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We Break Things Better.

And we do it by looking at the world in a different way, with the courage to dissect convention and shake up the traditional.

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How Do We Break Things Better?
Let us break it down for you.

We believe that a little bit of mischief can do a whole lot of good for the world. That's why sometimes we break from the ordinary to do breakthrough work. It's why alumnus Suman Kanuganti hacked Google Glass to create a device that allows the blind to see. Why Professor of Literature Rae Armantrout dismantled and reassembled the English language to confront crisis through verse. And why Professor of NanoEngineering Darren Lipomi deconstructed molecules to make stretchable electronics that are practically indestructible. We're not causing all this mayhem because we're reckless. We're breaking things because we're not afraid to make them better.

Now let's break down the numbers.

How are we doing? A quick look at some facts and figures.

Voted a Top 10 public university in the nation for over a decade running. (U.S. News & World Report, 2016)

Received over $1 billion in research funding five out of the last seven years.

Recognized as the nation’s top university for enrolling and graduating women with STEM majors. (BestColleges.com, 2016)

Ranked 14th best university in the world and 12th best among all U.S. universities. (Academic Ranking of World Universities, Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai)

29 of our undergraduate and graduate programs and disciplines hold Top 10 rankings nationally or globally.

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It all starts with curiosity. A need to take things apart and touch what makes them tick, to tear down conventional wisdom. Not with abandon, but with conviction, purpose, and drive. Because we know we can create something better. This audacity is what connects us, motivates us, and pushes us—as a university—to break the rules, knowing that impact is a product of risk. And failure is just a speed bump on the road to greatness. We're nimble. We're brave. We are the future.

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Excess and Poetic Justice

UC San Diego Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Turns Verse Inside-Out

RAE ARMANTROUT
  |   Professor Emerita of Writing, Department of Literature

So what does a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet do after calling out the 2008 financial crisis with a book of poems, "Money Shot," that explores how capitalism pervades our everyday lives? She keeps writing verse about whatever is around her in a crisp and creative way. Her latest poetry compilations, consistent with this method, include, "Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001 - 2015" (Wesleyan University Press, 2016), and, "Itself," (Wesleyan University Press, 2015). She is Professor Emerita of Writing at UC San Diego, Rae Armantrout.

One of the founders of the West Coast group of Language poets and winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for her "Versed" collection, Armantrout is known for her distinctive lyrical voice and attention to the domestic.



"If I watch something on television, if I hear news in the car, if I hear certain phrases being bandied about, or if I see things happening to my friends . . . of course that is going to get into my work," said Armantrout. "I like to write about the intersection of the public and the private, or what is left of the private, in our lives, and to bring those aspects of reality together."

According to critic Stephen Burt, Armantrout turns lyric inside-out by embodying broad questions and concerns within individual words and by arranging small clusters of phrases that muster meaningful conflict.

"From these techniques, Armantrout has become one of the most recognizable, and one of the best, poets of her generation," writes Burt.

According to a recent Publisher's Weekly Poetry Review, Armantrout's, "Partly: New and Selected Poems, 2001 - 2015," is considered a formidable collection that offers a look at her evolution as a poet, as well as her language-centered style. Her steady approach includes short lines, crisp divisions and segmentation that upends meaning. For example: "I may want to lie still / and think about my choices," she writes in "Partly."

Thereadbooks.com states, "Rae Armantrout's poetry comprises one of the most refined and visionary bodies of work written over the last 40 years. These potent, compact meditations on our complicated times reveal her observant sensibility, lively intellect and emotional complexity. . . 'Partly' affirms Armantrout's reputation as one of our sharpest and most innovative writers."

In her collection, "Itself," Armantrout's poems "read like necklaces," according to Katie Hibner of Siblini art + literature journal, who describes them as "long strands of concept beaded with gems of minimalistic verse."

"Armantrout is perhaps one of the most sensitive writers I have encountered," asserts Hibner. "As if she is delicately concocting an elixir, Armantrout pours extracts of a myriad of themes into each piece."

Armantrout has written that she thinks her poetry involves an equal counterweight of assertion and doubt.

"It's a Cheshire poetics, one that points two ways then vanishes in the blur of what is seen and what is seeing, what can be known and what it is to know. That double-bind," Armantrout notes.

Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry (2008) and Recipient of National Book Critics Circle Award, Armantrout has taught writing in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego for more than 20 years. Her poems are telegenically "regional" filled with bungalows, newscasters and swimming pools, yet they ring with an immaterial clarity that quietly subsumes her readers and listeners in a radical and eerily funny vision.

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Feminist Lit Takes Flight

UC San Diego Writer Invents Stories by Mixing the Sacred and Profane

ANNA JOY SPRINGER
  |   Associate Professor of Writing, Department of Literature

Blend world literature and culture and the University of California San Diego Department of Literature emerges. Add experimental prose, feminist ethics, graphic texts, Buddhism and punk rock and associate professor of writing, Anna Joy Springer, comes forth.

A singer/songwriter-turned-academic, Springer once led the punk band, “Blatz,”—a group that sprung from The 924 Gilman Street Project and Lookout! Records, along with Green Day. She even sang with The Gr'ups and Cypher in the Snow, and she toured with Sister Spit, a bold, spoken-word group of female writers. Her credits also include publications: “The Birdwisher,” (Birds of Lace Press, 2009), “The Vicious Red Relic, Love” (Jaded Ibis Press, 2011) and published excerpts from, “Thieves with Tiny Eyes.”

An artistic prose writer, Springer is known for creating “grotesques”—hybrid texts that mix the sacred and the profane to elicit intense reader experiences.

