September Newsletter


Kenneth C. Janda
Dean of School of Physical Sciences

Photo Credit: Steve Zylius, UCI Communications


Dear Friends,

I hope you enjoy this inaugural newsletter from the School of Physical Sciences at UC Irvine! I am honored to have been appointed to serve asDean of this dynamic and diverse group of scientists, educators, students, and staff.   As a Professor of Chemistry at UC Irvine since 1992, I have had many opportunities to observe the great work going on in our School and watch the national and international recognition of our work increase every year.


Since it was established in 1965, the School of Physical Sciences has advanced to the top echelon ofacademia in a remarkably short time.   In a recent assessment of research-doctorate programs conducted by the National Research Council, each of our four departments was ranked at or above the 15th percentile - rare across-the-board excellence.  


If you'll take a moment to explore this newsletter, you'll see examples of the remarkable accomplishments of our researchers, who also embrace the teaching mission of a publicuniversity.   Our faculty are not only leading the world in addressing today's problems - we're simultaneously teaching the scientists who will be solving tomorrow's problems. Perhaps more than in any other School, teaching and research are closely linked in the School of Physical Sciences, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. With few exceptions, each of our faculty members teaches a freshman or sophomore level class each year, as well as welcoming students into his or her research group.


Teaching the science curriculum is always a challenge, especially laboratory classes that require specialized equipment. During this time of financial difficulty, I am directing all contributions from alumni toward either undergraduate laboratory renovation or summer research fellowships for undergraduate and graduate research students. If you are kind enough to make a contribution, please feel free to specify which category and/or to which Department your gift should bedirected.


I hope you will take advantage of upcoming opportunities to get involved with our School - especially next week's presentation in our quarterly Breakfast Lecture Series , and experience firsthand the global impact of our scientists.


I thank you for your continued interest in our School, and we look forward to seeing you on campus soon.      




Kenneth C. Janda
Dean, School of Physical Sciences
Luminaries Luminary Research in the News 

Zot! UC Irvine Proves Stellar at Mapping Dark Matter      
By Zoran Basich, The Wall Street Journal   

Mapping Dark Matter
Daniel Margala (left) and David Kirkby 


When  David Kirkby  and Daniel Margala entered a

Renagade Dwarf Smashed Up Our Galaxy     

Our world orbits a sun located on one of the arms of

Milky Way

the Milky Way, a galaxy of some 200 billion stars with spiral limbs that whirl around a thin disk.   But how did the galaxy develop those famous arms?

A new theory says they formed after the Milky Way waswhacked by a dwarf galaxy, sending cascades of stars flying to the galactic rim.  And the collision has happened not just once, but twice in the last twobillion years -- and a third smashup is in the cards within the next 10 million years, a blink of an eye in cosmic terms, say a team of astronomers.  The intruder is named the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy...   Read more .

Q & A: The Quest of the Earth System Scientist   By Felicity Barringer, The New York Times

Ralph Cicerone

Ralph J. Cicerone , president of the National Academy of Sciences, wasback in his old haunt in September, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the University of California, Irvine's Department of Earth System Science , which he founded. He later served as the university's chancellor. Dr. Cicerone spoke with The New York Times about scientific research on the campus, the national attitude toward science today and the scientific questions he would most like to see answered. Following are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.

You're back here to celebrate the Department of Earth System Science's 20th anniversary; what has the department accomplished over those two decades?

Both on the side of research as well as classroom instruction, I think they are doing very well. The quality of graduates who are coming here, the places they are turning down in order to come to Irvine, reflects on that. 
Read more .



Tracking the Movement of Ice Across Antarctica

By Sindya N. Bhanoo,  The New York Times



A new map of Antarctica illustrates for the first time how ice moves across the continent. The map's creators believe it may be a crucial tool in helping researchers understand how a warming climate is changing the continent. The creation of the digital map was supported by NASA and combines data gathered from 2007 to 2009 by satellites belonging to the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. "It's a unique collaboration with each satellite contributing different skillsand mapping different parts of the continent," said Eric Rignot, an Earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study's lead author.  Read more .

Bacteria Responsible for Missing 'Atmospheric Brooms' That Sweep the SkyClean?   By James Mitchell Crow, RSC: Advancing the Chemical Sciences 

Atmospheric Brooms
Soil bacteria produce chemicals that help to cleanse the atmosphere  

Hydroxyl radicals play a central role in cleaning pollutants from our atmosphere - but the ultimate source of Earth's 'atmospheric brooms' has provendifficult to track down. An international team of researchers have now found that the answer could lie not in the air above us, but in the ground beneath our feet. Previous research has established that up to one third of the hydroxyl radicals formed in the lower atmosphere come from the photochemical breakdown of nitrous acid (HONO). But here the trail ran cold, the source of much of this HONO unknown.Read more .    
Groundwater Depletion is Detected From Spac e   By Felicity Barringer, The New York Times   

Jay S. Famiglietti

Photo Credit: Ann Johannson, The New York Times

Scientists have been using small variations in the Earth's gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet's main sources of fresh water.

