We’re exploring electronic delivery options, and would like your input. We won’t be abandoning the print edition for the foreseeable future, but, if we can shift a substantial portion of our circulation to electronic delivery, we’ll be able to put the savings to good use in continuing to develop Convergence for you. Toward the back of this issue, you’ll find information on an online survey about some of these changes. We hope you’ll participate.
FOURTEEN, winter 2010
Extinction and Survival
Neither extinction nor survival is simple—both are the result of complex interactions in the ecosystem.
NEMS and All That Jazz...
Sumita Pennathur leads a very full life—besides being an upand-coming faculty member, she’s a mom, a professional jazz musician, and a marathon runner.
More than Meets the Eye
Beyond Fantastic Voyage
Advanced imaging technologies reveal much that you can’t see.
Delivering therapeutic and diagnostic agents where they’re needed (and not where they’re not) in the body.
Getting technological discoveries into the real world.
Goo and Gas Bubbling up from the ocean’s floor, both crude oil and methane are continuously leaking out of the earth.
From Ivory Tower to Marketplace
22 What is this?
Shorts... Have you heard?
CONVERGENCE T h e M a g a z i n e o f E n g i n e e r i n g and the Sciences at UC S anta Bar bar a
2 Peter Allen
Extinction and Survival When we hear the word extinction, most of us immediately think of dinosaurs and woolly mammoths and cataclysmic events precipitating their extinction. Some of us are also aware of current extinction threats and recent extinctions, but few, if any, of us understand the varying and complex circumstances under which extinction actually happens. It turns out that extinction and species survival are closely linked through species diversity in the ecosystem. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara are studying these intertwined issues of extinction, survival, and diversity, trying to understand what has happened in the past, what threats species face in the present, and what needs to be done to safeguard the future. In trying to gauge the full impact of anthropogenic effects such as climate change, loss of habitat, and pollution, however, scientists everywhere face a fundamental obstacle: They don’t know how many species exist on Earth, and have only rough estimates of how many of those are vulnerable or endangered.
Bradley Cardinale, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB) at UCSB, agrees with estimates of 10 million species of mammals, fish, birds, insects, plants, fungi and protozoans, such as amoeba. He also says, however, that if you extend that microscopic kingdom to include bacteria, viruses and other microbes, then the total could easily top 100 million. Cardinale was lead author of a report which concluded that as plant species go extinct and natural habitats become less productive, humans could well be the ones to suffer most. Co-authors of the report included Marc Cadotte, Ian Carroll and Jerome Weis, all of UCSB.
Even the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), producer of the benchmark annual Red List of Threatened Species, acknowledges it has barely scratched the surface. The Red List classifies and categorizes nearly 48,000 species of animals, plants, fungi, and protists. It specifies each species’ distribution, habitat, population, and specific threats, and places each along a risk spectrum ranging from “extinct” to “least concern.” (The list’s title can lead to some erroneous assumptions, since only 36% of the included species are threatened with extinction, and there is insufficient information on 14% of the included species to evaluate their status.)
The study, involving an international group of scientists, mined data from 44 previous research projects around the world simulating plant extinctions. It concluded that a decrease in species diversity will trigger a significant drop in plant biomass in a given ecosystem. Cardinale and his team said that such a drop could compromise certain benefits plants provide mankind, from essentials like producing oxygen and food, to the provision of fiber and biofuels.
Cardinale is not overly sentimental about endangered “poster-child” species like NOAA pandas and polar bears. The IUCN acknowledges A century ago people thought it was “Although big, beautiful that the 12,000 plant species impossible to overfish a species. We’re now species can be important catalogued on the list represent close to overfishing more than one-third of for many reasons, the less than 3 percent of all known the world’s fisheries. productivity and sustainability plants, and fewer than 1,000 of of our planet ultimately those are properly documented. depends on plants and the The Red List includes less microbes that exist symbiotically with them. If we lose than 5 percent of marine species, and has only sketchy these species, we’re in real trouble.” coverage of the world’s estimated 8,000 to 9,000 reptiles.
The plant study quoted what seems a rough rule of thumb among many scientists: as many as half of all species known today could be extinct by the end of this century. Cardinale called that a “best reasonable guess” based largely upon habitat loss and a simple methodology like measuring the number of species in
How many species are there? The IUCN estimates between 5 and 10 million, though other recognized scientific sources put numbers as low as 2 million and as high as 100 million. That huge discrepancy may be explained in part by how far down the microscopic scale you search for species.
Are we setting ourselves up for huge future extinctions by introducing new species, predators and diseases, or are systems still so under-saturated that they can handle greatly increased biodiversity? an acre of rain forest and multiplying by the number of such acres being lost each year. “The human population is exploding—our species now uses more than 50 percent of all available space, food and water on the planet,” he says. “Because of human domination, conservation efforts for most species have been too little, too late. We are in the middle of one of the great mass extinctions in the history of life.” Steve Gaines, dean of UCSB’s Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, says while the number of species is clearly decreasing on a global scale, within smaller regions the opposite seems to be true, since the introduction of exotic species can greatly outpace the loss of natives. That was the conclusion of a recent study in which Gaines and Dov Sax—a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB at the time of the study and now an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown—looked at biodiversity on remote islands. After combing through centuries of data from places like New Zealand, Lord Howe Island, east of Australia, and Tristan da Cunha—isolated volcanic islands in the South Atlantic—the researchers were shocked at how much regional diversity had increased. Plant species had almost all doubled, with introduced varieties becoming naturalized and few natives going extinct; the number of bird species was about constant; and freshwater fish species had “increased dramatically.” The 18-month study leaves the question hanging: Are we setting ourselves up for huge future extinctions by introducing new species, predators and diseases, or are systems still so under-saturated that they can handle greatly increased biodiversity? Associate professor Jonathan Levine (EEMB) brings another dimension to the debate over the importance of diversity with research supporting the long-standing assumption that plants sharing a common habitat use the environment differently. He says a lot of plant species depend on variability, and this adaptation is illustrated when it comes, for example, to a changing climate: some types of seeds may germinate after hot dry weather, others when it’s wet. According to Levine, this variable response to variable conditions has an overall moderating effect—meaning
biomass remains more stable than it might otherwise— while underlining the value of plant diversity and complementary co-existence. His latest paper on this topic, published recently by Nature, uses empirical and mathematical techniques to prove the inherent stability of species diversity. Levine says the research also supports the notion that as a species is pushed to low numbers, it actually gains some advantage because there is less competition in its particular niche. While that may not be enough to save a species from extinction, it does help the recovery of plants that become very rare; conversely, when plants become very common and begin to exhaust their particular niche resource, growth rate and measurable “quality” factors will decline. With the clock ticking, UCSB biologists are trying to determine how best to prioritize plant conservation efforts. Another recent report, co-authored by Cardinale, assistant professor Todd Oakley (EEMB) and postdoctoral associate Marc Cadotte, made the case for giving priority to the most genetically differentiated species. The researchers drew from about 40 studies of global grasslands, looking at the diversity of plants in each community and how productive they were in terms of biomass. “Biomass is one measure of the efficiency of ecosystems,” says Oakley. “Ecosystem efficiency is critical for everything from balancing levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere to a smoothly running food chain.” The team reconstructed the evolutionary history among 177 flowering plants by comparing their genetic makeup. “Previously people just counted the number of species in a community,” says Oakley. “We looked at the evolutionary relationships.” What they found was that some species are more critical than others in preserving the functions and productivity of ecosystems, and that the critical species tend to be plants that are genetically distinct or unique in the ecosystem. Extinction issues are uppermost for marine scientists as well as their colleagues on land. Ben Halpern, a research project coordinator at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), led a four-year study to map human impact on the world’s marine ecosystems. The study, which had 19 co-authors and involved dozens more worldwide contributors, created a practical tool for measuring and managing the health of oceans everywhere. “When undertaking this global study, two things became clear,” says Halpern. “First, no spot on the planet is untouched by human activities—there is no truly pristine ocean left. Second, we found more than 40 percent of the oceans have been heavily impacted— that is they are 50 percent degraded or worse. People think the oceans are in good shape, but this was a sobering result.” Continued on Page 28
Rethinking early mass extinctions cientists have enough trouble agreeing on what’s S happening around the world today in terms of species extinction. Imagine how murky that picture becomes as we
Meanwhile, a NOVA documentary on PBS television earlier this year presented another twist when UCSB geologist James Kennett offered a new theory for the sudden extinction of many of the large animals roaming North America about 13,000 years ago.
travel hundreds of millions of years back in time.
Fossils and other geological time capsules are the key markers along the way, but reading those signs seems to leave plenty of room for individual interpretation among researchers.
Kennett, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science, thinks the abrupt disappearance of woolly mammoths, saber-toothed big cats, giant ground sloths and other major species was caused by a cosmic impact, perhaps a comet hitting or exploding just above the Earth.
Earlier this year, some UCSB scientists challenged the generally accepted views put forward to explain the widespread extinction of early life during glaciations between 726 and 635 million years ago.
This hypothesis challenges at least three other theories: that Stone Age human hunters exterminated the large animals; that a short, sudden return to ice-age conditions killed off the megafauna; or that the animals were struck down by some virulent disease.
