By Alia Wilson

UC Santa Cruz has been making great strides in the field of scientific research for years, and within the last month has received honors and awards for its accomplishments.

At the beginning of February, research publication Science Watch ranked UCSC first for its physics research and fifth for its research in space science. Science Watch evaluates the citation impact of research papers from top U.S. universities.

David Belanger, professor and chair of physics at UCSC, credited the campus’ success to fundamental close collaboration and research that other researchers find useful in their own work. The physics department also has a strong recruitment program.

“We are one of the fastest growing undergraduate programs in physics within the nation,” Belanger said. “We are still growing, whereas many departments are decreasing.”

According to Belanger, having a very active senior thesis is also an important aspect of the physics program, where undergraduates work with faculty members before they can get their degree.

UCSC Associate Professor of Physics Sue Carter wrote in an email to City on a Hill Press (CHP) that as the only woman faculty member in the physics department, her research opportunities were never compromised. Because of the small boundaries between disciplines, she added, she was able to contribute to interdisciplinary fields more easily than at a larger institution.

“From the start, the department has been very supportive in allowing, and even enabling, me to pursue new research directions so I was able to bring my ideas to enter new cutting edge areas,” Carter said. “These new research directions, namely in the areas of [organic light-emitting diodes], solar cells, and biophysics, are my most-cited research papers and resulted in increasing the impact of my research overall.”

Physicists at UCSC are also gaining the support and recognition for their work with high-energy physics to address challenging problems in neurobiology.

In February, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund awarded a $500,000 career award to Alexander Sher, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Alan Litke, an adjunct professor of physics at UCSC. The National Institute of Health awarded Alan Litke a $395,000 grant last year. The money will be used to further their research in neural networks in the brain and retina.

Excellence in scientific exploration in biology was also accredited to UCSC. Terrie Williams, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was presented the 2007 Women of Discovery Award on March 1 in New York.

Williams is receiving the Sea Award for her work on Weddell seals in Antarctica. Other categories of awards include earth, courage, lifetime achievement, and field research.

To continue the encouragement of scientific research, UCSC hosted its seventh annual Expanding Your Horizons Conference (EYH) in Science, Math, and Engineering for girls in grades eight through 12 on Science Hill on March 3. More often than not, the first time the girls participate in the EYH Conference is also the first time they ever visit a university campus.

In addition to the EYH conference, the Academic Excellence Program (ACE) at UCSC is launching a program called Graduates and Seagate Researchers Offering Outreach Workshops (GROW), that will bring hands-on science workshops to local schools.

Through this program, graduate students in physical and biological sciences and professionals from Seagate Technology are able to travel to local classrooms and introduce the fundamental skills needed to pursue a career in the sciences.

Nancy Cox-Konopelski, director of the Academic Excellence Program, stressed the importance of continuing outreach within the field of science.

“We have served over 250 students, both boys and girls, with this program,” Cox-Konopelski said. “Part of GROW is to bring science from the hill to the classroom, and to let students see what people do with science in graduate school.”