UC Merced Connect: Earth Day celebration combines education and fun

April 17, 2013 

Sustainability being a campus hallmark, it’s no surprise that UC Merced takes Earth Day very seriously — even though the events planned are fun.

Each April 22, people around the country mark Earth Day, which began in 1970 and is seen by many as the start of the modern environmental movement.

Matt Hirota, campus waste reduction and recycling coordinator, said he hopes everyone will join in the celebration, which takes place the Thursday before Earth Day — April 18.

That’s the day the most students are on campus, Hirota said, and offers the best chance to get the most participants.

The celebration, which is open to the public, is planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Scholars Lane.

“We’ll have free food — and everything will be compostable — as well as cool prizes, including reusable grocery bags, T-shirts and solar-charged bike lights to give away,” Hirota said.

There will be environmentally friendly information booths from the campus surplus office, Transportation and Parking Services, the Lantern Café, a bike mechanic, the city and county of Merced, and the Modesto Compost Facility — which collects all of the campus’s compostable materials.

Prizes will be awarded as part of a recycled-art show.

Hirota and his staf plan a group of environmentally related games, such as Recycle Ring Toss, Crazy Compost, a basketball toss and an “operation e-waste game.”

“The operation game has all e-waste items that can be recycled,” Hirota said. “That’s our big new game this year — it should be a lot of fun.”

Celebrating Earth Day in a big way is a natural for UC Merced, with its Triple Zero Commitment to consume zero net energy through efficiency and renewable energy production; to produce zero landfill waste by reducing excess consumption and recycling to the maximum extent feasible; and to produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions by preventing as much carbon emission as it produces.

Much of UC Merced’s research focuses on renewable energy, climate change, water and soil, health and other topics that relate to the environment.

Infant vocalization studied

The squeals, vowel-like sounds and growls made by infants are critical to the development of human language, according a recent paper cowritten by a cognitive scientist at UC Merced.

“Functional Flexibility of Infant Vocalization and the Emergence of Language” was published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It shows that at 3 to 4 months old, infants are able to use sounds to express how they feel about something, whether it’s positive, neutral or negative. Called functional flexibility, this ability allows sounds to be distinct from their meanings and is a defining characteristic of language.

For example, an infant’s growl could show that they’re happy or angry. In contrast, crying and laughter tend to always represent the same emotional states.

Cognitive science Professor Anne S. Warlaumont said the appearance of functional flexibility early in the first year of human life is a critical step in developing vocal language and might have been a critical step in the evolution of human language.

This behavior hasn’t been reported in any nonhuman primates.

“Our findings demonstrate that some of the earliest sounds made by human infants have the characteristic of being very flexible with regard to the emotional states in which they’re used,” Warlaumont said.

“For example, the same infant might one morning produce a squeal while happy and then later the same day produce a similar squeal while upset,” she said.

Warlaumont conducted the research as a doctoral student at the University of Memphis with Professor D. Kimbrough Oller.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email communications@ucmerced.edu.

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