It has long been thought that these glaciations are associated with a big drop in fossil diversity, suggesting a mass die-off at this time, perhaps due to the severity of the deep freeze. However, Susannah Porter, assistant professor in UCSB’s Department of Earth Science, and her former graduate student Robin Nagy, have turned that theory on its head.
Kennett and his colleagues base their belief on the discovery of fossil remains just beneath—but never above—a widespread blanket of soil containing charcoal, soot, billions of microscopic diamonds and other trace materials. (See below)
They analyzed microfossils from rocks near the bottom of the Grand Canyon and found evidence suggesting this drop in diversity occurred some 16 million or more years before the glaciations.
The type of shock-synthesized hexagonal nanodiamonds embedded in this layer are considered a reliable cosmic impact marker since they are found on Earth only in meteorites or at impact craters.
Together with colleagues from Utah State and the University of Quebec, they offer an alternative theory for the decline —an increase in nutrients in the surface waters which led to a decline in phytoplankton diversity, the spread of bacterial blooms, and the depletion of oxygen levels in the water.
Kennett believes this layer, dubbed the “black mat,” was laid down in the aftermath of a cosmic body striking North America or exploding above it, the force of which synthesized the microscopic diamonds, triggered huge wildfires and stirred up vast clouds of ash and dust.
John Alroy, a researcher with UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), has also been scrambling some long-held ideas.
He was principal author of a report published last year that had 34 co-authors, contributions from hundreds of other researchers, a database of almost 285,000 fossil findings, and took 10 years of study.
Susannah Porter www.geol.ucsb.edu/faculty/porter John Alroy www.nceas.ucsb.edu/~alroy
By counting fossil records from all over the world, Alroy and his fellow researchers concluded that much of what experts have been saying for the last 40 years about diversity peaks and troughs over the last 500 million years might not be accurate.
James Kennett www.geol.ucsb.edu/faculty/kennett
Alroy’s research has also led him to question the conventional wisdom that the world has experienced five mass extinctions in that time, and is now in a sixth. Instead, he believes only three past events can justifiably be called mass extinctions.
NOVA: PBS television broadcast www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/clovis/about.html
By Alroy’s reckoning we are now in only the fourth mass extinction, this one being driven by a host of causes including climate change, deforestation, pollution, over fishing and hunting, diseases, ocean acidification, and the rampant introduction of exotic species.
James Kennett James Weaver
Karen Ko/Peter Allen
NEMS and All That Jazz... q u e s t i o n
a n d
a n s w e r
Sumita Pennathur, who joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering two years ago as an assistant professor, is developing nanofluidic devices for bioanalytical and energy applications. Her work involves understanding the unique physics of fluids at the nanoscale, and exploiting the phenomena she discovers by developing new biosensors, diagnostic devices, and energy conversion devices. When she isn’t working or enjoying time with her husband and young son, she moonlights as a professional jazz musician. She also coauthored a nanotechnology textbook when she had some downtime—during her maternity leave—and runs the occasional marathon. Convergence talked with Pennathur about her research, her perspective on work and life, and how she fits everything in.
Your primary field of research is nanofluidics— what exactly does that term mean? Nanofluidics is the behavior of fluids at the nanoscale— the study of the transport of liquids and gasses confined in structures generally ranging from one to 100 nanometers in size. (A human hair is roughly 60,000 nanometers in diameter.) I’m really interested in what happens at that scale, because the characteristics and behavior of fluids change quite dramatically at the nanoscale compared to microscale and up. One of my primary goals is to discover the specifics of those differences and their causes, and then to apply that knowledge toward creating useful microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) devices. While I do a lot of fundamental, or “pure,” science in nanofluidics, I’m really an applied person at heart, and I have a passion for combining fundamental nanofluidics with MEMS and NEMS fabrication. I would hope that all my research could eventually result in devices or applications that can make a real difference in the world. Were you always interested in engineering, or did you have other career aspirations early on? When I was younger, I was always fascinated with how things worked and why they worked, but I clearly remember not wanting to be an engineer, because “I didn’t want to get my hands dirty.” When I was admitted to MIT, I originally wanted to study biology and chemistry. I was so interested in how things worked, and in the major research contributions that were being made all around me, however, that I decided to major in aeronautics and astronautics. That major really appealed to my curiosity about how and why things work the way they do.
Most of us think of aeronautics and astronautics in terms of human scale and larger devices and systems. How did you get into the nanoworld? When the microengine project, a big Army-funded project that was focused on making gas turbine engines the size of a dime, started at MIT, I immediately got involved with the research as an undergraduate. That’s where I learned a lot about MEMS technology. I was so interested, in fact, that I began my Ph.D. exploring cavitation in MEMS turbomachinery. It was then that I realized that I wanted to go even smaller. I applied to about 10 other graduate schools, and decided to finish my Ph.D. at Stanford in Mechanical Engineering. There I studied fundamental nanofluidic transport and also forayed into biology and chemistry, my earlier interests. I am now finally living my dream of combining MEMS and NEMS with fundamental science in nanofluidics, to create devices that can have major societal benefits in medicine and Karen Ko bioengineering. How are you planning to do that? One vision I have is to create a handheld diagnostic device that can be used where sophisticated medical infrastructure isn’t available—in the rural villages in India and Africa, for example—to rapidly and simply diagnose the medical problems of the people. I envision that even an illiterate person could use this device, with pictures for instructions, and wirelessly transmit the data to doctors in more developed areas. With the information from the device, the doctors could diagnose diseases and prescribe treatment for the people in remote communities not directly served by the medical establishment. I believe we can accomplish this with nanofluidics—using nanoscale channels to separate and identify DNA strands and form a sort of “fingerprint” of what is in the sample.
Artist’s conception of a nanofluidic DNA separation device. DNA strands (or other biomolecules) are tagged with a fluorophore and injected into a nanofluidic channel using electric forces. Due to differences in electrophoretic mobility, charge, size, diffusivity and conformation, these molecules separate from each other. We can then identify groups of similar molecules by imaging the flourescence and subsequently construct optical signatures based on the patterns and intensities of the separated groups.
How has having a family affected your approach to your work?
We envision building a MEMS/NEMS device that has integrated electrodes and an integrated sample preparation system that allows you to analyze everything without bulky microscopes and other equipment. We are working with Andrew Cleland in physics, Frederic Gibou in mechanical engineering and computer science, Paul Atzberger in math, and Todd Squires in chemical engineering toward achieving this goal.
The big challenge comes from the need to always make sure your child is well cared for, come what may–sickness, travel, day or night. My husband is great, but he’s a professional, too –and there’s something about mothering that’s different from fathering, at least in our family. Bottom line is, I have to figure out a way to get my work done, tend to my household duties, and watch my child when he’s sick.
Are there other areas in which you’re looking to apply that knowledge? Yes—a medical device is not the only vision I have. We’re looking at building nanofluidic chips for energy harvesting, and at building engineering devices for better fabrication of micro- and nanochannels. We also have a wide range of side projects, many led by undergraduates, focused on building engineered devices to make life easier in the lab—an automatic buffer preparation system, and an electrochemical discharge machining (ECDM)-based channel fabrication method are a couple of examples. How do you think you fit into the engineering faculty here at UCSB?
I’ve been working to make a difference along these lines. Together with Deborah Fygenson (associate professor of physics) and Maria Herrera-Sobek (professor of chicana and chicano studies), I helped initiate a pilot program offering backup dependent care. Through this program, a company called Work Options helps arrange for childcare when regular arrangements fail (a sick babysitter, a mildly sick child, a late dinner meeting, or just an irregular holiday) and an employee still needs to work, while the employer subsidizes the cost. The UCSB pilot is aimed at collecting data for two years to determine if the program is really cost effective. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I know it has helped me immensely! Tell me about some of your exploits beyond engineering and your family…
Right now I think I stand out a bit because I’m a young, bright-eyed faculty member. I may be a bit naïve about the realities of being a professor, but I don’t care. I’m aiming really high. I truly believe I can help save the world through my research. Check back in a few years time—I aim to have a portfolio of accomplishments that rivals those of my amazing senior colleagues. Of course, I’m also a (relatively!) young woman and mother, which stands out these days—it means my schedule is a bit different from my colleagues’. I have a husband who works in corporate America, so I rely on the flexibility of my faculty schedule to take care of our three-year old son.
Well, in addition to being a professor, I’m a jazz musician—I play the alto saxophone, and I feel like it really balances me. I had an all-female jazz trio, Ambika, in San Francisco when I was doing my Ph.D. at Stanford. We played a fusion of modern jazz improvisation with classical North and South Indian music. The band was a great outlet! I think I may actually have made more as a musician than a graduate student, at least hourly... Sadly, that band broke up due to the demands and locations of our respective careers, but I still play here in Santa Barbara. In fact, our new band, fitz.MINOR, will be playing at SoHO (a music club and restaurant in
Karen Ko NanoLab Research Group: Left to right: (Top row) Veselin Kolev (ME undergraduate); Michael Love (ME undergraduate); David Herrick (masters student Materials Dept.) (Second row) Nolan Pasko (ME undergraduate); Alex Russell (ME undergraduate); Jess Sustarich (ME graduate student); Kristian Lund Jensen (visiting DTU undergraduate student, Denmark); (Third row) Jesper Toft Kristensen (visiting DTU undergraduate student, Denmark); Henrik Bruus (visiting DTU professor, Denmark); Sumita Pennathur (Fourth row) Mariateresa Napoli (ME postdoc); Tom Wynne (ME graduate student); Jared Frey (ME graduate student)
downtown Santa Barbara) somewhat regularly—perhaps once every other month or so—and we have a Facebook fan page. In addition to playing music, I love cooking and running, which I try and get in between work and watching my son.
value teaching so much. When I was a student, I learned more from my student colleagues than from many of my professors. Here, the professors actually make a difference. That’s what I love.
