Thomas Stahovich, UCR associate professor of mechanical engineering, has received a $40,000 grant from Microsoft Research to develop ways to use Tablet PC technology to tutor engineering students on the fundamental principles of analog circuit analysis.

Stahovich’s project, titled “A Pen-based Circuit Analysis Tutor,” is one of 11 projects funded from more than 165 proposals submitted from 18 countries. A panel of 40 people reviewed the projects from a wide cross-section of disciplines. The awards are part of Microsoft’s $500,000 Tablet PC Technology Curriculum and Higher Education Program to enrich the classroom experience in higher education.

The project will build upon technology Stahovich has been developing for several years that allows the Tablet PC to interpret hand-drawn circuit schematics. In the current work, Stahovich will create an intelligent tutoring system to teach students the fundamental principles of circuit analysis. The tutor will be used in the Electrical Engineering 001A course at UCR.

To use the system, the student will draw a circuit and write the governing equations. The system will then examine the circuit and equations and provide suggestions if there are errors.

“The system will, in effect, look over the student’s shoulder, give feedback, and offer guidance if the student gets stuck,” Stahovich said.

The UCR Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), one of the leading groups in the world doing theoretical modeling of the interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium, hosted the Fifth Annual International Astrophysics Conference titled "The Physics of the Inner Heliosheath: Voyager Observations, Theory and Future Prospects." The event, which is being held in Hawaii, started on March 3 and will continue through March 9, 2006.

During the conference, more than 70 national and international astrophysicists focused on the crossing by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in December 2004 of the heliospheric termination shock – the cocoon-like boundary where solar wind particles slow down to below supersonic speed (with respect to the sun) due to interactions with the galactic interstellar medium.

The cocoon is a barrier that prevents interstellar high-energy particles from irradiating life on Earth. Voyager 1, the farthest-reaching spacecraft in the solar system, has essentially found the skin of this cocoon. The spacecraft now has gone through the cocoon and “left the womb,” exposing itself to interstellar cosmic radiation.

Understanding the heliospheric termination shock helps scientists better understand the cosmic radiation in the interstellar medium to answer questions such as what the radiation is really like and how much energy is associated with it.

UCR researchers have discovered a molecular mechanism that directs the fate and function of cells during animal development. The findings could hold promise for the advancement of cancer and stem-cell research.

The journal Science published the research in its Feb. 24, 2006 issue. UCR Biochemistry Professor Frank Sauer, with German colleague Elisabeth Kremmer of the Institut für Molekulare Immunologie in Munich and fellow UCR researchers Tilman Sanchez-Elsner and Dawei Gou authored the paper.

Titled “Noncoding RNAs of Trithorax Response Elements Recruit Dosphila Ash1 to Ultrabithorax,” the paper explains how proteins, known as epigenetic activators – such as Ash1 from the fruit fly Drosophila – bind to their target DNA and activate genes that determine what function a cell will have in the body.

“The fact that these epigenetic activators, such as Ash1, turn on the expression of specific target genes has been known for some time. However, the mechanisms by which epigenetic activators recognize and bind these target genes was not yet known,” said Sauer.

Examining old-growth redwoods in the California counties of Humboldt and Del Norte, soil scientists Robert C. Graham and graduate student Heather A. Enloe (now at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wyoming) found soils up to one meter thick formed in bowl-like crotches and on massive limbs within the canopy of the forests.

These soils, called arboreal soils, are more than 50 meters above the forest floor and composed entirely of organic matter consisting of partially to wholly decomposed plant material such as fern biomass, redwood leaves and bark.

“In the forest canopy ecosystem, these arboreal soils are important habitats and sources of water and nutrients for desiccation-sensitive organisms, including epiphytic plants, which are plants that derive their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain, and usually grow on other plants,” said Graham, professor of soil mineralogy in the Department of Environmental Sciences.

The researchers, who were assisted in their work by Stephen C. Sillett of Humboldt State University, report that the arboreal soils on limbs dry out more quickly than the soils in crotches because the limbs, unlike the crotches, allow drainage.

Published in the Feb. 2, 2006 online issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal, the authors also found that the soils’ ability to retain plant-available water and nutrients increases as the soil materials become more decomposed.