Research News

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Raindrops, Red Wine Inspire Solar Tech Advancements

In recent publications, Professor Vincent Tung proves that inspiration for advancements in materials science can come from anywhere — even the merging of raindrops on a windshield or the sheeting of red wine down the inside of a glass. Through those liquid movements, Tung discovered and optimized a new, low-cost, scalable and environmentally friendly way of using perovskite, an extremely thin and highly efficient material that is at the forefront of photovoltaic research. Teaming up with physics Professor Sayantani Ghosh, Tung published three papers last year that earned the covers of materials, physics and chemistry journals. Their interdisciplinary collaboration demonstrates work that could change the way solar cells are produced. The first paper...

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Bird Researcher Expands Knowledge About Reserve’s Kestrels

Kestrels are a fixture among the birds on the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve adjacent to campus. Though they are not endangered, the small falcons’ population has declined by 60 percent in California over the past half-century because of changes in land usage. Nesting-box programs like the one on the reserve and others around the Central Valley are helping the kestrels reproduce safely. The boxes also help UC Merced researchers like Joy McDermot — the first at UC Merced to study the reserve’s birds and a recent master’s recipient — discover more about the little birds of prey and the lives they live. “Kestrels used to be very common, so it’s alarming to see this population loss since the 1960s,” McDermot said. “We...

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Study: Warming Could Slow Upslope Migration of Trees

By Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientists expect subalpine trees to advance upslope as global temperatures increase, following their climate up the mountains. But new research published Dec. 15 in the journal Global Change Biology suggests this might not hold true for two subalpine tree species of western North America. A study led by project scientist Lara Kueppers, affiliated with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, shows Engelmann spruce might not move to higher elevations as temperatures rise. Its lower-elevation boundary could recede upslope, so its overall range could shrink. And the hardy limber pine could advance upward in a warmer climate, but likely at the same slow pace as in today’s climate. Researchers at the...

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Robots and People Working Together to Save Water and Enhance Agriculture

A nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping University of California researchers refine collaborative robotic technology that could change the way crops are maintained worldwide, saving millions of gallons of water each year and taking precision agriculture to a whole new level. The three-year Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation and Diagnostics (RAPID) project is led by UC Merced robotics Professor Stefano Carpin, UC Berkeley Professor Ken Goldberg — director of the People and Robots Initiative at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute — and UC Davis biology and engineering Professor Stavros Vougioukas...

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Yara North America Supports UC Merced Students, Ag Research

A contribution from Yara North America will provide the University of California, Merced, with the potential to take agricultural research to a new level of innovation and improve crop yields, particularly in almonds. Yara, known for its fertilizers, crop nutrition programs and technologies to increase yields, improve product quality and reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices, has established the Yara North America Almond Scholarship and Fellowship Fund to help support a three-year graduate fellowship and scholarships to two undergraduate students each year for three years. Areas of research may include soil fertility, plant nutrition, and water- and nutrient-use efficiency across disciplines.   “This generous...

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Grad Student’s Water-Mapping Work Leads to National Recognition

UC Merced graduate student Lorenzo Booth’s research into more efficient use of water for agriculture has earned him accolades from the American Water Resources Association for not only producing information, but presenting solutions. “If we can make the process of growing food more efficient and sustainable,” that’s a good thing,” Booth said. At UC Merced, Booth discovered he’s a pretty good programmer, and used his skills to build a computer program that compares water usage for different crops in different locations. He demonstrated his work at a recent conference with a poster titled “Improved Agricultural Water Use Accounting Through Water Footprinting.” The association named him the best student poster presenter...

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Alumnus Stays Local, Launches Environmentally Friendly Career

Stephen Ho’s experience at UC Merced helped him land an internship with E. & J. Gallo Winery in Livingston shortly after his graduation in 2012. His engineering expertise, passion for the environment and innovative spirit — all cultivated on campus — helped him make an immediate impact on the company’s operations. Charged with managing waste from the winery’s grape processes, Ho took things a step further — instead of grinding the waste down and selling it to farmers as cattle feed, he fed it to microbes in an anaerobic condition, generating biogas that can be harvested to create electricity. Gallo incorporated what it learned from Ho’s pilot project into its new Livingston Water Innovation and Energy facility. “Since high...

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The Real Horror of ‘Frankenstein:’ Human Extinction

If fictional scientist Victor Frankenstein had created a mate for his nameless Creature, humans would have gone extinct in about 4,000 years, according to a new study co-authored by a UC Merced professor. Two hundred years ago this year, 18-year-old author Mary Shelley began writing her now-classic horror novel and cautionary tale about the idea of playing God. Scholars who typically examine the book from a literary perspective have focused on Shelley's knowledge of then-prevailing views on alchemy, physiology and resurrection, and have argued that “Frankenstein” is really the first work of science fiction. But the new study published today in the Oxford University Press journal BioScience (just in time for Halloween) shows that Shelley...

