News Article | May 9, 2017
A study led by ecologists at UC Berkeley has found significant flaws in the research used to challenge the U.S. Forest Service plan to restore Sierra Nevada forests to less dense, and less fire-prone, environments. Until recently, the consensus among forest ecologists was that before European settlers arrived in the Sierra, the forests were mostly open conifer forests dominated by big trees and low-to-moderately severe fires every eight to 12 years. The Forest Service recently released a plan to restore the range's forests back to this state following decades of fire suppression and timber harvesting regulations, which have created dense, fire-prone forests. But recent studies, using a newly developed methodology, have argued that the Sierra Nevada was actually a more dense forest than the consensus view. These new studies were used to back a lawsuit to stop the agency's plan to restore Sierra forests following the 2013 Rim Fire. The Berkeley study refutes the conclusions of these studies and identifies flaws in their methods. "We went through the data and showed that, in every case, this method estimated that the density of trees was two to three times higher than was the reality," said Carrie Levine, a Ph.D. student of forest ecology at Berkeley and lead author of the study. The study was recently published online in the journal Ecological Applications. Researchers from Harvard Forest, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, the University of Montana, Utah State University, the University of California Davis, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region were also involved in the study. When the US was divvying up land in the West in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the General Land Office performed surveys so that the land could be parceled and sold. Land was divided into square-mile blocks, with markers used to indicate every corner point. In case a marker was moved, so-called "witness trees" near the stake were identified as reference points. The result of this data is a grid survey of the entire American West. Using this historic field data, two ecologists at the University of Wyoming, Mark Williams and William Baker, developed a method that claims to calculate the area that a tree occupies, which is then used to calculate a forest's density. This approach is based on the observation that trees create space to keep other trees from cramming next to them, and that this space correlates to a tree's species and size. To assess the validity of this area-based method of density estimation in the Sierra Nevada, Levine and her co-authors assembled data from plots of mapped trees across the Sierra and Baja California, Mexico. They tested the performance of the area-based method in these mapped stands where the true density was known. Levine and colleagues found that the area-based method has two basic flaws when applied to the Sierra, the most notable being an inability to actually predict the area that a tree occupies based on its species and size due to a weak relationship between these variables. The other flaw was a failure to account for differences in the number of trees sampled at each corner. The methodological flaws led to an inflated number of trees estimated in a pre-European Sierra Nevada forest, Levine and colleagues argue. "We have a mapped plot where every tree is measured, so we know the true density," Levine said. The study is important not only for the current state of the Sierra Nevada, but for its future. "As climate changes, we want to have an accurate understanding of the past. This allows us to manage for forests that are resilient to the changes we're expecting in the future," Levine said.
News Article | March 4, 2017
Giant pandas have the scientific community's attention not only because of the animal's cuteness but because it has been on the endangered species list for the past decade. Only having been removed in September 2016 — when its population finally increased by 17 percent between 2004 and 2014 — pandas are still considered vulnerable. China, however, disagrees with the removal. Despite the roller-coaster ride concerning its endangered species status, the giant panda continues to be a subject of interest of scientists, who are concerned, among other things, about decoding the language or verbal cues the species use in the wild. Some believe that giant pandas are on the endangered species list because of their lack of survival instincts, making them an easy target for predators — humans included. But a study deconstructing the species' unique coloration proves that the giant panda has some form of survival mechanism, though it is not aggressive. Prior to investigating the giant panda's unique fur pattern, University of California Davis Wildlife Biology Professor Tim Caro first studied why zebras have black and white stripes and how the unique pattern actually benefits the animals. Just to answer that question, Caro determined that zebra patterns help keep biting flies away the way a personal insect repellent would. When the zebra mystery finally closed, it was only natural to move on to the next black and white creature in the animal kingdom. Caro, with the help of colleagues from UC Davis and the California State University - Long Beach, looked at thousands of pictures of giant pandas to determine why they are unique. The answer came when, instead of looking at the bigger picture, the team focused on panda parts