Given your impressive CV, which includes an undergraduate degree and graduate work at MIT, a Ph.D. from Stanford, and two prestigious postdoctoral positions, you must have had offers from other universities. Why did you choose UCSB?
Links: Sumita Penathur engineering.ucsb.edu/~nanolab/
I did have other offers, and I had a very hard time deciding, until my husband said to me, “Go to where you will be the happiest.” Somehow, that really cinched it for me. It was an immediate decision. I knew I would be happiest at UCSB. The faculty here is amazing, the work/life balance is great, and the research facilities are some of the best in the world.
How small is a nanometer? youtube.com/watch?v=1Nl87_ pqOZ4&feature=related Ambika CD cdbaby.com/cd/ambika
Have things turned out as you expected? Definitely! I love what I do—I truly love my research and I love to teach. What’s funny is that many people think that the weather was a deciding factor for me, but it wasn’t. Had this group of faculty members been in Atlanta or Philadelphia, I would have been there in a second. I also think I have a better work/life balance here than I would elsewhere. I still work 100 hours a week, but there’s no demand to be in the office all the time. People judge me on the work I accomplish, not the time I spend on campus. I’m really proud to be one of the faculty here. My colleagues blow my mind in terms of what they know, and they’ve been extremely supportive. What in particular do you love about teaching? I love to talk and I love to perform. People either love or hate my teaching style, but when I get that one e-mail or note saying that I’m the best teacher they’ve had, well, that’s what I live for—Making a difference in people’s lives. I don’t think I would get as much appreciation at a place that doesn’t
More hydrocarbons have leaked out of the earth than are in the earth. Itâ€™s happening all over the planet. Itâ€™s not a trivial phenomenon.
Goo and Gas The globs of tar that wash up on the coastline below UC Santa Barbara may be a nuisance to beach walkers, swimmers, and surfers, but to researchers, they’re a reminder of an invaluable natural laboratory— one in which significant quantities of oil and gas bubble up continuously from the seafloor. “There are marine seeps all over the world,” says Ira Leifer, a researcher with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute and Department of Chemical Engineering, “but these are probably among the largest seeps that are easily accessible to any researchers. For us it’s just a 40-minute boat ride.“ prolific seep in the Santa Barbara Channel, to poke around huge underwater volcanoes discovered a couple of years ago, and to locate other seeps off the coast of Los Angeles.
The seeps from the Coal Oil Point Seep Field in the Santa Barbara Channel represent both a natural oil spill that can help scientists understand how oil disperses and how marine life deals with it, and a source of methane—a potent greenhouse gas. By studying these seeps, scientists are learning about their contribution to the global methane budget, and they’re testing ways of detecting methane emissions.
UCSB researchers are now working with NASA scientists to develop remote sensing technologies that could detect methane emissions, like those from the Santa Barbara seeps, from planes or satellites. They’re using infrared imaging to detect the gas, and comparing that data to methane measurements collected by a plane equipped with sensors, and from a boat. The researchers also compared the methane hotspots with sonar maps of the seeps.
Although the seeps off the coast of Goleta have been oozing away for millennia, “there’s surprisingly little known about this phenomenon of hydrocarbons leaking out of the earth,” says Bruce Luyendyk, a professor of marine geophysics. “More hydrocarbons have leaked out of the earth than are in the earth. It’s happening all over the planet. It’s not a trivial phenomenon.”
“We know where the methane should be,” Leifer says, “and we look, and lo and behold, there it is.” NASA is interested in methane because it’s a potent greenhouse gas—20 times as problematic as carbon dioxide, which is commonly regarded as public enemy number one in the crusade against climate change.
Although it’s difficult to know how much oil oozes into the ocean off UCSB, researchers have estimated that the seeps here produce the equivalent of at least 100 barrels of oil a day—using that figure, the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker spilled seven years worth of Santa Barbara seeps in a single catastrophic night.
Because methane doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for anywhere near as long as carbon dioxide, efforts to control methane bubbleology.com/seeps emissions would pay off much sooner than measures to scale back carbon dioxide emissions. There are also fewer sources of methane than of carbon dioxide, making the possibility of limiting methane emissions less daunting than dealing with carbon dioxide.
Over time, the amount of oil the seeps off Coil Oil Point produce is “much greater than the headline-capturing spills from oil tankers,” Leifer says, “but they’re not very well understood. Not many people have access to seeps like we do.” “On a global basis, we simply don’t know how many there are, where they are, and how big they are,” Luyendyk says. “The more we look, the more we find,” adds David Valentine, an associate professor of earth science, who spent much of the summer bobbing around on a boat off the coast of Santa Barbara. He was part of a team of researchers who used an autonomous underwater vehicle to investigate a
Little is known, however, about the sources of atmospheric methane, which include livestock herds, landfills, rice paddies, and other anthropogenic sources, and natural emissions such as marine seeps. “The seeps have been pretty much overlooked,” Luyendyk says, although scientists estimate they may make up 10 percent of the planet’s methane budget.
On a bad tar day Coal Oil Point is almost a solid sheet of tar. Once the oil that bubbles out of the seeps reaches the sea surface and sits in slicks, volatile compounds evaporate, and eventually “the oil gets thicker and thicker until it starts to form tar balls and it washes up on the beach, where it sticks to people’s feet,” Leifer says. “Then it washes away with the next tide.”
Researchers studying the seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel are investigating how much of the methane that bubbles out of the seafloor ends up in the atmosphere. “The ocean provides a biological filter for preventing large amounts of methane escaping the subsurface and making it into the atmosphere,” says Valentine. Microbes gobble up some of the gas, and “although we don’t know who these organisms are,” he says, “we can measure their activity.”
UCSB students given the task of scooping tar from the sand around Coal Oil Point found that only about 10 percent of the oil that oozes out of the seeps ends up on beaches in the immediate vicinity, Luyendyk says. “Much of it goes somewhere else.”
One way researchers are doing that is by releasing methane labeled with a mildly radioactive substance into the water column so they can figure out the rate at which it’s consumed by microorganisms.
The amount of oil that washes up on local beaches varies seasonally, with up to ten times more tar turning up during the summer months than during the wintertime.
Scientists here are also studying what happens to the oil that oozes out of the underwater seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel.
“On a bad tar day,” Leifer says, “Coal Oil Point is almost a solid sheet of tar.”
It’s a useful approximation of what happens after oil is accidentally spilled into the ocean, Luyendyk says. “You actually can’t do the experiment, but here we have a natural source of crude oil. It’s leaking into the ocean and we can start asking questions about that.”
Much of that difference can be attributed to variations in wind direction and swell height, Luyendyk says. In the winter, offshore winds and higher swells keep the tar suspending in the water, and there also may be seasonal variations in the amount of oil produced by the seeps.
“If a tanker spills oil, you want to know where it’s going to go, what impact it’s going to have on the environment, and if it’s going to threaten endangered species,” Leifer says. “We have here a permanent natural oil spill, and we can use it to test spill models.”
It’s “tricky” to figure out how much oil they put out, Luyendyk says, but researchers have tried to do it by scooping oil from the sea surface using a skimmer designed to clean up oil spills. They came up with a rough figure of 100 barrels a day, but Luyendyk says it’s likely to be more. It’s easier to estimate how much gas bubbles out of the seeps using sonar “because the bubbles are very good acoustic targets; they reflect very well,” Luyendyk says. By calibrating that data with sonar of bubbles released from scuba tanks positioned on the seafloor, researchers figured that about 3.5 million cubic feet of gas gurgles out of the seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel every day—a quantity that’s remained fairly constant over the last decade or so, Luyendyk says. Before that, though, Luyendyk and other researchers noted a steady and significant decrease in the amount of seepage from the Coal Oil Point field, and in papers published in 1999, they attributed that decline to the effect of offshore oil production in the area reducing the pressure in the reservoir of hydrocarbons in the seafloor. However in the decade since, “our thinking has changed,” Luyendyk says, “and some of the facts have changed.” There was certainly a long-term decrease in emissions from the seep field until 1997, Leifer says, but “there’s been an increase since then.”
An all-too-familiar outcome of walking barefoot on the beaches below UCSB.
There’s probably a cyclical process, he adds—seismic activity can affect how oil moves through the seabed, and pressure from hydrocarbons building up below the seafloor can periodically force bursts of oil and gas into the ocean— that is responsible for most of the variation in seep volume over the years, far eclipsing the influence of oil drilling.
