News from School of Physical Sciences

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Physical Matters March 2012
Dean's Message

Dear Colleagues:

As this winter quarter comes to a close, we begin our School’s newsletter with the sad note of Sherry's death on Saturday, March 10th. We invite everyone to sign Professor Rowland's memory book in the Rowland Hall lobby and also view photos and comments on our School’s Facebook page, as well as the press archive.  Joan Rowland asks that in lieu of flowers a donation be made to the F. S. Rowland Chair and Graduate Fellowship Fund at the UC Irvine Department of Chemistry.

Professor Rowland would expect that we in Rowland Hall and across campus continue to greet the challenges before us with grace and perseverance, despite our heavy hearts.  And 2012 is indeed shaping up to be another challenging year for the University of California and UCI's School of Physical Sciences. However, in spite of the budgeting uncertainty, our School is moving ahead on a number of exciting initiatives. Each of the Departments is searching for new talent to bring on board, and the Faculty and Staff are doing a great job of obtaining support for our spectacular research programs. One of the most satisfying parts of my job is reviewing AP files that inform me about the wonderful things that our faculty members are doing.

Another important part of my job is to get the word out about your work, and to help bring in resources to assist you. I have been reminded many times that we need to be more effective at involving our alumni in our support network. This is one of the reasons that this newsletter is evolving from a simple email to a colorful presentation with more detail and pictures.  Additionally, our School's Mentor Program is experiencing a banner year, with enthusiastic engagement among a record number of alumni and students.

Our School's exceptional level of teaching is also garnering significant attention.  Professor James Nowick's 51A Organic Chemistry course is available through UCI's OpenCourseWare initiative and earning accolades nationally and internationally.  Courses offered through this online platform are available for free to anyone, at any time.  The site is accessed by thousands of learners from around the world for personal enrichment or supplemental study aids, simultaneously raising awareness of UCI's reputation as a global leader in scientific research and teaching.  Our School has been selected to participate in an expansion of undergraduate offerings, beginning with the core undergraduate Chemistry curriculum.   

Professor James Bullock, a star among astrophysicists, was featured last year on the National Geographic special, "Inside the Milky Way," and more recently on iTunes University with his Physics 20B course. Professor Michael Dennin's course "From Super Heroes to Global Warming" is among the most engaging---and most viewed--online courses.  And Dr. Sarah Eichhorn along with her colleagues from our Department of Mathematics have been active in our community with the launch of the Irvine Area Math Modeling program (IAMM).  Through IAMM, 116 local high school students participated in weekly training meetings to learn mathematics techniques not normally found in the high school curriculum. These students received training for writing in the sciences and had the opportunity to work on real world, open-ended, applied problems---and the UCI-coached teams were remarkably successful in their first international competition, earning placement in several categories.  

Another piece of good news is that the perception of UC Irvine continues to rise in the minds of our constituents. We are now the third most applied to campus in the UC system for freshman admissions. The 54,574 applications we received is a 17% increase over last year. Our School also is increasingly popular, with 3,617 freshman applicants, a 15% increase over last year.  We're especially pleased that the Department of Earth System Science has seen a significant increase in undergraduate applications since the launch of the undergraduate program only 12 years ago.

Thanks to each of you for your dedication and hard work that contributes to the ongoing success of our School. 


Kenneth C. Janda
Dean, School of Physical Sciences

Faculty Announcements

Academic Misconduct Blotter

Based on a request from the Associate Deans, summary information about academic misconduct is now posted online:  The hope is that this information will raise awareness about and discourage acts of academic dishonesty.  Please send your academic dishonesty reports directly to Jim Rutledge at with a copy to Cindy Fern ( They will then route them to the appropriate campus offices. Reports may be sent electronically or on paper.

