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UC president announces 2016 Research Catalyst Award recipients

On Dec. 7, UC President Janet Napolitano announced the 2016 recipients of the President’s Research Catalyst Awards, chosen from a pool of more than 180 proposed projects.

The four awards, totaling more than $4.8 million, will involve faculty and students from nearly every UC campus. The selected research projects focus on protecting biodiversity; enhancing agricultural resilience in times of drought; preserving cultural heritage sites in the Middle East, and the detection of dark matter.

“Some of the most important research happening today is interdisciplinary and collaborative,” Napolitano said. “With these awards we are creating new opportunities for those kinds of productive partnerships while furthering research that ranges from archeology to particle physics.”

Napolitano launched the President’s Research Catalyst Awards in December 2014. The program channels $10 million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, equity and social justice, health care, and basic discovery.

To qualify, projects must be multi-campus, multi-disciplinary efforts that offer research, teaching and learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. This year, applicants were also asked to incorporate public engagement and faculty mentorship components into the projects.

This year’s recipients were selected following a highly competitive review process. A panel of experts evaluated applications and recommended ten finalists to the president. Napolitano then selected four projects that represent a broad scope of disciplinary and topical diversity and will be of benefit to California and the world.

The award recipients are:

Preservation of Biodiversity through Conservation Genomics

Led by Robert Wayne, UCLA, $1.76 million. A network of five UC campuses will develop a revolutionary bioinformatics toolkit to understand changes in gene expression and how threatened populations respond to changes in their habitats and in the climate. The collaboration will involve undergraduate students and the public in a DNA-based biodiversity survey across California.

California Drought and Carbon Management for Agriculture

Led by Samantha Ying, UC Riverside, $1.69 million. California agriculture, a backbone of the state’s economy, faces enormous challenges as access to a predictable water supply declines. Cutting-edge research in the soil microbiome holds promise for understanding soil-carbon dynamics. A collaboration of four UC campuses, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and several Agricultural Research and Extension Centers will estimate how crops like tomatoes and alfalfa respond to drought using varying farming practices and irrigation methods.

3-D Digital Preservation of At-Risk Global Cultural Heritage

Led by Thomas Levy, UC San Diego, $1.07 million. Cyber-archeology and digital humanities use virtual methods to safeguard some of the most at-risk cultural heritage objects and places. A four-campus collaboration will conduct path-breaking archeological research – covering more than 10,000 years of culture and architecture – in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Israel, Morocco and Cyprus. Researchers will use the 3-D archeological data to study, forecast, and model the effects of human conflict, climate change, natural disasters and technological and cultural changes on these sites and landscapes.

Sensors for Detecting Dark Matter

Led by Holger Müller, UC Berkeley, $300,000. Dark matter makes up most matter in the universe, but the particles that comprise it remain undetected. Using data collected at three UC campuses, this project will use sensitive probes to search for ultra-light subatomic particles believed to constitute dark matter, potentially revealing clues that will identify the basic building blocks of the universe.

UC faculty will be invited to apply for the third round of the President’s Research Catalyst Awards funding, with an RFP process beginning in spring 2016. More details will be posted here.

The awards are funded through an existing president’s fund used to support systemwide initiatives.

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