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Spring 2014


Undocumented Students Finding Welcome Homes on UC Campuses HAVING COFFEE WITH PROFESSOR FRED WOLF

and His Drunken Fruit Flies OUR UNIVERSE

Women in STEM Looking for Ways to Encourage Women to Pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Studies

UC Merced’s Research Takes a Galactic Turn


Spring 2014


3 Curriculum | Professor

Christopher Viney inspires students’ confidence


recap of our latest news stories and videos

4 Leadership Perspectives | Provost and


6 Donor Spotlight | Calvin E. Bright


Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson talks about strategic focusing and honing the university’s academic evolution

has made an enduring mark on the campus

Women in STEM | Women still aren’t 14 making up enough of the science,

technology, engineering and math students

the top five research grants from each of our schools

FRED WOLF | What kind of guy gets a fruit fly drunk? 23 GOVERMENT RELATIONS

UPDATE | Students speak to lawmakers

18 Immigration | Undocumented

29 FAST FACTS | UC Merced has a

24 Sierra Views | Learning more about water

30 WHAT’S NEW | Introducing the new natural reserve at UC Merced

26 Our Universe | Research takes a

32 ALUMNI CORNER | Career Chats building alumni network

students finding more support for their higher education

resources in California’s natural reservoir

galactic turn

healthy effect on the San Joaquin Valley and beyond

28 Focus on Graduate Students | Four

exceptional grad students earn a dean’s notice

ON THE COVER Marisol Prado is a mechanical engineering student who is working on a solar-powered coffee kiosk for campus. She and many other young women at UC Merced are following their dreams of careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.



Letter from University Communications Welcome to the spring edition of UC Merced Magazine. We’re very pleased by your enthusiasm for the fall edition, and hope you will find just as much in this new one to capture your attention. There are a couple of new things we want to point out: First, the magazine has an online version, too. If you want to read it on your phone, tablet or computer, you can find us at If you don’t want to sign up for Issuu (it’s free), you can simply enter UC Merced in the search window and scroll down under publications to find our magazine. Or, let us know if you want to be on the email list, and we’ll send you the direct link to the magazine. Once there, you will see the gorgeous online format. You can flip pages, click on hyperlinks, zoom in or out and more. It really is a great platform for the magazine, because it’s easy to use and displays in full color. You can also follow us on Issuu, and you

will find other UC Merced publications there, too, such as the Health Sciences Research Institute’s annual report, our latest Research and Enterprise book and more. You can also easily share the link with friends and family. Second, you’ll see some new features in this issue, including Curriculum, a spotlight on a class taught at UC Merced. This issue has two main features – the stories on women in science, technology, engineering and math studies and immigration in California – and a whole lot of other interesting content, from our research around the universe (yes, you read that right) and the work we’re doing in the Sierra Nevada to the latest updates on our alumni and from our administration. Thank you for joining us on this new venture. We welcome your feedback at We hope to hear from you soon! UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS



Lorena Anderson Senior Public Information Representative University Communications PHOTOGRAPHY

Veronica Adrover Clayton Anderson Elena Zhukova ILLUSTRATION

Julie Jamero-Hada Patricia Pratt MAGAZINE DESIGN

Jennifer Biancucci PUBLISHED BY

University Communications UC MERCED LEADERSHIP

Dorothy Leland UC Merced Chancellor

Thomas Peterson Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Kyle Hoffman Vice Chancellor Development and Alumni Relations

Patti Waid Assistant Vice Chancellor University Communications

Cori Lucero Executive Director Governmental and Community Relations VISIT

UC Merced online. FOLLOW

UC Merced Magazine online.



Course: Polymeric Materials Christopher Viney, School of Engineering











Professor ‘Stretches’ Creativity to Illustrate Difficult Concepts BY Lorena Anderson

University Communications

It’s not every day you see a university professor urging students to pull rubber bands and hold them to their lips. But the Polymeric Materials class gives Professor Christopher Viney – known around campus for his charismatic personality – a chance to demonstrate fun experiments that illustrate the concepts he’s teaching. “He encourages students to engage with the material and try to understand it conceptually rather than memorizing information,” said student Noel Cruz, who took the class in Fall 2013. “He advocates a multidisciplinary approach to learning. For example, the course focuses on polymers but we applied circuits, differential mathematics and organic chemistry concepts in order to gain a better grasp of the material.” Viney uses the rubber bands to demonstrate some of the thermodynamics associated with stretching the rubber, and he pairs the demonstration with a lecture on how you can predict the stress-strain relationship and the deformations that result. “It’s really physics at that point,” Viney said. Here’s how the experiment works: After convincing the students not to play with the rubber bands beforehand, Viney tells them to give their bands one quick, hard tug, then hold the stretched portion to their upper lips.

“It’s one example of how you can understand things you can’t see.” – PROFESSOR Christopher Viney

on his classroom experiment with rubber bands

“The stress makes the rubber crystallize – it essentially becomes a different material,” he said. The crystallization releases heat, which the students can feel on their lips. Then, they relax the bands, and as the crystals melt, the rubber absorbs heat from its surroundings. At that point, the bands feel noticeably cooler when the students hold them to their lips. “It’s one example of how you can understand things you can’t see,” Viney said. Viney is one of the campus’s original eight faculty members, and has held a variety of responsibilities over the nine years since the campus opened, including writing the original materials science and bioengineering curricula, devising the campus’s core curriculum with Professor Emeritus Gregg Herken and other colleagues, teaching freshman seminars, calculus and physics, and serving as vice provost for

undergraduate education for three years. He still mentors an Engineering Service Learning team, collaborates with colleagues and students on research, gives guest lectures and teaches. Cambridge educated, Viney is professionally recognized as both a physicist and a chemist, and taught at Oxford, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Washington before making his home in Merced. With all that experience, students say, Viney seems intimidating – at first. “He holds everyone to a high standard – a standard that, toward the end, we all hold ourselves to as well,” Cruz said. “But after a short while, it’s apparent that he has his students’ best interest in mind, because he goes out of his way to help them. In reality, he is a humble and kind-hearted professor.”




Tom Peterson

Strategic Focusing Aims to Hone University’s Academic Evolution “The next six to nine months promise to be the most exciting time in our development since the founding – a time to call forth our most innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, test them and give them a chance to take flight, and perhaps redefine the academy for the next century.”

You’re now well into your second year as provost and executive vice chancellor at the newest University of California campus in Merced. What priorities have risen to the top of your to-do list during your tenure to date? My top priority is to determine how best to support the academic mission of UC Merced within the context of its rich University of California heritage and its unique status as the first American research university of the 21st century. We have a very talented and enterprising faculty, drawn here by the opportunity to create a model university for future scholars and leaders. That challenge drew me here as well and inspires me to think creatively about the delivery of higher education in a rapidly changing world. To do that effectively, we need to develop our talent, processes and capabilities with imagination and a laser-like focus on the needs of the region, the state and society as a whole. Can you give an example of how you’re doing that? The Strategic Focusing Initiative, a faculty-driven effort to define how we want our academic programs to evolve, is the primary example of how we intend to do that. I have great admiration for the faculty and staff members who founded this university and saw it through its formative years. They quickly established a strong set of core programs that stimulated enrollment growth and have already achieved a distinguished reputation in many areas of research and scholarship. Now we’re poised to take the next step – to decide how and where to invest a portion of our resources for greatest strategic impact and overall contribution. The Strategic Focusing Initiative will identify areas key to the reputation and strength of the institution and help guide investment decisions more clearly and efficiently. At the same time, we will continue to invest in disciplinary programs that are fundamental to our core academic mission.



