Research pushes forward

Dentist, Professor Devise a Smart Retainer

A Merced dentist and a UC Merced computer science and engineering professor are developing a retainer that senses how teeth interact.

The retainer can detect occlusion, which refers to how upper and lower teeth contact each other when chewing or speaking, or when the mouth is at rest. Bad alignment can cause a variety of problems, including teeth grinding and uneven wear, toothaches and fractures, headaches, and speech and sleep disorders.

Professor Shijia Pan, who was worked on human-centric information inference for digital health applications such as smart elderly care and fine-grained patient profiles, was inspired by a visit to Dr. Jun Ho Lee, a Merced dentist. The two are working with Professor VP Nguyen from the University of Texas, Arlington, on the retainer project.

“A lot of people have problems and might not realize that it's because of their teeth,” Pan said. “We wondered if we could build a sensor that would monitor the teeth and detect or even prevent these problems.”

Professor Joins Cutting-Edge Field of Chemistry

What might emerge from a revolutionary field of study Professor Christine Isborn has entered? She’s not entirely sure.

And that’s exciting.

“It’s all very exploratory. We don’t really know how it works or what is possible yet,” Isborn said of the field of polariton chemistry. “It's a new area for me, but thankfully the rest of the team are pioneers who have been working to understand this new field for a while.”

Isborn is partnering with researchers at UC San Diego, City University of New York and Pennsylvania State University. The five-year collaboration is funded with $7.5 million from the federal Department of Defense.

Polaritons are the optical excitations that emerge when molecular transitions interact strongly with confined electromagnetic fields. Polaritons can induce long-range excitation energy transfer, enhance charge conductivity and inhibit or accelerate chemical reactions.

“You’re putting molecules in, essentially, a tiny cavity or box,” Isborn explained. “By shining light on the molecules while they are in this cavity, we’re able to access different electronic states.”

These new energy levels offer the possibility of opening new frontiers in chemistry.

“We don’t really know how it works or what is possible yet,” Isborn said.

Study Links Risky Feeding Practices to Formula Shortage, COVID

The recent national shortage of baby formula has compounded the prevalence of feeding practices during the COVID-19 pandemic that can endanger infants’ health, a UC Merced study says.

The study conducted by the university’s Lactation Attachment Technology and Child Health (LATCH) Lab in collaboration with UC Irvine and the University of Toronto suggests the pandemic had a greater impact on infants whose families relied on formula rather than human milk.

Department of Psychological Sciences Professor Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, the senior author, and graduate student Jessica Marino, first author, conducted an online survey with more than 300 U.S. caregivers of infants.

Families with lower incomes were more likely to have problems acquiring formula, leading to the impossible choice of letting their babies go hungry or resorting to dangerous practices such as adding extra water, juice, cow’s milk or rice cereals.

"Given how widespread formula shortages are now, this is bad news for babies who are likely getting suboptimal nutrition as parents scramble to make formula last," said Hahn-Holbrook, a member of the Health Sciences Research Institute.

"In a country that can agree on few things,” Marino added, “this is one issue we can all get behind: that no baby in the United States should go hungry."


Confirmed as U.S. Office of Science Director

“Professor Behre Goes to Washington.” Finally.

On May 10, the U.S. Senate confirmed UC Merced Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe as director of the Office of Science in the federal Department of Energy. The confirmation came more than a year after her nomination by the Biden administration.

She is a renowned professor of soil biogeochemistry in the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences; the Ted and Jan Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences and Geology; and the interim associate dean for Graduate Education.

Berhe will serve in Washington, D.C., taking a leave of absence from the university.

“I hold the Office of Science and DOE National labs with highest regard as, since the time I was a graduate student and until now, DOE funding and national labs have played important role in my own scientific training and research, and the training of my mentees,” Behre said.

UC Merced made an impressive showing in U.S News & World Report’s latest graduate school rankings. Twelve graduate programs, along with the School of Engineering, were considered among the nation’s best.

Here are the results (with the previous year’s ranking where applicable):

"It is exciting to see that our graduate programs continue to gain national recognition; it is a testament to the impact of our faculty in teaching and research."