“Humans are adding something into it,” Leifer says, “but not at this point driving it. Natural processes seem to be the most important.” Because the seeps here have been oozing and bubbling away for at least half a million years, they also offer an opportunity to study how marine life has adapted to the oily, gassy environment. “Even though it’s natural and it’s not ‘pollution,’ it contains toxins that affect multiple species,” Leifer says. Some have developed defenses against their hydrocarbonheavy environment. The eggs of sea urchins in the Santa Barbara Channel are less susceptible to damage from oil and tar than those found elsewhere, Leifer says, thanks to a cellular pump that gets rid of the toxins. Survival strategies like those developed by sea urchins could have implications for medical research, Leifer says—notably into how the body deals with the poisonous onslaught of chemotherapy by trying to pump toxins out of its cells. “These are unique biological adaptations to a unique environment,” he says. As Leifer sees it, Santa Barbara is “blessed” to have the seeps and the research opportunities they offer close by, even if it sometimes means dodging globs of oil on the beaches and tolerating the smell of hydrocarbons out on the water. “They’re a great natural laboratory,” he says. Links: Ira Leifer www.coastalresearchcenter.ucsb.edu/cmi/Leifer.html Bruce Luyendyk www.geol.ucsb.edu/faculty/luyendyk/ David Valentine www.geol.ucsb.edu/faculty/valentine/ Information on marine hydrocarbon seeps www.bubbleology.com UCSB seeps group seeps.geol.ucsb.edu/
During surveys, this specially built buoy is slowly towed through seep plumes. The collected gas is funneled into a chamber where differential pressure is measured and later converted to sea surface gas flux.
More than Meets the Eye
Advanced imaging technologies have yielded a bounty of insights in disciplines ranging from physics to materials science to basic medical research. At UC Santa Barbara, sonar imaging has enabled scientists to track methane bubbling up from the seafloor off the Goleta coast, magnetic resonance imaging is allowing neuroscientists at the university to investigate the workings of the mind, and atomic force microscopy—a technology pioneered here—is being used to watch proteins fold into the characteristic shapes that can be crucial to their function. “There’s tremendous activity across the campus in various modalities: using light, electrons, ultrasound, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging),” says UCSB’s Dean of Science Pierre Wiltzius. While many researchers at the university are using such advanced imaging techniques as functional MRI and electron microscopy as tools in their work, others are focusing on developing imaging technologies and exploring new applications for them. Some of the most cutting-edge imaging work going on at UCSB involves terahertz technologies, which utilize electromagnetic waves between infra-red and microwave, and atomic force microscopy, largely developed here and now used around the world in engineering and technology applications, and for basic biomedical research. to explore potential applications of terahertz imaging technology in medicine and healthcare—in particular, to examine burns, which can be imaged through bandages, and to try to detect cancerous tissue.
Terahertz Imaging Right in the middle of the electromagnetic spectrum sits a poorly understood and underutilized resource: terahertz radiation.
Terahertz imaging reveals burn damage “that’s not seen in the visible, infrared, or any other part of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Brown says. It shows up because terahertz radiation “is incredibly sensitive to water concentration.”
This is “the heart” of the spectrum, researchers in the field like to say—the range from roughly 300 gigahertz to 3 terahertz—between infrared radiation, which enables soldiers to “see in the dark” through night-vision goggles, and microwaves, which can transform a TV dinner from frozen solid to steaming in minutes.
Human tissue is water-based, so by using terahertz imaging, “we can tell the difference between tissue types,” Brown says, and see “the state-of-health of the tissue, which is usually correlated to water concentration in some way.” Because most cancer cells contain more water than healthy cells, Brown says terahertz imaging could be useful in picking up skin cancers. “Our hope is to be able to detect cancerous conditions even before they would normally be flagged for biopsy,” says Brown, who, together with his collaborators at UCLA, is planning to investigate terahertz imaging of squamouscell carcinoma and melanoma.
This span of the electromagnetic spectrum is also referred to as the “terahertz gap,” because it’s “the last piece of the spectrum that really has not blossomed to what it could or should be,” says Wiltzius. UCSB researchers, however, were “some of the very early movers in terms of terahertz imaging and science,” Wiltzius adds. Now, the campus is “probably one of the terahertz Meccas of the world,” says Mark Sherwin, director of UCSB’s Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology. Here, scientists are working on ways of using terahertz imaging technology to examine wounds bandaged under layers of gauze, to detect skin cancers, and to watch proteins fold.
UCSB’s free electron lasers provide a source of terahertz radiation for researchers exploring its potential for imaging.
Terahertz imaging technology is unlikely, however, to supplant currently-used medical imaging technologies such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET), because terahertz waves can’t penetrate far into the body because they are readily absorbed by water.
Gesturing at his stomach, Sherwin says, “You’re not going to be able to see what’s going on in here.”
Terahertz waves are particularly useful because unlike visible light or infrared radiation, they can penetrate clothing, cardboard, wood, bricks, and to some extent, skin.
Terahertz imaging at a distance is a challenge, because absorption by water also limits how far terahertz radiation can travel through the atmosphere before it’s lost to water vapor, but there are plenty of ways of putting the technology to work in closer quarters.
UCSB’s Elliott Brown, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working with Zach Taylor, Rahul Singh, Hua Lee, and Jon Suen of UCSB, and with colleagues in the School of Medicine at UC Los Angeles
The remarkable mechanical properties of abalone nacre (the inner mother-of-pearl layer of the shell, at left) are directly related to the material’s unique brick and mortar-like architecture (middle). Using AFM, researchers in the Hansma lab have been able to investigate atomic scale modifications to a growing crystal of calcium carbonate (right, upper) following the addition of abalone nacre proteins (right, lower). NASA has used the technology to inspect the foam insulation on the outside of space shuttles, checking for voids in the foam layer like those that are thought to have lead to the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003. “Terahertz radiation is perfect” for that application, Sherwin says. It’s also been used to look through layers of oil paint in old artworks—showing the artists’ first brush strokes, which they later painted over. “There’s no reason we can’t do that here at UCSB,” Sherwin says. The new full body scanning technology that’s now in place at major U.S. airports uses radiation that’s near the terahertz range to detect weapons and other prohibited items concealed beneath passengers’ clothing. At UCSB, Sherwin is using terahertz waves to peer into the workings of the human body. He’s developing ways of using terahertz technology to spy on proteins and see how they actually move—an improvement on common methods for studying proteins, which involve freezing or crystallizing them. “Really understanding how proteins move is potentially revolutionary,” Sherwin says. “Proteins are essentially molecular machines,” he explains. “You’d like to know how the machines are put together—their structure—and you’d like to know their function, which often we do know. In addition, you’d like to know the mechanisms that they use to perform their functions—how they move. “If we understand the functional dynamics of some proteins,” Sherwin adds, “we may be able to intelligently design different proteins that do the same thing, or that do something we want them to do”—a possibility with great potential for drug design, he says. Links: Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology www.itst.ucsb.edu/ Mark Sherwin www.itst.ucsb.edu/sherwingroup/ Elliott Brown engineering.ucsb.edu/faculty/profile/78
Atomic Force Microscopy Pinned to the wall of Physics Professor Paul Hansma’s office is an image of an atom, captured using atomic force microscopy (AFM)—technology Hansma has pioneered over the last twenty years at UC Santa Barbara. The picture is a clipping from the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid best known for salacious celebrity gossip and tales of politicians caught in compromising positions. Nonetheless, the tabloid ran the photo of an atom, accompanied by an accurate account of the achievement—to Hansma’s delight. Atomic force microscopes are now ubiquitous in labs around the world, and AFM technology has enabled researchers to make groundbreaking discoveries and great progress in fields ranging from physics through biology to nanomaterials. “Today’s science couldn’t be done without AFM,” says Dean of Science Pierre Wiltzius. “It’s put us on the map—it’s a true UCSB success story.” AFM has allowed researchers to study the nanoscale structure of biological materials like bone, shell, and spider silk, and to examine atoms, cell membranes, and proteins in unprecedented detail. “If you go to physics shows there are probably as many people selling AFMs as any other instrument,” Hansma says. “You see AFM images in all sorts of materials science presentations.” AFM technology is widely used in the high-tech industry for both development and quality control. “The killer apps for AFM have been imaging hard drive disc surfaces and integrated circuits,” Hansma says. AFM—a type of scanning probe microscopy—uses a minute probe to investigate the surface of a sample, taking advantage of the interactions between the probe and the sample. Many kinds of forces can be measured using AFM, including mechanical forces, chemical bonding, and capillary forces.
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Beyond Fantastic Drug delivery research at UCSB
In the 1966 science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, the principals were put in a submarine which was then shrunk to one micron in length and injected into a comatose scientistâ€™s body so that they could navigate through the body to the site of a life-threatening cerebral blood clot and destroy it. That was a fantasy approach to getting the right therapy to the place in the body itâ€™s needed, but at UC Santa Barbara, cross-disciplinary teams of researchers from materials science, chemical and mechanical engineering, biology, and chemistry are creating drug delivery technologies that do just that and moreâ€”drug delivery technologies that are more targeted, effective, and efficient, and at the same time safer and cheaper, than those in use today.