instead. After scouring thousands of photos — and experiencing immense difficulty in trying to figure out pandas due to a lack of similar species for comparison — the team decided to deconstruct the creature by treating every part of the panda's body as an independent area of study. After this, the team compared the fur in different areas of the panda's body to the coloration of other animals, including 195 carnivorous species and 39 bear subspecies, which it is related to, and they determined that the main function of the panda's coloration and pattern have to do with concealing itself from predators. Caro said that the panda's white face, neck, belly, and rump are for when it hides in the snow during winter while its black arms and legs conceal it when it hides in the shade of the forests. The team said the ability to conceal itself is necessary for the giant panda since, unlike other bear species that hibernate, the panda never stores enough fat due to its strict bamboo diet, so it has to stay out and about — and vulnerable to predators — during winter. As for the panda's black eyes and ears, Caro's team determined that it was more for communication within the species. The full study is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | March 28, 2017
There could soon be a novel method to combat depression, as a new study reveals that playing video games can help beat the blues. University of California-Davis researchers are experimenting with video games and brain training programs to find a treatment for depression. Video games specifically designed for people suffering from depression have been shown to provide some benefits. The study also revealed that the participants began enjoying playing these games and over time, played for longer durations. For the purpose of the study, 160 subjects - whose average age was 21 - were selected. The researchers used six video games of three minutes each, which were designed especially for the study. The games were based on neurophysiological training, which has been known to help improve the cognitive control in people who suffer from depression. The video games made the subjects feel they had some control over the ailment, and the messages interwoven in the games struck a chord. The messages included motivational notes, which used to encourage the participants to play. Moreover, the approach to convey the messages was different each time. These messages focused on depression, which was caused due to hereditary or chemical imbalance. The messages also targeted depression, which is because of personal choices and unfortunate occurrences. The participants who were suffering from depression, which was caused internally, were able to control their illness. This finding supported the researchers' hypothesis, as it proved that brain training games are helpful in inducing cognitive changes. The subjects who were suffering from depression, which was caused by an external source, were seen spending more time playing the games. The researchers surmised that this was due to instant engagement, but the results were not long lasting. However, in both cases, it was noted that the introduction of the games led to an effort from the subjects to try and control their situation. "Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts ... mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option," noted Subuhi Khan from the University of California Davis. A similar study was conducted by Joaquin A. Anguera, who is a researcher at the University of California, and her team. The study included participants who were suffering from late life depression or LLD. The results of this study were positive as the participants showed an improvement in their mood. The latest study has been published online in Computers in Human Behavior. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | May 5, 2017
The paper, published 3 May and accessible via open access, explores the use of multimodal autofluorescence and light scattering to evaluate functional changes in the kidneys after ischemic injury. Conditions including accumulated arterial plaque or blood clots restrict the flow of oxygen and glucose to organs, and prolonged periods of such ischemia can compromise function. In "Predictive assessment of kidney functional recovery following ischemic injury using optical spectroscopy," the authors report on their evaluation of various optical signatures to predict kidney viability and suggest a noncontact approach to provide clinically useful information in real time. While other current work in this area uses expensive multiphoton and laser-based techniques, the authors reduced expenses by switching to camera-based imaging. Currently, there is no real-time tool to measure the degree of ischemic injury incurred in tissue or to predict the return of its function. The inability to decisively determine tissue functional status runs two great risks: that dysfunctional tissue may be transplanted, increasing the morbidity and mortality of the patient; and that much-needed functional kidney tissue may be discarded. In their study, Rajesh Raman of Lawrence Livermore National Lab and co-authors Christopher Pivetti and Christoph Troppmann of the University of California Davis, Rajendra Ramsamooj of California Northstate University, and Stavros Demos of Lawrence Livermore acquired autofluorescence images of kidneys in vivo under 355, 325, and 266 nm illumination. Light-scattering images were collected at the excitation wavelengths