Category Archives: Catalyst for Innovation

Self-Healing Polymer Could Lead To Artificial Muscle

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sean Nealon and published in UCR Today on April 18, 2016.)

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Photo Credit: UCR Today

If there’s such a thing as an experiment that goes too well, a recent effort in the lab of Stanford chemical engineering Professor Zhenan Bao might fit the bill.

One of her team members, Cheng-Hui Li, wanted to test the stretchiness of a rubberlike type of plastic known as an elastomer that he had just synthesized. Such materials can normally be stretched two or three times their original length and spring back to original size. One common stress test involves stretching an elastomer beyond this point until it snaps.

But Li, a visiting scholar from China, hit a snag: The clamping machine typically used to measure elasticity could only stretch about 45 inches. To find the breaking point of their one-inch sample, Li and another lab member had to hold opposing ends in their hands, standing further and further apart, eventually stretching a 1-inch polymer film to more than 100 inches.

Bao was stunned.

“I said, ‘How can that be possible? Are you sure?’” she recalled.

Today in Nature Chemistry, the researchers, including Chao Wang, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of California, Riverside who is a former post-doctoral student in Bao’s lab,  explain how they made this super-stretchy substance. They also showed that they could make this new elastomer twitch by exposing it to an electric field, causing it to expand and contract, making it potentially useful as an artificial muscle.

Artificial muscles currently have applications in some consumer technology and robotics, but they have shortcomings compared to a real bicep, Bao said. Small holes or defects in the materials currently used to make artificial muscle can rob them of their resilience. Nor are they able to self-repair if punctured or scratched.

The team attributes the extreme stretching and self-healing ability of their new material to some critical improvements to a type of chemical bonding process known as crosslinking. This process, which involves connecting linear chains of linked molecules in a sort of fishnet pattern, has previously yielded a tenfold stretch in polymers.But this new material, in addition to being extraordinarily stretchy, has remarkable self-healing characteristics. Damaged polymers typically require a solvent or heat treatment to restore their properties, but the new material showed a remarkable ability to heal itself at room temperature, even if the damaged pieces are aged for days. Indeed, researchers found that it could self-repair at temperatures as low as negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 C), or about as cold as a commercial walk-in freezer.

First they designed special organic molecules to attach to the short polymer strands in their crosslink to create a series of structure called ligands. These ligands joined together to form longer polymer chains – spring-like coils with inherent stretchiness.

Then they added to the material metal ions, which have a chemical affinity for the ligands. When this combined material is strained, the knots loosen and allow the ligands to separate. But when relaxed, the affinity between the metal ions and the ligands pulls the fishnet taut. The result is a strong, stretchable and self-repairing elastomer.

“Basically the polymers become linked together like a big net through the metal ions and the ligands,” Bao explained. “Each metal ion binds to at least two ligands, so if one ligand breaks away on one side, the metal ion may still be connected to a ligand on the other side. And when the stress is released, the ion can readily reconnect with another ligand if it is close enough.”

The team found that they could tune the polymer to be stretchier or heal faster by varying the amount or type of metal ion included. The version that exceeded the measuring machine’s limits, for example, was created by decreasing the ratio of iron atoms to the polymers and organic molecules in the material.

The researchers also showed that this new polymer with the metal additives would twitch in response to an electric field. They have to do more work to increase the degree to which the material expands and contracts and control it more precisely. But this observation opens the door to promising applications. (View video.)

In addition to its long-term potential for use as artificial muscle, this research dovetails with Bao’s efforts to create artificial skin that might be used to restore some sensory capabilities to people with prosthetic limbs. In previous studies her team has created flexible but fragile polymers, studded with pressure sensors to detect the difference between a handshake and a butterfly landing. This new, durable material could form part of the physical structure of a fully developed artificial skin.

“Artificial skin is not just made of one material,” said Franziska Lissel, a postdoctoral fellow in Bao’s lab and member of the research team. “We want to create a very complex system.”