Why do you feel the time is right to pursue this initiative now? UC Merced marks its 10th academic year this fall when we welcome the class of 2018. Enrollment at that time will be about 6,500 students, with 10,000 expected by 2020. We believe we now have sufficient size, talent and experience to define a path forward based on our emerging strengths and what we see as the most promising opportunities in the years ahead. We also feel we’re approaching a critical juncture in our efforts to maintain our reputation for strong interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work. A large portion of UC Merced’s faculty members joined the institution because of its very early commitment to this kind of work, which is extremely difficult in traditional enterprises with departmental silos and very little incentive to work across boundaries. I consider it part of my responsibility to preserve this differentiating quality for UC Merced, its faculty and its students. How will this initiative influence the university’s academic direction and research pursuits in future years? The first round of faculty submissions from this effort produced almost 40 initiatives, many of which offered exciting and creative ideas for combining our disciplinary strengths to address issues with multidisciplinary dimensions. We expect even more innovative approaches will develop as faculty members study the submissions of their colleagues and new synergies emerge. This process should result in a set of promising research trajectories we can pursue over the next eight to 10 years, creating a unique identity for this institution not only compared with our sister institutions within the UC system, but also with other academic institutions nationally. Significantly, we can proceed with this focusing effort in a way that’s unconstrained by traditions that often dictate direction and force one to settle for sameness. I think UC Merced may be uniquely positioned to do something visionary and, quite possibly, even revolutionary, if we have the courage to dare and risk a false step or two. The next six to nine months promise to be the most exciting time in our development since the founding – a time to call forth our most innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, test them and give them a chance to take flight, and perhaps redefine the academy for the next century. The University of California is widely regarded as the leading public university system in the world. Do you feel public institutions such as UC Merced and the faculty members who work here have a special obligation to serve the public good? I think all universities do to an extent, but especially so for our public universities. Those of us who work in public education accept that as we develop our professional identity through research, teaching and service, we’re here as well to serve the public interest and to enhance quality of life for society as a whole. This is done through the rigorous pursuit of knowledge, the open discussion of ideas and the generous gift of our time and intellect for the common good. The unparalleled rise of the state of California as a world leader in technology, the arts, agriculture, aerospace, healthcare and so many other fields is testament to the notion that society benefits enormously when strong public university systems spring up in their midst. I expect UC Merced and its people will make good on that same kind of promise for generations to come.



Donor Spotlight

BY Tonya Kubo

University Communications

Calvin E. Bright’s

I CO N I C H O M E - B UIL D E R ’ S L E G AC Y I S generosity opens doors


and minds at UC Merced

Success Center touches numerous lives by providing advising and learning support to students throughout their academic careers at UC Merced. The Calvin E. Bright Engineering Scholarship Fund has supported engineering scholars since 2008. His donations have also helped offset the cost of commencement ceremonies and fund the expansion of the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation Center. Bright is committed to investing in the success of UC Merced students because he hopes to help them avoid some of the obstacles he had to confront in his youth. He arrived at Oklahoma State University as a first-generation college student with little more than the clothes on his back and enough money to make it through a single month. “I knew my parents couldn’t help me; my father told me that when he dropped me off,” Bright recalled. “I was determined to go to college because my mother and father always told me I was going to go to college.” Bright refers to that first month as the turning point in his life. “I bet I didn’t have $5 that I could spend…I couldn’t find a job, and I had bills due the following week,” he said. “I called my father to come get me – I just couldn’t do it.” Instead, Bright’s father encouraged him to stick it out. That advice paid off. Bright found work and earned his degree – juggling three to four jobs the whole time. In the end, it didn’t take long for him to realize he had received much more than a piece of paper.

“When I got my first job, the only question I was asked was about my education,” he said. “The man who offered me the job didn’t ask what I studied; all that mattered was that I had my degree. It changed my life.” Today, the Bright Engineering Scholarship helps students with financial challenges and represents the family foundation’s commitment to maintaining the nation’s technical competitiveness by supporting the education of those who show scholarly aptitude. Jessyca Kamel, a mechanical engineering senior from Southern California, credits receiving the scholarship this year as being a deal-maker for her. “By helping to fund my education, the Bright family has made it possible for me to focus on my studies instead of worrying about how I will manage to pay for everything involved,” she said. Kamel isn’t alone. Since its establishment, the scholarship has benefitted about 30 engineering scholars with the potential for success but lacking the financial resources necessary for their educations. Carol Bright Tougas, foundation president and daughter of Calvin E. Bright, credits UC Merced for providing educational access. “We have an enormous amount of confidence in UC Merced and its programs,” she said. “My father has always been passionate about helping those willing to help themselves, and we appreciate UC Merced’s focus on empowering its students to reach their full potential.”

Calvin E. Bright and his daughter, Carol Bright Tougas.


hen it comes to campus supporters, Calvin E. Bright’s investment in UC Merced is one that is both long standing and strong. A trustee since 2000 – long before any concrete foundations were laid – the acclaimed San JoaquinValley home builder is part of an elite group of leaders that poured financial support into the University of California’s newest campus and the students who would eventually come as pioneers. To date, Bright and his family foundation have given almost $2.25 million to UC Merced, leaving an indelible mark on the campus community. “There is not a corner of this campus that has not somehow been touched by Calvin’s philanthropy,” said Charles Nies, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and dean of students. Bright has focused his generosity in areas that affect students. Among his numerous gifts to the university, the 2011 endowment of $2 million to establish the Calvin E. Bright

See a video about the positive impact the Bright Center for Success is having on UC Merced students.



By helping to fund my education, the Bright family has made it possible for me to focus on my studies instead of worrying about how I will manage to pay for everything involved. – JESSYCA KAMEL



In Case You Missed It UC Merced had an outstanding 2013,

and goods and services purchased.

including record enrollment, research

Statewide, UC Merced’s total economic

expenditures and economic impact on the

contribution now exceeds $1.7 billion.

San Joaquin Valley, new buildings and a

Researchers’ expenditures were up 9

visit from new UC President Janet

percent over the year before, in part thanks


to grants and private donations that fund

The campus is looking forward to many more record-setting years to come. By the end of last year, the campus

so much of the important work performed here, like cancer, diabetes and valley fever research, work that helps understand

had pumped $1 billion into the region’s

drought, climate change and water

economy since operations began, including

resources, big-data analysis and the

wages and benefits, construction contracts

region’s developing economy.

Take a look at some of the stories you might have missed from the past semester:

Social Feedback Loop Aids Language Development Professor Anne Warlaumont and

McCloskey’s Research Earns Grant from California’s Stem Cell Push

Campus Surpasses UC President’s Water Conservation Request Conserving resources is part of

colleagues revealed that children’s language skills develop better when they

UC Merced’s DNA. The campus

have more verbal interactions with

can not only meet President Janet

their parents. Studying almost 14,000

Napolitano’s call to cut water con-

hours of audio recordings helped the

sumption by 20 percent by 2020, it

researchers make the important dis-

has already exceeded that

covery that the “social feedback loop”

expectation – this year. As of the

has a cascading effect over the course

2012-13 school year, UC Merced has

of a child’s development, but that it

Professor Kara McCloskey won a

isn’t as powerful with autistic children.

highly competitive $500,000 grant

The work could help fuel better, more

from the California Institute for Re-

effective ways of communicating with

generative Medicine to help her and

autistic children and helping their

her students engineer cardiovascular


tissues that could someday be used to

Read the whole story

repair damaged blood vessels or heart

reduced its per capita water use by 43 percent since 2007. Individual staff and faculty member and student use went from 22,564 gallons a year to 13,290.

tissue. The work could have far-reaching consequences for heart-attack and vascular patients. They are working to make 3-D models of heart tissue that can demonstrate how the stems cells



will work, and McCloskey said if that is

That’s already 4,761 gallons less than

successful, human trials could begin in

the goal of 20 percent reduction set

about five years.

by Napolitano for 2020.

Read the whole story

Read the whole story

Research Universities Create Economic Spillover, Study Shows

UC Merced Heating up Mongolia’s Harsh Winter One of the world’s oldest civilizations – with the worst air pollution and the coldest capital city – is employing cutting-edge technology from UC Merced. Professor Roland

A $1 increase in university

Winston, who leads the UC Merced-based UC Solar Institute

spending generates an

and others developed a solar-thermal unit being tested at

89-cent increase in local

Mongolia National University. The primary source of heat in

noneducation labor

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is burning coal, and, more recently,

income — evidence of a

chopped-up tires – both highly pollutant and unhealthy.

measurable spillover

Departments within the Mongolian government are also

effect created by public research institutions, research at UC Merced shows. Professor

excited about the potential.