They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China andthe Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state's $30 billion agricultural industry. Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California's Center for Hydrologic Modeling...  Read more .


New MO for CT, MRI and PET 
By Janet Wilson, University Communications 

Hongkai Zhao (left to right), Hao Gao
Photo Credit: Steve Zylius, University Communications


New Theories Over Methane Puzzle   

By Matt McGrath, BBC News

Methane Theories

have come up with two widely differing theories as to thecause. One suggests the decline was caused by greater commercial use of natural gas, the other that increased use in Asia of artificial fertilizer was responsible. Both studies agree that human activities are the key element. And there are suggestions that methane levels are now on the rise again. Methane is regarded as one of the most potent greenhouse gases, trappingover 20 times more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide... Read more.  


New New Stars     


The School of Physical Sciences is pleased to welcome seven new faculty members throughout its four departments. These individuals will join the team of world-renowned faculty members and research scientists to thrive in the leading break-throughs of our time.


Aaron Esser-Kahn - Most recently a postdoctoral fellow at the University ofIllinois, Urbana-Champaign, Aaron Esser-Kahn received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2009. His research interests lie at the intersection of biology, chemistry and materials science. His work uses the tools from each discipline to provide a more comprehensive understanding of biomimetic systems. Hisgroup is using materials science techniques to "pre-cast" vascular networks inside of tissue scaffolds in order to remove the diffusion barrier. Esser-Kahn will provide an important link for the Chemistry Department to state-of-the-art Bioengineering problems. View Esser-Kahn's profile page here 


Renee Link(LPSOE) -   Renee Link has been the lecturer in charge of coordinating the Organic Chemistry Laboratory Program. In 2008, Link received her Ph.D. degree from UC Irvine. Link pursued pedagogical development during graduate school and the first two years of her teaching career. Over the last few years, Link has coordinated training of all chemistry department Teaching Assistants and participated in workshops that have allowed her to explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in chemistry through a project-based course in which she researched and developed a report on surface learning in laboratory instruction.  She continues to serve as a consultant for Teaching Assistants by analyzing their teaching behaviors and offering formative feedback.  Link has the experience necessary to successfully manage the very large Organic Chemistry Laboratory teaching program and the commitment to educational pedagogy that will ensurethe further evolution and excellence of our O-Chem Lab series.



Department of Earth System Science


Claudia (Czimczik=====) Green -  Claudia Czimczik's research is focused on thecycling of carbon and nitrogen in the terrestrial biosphere.  She received her Ph.D. in 2003 from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and Fridrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany.   She is interested in understanding how climate change, alterations in land management and changes in the frequencies of disturbances (eg., fire, drought) affect the allocation, cycling and residence time of carbon and nitrogen in soils and plants.   In turn, her research aidsin how ecosystems feed back to the climate system, i.e. by constraining future levels of greenhouse gases and other forcing agents (eg., black carbon, or "soot") in the atmosphere.  Czimczik is currently maintaining an active field site in the high arctic of northwestern Greenland,and collaborations in Alaska.   Her faculty appointment in ESS will strengthen the role of observational science and the terrestrialbiosphere in research and teaching. View Czimczik's profile here .



Department of Mathematics


Jeffrey Streets -  Jeffrey Streets received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Duke University in 2007 under the direction of Professor Mark Stern. In 2007, hewas a Clay Foundation Liftoff Fellow. From 2007 through 2010, he worked asan NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellow and an Instructor at Princeton University. In addition to his NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, he has already received one other NSF Grant, which was awarded last September. Dr. Streets has done excellent research in geometric analysis,which is a very active research area in mathematics. Differential Geometryhas traditionally been a strong research area for the UCI Mathematics. Hisappointment will add breadth to the current differential geometry group. His research interests also intersect well with those of faculty interested in partial differential equations and algebraic geometry. His strong commitment to education will benefit both the undergraduate and graduate programsat UCI. 


