Research grants foster north-south campus ties
What does creating a computer model that will help us better appreciate the aesthetics and engineering that went into the construction of an ancient lighthouse have in common with developing a better way to treat a hyperactive child?

The answer is that they are among the cutting-edge topics being pursued by recent recipients of Transdisciplinary Seed Grants, launched in spring 2011 by UCLA’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Academic Senate Council on Research. The program, now in its fourth cycle, offers funding of up to $25,000 per project to those who submit proposals based on north-campus-led, cross-disciplinary inquiry.
Since the program’s inception, 113 proposals have been received, and 41 have been funded. Submissions for the current round of funding are due Dec. 7. This quarter, there is a "heightened call" for research related to the fields of diversity, and health and welfare. In addition, two additional tracks — cultural misunderstanding and research informatics — have been added.
"I’ve always been interested in the Alexandria lighthouse," said Diane Favro, a professor of architecture and urban design, of the 400 foot-high stone structure that was built in Alexandria, Egypt, roughly 2,200 years ago. The lighthouse was damaged by several earthquakes, the latest of which claimed the last remnants in the 14th century.
The now destroyed Alexandria lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, has inspired UCLA researchers.
"It’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, along with Egyptian pyramids, and yet there’s nothing that remains of it," Favro said. "We only know it from written descriptions and a few little images on coins, and from a whole range of reconstruction done over the centuries."
That’s where she and Anthony Caldwell, director of technology from the architecture and urban design department, and Professor Ertugrul Taciroglu from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, come in. They are working on creating a computer model of the lighthouse.
"The reconstructions are fanciful, but don’t take into account what would actually be structurally possible," said Favro, noting that their work will shed new light on the structure and aid in future reconstruction and restoration efforts.
The three researchers would not be collaborating if it weren’t for the Transdisciplinary Seed Grant program, Favro noted. "It was a perfect coming-together, inspired by this research opportunity."
In addition to determining the number of stones needed to construct the lighthouse, the researchers are also trying to figure out how the builders carried the stones up what was essentially a 40-story building and what aspects of the design allowed it to remain standing for approximately 1,000 years. They are also tracking the seismic activity in and around Alexandria during that era, which will help with contemporary design recommendations, said Favro.
"I really like to work across disciplines because I find it exciting and stimulating to see how different people look at the same exact thing, and maybe even use the same exact words, and they mean something completely different. This stimulated my research because I’m now thinking about this lighthouse as an engineering challenge as well as an aesthetic challenge and a historical challenge."
A melding of the minds is also happening among Todd Franke, a social welfare professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs; Deborah Estrin, a computer science professor and founding director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing; and Bonnie Zima, a professor in residence in psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. They received seed grant funding to develop a pilot project to improve mental health care for children with ADHD. With an interest and background in mental health treatments for children, Franke and Zima contacted Estrin to explore how technology could help families of ADHD children.
Bonnie Zima is part of a team of UCLA researchers who are working on a pilot project that will hopefully improve mental health care for children with ADHD.
Together, they’re developing a novel way for parents to record their child’s ADHD symptoms and any side effects from their medications directly into their smartphones. Doctors would then be able to access the information from a database. In addition, entering data regularly would empower parents to communicate with their child’s medical team more efficiently and effectively, and it would heighten parents’ awareness of their child’s condition as they track their child’s health and wellness more closely.
"We’re trying to improve the chances that parents will feel listened to and that they will feel less anxious," said Zima, noting that lower-income families have higher clinic drop-out rates and reduced compliance with recommended treatment regiments. By having access to data entered in real-time, doctors will not need to ask the parents to repeatedly recall details regarding their child’s symptoms and side effects. This will improve the quality of information exchanged between the physician and the parents, reduce frustration and hopefully increase parents’ willingness to remain committed partners in their child’s care, Zima explained.
Zima lauded UCLA for having the foresight to fund such collaborations.
"We would have never been able to work together without this mechanism," she said. "This kind of transdisciplinary grant is what makes UCLA great. To give the faculty an opportunity to reach across campuses and disciplines is incredible."
To learn more about previous recipients or the current call for proposals, refer to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research website.
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