Voyage... “The goal is to save lives and save money,” says Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering. “We’re looking at how to treat the patient in the most effective way, getting the drugs to the right place in the body and making sure they remain active when they reach that site.” Mitragotri sees benefits in trying to bring the parallel paths of drug discovery and drug delivery much closer together. “They are typically considered two distinct elements,” he says. “But the sooner we can integrate them, the better.” UCSB researchers are creating nanoparticles that can detect and home in on nascent cancerous tumors, exit blood vessels and penetrate the diseased tissue, send back imaging signals to assess the extent of malignancy, and deliver a controlled payload of drugs. Erkki Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at Sanford|Burnham Medical Research Institute at UCSB, is among those pushing these multi-functional boundaries. “We can engineer nanoparticles to do many different things, and that has all sorts of advantages in developing both diagnostics and therapeutics,” he says. UCSB researchers are also knocking on the door of gene therapy, investigating altering DNA to combat major medical conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s.
His research team is also looking to improve high velocity jet injectors, another needle-free, virtually painless way of delivering liquid vaccine through the skin. For drug delivery at the cellular level, Mitragotri’s team turns to nanoscale engineering. Drugs in the bloodstream risk becoming diluted and degraded, but encapsulating them in polymeric particles enables sustained concentrations and sustained release. Mitragotri says most such particles are spherical, while cells in the body come in all sorts of shapes. “We’re making them non-spherical and studying what they can do,” he says. “We’re finding that shape has a huge impact on how they behave.” For example, the immune system cleanses some shapes more readily than others, so changing shapes may increase a drug’s circulation time and improve the prospects of reaching its target. Mitragotri’s research group recently made a major advance in this area by developing synthetic particles that closely mimic the characteristics and key functions of natural red blood cells, including softness, flexibility, and the ability to carry oxygen. The synthetic red blood cells (sRBCs) also have been shown to deliver therapeutic drugs effectively and with controlled release, and to carry well-distributed contrast agents for enhanced resolution in diagnostic imaging. Similar finely-tuned engineering lies at the heart of research being conducted in other labs at UCSB by Ruoslahti, Joe Zasadzinski, Patrick Daugherty and Craig Hawker.
Delivering the enhanced DNA across the cell membrane and into the cell nucleus has proved a stumbling block, but Mitragotri says such therapy is getting close to becoming a clinical reality. Mitragotri and his team are researching a wide range of drug delivery options: transdermal, ultrasound, jet injectors, gene therapy, nanoparticles, and engineering particle shapes. While acknowledging the convenience of pills and injections, he also identifies their weaknesses and limitations in trying to outsmart such natural biological defenses as degradation by enzymes in the stomach and cleansing by the liver—weaknesses and limitations that can be effectively addressed by engineering the delivery package. Transdermal (through the skin) drug delivery is not a new idea, but researchers in Mitragotri’s lab are refining the process by making the stratum corneum, or outermost skin layer, more porous. The objective is to temporarily make pores large enough for specific drug molecules to pass through, but not so big that bacteria or viruses can also slip past. Mitragotri says ways to achieve this include ultrasound and chemical mixtures. Finding the right formulations for a wide range of patients, however, requires screening millions of possible permutations. That prompted the development of INSIGHT, a rapid screening system using electrical conductivity to determine the best formulations “to deliver therapeutics previously administered only as injectables.”
Ruoslahti is working on early detection and treatment of cancer tumors, and on prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which is characterized by plaque building up inside arteries, obstructing blood flow, and sometimes rupturing and causing heart attacks or strokes. His latest work on targeting nanoparticles to attack plaque was recently described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper’s co-author was Matthew Tirrell, then dean of the College of Engineering, now chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Bioengineering. The plaque-targeting nanoparticles are collections of molecules that self-assemble to form a sphere called a micelle. Each micelle has a peptide, a piece of protein, on its surface which binds to the plaque, usually at the points most likely to rupture. The research paper concludes that self-assembled micelles are the best vehicles for this type of drug delivery, largely because of “the ease with which small particles, with sufficiently long circulation times … can be constructed.” Other contributors to the paper included David Peters, Venkata Ramana Kotamraju and Kunal Gujraty of Sanford|Burnham (La Jolla), and Mark Kastantin of UCSB’s Department of Chemical Engineering.
One result of this research may be to replace chemo-therapeutics which work well but have “terrible side-effects”—through better targeting, it should be possible to deliver more of those healing drugs where they’re needed but eliminate the adverse reactions. Ruoslahti sees similarities between plaque and tumors, since tumors also display subtle clotting on the inner lining of their blood vessels. Through his pioneering work using mice, he’s able to screen libraries containing billions of peptides, identifying and replicating those with specific affinity for tumor vessels.
up before reaching their target as the liver scavenges for foreign bodies in the bloodstream.
These “homing” peptides can even distinguish between the vessels of pre-malignant lesions and those of malignant tumors. This enables earlier targeted treatment, increasing drug efficacy, reducing side-effects and improving patient prognosis.
“We want a drug to accumulate in a specific tumor and not go everywhere else in the body,” he says. “We’re trying to improve the therapeutic index of drugs, getting more into diseased tissue and less into healthy tissue.”
Patrick Daugherty, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, works closely with Ruoslahti, Mitragotri and others in researching ways to refine drug delivery to very specific sites.
Daugherty’s team has developed several new technologies for isolating and engineering protein-binding ligands with this improved affinity and specificity.
Recently, his research team discovered how nanoparticles can penetrate more deeply into tissue and resist being swept
They use in vitro bacterial cell surface peptide display libraries to scan billions of molecules and identify their binding affinity for various cells, tissues and organs. It’s a process Daugherty likens to looking for a “molecular needle in a huge haystack.” One result of this research may be to replace chemotherapeutics which work well but have “terrible sideeffects”—through better targeting, it should be possible to deliver more of those healing drugs where they’re needed but eliminate the adverse reactions. While Daugherty characterizes certain cancers and vulnerable plaques as the “low-hanging fruit” for researchers, he believes the same biotechnology may help patients battling more complex autoimmune and neurological conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and perhaps multiple sclerosis (MS). His group’s present focus is on breast and ovarian cancer, but Daugherty says this method of drug delivery could be equally applicable to pancreatic cancer and to brain and bone tumors. Professor of Chemical Engineering Joe Zasadzinski, and Craig Hawker, director of the Materials Research Laboratory and professor of chemistry and materials, are doing work that dovetails with that of colleagues like Ruoslahti and Daugherty. “We provide the packaging, someone else provides the labeling,” says Zasadzinski. “And then I make it go ‘Pop!’ at the end.” Naturally, it’s a little more complicated than it sounds. Peter Allen
Erkki Ruoslahti, distinguished professor at Sanford | Burnham Medical Research Institute at UCSB, and former College of Engineering Dean Matthew Tirrell have developed lipid-based nanoparticles that form micelles with peptides on the surface that can attack the surface of plaque, a major cause of cardiovascular disease. The micelle preferentially targets the places in the plaques that are prone to rupture.
Researching lipid-based drug carriers, Zasadzinski and his team—including post-doc Guohui Wu and graduate students Ben Wong and Tallie Forbes—needed to extend the life of the lipid membrane which is attacked by enzymes in the bloodstream, causing it to leak and lose cargo in as little as 15 minutes. Their solution is the equivalent of double-bagging groceries at the store: wrapping the drugs inside a tiny balloon and placing that inside a second slightly larger balloon. Zasadzinski says enzymes can chew a hole in the outer balloon large enough for small molecules of drugs to escape. For the enzyme to make a hole big enough for it to
pass through and then start attacking the interior balloon, however, can take up to 24 hours. After evading the body’s defense mechanisms and reaching the optimum delivery location, Zasadzinski’s researchers have come up with a unique method of releasing the drug payload. They use bio-compatible gold particles which absorb specific wavelengths of laser light, heating up sufficiently to boil minute quantities of water and expand a vapor bubble, rupturing the lipid membrane … the “pop” Zasadzinski talks about. Hawker and his research team are developing a three-stage nanoparticle package: detecting and diagnosing disease, and delivering the appropriate therapy. “We work in an extremely collaborative environment,” says Hawker. “You have to have very diverse teams, and one of the great things about UCSB is that, although it’s not a medical university, a lot of the components for medical research are already here.” Hawker, focusing on cardiovascular disease, says his team constructs a nano-vehicle with the homing peptides on the outside. Inside they tuck away a diagnostic unit for later scanning, usually by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, plus the therapeutic payload.
thereby smoothing out the peaks (hyperglycemia) and troughs (hypoglycemia) in blood sugar which typically plague diabetics. Doyle says the device will eventually be tailored for individual patients, taking into account changeable elements like exercise and stress, and creating a fully automated system working without any outside intervention. Clinical trials started in Israel last year; Doyle and his team are now waiting for the FDA to green light U. S. testing. The team, including senior investigator Eyal Dassau, Matt Percival, Benyamin Grosman, Rebecca Harvey and Youqing Wang, have been working with doctors Lois Jovanovic and Howard Zisser at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara. Links: Samir Mitragotri drugdelivery.engr.ucsb.edu Frank Doyle thedoylegroup.org Erkki Ruoslahti lifesci.ucsb.edu/mcdb/labs/ruoslahti Patrick Daugherty www.chemengr.ucsb.edu/~ceweb/faculty/daugherty
Both imaging techniques deliver enhanced 3-D pictures of the body showing where the targeted nanoparticles have bound to the diseased tissue, what stage the disease has reached, and thus where and how much treatment the patient requires.
