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UCLA Campus Report: Curbing Pollution and Creating Jobs, More

This week’s post includes a study that identifies ways to curb climate pollution and create jobs, a link between decriminalizing prostitution and lowering occurrences of STDS, UCLA scientists studying Mercury's core and law students working with immigrants facing discrimination at home and seeking asylum in the United States.

Lot 4 - Closed
Lot 4 - Closed

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

Of course, the big news on campus was the flooding that occurred as a result of the water main break on Sunset Boulevard. Since we've covered that event extensively, I'm not including any updates in this post. I am including a photo I took on campus this week.

This week’s post includes a study that identifies ways to curb climate pollution and create jobs, a link between decriminalizing prostitution and lowering occurrences of STDS, UCLA scientists studying Mercury's core and law students working with immigrants facing discrimination at home and seeking asylum in the United States.

UCLA, EDF identify opportunities to curb climate pollution, spur clean energy jobs in L.A.

White House says the project’s clean energy maps answer call to unleash data and build climate resilience

Los Angeles County is currently leaving around 98 percent of its solar capacity untapped. Achieving just 10 percent of its rooftop solar potential could create 47,000 jobs and slash nearly 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — the equivalent of taking about half a million cars off the road — according to new findings released Tuesday by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and highlighted in a White House announcement.

"Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change," said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. "The commitments being announced today answer that call."

The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER) is a data-driven mapping tool designed to help communities identify opportunities to invest in projects that will save households money, create clean energy jobs, and strengthen climate resilience in vulnerable communities. Maps show the region’s clean energy potential — in the form of rooftop solar energy generation potential and energy efficiency potential — which can reduce greenhouse gases while creating jobs and cutting electricity bills.

LASER also illustrates climate change-related heat impacts that are expected in the Los Angeles region, with a focus on the 38 percent of Los Angeles County residents (3.7 million people) living in environmentally vulnerable communities burdened by air pollution and other risk factors, as identified by the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen). Based on analysis of CalEnviroScreen data, the report highlights that fully 50 percent of the state’s most vulnerable population lives in Los Angeles County. The state of California is expected to use the CalEnviroScreen to identify disadvantaged communities for the purpose of prioritizing funding from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

"The project is timely because with new state funding sources becoming available, LASER can help inform how the region invests resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities," said Colleen Callahan, lead author of the study and deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

"Data mapping tools like LASER provide powerful visualizations of the harmful effects that climate change can have on our most vulnerable populations, while highlighting the potential for significant economic growth and substantially healthier communities," said Jorge Madrid, EDF’s senior partnerships coordinator.

The new maps are a response to President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, a call to action to leverage public data in order to stimulate innovation and collaboration in support of national climate change preparedness. Alarming scientific findings from the National Climate Assessment show that climate change is already impacting all parts of the U.S., that arid regions like Los Angeles County can expect more intense heat waves in the coming decades, and that climate resilience planning and other adaptation measures are necessary.

"Los Angeles is at the forefront of fighting climate pollution, deploying clean energy and preparing for the already tangible effects of climate change," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who serves on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. "Through projects like the Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report, the city can help deploy more open data to inform community resiliency measures."

Decriminalizing prostitution linked to fewer STDs and rapes

A recently released study found some positive effects in Rhode Island after the state accidentally made prostitution legal for seven years

When the Rhode Island legislature inadvertently decriminalized indoor prostitution in the state from 2003 to 2009, it proved beneficial to UCLA public policy professor Manisha Shah.

Shah and her co-author Scott Cunningham of Baylor University examined data from that period, becoming the first social scientists to evaluate the decriminalization of prostitution using a natural experiment.

During those seven years the state saw a large decrease in rapes and a large reduction in gonorrhea incidence for men and women, according to the new study by Shah, an assistant professor of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Cunningham. Their paper, "Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health," was published recently in the Working Paper Series by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"Everything about this experiment is unusual, so in a way, we didn't know what was more surprising — that a state could ‘accidentally’ legalize indoor prostitution, that no one would practically know about it for 23 years, that we would be successful at obtaining so many different sources of data to investigate it, or that we would find reductions in reported rape offenses and gonorrhea rates," they said.

When the Rhode Island legislature amended a law in 1980, it inadvertently created a legal loophole that decriminalized paid consensual sex if it took place indoors. This result went unnoticed until 2003, when police took a number of massage parlor workers to court and lost because of this unanticipated interpretation of the law. It wasn’t until 2009 that new legislation was passed to re-criminalize indoor prostitution.

For the study’s co-authors, the incident provided the highly unusual opportunity in the United States to explore how decriminalizing prostitution affected the rate of sexually transmitted infections and the number of female rapes.

Shah and Cunningham examined various sources of data in their research. They checked whether prostitution arrests decreased using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports data. They also looked at the number of prostitutes to test whether the size of the indoor market increased post-decriminalization (as economic theory would predict).

Using data from weekly classified advertisements from the "adult services" sections of The Providence Phoenix as well as data from a popular online review site, the researchers found that the number of massage parlors and online sex workers increased and transaction prices decreased after decriminalization.

