Professors Distinguish Themselves from the Pack

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Nikki Jee | Staff Photographer
Nikki Jee | Staff Photographer
Katharine Suding, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, talks about climate change.
Professors Katharine Suding, Roger Steinert and Linda Cohen received awards for their work in research, teaching and service, respectively. The UC Irvine Academic Senate hosted an evening of Distinguished Faculty Lectures at the University Club on Tuesday, Oct. 14 honoring these educators.
In addition to the awards being presented, two of the awardees gave lectures in their field of expertise. Suding addressed the causes and effects of climate change while Steinert spoke on the technological advancements in the science of eye surgery. Although Cohen was in attendance, she did not present a lecture.
Suding, who works in the ecology and evolutionary biology departments, focused on climate change, first at the macro level and then specifically in regards to Irvine.
“We know the environment is changing, but what does it mean for us? What does it mean in a relatively local sense? What does it mean for Orange County?” Suding said.
Suding used the example of native and exotic plants in California grasslands to illustrate the threshold process, a process that begins with a stable native plant population and ends with a stable diversified plant population; between these two states is the threshold period of instability.
To relate the threshold process to the audience, Suding gave several non-scientific comparisons.
“These models have been used to model the dynamics of marriage, so it’s a relatively complex thing … In a good marriage [there is] a low probability of divorce … [there can also be a] very bad marriage with a low probability of divorce. So it’s actually that transition time when you’re moving from a good marriage to a little bit rockier marriage that’s the highest probability of divorce,” Suding said.
Suding’s experiments have studied environmental changes in California and regime shifts in California grasslands. The former study combines three previously used methods of ecological investigation to take a more holistic approach that analyzes environmental change. These three approaches are manipulations, which modify the environment for the purposes of evaluation, interannual observation, which compares a specific environment between different years, and gradient studies, which observe environments in the context of their full spectrum of environmental change. The latter study details how the composition of both native and exotic plant life affects the local environment.
Chancellor Michael Drake, who was in attendance, expressed his appreciation for the work of such UCI researchers.
“I think that the progress through evolution … is one of the major issues … that we deal with,” Drake said. “It’s quite heady stuff, so it’s great to listen to someone who does fieldwork on that.”
Although at the beginning of the night research was highlighted, as the event progressed, teaching was also featured prominently. Steinert, who teaches at UCI, devoted ample time to discussing Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK).
LASIK is the process in which the eye is repaired through reshaping the cornea, which is the transparent flap that covers the front of the eye. One example of how this is accomplished is when the front part of the cornea is cut open and peeled back so that the inner part of the cornea can be reshaped.
Steinert commented on the importance of lasers in such procedures, which utilize light in order to vaporize flaws in the cornea. The lecturer remarked on the unique interplay that the eye shares with light.
“It’s kind of poetic justice that you take the one organ designed to perceive light and then you use light to treat it,” Steinert said.
The lecture also featured video clips of lasers used in the mainstream movies “Goldfinger” and “Austin Powers: Goldmember,” which lightened the mood of the presentation.
Jutta Heckhausen, the chair of the Academic Senate, expressed that while the presentations had scientific merit, it was also easy to follow.
“[The ceremony went] pretty good. I think the awardees gave pretty good talks in terms of being understandable … that’s not always the case,” Heckhausen said.
The next installment of Distinguished Faculty Lectures hosted by the UCI Academic Senate will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4 in the University Club.

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