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News Release

Jacobs School Helps Celebrate Science

Javier Rodriguez, an electrical and computer engineering alum from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering who now works at Calit2, helps kids drive wireless rovers during the San Diego Science Festival's Expo Day in Balboa Park.

San Diego, CA, April 9, 2009 -- When a capacity crowd of more than 50,000 people flocked to Balboa Park on April 4 for what organizers are calling “the largest one-day science gathering ever in the United States.,” UC San Diego faculty, staff and students, including those from the Jacobs School, were among the many exhibitors and visitors contributing to the landmark event.

Attendance at Expo Day, the culmination of the month-long and first-ever San Diego Science Festival, was more than triple what organizers were expecting. At one point, the backup of cars on Interstate 5 waiting to exit for Balboa Park stretched five miles. The Expo Day crowd brought to 200,000 the total number of people attending more than 500 free events during the Festival.

“We could not have imagined how well the people of San Diego and the biotechnology and technology communities would embrace our efforts to highlight continued education in the sciences,” said Larry Bock, the executive director of the Festival and the inspiration behind San Diego’s inaugural science event. “With 50,000 visitors to the very first Expo Day, it appears we hit on something the public very much wants. We had such a great response and our sponsors couldn’t be more pleased. Now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the festival for 2010.”

That cannot come too soon for Laura Wolszon, who handles education and other special projects in the UCSD Division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). “San Diego is really responsive to this,” said Wolszon during a break from almost non-stop talking with parents and their kids visiting the Calit2 booth. “This fills a need we have had for a long time that we are finally beginning to address, so I hope we do it every year from now on.”

The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), Calit2, UC San Diego Extension, BioBridge, Jacobs School of Engineering, and other UCSD programs are among more than 125 leading science and community organizations that collaborated with organizers to make the San Diego Science Festival a success.

Expo Day

Expo Day was a rare opportunity for UC San Diego to expose thousands of young San Diegans – and their parents – on a single day to the world-class university in their own backyard. “There were students of all levels and families from across the county, with the rich diversity of backgrounds and languages that make San Diego such a wonderful place to live,” said Diane Baxter, director of educational outreach at SDSC. “Most had never heard of SDSC and expressed strong interest in our role enabling scientific discovery. I believe that this event probably gave SDSC more public exposure than any other since I’ve been at the supercomputer center.” At its booth, SDSC ran out after giving away 2,000 calendars, but the booth’s main attraction was a set-up of six computers that allowed kids (of any age) to play an interactive game or to travel through Google Earth. In a separate booth, SDSC and its partners in the SMART Team program allowed students to build physical models of proteins from science kits.

Calit2’s presence in Balboa Park stretched well beyond its booth. “The big thing we are doing is bringing wireless coverage to the park,” explained Calit2 Division Director Ramesh Rao. The research institute set up an ad-hoc wireless network to provide bandwidth to more than 30 exhibitors (who otherwise would not have enjoyed high-speed Web access because Balboa Park wasn’t equipped for it). Calit2’s CalMesh network was linked to the Internet via the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) and a commercial provider, Sky River. Combined, they channeled 45 megabits per second of bandwidth.

The big hit of the Calit2 exhibit was Gizmo, Calit2’s family of wireless rovers designed to carry cameras and wireless access points remotely to disaster sites in order to get communications going again in an emergency. While Gizmo was a hit with kids as young as 5 years old (who waited patiently in line to test-drive them), the mobile platforms also have a serious purpose: to help victims and first responders in the wake of a disaster. Calit2 researchers also demonstrated wireless medical devices, including a machine that continuously monitors a victim’s pulse rate and blood-oxygen level, and streamed solar radiation, temperature and other environmental data to the booth from a weather-monitoring station on top of a nearby building.

The technologies grew out of several major disaster-response projects, including the NIH-funded WIISARD project, and NSF-funded RESCUE and ResponSphere projects. “It was wonderful to have this opportunity to test our technologies after spending four or five years developing them,” explained Calit2’s Rao.

