UCI Magazine, Fall 2022 - For the Greater Good

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Fall 2022

MAGAZINE

For the Greater Good


Right at Home – on Campus The new Verano 8 graduate student housing complex, with five residential towers, 1,055 beds and a community center, is ready to welcome Anteaters this fall. “Having a safe and comfortable home is essential to student success,” says Gillian Hayes, dean of UCI’s Graduate Division. “We are proud to be the only UC campus that’s able to have enough housing to guarantee access for all our Ph.D. and M.F.A. students for their expected time to degree.”


Steve Zylius / UCI


Contents

Fall 2022 Vol. 7, No. 3

For the Greater Good

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The Great Equalizer: UCI Institute for Precision Health heralds

Urban Dwelling: The School of Social

a “new era in healthcare”

Ecology’s Livable Cities Lab studies affordable housing, public safety and social enterprise innovations to improve city life

D E P A R T M E N T S FLAS H BACK

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PRISM

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SPOT L IGHT

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S PEC T RUM

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About This Issue: In this edition of UCI Magazine, we explore how the university’s work reaches off campus, impacting society and

improving lives “for the greater good.” The cover story, “The Great Equalizer” (page 16) explains how UCI’s new Institute for Precision Health is aiming to put additional health information – and decision making – in patients’ hands while striving for more advanced and equitable healthcare delivery. “Urban Dwelling” (page 24) features social ecology professors partnering with local stakeholders to make cities more livable through efforts such as affordable housing expansion. Finally, “A Salivating Prospect” (page 30) showcases how UCI’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research, one of the only labs of its kind in the world, is analyzing how the fluid enlightens us about the human body, while in “Exploring Vast Galaxies” (page 36), School of Physical Sciences Dean James Bullock shares how a recently launched telescope is creating new photos – and knowledge – of the great beyond.

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36 30 A Salivating Prospect: Participants at UCI’s Spit Camp get hands-on experience collecting biospecimens and learning how “the diagnostic fluid of the future” provides a window into the body

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R E FLECTIONS

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A NT OURAGE

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Exploring Vast Galaxies: Three questions with UCI astrophysicist James Bullock, recent chair of the James Webb Space Telescope Users Committee

PA RT ING ZOT !

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Letter From the Chancellor UCI is a public research university, created by the people of this great state to serve the people of this great state. This may seem obvious, but it is worth emphasizing because those words truly define the campus and its mission. This university is many things – a beacon for students preparing for productive and rewarding lives, a home for scholars devoted to the preservation and creation of knowledge, a hub of culture where the arts illumine and engage, an engine of discovery and innovation that improves lives, an economic force in the community – but all of them reflect one overarching task: to serve the greater good. We actively explore areas on the frontiers of knowledge where we have unique opportunities to make especially important and impactful contributions. This issue of UCI Magazine explores examples of this campuswide spirit of innovation and creativity, of our actively seeking solutions to great problems. It’s in our DNA. After all, where would we be – and where would the rest of the world be – if our own Nobel Prize winner Sherry Rowland hadn’t saved the ozone layer? Some of the most important innovations in human health are being made possible through the convergence of research across the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, information and computer sciences, and the social and behavioral sciences. The Institute for Precision Health and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research are at the cutting edge of the future of medicine and health promotion. The work being done in these two units holds extraordinary promise for expanding the ability of health professionals to more effectively treat their patients. The Livable Cities Lab exemplifies the motto of the School of Social Ecology – “science driving solutions.” Its research is focused on addressing urban problems such as housing and public safety, and its solutions are scalable, applicable to towns and cities across our nation and, indeed, around the world. I hope you enjoy reading about how our faculty and students are striving to increase the world’s knowledge and use it for the benefit of society – serving the greater good. Fiat Lux, Howard Gillman UCI Chancellor

UCI Magazine Vol. 7, No. 3 Produced by the University of California, Irvine Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Chancellor Howard Gillman Vice Chancellor, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Sherry L.K. Main Senior Director, Communications & Media Relations Tom Vasich Managing Editor Marina Dundjerski Design Vince Rini Design Visuals Steve Chang and Steve Zylius Copy Editor Kymberly Doucette Editorial Advisory Committee Jennie Brewton, Mandi Gonzales, Stacey King (athletics), Will Nagel, Brian O’Dea (health) and Janna Parris (alumni/advancement) Contributing Writers Victoria Clayton, Greg Hardesty, Cathy Lawhon, Amy Paturel, Kristin Baird Rattini, Roy Rivenburg and Jim Washburn UCI Magazine is a publication for faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents, community members and UCI supporters. Issues are published in winter, spring and fall. Subscriptions Print: For address changes, email ucimagazine@uci.edu Electronic: To receive the e-version, email campusupdates@uci.edu UCI Magazine is printed with soy-based inks on a recycled paper stock certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Please recycle. UCI Magazine UCI Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs 120 Theory, Ste. 100 Irvine, CA 92697-5615 949-824-6922 • ucimagazine@uci.edu communications.uci.edu/magazine

Together, we can create a Brilliant Future. Through the generosity of alumni, parents and friends – like you – we are transforming healthcare and wellness, advancing the American dream, accelerating world-changing research, and exploring the human experience. Ways to Get Involved Make a gift online: https://secure.give.uci.edu By phone: 949-824-0142 By mail: UCI Giving, 100 Theory, Ste. 250, Irvine, CA 92617 Explore alumni opportunities: engage.alumni.uci.edu

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We Want to Hear From You To submit a letter via email, send to: ucimagazine@uci.edu To submit a letter via U.S. mail, send to: Letters to the Editor / UCI Magazine UCI Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs 120 Theory, Ste. 100 Irvine, CA 92697-5615


F L A S H B A C K

es ck Rein Frederi

F. Sherwoo d “Sherry”

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Rowland (le ft) and Mar io J. Molina

UCI Libraries ’

Special Colle ctions & Ar chives

A Nobel Day

t seemed like an ordinary morning until news broke on Oct. 11, 1995, that vaulted UCI to international prominence. Word came that Professor Frederick Reines had won the Nobel Prize in physics (along with Martin Perl of Stanford University), while Professor F. Sherwood “Sherry” Rowland would share the Nobel Prize in chemistry with former postdoc Mario J. Molina (and Dutch researcher Paul Crutzen). Reines was honored for his discovery of the neutrino, an elusive particle that’s one of nature’s smallest building blocks. The chemistry award recognized the groundbreaking – yet controversially received – finding that chlorofluorocarbons were destroying atmospheric ozone. Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening described it as the greatest day for UCI since its founding, and the next day, huge blue-and-gold banners were draped from the Physical Sciences I and II buildings proclaiming the prizes. It was the first time a public university had received Nobels in two fields in one year.

To read the personal reflections of UCI’s latest Nobel recipient, alumnus David MacMillan, Ph.D. ’96, who won the prize in chemistry in October 2021, see page 40.

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News

P R I S M

Transforming Lives A $20 million naming gift from Joe C. Wen and his family will help support the new outpatient clinical facility at the UCI Health – Irvine medical complex, bringing specialty clinical expertise closer to coastal and south Orange County residents. The five-story, 168,000-square-foot outpatient facility on Jamboree Road, which is expected to open in 2023 as the Joe C. Wen & Family Center for Advanced Care, will offer adult and pediatric specialty care, urgent care, digestive health, neuroscience, and comprehensive laboratory and radiology imaging services all under one roof. “UCI

Health transforms lives every day thanks to its leading-edge academic research, advanced medical facilities, and – most importantly – passionate and top-notch medical professionals,” said Wen, founder and CEO of Sakura Paper Inc., a division of Formosa Ltd. “There’s no doubt that the new medical center in Irvine will have a tremendously positive impact on the community. My family members and I are honored and humbled to be able to help.” This is the largest gift to UCI Health by a donor under age 50 and is among the largest-ever gifts to UCI.

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“Over the last year, campaigns to ban books have erupted throughout school districts and local libraries across the country. The American Library Association, which tracks challenges to library books or resources since 1990, previously documented roughly 300 to 350 complaints annually, with most challenges targeting a single title each. But in 2021 alone, the association noted 729 complaints against 1,597 different books.” Erika Hayasaki, UCI associate professor of English The New York Times Sept. 8, 2022

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Expanding Jewish Studies UCI has received a $4 million matching pledge from Susan and Henry Samueli, longtime campus supporters, for gifts to UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies. The donation – the largest one ever in support of Jewish studies at UCI – positions the university as a leader in the field. Launched in 2017 and administered by the School of Humanities, UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies is a campus and community hub for the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Jewish and Israeli culture and society. It’s led by historian Matthias Lehmann, who holds the Teller Family Chair in Jewish History. The School of Humanities’ first endowed chair – funded in 1991 – established Jewish studies as a permanent part of UCI’s curriculum. “Expanding Jewish studies on campus falls under

a campuswide priority of ‘growth that makes a difference,’ facilitating interdisciplinary, problem-based scholarship and teaching,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Susan and Henry Samueli’s deep generosity will catalyze community support for Jewish studies at UCI and help UCI become a model for tolerance and appreciation of cultural and religious pluralism.” Gifts to UCI’s Center for Jewish Studies will help accomplish several goals: increasing programming to support K-12 educators teaching about the Holocaust; funding two more endowed chairs: one in the study of contemporary antisemitism and one in Israeli studies; and partnering with recognized universities in Israel to bring scholars to campus.

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Record Research Funding From monitoring sandy beaches to gauge the effects of sea-level rise to holding clinical trials for potentially lifesaving cancer treatments, scholars, scientists and physicians at UCI are blazing new paths to help change the world. And their impact keeps growing. In fiscal 2021-22, which ended June 30, UCI received the second-most research funding in campus history: $580 million in grants and contracts. Awards from federal and state agencies, leading foundations and forward-thinking companies have increased by more than $213 million since 2018. This last fiscal year marks another record for UCI research when COVID-19 emergency relief funding ($6 million) from the U.S. Department of Education is not included. In 2020-21, UCI received $591 million, of which more than $88 million came in the form of these COVID-19 grants. “Our faculty, students and staff are truly excelling in an environment of tremendous competition for financial support of research and innovation,” said Pramod Khargonekar, UCI vice chancellor for research. “These results indicate that UCI’s preeminent research enterprise will make even greater and more productive contributions to the state, the nation and the world.”

