Jeffrey Gilger Named SSHA Dean

A familiar face has a new role at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Jeffrey Gilger was appointed as the school’s dean following a comprehensive national search. Gilger, who was serving as interim dean, took on the permanent role on March 15. The professor of psychological sciences has been with UC Merced since 2011, and previously held academic and administrative positions at several major universities. Gilger, who serves on numerous advisory or review boards for grant agencies, established the UC Merced Alliance for Child and Family Health and Development, which serves people in Merced County and local rural mountain communities. He also led a California First Five project, “Help for My Child,” that served as a resource for referrals and information on disabilities in children ages 0-5.

Sarah Kurtz Breaks New Ground for Engineering Faculty

Congratulations to Professor Sarah Kurtz, the first UC Merced faculty member to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Kurtz, who joined the university in 2017, performs research that involves understanding and improving photovoltaic systems. She also studies trends in renewable energy and tracks any impediments to its growth. Her election to the NAE was specifically in recognition of her contributions to the development of gallium indium phosphide/gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells and for her leadership in solar-cell reliability and quality. “The membership is a special recognition that I deeply appreciate,” Kurtz said. “I expect there will be many more NAE members from UC Merced.”

The membership is a special recognition that I deeply appreciate. I expect there will be many more NAE members from UC Merced.


Professor’s Insight into Infants Explored in Netflix Series

For psychology Professor Eric Walle, the “a-ha” moment happened a decade ago when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. His research determined that babies who can walk tended to have better vocabularies than those who crawled. “It was a finding that just didn’t exist in the literature,” Walle said. That discovery is part of a docuseries currently on Netflix and called, aptly enough, “Babies.” Walle’s work is featured in the episode “First Steps,” which also features the family of a colleague. Political science Professor Matt Hibbing, his wife, Jessica Mohatt, and their daughter, Penelope, have participated in Walle’s ongoing studies. We see them record Penelope’s words during a visit to Merced’s Applegate Zoo.


Computer Lab Taps into Innovations for Mobile Phones

Students and a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering have developed two ways to improve how people tap information into their mobile phones. Professor Ahmed Arif and a lab group designed a keyboard that allows blind and low-sighted users to increase their typing speed. The project’s simplified keyboard employs eight keys in a row. Touching a key enters the letter assigned to that key, while tapping two-key combinations generates other letters. For the second mobile innovation, Arif, along with graduate students Laxmi Pandey and Azar Alizadeh, guided a lab group in a project that used deep learning and text-based querying to develop predictive entries and editing of numbers.

It reduces the actions needed per task, and also significantly reduces the time and effort needed to fix errors.


Bioengineering Project Studies Causes of Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to a wound, to help with healing and fend off infection. But sometimes inflammation becomes chronic, leading to diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Bioengineering Professor Eva de Alba was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the dynamics and function of proteins that cause inflammation. Graduate student Pedro Diaz-Parga is working with de Alba on the project. “The inflammation process is very diverse,” Diaz-Parga said. “It has a wide range of different stimulants that could cause it to react.”

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DECEMBER 2019 - MARCH 2020

  • Sapana Doshi
  • Tracey Osborne