Looking back on the most notable scientific accomplishments and breakthroughs made by UCSB researchers during the 2022-23 year.



Modern love

By: Samarah Paulino

Much research has been done on the premise of love. However, little has been explored regarding how cultural influences may affect an individual’s love experiences. A study by Piotr Sorokowski from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, along with fellow researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam, a psychological & brain sciences professor from UC Santa Barbara, attempts to fill in this gray area by looking at intimacy, passion and commitment patterns across countries in relation to varying modernization indexes. Surveys across 45 different countries found positive correlations between modernization and levels of how intimate, passionate and committed couples were — what the authors described as “love levels.” Countries with higher levels of modernization had higher love levels compared to countries with more traditional cultures. However, a drop was noticed for countries with the highest levels of modernization, possibly describing a point in development at which the effects of love may become or seem less beneficial. A correlation was also noticed with regard to collectivism, the nature of putting one’s society before themselves: the researchers found that countries with higher levels of collectivism also produced higher levels of intimacy and commitment. This suggests the idea that individuals with collectivist values more highly prioritize connectivity and relational bonds within romantic relationships. Although no definite conclusion can be drawn, this study proposes the idea that differences in cultures can affect one’s attitude towards love and how modernization and collectivism may be significant factors.


Mental health mindfulness

By: Kaitlin Lee

Latinx youth are the fastest growing ethnic group, yet mental health among this community has been little studied. UCSB researchers from the Department of Clinical, Counseling & School Psychology, including Alissa Der Sarkissian, Jill Sharkey and Alison Cerezo investigated mental health in Latinx youth and the physical symptoms, termed “somatic complaints,” that mental illness causes. Somatic complaints are physical symptoms of mental illness such as stomach aches and headaches. An individual might bring excessive attention to these sensations, worsening their symptoms and mental health in the process. The study used hierarchical linear regressions to model somatic complaints and the environmental stressors that contribute to them. The researchers found the most affected groups to be females and third-generation immigrants. It also showed that youth were less likely to have somatic complaints if a relationship with a supportive adult was established. The study emphasized the importance of considering factors and demographics such as mental health stigma, acculturation, immigration status and gender when studying mental health.


Food footprints

By: Roshan Mishra

Mainstream media attention regarding climate change usually focuses on the pollution by the fossil fuel industry, explaining how, among other things, they break down the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. However, an often overlooked aspect of environmental change is how food production for certain countries has played a part in this. Whether it be through the overfishing of marine habitats or land-based factory farming, political and social efforts to remedy the rampant effects of climate change have usually turned a blind eye to  the immense effects of food production. More alarmingly, just five nations have been responsible for over half of the cumulative global food footprint, a discovery made by UCSB’s very own National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine biology. It’s likely that less action and attention have been granted to this aspect of climate change because of how vital food production is to humanity’s survival on this planet. Nevertheless, even if sudden changes in our food production might now seem to be disruptive to our short-term lifestyles, solutions in the form of sustainable agriculture and overall food production are crucial to our long-term survival on this planet. 


A new antibiotic

Maya Rink

This February, researcher for UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology Douglas Heithoff and his team recognized COE2-2 hexyl, a compound that demonstrated broad-spectrum antibacterial activity. This compound is unique to other antibiotics, as it did not trigger the microbial bacterial resistance during testing that typically occurs. This means that this antibiotic could be transformative to the world of bacterial infection treatment, as it offers a solution without negatively affecting other elements of patients’s immune systems. COE2-2 hexyl offers many other advantages as well, from demonstrated safety in testing to simplicity and affordability. Heithoff and his team are currently working diligently to introduce this groundbreaking discovery to modern medicine.  


Coral bleaching:
Saanvi Tiwary 


Coral reef resilience is difficult to study due to coral’s extensive life span and long recovery rate. However, UCSB doctoral candidate Kai Kopecky has developed a way to investigate the dynamics of reefs following disturbance events. Coral bleaching, triggered by high temperatures, results in the expulsion of symbiotic colorful algae and leaves the coral vulnerable, while tropical storms often cause the complete removal of coral structures from the reef. The researchers observed a significant bleaching event in the long-studied coral reef ecosystem of Mo’orea in French Polynesia, where past studies have revealed that the reef alternates between coral and macroalgae — like seaweed — dominance. Kopecky created a mathematical model to quantify the effects of reef disturbances that incorporated variables such as live and dead coral, exposed and protected algae and empty areas with potential for colonization by either coral or macroalgae. The model also considered factors like coral and algae growth rates, coral mortality and erosion rates and algae overgrowth rate. Kopecky’s study demonstrated that these events, like bleaching and tropical storms, and specifically the coral skeletons which remain — termed “material legacies,” — can in fact hinder coral recovery. The skeletons provide protection for algae against herbivores, which can lead to the ecosystem becoming algae-dominant and has the potential to affect reef resilience and cause more coral to die. Future studies may provide insight into the broader implications of disturbances and their lasting effects on various ecological systems.


Little Lasers
By: Olivia Gil de Bernabe

Lasers with linewidth frequencies below 10 MHz (10000000 cycles/second) are critical to many scientific fields, from metrology, the study of measurement, to quantum physics and the manipulation of fundamental matter. In October of 2022, UC Santa Barbara researchers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering published a paper demonstrating the viability of a compact integrated laser system they developed with researchers from other institutions. The new lasers, which are narrow-linewidth and frequency-stable, outperform traditional fiber lasers, whose costly materials, bulk, and inadequate noise reduction render them limited in application. Key to the new laser system are a vacuum-gap cavity and microfabricated mirrors that hold the lasers together, allowing for “extraordinarily low” noise. These new lasers meets the size, integration and performance demands of exciting advances in high-precision GPS-free positioning and commercial 5G communications.