Even before artificial muscle and artificial skin become practical, this work in the development of strong, flexible, electronically active polymers could spawn a new generation of wearable electronics, or medical implants that would last a long time without being repaired or replaced.

This latest discovery is the result of two years of collaboration, overseen by Bao, involving visiting scholar Cheng-Hui Li, a Chinese organo-metallic chemist who designed the metal ligand bonding scheme; polymer chemist Wang, who had made previous iterations of self-healing elastomers; and artificial muscle expert Christoph Keplinger, now an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Other contributors to the study, “A highly stretchable autonomous self-healing elastomer,” include Jing-Lin Zuo, Lihua Jin, Yang Sun, Peng Zheng, Yi Cao, Christian Linder and Xiao-Zeng You.

This research is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

Press release courtesy of Stanford Engineering.

To read the full article, click here.

National Science Foundation Selects Professor to Inspire Next Generation of Scientists and Engineers

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on April 5, 2016.)

Photo Credit: UCR Today
Photo Credit: UCR Today

Suveen Mathaudhu has Captain America’s shield and he’s not afraid to use it—to help get kids excited about science and engineering.

Mathaudhu, an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering programs at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to present at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which will take place April 16-17 in Washington D.C.

As the only national science and engineering festival, the free event aims to inspire the next generation of inventors and innovators through more than 3,000 hands-on exhibits, experiments and live performances by science celebrities, inventors and subject-matter experts. The 4th annual festival is expected to draw more than 350,000 attendees.

In his exhibit, “The Super Science of Captain America’s Shield,” Mathaudhu and five of his graduate students will integrate the fictional science behind the creation of Captain America’s iconic super-strong shield with the real science he does to develop ultra-tough metals and alloys.

“Engineering is a very creative field that’s about solving really interesting problems, but many kids don’t get that,” Mathaudhu said. “When they think about how superheroes’ powers are augmented by advanced science and engineering, they start to get excited about it.”

Mathaudhu, who joined the Bourns College in 2014, recently received an Early Career Faculty Development Program (CAREER) grant from the NSF. The proposal, titled “CAREER: Extreme Toughening of HCP Metallic Alloys via Nanospaced Stacking Faults” will continue for five years and is expected to total $500,000 in support of research, education and outreach activities.

In the study, Mathaudhu and his team will unravel the underlying mechanisms responsible for the formation of novel toughening features within lightweight metals with hexagonal structures (titanium and magnesium), and enable processing methods to realize metallic materials with unprecedented strength and formability.  These metallic alloys are critical for the development of lightweight vehicles and transportation systems that reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and decrease pollution.

“This award will allow UCR to research and develop advanced lightweight structural alloys, incorporate the discoveries and findings into education and classroom, and importantly, to reach out the broader community and integrate them into the excitement and opportunities in metallurgical research and other STEM fields,” Mathaudhu said.

Mathaudhu and his students are also active in presenting his research and superhero science to diverse local and national audiences.  Within the last year he has spoken at local elementary, high schools, junior/community colleges; The UCR Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (aimed at learners 50 years and older); Riverside’s Long Night of Arts and Innovation; the 2015 U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference; and even at the U.S. Capitol to Congressional Leaders.

Mathaudhu, an expert on the science of superheroes as depicted in comic books and their associated movies, frequently speaks to the media and consults on this subject.

Mathaudhu effort to get kids interested in science and engineering is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, products, scholars, business people, artists and entrepreneurs.

To read the full article, click here.

Riverside Community Hospital’s Graduate Medical Education Department Announces First Class of Internal Medicine Residents

(Press Release from HCA Healthcare, Cherie Crutcher, Director of Marketing & Public Relations.)

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Riverside Community Hospital will welcome 25 residents for the Riverside Community Hospital/UC Riverside School of Medicine Internal Medicine Residency Program.  The residents’ names were announced during the annual Match Day event, when graduating medical students learn where they will be spending the next several years as resident physicians. The 25 PGY-1 (post-graduate year 1) slots available for Riverside Community Hospital’s Internal Medicine Residency program were all successfully matched and filled through this process.