Luminaries in the News

Trigger of Deadly Food Toxin Discovered
By Jennifer Fitzenberger, UC Irvine Communications

A toxin produced by mold on nuts and grains can cause liver cancer if consumed in large quantities. UC Irvine researchers for the first time have discovered what triggers the toxin to form, which could lead to methods of limiting its production. Because of lax or nonexistent regulation, 4.5 billion people in developing countries are chronically exposed to vast amounts of this toxin, called aflatoxin - often hundreds of times higher than safe levels. In places such as China, Vietnam and South Africa, the combination of aflatoxin and hepatitis B virus exposure increases the likelihood of liver cancer occurrence by 60 times, and toxin-related cancer causes up to 10 percent of all deaths in those nations. Read more.

Ocean Temperatures Can Predict Amazon Fire Season Severity
By Peter Lynch, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

By analyzing nearly a decade of satellite data, a team of scientists led by researchers from the University of California, Irvine and funded by NASA has created a model that can successfully predict the severity and geographic distribution of fires in the Amazon rain forest and the rest of South America months in advance. Though previous research has shown that human settlement patterns are the primary factor that drives the distribution of fires in the Amazon, the new research demonstrates that environmental factors – specifically small variations in ocean temperatures – amplify human impacts and underpin much of the variability in the number of fires the region experiences from one year to the next. Read more.

On Ice Shelf, a Hunt for Ghostly Particles 
By Pat Brennan, Orange County Register

A UC Irvine team faced fierce wind chill on a vast Antarctic ice shelf to capture one of science’s most elusive prey: ghostly particles called neutrinos that could carry secrets from the depths of the universe. The three scientists and their support team set up detectors that tune into radio pulses from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf — the mark of high-energy neutrinos from beyond the galaxy. The full array of some 960 detectors, known as ARIANNA, are spread across the shelf, and could help solve a century-old mystery. What, exactly, are the extremely powerful cosmic rays constantly raining down on Earth’s atmosphere? And just where do they come from? Read more.

Most Massive Galaxies Had Frenzied Star-Forming Pasts 
By, Live Science

Clusters of distant galaxies that were bursting with newborn stars in the early universe eventually became the most massive galaxies today, a new study finds. A team of astronomers found a strong link between active starburst galaxies of the early universe and the giant elliptical galaxies we now see. The star formation in these early galaxies was abruptly cut short, and the researchers pointed to the eating habits of supermassive black holes as the likely culprit. "This is the first time that we've been able to show this clear link between the most energetic starbursting galaxies in the early universe and the most massive galaxies in the present day," lead scientist Ryan Hickox, of Dartmouth College and England's Durham University, said in a statement.

The astronomers combined data from the European Southern Observatory's Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope and Very Large Telescope, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and others to examine the way bright, distant galaxies are grouped in clusters. Read more.

Nano Tool Watches Teardrop Protein Destroy Bacteria 
By Rosanne Skirble, Voice of America

California scientists attached a tiny electric circuit to a protein in the human teardrop and watched it destroy invading germs. The unique experiment, a marriage of nanotechnology and microbiology, could lead to new ways of diagnosing cancers and other illnesses in their very early stages. About a hundred years ago, a Scottish biologist discovered that proteins called lysozymes in human tears can kill bacteria. Scientists have studied the enzyme extensively, but molecular biologist Gregory Weiss at the University of California, Irvine set out to learn more. Read more.

Scientists Find New Dangers in Tiny but Pervasive Particles in Air Pollution
By Felicity Barringer, New York Times

Fine atmospheric particles — smaller than one-thirtieth of the diameter of a human hair — were identified more than 20 years ago as the most lethal of the widely dispersed air pollutants in the United States. Linked to both heart and lung disease, they kill an estimated 50,000 Americans each year. But more recently, scientists have been puzzled to learn that a subset of these particles, called secondary organic aerosols, has a greater total mass, and is thus more dangerous, than previously understood. A batch of new scientific findings is helping sort out the discrepancy, including, most recently, a study led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. It indicates that the compounds’ persistence in the atmosphere was under-represented in older scientific models.  Read more

Radiant Awards

Earth System Science Professor Eric Rignot Awarded $2.2 Million for Glacier Study

Earth System Science Professor Eric Rignot was awarded a $2.2 million grant by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to study glaciers in Chile and Greenland, potentially shedding further light on the links among vanishing glaciers, rising sea levels and a warming planet. Rignot will measure subtle changes in gravity during helicopter flights over the glaciers and ice fields of Patagonia. He'll also measure the ice using ground-penetrating radar, and plans to make a seamless map of the transition the glacier makes between the land and the ocean. Scientists say rapid ice loss at both poles, likely a product of global warming, appears to be accelerating rising sea levels that could, by some projections, increase by several feet by 2100.