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Annual Event Celebrates All Things Sustainable

The Student Sustainability Council is hosting the second annual EcoFest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, on Scholars Lane, hoping to encourage the campus’s culture of sustainability. “Our theme is growth — celebrating our growth as a campus but also students’ growth as individuals,” said Adriana Gomez, chair for the Student Sustainability Council. “We’re really trying to celebrate what we’ve achieved so far and how we’ll continue to make progress in the future.” As part of the festivities during Campus Sustainability Month, more than 20 student organizations will engage the campus community with sustainability-related education and activities. For example, attendees will learn from UC Sprouts about the process of growing tea. Each person can create...

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Winston Feted for Golden Anniversary of Landmark Discovery

Fifty years ago this year, while a freshman faculty member in the University of Chicago Physics Department, Roland Winston published a paper introducing a new field he called nonimaging optics. Professor Roland Winston and some of his team at UC Solar. In it, he described the compound parabolic concentrator (CPC), a highly efficient device that collects and concentrates light, and introduced “Winston Cones,” non-imaging light collectors that by their design maximize the amount of light that can be focused from large areas into smaller photodetectors or photomultipliers. Because of the publication, Winston is widely considered to be the father of nonimaging optics, a field concerned with the optimal...

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Winston Feted for Golden Anniversary of Landmark Discovery

Fifty years ago this year, while a freshman faculty member in the University of Chicago Physics Department, Roland Winston published a paper introducing a new field he called nonimaging optics. In it, he described the compound parabolic concentrator (CPC), a highly efficient device that collects and concentrates light, and introduced “Winston Cones,” non-imaging light collectors that by their design maximize the amount of light that can be focused from large areas into smaller photodetectors or photomultipliers. Because of the publication, Winston is widely considered to be the father of nonimaging optics, a field concerned with the optimal transfer of light radiation between a source and a target. Winston’s 1966 work for the department he...

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Researchers Eye Foggy Link Between Redwoods, Climate Change

Most Americans have probably seen gorgeous photos of fog winding its way through California’s coastal redwoods. The trees are one of the state’s most prominent icons, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. But at a time when rising sea levels, melting polar ice, droughts and superstorms are the most visible indicators of climate change, people might not readily think about the fog. A new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant supports a team of researchers from seven institutions — UC Merced, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution for Science and Oregon State University — in forming an interdisciplinary “uber-university” to study the relationships between fog, climate change, redwoods and...

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AWRA awards Lorenzo Booth's research on water-use by crops

The California drought has exacerbated some of the challenges farmers face.  For example, they have to spend more on water, and not just because there is less to go around. A warmer climate causes water to evaporate faster and can force plants to consume more for the same amount of growth. But researchers at the University of California, Merced, are finding where crops would use water most efficiently so that the state can continue to grow food in the new climate and offering data that can be used any time. Because of the immediate importance of this work, UC Merced environmental science graduate student Lorenzo Booth earned top honors at the American Water Resources Association meeting in July 2016...

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Winston’s Innovative Project Highlights UC Solar Symposium

UC Merced Professor Roland Winston will deliver details on a groundbreaking hybrid solar collector he’s working on that simultaneously generates electricity and very-high-temperature heat at the annual 2016 UC Solar Research Symposium slated for Oct. 7 at UC Davis. The University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar) — a multi-campus research collaborative headquartered at UC Merced — develops innovative technologies that make solar energy systems more efficient, more affordable and easier to integrate. In addition, UC solar educates and develops tomorrow’s solar energy leaders and entrepreneurs. Winston, director of UC Solar, is just one of many notable speakers scheduled to appear at the symposium,...

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Researcher’s Solar-Powered Water Heaters Could Save Energy and Money

UC Merced Professor Gerardo Diaz is developing solar-powered water heating technology that could reduce the demand for natural gas in businesses and homes and lower the costs for business and homeowners. Mini channel technology could help address some of the state's energy needs. Soon he’ll be putting that technology to the test in Southern California. Through a nearly $1 million contract with the California Energy Commission, Diaz will build and install his technology in residential and commercial buildings near Aliso Canyon — where last fall’s enormous methane leak caused so many problems. Aliso Canyon is an area with heavy energy demands and aging...