Calit2 also used the occasion of Expo Day to further its research on communications in cases of emergency. Researchers tested how specific wireless technologies performed in specific areas with heavy pedestrian and cellular traffic. Faculty and students even tracked the use of Bluetooth, a short-distance wireless technology built into many mobile devices, as part of research on ways to prevent the spread of mobile-phone viruses.

UC San Diego students had the opportunity to present their research to younger students. “If I were 10 years old, something like this would be really helpful because you get to see all the fascinating things that motivate you to go into science,” said Mabel Zheng, a computer science sophomore in the Jacobs School of Engineering who began working on a Calit2 research project while still a freshman. “It is especially helpful at an event like this, when you have so many disciplines represented; it’s not just about computers, it’s not just about astronomy.”

Other Expo Day exhibitors from UC San Diego included the Division of Physical Sciences. Physics Professor Ivan Schuller hosted a booth about nanotechnology that introduced participants to the interesting properties that arise in materials “When Things Get Small” (the title of Schuller’s TV documentary about nanoscience, produced by UCSD-TV with funding from NSF and Calit2). Elsewhere in Balboa Park, students affiliated with UCSD’s Biomedical Engineering Society staged activities designed to get even the youngest visitors involved in science, e.g., using water, oil, food coloring and Alka-Seltzer to make mini lava lamps.

The theme behind the UCSD Center for Magnetic Recording Research (CMRR) booth was “The Incredible Shrinking Hard Drive.” Students from the Jacobs School were out in force: members of the Society of Women Engineers treated kids to “strange phenomena,” while the engineering student council let visitors use paperclips, straws, strings and even Oreo cookies to tackle engineering challenges. The Jacobs School’s Teams in Engineering Service (TIES) booth showcased technologies that undergraduate students are creating for non-profit organizations, and teams of students participating in the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge showed off their startup business concepts.

Frieder Seible, Dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering, tells students at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oceanside how cool engineering is during a recent presentation.


Nifty Fifty

More than 20 faculty affiliated with UC San Diego participated in the Festival’s Nifty Fifty program, which sent top science and technology leaders to speak to junior and senior high school classes throughout March. The Nifty Fifty include researchers who uncovered wreckage from the Titanic, have founded and run some of the most innovative high technology and life sciences companies, are designing the next generation of “thinking” computers and machines, are keeping us safe through the design of earthquake-resistant buildings and bridges, and are pioneering lifesaving medical therapies through genetic research and drug development. Nifty Fifty presenters included Calit2 director Larry Smarr; Frieder Seible, dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering and a world-renowned structural engineer; Jeanne Ferrante, assistant dean of the Jacobs School and a computer science and engineering professor; mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Alison Marsden; bioengineering professor Shu Chien; and SDSC director Francine Berman.

During his presentation at Montgomery High School, Shu Chien focused on “Science, Technology and Health in the New Century.” “I talked about the recent progress and future perspectives at the interface of biology, medicine, and engineering, including the application of nanotechnology to treat cancer, the use of fluorescence labeled proteins to study cells in health and disease, and the potential of using stem cells in regenerative medicine,” Chien said. “I pointed out that the success of our goal of advancing the health and quality of life requires collaboration of academia, industry and clinical medicine, together with the government and society, as well as the participation of the next generation of inspired leaders.”

Small Wonders

High-school students also visited UC San Diego’s stem-cell research facilities and got the chance to talk with UCSD School of Medicine Professor Larry Goldstein, one of the world’s top stem-cell researchers. About 175 students visited the campus for a program called “Small Wonders” – a day of hands-on nanotechnology experiments, lectures and visits to one-of-a-kind facilities such as Calit2’s StarCAVE virtual-reality environment.

Media Contacts

Doug Ramsey
Jacobs School of Engineering

Andrea Siedsma
Jacobs School of Engineering