2016 Catalyst Awards List

The following four proposals are the recipients of the second round of the President's Research Catalyst Award.

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

The UC Conservation Genomics Network

Host Campus: UC Los Angeles

Lead Principal Investigator: Robert Wayne, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Berkeley, Merced, San Francisco, Santa Cruz

Award Amount: $1.76 million over 3 years

Technical Abstract: The genomics revolution has the potential to dramatically impact conservation biology. However, with increased access to genome-scale data, conservation genomics has a “big data” problem: the quantity of data that is generated can exceed the capacity to make sense of it. To address this challenge, we propose a UC-wide network that capitalizes on the remarkable expertise in genomics and conservation biology within the UC system. We will develop a bioinformatic and analysis toolkit that can be used by the wider community to address fundamental genetic questions in conservation biology. We will demonstrate the toolkit’s usefulness for species of special concern to California and nationwide. Our approach takes advantage of two important recent advances in genomics. First, genetic variation can now be characterized across thousands of genes distributed across the genome. Consequently, genes that are evolving in response to global climate change can be identified. Second, changes in gene expression, which are often the primary first-line response to environmental stressors, can now be measured in natural populations. Studying these processes in threatened populations will lead to a mechanistic understanding of how populations respond and the limits of that response given habitat and climate change.


UC Consortium for Drought and Carbon Management

Host Campus: UC Riverside

Lead Principal Investigator: Samantha Ying, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Berkeley, Merced, Davis, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Award Amount: $1.69 million over 3 years

Technical Abstract: California agriculture faces enormous challenges as climate changes and access to water is reduced and less predictable. California's recent drought is expected to cost the state over $2.7 billion with a loss of more than 17,100 jobs in 2015 alone. Soil, particularly soil carbon and its microbiome, plays a critical role in crop water use efficiency and crop response to drought. Physical, chemical and biological interactions in soil at the micrometer scale form soil aggregates that are critical in storing carbon and contain the small pores needed to retain moisture. We will establish a Consortium for Drought and Carbon Management (UC DroCaM) to design management strategies based on a mechanistic understanding of soil carbon, the soil microbiome and their impact on water dynamics in soil. Our multi-regional project brings together a team of soil chemists, soil microbiologists, agronomists, irrigation specialists and modelers to conduct field and lab research on microbiological, biophysical, and geochemical mechanisms controlling soil aggregate formation and stability under different row crops (tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat), farming practices (carbon inputs and rotations) and irrigation methods (furrow and flood, microirrigation). Information on mechanisms will be integrated into a regionally-scalable predictive model to describe soil carbon dynamics and estimate the response of agricultural systems to drought.


At-Risk Cultural Heritage and the Digital Humanities

Host Campus: UC San Diego

Lead Principal Investigator: Thomas Levy, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Berkeley, Los Angeles, Merced

Award Amount: $1.07 million over 2 years

Technical Abstract: Recent events have dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of the world’s material cultural heritage. This project catalyzes a collaborative research effort by four University of California campuses to use cyber-archaeology and digital humanities to document and safeguard virtually some of the most at-risk heritage objects and places. Faculty and students are conducting path-breaking archaeological research at locations in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Greece and Cyprus covering over 10,000 years of cultural materials, architecture and landscapes. Site and artifact identification, cataloging, and digital preservation of complex data and other content derived from satellite imagery, drones, sensors, 3D data capture, and other techniques are research challenges. Walk-in life-sized 3D kiosks and personal devices for viewing digital objects and sharing heritage data will be developed for each collaborating campus and networked for telepresence collaboration in 3D. The platform will enable: 1) correlative studies of regional climate/environmental data and demographic, cultural, and technological changes; 2) studies of how human conflicts, climate change, pollution, natural disasters, and looting affect archaeological sites and forecasting of critically-endangered places; and 3) 3D models using new kinds of geospatial data. Public engagement in the UC research mission will be promoted via online crowd-sourcing to monitor at-risk sites, and open-source software will enable public access to 3D digital heritage visualization. The project will position UC as a national leader in global cultural heritage preservation efforts, and California as an active participant in ‘archaeo-diplomacy’ by offering solutions for virtual documentation of at-risk cultural resources.


UC Network of Sensors for Exotic Physics (UC NOSE)

Host Campus: UC Berkeley

Lead Principal Investigator: Holger Müller, Ph.D.

Collaborating Campuses: Santa Barbara, Los Angeles

Award Amount: $300,000 over 2 years

Technical Abstract: Dark matter and dark energy are known to exist from astrophysical and cosmological observations. This dark sector makes up 95% of the universe, but has so far passed through the Earth undetected, despite the efforts of large scientific collaborations. Recently, however, a paradigm shift has nearly daily brought forth new theoretical and experimental ideas. According to these ideas, the dark sector might consist of ultra-light particles. Because they are light, these particles would elude detection in traditional detectors for heavy particles, but would form a background potential in the universe somewhat analogous to an electromagnetic field such as a radio wave. This background could be detected by its influence on sensitive table-top sensors based on atomic physics. Networks of these sensors could detect the Earth’s passage through the structure of these fields with readings of remotely located sensors synchronized using Global Positioning System (GPS) and analysis for transient features. The UC Network Of Sensors for Exotic Physics (NOSE) will coordinate, correlate, and archive data from atomic experiments across several UC campuses. Data recorded with atomic dysprosium at UC Berkeley has already been used to look for the variation of the fine-structure constant. In NOSE, it will be correlated with signals taken at Santa Barbara to search for axion-like dark matter. Signals from atom interferometry sensors at Berkeley, and soon UCLA, are among the most sensitive probes for anomalous signals of gravitational strength. In NOSE, they will be correlated to seek for minuscule forces arising from different dark matter candidates.