The Internal Medicine program is the first residency at Riverside Community Hospital. 300 interviews were conducted with applicants from around the country.  This program represents the culmination of years of hard work to develop and implement the hospital’s graduate medical education program, and is a significant milestone and addition to the hospital’s ongoing growth and development.

“This class of residents has been selected because of their educational achievements and enthusiasm for making a difference in our community,” said Robby Gulati, M.D., Program Director of the new Internal Medicine residency program. He added, “The presence of faculty and residents increases primary care capacity in the inland Empire.”

Riverside Community Hospital and the UC Riverside School of Medicine are working to develop residency training programs in an effort to reduce the serious physician shortage.  The Inland Empire area has seen patient ratios as low as 120 doctors per 100,000 patients as compared to California statewide where the ratio is 194 per 100,000 patients. The physician shortage in Riverside is expected to worsen as physicians retire faster than new physicians can replace them.

“Riverside Community Hospital is proud to welcome our new residents to our Internal Medicine Graduate Medical Education Program.  We are committed to training the next generation of physicians. The new residency program is one piece of our strategy to address the physician shortage”, said Patrick Brilliant, President and CEO of Riverside Community Hospital.

“This is an important milestone for Riverside Community Hospital and  I am proud of our team who has devoted significant time to building the program,” said Ken Dozier, MD and Chief Medical Officer of Riverside Community Hospital.  “We hope to improve access to Primary Care for individuals in our community, reducing their need to use emergency rooms for non-emergent conditions.”

Dr. Gulati and his team are looking forward to welcoming the first class of residents.  Graduate Medical Education at RCH, in partnership with the UC Riverside School of Medicine, anticipates starting residencies in OB/Gyn, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine and General Surgery within the next 24 months.

About Riverside Community Hospital

Founded in 1901, Riverside Community Hospital is a 373 licensed bed, full-service acute care hospital in the heart of the Inland Empire.  RCH has been recognized as a Top Performing Hospital and has invested in a new campus expansion project that includes a new 7-story patient tower, 3-story medical office building, and a recently completed new 5-level, state-of-the-art parking garage.   With over 500 physicians on staff, representing over 200 specialties and over 1,900 employees, Riverside Community Hospital is an Inland Empire leader in providing advanced, comprehensive health care to the Inland region.  RCH houses one of the largest Emergency Room and Trauma Center in the Inland Empire at 50.  RCH is the largest STEMI (heart attack) receiving centers and is a fully accredited Chest Pain Center.  Centers of Excellence include the HeartCare Institute, offering invasive and non-invasive cardiac procedures, Center of Excellence for Surgical Weight Loss, the Transplant Program, the Cancer Center and a Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Riverside Community Hospital is also committed to training the next generation of physicians through its Graduate Medical Education program.

About UCR School of Medicine

The UCR School of Medicine, one of more than 15 new medical schools established in the U.S. over the last decade, is the sixth medical school in the University of California system.  The school’s mission is to expand and diversify the region’s physician workforce and develop innovative research and healthcare delivery models that improve the health of people living in Inland Southern California. The medical school also offers a Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences, and operates five residency training programs in the medical specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery and psychiatry, and partners with Loma Linda University in a primary care pediatrics residency training program.

UC Riverside School of Medicine  is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, products, and scholars. Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

Scientists Unlock Genetic Secret That Could Help Fight Malaria

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sean Nealon and published in UCR Today on March 29, 2016.)

Photo Credit: UCR Today
Photo Credit: UCR Today

A group of scientists, including one from the University of California, Riverside, have discovered a long-hypothesized male determining gene in the mosquito species that carries malaria, laying the groundwork for the development of strategies that could help control the disease.

In many species, including mosquitoes, Y chromosomes control essential male functions, including sex determination and fertility. However, knowledge of Y chromosome genetic sequences is limited to a few organisms.