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Health

Signaling Molecule Discovery May Be the Key to Hair Regrowth Nearly 80 percent of men and half of women experience hair loss at some point during their lives. While some people recover their lost locks, today’s treatments are only marginally effective – and hair loss can cause emotional distress and downstream effects ranging from loneliness to depression. The good news: UCI scientists have uncovered a signaling molecule that could be a game-changer for people who have lost their hair. Their findings, published this summer in the journal Developmental Cell, illuminate the mechanism whereby specialized signal-making cells called dermal papilla fibroblasts trigger the hair growth cycle. “Just like a 3D printer needs a computer to tell it what and when to print, a hair follicle needs a particular molecular program to grow hair,” says study co-author Maksim Plikus, UCI professor of developmental and cell biology. “It turns out a naturally occurring molecule called SCUBE3 is part of the molecular code of DPFs that controls how often hair grows and, possibly, what it looks like – curly or straight, blond or brown, on the head or on the chin.” According to Plikus, hair loss happens when DPFs at the bottom of each hair follicle stop producing SCUBE3. But if you infiltrate skin with pure SCUBE3 protein, stem cells in nearby hair follicles get the message to divide and new hair commences.

More research is needed before the SCUBE3 discovery will be applied to new treatments. But for people who have certain forms of hair loss – caused by high levels of testosterone, autoimmune disorders, COVID-19 or chemotherapy – Plikus is hopeful that SCUBE3 could help regrow new hair. “And since SCUBE3 is a naturally occurring molecule that would be delivered in small amounts through a microneedle, the odds of systemic side effects are quite low,” he says. Plikus has co-founded a biotechnology company to help move this research forward and confirm that SCUBE3 can help grow hair safely and effectively. While awaiting completion of those trials, UCI has applied for a patent on SCUBE3 and related compounds for hair growth. The study team also included co-first authors Yingzi Liu, a UCI postdoctoral researcher in developmental and cell biology, and Christian Guerrero-Juarez, a UCI postdoctoral researcher in mathematics, as well as health professionals and academics from San Diego, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

UCI Engineers Develop a Battery-Free Health-Monitoring Wearable Imagine you’re hiking in the mountains or camping in a remote location and someone takes a tumble and requires continuous health monitoring. There’s no cellphone service, no power and no way to accurately measure a pulse or heart rate. You’re stuck. Researchers in UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering have developed a solution: a self-powered, wearable health monitor that continuously tracks the wearer’s pulse in real time without battery power. In a proof-of-concept paper published online this summer in the journal Nano Energy,

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senior author Rahim Esfandyar-Pour, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, describes a wristwatch-style device built with high-tech 3D printing of nanomaterials that permits continuous, real-time, wireless monitoring of vital signs. “There’s an urgent need for continuous, battery-free monitoring of health parameters – something anyone can use anytime, anywhere,” says Esfandyar-Pour, who has a joint appointment in biomedical engineering. “The current prototype serves as a self-powered radial artery pulse monitor, but we can also monitor other aspects of health – including heart rate, body temperature or blood pressure – simply by changing the sensors.” Unlike most wearables, which rely on battery power, this device operates in two battery-free modes: Energy created by tapping the wristband’s nano energy generators powers the sensor circuitry; or holding the device near a smartphone or similar device enables wireless data and power transmission. “This is the first report of a wearable system for continuous, real-time health monitoring fully powered by human motion,” Esfandyar-Pour says. “With it being a self-powered, wireless device, you don’t have to rely on users to charge the battery, and there’s no concern of overheating or combustion, which can happen with lithium-ion batteries.”


A LASTING BRILLIANT FUTURE. CREATED BY ANTEATERS LIKE YOU. Longtime avionics engineer Bob Altman ’79 spent years stepping out of his comfort zone to pioneer new ideas and projects. Now he and his wife, Michelle, have committed to a $250,000 estate gift to support experiential learning opportunities for UCI students for years to come. See how you can create a brilliant future at uci.edu/brilliant.

“We may not be giving millions of dollars, but our contributions so far and our planned gift will still allow us to influence the educational arc of students.” – Bob Altman ’79

brilliantfuture.uci.edu


S P O T L I G H T

Back on the Boards More than 120 guests enjoy an al fresco performance of “The Comedy of Errrorrs” July 15 during the play’s opening night. After a two-year hiatus, UCI’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival celebrated its 10th season. Chancellor’s Professor Eli Simon, the festival’s artistic director, said: “I was filled with gratitude that the campus and community embrace New Swan so passionately, that there’s joy at our return to live theater, and that so many people care so deeply about the success of our artistic endeavors. In the words of the Bard, what more can I say but ‘thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.’”

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Steve Zylius / UCI


S P E C T R U M

Syria

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Syndromic Surveillance Parts of the world facing conflict and humanitarian disaster tend to experience a high burden of disease, but their disease monitoring systems remain largely understudied. “In settings with limited resources, early warning systems for infectious disease outbreaks are critical for early detection and response,” says Maia Tarnas, a doctoral student in UCI’s Program in Public Health. “This is especially true in regions like Syria, where millions have been forcibly displaced and left susceptible to disease by the weaponization of health; a variety of environmental hazards such as extreme temperatures and overcrowding; and the lack of resources needed for basic health and hygiene.” Tarnas is corresponding author on a study led by UCI researchers that found that the burden of respiratory infections – namely influenzalike illnesses and severe acute respiratory illnesses – increased throughout northern Syria between 2016 and 2021 and was significantly exacerbated by the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Tarnas and her team conducted a retrospective analysis to identify trends in ILI, SARI and COVID-19 cases in northern Syria as reported by the Early Warning Alert and Response Network, a syndromic surveillance system established in 2014 to serve areas outside Syrian government control. The researchers, who included Daniel M. Parker, assistant professor of population health and disease prevention, also used data on confirmed COVID-19 cases to assess the impact of the virus on ILI and SARI trends. The findings were published in September in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Maia Tarnas

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Q&A

P E R S P E C T I V E

Brian T. Hervey

Vice Chancellor, University Advancement and Alumni Relations

President, UCI Foundation

Steve Zylius / UCI

Embracing Change to Better Lives Brian T. Hervey has never met a challenge he didn’t want to tackle. Whether it’s scaling the steep slopes of a hiking trail or finding ways to fund research on premature birth, which affected his son, he’s all in. At the moment, UCI’s Brilliant Future campaign consumes his energies. As vice chancellor for university advancement and alumni relations and president of the UCI Foundation, he oversees a staff of more than 200 charged with raising $2 billion and engaging 75,000 alumni to support teaching, research, student scholarships and infrastructure, among other essential university functions. Hervey, 52, arrived at UCI in May 2015 as associate vice chancellor for health advancement and had been in the job just over five months when he accepted the responsibilities of interim vice chancellor. He was named to the position permanently in August 2016, chosen from a deep pool of highly qualified candidates, and tasked with heading the Brilliant Future campaign.

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The fundraising effort, which publicly kicked off in October 2019, reached the $1 billion halfway mark in just 18 months. Donations support four campus priorities: advancing the American dream for students, transforming healthcare and wellness, accelerating world-changing research, and exploring the human experience. Hervey sat down recently with UCI Magazine contributor Cathy Lawhon to talk about the transformative power of both the campaign and the campus and how embracing change has played a key role in his life. How did you first come to UCI? I had been vice president for development and communications at Scott & White Health. While in that role, I helped orchestrate a merger with a much larger hospital system, Baylor Health, which created a healthcare system with over 43 hospitals in central Texas.


At an Association of American Medical Colleges meeting, I let it be known I was looking for a new challenge. And within days a recruiter from UCI called. What surprised or impressed you about UCI when you got here? Very early on, I knew there was something special about the location and the campus culture being a place of big change around healthcare. There were plans in the works for a new medical complex. I felt it was the kind of exciting energy I like to be part of. Your career path has changed course over the years, hasn’t it? It has. I earned my bachelor’s degree in political science from Texas A&M and then professional certification to become a financial advisor for a major investment firm. When my son, Brandon, was born, he spent several weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit. I became interested in raising money for the March of Dimes and eventually supervised all of the local chapter’s fundraising endeavors. It changed my focus. I’ve had opportunities to help build hospitals and start schools and help improve people’s lives, which has been very rewarding. By the way, Brandon recently graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas and is doing great. A big part of the Brilliant Future campaign is “transforming healthcare and wellness.” Just months after the campaign launched, COVID-19 hit. What was the impact? With almost every campaign, there’s some kind of economic event, and COVID was it for us. We were fortunate that UCI had researchers, basic scientists and clinical faculty doing groundbreaking work on COVID-19. And from a donor perspective, it provided an opportunity to be involved and make a difference. What about increasing alumni involvement? That’s a campaign goal too, isn’t it? Yes. In addition to raising money for current projects, a second goal is to engage community members and alumni, and they’re really stepping up. We’re finding ways to build new UCI Alumni Association chapters worldwide. We think the UCIAA has already innovated as to how it serves alumni and the university. When you are out and about in your daily life, what is your elevator speech about UCI? I believe the collaborative problem-solving that occurs at

UCI distinguishes it from other universities. UCI fosters innovative collaborations among law, medicine, the arts, the social sciences, humanistic fields and STEM specialties to create truly breakthrough solutions. As a result, UCI’s reach and influence grow wider every day. Where do you think UCI will be at the end of the campaign? I believe we’ll surpass our $2 billion goal, thanks to our growing community of supporters. In terms of visibility, UCI Health will have a larger presence and more locations people can access with the new UCI Health – Irvine medical complex. From a university perspective, we should see a rise in rankings.

“I’ve had opportunities to help build hospitals and start schools and help improve people’s lives, which has been very rewarding.”

It doesn’t sound like you have much downtime. What do you do to relax? As an Orange County resident, I love our proximity to the beach; I try to prioritize some time outside and hike in Crystal Cove State Park. I enjoy traveling; I just returned from an Alaska cruise. And I’m a big James Bond fan; I have a pretty impressive Bond memorabilia collection. Dare I ask who was the best Bond? Sean Connery. Most everybody says that, but it’s true. He defined the role that everybody else has to live up to. Fundraising for a multidisciplinary campus – especially one with medical facilities attached – requires wide-ranging knowledge. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? My uncle, Dick Hervey, who was my mentor and president of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students, told me: “Whatever you choose to do, be best and most knowledgeable. You have to differentiate yourself and be constantly learning.” For me, that means continuing to seek out mentors, staying up to speed as a leader in the field, teaching, and thinking about the next generation and how to make them successful.