“I’m not here to lighten it up,” she said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That’s what literature is for—to explore the profundities of the human experience, the depths of grief and love and how difficult it is to be fully human with each other.”

Springer’s “The Vicious Red Relic, Love,” for example, is a series of connected stories and drawings about love and loss, and trauma and forgiveness. It is what American Book Review calls, “a trauma memoir of losing her bipolar lover to AIDS and, in so doing, creates a unique literary form, one that ignores the often fraught line between truth and fiction in pursuit of something more elusive."

According to Project Muse, Springer’s text criticizes the traditions of both memoir and fabulism while revealing the ways we use myth to control the chaos around us. Part training/survival guide and time machine, the story, set in 1990s San Francisco, mixes feminism, deviance, punk rock and Sumerian literature into a brew of post-Reagan/Bush neoliberalism and AIDs sorrow. It is what Lambda Literary, refers to as “a hauntingly important contribution to LGBTQ literature that chronicles a time and place in truly innovative ways…a marvel of contemporary queer literature.”

“The Birdwisher,” another example of Springer’s innovation, is a novella about the adventures of a gumshoe pigeon who tries to solve the mystery of the murderous mutilation of several birds. “Strange, grotesque, noir and rendered in gorgeous inventive prose,” according to GoodReads, the story opens with a young woman cutting herself with corroded scissors, followed by a bird that flies into her window and dies. The narrative then explores the events that led to the characters’ encounter at that moment.

“The very best life writing lives in uncertainty, within the raging heart of a great and terrible doubt,” Springer has been known to say.

Anna Joy Springer received her MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and truly loves teaching courses in experimental writing, graphic texts and postmodern feminist literatures at UC San Diego.

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Science Gets Spiritual

Iconoclastic Researcher’s Most Contrary Move? Breaking Down the Wall Between Science and Religion

Veerabhadran Ramanathan
  |   Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Veerabhadran Ramanathan taps into the moral authority of spiritual leaders to say what scientists can’t about climate change.

He had conquered some of the most challenging questions in atmospheric physics, his global-scale ambition evident in the ones he had chosen to consider in the first place. But Veerabhadran Ramanathan was floored by the simplest question about global warming: What are you doing about it in your personal life?

The query from a young student in 2007 permanently bent the trajectory of the climate and atmospheric scientist’s 40-year career. Now Ramanathan – who earned renown in the 1970s after discovering the major greenhouse effect of the chemical used in refrigerators – has traded expansive field campaigns for missions of persuasion. In doing so, he has broken down the centuries-old barrier between science and religion to make an argument that environmental stewardship and social justice are intertwined goals.



“As scientists, we don’t have the moral authority to tell people what to do but spiritual leaders do,” he said. “It was a personal realization that as a community, (scientists) have not tapped into an important resource for solving major environmental problems.”

Ramanathan has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 2004 after having been invited by Pope John Paul II. He has leveraged his status to convene groundbreaking gatherings of physical and social scientists to examine all dimensions of the human problem of climate change, one that the world’s three billion poorest people had little to do with creating but who bear the greatest brunt of its consequences. He has shared with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama alike his hope that they would use their positions to encourage greater care of the environment among their followers.

On the research front, he has turned a project studying the climate effect of lessening pollution into a public health campaign and vehicle for empowerment for the poorest of the poor in his native India. His Project Surya makes scientists out of women who are cleaning the air around their homes by replacing dirty wood-burning stoves with cleaner ones and documenting the change. That work earns them credits in carbon markets. He argues that controlling pollution like this, along with curbing emissions of methane and refrigerant gases can within months produce a measurable slowing of the pace of global warming.

And the scientist who came to America more than 50 years ago with dreams of buying a Cadillac now drives an electric vehicle. He leaves it home as often as not so he can walk to work, all so that if he ever meets his young questioner again, he’ll finally have an answer for her.

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Exposing Missing Histories

Ethnic Studies Professor Reshapes Understanding of Yesterday and Today

Dayo Gore
  |   Associate Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies and Program in Critical Gender Studies

For some, history is a collection of dates strung on a timeline. Think grandma’s pearls. Yawn. Not so with Dayo Gore. An associate professor of ethnic and critical gender studies at UC San Diego, Gore is taking apart the traditional narrative: What was left out, and who, and why? By finding and telling the stories of black women radicals that have been forgotten or repressed, she isn’t just restringing the same old necklace with a couple of new beads. She is reshaping our understanding of yesterday – and today.

“Writing about the past, I’m always informed by the present,” Gore said in a recent UC San Diego & You talk. “I live in the present. The questions I’m interested in are shaped by the present.”



In her latest book project, Gore is studying African American women’s transnational travels and activism in “the long 20th century,” 1890 through 1990. Of particular interest to Gore at the moment is looking at the 1960s – a period which includes the Civil Rights Movement at home and major decolonization efforts around the world. She is looking through a contemporary lens, examining that time period’s “transnational activism in the age of Obama and of globalization.”

One of the women figuring in Gore’s current research is labor activist Vicki Garvin, who left the U.S. first for Nigeria in 1961, then went to Ghana and China by 1964. Living in Shanghai, Garvin found herself in the midst of a key historical moment, what the Chinese call “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Gore is investigating, in part, how Garvin tries to build solidarity between African American activists and people in China, not through state-to-state diplomacy but through personal relationships.

Garvin also figured in Gore’s 2011 book “ Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War .” You’ve probably heard of Rosa Parks, who refused to go to the back of a Montgomery bus in 1955. But, quick: Name some other activist black women from that time? You might be hard-pressed. “Radicalism at the Crossroads” aims to change that. In addition to Garvin, the book includes such activists as Claudia Jones, Beulah Richardson and Thelma Dale.