The discovery of the putative male-determining gene, which was outlined in a paper published online Monday (March 28) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, provides researchers with a long-awaited foundation for studying male mosquito biology.

This is significant because male mosquitoes offer the potential to develop novel vector control strategies to combat diseases, such as malaria and the zika and dengue viruses, because males do not feed on blood or transmit diseases. (The African malaria-carrying mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, is different than the mosquito that carries zika and dengue, but similar control strategies could be used to fight both species.)

One vector control method under development involves genetic modification of the mosquito to bias the population sex ratio toward males, which do not bite, with the goal of reducing or eliminating the population. This and other control methods have received a lot of attention recently because of the spread of zika virus.

Modeling has shown that the most efficient means for genetic modification of mosquitoes is engineering a driving Y chromosome. A molecular-level understanding of the Y-chromosome of the malaria mosquito, as described in the just-published paper, is important to inform and optimize such a strategy.

headshot of Omar Akbari

Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology

The paper, “Radical remodeling of the Y chromosome in a recent radiation of malaria mosquitoes,” was co-authored by 28 scientists from four countries and four universities in the United States. Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside and a member of the university’s Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, is one of the authors.

While the genome of Anopheles gambiae was sequenced 13 years ago, the Y chromosome portion of it was never successfully assembled.

The researchers who published the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences used multiple genome sequencing techniques, including single-molecule sequencing and Illumina-based sex-specific transcriptional profiling, as well as whole-genome sequencing, to identify an extensive dataset of Y chromosome sequences and explore their organization and evolution inAnopheles gambiae complex, a group of at least seven morphologically indistinguishable species of mosquitos in the genus Anopheleswhich contain some of the most important vectors of human malaria.

They found only one gene, known as YG2, which is exclusive to the Y chromosome across the species complex, and thus is a possible male-determining gene.

This research is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

To read the full article, click here.

Riverside Was Selected To Participate In The TechHire Initiative

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Jeff Horseman and published in the Press Enterprise on March 9, 2016.)

Suzanne Sullivan, who is a welding and sheet metal instructor at Vocademy: The Makerspace, works on a Worbla costume, part of a personal project. Photo Credit: Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise
Suzanne Sullivan, who is a welding and sheet metal instructor at Vocademy: The Makerspace, works on a Worbla costume, part of a personal project. Photo Credit: Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise

The White House has picked Riverside to join a nationwide effort to connect residents with the training they need for good-paying information technology jobs.

Riverside’s inclusion in the TechHire initiative is being announced announced Wednesday, March 9. TechHire is expanding to 50 communities nationwide after launching with 21 communities in March 2015.

The initiative will include areas surrounding the city of Riverside. TechHire hubs include the states of Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Colorado as well as cities from Los Angeles to New York City.

Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey said he’s “honored and thrilled” to be included in TechHire, which he learned about during a trip to Washington, D.C. He said local employers have told him they had to go outside the region to find skilled tech workers.

“If we don’t at the local level provide training into this pipeline, then we’re going to have issues in the long run,” Bailey said.

TechHire links local government, educators and private employers to offer training in cybersecurity, software development and related fields. Non-traditional education is emphasized to put students on a quicker path toward the skills they need for tech jobs.

There are more than half a million unfilled tech jobs in the United States, said Jacob Leibenluft, deputy director for the National Economic Council, during a White House conference call. The average IT-related job pays 50 percent more than the average private-sector job, he added.

Locally, Riverside County’s workforce development agency; Riverside Community College District; Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce; and Vocademy: The Makerspace have committed to connecting 4,000 people to tech jobs over the next five years.

Based in Riverside, Vocademy is like “an Olympic training center for hands-on skills,” said founder/CEO Gene Sherman. “We are offering unconventional short programs to get people skilled up for these in-demand jobs instead of going to a convention school for a year or two years.”

Vocademy’s offerings cost less than $5,000, Sherman added.