while using a relatively narrow band light centered at 500 nm. The images were simultaneously recorded using a multimodal optical imaging system. The recorded signals were then analyzed to obtain time constants, which were correlated to kidney dysfunction as determined by a subsequent survival study and histopathological analysis. Analysis of the light-scattering and autofluorescence images suggests that variations in tissue microstructure, fluorophore emission, and blood absorption spectral characteristics, combined with vascular response, contribute to the behavior of the recorded signals. These are used to obtain tissue functional information and enable the ability to predict post-transplant kidney function. This information can also be applied to the prediction of kidney failure when visual observation cannot, almost immediately following an injury. Reviewers of the study suggested other promising applications for future development, and envisioned this approach being used as a screening tool for assessing kidney viability prior to transplant. In particular, they said, these cost-effective screening methods could benefit healthcare in developing countries. Multimodal imaging also has provided insights into other physiological events that may occur during ischemia and reperfusion. "This work's exceptional value lies in the realization of a workable practical system that has excellent potential to be adopted in field situations," said journal associate editor Andreas Mandelis (University of Toronto). More information: Rajesh N. Raman et al, Predictive assessment of kidney functional recovery following ischemic injury using optical spectroscopy, Journal of Biomedical Optics (2017). DOI: 10.1117/1.JBO.22.5.056001
News Article | May 8, 2017
By adapting the interaction between several independent radar transmissions in real time, KAUST researchers have shown that it is possible to vastly improve target identification and range using multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) radar systems. Radar is used extensively in civilian and military aviation to identify and monitor aircraft movements and potential meteorological dangers as well as being a critical component of flight control and surveillance systems. Radar works by transmitting a radio signal from an output antenna and monitoring a receiving antenna for any detected reflections—akin to shining a spotlight into darkness to see what might be out there. Radar systems are now very sophisticated, and with advanced signal processing, it is now possible to discriminate between different types of objects from considerable distance. MIMO radar promises a step change in performance by being able to more adaptively shape the output waveform to concentrate the power of the transmitted signal in a specific direction and by transmitting multiple types of signal adapted to better match a broader range of targets. "MIMO radar uses several transmitting and receiving antennas at the same time, where the user can choose a different transmitted signal for each antenna," explained lead researcher and graduate student Taha Bouchoucha. "Our work was on the transmitter side, developing a simple way of constructing the transmitted waveforms to steer the signal to a specific region in space." There has been extensive research into MIMO radar systems, but the stumbling block has been the computational complexity of designing each individual waveform to produce the desired combined "beam pattern" after the waveforms have interacted in space. Under the supervision of Mohamed-Slim Alouini and Tareq Al-Naffouri, Bouchoucha focused on finding ways to simplify and accelerate these calculations. "We took advantage of a mathematical framework called the two-dimensional Fourier transform combined with fast and efficient algorithms to generate the Fourier transform parameters," said Bouchoucha. "Waveform generation using our approach is inexpensive and practical, and it gives complete flexibility and freedom to focus the transmitted signal in a specific region in space." The computation scheme has already been filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a significant breakthrough in MIMO technology. "Being part of this project as a master's student was a great experience," said Bouchoucha, who is now a doctoral researcher at the University of California Davis. "It was an exceptional research environment, with inspiring mentors and peers who helped me develop." More information: Taha Bouchoucha et al. DFT-Based Closed-Form Covariance Matrix and Direct Waveforms Design for MIMO Radar to Achieve Desired Beampatterns, IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing (2017). DOI: 10.1109/TSP.2017.2656840
News Article | May 5, 2017