“An exciting work of historical recovery,” in the words of its publisher, the book “unearths and examines a dynamic, extended network of black radical women, … [who] were part of a black left that laid much of the groundwork for both the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and later strains of black radicalism.”

Notes H-Net Reviews: “What really shines through – and what constitutes the major scholarly contribution – is Gore’s excavation of crucial foundations of the more familiar civil rights stories.”

Gore, who received her Ph.D. in history from New York University and previously taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, joined UC San Diego’s Department of Ethnic Studies in 2012. She joined, in part she says, because of how interdisciplinary the department is. She describes it “as one of the premier departments in the nation that looks at race relationally, intersectionally and transnationally.” The interdisciplinary framework is helping her build on her innovative work about race and African American identity and how these ideas also intersect with and shape ideas of gender, sexuality, power and politics.

With fellow Ethnic Studies professor Sara Clarke Kaplan, Gore co-founded the Black Studies Project at UC San Diego. A campus-wide interdisciplinary research collaborative, the project connects faculty, graduate and undergraduate students who are producing cutting-edge scholarship on black life, culture and experiences. The program’s goal is to bring Black Studies research, teaching and public education to the forefront of the campus’ intellectual life.

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Exposing Missing Histories

Ethnic Studies Professor Reshapes Understanding of Yesterday and Today

Dayo Gore
  |   Associate Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies and Program in Critical Gender Studies

For some, history is a collection of dates strung on a timeline. Think grandma’s pearls. Yawn. Not so with Dayo Gore. An associate professor of ethnic and critical gender studies at UC San Diego, Gore is taking apart the traditional narrative: What was left out, and who, and why? By finding and telling the stories of black women radicals that have been forgotten or repressed, she isn’t just restringing the same old necklace with a couple of new beads. She is reshaping our understanding of yesterday – and today.

“Writing about the past, I’m always informed by the present,” Gore said in a recent UC San Diego & You talk. “I live in the present. The questions I’m interested in are shaped by the present.”



In her latest book project, Gore is studying African American women’s transnational travels and activism in “the long 20th century,” 1890 through 1990. Of particular interest to Gore at the moment is looking at the 1960s – a period which includes the Civil Rights Movement at home and major decolonization efforts around the world. She is looking through a contemporary lens, examining that time period’s “transnational activism in the age of Obama and of globalization.”

One of the women figuring in Gore’s current research is labor activist Vicki Garvin, who left the U.S. first for Nigeria in 1961, then went to Ghana and China by 1964. Living in Shanghai, Garvin found herself in the midst of a key historical moment, what the Chinese call “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Gore is investigating, in part, how Garvin tries to build solidarity between African American activists and people in China, not through state-to-state diplomacy but through personal relationships.

Garvin also figured in Gore’s 2011 book “ Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War .” You’ve probably heard of Rosa Parks, who refused to go to the back of a Montgomery bus in 1955. But, quick: Name some other activist black women from that time? You might be hard-pressed. “Radicalism at the Crossroads” aims to change that. In addition to Garvin, the book includes such activists as Claudia Jones, Beulah Richardson and Thelma Dale.

“An exciting work of historical recovery,” in the words of its publisher, the book “unearths and examines a dynamic, extended network of black radical women, … [who] were part of a black left that laid much of the groundwork for both the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and later strains of black radicalism.”

Notes H-Net Reviews: “What really shines through – and what constitutes the major scholarly contribution – is Gore’s excavation of crucial foundations of the more familiar civil rights stories.”

Gore, who received her Ph.D. in history from New York University and previously taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, joined UC San Diego’s Department of Ethnic Studies in 2012. She joined, in part she says, because of how interdisciplinary the department is. She describes it “as one of the premier departments in the nation that looks at race relationally, intersectionally and transnationally.” The interdisciplinary framework is helping her build on her innovative work about race and African American identity and how these ideas also intersect with and shape ideas of gender, sexuality, power and politics.

With fellow Ethnic Studies professor Sara Clarke Kaplan, Gore co-founded the Black Studies Project at UC San Diego. A campus-wide interdisciplinary research collaborative, the project connects faculty, graduate and undergraduate students who are producing cutting-edge scholarship on black life, culture and experiences. The program’s goal is to bring Black Studies research, teaching and public education to the forefront of the campus’ intellectual life.

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Iconoclastic Researcher’s Most Contrary Move? Breaking Down the Wall Between Science and Religion

Dayo Gore
  |   UCSD Associate Professor of Ethnic and Critical Gender Studies

For some, history is a collection of dates strung on a timeline. Think grandma’s pearls. Yawn. Not so with Dayo Gore. An associate professor of ethnic and critical gender studies at UC San Diego, Gore is taking apart the traditional narrative: What was left out, and who, and why? By finding and telling the stories of black women radicals that have been forgotten or repressed, she isn’t just restringing the same old necklace with a couple of new beads. She is reshaping our understanding of yesterday – and today.

“Writing about the past, I’m always informed by the present,” Gore said in a recent UC San Diego & You talk. “I live in the present. The questions I’m interested in are shaped by the present.”



In her latest book project, Gore is studying African American women’s transnational travels and activism in “the long 20th century,” 1890 through 1990. Of particular interest to Gore at the moment is looking at the 1960s – a period which includes the Civil Rights Movement at home and major decolonization efforts around the world. She is looking through a contemporary lens, examining that time period’s “transnational activism in the age of Obama and of globalization.”

One of the women figuring in Gore’s current research is labor activist Vicki Garvin, who left the U.S. first for Nigeria in 1961, then went to Ghana and China by 1964. Living in Shanghai, Garvin found herself in the midst of a key historical moment, what the Chinese call “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” Gore is investigating, in part, how Garvin tries to build solidarity between African American activists and people in China, not through state-to-state diplomacy but through personal relationships.

