Campus selects eight centers as organized research units

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

Focus of new organized research units

06 SEPTEMBER 00 | In the first-ever campus call for new organized research units, eight interdisciplinary fields, chosen for their promise to provide leadership in new or emerging disciplines, have been awarded university funds totaling $1 million to begin operations as formal research units.

Newcomers to the status of organized research unit were selected for the richness, diversity and the excellence of their research. Those chosen are:

o The Consortium for the Arts and the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture, both in the arts and humanities;

o The Center for the Study of California Environments and Biological Diversity and the Functional Genomics Laboratory, both in the biological sciences;

o The Center for African Studies, which falls in the field of international and area studies;

o The Center for Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for Integrative Planetary Science, representing the physical sciences;

o The Center for Child and Youth Policy, which falls in the social sciences.

"With a special allocation provided by Chancellor Berdahl, this is the first time that the campus has been able to broadly create new opportunities for organized research that will help position the campus's scholarly expertise for the challenges and emerging technologies facing us," said Joseph Cerny, vice chancellor for research. "We hope that the formation of these new organized research units will facilitate faculty alliances in a variety of new joint research programs and collaborative initiatives."

Inez Fung, new director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences, is excited about the prospects for uniting traditional disciplines to study earth's changing atmospheric composition and its consequences on the biosphere.

"Our new center will allow us to formulate new scientific questions at the boundaries of traditional disciplines, such as tectonics and climate, which merge the traditional disciplines of geology and atmospheric science," Fung said. "We will be looking as a whole at the rate of atmospheric changes brought on by the burning of fossil fuels, chlorofluorocarbons - which are depleting the ozone layer, increased greenhouse gases, dusts and aerosols, and how these manmade emissions are impacting our atmosphere. We will also begin to address smaller scale problems, such as the climate and chemistry of California."

The new Functional Genomics Laboratory, led by John Ngai of Molecular and Cell Biology Department, will design cutting-edge technologies that will allow Berkeley researchers to "fingerprint" different cells and tissues, based on a precise survey of gene expression, from tens of thousands of genes at a time. "At the level of basic science, this will allow us to understand what makes different cells 'tick,'" he said.

Charles Altieri, a professor of English and art practice, expects the new Consortium for the Arts will entice critically acclaimed artists in various disciplines to campus for extended stays, "where they can work with our own faculty, attend seminars and engage in a lively exchange of ideas about the arts."

In addition to the new organized research units, a new organized research project, called the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, was awarded funding for 10 years to carry out a highly specialized study of Berkeley's rare collection of papyri manuscripts.

"The Bancroft Library possesses over 20,000 papyrus fragments excavated at Tebtunis, Egypt 100 years ago, with the generous financial support of Phoebe Apperson Hearst," said Classics Professor Donald Mastronarde, new project director. "Papyrus is the ancient equivalent of paper, made with fibers of the papyrus plant native to Egypt. The excavated fragments contain scraps of writing in Greek and Demotic Egyptian, but only about 5 percent of this treasure trove has been studied."

The call for a campuswide competition generated considerable interest, Cerny said. Forty-seven preproposals were reviewed in the spring of 1999 and were winnowed down to 12 finalists.

Then, during the mandated "Sunset to Dawn Review" of organized research units in the 1999-2000 academic year, 31 faculty experts constituting seven separate review panels were brought in from across the country to evaluate the accomplishments of all 32 existing organized research units and to judge the merits of the proposed new interdisciplinary research units. One organized research unit was dismantled as part of the "sunset" review, while eight were elevated to the "dawn" of a new status and a 15-year lifetime before the next mandatory sunset review is to be conducted.

"The $1 million set aside for new organized research units represented an extraordinary opportunity to realign and rekindle our strengths in some disciplines, such as the arts and humanities, the physical sciences, mathematics and the social and behavioral sciences," Cerny said. "We haven't received state funding for the establishment of new organized research units since 1971, and the recession of the 1990s added to that shortfall. We underwent major budget cuts that caused a total reduction of more than 30 percent of permanent funding for organized research units."

Beginning January 1, 2001, the new centers will receive $100,000 annually over the next five years to carry out interdisciplinary research. Each unit will also begin planning campaigns to raise extramural funds and preliminary plans for public service and campus outreach programs.

Focus of new organized research units

Consortium for the Arts: Charles Altiere, English and Art Practice. Focus: Unify the arts in allied disciplines such as computer technology, the humanities and social sciences.
Center for the Study of Sexual Culture: Michael Lucey, French and Comparative Literature.
o Promote a cross-disciplinary focus on institutions, practices and norms that establish meanings for sexuality.

Center for African Studies: Gillian Hart, Geography.
o Foster research, teaching on Africa and support faculty work in 24 departments.

Center for Atmospheric Sciences: Inez Fung, Earth and Planetary Science/Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
o Study questions critical to changing composition of earth's atmosphere and its influence on climate.
Center for Integrative Planetary Science: Geoffrey Marcy, Astronomy.
o Explore frontiers in origins and geochemical evolution of planets and planetary systems.

Center for Child and Youth Policy: Mary Ann Mason, Social Welfare.
o Provide focused interdisciplinary forum for understanding of emerging issues in state policies.

Center for the Study of California Environments and Biological Diversity: Mary Powers, David Lindberg, Integrative Biology.
o Promote research in plant, animal life diversity, particularly in California, and investigate complex interactions shaping and sustaining environmental patterns. Functional Genomics Laboratory: John Ngai, Molecular and Cell Biology.
o Conduct large scale study of expressed genomes; acquire instruments and research methods; facilitate collaborations among Berkeley faculty and researchers worldwide.

Center for the Tebtunis Papyri: Donald Mastronarde, Classics.
o Preserve, document collection of papyri and further university's place in a major, national collaborative effort



Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail