La Jolla News Nuggets: Birch Aquarium reopening, La Jolla Cove Hotel terrace, vaccination rides, more

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla will reopen with outdoor-only exhibitions Saturday, Feb. 27.
Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla will reopen with outdoor-only exhibitions Saturday, Feb. 27.

Birch Aquarium to reopen with outdoor exhibits Feb. 27

After almost three months of closure, Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla announced it will open to the public outdoors-only beginning Saturday, Feb. 27. A members-only day is scheduled for Feb. 26.

The aquarium’s outdoor spaces have been enhanced with new animals and activities and will be open to guests with discounted ticket prices. Birch has been closed since early December because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Activities include Preuss Tide Pool Plaza experiences, Kelp Cam viewing on a big screen, an outdoor version of the Oddities exhibit, touch tidepools, shark teeth and specimens and nurseries for baby animals found in local waters.

New to the outdoors-only lineup is a chance to check out juvenile and adult seahorses, learn about Birch Aquarium’s renowned breeding program and understand what it takes to care for the unusual fish.

Reservations for a specific date and time are required to visit the aquarium, including for members. Birch will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Discounted admission is $16.50 for adults and $12 for children. Learn more at

La Jolla Cove Hotel terrace approved by DPR

After garnering approval from the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee, plans to build an open-air landscaped deck on an existing concrete deck above a two-level underground parking garage at the La Jolla Cove Hotel & Suites on Coast Boulevard was unanimously approved at the Feb. 16 Development Permit Review Committee meeting. The landscaped deck would create a pedestrian walkway where there currently is only vehicle access.

The project abuts the Red Roost and Red Rest cottages, the latter of which burned in a fire in October. Because a pedestrian path connects the hotel to the cottages, DPR Chairman Brian Will recommended “designing in as much compatibility with any future access … through neighboring properties” and asked “to keep metaphorical doors open if there is an opportunity to create any interconnectivity.”

Plans for how the vacant Red Roost and Red Rest will be restored have not been announced.

MTS offers free rides to those getting COVID-19 vaccinations

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System is offering free public transportation to people going to get their COVID-19 vaccinations at all vaccination sites in the county.

To get on board for free, passengers must show a confirmation email of their vaccination appointment that day — either printed out or on a smartphone. Transportation is to drop-off locations, and face coverings are required on board and at stations. County-hosted vaccination sites are currently open to health care workers and people 65 and older.

For more information about vaccinations, eligibility and appointments, visit the San Diego County website,

San Diego approves $92.2 million in rent relief

The San Diego City Council and its housing authority agreed Feb. 22 to distribute $92.2 million in rent relief to benefit tenants with financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Renters whose household income is at or below 80 percent of the area median income — about $64,700 a year for an
individual — are expected to be able to apply around March 15. Most of the money, from federal sources, will be sent directly to landlords, though about 25 percent of funds will be set aside to pay renters directly if landlords decline to participate in the program.

While applications will be accepted at 80 percent of the area median income, the city said priority will be given to renters who are below 50 percent — $40,450 a year for an individual — or have been unemployed more than 90 days.

The San Diego Housing Commission has created an interest list on its website,, so those looking to apply can be notified as soon as applications are available. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

Composer and UCSD professor wins American Academy of Arts and Letters award

Composer and UC San Diego music professor Lei Liang is shown in Boston in 2018.
Composer and UC San Diego music professor Lei Liang is shown in Boston in 2018 introducing the world premiere of his “A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams.”
(Courtesy of Boston Modern Orchestra Project)

Acclaimed composer and UC San Diego professor Lei Liang, whose work fuses Eastern and Western traditions, has been
selected as a 2021 winner in the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Music Awards.

Liang is one of two artists this year to receive the academy’s Goddard Lieberson Fellowship in Music, given to “midcareer composers of exceptional gifts.” The other Lieberson honoree is Tyshawn Sorey.

“I have been nominated twice before — the first time was in 2011 — so I guess I was on the academy’s radar,” said Liang, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and Harvard University and a native of Tianjin, China. “I am very honored. ... The one thing I noticed about this particular award is that it’s given to a ‘midcareer composer.’ So I guess I cannot call myself a young composer anymore. That’s a bit bittersweet for me!” — The San Diego Union-Tribune

UCSD gets $1.3 million to study psychedelic treatment for phantom limb pain

The Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative at UC San Diego has received a $1.3 million grant to fund a clinical trial investigating the potential of a psychedelic compound produced by species of fungus including “magic mushrooms” in treating phantom limb pain.

The grant from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation will fund the first randomized, placebo-controlled human
clinical trial examining the safety and efficacy of using psilocybin to treat patients suffering from chronic phantom limb pain — pain from parts of the body no longer present, such as an amputated arm or leg. It is a form of neuropathic pain that actually originates in the spinal cord and brain. The trial also is designed to explore the brain mechanisms involved, including possible alterations in brain circuitry.

“The therapeutic potential of psilocybin is unique among pharmaceutical agents that are used as analgesics,” said Dr. Timothy Furnish, a clinical professor of anesthesiology at the UCSD School of Medicine and a co-principal investigator in the trial. “Most analgesic drugs are taken at least daily to treat the symptoms of chronic pain, but they do nothing to change the underlying pathology. Psilocybin has the potential to ‘reset’ altered cortical brain circuits associated with certain chronic pain conditions. This reset could result in a drug that works on an extended basis [days or weeks] or perhaps even
constitutes a ‘cure.’” — City News Service

Two local scientists awarded Hanna Gray fellowships

Scripps Research scientist Evert Njoman and UC San Diego undergraduate Kalli Kappel are among 21 early-career researchers selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as 2020 Hanna Gray Fellows.

Each fellow will receive up to $1.4 million over eight years.

Njoman’s work focuses on trying to develop treatments against a wide range of viruses and bacteria, including drug-resistant strains. Kappel is examining how mutations in RNA, or ribonucleic acid, can lead to human diseases.

Four UCSD researchers win Sloan fellowships

Four UC San Diego researchers have been awarded 2021 Sloan Research Fellowships, which honor “extraordinary” early-career scientists in the United States and Canada.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards the fellowships to those “whose creativity, innovation and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of scientific leaders.”

UCSD’s new Sloan Research Fellows are Anela Choy, assistant professor of biological oceanography; Brandon Seward, assistant professor of mathematics; Sheng Xu, assistant professor of nanoengineering; and Joel Yuen-Zhou, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

More than 1,000 researchers are nominated each year for 128 fellowship slots. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship that can be spent to advance their research. — City News Service

La Jolla Presbyterian Church to hold blood drive March 7

La Jolla Presbyterian Church will host a blood drive in partnership with the San Diego Blood Bank from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, March 7, at 7715 Draper Ave.

Donors must present a photo ID, be 17 or older, weigh at least 114 pounds and be in good health. COVID-19 antibody testing will be included as part of the blood donation. To schedule an appointment, call (619) 400-8251 or visit

Timken Museum of Art names two La Jollans to its board

La Jollans Alexandra Davis Perez (left) and Kathleen Lundgren have joined the board of directors at the Timken Museum of Art.

The Timken Museum of Art in San Diego’s Balboa Park has named La Jolla residents Alexandra Davis Perez and Kathleen Lundgren to its board of directors.

Davis Perez is an interior designer for Kaz Design Group of La Jolla and Orange County. Lundgren is a bioethicist who has taught at Yale University and consulted and wrote policy as a clinical pediatric ethicist at Yale Children’s Hospital.

— Compiled by La Jolla Light staff