Joseph Zasadzinski www.chemengr.ucsb.edu/~ceweb/ce/people/ faculty/zasadzinski Craig Hawker www.mrl.ucsb.edu/hawker
Attaching the targeting peptides to a specifically-designed nanoparticle, effectively changing its shape, size and surface chemistry, makes it more difficult for the liver and kidneys to recognize and expel. This added stealth crucially prolongs circulation in the bloodstream, giving the nanoparticle more time to find and latch onto its target.
Fantastic Voyage imdb.com/title/tt0060397 Technology Review coverage of Mitragotri’s sRBCs www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/24219/?a=f
Hawker says it’s possible to fine-tune this process for between one and 48 hours, allowing enough time to screen suspect patients. The bottom line, he says, is to catch the disease as early as possible and treat it before it spreads or becomes more life-threatening. Frank Doyle, professor of chemical engineering, focuses on controlled drug delivery for one very specific medical issue: improved insulin dosing for Type 1 diabetes. Doyle and his research group are developing an artificial pancreas system (APS) which will automatically maintain desired blood sugar levels without patient involvement, monitoring and adjusting those levels by administering insulin.
Type 1 diabetes most often initially affects children and young adults, who then have to manage the condition for the rest of their lives. Among juveniles especially, says Doyle, compliance is not always 100 percent, and mistakes can be made, sometimes with serious consequences. The artificial pancreas software Doyle’s group has developed, combined with a continuous blood glucose monitor and an insulin delivery pump, provides an extra level of care and eases the burden on patients.
Professor Craig Hawker and his research team, including Matt Kade (left), are exploring the use of nanoparticles to detect, diagnose, and treat diseases.
The artificial pancreas system will use wireless signals to take readings and make adjustments almost continuously,
From Ivory Tower to Marketplace
s a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, Victoria Broje came up with a better way of sopping up oil spilled on water. Skimmers outfitted with rotating drums are often used to collect floating oil, which sticks to the surface of the drums and is then scraped off into tanks. By adding grooves to the drum surfaces, Broje made them much more efficient at picking up oil. It was an idea that could make a real difference in the world, but only if Broje’s technology rolled off campus and out onto oceans and lakes threatened by oil spills. Broje contacted the university’s technology transfer staff, “whose job it is to take the technology developed in the university and actually find customers in the real world,” she says. Their work paid off when the largest manufacturer of oil spill recovery equipment in the country, Illinois-based Elastec/ American Marine, licensed Broje’s drum design in 2006. Dozens of oil skimmers using her technology have been sold in more than 20 countries, according to Elastec CEO Donnie Wilson, and they’re also used in industrial applications and in food processing. The improved design “has been quite successful,” he says. Chalk up another success for the university’s technology transfer program, which links inventions made at UCSB with companies that may be interested in developing products based on them. “We get really excited whenever we have a product or a technology that’s meeting an unmet need, solving a problem that the market doesn’t have a solution for, or is a big improvement over what’s already available,” says Sherylle Mills Englander, director of the Office of Technology & Industry Alliances (TIA), which includes the technology transfer program.
Although the university receives income when a company like Elastec licenses technology developed on campus, and from sales of products that use the technology, “we’re not doing it for financial gain,” Mills Englander says, but rather for the public good. Only one in 400 technologies licensed out of UC—which by the end of the 2008 fiscal year had a system-wide portfolio of nearly 9,000 inventions—has earned more than $1 million, she adds. During 2008, 75 percent of the total system-wide revenue from royalties and licensing fees came from the 25 top-earning UC inventions. UCSB boasts one entry in that list: the laser/water atomic microscope, disclosed in 1989, which generated nearly $1.2 million in revenues during the 2008 fiscal year. “If an invention hits, it can hit very big,” Mills Englander says, “but statistically that’s very unlikely.” UCSB earned nearly $6 million in licensing fees and royalties in the 2008 fiscal year, and 103 new inventions were disclosed, bringing the campus’ portfolio to a total of 611 inventions. UCSB held 316 U.S. patents as of the end of the 2008 fiscal year. “We’re doing much better than I expected, given the catastrophic level of the economic meltdown,” Mills Englander says. “Now our deal pipeline is starting to warm up a bit.” UCSB currently has several hundred technologies on offer for licensing, and the TIA website includes a searchable database of available innovations. They include a cheap way of detecting melamine, which in 2007 killed scores of pets that ate imported pet food tainted with the toxic chemical; a new moisture-resistant adhesive that could be used to close wounds; and a way of detecting smuggled uranium and plutonium. Mills Englander and her colleagues seek out marketable technology and ideas by attending campus events, monitoring press releases, networking with campus administrators, and “we’re not averse to knocking on the door of a researcher we think is doing something very interesting,” she says. Most leads, however, come from the faculty members themselves, Mills Englander explains. At UCSB, faculty are “very willing to work with us—to become partners, not just passive creators.” The TIA staff members take the lead in assessing the potential of a researcher’s work—checking that it’s novel and useful—and in filing for a patent. “All I had to do was review the patent application a couple of times for technical accuracy,” says Broje, who now works for Shell Projects and Technology as a Spill Response Specialist. “It was a very comfortable process.” To find markets for technology developed at UCSB, Mills Englander and her colleagues monitor industry trends and needs and reach out to companies that might be interested in the research coming out of UCSB.
We’re not solely maximizing our profit. We’re looking for companies in the best situation to successfully create a product and get the product into the marketplace. Elastec
Again, money isn’t everything, Mills Englander says. “We’re not solely maximizing our profit. We’re looking for companies in the best situation to successfully create a product and get the product into the marketplace.” “TIA is a good group to work with,” Wilson says. They also try to build strong alliances with licensees so that the companies might buy more technology from UCSB, or support the university in other ways, such as sponsoring research. Wilson says that since licensing Broje’s technology, he’s talked to a number of other UCSB researchers and is now advising a group working on ways of capturing plastic debris floating in the ocean. The UCSB Corporate Affiliates program helps foster longterm relationships between companies and the campus, says Leslie Edwards, director of corporate development, by making connections with companies whose focus and philosophy fits well with UCSB.
Last year Corporate Affiliates staff visited more than 50 companies–nearly all in California–and arranged 27 “research visits” at which industry representatives spent a day listening to presentations by UCSB faculty members about research on campus. Generally, about a third of such overtures lead to continuing relationships, Edwards says. The university currently has about 40 corporate affiliates, including Pfizer and Northrop Grumman. Roughly one in every five companies that licenses technology from UCSB goes on to support other research at the university, Mills Englander says, and these collaborations offer benefits beyond funding. As an example, before Elastec bought the rights to Broje’s technology, the company provided her with a skimmer to experiment with, and helped her conduct large-scale tests of her drum design. The collaboration aided her research, Broje says, and the resulting patent looks good on her curriculum vitae and on her wall.
Links: UCSB Office of Technology & Industry Alliances: Technology transfer program research.ucsb.edu/tech_transfer UCSB Engineering and the Sciences Corporate Affiliates Program industry.ucsb.edu/cap Victoria Broje’s drum skimmer technology for cleaning up oil spills, which she developed as a doctoral student at UCSB, was licensed to Elastec/American Marine, which helped her test her design.
Find the answer on the inside back cover. 22
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News and Events from Engineering and the Sciences at UC Santa Barbara
Astrophysicists’ explosive prediction comes true Predictions made by theoretical physicists at UC Santa Barbara appear to have been borne out by observations of a new kind of supernova.
more common Type Ia supernova, hence the name given to these hypothetical supernovae: Type .Ia. Now, thanks to what Bildsten terms Poznanski’s “keen eye,” these less luminous supernovae have moved from the realm of the theoretical to the real. “Observers are usually ahead of theory,” Bildsten said, “so I am really happy that we were able to make a prediction that allowed for a rapid interpretation of a new phenomenon.” Links: Lars Bildsten www.itp.ucsb.edu/~bildsten/ Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics www.kitp.ucsb.edu
Calculations by Lars Bildsten, a professor at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and colleagues predicted a new class of exploding star—a supernova much fainter and more fleeting than most. They published the theory in 2007 in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, and “as we have talked about our work over the last years,” Bildsten says, “most astronomers in the audience reminded us that they had never seen such an event.” “We told them to keep looking,” he says. That advice paid off when UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Dovi Poznanski and others realized the significance of an unusual supernova observed in 2002. In a paper published online Nov. 5 in Science, the Berkeley scientists say it seems to be the kind of stellar explosion hypothesized by Bildsten and his colleagues. Supernovae typically happen when a massive star collapses, or when a white dwarf—a small, dense star—accumulates so much material from a nearby star that it explodes. A supernova can burn brighter than an entire galaxy before slowly fading over weeks or months. Bildsten theorized that another kind of supernova could occur when two white dwarfs orbit each other so closely that the more massive star pulls helium from its neighbor. The helium would explode in a supernova that burns only a tenth as brightly for a tenth of the time of a
Surrealism can enhance learning The surrealism in Franz Kafka’s writing and David Lynch’s films might feel like it messes with your head, but it could help you learn, according to a UCSB psychologist. As the brain tries to make sense of the nonsensical or unexpected, it seems to look “for some other kind of structure within your environment,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB. In a paper published in the journal Psychological Science in September, Proulx and colleagues from the University of British Columbia say a shot of surrealism seems to enhance the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning. The psychologists told participants in a research study to read Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” then asked them to decipher the patterns in strings of letters. Those research subjects did better in this artificial grammar test than people who read an adulterated version of Kafka’s work in which the plot and literary elements made sense.
