An Itsy Bitsy Teensy Weensy Water-Cleaning-Up Bikini….

A material created by UCR engineers is the key component of a swimsuit that won an international design competition for its ability to clean water as a person swims.

The reusable material, which they call Sponge, is derived from heated sucrose, a form of sugar. It has a highly porous structure that is super hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, but also absorbs harmful contaminants.

“This is a super material that is not harmful to the environment and very cost effective to produce,” said Mihri Ozkan, an electrical engineering professor at UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering.

Ozkan, along with her husband and fellow engineering professor, Cengiz Ozkan, current Ph.D. student, Daisy Patino, and Hamed Bay, who recently earned his Ph.D. after working with the Ozkan’s, began developing the material about four years ago for applications such as cleaning up oil or chemical spills or desalinizing water.

They also believe the unique water-repelling nature of the material could be used in paint applied to airplanes and satellites or as part of electromagnetic shields for such things as unmanned aerial vehicles.

The idea to incorporate the material into wearable technology, such as the swimsuit, came from Pinar Guvenc, Inanc Eray and Gonzalo Carbajo, partners of Eray Carbajo, an architecture and design firm based in New York City and Istanbul.

The team visited the Ozkan’s labs and worked with them to design the swimsuit. Their design won first place at the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition and will be recognized at the Maker Faire in Rome on Oct. 16. Read more about the design here. 

‘Window to the Brain” Research Awarded $5 Million Grant

A team of scientists from UCR and three Mexican universities have received about $5 million in funding to support research to continue development of a novel transparent skull implant that literally provides a “window to the brain.”

Two years ago, the UC Riverside scientists announced they had created the skull implant, which is made out of the same ceramic material used for hip implants and dental crowns.

However, the material, yttria-stabilized zirconia, is processed in a unique way that makes it transparent. When combined with the excellent biocompatibility and robustness of the zirconia, this may eventually provide opportunity for laser-based treatments of life-threatening disorders such as brain cancer or traumatic brain injury without having to perform repeated craniotomies, which are highly-invasive surgical procedures that involve removing a portion of the skull to access the brain.

The new funding will allow the researchers to study: new material developments that could provide further enhancement of important implant properties, such as toughness; shaping the implant so it conforms to the curvature of the skull; how lasers react when passing through the ceramic implant; and how the implants respond in animal studies.

The majority of the funding, $3.6 million, comes from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) program, which pairs U.S. universities with others around the world. An additional $1 million will come from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT), Mexico’s entity in charge of promoting scientific and technological activities. The remainder of the money will come from in-kind contributions from the Mexican universities.

The project is led by Guillermo Aguilar, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering who is originally from Mexico, and Santiago Camacho-López, Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE).

Five other UC Riverside professors are involved: Javier Garay, Lorenzo Mangolini, Masaru Rao, Huinan Liu and Devin Binder. All are part of the Bourns College of Engineering, with the exception of Binder, who is part of the School of Medicine. In addition, David Halaney, a junior specialist, will help oversee activities related to the grant. Find out more here.

Study Considers Links Between Auditory Disorders and Brain Development

Why does the brain act like play dough?  It can be shaped easily early in development but with age it becomes harder to mold functionally. Three UCR researchers will be closer to answering this question thanks in part to a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Khaleel Razak, an associate professor of psychology, Iryna Ethell, a professor of biomedical sciences, and Devin Binder, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, will combine their complementary areas of research to increase their understanding of neurodevelopmental problems in Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). The researchers initially were able to collect pilot data for their work on FXS with seed money provided by the Research and Economic Development office at UCR. The resulting work led to this DoD grant and an earlier National Institutes of Health center grant.

FXS is a genetic disorder in humans that causes social impairments, language and cognitive deficits and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum. It is the most commonly inherited cause of intellectual disability and autism. FXS affects one in 4,000 boys and is half as prevalent in girls. Many children with FXS suffer from auditory hypersensitivity.