Alexander Whalley and colleagues sought to clarify how research universities contribute to regional economic development. Using massive datasets that tracked university spending and county economic changes from 1981 to 1996,

Read the whole story

the researchers teased out the effect of research universities alone – “a true apples-to-apples comparison.” Read the whole story

Professor Discovers How to Rein in Power of Tiny Particles

Speakers Bring Varied Experience to Campus’s Largest Commencement The CEO of Enduring Hydro LLC and former U.S. Undersecretary for Energy Kristina Johnson and Merced County Superior Court Judge Paul C. Lo will deliver keynote addresses at UC Merced’s ninth commencement. More than

The heat generated by smartphones and other electronic devices could be harnessed to also power them, indicates compelling research from UC Merced physics Professor Michael Scheibner, who published his work in Nature Communications, a young bimonthly product of the prestigious journal Nature. Using phonons, which generate heat, to power the very devices that are creating them could mean big changes

1,400 students are eligible to graduate, making this the largest graduating class in history. Two school-based ceremonies will accommodate students and their families. Johnson speaks to the schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering on May 17, and Lo will address the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts on May 18.

in energy use, not only for small electronics, but for companies like Google, which need massive cooling centers for their many computers.

Read the whole story

Read the whole story



In Case You Missed It Campus Unveils Ambitious Expansion Plans UC Merced seeks a development team to finance and significantly expand the campus’ size and capacity to enroll 10,000 students by 2020. Space is severely limited on the campus that has 6,200 students. The campus issued a request for qualifications for one or more development partners this spring, to design and build about 1.5 million square feet of new teaching, research and residential facilities adjacent to campus. The university aims to begin construction in 2015 and have buildings by 2017. Read the whole story

Campus Receives Record Number of Applications for 10th Academic Year

UC Merced Presents New Student Initiatives to White House

Political Science Professors Lead Field in Publications UC Merced political science profes-

Admissions data indicates interest

UC Merced

sors publish in leading journals and

in UC Merced is steadily growing, as

Chancellor Dorothy

with top university presses at a rate

the number of undergraduate appli-

Leland unveiled six

that outpaces just about every other

cations to enroll in Fall 2014 hit 17,469

ambitious new

elite institution, including Harvard,

this year. That’s a 1.6 percent increase

initiatives to help

Stanford, UC San Diego and Yale.

over Fall 2013. Transfer applications

college attainment

Professor Nathan Monroe evaluated

remained steady with 2,205 this year

and success among underserved

his prolific political colleagues’ publi-

compared to 2,225 last year. The distri-

students at an elite White House

cation prowess since earning his or her

bution of undergraduate applications

education summit this winter. UC

Ph.D., and also found that the

by California region has remained rela-

Merced was one of about 140 Ameri-

tively constant with 28.9 percent from

can colleges and universities to meet

Los Angeles, 21.8 percent from the

with First Lady Michelle Obama and

Central Valley and 25.1 percent from

other education officials. Each campus

the San Francisco Bay Area.

submitted a list of new programs to help low-income and undocumented

Read the whole story

Despite their simple forms, jellyfish might supply answers to some complex questions.



students improve their college-going

university’s 10 political science faculty

and graduation rates. UC Merced

members publish at the highest rate

predominantly serves low-income

in the top six journals and come in

students. Sixty percent of undergrad-

second when looking only at faculty

uates are Pell grant recipients and 62

members who have earned Ph.D.s

percent are first-generation students.

since 1998.

Read the whole story

Read the whole story

Through the Police Mentor Program, UC Merced student mentors serve as role models for fourth-graders at two local elementary schools.

Take an in-depth look at the work that goes on at UC Merced during the annual Research Week.

One of the most innovative of its kind, UC Merced’s Cognitive Science graduate program is attracting stellar students and faculty alike.

FacultyFindings School of Natural Sciences

UC Merced faculty members rely on grants and gifts for their work. Here’s a list of the top awards from each school this calendar year.

y Professor Michael Cleary received $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies for his work on neural stem cells and decay networks. y Professors Arnold Kim and Rommuel Marcia and Lecturer Yue Lei received $879,997 from the National Science Foundation for the DESCARTES program in applied math and big-data analysis. y Professor Fabian Filipp received $761,257 from the National Cancer Institute for his research into key regulators of cancer metabolism. y Professor Ramendra Saha received $747,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for his work into the cellular basis for learning and memory. y Professor Andy LiWang received $614,000 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his work into the regulation of bacterial circadian rhythms.


y Professor Michael Modest received a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for his work on efficiency and heat transfer in internal-combustion engines. y Professor Stefano Carpin received $594,198 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for his work on grasping and simulation for the next generation of manufacturing robots. y Professor Ming-Hsuan Yang received $473,798 from the National Science Foundation for his research into machine-learning and visual tracking. y Professor Kara McCloskey received $388,254 from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Science Foundation for her work on stem cells and integrated cellular systems. y Professor Tom Harmon received $384,573 from the National Science Foundation for his research into climate change, human adaptation and risks to sustainable freshwater ecosystems in the western hemisphere and beyond.

School of social Sciences, humanities and arts

y Professor Rick Dale received $333,243 from the National Science Foundation and the University of Wisconsin for his research into language processing. y Professors Thomas Hansford and Sarah Depaoli received $271,074 from the National Science Foundation for their work on legal policy. y Professor Holley Moyes received $147,480 from the Alphawood Foundation for her research into the ancient Maya use of caves. y Professor Paul Brown received $59,252 from the University of Otago for his work on cancer prevention and screenings. y Dean Mark Aldenderfer received $34,535 from the California Department of Education for work on No Child Left Behind curriculum and instruction.



Wolf’s Higher Education


Having Coffee with Fred Wolf BY Brenda Ortiz

University Communications

Graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s in biology

I love discovering things. That’s what gets me up every day. When you discover something at the bench,

1999 Earned a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley

1999 Postdoctoral research in behavioral genetics at the University of California, San

you can actually do something real in life. – PROFESSOR fred wolf


iology Professor Fred Wolf is no stranger to the appeal and demands of academia. His father was an engineering professor at the University of Michigan and his family lived next to the Ann Arbor campus. “As a kid, the university was our playground, and I spent a lot of time on campus,” Wolf said. “In particular, the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur skeletons, rocks and minerals, and planetarium was one of my favorite stops.” But it was the time Wolf spent outdoors that ultimately led him to science.


2005 Worked as a research investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, Emeryville

2012 Became a professor at UC Merced



“I got my love of biology from spending summers in northern Michigan at a cottage that my dad built on a lake,” Wolf said. “Just being out there, you get a feel for nature and that it is important.” The youngest of four siblings, Wolf began his undergraduate education at Michigan State studying computer science. His father worked with computers and he thought he might follow in his footsteps.

Change in Direction

He eventually transferred to the University of Michigan, though, and realized his true passion was biology. “The sciences let you ask real questions about things that are happening,” Wolf said. “Biology, in particular, seemed like a great mystery that could be solved in some way.” For graduate school, Wolf applied to UC Berkeley, MIT and UC San Francisco. He only half-jokes that if he didn’t get into one of those, he was ready to switch careers. It doesn’t take long to realize he’s not the type to settle; that drive shapes both his career and the career advice he doles out to others. “If you want to go to grad school, you should know why you want to go,” he said. “If you know beforehand what it is you want to do, you will have more internal motivation.” That philosophy guided him to spend five years working as a technician before graduate school, while he figured out what he wanted to do and repaid his student loans. As a research assistant in a University of Michigan Medical School lab, he learned the power of using genetics to study biology. Graduate school at Berkeley further developed his passion for science, and he studied nervous system development in tiny worms called C. elegans. “I was attracted to the nervous system because it is very complicated and it makes us who we are,” Wolf said. “It seemed like an area that would be really interesting to study for a long time.”

Taking it to the Next Level

While worms are great, Wolf was eager to do something more physiological. Wolf credits his advisor, Professor Ulrike Heberlein at UC San Francisco, for making the study of drugs of abuse in model organisms possible.

