Grand Challenge Researchers on earthquakes, solar cells, and LA's urban metabolism

By Maya Bruguera

23 professors interviewed! The first of this week's interviewees was Professor Ertugrul Taciroglu, a civil and environmental engineer who's begun a project with the potential to allow you to predict the risk of entering any given building. His methodology involves using aerial imagery and computer algorithms to model the internal structure of a building, and using this structural model to estimate the impact that an earthquake would have on the structure. The professor has begun a pilot on the UCLA campus, using Boelter Hall as a test site to optimize the model and further develop the technology. This information could help Los Angeles to become  a sustainable urban center, as it would indicate in which areas the city should grow and in which it should recede to construct buildings that would be resistant to future earthquakes, and therefore be sustainable. As Dr. Taciroglu put it, he hopes to “make information available to the public so that informed decisions can be made with respect to hazard resilience for infrastructure, whether public or private.”

Next came Professor Stephanie Pincetl, the director of UCLA's California Center for Sustainable Communities. The CCSC aims to “create actionable science that improves the sustainability of urban systems” and “provide the intellectual and conceptual framework for new synthesis and thinking in sustainability research”. Dr. Pincetl focuses on environmental policy and regulation, and her current research involves calculating LA’s urban metabolism.  This project involves mapping the influx of energy and water into the city and how these resources are used within the city, to better understand how us Angelenos use these resources.  

This week we also interviewed Professor Vidvuds Ozolins, the director of UCLA’s Molecularly Engineered Energy Materials Energy Frontiers Research Center (MEEM EFRC).  Dr. Ozolins’ center focuses on optimizing solar cells and supercapacitors, and developing thermoelectric materials to capture and use waste heat (such as the excess heat generated by a car engine) to generate electricity.  

The last two professors of the week included Professor Tsu-Chin Tsao, an engineer focusing on optimizing electric power conversion systems, and Professor Edward Parson, Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment of the UCLA School of Law, focusing on international environmental policy and the impact of environmental policy on scientific and technological innovation.