In addition, companies such as Loma Linda University Medical Center, Redlands-based geographic information system company Esri and Riverside Public Utilities have promised to hire or provide paid internships for 500 employees from non-traditional pathways.

Local efforts to teach tech skills include SmartRiverside, a nonprofit coalition launched in 2006 that promotes tech education in part by offering high-tech business grants and free computers and training for low-income families. TechHire’s goals are “perfectly aligned” with SmartRiverside, said Steve Massa, the city of Riverside’s economic development coordinator, who has played a lead role in getting the TechHire designation.

TechHire could help the Inland Empire solve a chronic problem, said Inland economist John Husing. “The most difficult issue that we face as a region is a very marginally educated labor force,” he said.

That said, “(TechHire) needs to be implemented,” Husing added. “So many of these things tend to make great headlines and then very little comes out the other end.”

Liebenluft said TechHire provides a “call to action” for communities to provide tech training and offers data and other tools to those communities.

“There is something very useful and powerful about the White House rolling out a particular program,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said during the White House conference call. “It’s an organizing principle for those of us on the ground. It also gives credibility to our efforts.”

While there’s no federal funding directly attached to TechHire, the Department of Labor last fall announced a $100 million grant competition to expand advanced tech training.

Be selected to be a part of the TechHire initiative is a testament to why Riverside is a Catalyst for Innovation.  Our community leaders collaborate to address issues, which lead to more inventive and multi-disciplinary approaches. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, products, scholars, businesspeople, artists and entrepreneurs.

To read the full article, click here.

zyBooks Secures $4 Million To Take College Textbooks Into The Interactive Age

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on February 16, 2016.)

Members of the zyBooks team, with founders Frank Vahid and Smiti Bakshi in the center. Photo Credit: UCR Today
Members of the zyBooks team, with founders Frank Vahid and Smiti Bakshi in the center. Photo Credit: UCR Today

zyBooks, a company that provides web-native STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning materials that was co-founded by UCR Professor Frank Vahid, has received a $4 million investment round led by Bialla Venture Partners.

This latest investment follows recent grants from the National Science Foundation’s SBIR program, awarded for research and development of the zyBooks platform. The funding will support significant content expansion into additional zyBooks, new product features for both instructors and students, and new sales and marketing initiatives.

zyBooks are interactive learning tools in STEM courses, with which students “learn by doing” in a highly engaging, action-oriented way. In contrast to traditional textbooks, the content features more question sets, animations, interactive tools, and auto-graded homework, enabling professors to be more efficient and devote more time to teaching rather than administrative tasks.

zyBooks was founded by Vahid, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, and Smita Bakshi, CEO of the company and a former assistant professor at UC Davis.

Bourns College of Engineering is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

“Particularly in the age of the Internet and interactivity, traditional textbooks – often unchanged for decades – are increasingly at odds with today’s students and professors alike. Simply migrating such textbooks to online formats provides few benefits and several drawbacks, and add-on interactive elements often are not well integrated,” Vahid said.

“zyBooks’ interactive content is created natively for the web using animations, learning questions, tools and simulations, as well as some text and figures. Measurable results demonstrate more usage, better learning outcomes and happier students. The direct relationship between students and content creators also reduces costs and enables a tight content feedback/improvement loop.”

David Uri, managing member of Bialla Venture Partners, said zyBooks is set to be become the new standard for STEM curriculum across higher education. In conjunction with the funding, Uri will join the company’s Board of Directors.

“zyBooks has already shown that its innovative approach creates dramatically better learning outcomes for students – with proven results of up to 64 percent improvement in learning with a zyBook versus a traditional textbook – while empowering instructors with easy to use tools that save time and administrative hassle. It’s a win/win for both professors and students alike,” Uri said.

As an early example of how the new funding will be used, zyBooks has announced several new STEM course products including the first-ever interactive version of the seminal computer science textbook classic – Patterson & Hennessy’s, “Computer Organization and Design,” as well as a revolutionary interactive auto-graded programming lab submission system called zyLabs, which will be launched at the SIGCSE conference in March 2016.

