Editor’s Note

To ring in the new year, I have compiled a list of notable achievements in science and technology at UCSB in 2001.

I have attempted to address as many subjects as possible in this list, however, it is by no means complete. When I started my job as science editor at the Daily Nexus last September, I became the first person ever to fill this position.

The Nexus has no organized record of science stories before this time. Regardless, I have tried my best to compile a worthy sampling of the scientific discoveries and innovations that took place here in 2001. I hope it sparks your sense of wonder as it did mine.

— Josh Braun, Science Editor


  • The Templeton lecture series, entitled “Science, Religion, and the Human Experience,” began in 2001 as the result of a $100,000 grant by the John Templeton Foundation. Most notably present on the list of lecturers in 2001 was Freeman Dyson, the famous author and mathematician-turned-physicist responsible for unifying competing theories of Quantum Electrodynamics.
  • The Engineering Department was chosen by Mitsubishi Chemical for a $10 million partnership. Mitsubishi is currently working with material scientists at UCSB to develop important new materials with applications in industry.
  • UCSB physicist and Nobel laureate Herbert Kroemer had an asteroid named for him last summer and received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest honor bestowed by the German government on its citizens.
  • Roger Nisbet of the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Dept. received the Brewster Award from the American Ornithologists’ Union for his body of research on cowbirds and his excellent teaching skills. The award is the most prestigious award given to ornithologists in the Western Hemisphere.
  • The Institute for Theoretical Physics received a $7.5 million endowment from high tech entrepreneur Fred Kavli. The institute is now renamed the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. The money will be used to fund new programs and for a physical expansion of Kohn Hall in which the institute is housed.
  • Funding began this year for the UCSB branch of the California NanoSystems Institute, which was chosen by UCLA as a partner for nanosystems research.
  • Physics professor James Langer was elected vice president of the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. Physicist and Nobel laureate Alan Heeger, as well as materials professor Arthur Gossard, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences last year.

Physical Sciences

  • The Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics (BOOMERanG) Project, headed by UCSB physicist John Ruhl, released the final data from their 2000 experiment which sampled radiation from the cosmic microwave background and outlined the basic shape of the universe.
  • Geology professor Edward Keller and his graduate student Amy Selting discovered evidence of a catastrophic flood, which occurred in Santa Barbara during prehistoric times. Keller and his team also discovered the submerged island of Calafia off the Santa Barbara coast last year.
  • UCSB theoretical physicist Steve Giddings did calculations suggesting the possibility of creating miniature black holes inside the CERN particle accelerator now under construction. Using his results, particle physicists will attempt to beat astronomers to the punch at producing conclusive evidence for the phenomenon.

Biological Sciences

  • Dr. John Alroy of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis announced several theories last year. The first was that the number of species on the planet has been relatively constant throughout history and spikes in published diversity curves are the result of systematic errors in the study of the fossil record. In addition, he said that many species have been counted multiple times under different names. Alroy also announced that early humans most likely hunted several species of mammals to extinction, including mammoths.
  • Researchers at the Rothman Laboratory at UCSB announced that they had found the gene p53 in nematode worms. A similar version of the gene in humans causes many cancers and the nematode worm could be used as a safer and simpler system on which to find and test potential cures.
  • UCSB ecology, evolution and marine biology professor Bill Rice and post-doctoral fellow Adam Chippindale published a paper on a fruit-fly breeding experiment that provided the first concrete evidence of the evolutionary benefits of sexual reproduction.
  • UCSB chemist Mattanjah S. de Vries helped to describe for the first time the zipper mechanism by which DNA molecules are held together.
  • The Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Dept. mounted research expeditions to Tahiti and Antarctica last summer.


  • Computer Motion, a company started by former UCSB student and professor Yulun Wang, performed the world’s first telesurgery. Doctors in New York operated on a patient in France using a remote controlled robot produced by the company. The company has worked closely with UCSB faculty and graduates over the years.
  • Researchers at the UCSB branch of the California NanoSystems Institute discovered how to control the spin of electrons. The breakthrough is the first step in the development of next generation computers that will use electron spin, rather than electrical current, to perform calculations.
  • UCSB computer science professor Ming Li helped to develop a JAVA version of the PatternHunter program, which will help to decipher the human genome. The advantage of a program written in the JAVA programming language is that it will run on any computer.
  • UCSB professors Atac Imamoglu, Evelyn Hu, and Pierre Petroff, along with their grad students, designed and constructed the world’s first single photon emission device. The device makes it possible to send messages which are impossible to intercept and could be the basis for a new type of computer which uses photons, rather than electrical current, to perform calculations.


  • Anthropologist and UCSB Emeritus Napoleon Chagnon, famous for studying a tribe of people known as the Yanomamo, was accused of unethical research practices in his dealings with the tribe. The accusations were made in the book Darkness in El Dorado, by journalist Patrick Tierney, and have since been the subject of heated debate among the members of the American Anthropological Association. The argument continues at the time of this writing.