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Researcher’s Solar-Powered Water Heaters Could Save Energy and Money

UC Merced Professor Gerardo Diaz is developing solar-powered water heating technology that could reduce the demand for natural gas in businesses and homes and lower the costs for business and homeowners. Soon he’ll be putting that technology to the test in Southern California. Through a nearly $1 million contract with the California Energy Commission, Diaz will build and install his technology in residential and commercial buildings near Aliso Canyon — where last fall’s enormous methane leak caused so many problems. Aliso Canyon is an area with heavy energy demands and aging infrastructure, and Diaz — a researcher in UC Merced’s School of Engineering and the UC Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC...

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UC Merced ‘Cool’ Again in Sierra Sustainability Rankings

A week after being lauded by Washington Monthly in its rankings for social mobility and value, UC Merced today was named one of the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” for its commitment to sustainability. It’s the fourth time in the last five years that UC Merced has appeared in the rankings — each time in the top 100 — which examine factors like energy use, transportation practices, water conservation, food services and curriculum. Out of 202 universities ranked this year, UC Merced placed No. 84. “We are proud to again be recognized by the Sierra Club for our sustainability efforts throughout campus,” Director of Sustainability Colleen McCormick said. “Sustainability is always on our minds at UC Merced, and we will continue to...

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UC Solar Graduate Student Lighting the Night in a Controlled Way

One of the most stunning sights in Yosemite National Park has nothing to do with granite. It’s the night sky, Milky Way and all. But light pollution within the park can diminish that experience for visitors as well as change the circadian rhythms of flora and fauna. UC Merced graduate student Melissa Ricketts has found an answer. And she’s turning one of her mentor’s inventions on its head to do it. Ricketts is a member of Professor Roland Winston’s lab at UC Solar, a multicampus research institute headquartered at UC Merced. Winston is the inventor of nonimaging optics, and his compound parabolic concentrator (CPC) is a key piece of solar-collecting equipment in the emerging solar energy industry. But Ricketts is interested in...

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UC Merced Extension Offerings Launch With Yosemite Excursions

UC Merced Extension, a combination of professional development and personal enrichment courses that mark the campus’s first extension offerings, launches this summer with educational excursions to Yosemite National Park and fully online courses for working professionals in business, management, information technologies and engineering. The excursions, “Yosemite and Water,” and “Yosemite and Fire,” take place July 23 and Aug. 5, respectively. Yosemite and Fire explores fire management in national parks through the lens of Yosemite’s role as a global fire policy leader. Yosemite and Water examines how national parks play a part in American water policy. UC Merced staff member Steve Shackelton will co-instruct both courses, along with...

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Campus Takes Steps to Stay Green Despite Drought

Don’t be surprised if, as the warmer weather kicks in, you continue to see green lawns at UC Merced. Maintenance crews are not using more water to keep the quad lush. In fact, they are using less. Facilities Management has adopted a hydrogel system, developed by a Fresno-based company, that allows turf to stay green despite a lack of water. “It’s going to look like we are not observing the drought, but we are,” Sustainability Director Colleen McCormick said. Tests show that the hydrogel system uses almost 50 percent less water because it increases soil’s moisture-retention capabilities. The hydrogel acts as a water and nutrient reservoir, allowing a slow release into the soil and roots. It was chosen for its savings, but also because it is environmentally...

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Professor’s Mercurial Studies Involve Tree Bark, Fish and Water

From the forests of Tuscany, Italy, to the shores of a San Diego reservoir, Professor Marc Beutel is hunting mercury. Beutel, one of the newest professors in the UC Merced School of Engineering, has two summer projects to keep him busy this year. The first involves spending a month working with Italian scientists and studying how to monitor mercury levels in the air surrounding an historic mercury mine using tree bark. “Mercury is easily mined as an ore, and this is one of five historic mines in the world — the Etruscans mined there,” Beutel said. “But the process of transforming the mercury in solid rocks into a liquid results in mercury pollution in air and soils. We’re trying to figure out the best, least expensive...

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Students Show Climate Impacts, Pitch Solutions in UC-wide Contest

Several students, faculty members and the provost represented UC Merced at the University of California’s recent Carbon Slam event, placing in the presentation competitions and increasing the campus’s visibility among peers and the public. Professors Michael Dawson, Elliott Campbell, Martha Conklin and Roger Bales attended, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Tom Peterson served as an emcee, two of Campbell’s graduate students each won $1,400 by placing third in their presentation categories, and two other graduate students were finalists in the poster competition. Carbon Slam aims to present solutions to global climate disruption. Organized by UC Santa Cruz Professor Sue Carter, Carbon Slam gave students from all 10 UC...