Interim Vice Provost and Graduate Dean Chris Kello

School of Engineering No. 116 (119)


Computer Engineering No. 94 (97) Computer Science No. 115 (119) Materials Engineering No. 91 (97) Mechanical Engineering No. 122 (127) Biomedical Engineering No. 119 Electrical Engineering No. 128 Environmental Engineering No. 84

Quantitative and Systems Biology No. 144 (175) Chemistry and Chemical Biology No. 115 (122) Applied Mathematics No. 132 (144) Physics No. 138 (146)

Psychology No. 88 (90)

TEENIE Matlock


Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Teenie Matlock, a founding faculty member, announced in April that she will step down after four years in the role. On July 1, Matlock will return to the UC Merced faculty to continue research on the use and understanding of everyday language, especially the role of metaphor in public discourse. Matlock, a professor of cognitive science, joined UC Merced in 2004.



Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Teenie Matlock, a founding faculty member, announced in April that she will step down after four years in the role. On July 1, Matlock will return to the UC Merced faculty to continue research on the use and understanding of everyday language, especially the role of metaphor in public discourse. Matlock, a professor of cognitive science, joined UC Merced in 2004.

A New Chapter for Founding Professor Winston

Distinguished Professor Roland Winston, one of the original eight founding faculty members, is retiring from UC Merced. But at the age of 86, he is not bringing his research and work to a close — he is shifting focus to his company, Winston Cone Optics.

A leader in the field of solar energy research, Winston and several alumni who graduated from his lab are concentrating on bringing

lower-cost, higher-efficiency solar installations to market for industries such as food processing, agriculture, manufacturing and desalination.

Winston is the first of the original eight to retire, but he and his company will continue to work with student and faculty researchers at UC Merced.

Drones, Robots Dazzle,


We hold this truth to be self-evident: Science is cool.

As the weather warms up and the effects of the global pandemic cool down, UC Merced faculty and students are ramping up plans to take the wonders of science on the road.

A recent example was the Tri-Valley Innovation Fair in Pleasanton, where a team of engineering students brought hands-on lessons on drones and robotics to hundreds of children and families.

“Drones and robots are a gateway, a spark for young people to explore STEM,” said Leigh Bernacchi, program director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute at UC Merced, who led the trip to the March 19 fair in Pleasanton.

With UC Merced’s Mobile Maker Lab (its friends call it Mobi) as headquarters, the CITRIS team taught young people to write simple programs in Python to make drones fly a pattern. At another station, people maneuvered robots on wheels through a short course. The robots are used routinely used to inspire Merced middle schoolers about robotics and coding.

Mobi is supported by the university’s Foundation Board of Trustees, Joseph Gallo Farms and HP to help faculty and students bring science lessons to area schools and community events. Faculty have begun programming school visits with Mobi, with planned lessons on robotics and marine biology.

Faculty Honor Peers

With Academic Senate Awards

Nine faculty members nominated by their UC Merced peers received Academic Senate Awards for the 2021-22 academic year. Honorees from across the university’s schools were recognized for outstanding teaching, research, impacts on their fields and mentorship, as well as their dedication to diversity and scholarly public service.

Patti LiWang School of Natural Sciences Dr. Fred Spiess Award for Distinguished Service to the Academic Senate Elaine Denny School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching for a Senate Faculty Member Katrina Hoyer School of Natural Sciences Distinguished Graduate Teaching/Mentorship Xuecai (Susan) Ge School of Natural Sciences Distinguished Early Career Research Ashlie Martini School of Engineering Distinction in Research

Edward Orozco Flores School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Josh Viers School of Engineering Excellence in Faculty Mentorship Maria Martin School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Contributions to Diversity Kristina Callaghan School of Natural Sciences Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching for a Non-Senate Faculty Member


February 1 - May 30, 2022

  • Kaddy Aguilar
  • Annabella Nouel Barreto
  • Sara Furioli
  • Mahdi Ghadiri Motlagh
  • Dohyun Go
  • Karendeep Kahlon
  • Daniel Holman
  • Chelsea Danielle Moniz
  • Paulette Sofia Romero-Perez
  • Ashley Valle Arevalo