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.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

1. ‘Best Global Universities’ Are Right In Bay Area’s Backyard
CBS Bay Area Online

U.S. News & World Report has issued its annual global college rankings, with UC Berkeley in third place, edging out rival Stanford in fourth. As this article notes, California has many schools in the top 100 for "those of us who can’t get into Cal and Stanford." They include, Cal Tech (number 7), UCLA (8), UC San Diego (18), UCSF (22), UC Davis (37), USC (50), UC Santa Cruz (63) and UC Irvine (66). Global reputation and research volume are among the factors considered in the list’s methodology. Link to the source at U.S. News & World Report. Stories on this topic appeared in dozens of sources.
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2. Lots of Questions But No Easy Answers at the Berkeley Ideas Fest
KQED Online

A number of campus faculty weighed in on some weighty topics at Berkeleyside's Uncharted: A Festival of Ideas last Friday and Saturday. Among the speakers were molecular and cell biology professors Randy Schekman and Jennifer Doudna and electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Ken Goldberg. Professor Schekman, a Nobel Laureate, called for "curiosity-based science" instead of "top-down science" that is driven by corporate and government interests. He also said, "We may reach a point where we control our own evolution." Professor Doudna, who developed a revolutionary genetic engineering technology called CRISPR, talked about its promise, as well as her concerns about how it could be used. "Technology is always out in front of the understanding of ethical issues," she said. When Professor Goldberg, a roboticist, was asked whether it is possible to encode ethical behavior into machines, he said that while computers do not have initiative, "we have to be careful how we program them.”
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3. It doesn’t matter if deep learning mimics the brain or Watson is cognitive. It matters if they work

Electrical engineering and computer science professor Michael Jordan, a machine-learning expert, is quoted in a story about artificial intelligence and the concept of deep learning. He has tried to address some of the misconceptions about the technology, essentially saying it is not that revolutionary, that it's application is limited, and that deep learning models do not mimic real-life brain activity. A recent interview with Professor Jordan on this topic appeared in IEEE Spectrum.
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4. Could a robot do your job?
USA Today

A story about the potential of robots to take over low-skill jobs in the near future includes the following observation: "'Rosie' robot, the maid on the 1962-87 television show The Jetsons, is not likely soon, because multiple tasks are still out of reach, experts say. University of California-Berkeley researchers have been training a humanoid robot to fold towels. They succeeded, but it took the robot an average of more than 20 minutes to fold one."
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5. Biogas, a Low-Tech Fuel With a Big Payoff
New York Times (*requires registration)

Plant and microbial biology professor Chris Somerville, director of the Berkeley-affiliated Energy Biosciences Institute, and Heather Youngs, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute, comment on a centuries-old, low-tech fuel called biogas, produced by decaying plant matter and animal slurry. “It’s essentially the lowest technology on the planet, but it really works well. Long term, it is going to come, and it’s going to be big,” Professor Somerville says. “It’s very inexpensive.” Youngs refers to talk in the U.S. of creating a network of natural gas filling stations for trucks, which could also be used for biogas. “If the fracking boom can pay for that,” she says, “biogas can inherit that and green it.”
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6. Breeding Program May Save Desert Rodent
KCET Los Angeles Online

The endangered Amargosa vole, a desert rodent once thought extinct, is suffering from the effects of extended drought, but a captive breeding program is hoping to help it survive. The project is a collaboration between Berkeley researchers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.
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7. Termites or gophers: Who made the mima mounds?
BBC Online

Environmental science, policy and management graduate student Sarah Reed discusses one possible explanation for the existence of the mima mounds in a prairie near the city of Olympia, Washington. The mounds are meter-high hillocks that stand in formation, without touching, across more than 600 acres. While some have explained them as the work of everything from termites to aliens, some scientists have explored the possibility of gophers. They question, however, why animals that typically only leave piles of earth in their wake would bother with such a giant construction project. Reed says: "The idea is that the gophers are more likely to build up these habitats where the soil would be less saturated." She notes that gophers are half blind and avoid going above ground because of the threat posed by predators, but as landscapes age the habitable soil layer becomes thinner and the foundational layer hardens to the point where, when it rains, the topsoil becomes saturated. This leaves the soil levels in which the gophers live without sufficient oxygen. "These gophers spend 99% of their lives underground so they are very easily affected by any changes in the soil," Reed says. The theory is they build up the mounds to get above the water table.
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8. Ex-Indian Envoy Sheds Light on 3 Indian Women Revolutionaries
India West

India’s former ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Menon Rao, recently spoke at Berkeley's annual Sarah Kailath Memorial Lecture Series on Women and Leadership, and she took the opportunity to highlight three influential but relatively unknown women from Indian history. The women were Hansa Jivraj Mehta, Vijayalakshmi Pandit and Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, and Rao said of them: "This trinity of women remains as revolutionary and path-breaking today as it was 60 years ago, when we emerged as a young democracy. The roads they traveled, the gulfs they bridged, the authorities they challenged, make their stories educating and inspirational.”
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9. Cal's graduation rates improve
San Jose Mercury News (*requires registration)

The NCAA has released this year's report on college Graduation Success Rate (GSR) scores, a measurement of the rates of student-athletes who enrolled between 2004-07 and completed their degrees within six years. Overall, Cal graduated 80 percent of its athletes, with five programs at 100 percent. The football and men's basketball teams showed improvement, but still lagged. The football team gained seven points for a score of 51 percent, while the men's basketball team gained eight points for a score of 46 percent. Berkeley's interim athletic director Michael Williams said he is encouraged by the classroom progress of the Bears' high-profile teams. "It takes a while to move a four-year average, such as the GSR, and we recognize that. … There are areas where we are not pleased with our score, but our focus is on what we are doing moving forward." Other stories on this topic appeared in Inside Higher Ed, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle Online.
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10. UC Berkeley Police On Alert After Students Are Attacked, Robbed On Campus
CBS Bay Area Online

UC police are warning the community to take care following three robbery/assaults that occurred on campus Saturday night. All of the victims were male students, and two suffered minor injuries in the attacks. Police were unable to find the suspects.
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