Berkeley in the News Archive

The links to the stories summarized on this page are time sensitive, so stories might no longer be online at that URL. We also include links to the original source publication itself.

Friday, 15 August 2014

1. Star dust taken from comet tail excites scientists
Contra Costa Times (*requires registration)

A team of scientists, including physics lecturer Andrew Westphal of Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, has released a report on the first-ever capture of seven grains of interstellar space dust. The dust was brought to earth by NASA's Stardust spacecraft in 2006, and finding the specks involved combing through millions of close-up images of the spacecraft's dust collectors. Westphal says the team needs to do additional testing to confirm that the particles are truly stardust, but if they are, they could help explain the origin and evolution of matter previously only deduced from astronomical observation. "This is about our own origins -- understanding the stuff that made our solar system, our planet and us," he says. Stories on this topic have appeared in more than 100 sources worldwide, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, BBC, Nature, National Geographic, Vox, Science Blog, and Reuters. Full Story

2. Acoustic Beams Hold Promise for Imaging, Cloaking, Levitation
Science Blog

A team led by mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Materials Sciences Division, has developed a technique for generating open-air, acoustic bottles that can bend the paths of sound waves along prescribed convex trajectories. The researchers envision the technique's use in super high-resolution imaging, acoustic cloaking and other applications. “We need to find ways to bend acoustic wave fields without depending on the use of a highly engineered medium,” he says. “With our bottle beam technique, we can design and synthesize acoustic bottles that are capable of directing sound waves along paths of desired curvature through homogeneous space without the need of metamaterials or any other highly engineered medium.” Full Story

3. New tool makes a single picture worth a thousand -- and more -- images
Science Blog

Associate electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Alexei Efros is in Canada presenting a new visual data tool he has developed with colleagues. The tool gives users the ability to sort massive clusters of images, giving weight to certain characteristics in order to create subcategories. For example, blue-winged butterflies or orange tabby cats could be pulled to the top of photo collections. “Visual data is among the biggest of Big Data,” Professor Efros says. “We have this enormous collection of images on the Web, but much of it remains unseen by humans because it is so vast. People have called it the dark matter of the Internet. We wanted to figure out a way to quickly visualize this data by systematically ‘averaging’ the images.” Another story on this topic appeared in Science 2.0. Full Story

4. Nature Podcast: All Shook Up
Nature Online

Earth and planetary science professor Roland Burgmann joins a discussion of the giant 8.2 earthquake that struck the city of Iquique in Chile earlier this year. Professor Burgmann discusses papers he and others have written about what happened before, during and after that quake. Link to audio. Another story aired on BBC World Service (link to audio). A blog also appeared on BBC Online. Full Story

5. Arapahoe County pioneering use of new vote verification system
Denver Post

Statistics professor and department chair Philip Stark developed a vote audit system that is now being tested in Colorado's Arapahoe County. "The current system is a spot check of machine function," he says. "This is getting strong statistical evidence that the outcome of the race is correct." Dubbed a "risk-limiting system," it has been used in Ohio and California. Another story on this topic appeared on Colorado Public Radio Online. Full Story

6. Bits Blog: Crowdfunding and Venture Funding: More Alike Than You Think
New York Times Online (*requires registration)

A recent study of 16,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding projects, co-authored by Berkeley researchers, found that female investors were more likely to invest in the projects of female entrepreneurs, and that these female entrepreneurs had higher rates of fundraising success. Full Story

7. Op-Ed: With Latest Death, Scientists Re-evaluate Stigma of Fraud
Live Science

Associate molecular and cell biology professor Michael Eisen, a genetics and genomics specialist, writes about the suicide of a Japanese stem-cell scientist caught up in a STAP (or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) controversy, although he was cleared of misconduct charges. Since Professor Eisen's father killed himself after a member of his lab committed scientific fraud, the echoes in this case have moved him to question the way the scientific community responds to scientific misconduct. "We need to deal swiftly with fraud when it is identified," he says. "But time after time I have watched not only the accused, but everyone around them, be treated with such sanctimonious disdain. ... Given the horrible incentive structure we have in science today, it is somewhat of a miracle that more people don’t make up results on a routine basis. It is important that we identify, and come down hard, on people who cheat (although I wish this would include the far greater number of people who hype their results -- something that is ultimately more damaging than the small number of people who commit fraud). ... But the next time something like this happens, I am begging you to please be careful about how you respond. Recognise that, while invariably fraud involves a failure not just of honesty but of oversight, most of the people involved are honest, decent scientists." Full Story

8. Letters to the Editor: If Only Teaching Mathematics Was as Clear as 1+1=2
Wall Street Journal (*requires registration)

Readers respond to an op-ed written by Mathematics Professor Emerita Marina Ratner ("Making Math Education Even Worse," Aug. 6) about the new Common Core math standards. She had said that the adoption of Common Core standards represents "a huge step backward" for California and the nation. One of the letter writers is her colleague, Professor Emeritus Hung-His Wu, who disagrees with her point of view. He concludes: "The picture-drawing frenzy that Prof. Ratner observed in the sixth grade classroom is an unfortunate example of the failure to properly implement Common Core. Just as mathematicians want proofs for theorems, the Standards want explanations for computational procedures. We should recognize the misapplication of a good idea rather than criticize the idea itself." Full Story

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