UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

2019 research highlights
from the Jacobs School of Engineering

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 28, 2019 -- From building drones for early wildfire detection to studying plant viruses for treating plant and human health, researchers at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering are continually hard at work innovating solutions for today's global challenges. This year was no exception. Here's a look back at just a few of the ways our engineers made an impact in 2019.

The Race to Stay Ahead of Wildfires

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As if to keep up with the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires throughout California, a network of wildfire-spotting cameras grew from 35 stations last year to more than 300 as of late October. The ALERTWildfire system co-developed by UC San Diego is one of several products created by the university that are improving the technological capability of western states to deal with wildfires now that the once-rare catastrophic events are becoming commonplace. Jacobs School researchers are also working on this effort, developing drones to spot wildfires before they get out of control.

UC San Diego at Epicenter of Earthquake Research

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From the world’s largest outdoor earthquake simulator to an international network of seismic stations, UC San Diego is a living laboratory for seismic safety. Researchers across campus are trying to improve the understanding and detection of earthquakes; provide immediate information about damages sustained after an event; and improve the safety of structures to better withstand major earthquakes. Scientists at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are doing their part to keep us safe and provide a better understanding of these natural hazards.

Robots to the Rhino Rescue

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Roboticists at UC San Diego and researchers at San Diego Zoo Global have joined forces to save the critically endangered northern white rhino from extinction. They are developing flexible robotic catheters that could aid in artificial insemination and embryo transfer on rhinos. 

 

3D Printed Implants for Treating Spinal Cord Injury

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3D printed implants could one day help restore neural connections and lost motor function in patients with spinal cord injury. The implants, developed by engineers and neuroscientists at the University of California San Diego, are soft bridges that guide new nerve cells to grow across a tear or break in an injured spinal cord. The work has so far shown promise in rats with severe spinal cord injury.

Wearable Cooling and Heating Patch

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UC San Diego engineers have developed a wearable patch that could provide personalized cooling and heating at home, work, or on the go. The soft, stretchy patch cools or warms a user’s skin to a comfortable temperature and keeps it there as the ambient temperature changes. It is powered by a flexible, stretchable battery pack and can be embedded in clothing. Researchers say wearing it could help save energy on air conditioning and heating.

Phase 1 Trial Shows Hydrogel to Repair Heart is Safe to Inject in Humans—A First

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Ventrix, a University of California San Diego spin-off company, has successfully conducted a first-in-human, FDA-approved Phase 1 clinical trial of an injectable hydrogel that aims to repair damage and restore cardiac function in heart failure patients who previously suffered a heart attack. The trial showed that the hydrogel, known as VentriGel, can be safely injected via catheter into patients who had suffered a heart attack in the past 2 to 36 months.

App Allows Inspectors to Find Gas Pump Skimmers Faster

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A team of computer scientists at UC San Diego and the University of Illinois has developed an app that allows state and federal inspectors to detect devices that steal consumer credit and debit card data at gas pumps. The devices, known as skimmers, use Bluetooth to transmit the data they steal. The app, called Bluetana, detects the Bluetooth signature of the skimmers, and allows inspectors to find the devices without needing to open up the gas pumps.

Micromotors Deliver Oral Vaccines

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Researchers are working on new generations of oral vaccines for infectious diseases. But to be effective, oral vaccines must survive digestion and reach immune cells within the intestinal wall. As a step in this direction, UC San Diego nanoengineering researchers have developed oral vaccines powered by micromotors that target the mucus layer of the intestine.

Researchers Discover What Makes Deep-Sea Dragonfish Teeth Transparent

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Mechanical engineers and marine biologists at UC San Diego discovered what makes the teeth of the deep-sea dragonfish transparent. This unique adaptation, which helps camouflage the dragonfish from their prey, results from their teeth having an unusually crystalline nanostructure mixed with amorphous regions. The findings could provide “bioinspiration” for transparent ceramics.

How Plant Viruses Can Be Used to Ward Off Pests and Keep Plants Healthy

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Imagine a technology that could target pesticides to treat specific spots deep within the soil, making them more effective at controlling infestations while limiting their toxicity to the environment. Researchers at UC San Diego and Case Western Reserve University have taken a step toward that goal. They discovered that a biological nanoparticle—a plant virus—is capable of delivering pesticide molecules deeper below the ground, to places that are normally beyond their reach.

Study Uncovers Why Heart Attack Triggers Arrhythmia in Some, Explores Potential Treatment

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A team of researchers led by the University of California San Diego has identified a genetic pathway that causes some individuals to develop an abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, after experiencing a heart attack. They have also identified a drug candidate that can block this pathway.

 

Study Identifies Main Culprit Behind Lithium Metal Battery Failure

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A research team led by the University of California San Diego has discovered the root cause of why lithium metal batteries fail—bits of lithium metal deposits break off from the surface of the anode during discharging and are trapped as “dead” or inactive lithium that the battery can no longer access. The discovery challenges a long-held belief in the field and presents new ways to boost lithium metal battery performance. The work brings research a step closer to incorporating lithium anodes into rechargeable batteries. 

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