Starting with just a handful of universities in 2012, the company’s computer science and engineering zyBooks are now used at over 300 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. For more information, visit: www.zybooks.com

To read the full article, click here.

New App Connects Students and Tutors

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on February 11, 2016.)

Scholarly creators Sultan Khan (left) and Haasith Sanka. Photo Credit: UCR Today
Scholarly creators Sultan Khan (left) and Haasith Sanka. Photo Credit: UCR Today

Are you struggling at school, or hoping to master a new skill? Perhaps you’d like to earn some extra money as a tutor? An app created by two computer science students at the University of California, Riverside might be just what you need. Sultan Khan and Haasith Sanka’s ‘Scholarly’ app won first place at the world’s largest education Hackathon in October. It is now available as a free download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Described by Khan and Sanka as ‘The Uber for Tutors,’ Scholarly is an on-demand tutoring service that connects students with nearby tutors. The service is simple: tutors create profiles, which can be viewed by students looking for help in a particular subject. Users can view tutor profiles, set meeting locations, and get help with their studies at the click of a button. Most of the app’s current activity is generated by the UCR community, but the creators plan to grow their tutor network and expand the service to K-12 students and their parents in the coming months.

An image of screen shots of the Scholarly app.

Screen shots of the Scholarly app. Photo Credit: UCR Today

The team developed the android version of Scholarly at HackingEDU, which was held in San Mateo, Calif., in October and drew more than 1,000 hackers from universities around the world. The competition challenged students to turn their ideas into functional software that would improve the education system—and they had just 36 hours to do it.

For Khan and Sanka, that meant working through the night to create their app. After placing in the top 10, the Highlanders were invited to present Scholarly to a panel of judges, which landed them in first place. Khan, a senior in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, said courses in software engineering and technical writing prepared them to develop professional software and pitch it to a wide audience. Since winning the competition, the students have been working to improve the android app and create the iOS version.

“One of the challenges about developing apps is that even when you’ve done a good job there is always room for improvement. That’s one of the things I love about creating apps and the reason I want to work in the field of software development when I graduate,” said Khan, who has won several national hackathons with his peers at UCR.

For Sanka, a freshman, the reward will be seeing how the app helps other students.

“We both believe that one-on-one tutoring is beneficial, so we are proud to have created something that will contribute to students’ success,” he said.

Khan and Sanka developed the iOS version of the app with Amanda Berryhill, a senior in computer science.

Bourns College of Engineering is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

View the app on Google Play and the App Store. View a video about Scholarly here

To read the full article, click here.

GPS Tracking Down to the Centimeter

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on February 10, 2016.)

Photo Credit: UCR Today
Photo Credit: UCR Today

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed a new, more computationally efficient way to process data from the Global Positioning System (GPS), to enhance location accuracy from the meter-level down to a few centimeters.

The optimization will be used in the development of autonomous vehicles, improved aviation and naval navigation systems, and precision technologies. It will also enable users to access centimeter-level accuracy location data through their mobile phones and wearable technologies, without increasing the demand for processing power.

The research, led by Jay Farrell, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, was published recently in IEEE’s Transactions on Control Systems Technology. The approach involves reformulating a series of equations that are used to determine a GPS receiver’s position, resulting in reduced computational effort being required to attain centimeter accuracy.

First conceptualized in the early 1960s, GPS is a space-based navigation system that allows a receiver to compute its location and velocity by measuring the time it takes to receive radio signals from four or more overhead satellites. Due to various error sources, standard GPS yields position measurements accurate to approximately 10 meters.

Differential GPS (DGPS), which enhances the system through a network of fixed, ground-based reference stations, has improved accuracy to about one meter. But meter-level accuracy isn’t sufficient to support emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles, precision farming, and related applications.

