Tag Archives: UCLA

Could Poop Power Our Cars?

Is brown the new green? UCLA researchers are using waste matter (yes, including poop) to make a new generation of advanced biofuels.

The U.S. alone annually produces over 1 billion tons of manure from agriculture, which produces nitrous oxide methane emissions, greenhouse gases 325 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But what if all this poop could have another use – one that could stimulate a sustainable biofuel movement?

Graduate researcher David Wernick talks about ongoing work at UCLA to turn manure, sewage, plant waste and even carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere into feed stocks for producing biofuels, and for making the process of manufacturing biofuels clean and sustainable.

Learn more about David Wernick’s work to turn poop (and other waste streams) into sustainable fuel sources:  Will Cars Of The Future Run On Poop?

The research highlighted in this video was supported in part by the UCLA-DOE Institute of Genomics and Proteomics and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

UCLA’s Augmented Reality Sandbox

The Augmented Reality Sandbox (orginally developed by researchers at UC Davis) lets users sculpt mountains, canyons and rivers, then fill them with water or even create erupting volcanoes. This version of the device at UCLA was built by Gary Glesener using off-the-shelf parts and good ol’ playground sand.

Any shape made in the sandbox is detected by an Xbox Kinect sensor and processed with open source software. It is then projected as a color-coded contour map onto the sand.

Why carrots taste sweeter in winter

UCLA’s Liz Roth-Johnson explains why carrots have more sugar when it’s cold outside.

Because plants are immobile, they must develop defense techniques against predators and the severe cold in winter. For example, carrots have developed the physiological response of increasing their sugar content when it’s cold outside. This helps stop ice crystal formations and prevents damage to the carrot’s cells.

Frost can do a lot of damage to a plant cell. It can squeeze and rupture the cells until they are completely demolished. But in some cases, the plant’s defense mechanism means a tastier vegetable for us to eat. When a carrot defends itself from frost, we get the benefit of enjoying sweeter carrots all winter long.

FEATURING: Liz Roth-Johnson, Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, UCLA

For more information: https://scienceandfooducla.wordpress.com/

Make The Best Pie Ever Using Science

One of the staples of the holiday season is pie and while you may have Grandma’s recipe for the perfect crust, do you really know what goes on at a molecular level? UCLA biophysicist Amy Rowat shares some of the scientific aspects of apple pie and explains how you can apply these insights in the kitchen.

1.    Think of butter as a gas.

Butter is really just a bunch of teeny tiny water droplets dispersed in a matrix of fat. In the oven, these water droplets convert from liquid to gas. This means that the chunks of butter you can see in your dough are really just big pockets of air waiting to happen. More air = flakier crust! While butters with the highest butterfat content are generally synonymous with the highest quality butter, when it comes to baking pie a slightly lower fat content, and higher water content, may be a good thing.

2.    Experiment with the liquids you add to your pie dough
.
Gluten gives structure and stability to pie dough, but can also make pie dough dense and tough when over-developed. Typically water is added to create pie dough, but you can experiment with different liquids —like vodka, rum or even carbonated water— that impede the formation of gluten protein networks.

 3.    Sometimes the best pie is a day-old pie.
Temperature is important for pie texture. Because molecules flow more quickly past each other at higher temperatures, hot pie filling straight from the oven will be more runny; as the pie filling cools, starchy molecules like cornstarch and flour spend more time interacting with each other. As the pie cools, the pectin molecules of your fruit also spend more time interacting with each other. This results in a more solid, gel-like filling that will take longer to seep out of the pie when it is cut and served on a plate.

For more research videos, subscribe to Fig. 1

The squishiness of cancer cells

Cells are tiny, but what they can reveal about our health is profound.

A misshapen nucleus is bad news. For any given cell, the nucleus — the home of most of a cell’s genetic material — generally takes a fairly consistent shape. But when things go wrong and disease takes hold, the nucleus can become deformed.

UCLA’s Amy Rowat explains how an enlarged nucleus is a telltale sign of something gone awry. Corrupted cells with cancerous leanings take on a different texture to healthy cells. They are softer and more malleable, or, as Amy puts it, more “squishy.”

Her research investigates the texture and squishiness of cells in our body, which can have a huge impact on treatments for cancer and genetic disorders. Using tiny instruments, this change in cellular flexibility can be used to diagnose disease, and could one day help determine which treatments might be most suitable for each patient.