“That feeling of discomfort may come from a surreal story, or from contemplating their own contradictory behaviors, but either way, people want to get rid of it,” Proulx said, “so they’re motivated to learn new patterns.” However “it’s important to note that sitting down with a Kafka story before exam time probably wouldn’t boost your performance on a test,” he added. “What is critical here is that our participants were not expecting to encounter this bizarre story,” Proulx continued. “If you expect that you’ll encounter something strange or out of the ordinary, you won’t experience the same sense of alienation. You may be disturbed by it, but you won’t show the same learning ability.” Link: Travis Proulx psych.ucsb.edu/~major/lab/t_proulx. html Green mussels’ secret may lead to new adhesives Green mussels—tenacious invaders from the Asia-Pacific region that have taken hold in waters around the world—could inspire a new kind of adhesive based on their sticky feet. Scientists have already developed adhesives and coatings inspired by other mussel species, but green mussels use a different kind of adhesive to stick to their surroundings—and they do it well, forming bulging colonies on buoys and boats, and blocking pipes.
The people whose brains had to grapple with the real—surreal—Kafka “were surprised by the series of unexpected events, and they had no way to make sense of them,” Proulx said, “hence, they strived to make sense of something else.” The researchers observed the same learning boost after asking research subjects to ponder how their past actions were often contradictory.
“Once they get a foothold, they stay,” said J. Herbert Waite, a professor in UCSB’s Marine Science Institute.
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The chemistry of the sticky substance exuded by green mussels is more complicated than the adhesive of any of the other mussel species that have been studied, and Waite and colleagues at UCSB and in Singapore spent six years getting to grips with it. Other mussels have adhesives that contain an amino acid called Dopa—the same substance used to treat Parkinson’s disease—but the green mussel’s stickiness relies on an elaborate modification of the amino acid tryptophan. Adhesives based on that chemistry could be used to join wet surfaces such as teeth and bones, and to repair ships’ hulls without having to haul them out of the water. Link: J. Herbert Waite www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/mcdb/labs/ waite Major advance in organic photocells UCSB scientists have made a major advance in the synthesis of polymers that could be used to make a new generation of flexible solar arrays.
at the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids, developed a new production method that cuts in half the time it takes to produce organic polymers that can be used to make solar cells. The polymer components synthesized using this new method conduct solar energy more efficiently than polymers produced by conventional means. “We plan to take advantage of this approach to generate new materials that will increase solar cell efficiencies and operational lifetimes,” Bazan said. The work, published late last year in the journal Nature Chemistry, will “greatly accelerate” efforts to build better solar arrays, he added. Michael McGehee, director of Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Molecular Photovoltaics, lauded Bazan’s work as “a real breakthrough” that should make it easier for researchers to figure out the best kinds of polymer components for solar cells, and “will ultimately reduce the manufacturing cost.” Links: Center for Polymers and Organic Solids www.ipos.ucsb.edu/ Guillermo Bazan www.chem.ucsb.edu/~bazangroup
Guillermo Bazan, a professor of chemistry and of materials, together with a team of postgraduate researchers
Collaboration will focus on nanomedicine The UC Santa BarbaraSanford|Burnham Center for Nanomedicine has been established at UCSB to explore new technologies that could revolutionize medicine and healthcare. The center, headed by noted biomedical researcher Jamey Marth, is a collaboration between UCSB and Sanford|Burnham Medical Research Institute, based in La Jolla. Researchers at the new center will work on new kinds of biosensors, medical devices, drug delivery methods, and instruments for advanced biomedical research. “The impact of this new field of science, termed nanomedicine, on medicine and life sciences will be hugely transformative—comparable in magnitude to the transition from discrete transistors to silicon integrated circuits in the computer sciences,” Marth said. The partnership with Sanford|Burnham capitalizes on UCSB’s strengths in bioengineering, chemical and computational engineering, materials science, nanotechnology, and physics. “This unique partnership allows for a new and timely approach to biomedical research,” Marth said, “that builds on the complementary strengths of UCSB and Sanford|Burnham Medical Research Institute.” Marth added that he’s looking forward to “building further bridges between the talented scientists at these institutions and to promoting our joint efforts to develop new nanotechnologies for disease diagnosis, prevention, therapy and cures—an initiative that will require the expertise of engineers, physicists and materials scientists working in close collaboration with biologists, geneticists, and pharmacologists.” Links: Sanford|Burnham Institute www.burnham.org
Jamey Marth at Sanford|Burnham www.burnham.org/default. asp?contentID=864
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DoD funds cancer research at UCSB Sanford|Burnham researcher Erkki Ruoslahti’s work at UCSB on ways of detecting and treating breast cancer will benefit from $2.8 million in funding from the Department of Defense. Ruoslahti, a professor in the new Sanford|Burnham Medical Research Institute at UCSB, is using nanoparticles
continued. “We believe that nanotechnology-based engineering solutions can provide the needed changes to drastically improve the cure rates.” Links: Erkki Ruoslahti www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/mcdb/faculty/ ruoslahti Sanford|Burnham Medical Research Institute www.burnham.org UCSB in trans-Pacific partnership to develop “green electronics” UCSB researchers are partnering with scientists in Singapore to develop “green electronics.” UCSB’s part in the collaboration will be led by Kaustav Banerjee, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and an affiliated faculty member of the Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE).
to develop new diagnostic tools that are more sensitive than conventional methods of detecting breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the United States. Ruoslahti and his team hope these techniques will enable the disease to be detected earlier, and decrease the number of women who undergo unnecessary procedures. Diagnostic tests based on nanoparticles will also provide information on the molecular nature of tumors—offering invaluable clues to how they can most effectively be treated. Because nanoparticles can be engineered to perform many functions, Ruoslahti also is working on ways of using them to deliver therapies directly to breast cancer tumors. “Targeting can concentrate the therapeutic agent in the tumor, improving the efficacy of the treatment and reducing damage to healthy tissues,” Ruoslahti said.
Banerjee and researchers in his Nanoelectronics Research Lab (part of IEE’s Electronics & Photonics Solutions Group) are working with scientists at Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics to develop ultra-efficient nanoscale transistors—known as “sub-kT/q” devices—and explore their functionality. These extremely energy-efficient devices have great potential as components in portable electronic devices, in which increases in energy efficiency boost battery life, Banerjee says. The collaboration will focus on developing devices that switch from the “on” to “off ” state almost instantly. “We will be exploring new materials, transistor structures, fabrication techniques, circuits, and architectures,” said Navab Singh of Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics. Links: Institute for Energy Efficiency iee.ucsb.edu/ Kaustav Banerjee nrl.ece.ucsb.edu/people/Banerjee
“We envision that the cure for breast cancer can be achieved by strategically integrating early detection with synergistic therapies,” Ruoslahti
UCSB adds to Winter Olympics A UCSB professor of art and of media arts was part of the Winter Olympics, but it wasn’t George Legrady’s athletic ability that earning him a place in Vancouver—it was his digital art installation: “We Are Stardust!” The piece was one of 40 installations in CODE Live, an 18-day event that featured visual art, music, and performances fueled by digital technology and audience involvement. Legrady’s work—a two-screen projection installation—maps more than 35,000 scientific observations made between 2003 and 2008 by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope as it orbited the Earth. While the telescope’s path is replayed in the installation, a heat-sensing camera tracks visitors, superimposing images on data from the telescope. The other screen in the installation portrays the birth of the universe and the sequence of the telescope’s observations over a five-hour period. “The intent of the project is to consider our relationship to both local and deep space,” Legrady says, “and how we conceptualize and situate ourselves in relation to such spaces.” “We Are Stardust” was originally commissioned by the Art Center College of Design and NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech, both located in Pasadena. Engineering for the project was the responsibility of Javier Villegas, a doctoral student in media arts and technology at UCSB. Link: George Legrady www.mat.ucsb.edu/~g.legrady
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Nakamura awarded Harvey Prize Lighting pioneer Shuji Nakamura, professor of materials at UCSB and co-director of the university’s Solid State Lighting and Energy Center, has been honored with the 2009 Harvey Prize for advancements in science and technology. Nakamura was one of two winners awarded the prize by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He received the honor, which includes a $75,000 stipend, at a ceremony in Israel in February. Nakamura developed the white lightemitting diode (LED)—an energyefficient successor to the conventional incandescent light bulb—as well as blue and green LEDs, and the blue laser, which is the basis for BluRay® discs and high-density optical data storage. The Harvey Prize was established in 1972. According to Technion, 13 winners have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize—including David Gross, director of UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. Links: Shuji Nakamura www.materials.ucsb.edu/recruitment/ Faculty/nakamura/nakamura.php Solid State Lighting and Energy Center sslec.ucsb.edu Treu honored by AAS UCSB’s Tommaso Treu has been honored by the American Astronomical Society for his research on the formation and evolution of galaxies, groups and clusters, including the co-evolution of stars, dark matter, and black holes. Treu, an associate professor of physics, received the 2010 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy, awarded annually for outstanding observational astronomical research by a researcher under the age of 36. “This prize recognizes the outstanding discoveries Tommaso has already made early in his career, and the impact they have had in the field of astronomy,” said Michael Witherell, vice chancellor for research at UCSB.