Garvin also figured in Gore’s 2011 book “ Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War .” You’ve probably heard of Rosa Parks, who refused to go to the back of a Montgomery bus in 1955. But, quick: Name some other activist black women from that time? You might be hard-pressed. “Radicalism at the Crossroads” aims to change that. In addition to Garvin, the book includes such activists as Claudia Jones, Beulah Richardson and Thelma Dale.

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A Revolution in Set Design

UC San Diego Set Designer Lights the Way with Perspective

Robert Brill
  |   Professor, Design, Department of Theatre and Dance

From the “Great White Way” to his alma mater’s motto, “Let there be light,” acclaimed set-designer Robert Brill has returned to the University of California San Diego. First a student, then an alumnus (1988) and now a faculty member in the Department of Theatre and Dance, Brill enlightens audiences with his immersive, award-winning set designs that have been featured on and off Broadway, in every major U.S. city and internationally for three decades.

One of Brill’s signature designs was recently part of Golden Gate Theatre’s, “Cabaret,” described by David John Chavez of Bay Area Plays as “sultry and sleek,” with its two-level set exemplifying the “immersive theatre concept,” where actors remain on stage performing all activities from audience warm-ups to playing instruments in scenes.



When not busy on Broadway or at other venues, Brill, a leading figure in American theater, teaches set design and manages curriculum design for UC San Diego’s M.F.A. scenic design program. He also is responsible for recruiting, admitting, mentoring and supervising M.F.A. scenic design students. Importantly, he is involved in the Department of Theatre and Dance’s season selection process and production supervision.

“There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the creative process, only finding a different perspective,” offered Brill, adding that his best advice to students is to allow failure, which he deems as important as success.

And success is something Brill knows about. His creative career has drawn numerous drama distinctions, including two Tony-Award nominations, the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design, notoriety as a founding member of Sledgehammer Theatre and first artist-in-residence at La Jolla Playhouse. In fact, by returning to the university in 2015, Brill also returned in part to the playhouse, which shares a unique partnership with the university. The separate but collaborative organizations provide UC San Diego students valuable training in all aspects of theatre practice. Consequently, the university graduates promising artists who can flourish in the industry, which is what makes the Department of Theatre and Dance one of the nation’s top programs.

“I am eager to be at the creative epicenter of these dynamic institutions,” admitted Brill, who has designed nearly 20 production sets for the playhouse. “This is such a wonderful opportunity to return to San Diego, an area that for the past 30 years has had a profound influence on the trajectory of my life and my career.”

Former chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Jim Carmody said, “Robert Brill’s appointment is a major addition to our faculty that will solidify our reputation as a top national program for the next generation. His national network of connections will be an asset for new student recruitment and in placing graduates in the professional world.”

Navigating the professional theater world is something else Brills knows about. His several production credits include: “Assassins,” (Broadway) for which he received a Tony nomination; the critically acclaimed revival of “Cabaret” at the Kit Kat Club and Studio 54; recent Broadway revivals of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Guys and Dolls,” for which he received a Tony nomination. His work was also featured in Christopher Plummer’s, “A Word for Two (Stratford Festival and Ahmanson Theater); the Broadway-bound musical, “Robin and the Seven Hoods,” directed by Casey Nicholaw (Old Globe); “Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way” (Radio City Music Hall); “American in Paris” (Boston Ballet); “The Wiz” (La Jolla Playhouse); “Wozzeck” (San Diego Opera) and numerous others.

The Department of Theatre and Dance is among the nation’s top theater training programs. It is one of six departments in the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego. It welcomes support through its Student Productions Fund which helps to ensure the continuation of the exciting work that its students create.

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A Wireless War on Poverty

Economist Tries Unconventional Approach to Helping the poor

Paul Niehaus
  |   Associate Professor, Department of Economics

GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that does something radical – almost heretical – in the world of international charity: It gives cash directly to those who need it without any strings attached.

Each donation is about $1,000, deposited through a mobile banking system, straight to a recipient’s cell phone. In Kenya, where the group began operations, this is equivalent to a year’s wages. The windfall is not a loan. And what’s required in return is exactly nothing.

Paul Niehaus, an associate professor of economics in UC San Diego’s Division of Social Sciences, is one of GiveDirectly’s co-founders. He and three other development economists started GiveDirectly in 2008 while they were still graduate students at Harvard and MIT. Cash transfers have been gaining popularity in development circles since about 2000. Today, about a billion people in developing nations receive monetary aid, but it is usually conditional. Niehaus and his colleagues wondered: What would happen if they just let impoverished people decide how to spend their cash?



“I believe we should be putting more money and more power directly into the hands of the poor,” writes Niehaus in a blog post. “When given the chance, they have a consistent track record, across dozens of rigorous studies, of using money sensibly to improve their own lives.”

“Poor people have good ideas,” he adds when interviewed. “And they need to be part of the conversation.”

That sentiment goes against the popular stereotype of the poor as feckless and irresponsible. And a typical first response to the idea, Niehaus says, is often: “That’s crazy.” Yet it’s also winning the group a lot of enthusiasm and support.

GiveDirectly has been operating since 2011. Within two years, GiveWell – a leading charity evaluator that looks not only at financials but also at “how much good a given program accomplishes” per dollar spent – rated GiveDirectly among its top charities. About 91 cents of every dollar that GiveDirectly gets is sent on to the poor. GiveWell, Google.org and Good Ventures are among GiveDirectly’s lead funders and partners. In 2013, Foreign Policy magazine named Niehaus and the other GiveDirectly co-founders “Leading Global Thinkers.”