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The Great Equalizer UCI Institute for Precision Health Heralds a ‘New Era in Healthcare’ By Victoria Clayton

In February, UCI announced the launch of the Institute for Precision Health. To veteran researchers like Suzanne Sandmeyer, professor of biological chemistry, it was a dream come true. “When I started what’s now the Genomics Research and Technology Hub in 1999, the long-range goal was always that our research would translate into better patient care,” says Sandmeyer, director of the facility. Over the years, she and colleagues realized phenomenal leaps in technology and capabilities, but still their work involved primarily academic studies. “Fast-forward to now,” she says. “What excites me about the precision medicine movement here at UCI is that all this data that we’re empowered to collect with the new high-throughput instruments can be turned toward clinical trials and, ultimately, improve patient treatment.” The Institute for Precision Health, to her, is the culmination of many years of hoping and working toward an objective.

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While certainly many in the UCI orbit join Sandmeyer in her excitement about IPH, others find the whole thing a bit of a head-scratcher. “It’s not uncommon for me to hear ‘Now what exactly is precision health, and why do we need IPH?’” says Dr. Alpesh N. Amin, the Thomas and Mary Cesario Endowed Chair in Medicine and co-director and medical director of IPH. “For a lot of people, the idea of precision health is still new.” Which isn’t surprising. Even precision health trailblazers have had to parse what exactly it is.

What Is Precision Health? In the 2015 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative. At the time, precision medicine was described as a new approach to disease prevention and treatment that considers individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyles. The White House earmarked money in the 2016 budget to develop the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us project, a national data collection effort that aims to enroll 1 million or more volunteers who serve as diverse sources of information. Today, UCI is the biggest enroller of All of Us participants in Southern California (see page 22).

To delve more into what precision medicine is, though, first understand that it fits within the broader concept of data-driven decision science (the process of making decisions based on actual data rather than intuition or observation alone). Retail, banking, education, logistics – there probably isn’t an industry today that hasn’t been touched by the process. Think back to the 2011 film “Moneyball.” That was a story about baseball using data-driven decision science to find undervalued players. Healthcare has also embraced it. Electronic health records, real-time alerting, supply chain management and improved prescription management are all part of data-driven decision science and big data. But knowing this still doesn’t get to the essence of what precision medicine, or precision health, aims to be. Precision medicine is an endeavor – or perhaps, as researchers argue in a 2017 article in the European Respiratory Journal, a process. Patient data – far more data and different types of data than ever before – is used alongside the power of computer algorithms, predictive modeling and artificial intelligence to help clinicians and patients in making individualized treatment and health decisions. And then, once these decisions are made, outcomes are fed back into the system to help better inform the next decision and all subsequent patients. This means that precision health’s aim is to use the power of big data to create a healthier individual and thereby a healthier society. That’s the broad concept, at least. “It’s common to hear people talk about precision medicine being about both the multitudes and then really the individual,” Amin says. “That may be confusing messagewise, but it’s accurate.”

“My dad designs skyscrapers. Seventy-plus years ago, there was only a hope that you could build a skyscraper 100-plus stories tall. People knew that they needed to go up, but it hadn’t been done. My point is: We tend to innovate when we need to, when the will is there. Are we motivated to create a world where health data is used the way it should be used – to the benefit of each person and community?” Alpesh N. Amin Co-director and medical director, Institute for Precision Health

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Peter Chang Co-director, UCI’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine

The New ‘Evidence-Based’ Haven’t medical decisions long been data-driven? The first successful randomized, controlled clinical trial, in 1946, gave rise to modern medicine’s evidence-based approach. So yes, we’ve been ostensibly data-driven for quite a while. But because of progress in many areas – everything from biostatisticians pioneering extremely complex decision-science methodology to improvements in cloud storage and computing power – we’re now able to be next-level data-driven. Advancements in artificial intelligence are the game-changer. The newest form of AI, deep-learning neural networks, has completely revolutionized the way machine-learning algorithms learn and think, says Dr. Peter Chang, codirector of UCI’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine and assistant professor-in-residence of radiological sciences. Older forms of AI required a human to carefully go through a list of patterns, rules and assumptions and manually program the human experience into a computer. “Modern forms of AI, however, allow computers to extract patterns and make inferences without a priori human assumptions,” says Chang, who directs IPH’s AI research program. “For example, if I wanted to teach the algorithm how to play the game of chess, I could simply explain the rules of chess and allow two AIs to play against each other.” This represents a major leg up on human thinking. “Interestingly, this strategy has allowed modern AI systems to learn new information that may have been previously unrecognized by even human experts,” Chang says. “With video games, oftentimes we may think that the AI is intentionally losing, only to realize at the very end that the computer has come back and beat the human by a small but consistent margin every single

time. For healthcare, the implication, of course, is that an AI may be allowed to discover patterns without the biases of flawed human assumptions or explicit programming – that’s really where the power lies.” A growing focus on patient-centered health services research has also helped foster a climate ripe for precision health. The research has sometimes revealed a divide between what patients value and what clinicians value. Furthermore, research has also acknowledged that personal experiences – sometimes having to do with systemic barriers like bias and discrimination – can alter, for example, a medicine’s effect or a patient’s perception of the value of care. The machinations and methodologies behind precision health aim to consider all of this as data, as messy as it may sound. So when data is being crunched by precision medicine processes, it might include clinical information (biomarkers, mortality, etc.), patient-reported impacts (e.g., function, mood, symptoms), treatment-related attributes (mode of administration, dose frequency, adverse events, etc.), use of resources (e.g., hospitalizations) and/or societal effects (ability to work, caregiver burden, productivity, etc.). Bernadette Boden-Albala, professor and director of UCI’s Program in Public Health and founding dean of the planned School of Population and Public Health, warns people to not be surprised, however, if it turns out that we should be collecting other data or looking at it in different ways. “ We just don’t yet know what we don’t know,” she says. “But I can imagine that with all the new abilities to look at data in all the new ways, we’ll discover that we’re sometimes actually missing key data and need to go back and collect that to reach more meaningful conclusions.” Fall 2022

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“With recent advances in artificial intelligence enabling unprecedented ability to discover complex patterns in health data, we are one step closer to realizing the potential of precision medicine.”


“With the resources of IPH, what we can do has broadened significantly. So not only can we define diseases and subgroups of patients better, but we can also do predictions on the course of disease using artificial intelligence. We can help clinical trials happen much more rapidly and with the right cohort of patients.” Leslie Thompson Co-director, Institute for Precision Health

Omics Approaches Aren’t the Whole Getting people’s biological blueprints – genetic sequencing, heritable modifications of DNA (epigenetics) and omics, which include sequence RNA and cellular building blocks determined by DNA and RNA (transcriptomics), proteins (proteomics), and profile metabolites (metabolomics) – into health records would be a huge precision health achievement. In fact, researchers and clinicians at UCI are already doing formidable work using data like genetics and omics in precision medicine-type approaches. Clinicians in UCI’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center often utilize data-driven methods to determine whether a given drug could be effective in a specific individual, says Leslie Thompson, co-director of the Institute for Precision Health and Donald Bren Professor and Chancellor’s Professor of psychiatry & human behavior as well as neurobiology and behavior. For example, breast cancer patients who test positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 receive treatments that specifically target HER2. The treatments are now so effective that the prognosis for HER2-positive breast cancer has improved drastically. These types of precision health capabilities – particularly what they could mean to clinical trials – are primary motivators for scientists such as Thompson. “I’ve dedicated my career to studying neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s and ALS,” she says. “With so many of these diseases, including the more common Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, there are no treatments available that change their course, and so many clinical trials have failed to show benefit to patients.”

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She says this is because we haven’t been able to fully understand many diseases in individuals. Precision health should allow for more sophisticated approaches to diseases in subgroups of patients – approaches that incorporate their genetics, environment and other health factors so that clinicians can better define, understand and treat diseases. The potential impact on clinical trials could be revolutionary. Traditional clinical trials have favored patient homogeneity to find treatments that appear to work for a broad swath of people. In fact, patient heterogeneity – difference – is often seen as a research nuisance to avoid. Precision medicine approaches, however, promise to change this. Sandmeyer explains: “Right now, if you have a clinical trial where a certain drug only helped 10 percent of your study participants, that drug would likely fail the trial. But the drug could’ve succeeded in people who were biologically receptive to it. We need to get genomic data into the clinical record so information like that can be utilized. We’ll make considerable advancements when we know who is likely to be biologically receptive to a certain treatment and who is not.” Having and using omics and other data, however, shouldn’t be confused as the whole of precision medicine, she says: “We haven’t delivered on precision medicine until all the omics information and everything else gets into the medical record, gets into clinical trials and gets delivered back in the form of more equitable healthcare to the people we serve. When that happens, that’s truly precision medicine.”


The Institute for Precision Health falls under the direction of Steve Goldstein, vice chancellor for health affairs and professor of pediatrics, who describes the effort as “heralding a future of tailored care that places the patient at the center and in control.” IPH was launched with leaders in eight different areas across UCI (see page 23) to unite the campus and support precision health as a focused, collaborative effort. In fact, the data engine of the process has been named the Collaboratory for Health and Wellness. Tom Andriola, UCI vice chancellor for information, technology and data, as well as an IPH advisor, calls the collaboratory a “dream” foundation. “It’s a powerful networked landscape,” Andriola says. “Researchers will be able to put together a whole variety of forms of structured and unstructured data and information in one place.” He says this will mean de-identified health information from medical records, including text and images, but it might also include genomic, environmental, demographic and other data that contribute to health and well-being. Equally important, the collaboratory will support precision health’s new and evolving methodologies for analyzing data. Through the collaboratory, UCI hopes to serve as a trusted leader and safe hub for precision health care and research, making information and capabilities widely available while also tightly guarding patient privacy – all under the auspices of precision health’s overriding aim to deliver high-quality, equitable care and support lifelong wellness. Growing out of this commitment, IPH has paved the way for UCI to step up as the academic lead of a publicprivate collaboration called the global health ecosystem, an informal gathering of complimentary organizations

focusing on practice redesign, deployable equity and informed policy. Through the global health ecosystem, UCI is working with collaborators, such as Mitre Corp., on cloud-based health and medical solutions for the public good. IPH leadership plans to conduct outreach to discuss capabilities and potential projects with UCI researchers and clinicians, as well as industry. “Advances are scalable and open-access, so they improve healthcare and wellness in Orange County and far beyond,” Goldstein says. “Success will be measured as improved patient outcomes, cost-effectiveness and equity.” IPH intends to eventually settle into a brick-andmortar campus location where education for clinicians, community events and outreach can take place. As the campus and wider community become more acquainted with IPH, Amin, who helped found and develop UCI Health’s successful hospitalist program back in 1998, predicts that precision medicine will someday be the norm for research and medicine. It will have that much impact. “But for right now,” he says, “we have somewhat of a startup mentality in that we’re building our plane and starting to fly it at the same time. This is why it’s an exciting time to take part in IPH. It’s the start of a new era in healthcare, and it’s a privilege to help get something like this off the ground.” Chang agrees – and recommends that everyone breathe. “AI and precision health are exciting new areas of research, but I’d urge everyone to stay grounded and be patient. There are a lot of unknowns and a lot to explore and understand, so a balanced perspective is needed to truly make strides translating these technologies in ways that, ultimately, will help researchers, clinicians and patients.”