Chemistry Professor Stephen Hanessian Wins 2012 Ernest Guenther Award

Chemistry Professor Stephen Hanessian was honored with the 2012 Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products. The award honors outstanding achievements in the analysis, structure elucidation, and chemical synthesis of natural products.

Physics and Astronomy Professor Thorsten Ritz Named Fellow in Britain's Royal Institute of Navigation

Biophysicist Thorsten Ritz has been named a fellow in Britain's Royal Institute of Navigation for his work on animals' "magnetic compass." An Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Ritz studies migratory birds, magnetic sensing and quantum physics. The institute is a charitable society based in London, and aims to promote the art and science of navigation by uniting researchers and increasing public awareness of the field.

Mathematics Professor Svetlana Jitomirskaya Elected VP of IAMP

Mathematics Professor Svetlana Jitomirskaya has been elected the Vice-President of the International Association of Mathematical Physics (IAMP) for the three year period beginning January 1, 2012. IAMP is the international body that unites mathematicians and theoretical physicists who characterize their research as mathematical physics. 

Mathematics Professor Donald Saari Receives Daniel Aldrich Jr. Distinguished University Service Award

Professor Donald Saari, UCI Distinguished Professor of Economics and Mathematics, has been awarded the Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Distinguished University Service Award. This award is given to a respected scholar who has made outstanding contributions of service to the University which leads to the betterment of the academic and/or personal lives of large segments of the University community.

Mathematics Professor Natalia Komarova Receives UCI Academic Senate Award

Mathematics Professor Natalia Komarova has been awarded the UCI Academic Senate Distinguished Mid-Career Faculty Award for Research. This award was established in 2002 to honor mid-range professors who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline through their research. Komarova has a broad range of research interests concentrating primarily on the biological and social sciences. 


Orbits and Announcements

Discovery of a Lifetime: F. Sherwood Rowland and the Ozone Layer Exhibit

The UCI Libraries exhibit, Discovery of a Lifetime: F. Sherwood Rowland and the Ozone Layer, is still on display in the Langson Library Muriel Ansley Reynolds Exhibit Gallery. This exciting exhibit celebrates the research contributions of world-renowned atmospheric scientist F. Sherwood "Sherry" Rowland, 1995 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry, and UCI Donald Bren Research Professor of Chemistry and Earth System Science. Dr. Rowland generously donated his professional and personal papers to the UCI Libraries and these rich materials are now available for scholarly research in the Libraries' Department of Special Collections and Archives. For further information about the exhibit go to: Discovery of a Lifetime is on display through April 2012 in the Langson Library Muriel Ansley Reynolds Exhibit Gallery during regular library hours. The exhibit will be transitioned to the lobby of Rowland Hall in May 2012. 

Community Welcome for Chemistry Professor Vy Dong 

In December, Drs. Trung and Yen Doan hosted local community members---including several UCI alum---along with Dean Janda and several faculty members from the Department of Chemistry for a delightful brunch in their home.  In addition to strengthening bonds between our School and the community, the Doans and their guests offered a warm welcome to the Chemistry department's newest faculty member, Dr. Vy Dong.  Professor Dong is an alum of UCI, where she studied as an undergraduate with Professor Larry Overman before completing her Ph.D at California Institute of Technology.  Currently at the University of Toronto, Dr. Dong will return to UC Irvine in July---this time as a professor of organic chemistry.

For pictures of the event please click here.