A new technique developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Lab promises to improve accuracy and lower costs of real-time assessment of kidney function, reports an article published this week by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, in the Journal of Biomedical Optics. The paper, published 3 May and accessible via open access, explores the use of multimodal autofluorescence and light scattering to evaluate functional changes in the kidneys after ischemic injury. Conditions including accumulated arterial plaque or blood clots restrict the flow of oxygen and glucose to organs, and prolonged periods of such ischemia can compromise function. In “Predictive assessment of kidney functional recovery following ischemic injury using optical spectroscopy,” the authors report on their evaluation of various optical signatures to predict kidney viability and suggest a noncontact approach to provide clinically useful information in real time. While other current work in this area uses expensive multiphoton and laser-based techniques, the authors reduced expenses by switching to camera-based imaging. Currently, there is no real-time tool to measure the degree of ischemic injury incurred in tissue or to predict the return of its function. The inability to decisively determine tissue functional status runs two great risks: that dysfunctional tissue may be transplanted, increasing the morbidity and mortality of the patient; and that much-needed functional kidney tissue may be discarded. In their study, Rajesh Raman of Lawrence Livermore National Lab and co-authors Christopher Pivetti and Christoph Troppmann of the University of California Davis, Rajendra Ramsamooj of California Northstate University, and Stavros Demos of Lawrence Livermore acquired autofluorescence images of kidneys in vivo under 355, 325, and 266 nm illumination. Light-scattering images were collected at the excitation wavelengths while using a relatively narrow band light centered at 500 nm. The images were simultaneously recorded using a multimodal optical imaging system. The recorded signals were then analyzed to obtain time constants, which were correlated to kidney dysfunction as determined by a subsequent survival study and histopathological analysis. Analysis of the light-scattering and autofluorescence images suggests that variations in tissue microstructure, fluorophore emission, and blood absorption spectral characteristics, combined with vascular response, contribute to the behavior of the recorded signals. These are used to obtain tissue functional information and enable the ability to predict post-transplant kidney function. This information can also be applied to the prediction of kidney failure when visual observation cannot, almost immediately following an injury. Reviewers of the study suggested other promising applications for future development, and envisioned this approach being used as a screening tool for assessing kidney viability prior to transplant. In particular, they said, these cost-effective screening methods could benefit healthcare in developing countries. Multimodal imaging also has provided insights into other physiological events that may occur during ischemia and reperfusion. “This work's exceptional value lies in the realization of a workable practical system that has excellent potential to be adopted in field situations,” said journal associate editor Andreas Mandelis (University of Toronto). Lihong Wang, Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biomedical Optics. The journal is published in print and digitally in the SPIE Digital Library, which contains more than 458,000 articles from SPIE journals, proceedings, and books, with approximately 18,000 new research papers added each year. SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves nearly 264,000 constituents from approximately 166 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2016, SPIE provided $4 million in support of education and outreach programs. http://www.spie.org
News Article | April 19, 2017
Despite broad understanding of volcanoes, our ability to predict the timing, duration, type, size, and consequences of volcanic eruptions is limited, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine WASHINGTON - Despite broad understanding of volcanoes, our ability to predict the timing, duration, type, size, and consequences of volcanic eruptions is limited, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. To improve eruption forecasting and warnings to save lives, the report identifies research priorities for better monitoring of volcanic eruptions and three grand challenges facing the volcano science community. Volcano monitoring is critical for forecasting eruptions and mitigating risks of their hazards. However, few volcanoes are adequately observed, and many are not monitored at all. For example, fewer than half of the 169 potentially active volcanoes in the U.S. have any seismometers -- an instrument to detect small earthquakes that signal underground magma movement. And only three have continuous gas measurements, which are crucial because the composition and quantity of dissolved gases in magma drive eruptions. Enhanced monitoring combined with advances in experimental and mathematical models of volcanic processes can improve the understanding and forecasting of eruptions, the report says. The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report also highlighted the need for satellite measurements of ground deformation and gas emissions, drone observations, advanced seismic monitoring, and real-time high-speed acquisition of data during eruptions. New approaches in analytical capabilities to decipher magma history, and conceptual and experimental models of magmatic and volcanic phenomena, will provide new insights on the processes that explain how magma is generated and erupts. "There have been great improvements in conceptual models of volcanic phenomena, compared with those used a few decades ago, but the volcano science community is not yet adequately prepared for the next large eruption," said Michael Manga, professor in the department of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, and chair of the committee. "There are