Shah and Cunningham also studied rates of gonorrhea incidence post-decriminalization using the Centers for Disease Control’s Gonorrhea Surveillance Program data, and data on forcible rape offenses and other crimes comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

Key findings from the study show that there were 31 percent or 824 fewer reported rapes and a decrease of approximately 2000 cases of gonorrhea during the seven years indoor prostitution was decriminalized. The authors note that the results suggest that "decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large — not just sex market participants."

Mercury's magnetic field tells scientists how its interior is different from Earth's

Earth and Mercury are both rocky planets with iron cores, but Mercury's interior differs from Earth's in a way that explains why the planet has such a bizarre magnetic field, UCLA planetary physicists and colleagues report.

Measurements from NASA's Messenger spacecraft have revealed that Mercury's magnetic field is approximately three times stronger at its northern hemisphere than its southern one. In the current research, scientists led by Hao Cao, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar working in the laboratory of Christopher T. Russell, created a model to show how the dynamics of Mercury's core contribute to this unusual phenomenon.

The magnetic fields that surround and shield many planets from the sun's energy-charged particles differ widely in strength. While Earth's is powerful, Jupiter's is more than 12 times stronger, and Mercury has a rather weak magnetic field. Venus likely has none at all. The magnetic fields of Earth, Jupiter and Saturn show very little difference between the planets' two hemispheres.

Within Earth's core, iron turns from a liquid to a solid at the inner boundary of the planet's liquid outer core; this results in a solid inner part and liquid outer part. The solid inner core is growing, and this growth provides the energy that generates Earth's magnetic field. Many assumed, incorrectly, that Mercury would be similar.

"Hao's breakthrough is in understanding how Mercury is different from the Earth so we could understand Mercury's strongly hemispherical magnetic field," said Russell, a co-author of the research and a professor in the UCLA College's department of Earth, planetary and space sciences. "We had figured out how the Earth works, and Mercury is another terrestrial, rocky planet with an iron core, so we thought it would work the same way. But it's not working the same way."

Mercury's peculiar magnetic field provides evidence that iron turns from a liquid to a solid at the core's outer boundary, say the scientists, whose research currently appears online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and will be published in an upcoming print edition.

"It's like a snow storm in which the snow formed at the top of the cloud and middle of the cloud and the bottom of the cloud too," said Russell. "Our study of Mercury's magnetic field indicates iron is snowing throughout this fluid that is powering Mercury's magnetic field."

The research implies that planets have multiple ways of generating a magnetic field.

Hao and his colleagues conducted mathematical modeling of the processes that generate Mercury's magnetic field. In creating the model, Hao considered many factors, including how fast Mercury rotates and the chemistry and complex motion of fluid inside the planet.

The cores of both Mercury and Earth contain light elements such as sulfur, in addition to iron; the presence of these light elements keeps the cores from being completely solid and "powers the active magnetic field–generation processes," Hao said.

Hao's model is consistent with data from Messenger and other research on Mercuryand explains Mercury's asymmetric magnetic field in its hemispheres. He said the first important step was to "abandon assumptions" that other scientists make.

"Planets are different from one another," said Hao, whose research is funded by a NASA fellowship. "They all have their individual character."

Co-authors include Jonathan Aurnou, professor of planetary science and geophysics in UCLA's Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences, and Johannes Wicht, a research scientist at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

UCLA School of Law asylum clinic holds promise of a new life

Law students shoulder a heavy responsibility as they work for months to prepare a man from Africa for his one chance at being granted asylum

In what must be one of the most unusual classes offered at UCLA, a group of 10 law students hold in their hands the fate of people who have found their way to the United States after being persecuted by their governments. These survivors of torture and trauma now fear for their lives if they are forced to return home.

For the students in the School of Law’s Asylum Clinic, it’s a heavy responsibility to shoulder as they work for months to prepare their client for this one chance at being granted asylum — a hearing at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Los Angeles Asylum Office in Anaheim.

In this feature produced by the UCLA Broadcast Studio, the poignant story of a man from Africa, whose identity, background and country must remain anonymous to protect family members still living there, unfolds. UCLA law students Jane Stack and Hammad Alam have been assigned to meticulously build his case for asylum with the help of two veteran attorneys from Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

For five months beginning in January, Stack and Alam establish a bond of trust with the man they call Andrew, painfully extracting and examining details of his detainment, torture and beatings on at least three separate occasions because government officials believed him to be disloyal.

The challenges are many. The two law students feel torn between the need to be objective to spot the "soft" points in his story where his credibility might be most vulnerable and the flood of compassion both feel for his plight. Here is a man who had to leave his young son behind in Africa to secure a better future for them both.

Andrew tried to put the immensity of what has happened to him in his own words: "The bad memories have covered all the beauty of what I had as a person," he said somberly. "And the beauty of what other people got out of me is all dead."

"Sometimes," Stack said, "it’s hard to go back and read what I’ve written … and realize that it’s 15 pages of real human suffering … But we have to distance ourselves from that and be as objective about it as possible so we can effectively apply the facts to the law and make a compelling claim for asylum. I’m trying to know the facts about his life and the law cold so that I can temper my emotions."