Chemistry Professor Larry Overman Honored With UCI Medal
Event raises $1.1M for fellowships benefiting UCI students

On Saturday, October 29, 2011, Chemistry Professor Larry Overman received the prestigious UCI Medal at UCI's Medal Awards Dinner –  “A Celebration of Stars." This signature event honors recipients for their profound impact on the university. Dr. Overman helped develop UCI's acclaimed Chemistry department and has mentored hundreds of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduates. Considered one of the world’s pre-eminent organic chemists, he has blazed a heavily cited research trail, including – early on – his “Overman rearrangement” that switched oxygen to nitrogen in a brand-new molecule. 

Other 2011 Medal winners were Barbara Davidson, Manuel Gómez, and Michael Mussallem. Net charitable proceeds from the $1.1M raised for the gala will benefit graduate fellowships, scholarships and other student-focused projects through the Shaping the Future campaign: The vintage Hollywood-themed soiree at the UC Irvine Bren Events Center featured a reception and formal dinner, two classic cars, big-band music and dancing, medalist tributes, and entertainment by students from UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, who performed a musical montage from ’30s and ’40s Hollywood. 

For pictures of the UCI Medal Awards click here.
To watch Professor Larry Overman's tribute video and the UCI Medal Awards video click here.

Physical Sciences Mentor Program

Physical Sciences Mentor Program students have been kept busy this quarter. In February the students attended an interactive career panel event in which mentors of the programs shared their career experiences and gave tips on resume building, networking, internships, and finding jobs. "Being well rounded is the most important attribute to increase your chances of getting a job, said career panelist Matt Dickason, "having a high GPA is only part of the package so you must participate in extracurricular activities that will help sharpen your team-building and social skills." During dinner, students and mentors engaged in various conversations about the professional world in the physical sciences. 

This month, students had the opportunity to tour the Boeing Satellite Development Center Facility in El Segundo, Ca. where they witnessed some of the world's top scientists and engineers working on the most innovative satellites. To view pictures of the Boeing tour please see our Facebook page album

The Physical Sciences Mentor Program connects current undergraduate students with science professionals. The goal is to expose students to career and networking opportunities. Mentors provide students support and guidance in their academic and professional lives. For more information on the Physical Sciences Mentor Program go to: or contact Tatiana Arizaga at

Physical Sciences Breakfast Lecture Series

The final presentation of the Breakfast Lecture Series is scheduled for May 15, 2012 in which Mathematics Professor Donald Saari will present From Dark Matter to the Evolution of the Universe. The theme of this expository lecture is to clear up some of the mystery about why it is believed there must be dark matter, but also to explain why previous estimates probably are much too large.  This discussion will be connected with brief comments about the evolution of the universe.  

Dr. Saari is the Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Economics and director of UCI's Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences (IMBS). He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, editor of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, and author of over one hundred publications. 

You can RSVP online at For questions contact Tatiana Arizaga at (949) 824-0218, or

Truth Values: One Girl's Romp Through M.I.T.'s Male Math Maze

UCI will host a west coast performance of Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp through M.I.T.’s Male Math Maze at 7:00pm on Thursday, April 26, 2012 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. In this compelling one-woman show, Gioia de Cari dramatizes the experience of a female graduate student in the Mathematics Department at M.I.T. as she negotiates the politics of power and gender in the university. This presentation of Truth Values is made possible by the support of campus leaders who lead student affairs, our academic schools, divisions of graduate and undergraduate education, and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. Read more here.

Tickets are on sale at the Irvine Barclay Theatre box office and on-line.

Student Elements

Featured Undergraduate Student: Arturo Vargas 

Applied mathematics was much like a foreign language to Arturo Vargas in his early years. Now, as a 5th year undergraduate student at UC Irvine majoring in Mathematics, Vargas confesses how math has become his biggest passion. 

“It wasn’t until my courses in linear algebra and differential equations that I began to understand how the world could be described through mathematics," recalls Vargas. "And it was the idea of mathematical modeling in particular that attracted me to research in mathematics.”

