2012 Eye on Science: Here’s a list of local researchers with projects in the spotlight
By Lynne Friedmann
Jessica Block, a staff research associate at Calit2, is a geologist by training with a keen interest in using visualization technology to address environmental issues and natural disasters, particularly wildfires. San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts has provided funding for her work specifically for remote sensing in Eastern San Diego County for the purpose of better wildfire identification and response.
Block also has support from the San Diego unit chief for CAL FIRE. As final validation, she received a $262,000 NSF grant to merge data from local weather stations with predictive models. Block’s interest in this field stems from her experience witnessing Australia’s worst wildfire in 2009. She soon began working with firefighters to leverage technology as a means of assisting in fighting fires.
Jennifer Burney, a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is interested in understanding how changes in cooking habits – such as replacing homemade cook stoves in rural India with cleaner-burning alternatives – could have effects on climate change and public health. This work links to broader issues such as the environmental impacts of food production and consumption. The research has caught the attention of the National Geographic Society which has named Burney an “Emerging Explorer,” an award that provides financial support for scientists early in their careers.
Gordon, a unique data-intensive supercomputer using flash-based memory officially goes online Jan. 1 at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD. Gordon is capable of handling massive data bases while providing up to 100 times faster speeds when compared to hard-drive disk systems. It’s secret: About 300 trillion bytes of flash memory, the technology commonly used in mobile phones and laptop computers. Gordon generated tremendous buzz in the technology community during its test phase and is already ranked among the top 50 fastest supercomputers in the world. And, yes, Gordon is named after the 1950s Flash Gordon science fiction hero.
Malene Hansen, this assistant professor is a rising star at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. Even in the face of difficult funding times, she received two research project grants from NIH — a sure sign of good things to come. Hansen’s research interest is the molecular mechanisms that affect the process of aging and age-related diseases. A paper by Hansen that unraveled how the interplay between two cellular processes influences lifespan in the worm C. elegans – an important research model – was deemed an “exceptional” work by the Faculty of 1000, which identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research.
Michael A. Marletta takes over the helm of The Scripps Research Institute as president and CEO on Jan. 1. This is the first presidential transition at TSRI in 25 years, following the retirement of Richard Lerner. Marletta, a biochemist, is acknowledged as a pioneer in discovering the role of nitric oxide, a critical player in communication between cells. Marletta will maintain a lab of a dozen people while at the same time building up TSRI’s research infrastructure and expanding the number of up-and-coming scientists on the faculty. Expect a major fundraising effort in this regard.
Steven Wagner, a project scientist in the UCSD Department of Neurosciences is fueling hopes that discoveries in his laboratory will eventually lead a compound to target and reduce a protein fragment believed to play a critical role in the brain cell death and dementia that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
In animal tests, reduced levels of the protein have been achieved without affecting other brain activities and without causing the adverse side effects of other Alzheimer’s drugs. Wagner was recently awarded a five-year, $1 million NIH grant for the fast-track development of this promising strategy for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
*** Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.
Scorecard: Individuals Featured in 2011:
Sandra Ann Brown hit the ground running as UCSD vice chancellor for research by introducing new electronic systems to reduce paperwork, save, time, and boost scholar and researchers’ productivity. Among them: Electronic Research Administration Program (eRAP), a new, centralized proposal-submission process; and Research Proposal Development Service that enables faculty and researchers to respond faster and more effectively to funding opportunities, leading to the university’s second-best year for research funding, despite the tough economy.
Astrophysicist Alison Coil, assistant professor in the UCSD department of physics, received a prestigious NSF Career Grant that will allow her to carry out three complementary research projects to tackle key questions about galaxy evolution. She was also the recipient of a Hellman Faculty Fellows Award designed to provide financial support and encouragement to young faculty who show capacity for great distinction in their research and creative activities.
Philip Steven Low, founder and CEO of NeuroVigil, was named the first recipient of the Jacobs-Rady Pioneer Award for Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship honoring an exceptional scientist and chief executive for combined leadership in technology and business. In May, NeuroVigil closed its initial round of financing, with a pre-investment valuation reportedly over twice the combined seed valuations of Google and Facebook’s first rounds.
Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health and chief medical officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, received the 2011 TCT (Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics) Career Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions as a pioneer in the field of interventional cardiovascular medicine. Topol was also senior author and principal investigator of the first study on the psychological effect of genetic testing on consumers (published in the New England Journal of Medicine).
Yuanyuan (YY) Zhou, Qualcomm Chair in Mobile Computing in the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, was highly visible at two international conferences this past year. She co-chaired APSys 2011 (Shanghai), a must-attend meeting for computer systems researchers and practitioners worldwide. Her presentation at another software engineering conference (held in Hungary), received the meeting’s distinguished paper award.
- La Jolla researchers tackle breast cancer
- Name a new species of deep-sea worms discovered by Scripps scientists w/image worms
- Injured people on board for Life Rolls On event
- National liver expert joins UCSD
- Scripps professor receives NIH Director's Pioneer Award
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