If the researchers can understand why the brain absorbs information the way it does in early development, they can figure out what should be happening systematically in the human brain that is not occurring in those who have FXS.  Find out more about the study here. 

Lawnmower Emission Reduction Device Wins National Award

A team of University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering students won a national sustainable development award earlier this month for creating a device that drastically reduces harmful emissions from lawnmowers.

The team — Alyssa Yan, Priyanka Singh and Anna Almario — their advisor and the University will receive $43,000 for winning the Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development. They learned they received the award during an Oct. 8 award ceremony in Miami, where they were accompanied by Kawai Tam, their advisor, who is a lecturer at the college, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the college.

“This win is a testament to our college’s commitment to hands-on undergraduate research that can be applied in the real world,” Abbaschian said. “With a single device, these students can significantly improve our air quality and have the potential to revolutionize an industry that has been around for more than 100 years.”

The team traveled to Miami as one of three finalists for the award. The others were teams from Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The students developed the device — a cylindrical stainless steel unit that attaches to the lawnmower where its muffler was — because small engine devices produce significant harmful emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a gasoline powered lawn mower emits air pollution equivalent to a single car driven for 45 miles for each hour of operation.

This unit could also be attached to other small engine devices such as generators. The team, which calls itself NOx-Out (NOx is short for nitrogen oxide, a harmful emission), believes there is a market for the device for lawnmower manufacturers and current lawnmower owners, especially operators of landscape companies, who could retrofit their existing gasoline-powered lawnmower. They expect the device, which has the added benefits of reducing noise from the lawnmower and the smell of gasoline, would sell for about $80 at its current scale of production. This price would substantially be lower at a larger scale of production. Find out more about the device here. 

More honors for Laila Lalami’s novel ‘The Moor’s Account’

UCR creative writing professor Laila Lalami has been nominated for another international award for her novel “The Moor’s Account.” The book was shortlisted for Italy’s The Bridge Book Award, which recognizes top works of fiction and nonfiction by writers in the United States and Italy.

“The Moor’s Account” (Pantheon 2014) was one of five novels written by authors in the U.S. nominated for the award.

Lalami, who joined the Department of Creative Writing faculty in 2007, also was recently named one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan. She is one of 42 writers, actors and musicians named in the category of Arts & Culture. The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre is an independent research entity affiliated with the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, an international Islamic non-governmental, independent institute headquartered in Amman.

“The Moor’s Account” is the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America — a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record of the 1527 expedition of Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez. There were only four survivors.

The work of historical fiction has won numerous honors this year. It was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, won an American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation, was a co-winner of the Arab American Book Award for Fiction, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and is a finalist for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award. It also was named a New York Times Notable Book and one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 10 Books of the Year, one of NPR’s Great Reads of 2014, and was on the list of Kirkus Best Fiction Books of the Year.

Lalami also is the author of “Secret Son” and “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

UCR Alumnus Wins 2015 Packard Science Fellowship

Seth Finnegan

Seth Finnegan

Alumnus Seth Finnegan, who worked as a graduate student at UCR with paleontologist Mary Droser, has been awarded a 2015 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. He is one of only 18 early-career scientists and engineers to be given the fellowship by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Each fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue research.

“Seth is defining the cutting edge of using data from our planet’s biological and physical past to constrain predictions of how Earth will change in the future, particularly in response to human-induced threats,” said Droser, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Finnegan received his master’s degree and doctoral degree in geological sciences from UCR in 2001 and 2006, respectively. Now at the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, he explores questions such as: During past episodes of rapid environmental change, what determined which species went extinct and which survived? How did ecosystems function under different climate states? His lab group tries to answer these and other questions by studying the rich fossil record of marine organisms.

The Packard Foundation established the fellowships program in 1988 to provide early-career scientists with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields.

Packard Fellows have gone on to achieve significant accomplishments, receiving additional awards and honors that include the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Fields Medal, the Alan T. Waterman Award, MacArthur Fellowships and elections to the National Academies.

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