How GiveDirectly works is simple. People donate on the organization’s website. GiveDirectly uses publicly available data and field workers on the ground to identify poor households. After verifying a recipient’s eligibility through a set of independent checks, GiveDirectly sends the donation through a mobile banking system and, typically, alerts the recipient by text message.

The recipient then gets to choose how to spend the money.

Common uses of the cash in Kenya have included installing a tin roof to replace a home’s thatched one and starting or expanding a business. Businesses have ranged from rearing chickens to vending soap to operating a motorcycle taxi service. (No, they don’t blow the money on drugs. No, they don’t stop working.)

National and international reporters who have visited with recipients write glowingly about what they’ve witnessed. But even better than anecdotes or plaudits, Niehaus says, is the backing of evidence from independent, third-party research.

GiveDirectly publicly announces independent assessments that are in the works so it “can be held accountable for the results.” One randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in both science and medicine, was recently published. Evaluating the effects of GiveDirectly donations on recipients, the study finds that “unconditional cash transfers have significant impacts on economic outcomes and psychological wellbeing.”

Niehaus doesn’t see unconditional cash transfers as a panacea or the only solution to poverty. Conditions have their place. As do other forms of aid. But he thinks they are an important additional tool for development schemes, and the evidence that they are effective is mounting.

“Catch phrases seem intuitive,” Niehaus says. “‘Teach a man to fish’…and so on. But reality is there isn’t much evidence our fishing lessons work.” Sometimes, Niehaus suggests, when the reason for poverty is little more than being born in Africa, giving a man, or woman, a fish may be the way to go.

In the future, Niehaus hopes the GiveDirectly model – being evidence-based and doing more good than it costs – will be a benchmark for charitable giving.

Right now, GiveDirectly is trying out another wild idea. They’re going beyond the occasional donation and running a historic policy experiment on the notion of a universal basic income. What happens if you guarantee poor people enough money to live on for 10 years? Will they lose incentive? Or get more education? Become better parents or take more risks as entrepreneurs? Stay tuned.

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Marching to Different Beats

UC San Diego Composer Soars with Science and Technology

Roger Reynolds
  |   University Professor, Composition, Department of Music

Composer Roger Reynolds’ “FLiGHT,” which premieres Oct. 30-31 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, is the latest landmark in a career distinguished by a quest for new modes of making music. It combines spoken word, musical performance, computer sound processing and video to create an immersive multimedia experience.

“FLiGHT” is sure to create a buzz among contemporary music followers. As acclaim for his music has increased through several decades, Reynolds has become a pillar of the University of California San Diego’s Department of Music faculty—perhaps the most visible artist from a program built on innovation.



“Roger's free and open approach inspires our young composers, performers and computer musicians,” said Department of Music Chair Rand Steiger. “He motivates them to reach higher.”

FLiGHT is performed by the JACK Quartet, with sound design and computer music by Paul Hembree, who completed his Ph.D. (’15) in composition and computer music at UC San Diego, and video by Ross Karre, who graduated from UC San Diego with an MFA (’11) in visual art-film and video; as well as an MA (’07) and DMA (’09) in percussion performance. Hembree exemplies the music department’s unconventional parameters.

“Some of what I do is similar to sound design in theater, when we build the sonic fabric of multimedia sections. But the algorithms we create behave more like instruments and can be played as such,” explained Hembree. “In that sense my role is as a kind of chamber musician performing alongside the JACK Quartet.”

Reynolds said that FLiGHT began with a four-part structure of Imagining, Preparing, Experience and Perspective. The story of human flight is told through a spoken-word text drawn from sources such as Plato and Ovid, Virgil and Shelley, the Wright brothers and Amelia Earhart, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, and astronaut Michael Collins. Reynolds also included excerpts from the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic poem, as well as ancient Chinese texts suggested by UC San Diego Emeritus Professor of Literature Wai-lim Yip. The narrative is delivered by UC San Diego actors recruited and directed by the Department of Theatre and Dance’s Robert Castro.

As a student, Reynolds earned an undergraduate degree in engineering physics and worked briefly in the defense industry. As his interests shifted, he returned to the university for a master’s degree in musical composition. He began to compose seriously at age 25 and spent seven years traveling through Europe and Asia where he experienced music of various cultures and artists.

In 1965, at the invitation of Muir College Provost John Stewart, Reynolds visited UC San Diego. Stewart was building new music, visual arts and theater programs. He told Reynolds that the music department would be non-traditional, not bound by conventional curriculum and methodologies.

“It was obvious that UC San Diego could be remarkable,” said Reynolds, who came to campus as a Regents Lecturer in 1968, joined the faculty the following year and soon spearheaded the creation of the Center for Music Experiment to explore collaboration and new technologies.

As technologies continued to evolve, Reynolds found new ways to harness them for remarkable works such as “Seasons,” “Sanctuary,” and “george WASHINGTON.” In his current “FLiGHT,” sound travels through three dimensions as images slide across multiple screens and spoken-word sections intertwine with the JACK Quartet’s performance.

Reynolds’ work has proven consistently captivating. Evidence of his impact is abundant. Over the years he has won Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts and National Institute of Letters awards. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for “Whispers Out of Time,” which was inspired by poet John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”

From 2007 to 2009, Reynolds was the first composer-in-residence in the UC San Diego division of Calit2. He has an online archive at the Library of Congress. In 2009, the UC Board of Regents appointed him “University Professor,” the highest faculty honor.

Undoubtedly, there is more to come. Reynolds is planning additional performances of FLiGHT, possibly including one at UC San Diego. At 82, he exudes youthful vitality with no plans to retire.