“The Institute for Precision Health is a fantastic vehicle for bringing together all sorts of collaborators. But I’m most interested in bringing data to communities and together coming up with questions that we can ask of the data that’ll help us think about solutions that move us toward health equity.” Bernadette Boden-Albala Founding dean of UCI’s planned School of Population and Public Health

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How Will the Process Work at UCI?


Creating Big Data: UCI and All of Us

............................................................................... Since 2017, volunteers have signed up to have their medical records; gene profiles, metabolites (chemical makeup), and microorganisms in and on the body; environmental and lifestyle data; and even information from personal devices like Fitbit used as part of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us project. All of Us hopes to collect health data on more than 1 million people. Most of it will come from traditionally understudied, diverse populations – better reflecting our increasingly varied population. The NIH has partnered with leading experts in privacy, bioethics, civil liberties and technology. All research data is de-identified. This means that names, addresses and other identifying information are removed. UCI is the largest enroller of All of Us participants in Southern California. To take part or learn more, go to https://allofus.health.uci.edu.

RESEARCHERS STUDY DATA RESEARCHERS SHARE DISCOVERIES

PARTICIPANTS VOLUNTEER DATA

PARTICIPANTS GET INFORMATION DATA IS PROTECTED AND DE-IDENTIFIED

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“Health equity is complicated, but we know community outreach and education are crucial. With IPH, we’ll be pulling in more people from diverse backgrounds who will then help us to achieve the more equitable delivery of care, because we’ll better understand the causes of inequity.” Suzanne Sandmeyer Director, Genomics Research and Technology Hub

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UCI Institute for Precision Health: Directors and Leads UCI leaders say the vision for IPH had long been in the works, but the COVID-19 pandemic was a beta test of sorts, demonstrating how precision medicine approaches could efficiently address medical needs. In early 2020, UCI clinicians, biomedical and computer scientists, and public health experts collaborated to create an AI-driven tool to assess COVID patients. The app-based tool, the COVID Vulnerability Index, showed that a data-driven approach could help yield the best outcomes for individual and community health. On the heels of that success, Steve Goldstein, vice chancellor for health affairs – who has said that a significant way to advance society is through health – engaged partners to create IPH. On campus, IPH comprises eight programs focused on three goals: redesigning health practice to improve care and decrease costs, deploying solutions to achieve health equity, and empowering effective health policy. The statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence program develops novel statistical methodology to integrate and analyze health records, molecular data and observational clinical outcomes. It’s led by Daniel Gillen, Chancellor’s Professor and chair of statistics, and Zhaoxia Yu, professor of statistics. The applied AI research program translates machine learning methods into deployable solutions addressing clinical problems and matching the cost of care to its value. It’s led by Peter Chang, assistant professor-inresidence of radiological sciences. The applied analytics and AI program brings novel solutions to improve health and well-being to ambulatory and inpatient settings. It’s led by Daniel Chow, assistant professor-in-residence of radiological sciences.

The precision omics program generates and translates genomic, proteomic and metabolomic research results into clinical applications. It’s led by Suzanne Sandmeyer, professor of biological chemistry and director of the Genomics Research and Technology Hub, and Leslie Thompson, Donald Bren Professor and Chancellor’s Professor of psychiatry & human behavior as well as neurobiology and behavior. The Collaboratory for Health and Wellness is an ecosystem that fosters collaboration across disciplines and organizations through the integration of healthrelated data sources. It’s led by Kai Zheng, professor of informatics, and was launched by Tom Andriola, vice chancellor for information, technology and data. The deployable equity program engages community stakeholders and health equity groups to create solutions that narrow the disparities gap in the health and wellbeing of underserved and at-risk populations. It’s led by Dan Cooper, professor of pediatrics and director of the UCI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, and Bernadette Boden-Albala, professor and director of the Program in Public Health and founding dean of the planned School of Population and Public Health. The end-to-end data infrastructure makes available real-world data in order to positively impact clinical outcomes, quality, research and operations. It’s led by Alpesh N. Amin, the Thomas and Mary Cesario Endowed Chair in Medicine, and David Merrill, director of enterprise data and analytics at UCI Health. For the education and training program, leadership from each of the areas plans to bring courses, seminars and other educational opportunities in statistics, machine learning-artificial intelligence, omics and bioinformatics to practitioners and students.

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URBAN DWELLING

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The School of Social Ecology’s Livable Cities Lab studies affordable housing, public safety and social enterprise innovations to improve city life

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By Jim Washburn

iven that humans have been living in cities for some 9,500 years, you’d think we would have gotten cities right by now. If the residents of ancient Mesopotamia were transported to a modern American city, they would doubtless be astonished by many things – an electrical grid, running water, well-equipped hospitals and speedy automobiles being just a few of the wonders. But they might also be puzzled by the number of citizens whose closest thing to a home is a blue plastic tarp, while actual abodes were placed beyond their reach by unaffordable rents and decadeslong housing shortages. What would it take to make our cities more livable? “That’s the question we ask all the time,” says criminology, law and society professor George Tita, director of the School of Social Ecology’s Livable Cities Lab. “To us, a livable city is a place where individuals can thrive in terms of their health, in terms of economic

stability, in terms of opportunities to pursue their dreams, in terms of public safety. “Obviously, an environment that’s sustainable and has water and resources is important, but housing is fundamental to all of this,” he continues. “If you don’t have a roof over your head, then everything else deteriorates from there. If you’re living on the street, your health needs aren’t going to be met, and you’re exposed to public safety concerns. The largest asset in the world is housing. It is just fundamental to everything that we do.” The Livable Cities Lab was launched in April 2021, helmed by Tita, with fellow social ecology professors Emily Owens, Susan Turner, John Hipp and David Feldman on board. Its purpose, Tita says, is to come up with research and solutions that address our urban problems. The LCL’s efforts fall into three categories: housing, public safety and social enterprise.

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Photos: Steve Zylius / UCI

Professor George Tita, director of the School of Social Ecology’s Livable Cities Lab

The LCL produced its first major work this June, “The Impact of Affordable Housing on Housing and Crime in Orange County,” and researchers presented its findings during an event in Irvine’s City Council Chamber. Created by Tita, Owens and Hipp, along with graduate students Clarissa Iliff and Seth Williams (all from the Department of Criminology, Law and Society), the study addresses – and debunks – two main concerns raised against affordable housing projects: the beliefs that affordable housing units lower the value of neighboring properties and that they increase crime. According to the study – which garnered a significant amount of press due to its unexpected conclusions – the effect of adding affordable housing to a community is at worst neutral, but more often actually results in increased home values and reduced crime rates. “We’ve found that to be the case all over Orange County,” Tita says. “But for one example, look at Irvine. It has more affordable housing rental units than any

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other place in Orange County. What else does Irvine have? It has the tag of being the safest city in America for the last 16 years.”

Support for Affordable Housing Researching and releasing the affordable housing impact study is only a first step, Tita says. Next is working with cities and organizations to ensure that the study’s findings are considered when affordable housing projects are discussed. One such organization is Orange County United Way, a longtime advocate for the county’s unhoused. Sue Parks, its president and CEO, says: “The Livable Cities Lab has already been such a valuable partner in helping to educate our community on the value of more housing in general but particularly affordable housing, or – as both we and the LCL like to call it – ‘dignified housing.’ Everybody deserves a place to call home. “There’s so much credibility in what George and his


team bring to the conversation, with UCI-based, research-based facts showing that it’s good to have more affordable housing in a community,” she continues. “It improves the livability, which is the whole goal of cities, right? The study is getting people’s attention right now, and it’s going to have huge impact going forward.” The lab’s Emily Owens has been working with O.C. United Way, she says, “to develop education and training programs to help inform people on what the study found so they can advocate for affordable housing to city councils or planning commissions.

“We’re working on developing an online course where we have modules that people can click on to learn the details of the study, like, ‘Here’s a video of George Tita talking about how the LCL measured crime for the study,’ and then LCL’s John Hipp will have a video where he talks about how we analyzed policing data, so there’s no mystery to the academic, scientific underpinnings of where these results come from,” Owens says. It’s important work and may produce results over time, but Tita says bluntly: “We are not going to meet our housing needs through new construction – and certainly not

in the near term. It’s slow because of regulations, because of delays and permitting, because of labor shortages, because of cost, because of inflation, because of opposition, because, because, because, and meanwhile people are still living on the street. “We can’t say ‘Oh, my gosh, this is too complex’ and throw up our hands,” he adds. “We need innovative solutions. For one thing, we have a white paper, ‘Breaking Ground,’ which looks at the efforts of Mercy House [a homeless services provider whose funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation helped pay for the study] in repurposing vacant properties

Emily Owens, professor of criminology, law and society and LCL faculty member

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owned by faith-based organizations into housing. There are other sorts of vacant properties that should be considered too.” One idea to alleviate some of the housing shortage would rely on individual homeowners. “I was talking with Sue Parks, and while we want to put the well-being of the poorest of the poor first, she stressed that there is also a drastic need for workforce housing,” Tita says. “If you look at the cost of housing, unless you’re coming into the workforce at the level of a junior executive, it’s very difficult to afford to live in our local communities. “Something that used to be a fairly common practice is people with large homes with rooms sitting empty would rent them out at reasonable rates to people starting out in the working world,” he continues. “Lucy Dunn [retired president and CEO] of the Orange County Business Council suggested I talk with business leaders to see if we could come up with an app where businesses could post when they have a new hire who needs to rent a space to live in. It’s in the best interest of businesses, because they don’t want their educated, talented, hardworking employees leaving for greener pastures because they can’t afford to live here.”