Li-Sheng Tseng -  Li-Sheng Tseng received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago in December 2003. He was a Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics of the University of Utah from 2004-2006. His field changedfrom physics to mathematics once he began working as a Postdoctoral Fellowat Harvard in 2006 under the direction of Professor Shing-Tung Yau.   Dr. Tseng has done excellent research in String Theory, Torsional Geometry, and Symplectic Topology. His background in physics helps him delve more deeply into geometry and string theory. D r. Tseng is an excellent addition to the Department.   He will be able to broaden the department's research areas as well as interact with several research groups in the department, including those focused in Mathematical Physics, Geometry and Algebraic Geometry. 


Department of Physics and Astronomy


Kevork Abazajian -  Kevork Abazajian is a theoretical astrophysicist withresearch interests in astro-particle physics and cosmology.   He received his Ph.D. in Physics in 2001 from the University of California, San Diego.   After completing his Ph.D., Abazajian undertook a Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Fermilab Theoretical Astrophysics Group and subsequently served as Director's Postdoctoral Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.   From 2006-2011, Abazajianserved as assistant professor at the University of Maryland Department of Physics.  Abazajian's research focus is the physics and astrophysics of dark matter.   He uses observations of high-energy photons and cosmic rays, and clustering of baryons and dark matter halos to gain insight into the nature of dark matter and to understand how structure grows.   At UCI, Abazajian will participate in the expansion of undergraduate and graduate courses in Cosmology.   In addition, as a community outreach project, Dr. Abazajian plans to develop an interactive website for high school teachers to askquestions relating to cosmology and particle physics. View Abazajian's profile here .


Jing Xia -  Jing Xia received his Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University in 2008. His graduate research involved the invention of a loop-less fiber optic Sagnac interferometer. He used this novel technique to test time-reversal symmetry breaking in several unconventional superconductors.   Following the completion of his Ph.D., Xia served as the Richard C. Tolman Postdoctoral Fellow, working with Professor Jim Eisenstein at Caltech, to study the competition between various quantum phases in the first excited Landau level in 2 dimensional electrons.    At UCIrvine, Xia plans to develop ultra-sensitive fiber optic probes as well asnew cryogenic techniques, and use them to study quantum phases in strongly correlated electron systems at ultra low temperatures. Some of these phases including p-wave superconductors and 5/2 filling factor quantumHall state are expected to feature topological order and non-Abelian quasi-particles, and may be used to build topologically protected quantum computers. View Xia's profile here .




Events Events 
Oct. 18, 2011 - PS Breakfast  Lecture Series 1:  
Deep Green: Long-Term Zero-Carbon Power for the 21st Century 

Oct. 22, 2011 - Visitor Night at UCI Observatory  

Oct. 29, 2011 - "A Celebration of Stars - The UCI Medal Awards" 

Nov. 9, 2011 - Discover the PSMentor Program Kick-off Reception        

Nov. 18, 2011 - Discovery of a Lifetime: F. Sherwood Rowland and the Ozone Layer   


Radiant Radiant Awards 

Larry Overman to Receive UCI Medal

Larry.OvermanProfessor Larry Overman has been selected to receive UC Irvine's most prestigious honor, the UCI Medal, which annually confers lifelong recognition on those who have made exceptional contributions to the university's mission of teaching, research and public service. Overman, one of the world's pre-eminent organic chemists, joined the UCIrvine faculty in 1971 and has since blazed a research trail that helped create new treatments for cancer, cardiovascular conditions and immunity disorders, benefitting people around the world. His heavily cited work on the synthesis of natural products of biological relevance led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences and more than 25 other illustrious awards and fellowships. A former Department of Chemistry chair who holds the rank of Distinguished Professor, UC Irvine's highest academic title, Overman has mentored and trained hundreds of students, postdoctoral fellows and coworkers, with more than 45 serving in academic positions across the country. His work has appeared in more than 340 peer-reviewed publications, and he has brought ongoing prestige to the campus while leveraging significant financial support from governmental agencies and industrial partners to help build one of the nation's best graduate programs.


UCI Medal recipients will be feted at "A Celebration of Stars - The UCI Medal Awards" on October 29, 2011 from 5 to 10 p.m. at the Bren Events Center. Read more about the UCI Medal Awards  here .


Scott  Rychnovsky Named Fellow of American Chemical Society 


Chemistry department chair Scott Rychnovsky has been named a 2011 fellow of the American Chemical Society. He specializes in organic and syntheticchemistry, including the synthesis of complex natural products and development of novel materials that could lead to the creation of effective new drugs. The chemical society, an independent body created by Congress and based in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific group of its kind, with 165,000 members who conduct work related to or using chemistry. 