“There’s good evidence that there is a connection genetically between the behavioral responses of humans and flies,” Wolf said. “We’re not as different from flies as you might like to think.” Also, you can do experiments with fruit flies that can’t be done with humans, and do them faster than with other model organisms, so you can ask more openended questions. Wolf devoted six years as an associate investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center in Emeryville, where he identified genes in flies and humans that are linked to alcoholism. But after almost 20 years in the Bay Area, he joined the UC Merced faculty in 2012. “This is like the California dream in a way, because you are helping to build something in the Old West sense,” Wolf said. “The campus is still young and there are so many things that need to be done.” During his early behavioral genetics research, Wolf learned the circuitry in the brain that is important for addiction overlaps with the circuitry for regulating eating. At UC Merced, Wolf and his team

are trying to understand more about the biological reward processes of alcohol and the motivational properties of food, using the fruit fly model. “We can learn a lot about what motivation is by studying behavior and manipulating brain circuits,” Wolf said. “If we can get a concrete model of what motivates a fly, we can turn that psychological concept into a wiring diagram of the brain, making it a biological concept. “It will tell us about how the cells regulate structural changes, which is important in what your brain is really good at — adapting to change.” Once addiction is better understood, more specific drugs could be created to reverse these processes. Wolf ’s research could also have an effect on how diseases like schizophrenia and depression are treated. For Wolf, that is enough. “I love discovering things. That’s what gets me up every day,” he said. “When you discover something at the bench, you can actually do something real in life.”

He studied behavior in the fruit fly Drosophila, using his computer science knowledge to develop tools to quantify the flies’ movements and study various behaviors, including their responses to alcohol. Why would you want to get a fruit fly drunk? A fruit fly’s main source of food is rotting fruit – fermented fruit, which has alcohol in it. Fruit flies also have a very long association with alcohol just like humans, so they have had time to develop mechanisms to deal with its toxic effects and develop a preference for its inebriating properties.

See a video about Professor Fred Wolf’s work with fruit flies and alcohol addiction.



ENGINEERING Many See Women as the Key to THE FUTURE: U.S. Reaching its Potential Getting women into science, technology, engineering and math studies – and keeping them there through graduation – has been difficult, but could be changing BY JEREMY OLSON

his spring, UC Merced is scheduled to have its first – perhaps the state’s first – solarpowered coffee and smoothie cart. The merging of popular beverages with green technology was the brainchild of students in the campus’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, not so much because the coffee on campus is bad, but because you can’t sell the concept of sustainable technology unless you give

people living examples of how it can work to their advantage. “They will learn about sustainability by seeing that solar energy will soon be the main source of energy — that solar panels can power blenders, charge phones and even power a home,” said Marisol Prado, a mechanical engineering major who is building the Solar Kiosk. Turns out, that’s pretty much what you need to do if you want to create a sustainable number of Marisol Prados as well.

The 20-year-old junior remains an oddity, both on her own campus and throughout U.S. colleges and universities, as a female completing a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics – a cluster of subjects called STEM. Women only earned 17 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 20092010, according to the U.S. Department of Education, while they earned 80 percent of the teaching degrees. Engineering the Future Continued on Page 16



ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeremy Olson, a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, shared the local reporting Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for a series of stories on a spike in infant deaths at poorly regulated day-care homes. The series resulted in legislative action to strengthen rules. He has primarily covered health care and social services in his 18 years as a journalist. Olson also won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism when he worked for the Omaha World-Herald.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATORS The illustration for the Women in STEM story was created by Patricia Pratt and Julie Jamero-Hada. Pratt is a native of Merced County whose work has been displayed throughout California as well as Mexico. She works for the Merced County Human Services Agency as a graphic designer and is concurrently working toward an associate’s degree in graphic design. Jamero-Hada also works at the Merced County Human Services Agency and is the mother of a UC Merced student. She earned a Desktop Design and Publishing Certificate at California State University, Stanislaus, in 2007.



“Kids need role models and people who believe in them.” – engineering student Marisol Prado

Academic research indicates many hurdles remain: y

One study by University of Texas researchers theorized that America remains stuck with “gender essentialist beliefs,” meaning that even when young women succeed in math and science, they don’t apply it toward supposedly “male” career paths.

y Yale University researchers found subtle gender bias by scientific faculty that female students were somehow less competent than equivalent males.

Making the case

At Merced, Prado is one of a handful of women in a mechanical engineering class of 30 students. To eliminate that disparity, leaders at UC Merced believe it is going to take the promotion of STEM success stories such as Prado as living examples that women, indeed, can thrive in the “nerdy” disciplines long ascribed to men. “The engineering profession, society and schools haven’t successfully made the case to women that they are needed and accepted, and that engineering careers can be world-changing in ways others cannot,” UC Merced School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman said. “People think engineers sit in front of computers all day, but it’s a contact sport – engineers are working to figure out the mysteries of the brain through reverse engineering, to harness the Sun’s energy and to stop terrorism.” The problem has ceased to be one purely of equal opportunity. Business leaders and politicians see it through the lens of innovation – that the U.S. is holding back its growth and potential if half of its population is discouraged from the fields of exploration and invention. Organizations as diverse as the Girl Scouts, Marvel Comics, ExxonMobil and the White House have all taken action. “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in 2011. “We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”




Rice University sociologist Erin Cech found women gain less confidence in their math and science skills, even when they take the same courses and earn the same grades as male classmates. The doubt comes from social cues that women aren’t supposed to be strong in certain subject areas, she said, and from the everyday social pressures to fit in.

A change in attitude, experts believe, is possible if young women receive mentors and examples proving that STEM careers not only match their skill sets, but are possible for them to achieve. UC Merced graduate Lindsay Bianchini was at the dentist last summer when she ran into an old elementary school teacher who was thrilled to learn a former student had earned a degree in mechanical engineering and parlayed it into a project engineer position at Preston Pipelines. The teacher urged Bianchini to return to school to inspire some unmotivated students. “I just have these girls,” the teacher complained. “They want to be hairdressers…and find a rich, handsome husband to make all the money for them.” ‘Kids need role models’

UC Merced students and faculty believe working with area schools and youth groups will have a turnaround benefit, because so many of the university’s students come from the surrounding San Joaquin Valley and are first-generation college students of immigrant families. Prado grew up in the Los Angeles area, where her parents own a flower shop, and before she even started kindergarten was set to work cleaning up the trimmings from floral decorations. Homework was often done in the back, and her father supplemented it with long division problems by the time Prado was in third grade.

Seeing her parents’ exhaustion after work was motivating, but Prado also was inspired by their work ethic and their reminders that she could achieve whatever she wanted. “Kids need role models,” she said, “and people who believe in them.” With that in mind, Prado and other students in the Society of Women Engineers arranged a day-long STEM conference called Expanding Your Horizons in February for local female middle and high school students. There’s also the annual springtime Dinner with a Scientist event, and members of the campus chapter of the American Academy of University Women hold STEM introductory sessions each winter for local fourth- and fifth-grade girls and their mothers or grandmothers. Lisa Tarbell knew it wouldn’t exactly be Disneyland, but she dragged her skeptical daughters to those sessions – her oldest went three years ago and her youngest this January.

But one came back with pride at the model bridge she built in an engineering workshop, while the other buzzed about how gross and yet awesome it was to dissect a frog. “Who knows? Maybe it just opened their horizons,” said Tarbell, a Merced pharmacist. “There’s nothing like seeing someone 20-30 years ahead of you and thinking, ‘wow, you can do that?’” A new program, DESCARTES, begun by a group of applied math professors, rewards students who excel in applied math and encourages them toward big-data analysis, and also features outreach to area schools to encourage all younger students to look at mathematics as a career possibility. Merced faculty members believe part of the problem is that students arrive on campus with vague concepts of STEM degrees. Many see biology as a pathway to medical careers – but certainly don’t conceive of the kind of evolutionary biology work underway

“Having someone of your race or your gender and you see them at the faculty rank? That has a lasting and deep impact on the way that students view their career options.” – School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza

at UC Merced to study antibiotic resistance or the impact of climate change on coral reefs. A variety of efforts at UC Merced seek to make that connection for students thinking about STEM careers. School of Natural Sciences faculty members host mixer dinners to show undergraduate students the opportunities for study and research that they might not have considered. Engineering the Future Continued on Page 22



Stepping Out of



Welcome at Universities “All the dreamers are thankful for this opportunity. I don’t think any of us will waste it.” – undergraduate student at UC Merced Tomas Monroy

Tomas Monroy imagined himself fulfilling a childhood dream of earning a college degree when he filled out a financial aid application last year. It was a goal he thought he couldn’t achieve without legal consequences for his family. One fear hung over the Monroys as Tomas and his parents submitted college paperwork: Would working with the government in any way draw attention to them and lead to the deportation of Monroy’s undocumented parents from their home in Tulare County? “They were worried (the government) would come get them,” said Monroy, a UC Merced engineering student. His experience – beginning his life outside the shadow of immigration, despite the fear of punishment – captures the conflicting feelings of a growing number of undocumented students at UC Merced and around the country. They’ve never had better opportunities to thrive in the United States. A combination of recent state and federal policy changes offer them more assurances that they won’t be deported to countries they can hardly remember. At the same time, repeated efforts to pass a comprehensive federal immigration reform bill for the first time since 1986 have failed in Congress. Criminal prosecutions for immigration violations also have risen under President Barack Obama’s administration with the deportation of nearly 2 million undocumented residents since he took office.