“With stimulating colleagues, gifted and challenging graduate students from all over the world, and the superb facilities of UC San Diego’s Conrad Prebys Music Center,” Reynolds said, “there seems every reason to continue making whatever contributions I can to our internationally unique Music Department.”

Since he joined the university, Reynolds has performed worldwide and mentored generations of young composers. UC San Diego’s Department of Music celebrated his 80th birthday in 2015 with a concert, symposium and multimedia installation in his honor. Learn more about Reynolds on his webpage and by viewing the trailer to FLiGHT.

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Lessons From a Brutal Past

UC San Diego Humanities Professor Builds Cybersphere to Tackle a World Problem

LUIS MARTIN-CABRERA
  |   Associate Professor of Peninsular and Latin American Literature and Culture, Department of Literature

University of California San Diego’s Luis Martin-Cabrera, associate professor in the Department of Literature, is investigating the lives of indigenous people residing in the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium.” This is a region that encompasses Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, where lithium—a key component in rechargeable batteries for laptops and cell phones—is actively mined and changing the landscape and the lives of the communities there.

As a 2016 Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellow, Martin-Cabrera will receive funding for six consecutive months of leave to work on his ambitious, public-facing project with two main goals: 1) to collect testimonials from the Kolla, Aymara and Quechua communities who have lived in the lithium triangle for generations and 2) to construct a public cybersphere that connects these historically subjugated communities to other actors—companies, consumers, governments, NGOs, etc., involved in lithium extraction on both hemispheres.

“As a specialist in Latin American culture, I am very pleased to see that the Whiting Foundation is showing interest in this region that possesses 85 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, and yet is one of the poorest and most unequal regions of the globe,” Martin-Cabrera said. “I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect worlds that tend to be apart from each other using the unique vantage point of the humanities, which can be part of the solution.”

An expert in Peninsular and Latin American literature, Martin-Cabrera said that he feels extremely happy and proud to represent UC San Diego in this project that places the accent on both the value of public education and the humanities to resolve world challenges.

“This public cybersphere should lead to a better understanding of the human and ecological consequences of lithium extraction,” said Martin-Cabrera, who noted that when we turn on our computers or cellphones, we rarely think about the origin of the batteries that power them. “So this is an opportunity to make those connections, to think about the origin of these minerals and the effect that its extraction has on the environment and the communities south of the border. Hopefully, this dialogue will lead to more sustainable alternatives or will, at the very least, tame our unchecked cyber-utopianism.”

“This is an amazing opportunity of support from the Whiting Foundation for Luis, whose work represents the powerful impact of humanist-scholars on the common good,” said Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta. “Successes like these are wonderful to share with our students so they understand just how vital a humanities education can be.”

Martin-Cabrera and seven other fellows selected from a variety of schools across the nation will convene in the summers of 2016 and 2017 to plan and discuss their work, talk with senior scholars who are experienced public humanists and participate in an intensive one-day workshop with the OpEd Project. Each fellow will also receive an additional stipend to cover project costs such as travel, collaboration, technology and training.

With expertise in subject areas that include English, American studies, classics, history, global studies, environmental humanities and African-American studies, the fellows were selected for projects that broadly impact certain public audiences. Besides Martin-Cabrera’s project, others include: an “app” delivering rich historical context to important American cultural sites; a collection of oral histories of diverse Brooklyn residents; a series of exhibitions created by prisoners; and a podcast of the looting of antiquities. Despite the diversity in projects, the goal of each is the same—to effectively communicate the knowledge and expertise gained from in-depth study of the humanities to a larger, public audience.

According to the Whiting Foundation, the purpose of this inaugural fellowship is to bring attention to the unique and profound work of humanities scholars—award-winning documentaries, groundbreaking books, acclaimed podcasts and informative websites—that draws on and requires the deep thinking, historical and contextual expertise and rich analysis of the humanities to inform our daily modern lives.

The UC San Diego Department of Literature is listed among the top 40 programs nationally, according to education rankings by U.S. News & World Report. It is one of six departments in the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego.

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Learn to code while playing Minecraft

Stephen Foster
  |   Alumnus, Department of Computer Science and Engineering

A team of computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego, has developed a software package that allows users to learn how to program while playing the popular video game Minecraft. LearnToMod, which allows users to make a wide range of modifications to Minecraft, is available for pre-order for $30 here. The software will be delivered in October.

LearnToMod is the brain child of Stephen Foster, who earned a Ph.D. in computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, and Lindsey Handley, who earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at UC San Diego. The pair co-founded ThoughtSTEM, a company that offers programming classes for children ages 8 to 18 here in San Diego. The third cofounder, Sarah Guthals, earned her Ph.D. in computer science at UC San Diego and has since moved to a position at online project hosting company Github.

“Our goal is to teach kids computer science while they’re having fun,” said Foster.

The LearnToMod software is essentially a textbook that covers all introductory programming concepts, Foster said. Users will be learning programming languages, such as Javascript—the essential language of the web. They also will learn key computer science concepts, such as loops, functions, Boolean logic, variables and parameters.

LearnToMod is web-based and can run on both PCs and Apple computers that run Windows, iOS and even Linux. The software will give users access to a modding studio, where they can code their own modifications to Minecraft, known as mods. Users can choose between two programming languages, Javascript or Google’s Blocky language. They can also share their code with others and remix code that others have written. In addition, users get access to a private testing area, or server, where they can run the mods they have created. Users control the weather, time or day and access for other users on the server.

