Tag Archives: ucsb

The Science Behind Hollywood Explosions

Nobody blows things up like Hollywood. Frequently, those jaw-dropping pyrotechnics are digitally created in post-production.

Now, with the help of a tool called Wavelet Turbulence, filmmakers can generate realistic swirling smoke and fiery explosions that are more detailed, easier to control and faster to create.

UCSB researcher Theodore Kim (along with three collaborators) developed the software, which won an Academy Award in 2012. So far, Wavelet Turbulence has been used in a number of major Hollywood films including Avatar, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Super 8.

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Could cherry blossoms one day be blooming in winter?

Chery Blossoms

The cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.’s annual festival now bloom five days earlier than when the festival was celebrated in 1921 (on average). Scientists theorize that with the drastic warming of the globe, future decades could see blossom times not just a few days early but advanced by almost a month.

To better understand the situation, researchers need large amounts of data about different all types of plants in order to analyze. Gathering all of this data is not easy.

UC Santa Barbara’s Susan Mazer explains why researchers need the public’s help to gather this information:

Facebook for Nature

Can a status update from a tulip tell us anything about climate change?

The science of seasonal observation has always mattered, but never has it been so urgent. Each year, our seasons unfold. Perhaps they feel the same to us each time, or maybe we notice the slight differences. A lack of rain in the west, and a barrage of snow in the east. Flowers are blooming earlier, fruit is ripening sooner. OK, so what’s the big deal with some slightly confused flora? Well, that confusion ripples outward, and that matters because of how beholden all living things are to other living things. The timing of our ecosystem, complicated as it is in the most ideal of times, is off-kilter.

The California Phenology Project, a collaboration between UC Santa Barbara, the National Park Service, and The National Phenology Network endeavors to document plant ranges, flowering dates, and other relevant data to assess climate change responses throughout the state of California. In the UC Natural Reserve System there are 3,300 plant species. The list reads like a poem of plants you may have never heard of: Awned Fescue, Ripgut Grass, Winecup Clarkia. The idea is that when these plants bloom within the season (and how that differs year to year) is actually a clue, indicative of the world they are blossoming into.

The phenological observations of scientists and citizens alike will all contribute to the Pheonology Project’s online resource, Nature’s Notebook, a kind of Facebook for Nature (I would totally friend request the California Poppy, golden and archetypal as it is, and Winecup Clarkia too, in all its hot pink, magenta splendor). But unlike the existential quandaries posed by the ubiquitous social media site, this online notebook will begin to reveal some of the patterns of our natural world and what that might mean for us. Since the task at hand is too large for just the professional scientists, now is the chance for people to reconnect with their environment and become contributors to this project, citizen-scientists observing and noting the plant species in Golden Gate Park or in their own backyard. We are all capable of phenological observation. The California Poppy accepts your friendship request! What will you do now?

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The robot spider that shrieks as it walks

While this eight legged creature is still a prototype, UC Santa Barbara alum Matthew Garten hopes to debut the finished robot for this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire.  Currently the wooden joints in the legs let out a loud squeal that he’s hoping won’t be in the final version (but definitely give off a creepy vibe in his test video).

The technology he’s using is known as the Klann linkage and essentially was developed in the mid-1990s to replace a robot’s wheels by simulating an animal’s walk.

Matthew, seeing himself as both an engineer and inventor, says that robots roam his home.  He’s worked on a wide range of projects from MEMS stem cell sorting to rocket-propelled grenade defense. Also you may have seen Matthew’s open source steampunk Arduino watch on Instructables a few years ago.

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