Helping People in Crisis While housing has been the LCL’s primary focus so far, its members are also conducting public safety research for Anaheim, studying the impacts of the city’s Community Care Response Team. It’s an alternative to traditional policing in which a special team of officers, Tita says, “is trained in engaging individuals in distress – whether it’s housing insecurity, dependence on drugs, or behavioral or mental health issues – in a manner that gets them help rather than another mark on their criminal records.” The team partners with nonprofit social services provider City Net – with the officers primarily brokering the connection between the individual and City Net – to see about getting people a bed and treatment for their issues. “I’m hoping our research into how it’s working can be useful to other Orange County cities considering similar programs for policing people in crisis,” Tita says. He has spent much of his career studying and addressing the myriad issues of gun violence. Prior to arriving at UCI in 2000, Tita was a policy analyst for the Rand Corp., where he directed a National Institute of Justice-funded gun violence reduction program in Los Angeles. For over 20 years, he has been the lead investigator in a long-term study of homicides in Watts for the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies.

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Noting a recent rise, both locally and nationally, in gun violence and its lethal outcomes, Tita hopes to have the lab conduct a solutions-seeking study soon. In addition, the LCL is pursuing social enterprise development goals – finding ways in which social ecologyborn research and ideas can serve both businesses and the public good. While the effort is still largely in the planning stages, the lab has partnered with local social investors group RevHubOC to search for such opportunities. Tita is also excited about discussions he’s been having with a large local developer to establish a new set of standards for measuring housing projects. “You know how buildings now are LEED-certified to measure their environmental impact?” he says. “We would like to do something very similar to measure the social impact of housing. We’re thinking about what we’d need to look at to measure this: How many first responders are we able to house because of this development? How many homeless have we taken off the street? What have we done to help our residents reduce commuting time, thereby reducing traffic flow? There’s a lot we have to consider.” Tita believes that whatever solutions the LCL deploys in Orange County should also be applicable in Bozeman, Montana, or New York City. It made sense to start with Orange County cities, since UCI is smack in the middle of them, but also, he says, because of where Orange County is situated. “One of the truisms about living in Southern California is that every problem that ends up becoming an important national problem usually emerges here first, whether it’s immigration, water, housing or other issues,” Tita says. “And California often comes up with policy responses that are later adopted throughout the rest of the country.”

“Look at Irvine. It has more affordable housing rental units than any other place in Orange County. What else does Irvine have? It has the tag of being the safest city in America for the last 16 years.”


Professor George Tita talks with Laura Archuleta, president and CEO of Jamboree Housing and chair of the LCL leadership board, outside Doria Apartments, an affordable housing complex in Irvine.

The Integrative Approach As much as Tita has been the driving force of the LCL, he’s not its instigator. It came to exist under the direction of Nancy Guerra, whose five-year term as social ecology dean ended last year. “She approached me about putting together an effort that would exemplify the ‘science driving solutions’ motto she had for the School of Social Ecology,” Tita says. “She envisioned the LCL as a way to engage with stakeholders, policymakers and researchers from the community, presenting research and solutions to important problems

that social ecology was positioned to address, especially those around housing and public safety. For the last couple of years, I’ve engaged with local stakeholders around those issues – always with strong support from the school.” That support continues with the current social ecology dean, Jon Gould, who took up the reins in January. Tita credits him with being a steady source of insight and direction for the lab. Gould recalls: “One of the first things I did was get to know each one of our faculty and get a handle

on what the centers were doing. The LCL struck me as being emblematic of what our school is about. “At UCI, we’re all familiar with the Samueli approach to integrative health,” he says. “Well, we’re a school of integrative problemsolving. Our faculty doesn’t just study social problems, they go out into the world and solve them in a collaborative, interdisciplinary, integrative way. The LCL is a perfect example of what this school does best.”

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A Salivating Prospect Participants at Spit Camp get hands-on experience collecting biospecimens and learning how ‘the diagnostic fluid of the future’ provides a window into the body By Greg Hardesty

Photos by Steve Zylius

It’s not something you hear every day in a learning environment: “You should have no more saliva on your desk,” instructor Elizabeth Thomas told her eight students. No, the students weren’t nodding off and drooling during a boring lecture in a UCI lab. Rather, during a recent two-day educational experience called Spit Camp, the participants had just taken samples of their own saliva and stored them for later analysis. They were in the middle of a lab session on day one of Spit Camp at UCI’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research, a mouthful of a name and one of the only labs worldwide exclusively devoted to studying saliva biospecimens. Yes, a lab singularly devoted to spit. Sure, saliva may be disgusting. But it’s poised to become the diagnostic fluid of the future, according to IISBR co-directors Michael Hoyt and Jenna Riis. That’s because spit is packed with DNA, enzymes, hormones, immune system markers and other substances that can provide clues to what’s happening in the body. And it’s a minimally invasive alternative to drawing blood. IISBR conducts salivary bioscience research and educates, trains and consults researchers, physicians, caregivers, veterinarians, psychologists and other professionals on collecting and analyzing spit samples. The institute fosters a team-science approach that promotes innovative, interdisciplinary research, says Riis, assistant professor of psychological science. “This shared method helps advance really new and interesting questions that come about when you have people from different fields talking together,” she says. “The training and research we do here is unique. And I don’t know of any other university or institution that offers a Spit Camp like ours.”

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For Newbies and Experts Among the many books in the IISBR lab in the School of Social Ecology and the Program in Public Health is an illustrated paperback aimed at younger readers called Spit: What’s Cool About Drool. Each year, the average person produces enough saliva to fill two bathtubs, according to the book. Chew on that. The IISBR lab includes 13 freezers that, combined, can hold nearly 420,000 samples of spit. The specimens are stored in 1.7-milliliter containers (.06 fluid ounces) and kept at minus 80 C (minus 112 F). By comparison, a typical household freezer is minus 18 C (0 F). The lab offers professional assay services to clients around the world who want to measure such things as cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone; alpha-amylase, another marker for stress; estradiol, the major female sex

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hormone; melatonin, a hormone the brain produces in response to darkness; uric acid, a waste product found in blood; testosterone; and much more. Spit Camp is designed for newcomers to this type of research, such as undergraduates, as well as experienced scientists. Participants come from a wide range of disciplines, with psychology and public health being the most common, says Hoyt, a clinical and health psychologist and associate professor of population health. Most of the eight participants in the two-day August Spit Camp (a third day, all virtual, was optional) were graduate students at other universities. Daria Kotov flew all the way from Boston to attend. She’s a Ph.D. student entering her second year in the developmental and brain sciences program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


A professor recommended that she attend since her current research involves studying saliva. Kotov, who is from Irvine, is working with an existing data set including salivary biomarkers that she hopes to pull new ideas out of, she says. “Salivary research requires a lot of reading, but it’s usually not something you really get your hands on,” Kotov says. “It’s really cool to finally be on the participant side of being asked to contribute saliva in addition to learning the protocols associated with it.”

Food for Thought Day one of Spit Camp in the Social Ecology 1 building started off with lectures and ended with a tour of the lab where students collected their own spit. Wearing white lab coats, face shields, masks and gloves, they were introduced to the fundamentals of using a pipette, a tool to transport a measured volume of liquid, and had a pipetting practice session before they got down to the business of working up a decent volume of spit.

Each first inserted a swab into his or her mouth, with the goal of producing 1 milliliter of spit. To help induce a decent mouthful of drool, pictures of food were placed above their workstations: a medium-rare steak, chocolate cake, a Philly steak sandwich, cheese pizza, water with lemon slices, peach cobbler. The sight or smell of something delicious causes the rapid release of what’s called cephalic saliva. Participants were tasked with collecting spit from different areas of the mouth, such as near the parotid glands, which sit just in front of the ears on each side of the face, as well as “passive drool,” which is exactly what it sounds like. They repeated the collection of specimens that night before bed, when they woke up the next morning and 30 minutes after that to measure any changes in their levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase.

Stressor Tests The saliva collection began late on the afternoon of day one at Spit Camp. After harvesting the fluid

while relaxed, the students dunked their hands in ice water to induce stress, keeping them submerged for at least one minute and up to five minutes. This is known as a cold pressor test, which measures changes in blood pressure and heart rate related to vascular response and pulse excitability. “It’s painful,” Thomas, IISBR operational director and a researcher in UCI’s Department of Epidemiology, told the participants as they began the cold pressor test. “I’m not going to lie. It’s not a walk in the park.” Most of the “Spit Campers” yanked their hands out of the water in a minute or less before collecting more saliva. Kotov became an instant Spit Camp legend for keeping her hand in the ice water for five minutes. “This particular task is not stressful for me,” she declared. Sure enough, the next day her saliva showed no change in her body’s cortisol level after the cold pressor test. Data from a random selection of 20 past Spit Campers showed, on average, a 63 percent increase in cortisol from pre- to post-ice task. Kotov, it turned out, is one cool customer.

Many Potential Benefits At this stage, saliva samples have yet to be used to diagnose diseases. “But that’s certainly a direction we may be heading,” says Hoyt. “Right now, spit is providing a really good window into the body.” To cite just a few current uses, saliva is being analyzed to: measure a person’s stress level, exposure to such toxins as metals, immune system function (by checking proinflammatory cytokines), and amount of testosterone or estrogen; extract DNA; gauge the extent of head trauma; and understand the

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risk factors for certain diseases, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and Huntington’s disease. Outside these uses, drool research is being conducted as a tool in various disciplines, such as economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, gerontology, social work, sports medicine and psychiatry. Saliva tests also are being employed in animal research – say, to determine the impact of a change in diet, social grouping, enclosure, schedule or routine. “There are so many different types of markers we can look at in saliva, which makes it an increasingly useful tool,” Hoyt says. Salivary bioscience allows researchers to gauge the body’s response to adversity over time with minimal burden to participants, Riis notes. For example, she says: “You could do a blood test in the clinic and then send a patient home with a saliva testing kit to do repeated or long-term tests on changes in

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multiple physiological systems and their effects on mental and physical health. “Also,” she continues, “researchers could go into a community and take a bunch of saliva specimens at the same time and assess a lot of people who may have been exposed to something – such as pollutants, toxins or viruses – instead of hauling them into a clinic repeatedly.”

“There are so many different types of markers we can look at in saliva, which makes it an increasingly useful tool.”