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Studying the ’Saurs: New Class is a ‘Gateway to Science’

One of the campus’s newest professors is teaching one of its newest classes on one of the world’s oldest subjects: dinosaurs. But there’s much more to Professor Justin Yeakel’s Natural History of Dinosaurs class than just talking about T-rex and the velociraptors. Yeakel, with the School of Natural Sciences, is an ecologist who’s interested in how animals find and acquire food, and how that changes and affects animal populations and communities over time. He wants students to understand those ancient ecosystems because looking at the past is a way to understand — and perhaps mitigate for — the future. Even though Yeakel is a biologist, he studies the past as well. “It’s becoming more common for researchers to bring methods and...

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Wildfire Increasing in the West Because of Climate Change, Research Shows

The number, size and duration of large mountain forest fires in the Western United States has increased dramatically in the past 40 years, according to research from UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling. Warming temperatures and the earlier onset of spring and the spring snowmelt — the results of climate change — are the primary culprits. That change has doubled the cost of fire suppression in the past 15 years from $1 billion in 2000 to $2 billion in 2015. In “Increasing Western U.S. Wildfire Activity: Sensitivity to Changes in the Timing of Spring,” published this week in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and in an op-ed in The Conversation, Westerling updates his research quantifying...

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Campus Getting Greener with New Research Growing Spaces

Everyone knows UC Merced is growing, but pretty soon, the campus will be growing lots of plant specimens for research, too. The School of Natural Sciences is buying a pair of greenhouses that will be installed at the eastern end of campus near the North Bowl parking lot. The greenhouses will allow plant biology professors Emily Moran and Jason Sexton and their students to grow seedlings for study, but will also be used by many other faculty, graduate student and undergraduate researchers. Greenhouse facilities have long been a priority for faculty and staff associated with the Life and Environmental Sciences group and the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI). Sexton has a few growth chambers in his lab but already needs more room, and plenty...

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Study Shows How Plants Could Adapt to Changing Climate

If you want to understand how plant populations will respond as the climate changes, just examine the plants in different locations. That’s one of the conclusions drawn by UC Merced School of Natural Sciences Professor Jason Sexton in a new paper that’s part of a special issue of the American Journal of Botany exploring the evolution of plants. Written by Sexton and graduate student Erin Dickman, “What Can Local and Geographic Population Limits Tell Us about Distributions?” looks at different populations of monkey flowers in the Sierra Nevada and compares them with populations in different locations with different climates. “If you have the same species in two climates, each will likely...

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Pine Bacteria Getting a Closer Look From Scientists

Professor Carolin Frank’s research into the nitrogen-fixing properties of bacteria inside the needles of some high-elevation pine trees is the topic of a new paper in the journal New Phytologist. Frank, with the School of Natural Sciences, won a $1.6 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014 for her work on foliar endophytes. “Evidence for Foliar Endophytic Nitrogen Fixation in a Widely Distributed Subalpine Conifer” is the first publication to come from that research. Some old-growth coniferous forests have more nitrogen in their soils and vegetation than can be explained by known sources, Frank and her colleagues explain in the paper. That limits researchers’ ability to...

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Study: Fishing Industry a Bigger Polluter than Previously Known

Many studies have shown that raising cattle and pigs for food is hard on the environment, and fish has long been considered a better alternative. But the work of UC Merced graduate student Brandi McKuin indicates that because of emissions, fishing for large fish like tuna warms the climate just as much as raising pork, pound for pound. McKuin’s work suggests that despite a shift toward “cleaner” practices, the fishing industry is a far greater contributor to climate change than previously thought, and that shift could have its own negative consequences for the Earth. McKuin, an environmental engineering student working toward her Ph.D. with Professor Elliott Campbell in the School of Engineering, recently...

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New Study Shows Early Human Impacts on Biodiversity

Even without all the industrial and technological growth that has accelerated climate change, humans can — and do — dramatically impact ecosystems. A new paper in Nature Communications, co-authored by UC Merced Professor Marilyn Fogel, indicates early humans were responsible for the fairly rapid extinction of the 10-foot-tall flightless bird Genyornis newtoni in Australia about 47,000 years ago, simply through hunting and the interruption of reproduction. In “Human Predation Contributed to the Extinction of the Australian Megafaunal Bird Genyornis newtoni,” Fogel and her colleagues — who have spent the past 20 years gathering a variety of data about the effects of humans on continental ecosystem changes...

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Faculty Climate Champion Puts Plan Into Action

Biodiversity Professor Michael Dawson has been named UC Merced’s inaugural Faculty Climate Action Champion by the UC Office of the President (UCOP). Dawson’s work and his plan, which formed a proposal for a project to engage the campus and community in sustainability, earned him the title and $25,000 to fund a research project in the 2015-16 academic year. UCOP recently announced its first Faculty Climate Action Champions, with one selection from each UC campus. Through the award, Dawson, with the School of Natural Sciences, hopes to leverage people’s familiarity with “lines.” “Lines are a fundamental part of the way people think,” he wrote in his proposal. “We recognize shorelines...

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Event Connects High School Girls With Female Scientists

While many young women her age are thinking about their favorite shoes or who they’ll go with to the winter formal, Callie Nance, 15, is thinking about her favorite science organizations and her future as a physicist.   That’s why the Dinner with a Scientist event at UC Merced last week was so perfect for her.   “Seeing all of these women — it’s a big thing for us to get out and see that there is so much more for us than just what we experience in Mariposa,” Nance said.   Nance and 55 other ninth- through 12th-grade girls from the Mariposa County Unified School District toured the campus and visited labs led by female scientists before sitting down for dinner with 14 women — some...

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Most Americans Could Eat Locally, Research Shows

MERCED, Calif. — New farmland-mapping research published today shows that up to 90 percent of Americans could be fed entirely by food grown or raised within 100 miles of their homes.   Professor Elliott Campbell, with the University of California, Merced, School of Engineering, discusses the possibilities in a study entitled “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States.” The research results are the cover story of the newest edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the flagship journal for the Ecological Society of America, which boasts a membership of 10,000 scientists.   “Elliott Campbell's research is making an important contribution to the national conversation...

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Professor to Serve with New Water Policy Center

UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers has been named a member of the new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Water Policy Center, established to help meet the state's urgent need for timely information and innovative water management solutions. Viers is an expert in water resources management with UC Merced’s School of Engineering, conducting research on issues related to the intersection of climate, water, energy, food and the environment using geospatial technologies and data mining. He is also the director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UC Merced. His role with the new center will be to help generate new ideas in solving California’s water ...

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Professors Share in UC Effort to Study Effects of Climate Change

Several UC Merced faculty members will play important roles in a new UC systemwide effort to study the ecological effects of climate change across varied ecosystems.   Funded by a $1.9 million President's Research Catalyst Awards grant from UC President Janet Napolitano and led by UC Santa Cruz ecologist and evolutionary biologist Barry Sinervo, the Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts (ISEECI) will serve as a hub for the knowledge being gathered and analyzed.   UC Merced researchers including Professors Elliott Campbell, Martha Conklin and LeRoy Westerling, with the School of Engineering, and Jessica Blois, with the School of Natural Sciences, will all affiliate with the nine-...

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Solar, Water Research Proposals Rewarded with Competitive UC Grants

MERCED, Calif. — Research into sustainable water supplies and viable solar energy solutions won the University of California, Merced, an anticipated $5 million in prestigious and competitive grants from the University of California. UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) awards will go to Professors Roger Bales and Roland Winstonand colleagues, who will oversee two of only 18 projects to be funded throughout the UC system out of 186 proposals. The grants begin Jan. 1, and award details will be determined then. “These awards recognize the leadership our faculty members bring to these important topics,” Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic...

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Professor’s Soil Research Digs Up Many More Questions

When people get near California’s giant sequoias, they usually look up.   But Professor Steve Hart looks down, and what he finds beneath the trees has intrigued him.   The trees, some of which could be more than 3,000 years old, appear to influence the soil, increasing the pH and the levels of nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, enhancing the soil’s fertility.   “Our hypothesis is that these trees, with their long lives and enormity, have a greater effect on the ecosystem” said Hart, an ecology professor with UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences and a member of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. “We tend to think it’s only humans that have legacy effects...

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Climate Change Influencing Freshwater Mountain Runoff, Research Shows

As the climate warms, sources of the water so critical to life everywhere on Earth are drying up. By the end of this century, communities dependent on freshwater from mountain-fed rivers could see significantly less water, according to a new climate model recently released by University of California researchers. For example, people who get freshwater from the Kings River could see a 26 percent decrease in river flow. Why? Think of the environment to which humans are now accustomed as a huge jigsaw puzzle. You can look at any one piece to see how it fills out the picture of climate change, but you cannot ignore the surrounding pieces and the chain reactions set off by the warming climate...

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California Overspends Water Rights by 300 Million Acre Feet

California is deficit-spending its water and has been for a century, according to state data analyzed recently by researchers from the University of California. UC Merced Professor Joshua Viers and postdoctoral researcher Ted Grantham, with UC Davis at the time, explored the state’s database of water-rights allocations, and found that allocations in California exceed the state's actual water supply by five times the average annual runoff and 100 times the actual surface-water supply for some river basins. In a good year, the state has about 70 million acre feet of surface water available for use. Based on active water rights records, a total of 370 million acre feet have been allocated. “We’re...

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Provost, Professor Appointed to President’s Environmental Council

UC Merced Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson and founding faculty member Professor Roger Bales have been named members of UC President Janet Napolitano’s new Global Climate Leadership Council. The council has been convened to guide UC sustainability efforts, with the goal of bringing the university’s operations to carbon neutrality by 2025. Sustainability is a part of the DNA of the UC Merced campus – it’s one of the greenest campuses in the nation, and the only one in the country to have all of its buildings LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Nominated by Chancellor Dorothy Leland, Bales, a hydrologist, leads the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and...

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Engineering Students Working on Water Issues for Summer Research Project

Spending a summer finding ways to make toilet water reusable and trying to extract urine from wastewater might not sound glamorous. But the results of the work two UC Merced students are doing though a prestigious research partnership could be very important to a state facing a severe drought, as well as for the future of water security. Rudy Maltos, 23, a senior from Bakersfield, and Maritza Flores-Marquez, 21, a senior from Tulare, both environmental engineering majors, were two of 16 students selected for Re-inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). ReNUWIt is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates partnership between UC Berkeley, the Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State...

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ES Grad Group Will Have Strong Presence at ESA

ESA Annual Meeting, August 10-15th, Sacramento, CA  Many folks from UC Merced and the ES grad group will be presenting their research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Sacramento this August. Below is a list of the UC Merced talks; only the first authors are listed, but click through to the abstracts to read more about each talk. Congratulations to all the UC Merced students, postdocs, and faculty for their fantastic research.   MONDAY, August 11 Talks 2:10 pm, COS 11: Microbial Ecology Alyssa Carrell: Diversity and structure of endophytic bacterial communities in redwood trees 2:10 PM, COS 6: Ecosystem Management Joy Baccei: Protecting and preserving mountain meadows: a look at...

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FAA Approves Data Drone Research at UC Merced

Other UC campuses have drone research programs, but UC Merced might be the only one with two certificates of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing students to fly autonomous, unmanned systems at higher altitudes and, possibly, in locations they haven’t flown before. As drones and the sensor packages they carry improve in price and performance, many campuses are considering conducting research on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and their applications. In UC Merced’s well-established program, faculty members and students are working on scientific data drones that can patrol wildfire perimeters, collect water samples, monitor pest situations in agricultural fields, check soil and crop conditions and much more. “Each...

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NSF Early Career Award Honors Professor’s Research and Potential

The National Science Foundation is honoring UC Merced Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe with a Faculty Early Career Development Award to support her examination of how soil helps regulate the climate. The awards are given to junior faculty members who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations,” the NSF said. “We’d like to congratulate Professor Berhe for receiving this highly selective award,” School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza said. “It also speaks volumes about our highly talented faculty that we’ve added another...

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Professor’s Passion for Monkey Flower Leads to Genetic Discoveries

The environment affects the way genetic populations move, and similar environments likely play a bigger role in how a species develops than does geographic distance.   Those are just two of the discoveries Professor Jason Sexton has made while studying the monkey flower, a California native that is practically in his back yard, now that he has joined UC Merced.   Monkey flowers, which come in a diverse array of populations of varying sizes, shapes and colors, grow wild in the Sierra Nevada, a place Sexton has studied even from his previous position in Australia. The chance to come to UC Merced, to work and live where the bulk of his research takes place, was too good to pass up, he said.   Sexton...

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Professor’s Paper in Nature Communications Indicates Deep Sea Changes

Large, naturally occurring low-oxygen zones in the Pacific appear to be expanding, and there is a sharp change in the number of bacteria that produce and consume different forms of toxic sulfur, according to a UC Merced researcher’s latest paper in Nature Communications.   These expanding deoxygenated zones could also contribute to climate change, which, in turn, appears to contribute to their growth.   Professor Michael Beman, a marine microbial biologist with the School of Natural Sciences, spent a month on a research ship sampling water off the coast of Mexico, in the large Eastern Tropical Northern Pacific (ETNP), a deoxygenated zone that extends about halfway to Hawaii.   At...

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Professor's Article Published in Journal Science

Climate change alters the way in which species interact with one another- and not just today or in the future, but also in the past, according to a review article by UC Merced Professor Jessica Blois and colleagues coming out tomorrow in the journal Science. “We found that, at all time scales, climate change can alter biotic interactions in highly complex ways.  So if we don’t incorporate them when we’re anticipating future changes, we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle,” Blois said. A special issue of the prestigious research journal, entitled "Natural Systems in Changing Climates,” features the article and a podcast by Blois, one of UC Merced’s newest faculty members, and three colleagues from...

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Well-known Technology Sees New Use in Solar Collection

Adapting technology that has become the standard in the automotive, aerospace and air-conditioning industries, Professor Gerardo Diaz has designed and is testing the next generation of solar-collecting units at UC Merced. ”We’re getting about 10 percent increase in efficiency,” said Diaz, with the School of Engineering and co-director of UC Solar. With funding from the California Energy Commission, Diaz and three undergraduates and one graduate student built a solar water heater. Instead of having water flow through copper pipes attached to a flat plate with a collective coating applied to it, this solar water-heating system uses flat minichannels, or tubes, made of aluminum with the coating applied directly to the tubes...

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Summer Research Takes UC Merced Around the Globe

Just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean research at UC Merced comes to a halt. Just the opposite. This summer, professors and students at all levels are conducting a variety of research projects on campus, off campus, in the oceans and forests and around the world. Up in Yosemite National Park, for example, nine undergraduate students are getting a summer experience to last them a lifetime, conducting research with faculty researchers from UC Merced, scientists from the U.S. Geologic Survey and from the park. Under the direction of Professors Stephen Hart and Michael Beman, the Research Experience for Undergraduates program takes nine students into the park for nine weeks to work with scientific mentors like Hart, Beman, Professor Elliott...

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Researcher Brings Billions of Years of Information to UC Merced

From the microbes in the guts of living things to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe, Professor Marilyn Fogel is pondering some of life’s deepest questions. When and how did life originate on Earth? What does the future hold for our planet? Are we alone in the universe? “When you go back through time, there are bits and scraps of life everywhere,” Fogel said. “It’s ubiquitous.” As a geobiologist, Fogel, who joined UC Merced in January, explores these questions and more using the stable isotopes found in carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and nitrogen, the elements that form the building blocks of all living organisms. She is in the midst of setting up the campus’s first natural...

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UC Merced Alumnus’s Rim Fire Map Generates Lots of Attention

As the Rim Fire continues to burn in and around Yosemite National Park, a former UC Merced student’s work related to the fire burned up the Internet this week. Paul Doherty, the first Yosemite park ranger to complete at doctoral degree at UC Merced, graduated in the spring and now works as a public safety technology specialist for Esri, a company that provides GIS mapping for a variety of applications. Doherty and his team created a layered map that shows up-to-the-minute details of the fire, including its size and range, hot spots, the fire’s progression, a history of fire in the national park and more. They pulled together data from a wide range of agencies, including Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service,...

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Summer Scholars Learn by Doing

UC Merced has made a name for itself by giving undergraduates the opportunity to engage in research early in their academic careers. Nothing showcases that commitment better than the campus’s collaborative summer research program, which culminated last week with a symposium where they presented on their research and exhibited posters of their work as well. This summer, 41 students have been conducting research with world-class faculty, thanks to sponsorships from seven different programs. According to Jesus Cisneros, director for undergraduate research programs, these student scholars represent an investment in the future. “We are coaching these students to present their research at competitive regional and national conferences, in addition to helping them to develop skills to...

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Grad Student’s Farmland Mapping Project Gets Prestigious Publisher

Working to map every square inch, UC Merced master’s student Andrew Zumkehr found there are 111 million acres of abandoned farmland in the United States. That’s a lot of space for growing biofuels that could replace between 5 percent and 30 percent of the United States' primary energy or liquid fuel demands, he said. Zumkehr and Professor Elliott Campbell with the School of Engineering wrote a paper based on the mapping, which was published recently in the top-cited journal Environmental Science & Technology. It’s another example of how UC Merced researchers are contributing knowledge that will lead to more informed energy policies. “We used satellite images, census data...

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Researcher Brings Billions of Years of Information to UC Merced

From the microbes in the guts of living things to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe, Professor Marilyn Fogel is pondering some of life’s deepest questions.   When and how did life originate on Earth? What does the future hold for our planet? Are we alone in the universe?   “When you go back through time, there are bits and scraps of life everywhere,” Fogel said. “It’s ubiquitous.”   As a geobiologist, Fogel, who joined UC Merced in January, explores these questions and more using the stable isotopes found in carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and nitrogen, the elements that form the building blocks of all living organisms. She is in the midst of setting up the campus...

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Summer Research Program for Undergrads Aims for the Experience of a Lifetime

Many universities offer the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, but they don’t have what UC Merced has to offer. “Yosemite really draws people in,” said Professor Stephen Hart, one of the REU program leaders. “Other REUs might take students into the field, but not into a national park.” The National Science Foundation has awarded UC Merced a $318,000, three-year grant to take eight undergrads from around the country to live in the park for nine to 10 weeks each summer and gain invaluable experience working directly with faculty researchers on projects. “Living and working in Yosemite was the best experience of my undergraduate career,” said Raymond...

