2015 Catalyst Awards List

The following five proposals are the inaugural recipients of the President's Research Catalyst Awards:

To read the press release announcing these awards, click here.


Host Campus: UC Santa Cruz

Lead PI: Barry Sinervo, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara

Award Amount: $1.9 million over 4 years

Technical AbstractUC campuses and the UC Natural Reserve System (UC-NRS) provide a powerful platform for a consortium of scientists working on climate impacts in diverse natural and human-dominated ecosystems. Many UC Reserves have served as sites for long-term research, providing the basis for deep understanding of causal mechanisms underlying biotic and abiotic changes. We propose to develop a UC-wide Institute for the Study of Ecological Effects of Climate (ISEEC) as a platform for synthesizing past, current and future work across the NRS. Although there are many in-depth studies documenting climate impacts, they have largely been done independently, with results that are difficult to compare among studies. Lacking is a coordinated approach to mechanistic studies and biotic surveys across broad geographic scales. A UCOP planning grant has brought together UC scientists from 9 campuses to form ISEEC, develop a strategy to synthesize climate research in a common framework, assess climate change models for California, and extend collaborative research across the UC focused on new sample archiving, integrated research, teaching, infrastructure and outreach. Using the UC-NRS, we can test feasibility of novel approaches to uncover ecosystem responses to climate change, and then assess how inferences collected across sites might be used to mitigate impacts to ecosystems, ecosystem services and cascading impacts on human systems. Initially, we focus on transects in and around the UC-NRS, spanning marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, but scale up our inferences with remotely sensed data spanning the length and breadth of California. We propose to develop “next generation” sampling to capture ecological, genomic and physiological responses needed to produce an integrative understanding of climate change impacts on California's biota. Delaying this effort risks the process of climate driven extinctions erasing the genomic record of many species for all time. The UC is uniquely positioned to house ISEEC because the NRS offers secure study sites where long-term research and experiments can be undertaken.


Host Campus: UC San Francisco

Lead PI: Brie Williams, M.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Riverside, Santa Cruz

Award Amount: $300,000 over 2 years

Technical AbstractThe proposed UC Consortium on Criminal Justice Healthcare will build the infrastructure for a UC-wide community of scholars to address the pressing need for interdisciplinary leadership and innovation in criminal justice healthcare research. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate and California leads the nation with the most persons in jails, prisons or on parole or probation. Yet the impact of widespread incarceration on individual and community health, and interventions to address these adverse consequences are only beginning to be investigated. In this research void, policymakers are searching for evidence to guide reform and administrators are searching for innovative care models. Meeting the urgent health needs of criminal justice-involved individuals and their communities will require interdisciplinary expertise from diverse fields such as medicine, psychology, law, sociology, economics, public policy, and others. The Consortium will address this pressing need by building UC-wide interdisciplinary research capacity, attracting and developing faculty and students to become future leaders in this field, and positioning UC as a leader in innovation and evaluation of new healthcare models and policies to shape criminal justice health reform and improve the health of millions of Californians and their communities.


Host Campus: UC Santa Barbara

Lead PI: David Weld, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego

Award Amount: $299,726 over 2 years

Technical AbstractQuantum simulation uses ultra-cold atoms and molecules to gain insight into complex quantum phenomena. This fundamentally interdisciplinary field applies the precision and control of atomic physics to important open questions on the many-body quantum mechanics of condensed matter. The approach is to use well-controlled samples of atoms and molecules to build tiny, high-fidelity physical emulators of quantum materials. Such emulators are especially useful for the study of quantum systems that involve many-body interactions, where our ability to theoretically describe and numerically simulate the microscopic features is limited. This field is growing fast, and quantum emulators have already been used to investigate phenomena such as magnetism, metal-insulator transitions, superfluidity, and localization. Theory-experiment collaborations are fundamental to progress in quantum simulation. The UC system offers powerful potential collaborative opportunities: relevant experimental and theoretical resources exist at multiple UC campuses, but no overarching framework for collaboration currently exists.

We propose to explore and develop the groundwork for a UC-wide collaborative effort called the California Institute for Quantum Emulation (CAIQuE). The initial collaboration team encompasses experimental efforts in ions, atoms, and molecules at Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, and UCSB, and theory groups at UC Irvine, UCSD, and Berkeley. Scientific goals include direct emulation of nonequilibrium quantum systems, tests of quantum thermalization, and tunable quantum simulation of topologically nontrivial materials. Progress toward these goals will generate possible new research directions for UC investigators in fields ranging from materials science to quantum computing.


Host Campus: UC Los Angeles

Lead PI: Sean Young, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Irvine, San Diego, Santa Cruz

Award Amount: $300,000 over 2 years

Technical Abstract“Big data” refers to the unprecedented and growing amounts and types of digital data from sources like social media, sensor networks, and scientific instruments from genome sequencers to telescopes and satellites. It is widely recognized that big data holds enormous potential for solving many societal problems. However, these data collections are growing too fast, too vast and becoming too complex for traditional information technology processes to handle. Hosting a number of big data experts, UC has become a leader in big data research with institutes focused on big data infrastructure, genomics, and biomedical sensors. This represents a critical opportunity for UC to establish and sustain leadership in novel area of research with wide-ranging applications.

One in four people worldwide are using social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to create, share, and discuss content. Social media users are continuously generating large volumes of public data containing information on their activities, plans and intentions, moods and opinions, and social interactions. Thus, social big data holds valuable insights for all areas of research that aim to understand what, when, why, or how people do, say, or think. The cohesion of our efforts as one UC Social Big Data Institute (UC SBDI) will enable us to build bridges across campuses and disciplines and attract the funding and recognition necessary to pioneer a new, interdisciplinary area of research.


Host Campus: UC San Diego

Lead PI: Scott Makeig, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Davis, Los Angeles, Merced

Award Amount: $300,000 over 2 years

Technical AbstractIn the lives of most Californians, music is a seldom examined, little understood but omnipresent force shaping our thoughts, moods, aspirations, and even our purchasing behavior. Whether creeping along the I-5 freeway at rush hour, attending a religious function, or watching a movie, Californians use music to intensify or communicate feelings, enhance their sense of community, or lift their mood during uninviting tasks and challenges. Increasing evidence suggests that childhood musical training has general cognitive benefits, and that music therapy aids those struggling with senility, brain injury, or debilitating conditions like Parkinson’s. Yet much basic research is needed to understand how musical experience confers such benefits.

We propose to initiate a multicampus UC program for research on the dynamics of human musical experience and communication in the age of brain/body imaging and data mining. This program would uniquely leverage internationally-recognized though geographically-isolated UC experts on music listening, performance, memory, neuroscience, data science, and education. The resulting Music Experience Research Community Initiative (UC MERCI) will give UC researchers cutting-edge resources and methods to understand and enhance music’s transformative potential.