Vargas has been a part of various research projects at UC Irvine and at the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI). His first project focused on intervention to reduce vegetation loss during fires. After working on forest-fire modeling, he began working closely with UCI Mathematics Professor German Enciso in developing a computational model for DNA packaging. Technological advancements have led biologists to use computational methods to answer questions in the biological sciences. During the summer of 2011, Vargas worked with a team at MTBI in order to develop a mathematical model for the emission and optimal control of photochemical smog. They were interested in modeling the effects of potential traffic policies and observing its effects on pollutant levels. Most recently Vargas has become a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) fellow and was awarded a grant to continue working on research with Dr. Enciso. His current project involves modeling the G2/M checkpoint for Cellular Mitosis.

Not only has Vargas’ participation in mathematics led to various research experiences, it has earned him the title of Edison Scholar and the opportunity to be a part of the California Alliance for Minority Participation. “I’ve had invaluable opportunities to present my research at national conferences throughout the United States, and none would have happened without the support and encouragement obtained in part at UC Irvine,” explains Vargas.

As a graduating senior Vargas plans to go to graduate school and pursue his Ph.D in Applied and Computational Mathematics. “Although sometimes difficult and challenging, research in mathematics is one of the most exciting things I have been a part of,” he says. 

Jenkins Graduate Fellowship

UCI students contribute to cutting edge research on one of the major global issues of our time: climate change causes, severity and impacts. As a Ph.D student in Earth System Science and recipient of the Jenkins Graduate Fellowship, Anne Kelly studies how climate influences forest growth and water cycling in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This research includes questions of how temperature and water availability determine the upper and lower treeline, how sequoias can grow in such a cold and dry environment, and how much water trees use and when. Kelly has about two-dozen experimental plots arrayed from California’s Central Valley to the Sierra crest. Through regular visits she performs critical maintenance and measurements at remote field sites.

Brendan Rogers is another Earth System Science Ph.D student and Jenkins Fellow. “The Jenkins Fellowship has given me opportunity to advance my research on the interactions between boreal forest fires and climate,” says Rogers. He studies the ways in which boreal forests interact with high latitude climate. North American boreal forests are subject to severe wildfires that emit climate-altering gases and particles and change the landscape composition for decades. Some of these fire effects result in warming, and others in cooling. Scientists project high latitudes to experience the largest temperature increases during this century. As a result, many also believe boreal forest fires will increase in frequency and intensity. Evidence indicates this may already be happening. Brendan is working towards a more complete understanding of what this means for boreal forest composition, high latitude temperature and precipitation, and global climate patterns. In order to address these questions, Rogers utilizes remotely-sensed data from satellites, national fire inventories from Alaska and Canada, and a state-of-the-art global climate model. Satellite data are used to characterize the extent of boreal forests and patterns of vegetation and land surface recovery after fires. National databases provide details on the timing and distribution of fires in boreal North America back to 1940. This information, together with estimates of fire emissions, is then input to the model to simulate the effects of historical and future fire regimes on regional and global climate.

Kelly and Rogers’ research are only two examples of the exceptional research happening at UCI thanks to the gracious support of donors like Mr. Greg Jenkins. “Without the Jenkins Fellowship, my research would be improbable,” says Kelly, “as it has allowed me to gather key mid-winter data on forest growth and water use.”  One day, the results of Kelly’s research can be used to predict impacts of future climate change on California's forest ecosystems and water resources.  Likewise, Rogers’ research represents an important advancement in our understanding of potential 21st century climate change impacts.

Supporting the School

We invite you to support the School of Physical Sciences through contributions that directly support our students, our research, and our outreach programs. Please contact the School's Director of Development Audrey Kelaher for more information at (949) 812-8349, or

PS the Numbers
UCI freshman applications up 10.5% with 70,000 applicants for the Fall 2012 quarter.

24% of Physical Sciences students were on the Dean's Honor List for the Fall 2011 quarter.

Physical Sciences freshmen student applications increased by 15% in Fall quarter.

Physical Sciences transfer student applications increased by 18% in Fall quarter.

Connect With Us

Upcoming Events

UC Irvine | School of Physical Sciences | Office of Development | 180 Rowland Hall | Irvine | CA | 92625-4675
For questions or comments please contact Tatiana Arizaga at (949) 824-0218 or