fundamental challenges that need to be addressed and require a sustained effort from across disciplines. By working toward these grand challenges, the volcano science community can help quantify the global effect of eruptions and mitigate hazards, ultimately benefiting millions of people living in volcanically active areas." The committee outlined several key questions and research priorities in areas such as the processes that move and store magma beneath volcanoes; how eruptions begin, evolve, and end; how a volcano erupts; forecasting eruptions; the response of landscapes, oceans, and the atmosphere to volcanic eruptions; and the response of volcanoes to changes on Earth's surface. Based on these research priorities, the committee identified three overarching grand challenges for advancing volcano science and monitoring: Forecasting the size, duration, and hazard of eruptions by integrating observations with models Current forecasts are based on recognizing patterns in monitoring data. These approaches have had mixed success because monitoring data do not capture the diversity of volcanoes or their evolution over time. An approach based on models of physical and chemical processes, informed by monitoring data, as is done in weather forecasting, could improve the accuracy of eruption forecasts. Such an approach requires integrating data and methodologies from multiple disciplines, the report says. Quantifying the life cycles of volcanoes and overcoming our current biased understanding Current understanding of a volcano's life cycle is skewed because only a small number of volcanoes are studied. Extended monitoring from the ground, sea, and space can overcome some of these observational biases, the report says. Expanding and maintaining monitoring capabilities and supporting the infrastructure to make historical and monitoring data available are critical for advancing understanding of volcanic processes and assessing volcanic hazards. The committee noted that emerging technologies such as inexpensive sensors, drones, and new micro-analytical geochemical methods are promising tools to provide new insights into volcanic activity. Close to 100 volcanoes erupt somewhere on Earth each year. Strengthening multidisciplinary research, domestic and international research and monitoring partnerships, and training networks can help the research community maximize scientific advances that result from the study of eruptions around the world, the committee said. The report cites the ongoing eruption at Bogoslof volcano in Alaska as an example that highlights these three challenges. A remote, initially submarine volcano in the Aleutian Island arc, the eruption started in late December 2016 and the activity has been continuing as of February 2017. In just one month, the volcano produced numerous explosions with plumes rising 20,000-35,000 feet, posing a significant hazard to North Pacific aviation. The U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) has been relying on distant seismometers, satellite data, infrasound, and lightning detection to monitor the activity because there are no ground-based instruments on the volcano. The committee said AVO has been able to provide early warning for only some of these hazardous events. This eruption also underscores the limited understanding of magma eruption. In more than 20 discrete events, the emerging volcano has reshaped its coastlines repeatedly, providing snapshots of volcano-landscape interactions. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies. . A roster follows. Riya V. Anandwala, Media Relations Officer Joshua Blatt, Media Relations Assistant Office of News and Public Information 202-334-2138; e-mail email@example.com national-academies.org/newsroom Follow us on Twitter @theNASEM Copies of Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing are available at http://www. or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES OF SCIENCES, ENGINEERING, AND MEDICINE Michael Manga (chair) Professor of Earth and Planetary Science Department of Earth and Planetary Science University of California Berkeley Simon A. Carn Associate Professor Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences Michigan Technological University Houghton Katharine V. Cashman* Professor of Volcanology School of Earth Sciences University of Bristol Bristol, United Kingdom Kari M. Cooper Professor Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences University of California Davis Tobias Fischer Professor Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences University of New Mexico Albuquerque Bruce Houghton Gordon A. Macdonald Professor of Volcanology and Science Director National Disaster Preparedness Training Center School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology University of Hawai'i Manoa Diana C. Roman Staff Scientist Department of Terrestrial Magnetism Carnegie Institution for Science Washington, D.C. Paul Segall* Professor of Geophysics School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences Stanford University Stanford, Calif.
News Article | February 27, 2017