Rommie Amaro Honored With Presidential Award

Rommie.AmaroAssistant professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Chemistry Rommie Amaro was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Amaro's research focuses on discovering new treatments for cancer, influenza, chlamydia and neglected diseases such as African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis disease. Her research also centers oncreating new methods to develop drugs using computers. The goal is to create a generic method to share with other scientists, Amaro said.  Read more .


Michael Dennin Awarded for OpenCourseWare Excellence

Physics and Astronomy professor Michael Dennin has been honored as a recipient of the's OCW People's Choice Awards. Dennin's course titled, "Science from Superheroes to Global Warming,"was voted the winner in the best user experience category. This was the first year held the awards honoring the best of the OpenCourseWare movement, and UC Irvine was also nominated in three other categories for best user experience, most open resource and best non-video open educational resource.  Read more .


Sarah Eichhorn Received Alder Award from MAA 






Orbits OrBITS and Announcements 

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



Discovery of a Lifetime: F. Sherwood Rowland and the Ozone Layer. The event will take place on Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. at Langson Library, UC Irvine, and will feature a talk by Ralph J. Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences and Chancellor Emeritus, UC Irvine.  The 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. The exhibit traces Rowland's ground-breaking work as one of the first scientists to warn that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) released into the atmosphere were depleting the earth's vital ozone layer.  His research, along with postdoctoral colleague Mario Molina, contributed to the passing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol to eliminate CFCs from aerosols, and brought worldwide attention to the impact of human-contributed greenhouse gases on a planetary scale.  Read more .



Breakfast Lecture Series 


Jay Famiglietti Featured in Film Documentary "Last Call at the Oasis"


ProfessorJay Famiglietti and his research on water  depletion will be featured in the film documentary "Last Call at the Oasis," produced by Academy Award-winning Jessica Yu. Famiglietti along with other experts discuss the future of Earth's dwindlingwater supply, including possible climate change as a cause. Watch the trailer here .


Founding chair   Ralph Cicerone , who now heads the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, recounted in a recent interviewhow the first academic unit anywhere devoted to studying the entire planetcame to be.  Read more .


PS on Facebook


The School of Physical Sciences is now on Facebook! Don't forget to 'like' us and stay tuned on allour news, events, and announcements.  


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Students Student Elements 

Unlikely Pairs
Janet H. Wilson, University Communications 

Kenneth C. Janda (left), Joel Rivera (right)

Fire and ice don't mix. Neither do oil and water - or so the sayings go. But if you're an ace UC Irvine undergraduate like Joel Rivera working with Kenneth C. Janda, dean ofthe School of Physical Sciences, barriers are broken in more ways than one. Janda, a lifelong chemist with a laboratory two floors up from his Rowland Hall dean's office, says Rivera came to his attention nearly four yearsago. Kika Friend, director of UCI's California Alliance for Minority Participation program - which supports students in science, technology, engineering and math - told him about the talented freshman. "We hit it off as soon as we met," Janda recalls. "We both do chemistry for fun; it's our hobby as well as our job." Translation: Both thought it would be a great idea tofigure out how to load as much propane as fast as possible into ice and then burn it. In scientific terms, they're studying the kinetics of the formation of gas clathrate hydrates - compounds made when water molecules bond to form cages around gaseous molecules. The work has huge potential. There are a trillion tons of methane stored in deposits under the world's oceans,... Read more . 


Featured Student Research  


Tatyana Sheps is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Chemical and Material Physics. She is the recipient of a 2010Arnold O. Beckman Memorial Scholarship funded by the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. The  ARCS Foundation is an organization of women philanthropists who are dedicated to "Advancing Science in America" and support students in the fields of science, engineering and medical research at leading universities.


As a graduate student in Dr. Phil Collins' lab, Sheps studies optical and electrical properties of single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) circuits for applications in nanoelectronics and chemical sensors. In the past two years, she has developed a new non-linear optical spectroscopy technique which enables observation of previously invisible dynamics of electrons in SWCNTs. Interpreting the behavior of these electrons is crucial for understanding how nano-scale circuits interact with their environment and form chemical bonds. Visit Sheps research group page here .



Supporting Supporting the School 

Along with our world-renowned faculty, the strength of the School of Physical Sciences rests in its ability to attract top students from our local community, as well as the broader global community.    Your gift to the School ofPhysical Sciences can make a difference in the dreams-and world impact-of young, aspiring scientists.  


You can designate your gift in support of undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, or laboratory renovation for any of our four Departments: Chemistry, Earth System Science, Mathematics, or Physics & Astronomy.


To help protect and advance the work of our School, please contact Audrey Kelaher at 949.824.8111, or give online at  


Now, more than ever, yourgift to UCI's School of Physical Sciences matters. 



PS PS the Numbers...