For example, users can recreate the popular video game Tetris or a scalable model of a Rubik’s Cube inside of Minecraft. They can also program specific events, such as lightning strikes and create a mod that allows them to punch Minecraft blocks and send them flying. They can also create dungeons and program a mini multi-player capture the flag game, among other functions. Since its release, LearnToMod has been used to teach computer science to over 50,000 students who have coded over 1.5 million Minecraft mods.

Users who don’t know how to code get access to hundreds of video lessons, puzzles and quizzes. As they learn, they can unlock badges. For an additional fee, students can take online courses that allow them to earn University of California college credits—no matter their age. Students in the online classes get support via email, chat, Google hangouts and even meetings in Minecraft. They get weekly assignments to complete and video lectures to watch. Online classes start in October and are run by UC San Diego Extension.

“These credits show admission reviewers that students have been taking classes outside of high school and have done work at the college level,” said Edward Abeyta, director of K-16 programs at UC San Diego Extension. “They have been evaluated on learning outcomes in a UC San Diego course.”

Foster and Handley got the idea for the software package while teaching programming classes at ThoughtSTEM. Many of their students, including girls, would show up with Minecraft T-shirts and talk about their love of the game. Foster and Handley saw this is a unique opportunity to get students excited about coding. They have tested LearntoMod in ThoughtSTEM’s classes and student feedback has been extremely positive.

The LearnToMod team also includes computer science undergraduate Tennyson Holloway and alums Kelly Chinh and Rosanne Luu.

Foster and his team have made a successful foray into educational video games before. With Esper, the other ThoughtSTEM co-founder, they have developed CodeSpells, a first-person computer game that teaches its users how to program in Java. The game, originally released in April 2013 and remade in 2015, has been downloaded more than 25,000 times and is being used in schools around the United States and throughout the world.

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Say ‘Cheese’

In an innovative effort to understand microbial communities, a UC San Diego biology professor has turned cheese into her ‘lab rat’

Rachel Dutton
  |   Assistant Professor, Division of Biological Sciences

While many microbiologists build entire research careers around studies of a single microorganism, Rachel Dutton has taken her career in the other direction—examining collections of microbes, but with an unusual twist. She studies what grows on cheese.

No, not the powdery stuff many of us remember mixing with milk from boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in our dorm rooms. Dutton’s fromage, like her molecular biology laboratory in the Applied Physics and Mathematics Building, is a lot more complex and cutting edge.

An assistant professor in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences, Dutton examines the communities of bacteria and fungi that produce different kinds of hand-crafted “artisanal” cheese in order to better understand how microbial communities form and work together.

“Cheese is the lab rat in my research,” she tells visitors to her lab, which is filled with petri dishes of bacteria growing on agar and milk curd—what she calls “in vitro cheese”—that emit the distinctive odors of blue, Swiss, goat cheese and Camembert.

Dutton arrived on campus last fall after a five-year independent fellowship at Harvard University during which she applied new genetic sequencing techniques to reveal the bacteria and fungi responsible for more than 130 varieties of artisanal cheeses from 10 countries around the world.

Her study was an unusual undertaking for a molecular biologist, particularly one just starting to build a research career. When microbiologists get involved in food, they generally focus on safety, finding ways to keep E. coli, Salmonella and other harmful bugs out of the things we eat. But Dutton recognized that the many varieties of cheeses around the world were living, breathing communities of microorganisms that humans had cultivated over thousands of years without knowing much about the specifics of what makes them taste the way they do. And that’s precisely what makes cheese so attractive to a biologist trying to understand microbial communities. (Another plus, of course, are the artisanal cheeses she gets to sample.)

Dutton’s innovative study on artisanal cheese—published with her Harvard colleagues nearly two years ago in the journal Cell—created a buzz in the food industry. And it’s given her cred among cheese makers, famous chefs and food artisans who continually seek her out for advice about the microbes responsible for the flavors and aromas of a wide variety of fermented foods including cheese.

Her knowledge of microbial fermentation—as well as her own passion for good food—even led to an appearance on a recent episode of the Netflix documentary Cooked, based on the book by Michael Pollan. And it’s convinced many of her scientific colleagues that her unusual approach to studying microbial communities by using artisanal cheese as a lab rat may not be such a cheesy idea after all. “Whenever I tell other scientists I work on cheese they’re intrigued at first,” she says with a smile. “Then, when I explain why I’m working on cheese, they say, ‘Oh, I wish I had thought of that.’ It’s a different way of approaching a problem that needed solutions.”

So why cheese? What makes the fermented milk product that’s been hand crafted by artisans around the world for nearly 10,000 years of human history such a great ecosystem to understand how microbial communities form and develop over time?

“Cheese, I thought, was the most promising biological system because it has an intermediate level of diversity,” explains Dutton, unlike yogurt, for example, which is produced by just two kinds of bacteria. “It’s not super complex, but it’s not super simple, which means we have interactions, properties and dynamics that we wouldn’t see in a simpler system. And we also have both bacteria and fungi, so this is a way to study a fairly diverse set of organisms in an ecosystem that’s a microbiologist’s dream.”

Dutton is part of a new campus-wide Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative designed to bring together researchers whose collaboration should lead to a more detailed understanding of microbiomes—the distinct communities of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live within and around us—to benefit human health and the environment.

With cheese, she says, “we have the potential to discover a lot of new biology because we’re looking at communities in a way that’s difficult to do in other systems and we can actually work with them in the lab.

“Cheese has been made for close to 10,000 years, and it’s an example of how humans have very precisely manipulated microbial communities without even knowing the details. People figured out that if they changed the moisture this much or added this ingredient or that, it’s going to create this type of community instead of this other type of community. So I think it’s interesting that we can learn from this history of cheese making how we could actually manipulate microbial communities.”