“To fulfill both the automation and safety needs of driverless cars, some applications need to know not only which lane a car is in, but also where it is in that lane—and need to know it continuously at high rates and high bandwidth for the duration of the trip,” said Farrell, whose research focuses on developing advanced navigation and control methods for autonomous vehicles.

Farrell said these requirements can be achieved by combining GPS measurements with data from an inertial measurement unit (IMU) through an internal navigation system (INS). In the combined system, the GPS provides data to achieve high accuracy, while the IMU provides data to achieve high sample rates and high bandwidth continuously.

Achieving centimeter accuracy requires “GPS carrier phase integer ambiguity resolution.” Until now, combining GPS and IMU data to solve for the integers has been computationally expensive, limiting its use in real-world applications. The UCR team has changed that, developing a new approach that results in highly accurate positioning information with several orders of magnitude fewer computations.

“Achieving this level of accuracy with computational loads that are suitable for real-time applications on low-power processors will not only advance the capabilities of highly specialized navigation systems, like those used in driverless cars and precision agriculture, but it will also improve location services accessed through mobile phones and other personal devices, without increasing their cost,” Farrell said.

The research was done by Farrell, Yiming Chen, and Sheng Zhao. Chen and Zhao received their Ph.D.s at UCR. Chen now works for Qualcomm. Zhao now works for Google.

Bourns College of Engineering is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed patents for the inventions above.

To read the full article, click here.

Breakthrough In Generating Embryonic Cells That Are Critical For Human Health

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Iqbal Pittalwala on published in UCR Today on February 3, 2016.)

IMAGE CREDIT: GARCÍA-CASTRO LAB, UC RIVERSIDE.
IMAGE CREDIT: GARCÍA-CASTRO LAB, UC RIVERSIDE.

Neural crest cells arise early in the development of vertebrates, migrate extensively through the embryo, and differentiate to give rise to a wide array of diverse derivatives. Their contributions include a large proportion of our peripheral nerves, the melanocytes that provide skin color and protection from damaging UV light, as well as many different cell types in our face, including muscle, bone, cartilage and tooth-forming cells.

The proper functioning of these cells is critical for human development and health. When neural crest biology fails, various birth defects and illnesses – cleft lip/palateHirschsprung and Waardenburg syndromes, melanoma and neuroblastoma – result.  A better study of these cells is crucial, therefore, to aid in clinical efforts to diagnose and treat such conditions.

But access to these embryonic cells in humans is very difficult. As an alternative, scientists turned to models based in embryonic stem cells.

While protocols to generate human neural crest cells from human embryonic stem cells have progressed since the first report 11 years ago, they still have considerable limitations for their use in basic and clinical research. This is because these protocols commonly use ingredients or components not well defined, such as blood serum which contains many unknown components of varying concentrations.  Some protocols result in large clusters of cells, impairing the identification of specific molecules and their roles during neural crest cell formation.  Furthermore, the fastest of these protocols takes 12 days (of very costly culture conditions) to convert human embryonic stem cells to neural crest cells.  Oftentimes the protocols provide low yields, making the isolation of the desired neural crest cells a time-consuming and technically challenging process.

Work done by a research team led by an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside now addresses these problems by providing a robust, fast, simple and trackable method to generate neural crest cells.  The proposed method can facilitate research in basic sciences and clinical applications alike.

“Our study provides a superb model to generate neural crest cells in just five days starting from human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent cells, using a simple and well-defined media with all ingredients known and accounted for,” said Martín I. García-Castro, whose lab led the study published in the Feb. 1 issue of the journalDevelopment. “Our cost-effective, efficient and fast protocol allows a better analysis of the relevant signals and molecules involved in the formation of these cells.  Our results suggest that human neural crest cells can arise independently from – and prior to – the formation of mesoderm and neural ectoderm derivatives, both of which had been thought to be critical for neural crest formation.”