More Spit Camps Planned The recent Spit Camp was the second this year following a two-year shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The IISBR got running in 2017 and was led by Doug Granger, a professor emeritus of psychological science who, along with Hoyt and Riis, is among eight core faculty members – three from public health and five from psychological science – who are involved in the lab. Due to demand, more Spit Camps are planned in the 2022-23 academic year. One August participant was Asha Putnam, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno who’s entering her third year as a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology. “I’ve always loved science,” says Putnam, who wants to become a professor

“You could do a blood test in the clinic and then send a patient home with a saliva testing kit to do repeated or long-term tests on changes in multiple physiological systems and their effects on mental and physical health.” and have her own therapy practice. The Bay Area native, who earned a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at UNR, heard about Spit Camp from her academic advisor. With a background in mindfulness and yoga, she wants to incorporate holistic methods in her therapy, focusing on people who have been exposed to trauma. “I plan to use saliva as a research methodology,” Putnam says. “I plan

to analyze their saliva to see if breathing exercises, for example, will lower their stress level and help them focus and feel better.” She highly recommends Spit Camp: “All the instructors are so friendly and welcoming, and it didn’t matter where you were in your knowledge base. I’m absolutely learning a lot here.”

Saliva Facts: Did You Know? .............................................................................................................. You have six salivary glands.

Swapping spit exchanges millions of bacteria.

Saliva is 99 percent water.

Saliva has been used for diagnostic purposes in cultures dating back thousands of years.

Without saliva, you couldn’t taste. Saliva acts as a warning before you vomit.

Saliva from nonhuman species can also be used to measure many of the same biomarkers.

Saliva has healing properties.

A lack of spit was once seen as an admission of guilt.

Saliva production varies from person to person, but in general, your salivary glands produce 2 to 4 pints of spit every day.

Source: UCI’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research

Saliva starts the digestive process.

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Exploring Vast

Galaxies Three Questions With James Bullock By Jim Washburn

There are probably few among us who haven’t been nudged out of some deep reverie by being told, “Hey, your mind seems like it’s wandered a million miles away.” Should James Bullock, dean of UCI’s School of Physical Sciences, ever have such moments, he has a stellar reason: the James Webb Space Telescope, which is indeed parked nearly a million miles from Earth. For the past five years, Bullock chaired the JWST Users Committee, in which he and other space-oriented minds were tasked with helping to select and organize the scientific projects the $10 billion telescope – which launched Dec. 25, 2021, and became fully operational on July 11 – is undertaking from its distant vantage. Bullock (whose term as chair ended in July but who remains active on the committee) says, “It’s a tremendous amount of work, commissioning the telescope and

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determining how it was going to be utilized in its first year, because we don’t want to waste a second of its time out there.” He estimates that the telescope, with its vastly superior optics and expanded range into infrared frequencies, will be roughly 100 times the scientific tool that the Hubble Space Telescope has been. The Ohio-born Bullock set his course as an astrophysicist while earning his Ph.D. in physics at UC Santa Cruz. After postdoc positions at Ohio State and Harvard universities, he came to UCI as an assistant professor in 2004. Bullock was named chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy in 2017 and became dean of physical sciences in 2019. Along with his influence in the scientific community, he is familiar to many in the public from his dozens of appearances on the Science Channel’s “How the Universe Works” program.

Steve Zylius / UCI


After all the years of planning, has there been anything since the launch that has surprised you? The launch itself did, for one thing. Despite the expertise and effort involved, everybody was really nervous. They call this rocket science for a reason: It’s not easy, and there’s always something that could go wrong. There are people who’ve worked their entire careers on this telescope, and this was its only shot. And you know what? The launch was so precise that much less fuel than anticipated was used delivering the Webb to where it needed to be. Fuel is the limiting factor in its life expectancy because it’s needed to maintain the telescope’s position. It was expected to run out after six years, but there’s so much fuel left that it should extend the telescope’s life to about 20 years. That’s a tremendous success. Another surprise is we’re already seeing things on these first photographs that we’ve never seen before, including some of the most distant galaxies ever observed. And these astonishing initial photos are the result of just basically turning the thing on to see if it works. What we’re going to see in the early science data and analysis is going to be probably even more transformative. Within the first six months of the telescope’s operation, researchers are looking at the structure of very early galaxies, looking to figure out how old the nearest little galaxies are, when they formed their stars and what they’re made of. We’ll have a better understanding of planets orbiting distant stars. The telescope might enable us to study their atmospheres for signatures of life.

From your vantage of helping to determine what the JWST will be looking at, what are some of the other discoveries we might expect? Probably the coolest thing we’ll learn from Webb will be something we’re not expecting. That’s always the case when you look somewhere you’ve never looked. We’re already seeing hints that there are galaxies that existed at far earlier times than we expected. If this holds up, then something is making galaxies start forming faster than anybody thought they could. That’s going to be very interesting, and it may tell us something about dark matter, because dark matter governs the gravitational buildup of structures. There’s a project this first year aimed at figuring out what dark matter is by studying how clumps of dark matter distort the light from distant galaxies. Dark matter is very different from anything in our periodic table, and it behaves very differently from normal

matter. It’s remarkable that 80 percent of the matter in the universe is in the form of something that is still nearly a complete mystery to us. What inspired you to become an astrophysicist? I’ve always been interested in questions about the nature of the universe, ones that transcend the human experience and our day-to-day worries. When I was growing up in Ohio, my dad brought a borrowed telescope home one day. It was a clear night – not usually the case around Toledo – and those distant objects in the sky made a big impression on me. Years later, after graduating from Ohio State, I came out to UC Santa Cruz. Their astronomy department was kind of the hotbed for astronomy in the UC system, and it pulled me in. But the thing that probably most impacted me was seeing Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series when I was a kid. I just loved Carl Sagan and the universe he opened up for us all with his passion and sense of wonder. I’d like to think I do a little bit of that when I teach, and it’s certainly the reason why I do “How the Universe Works,” because I remember how that kind of public science outreach stuff affected me as a kid. If I can even pay back just a tiny bit of how “Cosmos” inspired me, I’m happy to do it. I think the Webb telescope will inspire a lot of people. The vastness and age of space makes some people feel insignificant, but it should have the opposite effect. We’re doing incredibly significant things. The JWST is one testament to that. And it’s incredible that even though our species is only a couple of hundred thousand years old, we’ve been able to learn that the universe is 13.7 billion years old. That shouldn’t make us feel small; it should make us feel big.

“Probably the coolest thing we’ll learn from Webb will be something we’re not expecting. That’s always the case when you look somewhere you’ve never looked.”

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Blazing Trails Sophomore Sameen Andar paces UCI at the Anteater Opener on Sept. 1, placing fourth in a 4K with a school-record time of 14:10.4. Andar, who shaved nearly 44 seconds off her personal best, topped teammate Hannah Chau’s standard of 14:11.0 from last year’s inaugural event. As a team, UCI finished second in the first cross-country meet of 2022.


Matt Brown / UCI Athletics


R E F L E C T I O N S

A Nobel Journey .............................................................................................................. By David MacMillan

I

n late autumn of 1976, my older brother, Iain MacMillan, did something quite remarkable. He applied to, and was accepted into, Strathclyde University. While most Americans might not think this unusual for a young, working-class boy from a steelworking town in Scotland, this was like landing the first man on the moon. It was news! And it was

also controversial. Many in my family thought he was just trying to avoid having to do an honest day’s work (which, in retrospect, could be true). However, when he graduated four years later with an honors degree in physics, he found a job that paid more than my father, Billy, a steelworker who’d never missed a day of work in 30 years, had ever earned. Right there, right then, my fate was sealed. “Look, son,” my father told me, “you’re going to the uni.” Fast-forward 13 years to the spring of 1989, when I was in the second-to-last semester of my own B.S. in chemistry at the University of Glasgow and loving every minute of it. I was learning about my favorite topic in the world, organic chemistry; but more importantly, I was

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part of an amazing class of students from all backgrounds and all walks of life. My undergraduate education in science and society could not have been better. But what next? Like my brother before me, I wanted to do something different. Given my love of the NFL, American TV shows and all the amazing U.S. indie bands, I thought, “How Above: Nobel laureate David MacMillan, Ph.D. ’96, (right) visits UCI in May, enabling a reunion with his Ph.D. advisor Larry Overman, UCI Distinguished Professor emeritus, and Vy Dong, UCI professor of chemistry, who was advised by MacMillan at UC Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology. Right: MacMillan (in his lab) is currently the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University.


about a Ph.D. in America? That sounds cool!” And to this day, this completely whimsical notion remains the most foundational idea of my life. Back in the late ’80s in the U.K., to apply for graduate school, you simply wrote directly to a professor you were interested in working with. Being wide-eyed and generally clueless, I assumed that the same must be true for the U.S. So I saved what money I had for airmail stamps and wrote to 19 different professors at 19 different schools. Four months later, I received exactly one reply. It was from Professor Hal Moore at UCI, a truly brilliant chemist and a wonderful, generous and deadpan-funny guy. He sent me a handwritten letter that effectively said, “You are a moron. You can’t just send a letter to apply for graduate school in the States. Here is an application – use it!” A few months later, I was accepted to UCI and on my way to the United States of America. I don’t think I can describe what it was like to leave a small steelworking town in Scotland on a Tuesday and arrive in sunny Southern California on a Wednesday. To say it was a culture shock might be the understatement of understatements. I remember feeling completely dehydrated for about two weeks as I dried out from my first 21 years of life in Scotland! But it was also an

exceptionally exciting, truly mesmerizing experience. Over the next five years, UCI would change, shape and amplify my life in so many measurable and immeasurable ways. Without question, the most important moment was when I joined the lab of Professor Larry E. Overman. Larry is one of the world’s greatest authorities in organic chemistry. At the same time, he’s just an exceptional educator: a deeply caring individual who works intensely to elevate all his lab cohort, regardless of their innate talent or intellect. More generally, he’s an all-around great Midwestern guy and exactly the right mentor for a “rough around the edges” student like yours truly. Of course, the academic standards in Larry’s lab were remarkable. It was my first real taste of how exacting scientific research had to be. In Larry’s group, the overarching goal was to attempt to build almost any molecule that exists in nature, despite its complexity, by dreaming up new and hopefully valuable chemical reactions. The task itself can take many years, but really beneficial outcomes often spring forth, such as: 1) new chemical reactions that are useful for medicines, materials, agriculture, etc.; and 2) the immersive training that Ph.D. students go through. I can say from my own experience that it was chemistry boot camp.

