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News in Brief 5/9/2017

University Holds Grad Slam Competition for Graduate Students to Present Research


The University of California held its third annual Grad Slam, a systemwide contest that challenges UC graduate students to explain their research in three jargon-free minutes,  at LinkedIn’s downtown San Francisco office last Thursday, May 4.

Leslie Rith-Najarian of UCLA won the contest for her speech on making mental health more engaging and accessible. Rith-Najarian won $1,000 as a prize for the contest, which was emceed by UC President Janet Napolitano and  judged by a panel of industry leaders, media experts, government officials and academics.

John Felts of UC Santa Cruz came in second for his speech on Cruz foam, a material derived from shrimp shells used to make surfboards. Geoffe Hollett of UC San Diego took third place for his research on “using geometry to build better birth control.”

UCI’s candidate, Megan Newcomb, spoke on “nature’s climate-saving machines.” Her research at the Ribbe Lab concerned the functioning of the enzyme nitrogenase and its ability to naturally convert carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into propane and butane.

“Once we understand it, we can fully improve how we use it,” Newcomb said. “This system can serve as a way to recycle and reuse carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. If we can use these little tiny biological machines to pull enough gasses out of the atmosphere, we can reduce the devastating impacts of global climate change.”


Professor Receives Cottrell Scholar Award


UC Irvine chemistry professor and researcher Shane Ardo received the Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement  to develop specialized dye-containing membranes that one day might turn salt water into potable water.

“The intended mechanism of these materials is unique and could be game-changing,” Ardo said, because it bypasses the generation of an electric current traditionally utilized in electrodialysis. “On the level of a single electrochemical cell, traditional electrodialysis wastes approximately 85 percent of the input energy,” Ardo said, adding that he and his team have already developed new ion-exchange materials and that his proposed mechanistic processes does not waste similar amounts of energy.


Undergraduate Wins Los Angeles Film Award


UC Irvine student John Taschner won a Los Angeles Film Award in February 2017 for Best Microfilm for his film, “Sirocco: Prophecy of Wind.” Taschner, who studies information science, digital film and criminology, law and society, went to Morocco to write and film on location. Sirocco is a Mediterranean wind starting in the Sahara  that causes dry weather in North Africa, storms in the Mediterranean sea and cool, wet weather in Southern Europe after picking up moisture in the sea.


Professor Elected to National Academy of Sciences


UC Irvine Professor James Randerson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for his pioneering climate change studies. Randerson, a Chancellor’s Professor of Earth System Science, is one of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates elected to the academy on May 2.

“I am grateful to be recognized by the National Academy of Sciences and by the community,” said Randerson. “The commitment to interdisciplinary environmental research here at UCI is remarkable, and is a big factor in my ability to conduct research about the changing Earth system. I am also very thankful to my fellow faculty, colleagues, students and postdocs here.”

Randerson’s research concerns changes in the carbon cycle, climate change and wildfires. His research concerning wildfires has been instrumental in sustainable ecological management and wildfire prediction.

Randerson will soon head UCI’s new Center for Geospatial Data Solutions for Climate & the Environment, with the goal of moving toward more reliable solutions to environmental problems and applying those solutions at a more local level.


UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation Holds Competition for Poverty Solutions

UC Irvine’s Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation held its third annual “Designing Solutions for Poverty” competition last Thursday. The Irvine-based nonprofit Esqalate finished first among 42 entries in the contest, which aimed to find solutions to poverty in Orange County and around the world.

The award granted $20,000 to the selected idea or business for it to continue development. Esqalate won for its two online services, Proboknow and Loboknow. Proboknow connects people with lawyers who do “pro bono” work, or free legal representation. Loboknow allows people to find low-cost offers from attorneys.

Two services tied for second place and earned $5,000 each for their awards. Loy Loy is a board game developed by members of UC Irvine’s Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion that intends to teach players about savings. Pure Game is a nonprofit based in Santa Ana that utilizes mentors to help children develop character through playing soccer.

The award  is meant for the individual or team that “best harnesses an innovative idea to make a social impact.” The competition was open to UCI students, faculty, staff, alumni and Irvine community members.


UC Irvine Plans to Develop Interdisciplinary Cannabis Research Institute


UC Irvine is developing a Cannabis Research Institute to study how cannabis influences humans and society biologically, culturally and legally. Dr. Daniele Piomelli, an anatomy and neurobiology professor, studies how cannabis works in the body and came up with the idea for the institute.

Joe Dunn, a lecturer in UCI’s School of Law, announced the plans at a roundtable talk on cannabis last Friday evening. The interdisciplinary nature of the institute is meant to enable a vast array of research on cannabis’s environmental impact, its biological effects, how laws affect cannabis use and its cultural impact. The School of Medicine, School of Law, Film School, School of Business, School of Engineering, School of Communication and others have all expressed interest in participating in the institute.

Piomelli hopes to secure funding through the university but also through the state. Last year’s Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California, provisions a portion of tax revenue to go towards research on cannabis. UC San Diego already has a Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research that receives state funding to study the drug as a medicine.