Volume IV, Issue 6: March 2012


Athletic field sprouts orange trees, thanks to students

Students plant orange trees
Steve Zylius / University Communications
Student-athletes Jacob Yowell (left) and Kiara Belen plant one of 25 orange trees donated by the Orange County Great Park.

UCI student-athletes got a different kind of workout recently when they planted 25 orange trees in front of the scoreboard at Crawford Athletics Complex. "It's good for the community and for the school. And who doesn't like oranges?" Bello Alhassan, a senior men's soccer player, told The Orange County Register. About 30 members of the men's track & field, soccer and water polo teams and women's soccer, tennis, basketball and track & field teams participated. The Student Athlete Advisory Committee coordinated the effort, part of the university's Green & Gold Plan to beautify the campus with sustainable, functional landscaping.

UCI leads multicampus endeavor to prevent drunk-driving

Graphic of hands with car keys
Photo courtesy of RADD
Graphics such as this — showing a driver handing over the car keys — wrap a 2012 Toyota Scion xB donated to the DUI awareness program.

UCI's Health Education Center has received a $232,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to expand a program to reduce drunk-driving deaths. In partnership with the RADD College DUI Awareness Program, UCI has organized nine universities into a consortium over the last two years to prevent drinking and driving. The new funding will allow UCI to add four more campuses to the effort. "Students are receptive to the program because we don't tell them what not to do," said Doug Everhart, the center's interim director and alcohol programs manager. "Instead, we point out what they can do. If they're going out and choose to drink, they need to assign a designated driver, take a taxi, walk to the event, or have some other plan for getting there and back safely."

DUI awareness program »

Metabolism study has good news for fatty-food lovers

Daniele Piomelli
Daniele Piomelli

Stop exercising, eat as much as you want … and still lose weight? It sounds like a dream made in Krispy Kreme heaven, but UCI and Italian researchers have found that by blocking a natural, marijuana-like chemical regulating energy metabolism, it can happen, at least in the lab. To create this hypermetabolic state, UCI pharmacology professor Daniele Piomelli and colleagues engineered neurons in the forebrains of mice to limit production of an endocannabinoid compound called 2-AG, which they believe helps control the activity of neural circuits involved in energy dissipation. The modified mice ate more and moved less than typical mice but did not gain any weight, even on a high-fat diet. But don't cancel that gym membership yet, Piomelli cautions. There are still many hurdles to overcome before scientists can produce the desired effect in humans.

Fat study »

Gas particles get stuck in smog, study reveals

Aerosol flow tube interior
AirUCI researchers simulated smog compounds in the lab by mixing common household chemicals and outdoor air in this 26-foot-long "aerosol flow tube."

Airborne gases get sucked into stubborn smog particles from which they cannot escape, according to a study by UCI and other researchers. The finding could explain a problem identified in recent years: Computer models long used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California air regulators and others significantly underestimate organic aerosols — the major component of smog particles. Such pollution blocks views of mountains and has been linked to everything from asthma to heart attacks. It is also the largest unknown in climate change calculations. "You can't have a lot of confidence in the predicted levels right now," said lead author Veronique Perraud, assistant project scientist to UCI air chemist Barbara Finlayson-Pitts. "It's extremely important, because if the models do a bad job of predicting particles, we may be underestimating the effects on the public."

Smog study »

"Something in the air" »

Birds seek certain trees when hunting caterpillars

Bird in tree
A black-capped chickadee prepares to dine on a caterpillar.

Location matters for birds on the hunt for caterpillars, according to researchers at UCI and Wesleyan University. Findings suggest that chickadees and others zero in on the type of tree as much as the characteristics of their wriggly prey. Unfortunately for caterpillars, munching on tree leaves that are healthy and tasty can dramatically boost their own risk of becoming food. Study results, published online in The American Naturalist, show that dining on the trees that are most nutritious for caterpillars — such as the black cherry — can increase by 90 percent their chance of being devoured by a discerning bird.

"For the birds" »