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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 27 · Number 2 · Winter 2010

News & Notes

Another Round of Budget Triage

UC raises fees, steps up advocacy and scholarship fundraising efforts.

Student fees will rise 15 percent for undergraduate and professional students and 2.6 percent for graduate academic students in January, and another 15 percent for all students next summer, as part of a budget-balancing plan adopted by UC regents in November. The decision to increase fees prompted student protests at UC Davis and other campuses.

Regents also increased financial aid to minimize the impact of fee increases on needy students, raising the income ceiling on the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan to $70,000 to make more low-income California students eligible. In addition, regents asked the state to restore $913 million in cuts made over the last two years to the university’s budget.

UC officials, at the same time, stepped up advocacy efforts in Sacramento. UC President Mark Yudof asked students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends of higher education to sign up on the UC for California Web site — — and join a letter-writing campaign.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi urged students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to join UC’s systemwide push for more state funding. “It is vital that our UC Davis community do what it can to support this statewide effort to protect the integrity of the UC system,” Katehi said.

In October, Yudof kicked off an effort to raise $1 billion for student scholarships. Project You Can aims to double the money the 10 campuses raised over the last five years to support students.

In other efforts, a Commission on the Future of UC was launched this fall to examine ways of ensuring excellence and access to UC in the future while addressing state funding cutbacks.

The commission is reaching out to the UC community, experts inside and outside the system and the public. A Web site where readers can make suggestions was launched at

Charging a fee to companies that hire university graduates and eliminating student fees were among the ideas the commission heard at a meeting in Oakland in November.

“Is there any way, for example, of going to Sacramento and saying, ‘We need a surcharge on companies over 5,000 employees,’” said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley economist who had been labor secretary in the Clinton administration. “They’re the beneficiaries of these public goods, and perhaps we want to reclaim some of the benefits for the source of the public goods.”

Reich also raised the idea of doing away with student fees, requiring students to pay back a share of their earnings after graduation instead.

At UC Davis, Chancellor Katehi noted new poll results from the independent Public Policy Institute of California: 62 percent of the state’s residents think the University of California does a good or excellent job, and 59 percent say the state’s public colleges and universities should be a high or very high priority for state funding during the budget crisis.

“Our challenge and our mandate now is to harness that sentiment and support and channel it toward Sacramento, to the attention of the policymakers who will be shaping our budget for the coming year,” Katehi said. “But we must begin by building the support at home, right here within the broader UC Davis community.”

Budget cuts led UC Davis to plan to close nearly all operations during three periods of the academic year: Dec. 24–Jan. 3, March 24–25 and June 14–15.

The closures were part of a furlough-salary reduction plan that cuts 4 percent to 10 percent from most employees’ paychecks.

Calculating Progress

Berni Alder blazes a pioneering path.

It is not every day that a scientist receives the National Medal of Science from the president of the United States.

Yet that’s what happened to Berni Alder in October when President Obama bestowed on him the highest U.S. honor given to scientists, engineers and inventors.

1942 yearbook photo of Berni Alder shaking hands with President Obamab


Alder is widely regarded as the founder of molecular dynamics, a type of computer simulation used for studying the motions and interactions of atoms over time. He changed kinetic molecular theory by showing that simulations can significantly affect a scientific field. In 1980, Alder was one of the pioneers who used large-scale simulations to solve quantum mechanics problems.

In his speech naming Alder and eight other eminent researchers as medal recipients, President Obama said, “These scientists, engineers and inventors are national icons, embodying the very best of American ingenuity and inspiring a new generation of thinkers and innovators.”

At 84, Alder is still working — a lot. A professor emeritus in the applied sciences department, he spends three days a week at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and two days a week at UC Berkeley.

“There are still problems I would like to solve,” he said. “At Livermore there are some young people who are willing to work with me and help me solve some of these problems.”

After Alder’s trip to Washington, D.C., UC Davis science writer Andy Fell caught up with him for a phone interview:

When you started your scientific career, Harry Truman was president. In your career, you’ve seen 12 presidents. How has the influence of science changed over those years?

I think for physical sciences, there was a peak after the war — up till about 20 years ago. Now the biological sciences are much more prominent. But the physical sciences are still very much needed for biology. . . .

Obama seems to me to be one of the most positive presidents about science in my memory. He’s clearly very interested in science, and that’s nice.

What are you working on now?

There are two problems I’m working on now, in hydrodynamics and in quantum mechanics. In hydrodyanmics, we can check the classical equations for fluid dynamics, the Navier-Stokes equations. And it turns out, there are discrepancies between what we can find by molecular dynamics and Navier-Stokes equations, because Navier-Stokes makes approximations . . . particularly ignores fluctuations.

In quantum mechanics, I’m returning to a problem I worked on 30 years ago, which was looking for a new way to solve the Schroedinger equation (which describes how atoms and electrons change over time). This would mean we can predict the behavior of molecules with much higher precision — what I call “chemical accuracy” — and we can study this with a stochastic (random), probabilistic method.

What are the implications of that?

This has implications for the whole of materials science . . . we could predict the properties of materials from first principles. For example, with water, we could take two hydrogen nuclei and one oxygen nucleus and eight electrons, and predict the properties of a single molecule of water. And eventually do the same for other materials as well.

When you were starting out, 60 years ago, could you have foreseen how powerful computers would become?

Oh no, it was unforeseeable — computing power has increased by 10 (to the power of) 12 from the first electronic machines at Livermore. Also what we did not foresee is how these methods would permeate all of physics, chemistry, biology, materials science.


Blogging from Antarctica

Layering clothes so thick the Michelin man looks svelte by comparison. Diving in an ice-covered lake. Hovering over glaciers in a helicopter. These are just a few of the experiences that UC Davis geology professor Dawn Sumner and postdoctoral scholar Bekah Shepard blogged about this fall while conducting research in Antarctica.

Along with five other scientists, they spent seven weeks camped by permanently ice-covered Lake Joyce, exploring microbial mats that live under the ice. These bacterial communities are similar to those found on Earth billions of years ago and Sumner was hopeful that they would provide clues to the evolution of photosynthesis. But like any experiment, things don’t always go as planned. In one blog she wrote:

“In any field science project, you choose a place to go and things to do before you’ve been there and done them…When you get there, you find unexpected things.  Sometimes you can’t even do the science you proposed . . . On this trip, we got a big, unexpected surprise.”

To read more about Sumner’s adventure and see photos, visit her blog. Shepard’s account can be found at

Did Studying Abroad Change Your Life?

Write and tell us of your experiences as an Aggie in another land. Send contributions of 500 words or less. Excerpts may be published in a future issue of UC Davis Magazine and online.