Many are optimistic

California universities like UC Merced are home to a mixed group of emotions and growing research on the nation’s inconsistent immigration dynamic. UC Merced has an expanding population of students from undocumented families and a mix of professors who are passionate about studying immigration in a global economy. Many of them are hopeful that Congress soon will take up an immigration bill to finally resolve the status of the nation’s estimated 12 million undocumented residents. “I’m a pretty optimistic person. I’d like to think this is the next big issue we’re going to address,” said anthropology Professor Robin Maria DeLugan, who has studied migration in Latin America. On campus, the efforts into immigration research show in: y Community conversations facilitated by the university that focus on the San Joaquin Valley’s distinct role in the country’s immigration debate; y Vocal professors who are eager to engage with the public; and y Increasing activism from DREAM Act students who are forming clubs and speaking up to support each other In 2001, the federal government passed the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, providing conditional certain immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, lived in the country continuously for at least five years before the bill’s enactment and graduated from U.S. high schools.

ABOUT THE WRITER Adam Ashton is a professional journalist with more than 12 years’ experience as a reporter and editor, including at the Merced Sun-Star and the Modesto Bee. A hard-hitting reporter, Ashton has been embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan three times, and now works for the Tacoma News-Tribune covering military affairs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash.

California’s Legislature in 2011 passed a state version, AB540, allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to apply for financial aid. This spring, the UC sponsored a bill introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that would close a significant gap in the financial aid available to AB540 students. UC President Janet Napolitano asked legislators for support on the bill. There are an estimated 2,000 undocumented undergraduates currently enrolled at UC campuses, she said, and they are more likely than other students to come from lowincome families and to be the first in their families to attend college. The loan program would give them the same access to financial resources as other students and improve their opportunities for academic success at the university, she told the committee. “These students have worked hard to achieve their dream of a university education, and I believe we should work as hard to ensure they have every chance to succeed, including providing them with access to the same resources as their campus peers,” Napolitano said.

AB540 students can get in-state tuition at UC and in the California State University system, but they do not qualify for federal loans or Pell Grants, or for most private loans. At UC, the resulting gap in federal aid amounts to between $5,000 and $6,000 a year. Known formally as the California Education Access Loan Program, or the California Dream Loan Program, the bill would establish campus-based loan programs at both UC and CSU. As of press time, the bill had not been voted on. Each university system would be responsible for originating, servicing and collecting the loans, which would have a common interest rate and uniform repayment terms. Repaid loans would go back to an institution’s pool for future loans. Investing in students and the future

“We invest in California students from an early age and many of them have done what we’ve asked them to do: Work hard, study and pursue a higher education,” Sen. Lara said. “If we’re serious about strengthening

our economy, then we must remove obstacles for our future workforce when they’re close to the graduation finish line. Continuing to invest in our future and ensuring that all students have access to the funding resources they need to succeed should be a top priority.” UC and CSU would each be required to contribute $1 to the loan pool for every $3 allocated from state funds, a provision Lara said would help guarantee institutions administer the program responsibly and minimize defaults. UC’s annual commitment is estimated at $1.6 million. Napolitano took the helm at UC last October, and one of her first acts was to allocate $5 million in one-time funds to assist the university’s undocumented students. There are four ways a student can be eligible for AB540 status, including being undocumented or being a military dependent who moved out of California after attending most of high school here and desiring to return to the state for college.

continued on NEXT page



The University of California system on the whole said the number of AB540 recipients has increased each year since the program’s inception in 2001, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. But while the system said that on average, the majority (64 percent) of its AB540 students are documented, at UC Merced, the majority of the AB540 students are assumed to be undocumented, according to data from UC Merced’s Institutional Research and Decision Support. The first group of AB540 students at UC Merced numbered 27, but grew starting in 2010 – after the students became eligible for financial aid – jumping to 97 in Fall 2012, and spiking to 177 in Fall 2013. Immigration and the Valley

The San Joaquin Valley traditionally has a nuanced political take on immigration because of the region’s dependence on inexpensive farm labor for its agricultural industries. Its county farm bureaus, for example, typically lobby in favor of at least some sort of guest-worker program, and Republican lawmakers who represent the region have gone on the record in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. That’s a contrast to the national party, which tends to focus on border protection over citizenship in immigration debates. Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres backed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses. He joined Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for the bill’s signing ceremony. The Legislature last year also passed a bill discouraging local law enforcement agencies from jailing undocumented residents for minor criminal offenses, aiming to stymie the kinds of deportations that break up families. The next steps have to come from Congress, Cannella said. “What we’re doing in California is treating the symptoms. We’re not treating the problem. That has to be in D.C.,” he said.



At the national level, the biggest recent gain for undocumented students came in the summer of 2012 when Obama announced a program that allowed them a sort of temporary legal status known as “deferred action.” If they qualify, it’s a promise they won’t be deported for minor offenses. “It takes away the threat of immediate deportation for a lot of youth,” said UC Merced Professor Tanya Golash-Boza. She grew interested in immigration in 2006, when protests took place throughout the West urging reforms. Since then, she has published numerous articles and two books based on her interviews with deportees and detainees in immigration holding facilities. Her latest is “Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States.”

“The lack of due process I found to be fascinating. It contradicts a lot of what we hold dear.” – immigration researcher Professor TAnya Golash-Boza

Golash-Boza urges immigration judges to consider immigrants’ family connections in the states if they’re in court for relatively minor criminal offenses. Splitting the family, she says, causes “severe economic hardship” for the relatives left behind. In many cases, she argues, deportation is a disproportionately severe punishment for someone who might have been arrested for a traffic violation. “The lack of due process I found to be fascinating,” she said. “It contradicts a lot of what we hold dear.”

“That’s why I’m in college, to try to make a difference in someone’s life.” – environmental engineering student YARELI Ramirez

Out of the shadows

In late 2012, DeLugan was among the organizers of the Merced Immigration Forum, which brought together academics and experts to tear “down the walls of ignorance” that prevent people from finding common ground. She worries that people who’ve been in the country for years but fear deportation will live “shadow lives” that prevent them from prospering. “People need to be brought out of the shadows, and if you want people in our democracy, you can’t have people who are living a shadow life,” DeLugan said. She called the forum a productive day, and said her heart ached when undocumented workers showed up seeking legal advice. “This wasn’t academic to them. It was real life. They thought it was a safe haven,” she said. Monroy identifies with that feeling. His parents kept a low profile as farm laborers in tiny Terra Bella. He remembers how devastated he felt when he learned their undocumented status could hinder him from going to a four-year college. He persisted in his goals, anyway, making a one-hour commute by bus to his high school in Strathmore. Now, he’s less worried about his family because of the changes in the law, and even participates in a campus club for students from undocumented families.

Some of his undocumented peers, however, grew up rejecting the idea that they had anything to hide because of their parents’ immigration status. Environmental engineering student Yareli Ramirez, 19, is one of them. She’s the oldest of six siblings from Turlock and the first to go to college. She learned in middle school that California’s AB540, signed into law the year she came to California, allowed children of undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition at public universities. “From there, I just got good grades,” she said. Ramirez’s parents never shied away from her pre-college campuses. Her mom regularly attended school board meetings. Ramirez played varsity softball and joined Hispanic leadership, environmental and anti-tobacco clubs at Turlock High School. She has the same spirit at UC Merced. Ramirez is a campus tour guide. She also participates in a group of students whose parents are undocumented Californians.

