The spirit of inquiry at UC Santa Cruz

Welcome to the 5th edition of inquiry@UC Santa Cruz! This annual research magazine, collaboratively produced by the Office of Research and University Relations, highlights pioneering work conducted across the university’s broad suite of disciplines. Here, in stories created by alumni of our world-renowned Science Communication Master’s Program (see INQUIRINGminds), you’ll find narratives covering a wide range of topics: how different perspectives based on contemporaneous texts and artifacts influence our modern perceptions of the ancient world; the discovery of unexpected and elusive high-energy particles emitted from the atmospheric electrical maelstroms that commonly, and spectacularly, produce lightning; the creation of sound-based art using radio waves and radio-based technology as the artist’s palette; new molecular approaches to making more effective vaccines; and how to effectively—and responsibly—use Big Data to produce first-order insights of immediate societal relevance.

You’ll also find descriptions of some of the latest books authored by our faculty in the PEN&INQ section, and inventions discovered on our campus in inquiries&INNOVATIONS. From a picture-based overview of number theory to a patent-applied method for making plastics less toxic, UCSC investigators are making valuable contributions via a wide range of strategies.

We hope that you enjoy reading about the UCSC research on display in this 2019–2020 edition of inquiry@UC Santa Cruz. You can also access these stories—enhanced with hyperlinks, additional artwork, and references for “Further Inquiry”—in the e-magazines of this and past issues online at As evidenced in these pages, our research enterprise at UCSC continues to push the frontiers of knowledge forward in exciting and unexpected ways!

Scott A. Brandt Vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of Computer Science

University of California Santa Cruz

  • Chancellor: Cynthia K. Larive
  • Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor: Lori Kletzer (interim)
  • Vice Chancellor, Research: Scott Brandt
  • Vice Chancellor, University Relations: Jeff Skilling (interim)

inquiry@UC Santa Cruz, 2019-20

  • Editor: David Egerter (SciCom ‘88)
  • Creative Director: Lisa Nielsen
  • Art Director: Linda Knudson (Cowell ‘76)

Associate Editors

  • Quentin Williams, principal
  • Jeanne Lance


  • Ania Ananthaswamy (SciCom ‘00)
  • Emma Hiolski (SciCom ’17)
  • Alla Katsnelson (SciCom ‘17)
  • Jane Palmer (SciCom ’10)
  • Stephanie Pappas (SciCom ‘07)
  • Annie Roth (SciCom ‘18)
  • Ben Shouse (SciCom ‘01)
  • Alison F. Takemura (SciCom ‘16)
  • Erik Vance (SciCom ‘06)
  • Cameron Walker (SciCom ‘02)
  • K. M. Watson (SciCom ‘84)
  • Leslie Willoughby (SciCom ‘15)
  • Marcus Woo (SciCom ‘07)
  • Chris Woolston (SciCom ‘95)
  • Sascha Zubryd (SciCom ‘11)

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