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Postdoctoral Researcher’s Work in International Ecology Journal

The theory that temperature limits how far up in the mountains trees can grow looks like it’s true, but not in the way researchers had expected. Working with Professor Lara Kueppers, UC Merced postdoctoral researcher Andrew Moyes’ examination of how warmer temperatures affect alpine-area trees has been published in the international journal Oecologia. Their work indicates some trees researchers thought wouldn’t grow at the highest elevations because of the cold don’t fare better when they are warmer, either. A series of experiments in Colorado, in which seedlings were planted and then warmed under infrared radiation panels to simulate climate change, showed warmer temperatures also dried the...

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Professor’s Paper, Among Year’s Best, Shows Dramatic Effects of Mountaintop Mining on Climate

UC Merced School of Engineering Professor Elliott Campbell has co-authored a paper showing that mountaintop removal mining will dramatically accelerate the regional effects of global warming by turning natural carbon sinks into sources of carbon emissions, some within the next 15 years. On top of the toxic side-effects of coal mining, the associated hazards and the biggest problem with coal – the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning it – the switch from sink to source is an issue that could prompt policymakers to reconsider where they stand on mining. This finding comes at a time when the federal government is at least partially...

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Professor’s Design Could Win $50,000 Grant

A UC Merced professor is one of five finalists in an international challenge that could win him a $50,000 research grant and free access to a record-setting, ocean-going robot. Professor Michael Beman, with the School of Natural Sciences, entered the PacX Challenge, a competition designed to encourage scientists and students to make use of data gathered by autonomous wave glider that just completed a 9,000-nautical-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean. The contestants will use data gathered by the glider, called the “Papa Mau,” which traveled autonomously from San Francisco to Australia over the past year. Papa Mau finished its year-long journey on Dec. 6 in Australia, setting a world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous...

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Professor Looks Inside Trees for Answers

Professor Carolin Frank is concerned with the inner lives of trees. She looks inside them to see whether microbes are part of – and perhaps even critical to – life functions such as growth. “It’s a pretty new field,” Frank said. “Most people think of bacteria as causing disease, but they can be beneficial. When I look at a forest, I don’t see trees, I see all these fascinating microbes.” Bacteria, she said, have been found to promote growth and protect plants from stress, and also to fix nitrogen, a critical component of plant health. “Microbes are the only organisms that can take nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants,” she said. “Plants cannot do it themselves. People have long wondered...

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National Science Foundation Funds San Joaquin River Research

MERCED, Calif. — People talk about climate change all the time.   But researchers at the University of California, Merced, are working to find out exactly how it will affect the millions of people who depend on the San Joaquin River for their drinking water, irrigation and food growth, and energy.   Water experts with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute have received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to synthesize data about the San Joaquin River and how climate change is affecting the timing and number of flows from the snowmelt at higher elevations.   Those changes, in turn, change the way reservoirs are operated and the way and time in which water is delivered to users,...

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UC Merced Plasma Lab Turning Leftovers into Cleaner Energy

There’s a reason the UC Merced plasma lab is isolated behind a locking fence near the entrance to campus.   There’s some serious heat being produced down there.   Engineering professors Gerardo Diaz, Wolfgang Rogge and Yihsu Chen and a group of students are spending their summer in the lab, generating plasma blasts of more than 3000 degrees Celsius as they work on turning biomass – organic leftovers such as coffee grounds, almond hulls and the leavings from wineries – into clean-burning energy.   The three-year project just received a $258,000 grant from the California Energy Commission and $50,000 in equipment from Foret Plasma Laboratories to examine how clean the gas produced through the...

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Graduate Student Bringing UC Merced to Western Pacific

Graduate student Sharon Patris likes spending time at a lake in the middle of the forest on an uninhabited island in the western Pacific. The marine lake named Ongiem’l Tketau and informally known as Jellyfish Lake, is home to the golden jellyfish, a species Patris studies as part of her work with UC Merced School of Natural Sciences Professor Michael Dawson in Palau. Patris, who is working on her master’s degree, is just one example of the diverse and wide-ranging reach of UC Merced’s graduate programs. As a Palauan, she said she’s happy to have the chance to work in her homeland while earning her advanced degree from a UC campus. Dawson and colleagues have been studying biodiversity in the western Pacific since...

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University of California, Merced
 
The first new American research
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University of California, Merced
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