Treu, who came to UCSB in 2004, said he was “surprised and honored” to receive the prize, which includes a cash award. Treu’s previous honors include the 2008-2009 Harold J. Plous Award, one of UCSB’s most prestigious faculty honors—given to an assistant professor for outstanding research, teaching, and service to the university. Link: Tommaso Treu www.physics.ucsb.edu/~tt/TT_home Auston appointed to Center for Energy Efficient Materials David Auston has been appointed associate director of the Center for Energy Efficient Materials (CEEM) at UCSB, giving him responsibility for the center’s strategic plan, for managing its research activities and programs, and for working with the Department of Energy, which funds the center—part of UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE). Auston “brings to the center deep experience and knowledge both in the science on which we’re focused and in institutional administration,” said John Bowers, director both of the CEEM and the IEE. “He is a major asset for the center.” Auston, who as a scientist helped establish the field of ultrafast optoelectronics, most recently served as the first president of the Kavli Foundation, which supports basic scientific research through an international program of research institutes—including UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics—prizes, symposia, and endowed professorships in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics. Auston earlier worked at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories (now Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs), before joining the faculty of Columbia University, where he was chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering and then dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. After Columbia he moved to Rice University, where he served as provost and held an endowed chair in electrical and computer engineering, and then to Case Western Reserve University as its president.
He obtained his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Auston was awarded the R.W. Wood prize of the Optical Society of America and the Quantum Electronics and Morris E. Leeds awards of the IEEE. Link: Center for Energy Efficient Materials iee.ucsb.edu/ceem Written and reported by Convergence staff, and writers from the Office of Public Affairs.
More than Meets the Eye...
continued from page 15
Hansma and colleagues at UCSB have used AFM to study the glue that binds together layers of abalone shells, making them remarkably resistant to fracture, and to investigate the structure of spider silk—a material that’s incredibly strong, yet elastic. In addition to research investigating the origins of toughness in these biological composites, the AFM also played a critical role in early studies aimed at understanding the mechanisms by which these materials were formed. In these studies the AFM was used to investigate in real time how abalone shell proteins interact at the atomic level with growing crystals of calcium carbonate, ultimately modifying their crystal structure and macroscopic morphology.
One of the advantages of AFM over other microscopy technologies is that samples can be non-destructively imaged under natural conditions—in air, or in liquids that mimic their natural surroundings—and without having to freeze, coat, or otherwise treat them.
Hansma and other UCSB researchers, including Daniel Morse and Galen Stucky, found a biopolymer in bone that acts like glue, holding together strands of mineralized collagen fibrils. This glue contains bonds that can uncoil or break and then reform, helping bone absorb stress without fracturing. This is the same kind of shock-absorbing substance the scientists earlier found in abalone shell.
They have also used AFM to examine the molecular structure of human bone, gaining important insights into “the origins of bone fracture resistance, and what goes wrong when bones become more easily fractured from age and disease,” Hansma says.
The discovery has not only helped scientists understand the remarkable mechanical properties of bone, it’s helping researchers create new self-healing, shock-resistant materials. Hansma and his colleagues are also using the insights from their AFM studies of bone to develop diagnostic instruments to assess bone health in living patients. Hansma’s hope when he first began working on AFM was that it would have biomedical applications. Although AFM isn’t yet used in clinical applications, “there’s been progress in understanding human diseases, and the biomedical applications continue to grow,” Hansma says. Link: Paul Hansma hansmalab.physics.ucsb.edu Bone glue discovery hansmalab.physics.ucsb.edu/boneglue.html
“Our theory is that the “glue” we found in bone is very important,” Hansma says. “It prevents the separation of the mineralized collagen fibers”—the beginning of a fracture.
Bone (upper), in this case a section though the trabecular, or “spongy” bone of a human vertebra, is composed of mineralized collagen fibrils. AFM has played a critical role in understand the nanoscale architecture of this material (middle), revealing both the individual banded collagen fibrils (boxed region), the inorganic mineral platelets, and the non-collagenous protein glue that binds the fibrils to one another. A schematic view of these components in shown in the bottom image.
Extinction... continued from page 4 Researchers measured numerous threats caused by human activity including pollution from land and ships, the introduction of alien species, destructive fishing practices, oil and gas exploration, and the changing climate. Despite that daunting list, Halpern remains optimistic. “Oceans are remarkably resilient, and we know they can recover if given the chance. If we can reduce other stresses, we can make the ocean more capable of dealing with climate change.”
“A century ago people thought it was impossible to overfish a species,” Selkoe says. “We’re now close to overfishing more than one-third of the world’s fisheries. We’re on the cusp of causing irreparable loss,” she cautions.
Halpern says while dozens of species have become extinct locally, perhaps only 20 to 30 marine species are known to have been completely lost during human history. Now he hopes this new tool for mapping, measuring and managing the ocean can help avoid further losses.
Marc Cadotte www.nceas.ucsb.edu/~cadotte
Links: Bradley Cardinale www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/eemb/labs/cardinale
Steve Gaines www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/eemb/faculty/gaines
The model has already been used to study the California Current, which runs the length of the West Coast, and coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Right now Halpern’s focus is off Massachusetts, with similar research off New York next. NCEAS researcher Kim Selkoe was co-author of a report by an international team of ecologists and economists showing how loss of biodiversity is “profoundly reducing” the ocean’s ability to remain healthy and productive. Selkoe says this trend is threatening services the ocean provides to mankind—everything from seafood, tourism, and recreational and cultural activities, to the absorption of our waste.
Jonathan Levine www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/eemb/faculty/levine/index.html Todd Oakley www.lifesci.ucsb.edu/eemb/labs/oakley Ben Halpern www.nceas.ucsb.edu/sabbaticals#halpern Kim Selkoe www.nceas.ucsb.edu/sabbaticals#selkoe International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources www.iucnredlist.org
To assess the effects of marine degradation, researchers examined 50 years of catch data from different parts of the world. It showed that the greater the biodiversity, the more stable and productive the fisheries. Using sediment cores, archival records and other data covering the past 1,000 years, they also studied lost biodiversity, such as fish and waterfowl, in wetlands and estuaries of more than a dozen areas around the world.
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UCSB scientists have developed a revolutionary new, biologically inspired method for the low temperature synthesis of semiconductors that can address the need for new materials that will radically transform the efficiencies of energy harnessing, transduction, storage and delivery. They have developed a novel composite consisting of nanoparticles of tin uniformly dispersed throughout the compliant and conductive matrix of graphite microparticles. The result is a high-performance anode for lithium ion batteries with 30% higher electrical capacity (on a weight-basis; 50% higher capacity on a volume basis) and 10-fold higher power density than the currently used commercial anode of graphite alone, and with rock-solid stability, making it uniquely attractive for hybrid- and all-electric vehicles. The UCSB team grows the tin nanoparticles catalytically, inside the pores of the graphite, thus achieving a more intimate marriage of the two materials, while retaining the valuable high crystallinity and porosity of the graphite (a fragile material, quickly destroyed by grinding). The big advantage of this new composite, aside from its higher electrical capacity and high power (suitable for electric vehicles), is its excellent stability during multiple cycles of battery charging and discharging. The UCSB team’s unique, kinetically controlled synthesis method is the key. Conventional processes used by industry today simply cannot make materials with the properties described above. CREDIT: Zhang, H.-L. and D.E. Morse. 2009. Vapor-diffusion catalysis and in situ carbothermal reduction yields high performance Sn@C anode materials for lithium ion batteries. J. Mater. Chem. 19: 9006 – 9011.
Editor’s Note. Often attributed to the ancient Chinese, the phrase “May you live in interesting times…” could be considered both a blessing and a curse. It comes readily to mind when considering the current University of California environment. We have more exciting research going on, with more potential societal benefit, than at any time in our history. (This ensures that, among other things, Convergence will not lack for content…) At the same time, we’ve seen unprecedented cuts in the University’s budget. Those cuts have broadly impacted faculty, staff, and students at the university. Because much of our research is extramurally funded, the budget cuts haven’t yet significantly slowed our research pace—but they will, as the effects of the cuts begin to affect faculty and student recruitment and retention, which will in turn take their toll of our research programs. The university needs your support. Please contact the governor and your state legislators and let them know that cuts in the university’s budget are penny wise and pound foolish—over time, they’ll degrade the engine that drives the state’s economy. Convergence, like virtually every other support and outreach effort at UCSB, is feeling the effects of those cuts, with the result that we’re decreasing print frequency and putting more effort into our web content. We’re also looking at electronic delivery options. These changes are consonant with what’s happening throughout the media world, and we were headed in this direction before the budget crunch—it simply accelerated the timetable. To make those changes in ways that best meet your needs and desires, we need your input. Please participate in our readership surveys, either online or (later) via mail. To participate online, please go to Convergence.UCSB.edu/survey. Thank you. TR
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