Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Look Back at 2011

A National Medal of Science, a Marconi Prize, a new student center and many important research findings. It’s been a busy year at the Jacobs School of Engineering. We wanted to provide a look back on some of this year’s stories, in case you’ve missed some of the exciting news we had in 2011.

Friday, December 16, 2011

von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center

From the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

"In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm.

In the real world all rests on perseverance."

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jacobs School Shake Table Puts Snowglobes to the Test

What would happen to your beloved Christmas decorations and family nick-knacks during an earthquake? A team of engineers at the Jacobs School helped answer this question during an episode of the TV show "Totally Unprepared."

The show was trying to help Los Angeles resident Heather Kram figure out what would happen to her unsecured collection of Nightmare Before Christmas snow globes and figurines during a temblor. The seismic testing team at the Jacobs School set up four curio cabinets filled with globes and other curios on one of the school's shake tables.

Two of the cabinets were secured to the wall with furniture straps, the doors were closed with child safety locks and the items on the shelves were glued with museum putty. Meanwhile, for the two other cabinets, the doors were just closed, without latches and their contents just sat on the shelves, unsecured. One of the two was attached to the wall with furniture straps; the other was not.

"That one cabinet doesn't look too good," said Andy Gunthardt, a senior development engineer who supervises the Jacobs School's shake tables.

All four cabinets held steady during a small simulated shaker. But during a major simulated quake, the unstrapped cabinet collapsed and snow globes and figurines flew all over the shake table. The cabinet that was strapped but didn't have museum putty or child locks was emptied of its contents too. Meanwhile, the two fully secured cabinets stood almost undisturbed.

After all the shaking was done, the show's host urged everyone to remember to get prepared. In this case, it means running to the store and getting some furniture straps, child safety locks and museum putty.

Read more about Totally Unprepared's snow globe episode here

The show is funded by the California Emergency Management Agency, the California Earthquake Authority and the California Seismic Safety Commission.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Spam Works

BusinessWeek has a great story and graphic explaining how spammers make their living, based on research by Jacobs School Computer Science Professor Stefan Savage and colleagues here at UC San Diego and at UC Berkeley.

"You pay the money, and you get a product," Savage told BusinessWeek

Researcher Damon McCoy, also in computer science and engineering, was instrumental in putting the graphic together.

Read the story here.

And make sure you take a closer look at the graphic here.

Rainbows as Media Stars

Earlier this week, we posted a news release titled "Computer Simulations Shed Light on the Physics of Rainbows," explaining how an international team of researchers led by a Jacobs School computer science graduate student and his professor, simulated rainbows and gained a better understanding of how real rainbows form in the process.
The story has now become quite a hit with news sites and blogs.
It was featured on the home page of, Discovery Channel news, the New Scientist and In case you missed all the coverage, here are links to some of the stories: Fake Rainbows Lead to Scientific Discovery

CNN Light Years blog: Seeing double: Researchers find rainbow connection

Discovery Channel: Secret of Twinned Rainbows Found in Simulations

MSNBC: Secret of 'Twinned Rainbows' Simulated on a Computer

Science:  "Burgeroids" Cause Double Rainbows "But What Does it Mean?" Computer-Generated Rainbows Reveal Some Answers

New Scientist: Rare twin rainbows simulated in 3D

CNET: CGI hackers discovery secret of rainbows

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Computer Simulations That Will Put You Over the Rainbow

Researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, working with an international team of computer scientists and rainbow experts, used computer simulations to help explain how some rare forms of rainbows form.

Watch our narrated slide shows to learn more:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Shu Chien Lab in New Research Building to Investigate Best Environment to Grow Stem Cells

The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine recently opened its doors on the Torrey Pines Mesa and will be home to 24 principal investigators, including Bioengineering Professor Shu Chien.