They back each other up, and have dreams of helping out their communities when they graduate. “That’s why I’m in college, to try to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Ramirez, who aspires to work on Central Valley water issues after she graduates. Monroy also looks forward to one day earning a graduate degree and returning home to Tulare County as an engineer. He said he would not be on that path this early in life if not for the state’s DREAM Act. “All the dreamers are thankful for this opportunity. I don’t think any of us will waste it,” he said.



“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone.” – First Lady Michelle Obama


Keeping women in STEM programs once they start is also a key issue. Among students entering UC Merced as freshmen between Fall 2005 and Fall 2007, 438 females majored in STEM areas. Less than half — 205 – graduated in those fields. Other women graduate but don’t finish postdoctoral or advanced degree programs. A key finding in national research is that young women believe they cannot succeed in scientific careers – particularly in faculty positions with research demands – and also have families. “There are way too many women who drop off,” said Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, who earned grants and fellowships to keep her postdoctoral work afloat while following her husband’s career as a research scientist to UC Berkley. Now they are both professors at UC Merced. “It has to do with family one way or another.” The National Science Foundation found this problem so prevalent that in 2011 it created the Career-Life Balance Initiative, allowing researchers to suspend



grants for up to a year for family leave, and also funding technicians to keep labs running during leaves. The University of California system similarly launched the Faculty Family Friendly Initiative to encourage STEM academic deans to be flexible with promising faculty members who are starting families. In this area, the relative youth of UC Merced and its faculty might provide an advantage, because many professors have children and cover for one another when colleagues need to go to school conferences or pick up kids from day care. Molecular and cell biology Professor Jennifer Manilay recalled how comforting it was when she was driven to campus for her job interview by a senior faculty member who had a car seat in the back. That campus culture makes it easier for junior professors to ask, for example, for a pause in their tenure clocks to attend to family matters, School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza said. And that flexibility provides Merced with a wealth of young role models,

including female faculty members, who demonstrate that a work-life balance in science is possible. “You cannot overemphasize the importance of role models,” he said. “Having someone of your race or your gender and you see them at the faculty rank? That has a lasting and deep impact on the way that students view their career options.” Prado isn’t looking beyond graduation just yet. It’s hard to look that far ahead with her studies, projects such as the solar kiosk, undergraduate research on how to make graphene stronger, and a few shifts in her parents’ flower shop in her immediate future. But she wants to continue to be a role model for other young women. That much became clear after the conference she helped host and the enthusiastic response from the middle school girls about STEM. “We need someone to show us we can do it,” the girls told her. “I fell in love with that.”

The result: Graduate students are responsible for an unusually large number of start-ups and inventions, and their names appear frequently on published research. But UC graduate programs are under increasing pressure because of uncertain federal funding. The UC is in danger of losing talented graduate students to institutions with big endowments, and that’s bad for the UC and for the state as a whole, Napolitano told legislators. UC Merced in D.C.

UC Merced students this spring got the chance to show legislators the value of graduate research by sharing examples of the vital work they do. The University of California sent a delegation to Sacramento, including two students from each campus, UC President Janet Napolitano and UC Berkeley cell biology Professor Randy Schekman, the UC’s most recent Nobel laureate. Acting Dean of the Graduate Division Chris Kello and graduate students Roberto Corona in health psychology and Chelsea Arnold in environmental soil physics represented UC Merced. Corona studies quality of life with cancer survivors. One of his projects looked at the emotional and physical issues faced by men with prostate cancer. Another is looking at cultural factors putting Latinos at risk for developing lung cancer from smoking. Arnold’s research is particularly timely: She focuses on long-term consequences from drought. Arnold studies a water resource often overlooked: 19,000-foot-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada. These wetlands serve as natural reservoirs, soaking up snowmelt and releasing it slowly into rivers and streams. But that natural system is under threat. Unusually wet or dry years — such as the one we’re in now — permanently shrink the soil, an effect Arnold likened to turning a grape to a raisin. The UC Merced delegation met with representatives from eight legislative offices during the day-long advocacy event, sharing their research and explaining the effects it is having in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond. As California’s only public research university, UC’s graduate programs stand apart in California and in the nation. UC’s 10 campuses educate 26,000 doctoral students annually — more than any other university system in the country — and bestow 8 percent of the nation’s Ph.Ds. The students generate billions of dollars in research funding through federal grants and other sources. They are also wellsprings of new ideas, and perform much of the legwork that research breakthroughs rely upon. One of the hallmarks of UC graduate research is the wide degree of autonomy and ownership that students have over their work.

Sacramento isn’t the only place UC Merced has visited – and advocated – recently. The Office of Research, the Office of Governmental and Community Relations and the Office of Alumni Relations organized a trip to Washington, D.C., for seven faculty members in February so they could meet program officers in federal agencies to talk about their research and explore opportunities for funding and partnerships. Faculty members attending included political science Professor Courtenay Conrad; applied math Professor Suzanne Sindi; mechanical engineering Professor Sachin Goyal; psychology Professor Jeff Gilger; organic chemistry Professor Jason Hein; Director of UC Solar Research Institute and engineering Professor Roland Winston; and engineering Professor Valerie Leppert.


Students Share Their Work With Legislators

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson and Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Sam Traina, as well as staff members from Research Development Services and Governmental Relations joined the faculty members as they met with officers from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Education. UC Merced faculty members also met some of their local representatives, including Congressman Jim Costa (D-16th District) and staff members from the office of Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-9th District) to discuss the importance of federal funding to their research. SPRING 2014 | UC MERCED MAGAZINE



Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory

Water cycles between the land and the atmosphere. It’s one of Earth’s original renewable resources. But it’s not a stable resource in this changing environment. That’s why scientists from UC Merced use the area from the tops of the Sierra Nevada out to the coast – above and below ground – as their laboratories. They are working to improve predictions about what humans, animals and plants really face with climate change, especially as the region confronts a future with multi-year droughts. It’s also why, they say, the state needs a healthy discussion of current and future challenges, and updated information systems, policies and laws in place to deal with what’s to come.“Going forward, providing water security means balancing investments in infrastructure, institutions and information,” said engineering Professor Roger Bales, a member of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) who, with colleagues, runs the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) near Shaver Lake. “Information is one of the most cost-effective and promising ways we have to make our water system more adaptable.”

Professor Roger Bales studies the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Gathering data

“If California cannot be a world leader in this, who can?” – PROFESSOR MARTHA CONKLIN



In the Southern Sierra CZO, for example, researchers use dozens of instruments and hundreds of sensors to track precipitation, snow, soil moisture and water use by trees. New wireless technologies link sensor networks and track how much water is in the snow, and the rate that it melts into the soil – data used to refine models and provide accurate information. Gas sensors track the forest as it breathes, too. As the trees photosynthesize, carbon dioxide and water are exchanged between vegetation and atmosphere. Despite dry conditions, trees at mid-elevations continue growing all summer long. They might rely on water deep in the soil or bedrock, but after multiple consecutive dry years, that reservoir could be depleted. That bodes trouble for those trees this year, but researchers must also look at the changes in the coming decades. With warmer temperatures, trees will need more water to cope with increasing evaporative demand. Growth in higher-elevation forests will start earlier and end later, meaning those trees will also have higher annual water demands. “Trees play a dual role in the Sierra Nevada,” said SNRI Interim Director Martha Conklin, an engineering professor at UC Merced. “At intermediate densities, they shade snowpacks, allowing

longer seasonal storage of snow, and when densities are high, they can return much of the precipitation to the atmosphere, resulting in low streamflow amounts.” Modeling and predictions

But sensor networks are only a small part of the arsenal of tools researchers use. They also look at historical and prehistorical climate records to develop and check complex models for the future. Turns out, it’s not difficult to look back, but it’s much more challenging to predict the future, because there isn’t really a historical analogy for what we face today. “People are comfortable with the way things are now – we know where to plant crops, where to get water,” said Professor Jessica Blois, a paleoecologist and SNRI affiliate. “We want to know how to respond to the changes that are happening, but if the future is highly novel, then it’s also hard to predict.” Here’s what we know: The state’s Drought Briefing indicated that as of mid-March, weather stations across the state had

measured only about 50 percent of normal precipitation. Major reservoirs stood at 22 percent to 53 percent of capacity. Groundwater reserves are being overdrawn to compensate for reduced surface flows. In turn, overpumping leads to ground-level subsidence and permanent loss of subsurface storage capacity. The governor declared an official drought, and though there has been some precipitation since, the state is still in trouble. California’s climate has been extreme in recent memory. It has seen some of the wettest years — such as 2011, and some of the driest, including 2012 and 2013 — on record. The National Weather Service gives us a 50 percent chance of developing El Niño conditions this summer or fall – which would increase the chances of, but by no means guarantee, a wetter winter next year. That unpredictability is why California needs flexible institutions and policies that can adapt to the declining snowpack, multiyear shifts in storm pathways and highly variable precipitation, researchers say.