While the minutia of a nucleus may initially seem too tiny to focus on if we’re seeking to understand something as complex as cancer, the ‘squishiness’ of a cell may open up a vast array of innovations and breakthroughs. The significance of basic research is just as consequential as applied research. It seeks to answer larger, fundamental questions and offers the possibility of finding answers with wide ranging effects. Sometimes starting with a broader set of questions can lead to a variety of discoveries whose full impact cannot be known at the outset. A collaboration with the UCLA medical school means Rowat’s work could have a meaningful clinical impact on the study and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

Want to see more? Subscribe to Fig. 1 on YouTube

Starting From the Bottom: Why Mexicans are the Most Successful Immigrants in America

Photo by Gareth Davies

A new study from UC Irvine and UCLA challenges our definition of success.

Who’s more successful: The child of Chinese immigrants who is now a prominent attorney, or a second-generation Mexican who completed high school and now holds a stable, blue collar job?

The answer depends on how you define success.

In fact, according to a study by University of California, Irvine, Sociology Professor Jennifer Lee and UCLA Sociology Professor Min Zhou, contrary to stereotypes, Mexican-Americans are the most successful second-generation group in the country. The reason is simple: The study considered not just where people finished, but from where they started.

The report serves as counter-point to arguments raised by Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor better known as the Tiger Mom. In a new book, The Triple Package, Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, argue that some groups—namely Chinese, Jews, Cubans, and Nigerians—are more successful than others because they possess certain cultural traits that enable them to be.

In a nutshell, Chua’s “Triple Package” includes: a cultural superiority complex, impulse control, and insecurity. Combined, the authors assert, these traits drive the groups to succeed within a broader American culture that is comparatively lackadaisical. They base their argument on an analysis of test scores, educational achievement, median household income, and other factors.

The UC study, however, argues that it’s not any specific cultural trait that makes groups like Chinese-Americans more successful than others. Lee and Zhou say both Chinese-American and Mexican-American parents highly value education. Most parents do. But the reason Chinese-Americans get ahead is because they start ahead. Way ahead, in many cases.

The study, called “The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Cost and Consequences for Asian-Americans,” looked at Chinese-, Vietnamese-, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles whose parents immigrated to the U.S. At first glance, the study’s findings seem to reinforce claims made by Chua and her supporters: Children of Chinese immigrants far exceeded other groups when it came to educational outcomes. Sixty-four percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, compared to 46 percent of native-born whites in L.A. Of the Chinese-American college graduates, 22 percent went on to attain graduate degrees.

Read more

She loves you, she loves you not

Whether in fiction or history, women have often gotten a bad rap for being fickle. But it may just be evolution. A landmark meta-analysis suggests that ovulating women have evolved to prefer mates who display ‘sexy traits’ (think muscular build, dominant behavior, symmetrical facial features). UCLA psychologist Martie Haselton, who is one of a handful of pioneers in research on behavioral changes at ovulation, explains that sexy traits are not typically desired in long-term mates.

“Women who were partnered with men, who at one point in the study they rated them as very satisfying long-term partners, but not the sexiest guys around –  those women experienced increases in attraction to men other than their partner on fertile days of the cycle. So, it’s as if women on fertile days place a premium on male partners’ sexiness and if their male partner isn’t sexy, then women start to notice other men.”

While these findings may seem depressing, Haselton argues that just understanding this can help couples improve their relationships when in conflict.

“Once you understand how your mind works, what the mechanisms are that might otherwise be passing under the radar of conscious awareness, you can ‘mind hack’ and do things to achieve whatever your goals are – so, to maintain a happy relationship with your partner, or maybe it’s to have a wild sex life, but whatever it is, if women understand that there are these patterned changes across the cycle, then they can probably make better sexual decisions.”

The mere notion that a woman’s mate preferences could shift at high fertility has been a source of debate since the late 1990s, when the first studies that hinted at such a change began to appear. Since then, several papers failed to replicate the early studies’ results, casting doubt on the hypothesis.

“Until the past decade, we all accepted this notion that human female sexuality was radically different from sexuality in all of these other animal species – that, unlike other species, human female sexuality was somehow walled off from reproductive hormones. Then a set of studies challenged conventional wisdom.”

One hypothesis for why this mate preference shift occurs is that it may be an evolutionary adaptation that served our ancestors’ reproductive interests long before modern medicine, nutrition and sanitation greatly reduced infant and child mortality rates.