A breakthrough envelope sealing technology that promises to transform the way home and commercial buildings are constructed is entering advanced field trials – the final process toward general market introduction. The new technology, called AeroBarrier™, is being showcased this week at the RESNET Building Performance Conference, where Aeroseal LLC, the sole owner of the technology, is signing up new partners interested in implementing AeroBarrier at new construction job sites. AeroBarrier offers a first-of-its-kind approach to effectively sealing the entire building envelope using an aerosolized sealing system that simultaneously measures and seals building envelope leaks in homes, multi-family apartments or commercial buildings. The computerized AeroBarrier process provides a faster, less expensive way to seal the building envelope and quickly meet even the most stringent building specifications for envelope tightness. The system automatically delivers a final certifiable report at the end of the sealing process, guaranteeing results. As part of the technology’s final analysis before general market introduction, Aeroseal LLC is forming partnerships with builders, developers, architects and contractors interested in using the breakthrough technology to build energy efficient structures. All new partners will have the unique advantage of being among the first to gain expertise in applying the technology and the first to market it to their customer base. “AeroBarrier represents a potential sea change in the way homes and buildings are constructed,” said Mark Modera, Principal Inventor, Sempra Energy chair in energy efficiency, professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Director of the Western Cooling Efficiency Center at University of California Davis. “With AeroBarrier, envelope sealing – a routine that is typically a long, expensive, labor-intensive process -- can now be completed in a matter of hours.” For the past 4 years and under grants provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, a team of researchers at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center (WCEC), University of California, Davis have been working to refine and finalize the development of the AeroBarrier technology, a process that has resulted in new worldwide patents. “AeroBarrier builds upon the aeroseal duct sealing technology that has revolutionized the way we seal duct systems,” said Amit Gupta, president and CEO of Aeroseal LLC. “Now, imagine a similar computerized approach to envelope sealing that, in one-step, can quickly seal all the leaks around windows, drywall, electrical outlets, canned lighting and other areas where leaks affect overall building performance.” The technology has already been field tested under various circumstances including a U.S. Department of Energy building project where AeroBarrier was demonstrated to be highly effective at sealing the envelope of newly constructed multifamily buildings and single family homes across the country. Becoming An AeroBarrier Partner Currently in advanced field trials, the technology is expected to be available on the market in early 2018. For more information about AeroBarrier technology or to request additional information on being an AeroBarrier partner, call (937) 428-9300. About Aeroseal LLC The Aeroseal brand is celebrating 20 years in the market with over 600 dealers offering duct sealing services around the world. Aeroseal LLC bought the patents and rights to Aeroseal technology in 2010 with focus on creating a portfolio of industry-changing energy efficiency solutions. For more information about Aeroseal LLC or aeroseal duct sealing technology, visit http://www.aeroseal.com.
News Article | February 23, 2017
(Boston)--Maunil Bhatt, MD, a post graduate resident in the Department of Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center (BMC), was recently honored with a Global Surgery Research Fellowship Award by the Association for Academic Surgery (AAS) at their 12th Annual Academic Conference. Bhatt's project, titled Innovative Method of Screening for Esophageal Squamous Cell Cancers in Rural India, was chosen from 25 applicants. He received $10,000 for his project. For his study, Bhatt will screen a high-risk population in rural Gujarat, India, for esophageal squamous cell cancer using a device called EsophaCap. This tool is a sponge, compressed into a capsule that is attached to a string. Once swallowed, the outer coating of the capsule dissolves and forms into a sponge in three to five minutes which is then retrieved using the string. The sponge collects the esophageal cells which can then be analyzed to screen for cancerous or dysplastic lesions. "Our hope is to demonstrate this new method of screening is non-invasive, requires no expertise and will be more cost effective than endoscopy as a screening tool for this deadly cancer in the low- and middle-income countries with very high incidence of esophageal cancer," explained Bhatt. Born and raised until the age of 17 in Gujarat, Bhatt and his family moved to the US in search of a better future. He attended the University of California Davis and received his undergraduate degree in neuroscience becoming the first person in his family to receive any form of higher education. He then returned to India for a year to volunteer in a range of projects to improve health awareness and access to care in rural parts of the country. Upon his return, Bhatt attended medical school at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He matched with his No. 1 choice, BMC, for a general surgery residency. Bhatt is interested in global surgery and plans to spend some of his clinical time training and teaching in poor and low income countries that lack the surgical expertise. He hopes to work on addressing the disparities in access to surgical care that currently exists across the country.