California can lead

Historically, state resource managers have allocated water based on a relatively benign climate period, but groundwater is now being depleted. The state’s population grew by more than a factor of 10 between 1920 and 2010, from 3.43 million to 37.25 million people. There are more agricultural operations to supply and higher residential demands. More water is pumped to large population centers along the coast. The state’s water management institutions and infrastructure need a balance of local and statewide planning, Bales and others say. Groundwater pumping, more storage (including groundwater recharge) and intensive water metering can be started locally, and a statewide, unified water-monitoring system would give resource managers the best, most accurate information. Water shortages are a worldwide problem, and California has been a world leader in many environmental solutions. “If California cannot be a world leader in this, who can?” Conklin said.

Lakes around the state show the effects of the drought in their dramatically lowered shorelines.



OUR UNIVERSE U C M e r c e d Tak e s o n the F inal F rontier

“Researching early Mars may give us important clues to understanding what happened on the early Earth. One of the biggest questions that humans on Earth have always wondered about is how and when life originated right on our own planet.” – PROFESSOR MARILYN FOGEL

UC Merced’s research regularly expands the boundaries of human knowledge, but it’s also exploring the final frontier — space. From building molecules found on asteroids to probing meteorites, UC Merced faculty members are contributing answers to some of the longest-lasting questions of human existence. How did life begin? Are we alone in the universe? What is our future? The research, which includes faculty members in geobiology, physics, chemistry and astronomy, is an example of how today’s questions need contributions from experts in a variety of disciplines. “UC Merced’s research addresses some of the most fundamental questions we know of,” School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza said. “Whether it’s exploring the depths of our galaxy, seeking life outside our world or inventing new methods for communication, faculty members are hard at work every day solving important problems.” Probing Mars

When NASA launched the Curiosity rover and Mars Space Laboratory in 2011 from Cape Canaveral, UC Merced geochemist Marilyn Fogel knew about the environment it’d be probing. The world-renowned researcher spent August 2007, 2008 and 2010 in Svalbard, Norway, testing two instruments that are included on the rover. One investigates the planet’s chemistry and another determines



BY Scott Hernandez-Jason

University Communications

mineral structure. The remote region of Norway, with freezing temperatures and a barren landscape, resembles the red planet. Fogel’s involvement with space doesn’t begin — or end — with the Mars mission. As a graduate student, she was funded by a NASA grant, creating a research branch that continues to this day. Fogel’s expertise is in studying the raw materials for life — hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen isotopes — and has led to collaborations that go beyond Earth’s landscape. “From the astrobiology aspect, we want to know ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” Fogel said. “Where are the places in our solar system where one should go — Mars, Enceladus and Europa — to have a chance of finding life?” She’s been part of research teams that analyzed Martian meteorites, which gave the world a better understanding of what’s on Mars today and what was there 4 billion years ago. “Studying actual samples that have arrived on Earth directly from Mars allows us to examine them with the most sophisticated technology we have, and is an important aspect of astrobiology,” Fogel said. “Researching early Mars may give us important clues to understanding what happened on the early Earth. One of the biggest questions that humans on Earth have always wondered about is how and when life originated right on our own planet.” One study, published last year in Science, focused on a highly unusual 2-billionyear-old Martian meteorite found in the

Sahara. The black rock offered a glimpse into Mars’ past geological history. The researchers found it contains more water than previous meteorites as well as traces of carbon, suggesting there had been reserves of important elements that could have supported life on the planet. An earlier study, published in Science in 2012, also found evidence of organic matter — carbon compounds — in 10 of the 11 Martian meteorites analyzed. The findings help support scientists working with the Mars Science Laboratory roving the Martian surface, and give them ideas about where to look for signs of life. Fogel, who joined campus last year, recently set up her stable isotope lab in the Castle Research building in Atwater, and plans to continue her research beyond the stratosphere.

space rocks, a system that could be used on the next Mars rover mission. The test must be extremely sensitive — the particular carbon compounds are only found in the parts-per-billion to -trillion range. The rover’s current test is extremely aggressive — scientists only can take four samples before the instruments won’t work anymore, he said. “You only get four data points to answer the question, ‘What organic material is Mars made up of?’” Hein said. “Our ability to tweak the chemistry and help the analytical people is giving them the ability to see things they never could.” Hein hopes his technology can increase the number of tests per mission, potentially giving researchers dozens more opportunities to probe the planet.

Recreating Space Molecules

Besides sending down space rocks, the solar system’s planets give off gravitational radiation — something two professors are trying to harness to develop a nextgeneration communication system. Professors Raymond Chiao and Jay Sharping proved through a theoretical analysis that they can make measurable amounts of gravitational radiation (GR) in

Carbon, oxygen and nitrogen molecules are combining and reacting in outer space, though researchers still don’t have a clear understanding of the chemistry at work. UC Merced Professor Jason Hein is helping solve the mystery. For NASA, his lab is building samples of organic compounds researchers see in

Stellar Communication

communications system using GR — which would be cheaper, easier and done on a whole new carrier wave than the one now used for cell phones, television and other electronics. The Question of Life

Professor Emeritus Willem Van Breugel is convinced there’s life out there. There are about 17 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, and he believes science will eventually show millions of them to have sun-like stars at the right distance. “Creating life is not that hard,” he said. “The material that life is made of — you and I and the animals and the plants — are all the same kind of chemical elements, and sources of energy are plentiful. The only question is ‘How stable is the climate over billions of years?’ If that’s the case, life can start, evolve and become just like this.” Van Breugel, who has retired from research, said he was lucky to be at top institutions where he had access to cuttingedge equipment. With the help of the Keck Observatory, he led a research team that in 1999 found what remains the most distant radio galaxy, z = 5.19. He spends his time teaching “The World at Home,” an interdisciplinary general education course that is taken by all UC

from far left to right: Professor Marilyn Fogel and students, Professors Raymond Chiao and Jay Sharping, Professor Jason Hein and a chemistry student, Professor Willem Van Breugel

meteor fragments. The compounds are fingerprints left by chemical reactions happening in space, Hein said, giving researchers a way to work backward. Carbon, oxygen and nitrogen are similar to LEGO pieces — they can be arranged in many different ways. Hein’s job is to make variations for NASA researchers. The lab is under contract to make 28 compounds, and might be extended. Hein’s lab is also refining technology to detect trace amounts of organic matter in

a laboratory. GR is a wave energy only given off by large, rotating astronomical bodies like planets and stars. “This project’s goal is to demonstrate that small-scale GR systems can be useful for communications,” Sharping said. “The key to doing so is to find new connections between quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, which is not based on quantum mechanics.” The next step is for them to generate it in a lab and, ultimately, to create a

Merced students, as well as courses in astronomy and astrobiology. Of course, if there’s life, it’s also unknowable. The nearest star is three light years away. Under the best circumstances, it would take humans 600 to 1,000 years to get there, he said. “It’s a philosophical point — humanity has found its limits,” Van Breugel said. “We have to say, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of stuff out there and we’ll never shake hands with them.’ Now, we have to live within our means and be careful with our energy resources.”




