News in Brief

UC Irvine Professor Studies Ocean Pollution

With British Petroleum’s unfortunate mishap destroying the ocean environment in the Gulf of Mexico, concerns have risen over the dramatic effects human pollution has on our planet.

UC Irvine professor in civil & environmental engineering and director of the Urban Water Research Center William Cooper is busy documenting pollution closer to home.
Professor Cooper and his students count and catalog plastic trash to document what kind of waste ends up in the ocean and determine how rapidly the debris fields are growing.

Cooper did this research at Crystal Cove Beach in February with recently graduated social ecology major, Tova Handelman.  She joined Professor Cooper on the trip to complete her undergraduate research project on marine debris.

Cooper says the key to protecting marine life and humans is to change people’s attitude toward the ocean.

Considering recent events such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a change of attitude is in the best interest for preserving the environment, and for human health.
“People think the ocean is infinite, but it’s not,” Cooper said. “If we don’t stop abusing it, we’ll kill it — and all life depends on it.”

Professors Blake and Rowland Working on Oil Spill

UC Irvine chemistry professors Donald Blake and F. Sherwood Rowland have found record levels of gaseous pollutants in the air above the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Their team, however, has become increasingly frustrated by the lack of support and funding from the University, state and federal levels, especially amid news reports of workers falling ill as they work to clean up and contain the spill.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently testing for smog and soot-related pollutants, Blake and Rowland are looking for gaseous compounds not related to the burning of spilled oil, such as alkyl nitrates, methane, hexane and butane compounds coming from oil rising to the surface, and the chemical dispersants being dropped on the spill each day.

Blake and Rowland acknowledge that these gasses will not likely accumulate into levels high enough to pose acute health risks, but they maintain that their research is vital nonetheless.

In addition, very little is known about the combined effects of these gaseous compounds on human health following exposure over a long period.

“Somebody should be tasked with a very thorough study of these gasses,” Blake said. “There are millions of gallons of oil under the surface. What happens next month if a huge blob rises to the surface? Monitoring should be required for years.”

Insourcing University Employees

After working at UC Irvine for the past 23 years, Elvia Ramirez is finally a university employee.

UCI recently hired 17 custodial workers formerly employed with contract company ABM in the last of a long effort to insource campus workers.

The custodial workers were among the last workers to become University employees. Groundskeepers and food service staff were insourced in 2006, and the insourcing process for custodians began more than a year ago. Ramirez and her 16 fellow custodial workers are enjoying their increased job security and extra benefits including more paid holidays, broader health insurance, retirement benefits, sick leave, UCI uniforms and ID cards.

Ramirez began working at UCI 23 years ago at the age of 18 as an entry-level custodian. She was eventually promoted to her current position heading a team in charge of recycling on campus. They are working to transform UCI into a zero-waste university.

UCI Doctors Find Ovarian Cancer Breakthrough

UC Irvine researchers Dr. Robert Burger and Dr. Bradley Monk have made a breakthrough that is being called the biggest advance in gynecologic oncology in 14 years.
12 years ago, Dr. Burger and Dr. Bradley proposed supplementing chemotherapy with the drug Avastin, which had already been proven effective in treating other forms of cancer.

The project has expanded and endured through three phases of clinical trials.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Avastin for treating ovarian cancer will mark the latest in a long string of successes for UCI’s department of obstetrics and gynecology. The department’s gynecologic oncology group is one of the most active in the United States having published 230 articles in peer-reviewed journals since 1993, and is currently overseeing 20 clinical trials.

Economics Professor Makes Innovative Model

Fabio Milani, assistant professor of economics at UCI, has developed a new model that measures the effects of psychological shifts on the business cycle.

Current models assume that the economic market is a stable system governed by rationality where factors such as supply, demand, policy and technology are the sole variables.

Psychological trends have long been ignored by modern economics because they are very hard to measure quantitatively and relate to numerical economic data.
Milani examined almost 40 years of macroeconomic data on gross domestic product, inflation and interest rates and compared that information to the measured expectations about those variables from the Survey of Professional Forecasters.

His findings measuring irrational optimism or pessimism affected more than 50 percent of actual business cycle changes.

While economists have long suspected that psychology has a significant influence on the economy, Milani’s model has provided them with real proof.