Berkeley in the News

Berkeley in the News is a daily selection of articles and commentaries in the news media that mention UC Berkeley. The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the campus.

Friday, 20 October 2017

1. How Blood-Bloated Mosquitoes Stealthily Avoid a Swat
LiveScience

A team of researchers from Berkeley and Wageningen University in the Netherlands has investigated the stealth of mosquitoes and found that the reason the deadly beasts can escape with a tummy full of blood before you can smack them has to do with early wingbeats that prepare them for easy liftoff. Their light efficiency not only improves their chances of reproducing but helps them spread their deadly diseases. The team used a variety of high-speed cameras and 3D-motion analysis to observe their movements, comparing them to fruit flies. They found that mosquitoes began beating their wings about 30 milliseconds before lifting off, and the force of that liftoff was four times less than that of fruit flies, making their departure nearly imperceptible. At Berkeley, the study was co-authored by doctoral student Sofia Chang, who observes that analyzing how insects subtly adjust their landings and takeoffs to accommodate changes in their weight could eventually inspire the designs of tiny flying robots. The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Other stories on this topic appeared in HealthCanal, ScienceDaily, and Health Medicine Network.
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2. Sudden oak death likely exacerbated deadly Northern California wildfires
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

The recent Wine Country fires were surely worsened by this year's dramatic increase in the number of oaks, manzanita and native plants infected by sudden oak death, says adjunct environmental science, policy, and management professor Matteo Garbelotto, director of Berkeley's Forest Pathology and Mycology Laboratory. In a study released Friday, his lab found that 37 percent of the trees sampled in eastern Sonoma County, where the fires later raged, were infected by sudden oak death -- a percentage ten times higher than what they'd found two years ago. The disease hit hardest in Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Glen Ellen, but Petaluma and Sonoma east of Highway 12 were also badly affected, he says. The pathogen thrives following heavy rains, and this is the worst outbreak he's seen since he initiated the testing program in 2007. Unfortunately, he says, dead and dying oaks make wildfires hotter and cause them to spread more quickly.
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3. Why California Wildfires Are Infernos in October
KQED Radio

Eight of the ten deadliest fires that have occurred in California took place in October, and there's a clear reason for that. There's often barely a drop of rain in the summertime, notes fire expert William Stewart of Berkeley's Cooperative Extension. "By October California has dried out," he says. "So every hillside is basically fuel waiting to burn." But as for the devastation of the Sonoma fires of the past week or so, he says: "Totally unexpected! ... I mean if I was going to ask where do I think a fire will burn down into a community, it would not have been the north eastern corner of Santa Rosa." Comparing it to the Oakland Hills fire of 1991, he says: "The Oakland Hills had a lot of fuel. ... They had forests with eucalyptus trees. They had big shrub fields. These all kind of burned according to fuel models." Link to audio. Fire scientist and environmental science, policy, and management professor Scott Stephens also discussed the fires on KCRW's "To the Point" program--link to audio.
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4. Racing to repair the Oroville Dam — before the rains come
Los Angeles Times

As California's Department of Water Resources rushes to shore up the Oroville Dam before the winter rains begin, civil engineering professor emeritus Robert Bea says they are "making good progress" and that the "spillways should be ready for intended purposes for the end of this year and early next year." However, Professor Bea, who issued an independent analysis of last year's spillway failure, says the gate structure has large cracks in its concrete, as well as other problems.
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5. An Ancient Stellar Collision Gives a Boost to the Word 'Kilonova
Wall Street Journal (*requires registration)

The word "kilonova" is gaining currency with reports by a huge team of scientists from around the world on landmark discoveries associated with a cataclysmic collision of neutron stars some 130 million light years away. The term wasn't new -- Columbia astrophysicist Brian Metzger introduced it in a 2010 paper. But according to Metzger, the initial linguistic inspiration came from one of his team members, Eliot Quataert, an astronomy and physics professor at Berkeley. Professor Quataert had given a colloquium at Stanford University in 2010 presenting some of their findings, and a Stanford colleague, Vahé Petrosian, suggested that "kilonova," using the prefix "kilo-" meaning "1,000" (as in metric units like "kilogram" or "kilometer") would be an apt name. For more on some of the recent research, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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6. Op-Ed: Christian Missionaries Against Colonialism
Wall Street Journal

"Critics of Christian missionaries often write them off as pawns of imperialism, destroying native cultures as they spread their religion and their racist beliefs," writes history professor emeritus David Hollinger, acknowledging that there's "a grain of truth" to that. But he also says: "Men and women sent abroad to make the world look more like the U.S. wound up, paradoxically, trying to make the U.S. look more like the world. ... Americans with missionary experience did not all think alike.... But in one arena of public life after another, they championed the interests of nonwhite peoples within the U.S. and throughout the world. Among 20th-century whites, missionary-connected men and women were some of the most determined and influential critics of white supremacy." Professor Hollinger wrote about this in his new book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America (Princeton University Press, 2017).
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7. Letter From Moscow: Russia's House of Shadows
The New Yorker Magazine

A New Yorker correspondent writes about his famous Moscow apartment complex, also the subject of history professor Yuri Slezkine's "magisterial" new book, The House of Government (Princeton University Press, 2017). According to the correspondent: "His book ... is a twelve-hundred-page epic that recounts the multigenerational story of the famed building and its inhabitants—and, at least as interesting, the rise and fall of Bolshevist faith. In Slezkine's telling, the Bolsheviks were essentially a millenarian cult, a small tribe radically opposed to a corrupt world. With Lenin's urging, they sought to bring about the promised revolution, or revelation, which would give rise to a more noble and just era. Of course, that didn't happen. Slezkine's book is a tale of 'failed prophecy,' and the building itself—my home for the past several years—is 'a place where revolutionaries came home and the revolution went to die.'"
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8. Op-Ed: 'Geostorm' movie shows dangers of hacking the climate – we need to talk about real-world geoengineering now
San Francisco Chronicle

Doctoral environmental science, policy, and management student Jane A. Flegal writes: "Hollywood's latest disaster flick, 'Geostorm,' is premised on the idea that humans have figured out how to control the Earth's climate. A powerful satellite-based technology allows users to fine-tune the weather, overcoming the ravages of climate change. Everyone, everywhere can quite literally 'have a nice day,' until – spoiler alert! – things do not go as planned. ... Admittedly, the movie is a fantasy set in a deeply unrealistic near-future. But coming on the heels of one of the most extreme hurricane seasons in recent history, it's tempting to imagine a world where we could regulate the weather. Despite a long history of interest in weather modification, controlling the climate is, to be frank, unattainable with current technology. But underneath the frippery of "Geostorm," is there a valid message about the promises and perils of planetary management?"
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