BY Lorena Anderson

University Communications

Natural Sciences Ph.d. Students

First to Win Dean’s Fellowship

Derya Sahin

“(Teaching is) my passion. I’d love to go overseas, although I’d also like to stay in California and give back to the state where I got my education.” – Shelley Rohde

Shelley Rohde

Four outstanding graduate students from the School of Natural Sciences became the first to win Dean Juan Meza’s Distinguished Scholars fellowships this spring. Each of the four won tuition and enough money to cover expenses for a semester so they could focus on their research, collaborate with other students and their faculty mentors, and attend and present at conferences without the added pressure of working as teaching assistants. They are: Derya Sahin, an applied math student from Istanbul; Shelley Rohde, an applied math student from Arcata; Gary Abel, a chemistry and chemical biology student from Fremont; and Jose Amaral, a physics student from the Fresno area Each of the four graduate groups in the School of Natural Sciences had the opportunity to nominate students for the fellowships, but the nominees still had to apply for the nearly $17,000 in funding. “It’s really exciting to receive this,” Abel said. “It was pretty competitive.” A passion for education Rohde, who works with Professor Arnold Kim, expects to graduate this year, so the fellowship gives her the time to make that final push toward finishing her dissertation. She’s hoping to become a faculty member in the U.S. or overseas when she is done. Her research involves detecting early-stage cancer cells using a mathematical formula that shows how light propagates among the cells.





But what she really loves is teaching. “It’s my passion,” Rohde said. “I’d love to go overseas, although I’d also like to stay in California and give back to the state where I got my education.” Sahin, who works with Professor Boaz Ilan, is also in her final year and is also working on her dissertation. Her research focuses on solving challenges presented by solar collection and radiation, and helping come up with the optimal designs for solar-energy concentrators. She hopes for a post-doctoral position when she’s finished, with the goal of becoming a faculty member at a university, too. “This fellowship was a really nice surprise,” she said. Looking at molecules Abel works with Professor Tao Ye on problems of DNA-based self-assembly – looking at how molecules assemble and how to make DNA-based synthetic materials such as medicine-delivery devices that go inside a human body. He is about halfway finished with his Ph.D. program, and said he’s glad to have the fellowship because it allows him to make “lots of progress” on his projects. Abel also wants to teach someday, but said his main concentration is on research. Amaral is in his third year of graduate school and anticipates finishing in 2016. He built a microscope that “will be helpful with the softmatter studies UC Merced is famous for.” His work involves nanomagnetism, but he has got several projects going with other grad students and his faculty mentors Professors Sayantani Ghosh and Michael Scheibner, including using liquid crystals to optimize various systems, such as sensors, energy concentrators and data storage, and for biomedical applications.

IMPACTING THE REGION AND BEYOND UC Merced’s continued growth and cutting-edge research is having a significant effect on the San Joaquin Valley as the local economy rebounds from a deep recession. Since 2000, the value of wages and benefits, construction contracts and goods and services purchased by UC Merced is nearly $1 billion (as of December 2013). Every dollar UC Merced invests in the local economy is multiplied several times over as university employees, contractors, students and others purchase local goods and services. Much of the money spent by the university represents new money to the community and generates new economic activity and jobs within the region that would otherwise not have occurred without the presence of the campus. Statewide, the campus’s contribution exceeds $2 billion.


ECONOMIC IMPACT $997 million in the San Joaquin Valley


$2.07 billion statewide



$691 million












Vernal pools appear after the rains come.


The Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve

In January, the UC Board of Regents officially approved the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, 6,500 acres adjacent to campus and home to one of the largest contiguous vernal pools complexes left in the state. It is home to ancient soils up to 3 million years old, about six endangered species and an array of native plants.



Desert hares, finches, brown ground

The land became the 39th member of the UC Natural Reserve System, adding to the more than 750,000 acres already being conserved and studied. UC Merced’s reserve is the first one in the San Joaquin Valley, and the first one in the heart of the greater Central Valley.

Plans are developing to host researchers from around the state, country and world, as well as the general public. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the reserve, follow Manager Chris Swarth’s blog and check out the videos and other features on the reserve’s website.

squirrels, butterflies, cliff swallows and horned larks are just some of the wildlife found on the reserve.





Enhance Alumni-Student Network


Alumni Relations


C Merced’s alumni are building the UC Merced alumni network from the ground up, one chat at a time. You don’t have to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to return to your alma mater and give career advice to students. In fact, the unique experience of a UC Merced education unites alumni with current students in a way that makes them relatable and inspiring, through a new program by the Alumni Relations Office called Alumni Career Chats. Launched in September, five Chats have been hosted at UC Merced, each addressing a topic of professional development for today’s students. The five sessions individually addressed law, health sciences, psychology, research and leadership. In the Chats, alumni discussed their chosen career fields and shared information about what they wish they had known, what they’ve learned and what students should do to prepare themselves for entering the workforce. In developing the Alumni Career Chat series, the Alumni Relations Office worked with the Center for Career and Professional Advancement to determine what career areas students have shown an interested in pursuing. The first Chat focused on the field of law and featured four panelists: J. Ryan Cogdill (2007), an associate attorney at the Curtis Legal Group; Matthew Creeger (2007), an attorney at the Merced County District Attorney’s Office; Lucia Perez Loera (2011), a first-year law student at the University of San Francisco; and Sonia Salazar (2008), a staff attorney with Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. More than 70 students attended that session, and the standing-room-only audience was captivated by the alumni experiences.

Popular sessions, popular panels The second Chat focused on health sciences and also featured four biological sciences alumni panelists: Serena Lai (2012), a clinical research coordinator for the Kidney Transplant Department at the California Pacific Medical Center; Isidro Ramirez (2012), a department coordinator for Cardiothoracic Surgery with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation; Maricela Rangel-Garcia (2009), a second-year medical student; and Randell Rueda (2011), a third-year medical student. The third session focused on psychology, profiling four alumni who have gone in very different directions with their degrees: Elizabeth Grosch (2013), a project analyst in quantitative insights for Added Value; Yonatan Mulugeta (2012), a dental/homeless program assistant with Golden Valley Health Centers, a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member and master’s candidate in healthcare administration at Grand Canyon University; Kristyn Sackett (2012), a West Coast Region recruiting assistant and data inputter for Across the Pond; and Jacqueline Yanez (2010), a social worker practitioner for Fresno County Child Welfare Services. More than 100 students attended this session – again resulting in a standingroom-only audience. It’s clear our students want to hear what alumni have to share.



Research in focus The fourth Chat was featured as part of UC Merced’s Research Week and focused on helping undergraduate students take advantage of research opportunities on campus. Five alumni participated on the panel: Kristina Allen (2012), a Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at UC Merced; Josh Franco (2009), a Ph.D. candidate in political science at UC Merced; W. Kyle Hamilton (2012), a lab assistant at UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences; and Rachel Hatano (2012) and Lian Wong (2013), both graduate students in Bioengineering and Smallscale Technologies at UC Merced. The final Chat was held in collaboration with the Women’s Empowerment Conference hosted by the Women’s Programs at UC Merced. Featuring four alumnae with diverse backgrounds and post-UC Merced experiences, the panel members wowed the audience with their candor, positivity and wealth of experiences. The four panelists included Eve Delfin (2006), one of UC Merced’s first three graduates; Liz Kang (2009), UC Merced’s San Francisco BayArea Alumni chapter leader; Preet Sandhu (2010), a Livingston native who now runs a small business in Merced; and Jackie Shay (2009), a mycology graduate student who served in the Peace Corps in Morocco after graduating from UC Merced. A common question asked of panelists was “Did alumni do this for you when you were a student?” Of course, the panelists were quick to let the students know that when they were students, there weren’t any UC Merced alumni. But what’s important is that UC Merced’s proud and dedicated founding alumni are coming back now, sharing their knowledge with our current students and helping them see the roles they, too, can play in future students’ lives CONTACT To learn more about the Alumni Career Chats or the Student Alumni Association, visit

University Communications 5200 N. Lake Road Merced, CA 95343




UC Merced Magazine Spring 2014  

See what UC Merced is doing to encourage young women to consider studying science, technology, engineering and math; learn more about undocu...

UC Merced Magazine Spring 2014  

See what UC Merced is doing to encourage young women to consider studying science, technology, engineering and math; learn more about undocu...