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UCLA Campus Report: The Secret Math of Plants, Studying Tube Transit and more

A look at some of the non-sports stories making headlines around campus

Janss Steps
Janss Steps

An occasional report from around campus that recognizes that UCLA is an institution with a world-class reputation for research and innovation and whose people make real impact on the real world:

This week's news includes research that unravels the secret life of plants (and how they are designed) and UCLA's partnership with the private sector to study tube transit systems.

The secret math of plants: UCLA biologists uncover rules that govern leaf design

UCLA's scientists have discovered fundamental rules of leaf design that underlie plants' ability to produce leaves that vary enormously in size. In their mathematical design, leaves are the "perfect machines," said Lawren Sack, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the research.

The UCLA team discovered the mathematical relationships using "allometric analysis," which looks at how the proportions of parts of an organism change with differences in total size. This approach has been used by scientists since Galileo but had never before been applied to the interior of leaves. The biologists focused on how leaf anatomy varies across leaves of different sizes. They examined plant species from around the world, all grown on the UCLA campus.

The design of the leaf provides insights into how larger structures can be constructed without losing function or stability.

"Fundamental discoveries like these highlight the elegant solutions evolved by natural systems," Sack said. "Plant anatomy often has been perceived as boring. Quantitative discoveries like these prove how exciting this science can be. We need to start re-establishing skill sets in this type of fundamental science to extract practical lessons from the mysteries of nature. There are so many properties of leaves we cannot yet imitate synthetically. Leaves are providing us with the blueprints for bigger, better things. We just have to look close enough to read them."

UCLA Architecture and Urban Design partners with Hyperloop to study tube transit system

UCLA Architecture and Urban Design (A.UD) has announced it will partner with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc., which is backed by JumpStartFund, for its 2014-15 master of architecture II program, known as SUPRASTUDIO.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is a newly created company that aims to bring to life entrepreneur Elon Musk's Hyperloop concept: a high-speed tube transit system that could whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 30 minutes. Engineers Marco Villa, former director of missions operations at SpaceX, and Patricia Galloway, the first female president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, will spearhead the development of Hyperloop. The project was created through JumpStartFund, a crowd-powered online incubator led by CEO Dirk Ahlborn and chief operating officer Paul Coleman, a UCLA professor emeritus of physics.

UCLA in the News

New Insights Into Concussion in Young Athletes

The Los Angeles TimesCBS News, and NBC reported on an Institute of Medicine study co-authored by Mayumi Prins, UCLA associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, that looked at the high rate of concussions among young athletes. Prins was quoted in the coverage, and Dr. Christopher Giza, associate professor of neurosurgery and pediatric neurology at the Geffen School of Medicine and Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, was interviewed by CBS.

How Sugar Affects the Brain

An io9 article cited a UCLA study led by Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, showing that a high-fructose diet can slow the brain and hamper memory and learning in rats.

Kids and Bike Helmets

HealthDay News reported on a study led by Dr. Veronica Sullins, visiting assistant researcher in the surgery department at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, showing that only 11 percent of Los Angeles County children treated for bicycle-related injuries between 2006 and 2011 were wearing helmets.

What's Going on With Plagiarism

Robert Fink, UCLA professor of musicology, was interviewed on KPCC-89.3 FM's "AirTalk" about a music plagiarism case brought by the family of the late Marvin Gaye against Robin Thicke.

Hard-Wired to Connect Socially

"Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect," a book by Matthew Lieberman, UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, that explains why the need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food and shelter was highlighted by the New York Times Book, the Digital Journal, and the Atlantic.

Exercise Strengthens Relationships

New Zealand's Dominion Post reports today on research by Thomas Bradbury, UCLA professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, that found that couples who exercise together find it easier to lose weight, and they end up with stronger relationships. Bradbury is quoted.