The mesoderm is the middle layer of the embryo in early development.  It lies between the endoderm and the ectoderm, the latter being the outermost layer.  García-Castro’s previous work on birds already challenged the dogma suggesting that neural crest cells form without mesodermal or neural contribution.  Unpublished results from his lab have also confirmed the same using rabbit embryos as a mammalian model.

With regard to identifying specific molecules and their roles during neural crest cell formation, García-Castro’s new work demonstrates the critical role played by a molecule known as WNT and highlights contributions from protein families called FGFs and BMPs.

Briefly, WNT proteins are signaling molecules that regulate cell-to-cell interactions during development and adult tissue homeostasis. The FGF protein family controls a wide range of biological functions.  BMPs induce the formation of bone and cartilage and form tissues throughout the body.

“Our work provides strong evidence of the critical and initiating role of WNT signals in neural crest cell formation, with later contributions by FGF and BMP pathways,” he said.

García-Castro emphasized that the proper function of neural crest cells is essential for human development and health.

“The study of these cells is essential to improve clinical efforts to diagnose, manage, and perhaps prevent diseases and conditions linked to them, and our lab has already launched efforts towards facial clefts – lip and or palate – and melanoma, and we hope to make substantial progress in both areas thanks to this novel protocol,” he said.

The study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health as well as Connecticut Innovations, a funding source for companies in Connecticut.

García-Castro came to UC Riverside in November 2014. His coauthors on the research paper are Alan W. Leung (first author of the research paper, currently at Yale University, Conn.) and Barbara Murdoch (currently at Eastern Connecticut State University), both of whom are former members in his lab; and Ahmed F. Salem, Maneeshi S. Prasad, and Gustavo A. Gomez at UC Riverside.

This research is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront.  The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community.  Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.

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UCR Research Advances Oil Production in Yeast

(This article contains excerpts from the article written by Sarah Nightingale and published in UCR Today on January 26, 2016.)

Photo Credit: UCR Today
Photo Credit: UCR Today

A team led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has adapted the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system for use in a yeast strain that can produce useful lipids and polymers. The development will lead to new precursors for biofuels, specialty polymers, adhesives and fragrances.

Published recently in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the research involves the oleaginous (oil-producing) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which is known for converting sugars to lipids and hydrocarbons that are difficult to make synthetically. Until now, Y. lipolytica has been hard to manipulate at the genetic level, but the application of CRISPR-Cas9 will change that, allowing scientists to tap into its bio-manufacturing potential.

Described in 2012, CRISPR-Cas9 is a groundbreaking technique that enables scientists to make precise targeted changes in living cells. Unlike traditional gene-editing methods, it is cheap, easy to use and effective in almost any organism.

“Traditionally, researchers have focused on model organisms that are relatively easy to manipulate at the genetic level, and those working on less tractable species have had to go through long and tedious processes to create new strains. Our work with Y. lipolytica is a good example of how the CRISPR-Cas9 system is facilitating research in organisms that are biologically interesting but historically difficult to work with,” said Ian Wheeldon, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering and the study’s principal investigator.

In the paper, the team adapted CRISPR-Cas9 for Y. lipolytica, showing that the system could be used to knock genes out and introduce new genes, both useful tools in bio-manufacturing.

Wheeldon said the current work was the first step in a National Science Foundation-funded project to create long chain hydrocarbons—used to make specialty polymers, adhesives, coatings and fragrances—from yeast rather than synthetically.

“Currently, these molecules are produced from non-renewable raw materials derived from petroleum in processes that are inefficient and pose safety risks, so being able to produce them from cheap raw materials in a bio-manufacturing process is very appealing,” Wheeldon said.

Other researchers may use the system to create precursors for biofuels, reducing the current reliance on edible plant oils, Wheeldon said.

The work was done by Wheeldon, Cory Schwartz, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at UCR, and Murtaza Shabbir Hussain and Mark Blenner from Clemson University in South Carolina. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

UCR is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s Catalyst for Innovation pillar. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support useful and beneficial ideas, research, and scholars.

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