The hundreds of varieties of cheeses can be divided into two basic categories: fresh cheeses and aged. Making fresh cheese is relatively simple: Add lactic acid bacteria to cow, sheep or goat’s milk, then allow the bacteria to multiply and ferment the mixture. Fermentation and the coagulation of the milk protein casein turn the milk into a sour and acidic semi-solid, which can range from the French chèvre, or goat cheese, to an Italian mozzarella, made with buffalo milk.

“There's lots of interesting microbiology there,” says Dutton. “But the part of the process that gets me really excited is when you take that fresh cheese and put it in a cave and let microbes from the environment come and colonize that cheese. With a cheese like Camembert, you actually get colonization of the surface of the cheese with a collection of bacteria and fungi, which are all living together and interact with each other on the wheel of cheese.”

The next time you’re in a supermarket, take a close look at the blue veins of a Roquefort, the bubbles within a wheel of aged Swiss and the white, powdery rind surrounding a gooey Brie. Those aged cheeses are the result of fungi and bacteria working together on the fresh cheese curd to transform it into different and distinctive products using the techniques that have been passed on through generations of cheesemakers.

Cheesemakers long believed that the distinctive flavors of artisanal cheeses were the result of their place of origin, due in large part to the unique microbial makeup of the caves in which they were aged. But Dutton and her Harvard colleagues found, to everyone’s surprise, that no matter where in the world they are made, each style of cheese is remarkably similar in its microbial makeup. In other words, the environment a cheesemaker creates when aging cheese attracts pretty much the same complement of microbes, whether the cheese is made in France or Wisconsin. However, Dutton is now examining these species more closely to see whether changes in their genomes could lead to differences in flavor production.

One of the things most people don’t realize when they cut into the outer shell of a Brie or Camembert or any other type of aged cheese is that the rind, or outer membrane, is a “biofilm”—a living matrix containing many different species of bacteria and fungi, much like the dental plaque that adheres to your teeth.

How that community of bacteria and fungi come together in the first place, interact and evolve over time are some of the questions Dutton is seeking to answer. In a sense, the biological interactions that occur during the production of artisanal cheese serve as a window by which Dutton can view the interactions of microbial communities in greater detail. In her laboratory, Dutton and her students grow communities of microbes in their “in vitro cheese” system from bacteria and fungi isolated from certain kinds of artisanal cheeses.

“With the in-vitro cheese system, we’re actually rebuilding complete communities in our lab,” she says. “The goal is to dissect the interactions that are happening within a community and, because we have the ability now to build a community in the lab, that means we can also pull it apart. We can observe the community as it forms and look for interactions as they are occurring. We can also remove species and see what impact that has. It really allows us to control the variables, which is what you want to do as an experimental biologist.”

To find out what sorts of microbes are in her cheese samples in the first place, she and her students use DNA sequencing techniques developed by Rob Knight, a professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering who heads the campus microbiome initiative, to identify the bacteria living in the human gut. Once isolated, the biologists keep them in a lab freezer for later use, in various combinations, to try to understand how they interact in forming a cheese community.

 “We can look at questions like how do these five species grow together, so we pull them from the freezer, put them together in our in vitro cheese and watch what happens,” Dutton says. “It really expands the types of questions we can ask.”

“This is a very basic model for how to build communities and how to manipulate them, and we’re hoping that the principles we discover from this model system can be applied to any environment, whether you’re thinking about how to manipulate the gut microbiome or the skin microbiome,” she adds. “The other thing in terms of human health is that this is an ecosystem that we’re eating. We’ve started studies to look at what happens to these microbes when you eat them and whether they actually have any impact on the gut microbiome.”

In addition to Knight, Dutton has been collaborating with two other faculty leaders involved in the campus Microbiome Initiative—Pieter Dorrestein, a professor of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences, and Kit Pogliano, a professor of biology and longtime mentor who gave Dutton the opportunity to work in her research lab 16 years ago when she was a junior at UC San Diego.

“I was really intimidated by science at the time,” remembers Dutton. “And I thought everyone who studied biology was going to be a medical doctor, which I had no interest or inclination in doing. The only biology class I had taken was Kit’s class, a non-majors class called Microbes and Medicine, so I contacted Kit and asked her at the beginning of my junior year if I could volunteer in her lab to see if I liked doing science. And I just absolutely loved being in the lab. I felt completely in my element in a way that I hadn’t with the other areas I was exploring as an undergrad. I started taking molecular biology and other biology courses, and it was very clear to me that this is what I should be doing. So I switched my major from communications to molecular biology.”

After graduating from UC San Diego in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, Dutton worked in a microbiology laboratory at UCLA for a few years then applied to graduate school at Harvard Medical School.

“I had always heard great things about the microbiology department at Harvard, because Kit was a grad student there, so that was my dream place to go, to follow in her footsteps,” she says. “And it turned out that I followed in her footsteps more than I thought because I ended up working in the same lab that she had done her Ph.D. work in. We both did our Ph.D.s with Jon Beckwith, a phenomenal scientist and mentor.”

So how does Dutton feel about coming back to the campus where she fell in love with biology and working again with the mentor who gave Dutton her first research experience?

“It’s a dream,” says Dutton. “It feels a little surreal. Coming back to campus, I was remembering my first day here as an undergrad. It’s an amazing experience to be able to come back here as a professor. I never really imagined that I would someday have the opportunity to come back and help train the next generation of biologists at UC San Diego.”

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ALL BREAKERS

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Exposing Missing Histories

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Science Gets Spiritual

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Learn to code while playing Minecraft

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Lessons From a Brutal Past

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Marching to Different Beats

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Excess and Poetic Justice

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A Wireless War on Poverty

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A Revolution in Set Design

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Say ‘Cheese’

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