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A key component of Larry’s research was creating and exploiting a type of reactive functional group in chemistry known as iminium ions. Indeed, all of his graduate students and postdocs became experts in this type of chemistry. It’s no accident, therefore, that when I started my own independent career at UC Berkeley in 1998, I started thinking about novel ways of harnessing these same “Irvine iminium ions” for new catalytic processes. Indeed, it’s possible to draw a straight line from my education in Larry’s lab directly to my group’s “eureka” moment on asymmetric organocatalysis, for which I received the 2021 Nobel Prize in chemistry. In science, we always say that all discoveries are made on the shoulders of giants. I can say that the invention of organocatalysis was made on the shoulders, back and spine of research born at UCI. As I began my career at Berkeley, I was also immensely fortunate to recruit an exceptional incoming class of young chemists. The seminal experiments noted in our Nobel Prize citation were performed entirely by first-year grad students who had joined my lab only months before. One of them was Vy Dong, a remarkably talented young

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woman who had just graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from UCI (where, in fact, she conducted undergrad research in Overman’s lab). Vy was a superstar from day one and quickly demonstrated that she had the makings to become a force in academia. Today, Vy is an independent professor in her own right (back at UCI), and her research program is as impactful as it is innovative. She has now won as many national and international awards in chemistry as any colleague in her age group. Moreover, she represents one of the modern leaders of the field of organic chemistry. While I am immensely proud of my many associations with Irvine, none of them match my pride in watching Vy’s career soar.

“UCI would change, shape and amplify my life in so many measurable and immeasurable ways.”


From the day I won the Nobel Prize, it has been a whirlwind of new experiences – from interviews with William Shatner to meetings with senators and presidents to being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II to lecturing displaced students in Ukraine to being on national TV here in the States and abroad to being an answer on “Jeopardy!” to receiving season tickets for my favorite soccer team to visiting with students at my hometown grade school … the list goes on and on. But at the end of the day, you start to realize that these are just experiences – wonderful in many ways but still just experiences. A wise man at UCI once told me that the better you are at something, the more people will pull you away from what you enjoy most. The main thing I have learned over the last 10 months is that I truly love and enjoy chemistry. It has enriched my life yet remains a never-ending puzzle, an unsatisfied intellectual obsession and a workshop for invention that can realistically change the world overnight. Given the many serious global challenges we face at the present time, it looks like we might have to do just that: change the world overnight. And to do that, we need chemistry.

I went back to UCI in May of this year and was reunited with Larry, Vy, and the wonderful faculty and students on campus. It was an incredibly emotional time for me and not something that I can easily articulate. What I can say is that UCI changed my life in many ways, not least of which was setting me on a path to winning a Nobel Prize. But more importantly, it helped create a life for me, professionally and personally, that I could never have imagined when I first showed up as a naive 21-year-old from Scotland. UCI gave me a passport to the world, and for that I could not be more grateful. MacMillan, who won the 2021 Nobel Prize in chemistry, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at UCI in 1996. He is currently the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University.

“Given the many serious global challenges we face at the present time, it looks like we might have to do just that: change the world overnight. And to do that, we need chemistry.”

Above: David MacMillan with his childhood companion Sooty. Right: The future Nobel laureate (on his mother’s lap) with his parents, Bill and Mary; brother, Iain; and sister, Lorraine; on the beach in Scotland. Left: MacMillan talks with Valeria Yatsenko from the UNESCO Centre Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, which has lined up Nobel Prize winners to give virtual lectures to help Ukrainian students maintain school routines during the war.

Photos courtesy of David MacMillan and Princeton University

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Elevating Health Construction workers maneuver steel beams in September as they erect the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care building, part of the new medical complex at the north end of campus. UCI Health – Irvine will also feature a 144-bed acute care hospital and emergency department, as well as the outpatient Joe C. Wen & Family Center for Advanced Care. The medical complex is expected to open in phases, with the outpatient center and cancer facility seeing their first patients in 2023 and the hospital in 2025.

Steve Zylius / UCI


A N T O U R A G E

Laser-Focused on Science Education .............................................................................................................. By Kristin Baird Rattini

Who is LaserChick? Is she a tattoo artist? The latest TikTok star? A new Marvel hero? Desiré Whitmore may not be a hero in the comic-book sense, but the self-described Blaxican American physicist whose moniker is LaserChick is indeed an inspiring role model for children – especially girls – from underrepresented communities who are interested in STEM careers. In her role as a staff physicist educator for the Teacher Institute of San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Whitmore, who earned a Ph.D. at UCI in 2011, amplifies her impact on the next generation of learners by developing and teaching hands-on activities that middle and high school teachers can use to spark their students’ interest in and excitement about science. In a photo on Whitmore’s website, laserchick.net, she points to herself and holds up a sign saying: “This is what a scientist looks like.” It’s something she couldn’t have imagined while growing up in small, rural towns in the Antelope Valley. Resources were scarce in both her family of eight kids and the local school district. The admitted

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math and band nerd fed her immense curiosity by taking things apart: the telephone, TV, vacuum cleaner, Nintendo console, VCR. “I just did it for fun because I wanted to know how it all worked,” Whitmore says. After community college and then getting a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UCLA, she came to UCI to earn a master’s and a doctorate in chemical and material physics. “I thought, ‘This is my dream: chemistry and physics together,’” she says. “I got to pick and choose classes in physics, engineering, chemistry and math and make this really cool Jenga tower of a Ph.D. for myself.” Whitmore’s obsession with quantum mechanics drew her to the labs of two of her chemistry professors – Eric Potma and Ara Apkarian – at the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit. “As soon as I saw the giant laser systems in Ara’s lab, I was hooked,” she says. At a weeklong training session for those laser systems, she pressed the instructor to share everything he knew.


“By the end, I was an expert not just in those systems but in lasers in general,” Whitmore says. For her doctoral project, she built femtosecond (one-quadrillionth of a second) lasers to study single molecules vibrating in real time. “The ability to control laser pulses at that level felt really incredible,” she says. While she relished working with lasers, Whitmore felt lonely in the lab. She volunteered to teach lasers and optics to children at outreach events. She shared her email address with kids interested in learning more but realized she needed an easierto-remember name. Her LaserChick identity was born. In 2011, she won the prestigious University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her laser research at UC Berkeley, where she built attosecond (onequintillionth of a second) laser systems to study electrons traveling across metal and semiconductor surfaces. As the postdoc neared its end in 2014, Whitmore struggled to figure out her path. “I was applying to jobs where I would keep playing with lasers, but they wouldn’t stretch any of my other muscles: my science communication, my teaching or my curiosity,” she says. “I realized that teaching and outreach were really what I loved doing.” She read the self-help book What Color Is Your Parachute? Three of the four dream careers it recommended for her were spot on: teacher, science movie advisor and museum scientist. “I didn’t even know ‘museum scientist’ was a job,” Whitmore says. Immediately, she leaped on an opening as a science curriculum specialist in the Learning Design Group at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. The group had just contracted with the company

Amplify to develop its namesake K-8 science curriculum based on newly released educational standards. “It was so fun,” Whitmore says. “I realized: ‘This is what I want.’” She’s most proud of her eighthgrade unit on light waves, which has been adopted in nearly 40 states, in such huge urban districts as Chicago and Seattle, and countless smaller regions – including in the Antelope Valley. “I’m teaching children in an area where my own education wasn’t amazing,” she says. “But I’m helping to change that.” In 2018, after two years of teaching about lasers and photonics technology at Irvine Valley College, Whitmore seized the opportunity to combine two dream jobs into one at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, a public learning laboratory dedicated to exploring the world through science, art and human perception. As a staff physicist educator in the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute, she educates middle and high school teachers on how to relay science in an inquirydriven manner and use students’ own curiosity to help them learn science. Whitmore draws inspiration from the Exploratorium’s hundreds of hands-on exhibits to create physicscentered Science Snacks, short activities that employ inexpensive everyday materials to bring explorations of natural phenomena into the classroom and home. For example, the “Laser Speckle” activity uses a frosted lightbulb and dollar-store laser pointer to demonstrate the phenomenon of wave interference, which appears differently to people who are nearsighted, are farsighted or have 20/20 vision. The “Laser Jell-O” activity uses a laser pointer and gelatin to demonstrate differences in light

absorption, refraction and reflection. The accessible nature of the hundreds of Science Snacks available online made them invaluable learning tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote learning limited the materials that students had to draw on and highlighted the equity gaps common across education. “You have this huge diversity of students with different experiences,” Whitmore says. “How do you practice what’s known today as culturally relevant science, incorporating who the student is and how they learn into your teaching?” She cites a Science Snack called “Blind Spot,” which teaches about physical blind spots but opens the door to a much deeper conversation: “I use it in an interactive way to say, ‘Everyone has a physical blind spot as well as social blind spots. You might not think about them, but they exist. You and I see the world differently. Valuing all of those perspectives is what makes science richer.’”

“I didn’t even know ‘museum scientist’ was a job.”

LaserChick will keep doing her invaluable part to enrich science education and foster interest among the next generation of learners. “I’m helping people be curious and ask the questions they need to ask to understand the world around them,” Whitmore says. “If I can do that for 1,000 kids, that’s great. They’ll grow up to be informed citizens. But if I can teach 1,000 teachers, that’s an army of students who get to learn science. I’m making a much larger impact than I ever thought possible.”

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Class Notes

Dennis Kause ’79, economics Opening a brewery and running a company that makes custom shoe insoles wasn’t part of the plan. As a baseball player at UCI, Dennis Kause wanted to go pro. And he nearly did after graduation, briefly dabbling with the Dodgers organization before deciding he’d have more success in the business world. So he joined General Electric Information Services and later founded and sold two software consulting firms before taking over Santa Ana-based Bio Orthopedic Lab, which supplies foot orthotics to college sports teams, doctors and private patients. More recently, with his son, Daniel, a former University of Oregon football player, Kause launched Dueling Ducks Brewing Co., which sells craft ales at Angel Stadium and operates a tasting room along Anaheim’s La Palma Beer Trail. The venture began in 2014 when his son discovered “you can make this stuff at home” and invited dad to help. Eventually, Daniel Kause’s creations started winning awards and, in 2021, the pair transformed the hobby into a full-fledged business.

Farhad Daghighian, Ph.D. ’87, physics A year before the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, Farhad Daghighian left his native Tehran and arrived at UCI’s plasma physics lab with a single suitcase in hand. His brother, Henry (’85, physics), three cousins and a couple of friends eventually followed, forming a small Anteater expatriate group. After graduation, Daghighian entered the field of nuclear medicine and developed a series of devices to aid in treating cancer. His latest machine, a lower-cost, portable image scanner called BBX-PET, enables neurologists to quickly diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in-house instead of sending patients to an outside lab, he says. The FDAapproved technology, which took eight years to perfect after Daghighian won a 2012 business plan competition sponsored by UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business, will also be marketed to cardiologists. When the Santa Monica resident isn’t tinkering with medical gadgets, his hobbies include travel, reading and a mostly unplayed cello.