Chien’s lab will be dedicated to further developing a technology that allows scientists to identify the best environments to grow stem cells. Creating these environments requires mixing many proteins in a wide range of combinations. The new technology allows researchers to test hundreds of them at once.
Scientists also will investigate the role these proteins, and other factors, including mechanical forces, play in stem cells’ fate. For example, a stiffer matrix can steer the cells toward becoming more like bone cells, while a softer matrix leads to brain-like ones.

Karl Willert, an assistant professor, and David Brafman, a postdoctoral researcher, both in the department of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego, will work with Chien on the project and move their labs to the consortium building.

The team also will work with Organovo, Inc., led by CEO Keith Murphy, on three-dimensional printing of tissues and organs such as blood vessels. Researchers also will work with Richard Rouse, who operates HTS Resources and will develop new printing and spotting technologies.

To learn more about the Sanford Consortium, read this story in This Week @ UC San Diego and this story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Computer Science Professor Stefan Savage on Computer Security and Online Data

Stefan Savage, a professor in the computer science department, was invited to contribute a piece in the New York Times' feature "Essays on Computing," now online in the paper's Science section and out in hard copy tomorrow.

Some eye-opening excerpts from the essay are below. The full text can be found here.

"We can expect new threats to directly reflect each new technical innovation in how money is used, moved and stored. Emerging cellphone-based payment systems, automated banking transfers and the increasingly liquid markets for online goods in multiplayer games will all be ripe targets for online crooks."

"The ease with which we adopt online personas and relationships has created a collective blind spot that computer technology is well suited to exploit. Advances in natural-language processing and data mining make it entirely feasible to mint millions of “social bots,” each establishing online friendships with their targets like virtual con men, each building trust over time and delivering personalized messages designed to elicit information, sway opinion or call to action.
This idea, which one of my colleagues has called “social architecture,” completely upends traditional computer security concerns: The threat is not of humans controlling or monitoring our computers, but precisely the converse."

"The Stuxnet worm, designed to sabotage gas centrifuges in Iran, made it clear that computer attacks can have physical, real-world consequences — a particularly troubling precedent because computing capabilities are now embedded in virtually every aspect of our lives. The power we use, the water we drink, the cars, planes and trains we travel in, the elevators and air-conditioning in our buildings, even many of our children’s toys — all are controlled by computers.
A parallel trend, fueled by cheap wireless connectivity, is that these devices are increasingly networked. And while few of these systems have been attacked in anger, it is this very fact that leads most of them to be rife with vulnerabilities — a sheltered ecosystem with no immunity to attacks from an outside invader"

Also, Larry Smarr, director of Calit2 and a computer science professor here at the Jacobs School, wrote an essay for the same feature, titled "An Evolution Toward a Programmable Universe." Read it here.

Where in the United States are the Jacobs School's Zero-Pressure Balloons?

Three teams taking an introductory aerospace engineering course this quarter got a unique opportunity last week: they launched three balloons, for which they designed payload and instrumentation.
The students were hoping the balloons would make it to the East Coast. But the ferocious windstorm that blew through the Southwest derailed their plans.
One balloon landed about 50 miles east of Yuma, Ariz., and was recovered by local residents. Another landed 120 miles south of Ensenada, in Mexico, and was also at a local home. Finally, the third balloon touched down 40 miles east of Kingman, Ariz. It's in a remote mountain area, so Kosmatka plans to contact a local Boy Scout troop to help recover it.
The students' efforts were profiled in this San Diego Union-Tribune story.
Also, read our story on the Jacobs School website.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deadlin Extended: Fall Elevator Pitch Competition Entry Deadline

Deadline has been EXTENDED!!

If you've ever had an idea for a business here is your chance to showcase it--and maybe win some money!
1 Page (550 words), $1,000 awarded to the top idea.
The top 8 ideas as evaluated by our judging consortium will pitch their idea live to the audience at our 2011 Winter KickOff in January.
An audience vote will determine who walks away with $1,000.

Link for Submitting Entry:

Judging Criteria :
We all have ideas, submit yours!
Deadline: Tomorrow Friday, December 2, 2011 by 11:59pm