News Article | March 2, 2017
Simon Modi, 17, has just crossed into Yumbe in northern Uganda from South Sudan and within a few hours will be bussed to Bidi Bidi, one of world’s largest refugee settlements. Within 24 hours, he and his relatives will be settled on a half-acre plot with the tools to farm and build a home. The Ugandan refugee operation is seamless. But for now, it fails to sooth Modi. All he knows is that his father was shot, he missed his exams, and his mother is trudging through savannah with six children. “Maybe tomorrow they will arrive. If not, I will go back to find them!” Three other boys clasp their heads. “We learned their story when they were crying,” says Mohamed Bran, who runs the collection point for refugees. “Their mother was killed, the fate of their father unknown.” Refugees are pouring in. Bran keeps a list of why. Besides “killing and torturing” are “abduction of men, trading has stopped, no schools, looting of properties”. “It was preventive fleeing,” says Charlie Yaxley of the UN high commissioner for refugees. “Now it is actual violence. They go through forest because of armed groups on the road.” On 21 February South Sudan declared famine. It is horribly grim. Yet inside Uganda something extraordinary is happening. The country has a no camp policy and has settlements instead – swathes of land availed to refugees. Refugees can move freely, work and own a business. “Uganda is incredibly switched on,” says Musarait Kashmiri from African Initiatives for Relief and Development, which has opened 343km of roads in Bidi Bidi. “Uganda is a showcase,” says Yaxley. The settlement has churches under trees, health units and schools for refugee and local children. Most refugees are ready to farm. “Since we crossed, we have not heard guns,” says Helena Kujang,who “followed the footsteps of citizens” to safety. “We are going to grow our own food. All the seeds that are available, we will plant.” Several reasons exist for Uganda’s outlier levels of hospitality. Its commissioner for refugees, David Kazungu, says “Ugandans have been in exile and know what it means, and refugees are important for social and economic transformation.” Jens Hesemann suggests the last might be key. A 2016 study by University of California Davis and the UN World Food Programme found that “refugees’ purchases benefit local and national economies, and economic benefits exceed the amount of donated aid”. “In many countries such an influx would have led to a crisis,” says the UNHCR senior field coordinator. “Here it’s working.” A small cotton farmer extols the change. “The refugees are an opportunity,” says Hamza Yassin, 23. “Before they came, this place was empty. But they’ve created a marketplace. We can now buy things close by.” “Providing land to refugees allows them to immediately start settling, as no one knows how long they will have to stay,” says Yann Libessart of Médecins Sans Frontières. “Markets will expand, and the distinction between a South Sudanese refugee settlement and a Ugandan village eventually blur. This could give an economic boost.” But Uganda’s great undertaking could go wrong. “The hosts have been outstanding and the settlement model is unique,” says Hesemann. “But it comes with high expectations that if communities host refugees, they will benefit. It needs to be followed with concrete funding, or it risks disenfranchising the community.” However, just 36% of the $251m (£204m) needed in 2016 has come through, and at least three further settlements have had to open since Bidi Bidi filled up. There is also a clear and present danger of profound environmental damage to a district already poor, losing soil, entirely dependent on wood to cook and build, and reliant on economic activities that degrade natural resources, such as sand mining, which breaks down riverbanks, and charcoal, brick making and tobacco curing, which consume millions of trees a year. “Almost all the population depends on the environment so anything that happens to it is a big problem,” says Serbeet Kawawa, Yumbe’s natural resources officer. “The question is how to make refugees and host communities lead a sustainable life.” Yumbe already teeters on food insecurity, and water is so scarce that it is tanked from the Nile to refugees. “What we are seeing is a total destruction of trees,” says district agriculture officer Rashid Kawawa. “They clear their land and use the standing ones for fuel. We risk losing our big ones, which are important for biodiversity and rain.” This also worries farmer Yasin. “I doubt we shall experience our wet season,” he says. One project is marking “1,000 mother trees of biological importance like mahogany and shea,” explains forest officer Zabibu Ocogour. But much more needs to be done, like “a programme to explain what we are doing. The refugees may not understand.” Planting and regenerating trees will give refugees prunings to cook with, reduce pressure on natural vegetation and address assaults on women collecting wood. FAO’s Guidance on safe access on firewood and alternative energy in humanitarian settings advocates woodlots, efficient stoves, and farming that produces food and fuel. Serbeet Kawawa appreciates the humanitarian shift. “It used to be rehabilitation after repatriation. Now it is prevent damage right from the start.” “We emphasise stopping uncontrolled bush burning,” adds Timothy Olum Ojwi of the Lutheran World Federation. “The challenge is the long dry spell. Planting has to wait. But we give refugees 70% of everything we do, and host communities are happy because they receive 30%.” This current exemplary state needs urgent support: 300,000 refugees from South Sudan are expected in 2017, according to UNHCR, and a projected $558m (£453m) will be needed for all South Sudanese, now totalling 762,672, in Uganda this year. “The authorities, humanitarian community and environment can only cope with so much,” says MSF’s Libessart. Cathy Watson is chief of programme development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi. Join our community of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow @GuardianGDP on Twitter