..................................................... Vicki (Peralta) Vasques ’81, teaching credentials (elementary and high school) Her detour to Washington, D.C., was supposed to be temporary. While teaching elementary school in Mission Viejo, Vicki Vasques landed a job with the Reagan administration as a special assistant in the Department of Education’s civil rights office. Instead of returning after a year, as planned, she caught “Potomac fever” and spent the next quarter century in various federal posts under four presidents, finishing as assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Indian Education under George W. Bush. After retiring in 2005, Vasques – who is Diegueño, from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, and now lives in Virginia – founded Tribal Tech LLC, which provides consulting services to federal, state, corporate and tribal clients. In 2016, she established the Ronald Maese Peralta Foundation, named for her father, to improve the education, health and wellness of all, but especially Native Americans. The nonprofit also funds UCI internships at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

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..................................................... Mark Gagnon, M.A. ’99, German A dynamic high school teacher and a flyer from upstate New York set the course for Mark Gagnon’s career. As a teen, inspired by an “amazing” German class at Diamond Bar High School, he lived near Hamburg as an exchange student during his senior year. Then a leaflet from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, caught his eye. “I didn’t come from a military family,” Gagnon says, “but I wanted to attend a college that would challenge me academically and physically, teach me leadership” – and offer the chance to be stationed in Germany. After graduating, he served seven years, including assignments in his favorite European nation, before West Point recruited him to come back as a German instructor. That led to the UCI degree and, later, a Ph.D. from Harvard University. In 2020, Col. Gagnon retired from active duty, but he continues to direct the academy’s German program. He and his wife, Kristin, a fellow West Point alum, have 10 children and one grandchild.


Zach Golden, MBA ’12

Diana (Hamman) Dizon, M.S. ’03, biological sciences As chief “bionerd,” Diana Dizon organizes hands-on workshops for K-8 children on such topics as bugs, dinosaurs, skeletons, fingerprints, jellyfish and cardiology. Originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, Dizon spent the first part of her career researching macular degeneration and colon cancer. But in 2015, after noticing that her young son and daughter weren’t getting much exposure to biology and nature in their elementary school, she quit her medical products job and founded Bionerds as a family business. “I love working with kids and felt that I needed to do something different in my life,” she recalls. The company’s first class was held in Dizon’s Rancho Santa Margarita garage. Seven years later, Bionerds programs are taught in more than 150 Orange County schools, cities, libraries and Girl Scouts gatherings, she says, with plans to branch out to neighboring counties and work more with underserved students. In her spare time, Dizon enjoys hiking, scrapbooking, puzzles and gardening.

“Peace through perspiration” is the motto of Sanctuary Fitness, a small chain of strength and conditioning studios founded by Zach Golden. The former college baseball pitcher developed the concept in 2016 after getting laid off from an outdoor apparel company. “While I was unemployed, I realized that I liked the group atmosphere at the different gyms I went to, but I couldn’t find the workout or vibe I was looking for,” he recalls. So Golden created his own fitness program – a no-treadmill regimen that focuses on strength and cardio training – and put his MBA to use launching his first studio in downtown Los Angeles in 2017. With newer branches in Pasadena, West Hollywood and Koreatown, Sanctuary Fitness survived the pandemic by shifting to outdoor and online classes. Golden now hopes to expand and possibly franchise beyond L.A. County – even, perhaps, to his home state of Texas.

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..................................................... Farah Bajwa ’04, electromechanical engineering Cascading dominoes, a Red Bull Rube Goldberg machine, fuse boxes and fighter jets are all part of Farah Bajwa’s life story. After UCI, she initially joined the aerospace industry, working on military and commercial flight control systems. But she also found a creative outlet for her engineering skills: helping to build Red Bull’s half-human, half-mechanical kluge at the old El Toro air base. The resulting video has racked up more than 36 million views. It also led to Bajwa being recruited to compete on “Domino Masters,” a 2022 TV series devoted to elaborate displays of falling rectangular blocks. Meanwhile, two years ago, Bajwa switched from aerospace to electricity, becoming a project manager for Eaton Corp.’s circuit breakers, fuses, and other power management products and services. The San Diego resident is also a travel aficionado whose first passport – at the age of 3 weeks – took her to Egypt and whose subsequent trips have included chasing the northern lights in Iceland, snorkeling along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and touring a space alien museum in New Mexico.

To submit a Class Notes update, email alumni@uci.edu.

Taylor Fagins ’17, drama A 30-minute burst of creativity turned Taylor Fagins’ life upside down. Heartbroken over the death of George Floyd in police custody, Fagins dashed off a song about the chilling effects of such incidents, posted it online and watched in wonder as the composition drew tens of thousands of views. The tune also won American Songwriter’s 2020 contest, with a $10,000 prize. Encouraged by the accolades, Fagins – who grew up in La Palma, started singing at age 9 and began writing music in high school to cope with his parents’ divorce – enrolled in graduate school at the Berklee College of Music’s New York City campus. Then “American Idol” came calling. Although Fagins wowed the room during the season premiere in February, he was cut in the next round. But his luck continues. Fagins says his phone has been ringing off the hook with offers since his TV appearance. His latest project is a new musical called “Sunken Cathedral.”

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In Memoriam

Alan B. Gazzaniga, professor emeritus, surgery Alan B. Gazzaniga, medical pioneer and professor emeritus in the UCI School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, died in his North Tustin home on June 17. He was 85. A Los Angeles native, Gazzaniga graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1961 and then was a resident for two years in the U.S. Navy as a first lieutenant. After his military service, he completed residencies in adult cardiovascular surgery at Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and pediatric cardiovascular surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. He was recruited to join UCI in 1970 and was a professor in and chief of the Department of Surgery’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. From 1970 to 1987, he also led the Division of Trauma and Critical Care at UCI and was named the John E. Connolly Chair in Surgery. Gazzaniga was responsible for several groundbreaking advances in medicine. He was among the first in the country to develop the concept of having paramedics or EMTs assist patients with injuries prior to arriving at the hospital. Gazzaniga also established the Orange County Fire Department’s EMT program and in 1979 published the first textbook for paramedics, Emergency Care: Principles and Practices. Along with Dr. Robert Bartlett, he launched the UCI surgical research program. Gazzaniga and Bartlett were the first physicians to perform a prolonged cardiopulmonary bypass on an infant with heart failure after a complicated heart repair, which broadened the application of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, for the pediatric population. In addition, along with Edwards Laboratories and Bartlett, Gazzaniga helped create the incentive spirometer to prevent lung complications after surgery, a device that is now standard medical equipment. Jaime E. Rodríguez O., professor emeritus, history Jaime E. Rodríguez O., founding director of Latin American studies (now the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies), died June 27. He was 81. Rodríguez O. was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and came to the U.S. with his mother in 1948. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he earned a B.A. in economics in 1965 and an M.A. in history the following year at the University of Houston. Rodríguez O. next went to the University of Texas at Austin, where he obtained a Ph.D. in Mexican history in 1970. After teaching Latin American history at California State University, Long Beach from 1969 to 1973, he transferred to UCI, where he spent the rest of his career in the history department. Rodríguez O. made important contributions to the thennascent university, in his years as assistant dean for undergraduate studies (1979 to 1980), dean of graduate studies and research (1980 to 1986), director of the Mexico/Chicano program (1984 to 1992), and one of the founders and the first director of the Latin American studies program (1984 to 1991). A prominent historian of Latin America, he concentrated his research on Mexico and Ecuador and broader questions of Latin American identity, state building, representative governance during struggles for independence and the first decades of independent states.

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Michael Berns, Distinguished Professor emeritus, surgery and biomedical engineering Michael Berns, UCI Distinguished Professor emeritus of surgery and biomedical engineering as well as founding director of the UCI Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, died at his home in Irvine on Aug. 13. He was 79. Berns came to UCI from the University of Michigan in 1973. He was chair of the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology and also held appointments in the School of Medicine and The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. Berns co-founded, with Arnold Beckman, the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic in 1982 and served as its director until 2003. He was the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor from 1988 to 2020. Berns also founded the first laser microbeam program and the UCI Photonic Incubator and was instrumental in pursuing the formation of UCI’s biomedical engineering department. “Although a cell biologist by training, Michael was keenly aware that modern biological discoveries would be increasingly reliant on technological solutions,” said Zoran Nenadic, the William J. Link Chair in Biomedical Engineering. “When Dr. Arnold Beckman showed up at Michael’s lab on a rainy morning four decades ago, he was fascinated by Michael’s work on laser microscopy and immediately recognized its potential. His endowment led to the creation of the world-renowned Beckman Laser Institute.” Berns’ work focused on the use of laser technology in medical and biological research. He developed tools and techniques for the surgical application of lasers, down to the level of manipulating single cells and individual chromosomes. He published extensively on the use of lasers in both biomedical research and the medical treatment of illnesses, including skin disorders, vascular disease, eye problems and cancer. Thomas J. Crawford, professor emeritus, psychological science Thomas J. Crawford, professor emeritus of psychological science, died peacefully in his sleep Sept. 9. He was 88. Formerly a firefighter and a police officer, Crawford earned a Ph.D. in social relations at Harvard University on a full-ride National Science Foundation fellowship. Born in Los Angeles, Crawford held assistant professor appointments at the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley before joining the social ecology program at UCI in 1974. He made major contributions to the development of social ecology, serving for several years as the program’s associate director for graduate studies. Working with Daniel Stokols, Chancellor’s Professor emeritus and founding dean of the School of Social Ecology; C. David Dooley, professor emeritus of psychological science; and others to found and shape the School of Social Ecology, Crawford helped advance the social psychology area and mentored several cohorts of doctoral students. “He dedicated himself to perfecting ways to bring applied research to life for his students and family alike, and he lived by way of his carefully contemplated political beliefs and ethical values,” said his daughter Alice Crawford Berghof, a humanities lecturer at UCI.


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P A R T I N G

Z O T !

Welcome Back, Anteaters! Peter greets participants at the grand opening celebration for the Verano 8 graduate student housing complex with the traditional “Zot!” – just in time for the new school year. UCI has prioritized campus housing in its long-range plan and currently houses 44 percent of the total student population.

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UCI Magazine

Fernando Osorio / UCI


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