UC Merced Connect: Researcher eyes 'bits and scraps of life'

May 13, 2013 

From the microbes in the guts of living things to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe, Professor Marilyn Fogel is pondering some of life's deepest questions.

When and how did life originate on Earth? What does the future hold for our planet? Are we alone in the universe?

"When you go back through time, there are bits and scraps of life everywhere," Fogel said. "It's ubiquitous."

As a geobiologist, Fogel, who joined UC Merced in January, explores these questions and more using stable isotopes of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and nitrogen, the elements that form the building blocks of all living organisms. She is setting up the campus's first natural-abundance stable-isotope laboratory, and will run the Environmental Analytics Laboratory, as well.

She came to UC Merced after 35 years at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Geophysical Laboratory, where she was a senior scientist, and joins Professor Jessica Blois in paleoecology and paleoclimate studies, and Professors Asmeret Berhe, Peggy O'Day, among others, as part of the Earth sciences research roster.

Fogel and Blois, who joined UC Merced last fall, are two examples of the stellar research team for which the university is rapidly becoming known.

Fogel's wide variety of research interests, including biogeochemistry, geobiology, marine sciences, astrobiology, paleoecology and paleoclimate and geology, encompass the natural world and will add to the diverse array of scholarly work being produced on campus.

Her work has earned her a prestigious award this year: the 2013 Treibs Award from the Geochemical Society, in recognition of her scientific contributions to organic geochemistry. She is the first woman to receive the award since its inception in 1979. Fogel was elected a geochemical fellow in 2003.

Her research has taken her to some of the Earth's remotest and most interesting places, including far northern Canada, Belize, Western Australia, India, Norway and the Sargasso Sea. Her research is used here on Earth and in space, including on Mars missions.

Post-graduation plans include web business

Tyler Shaddix's house looks like most of the others on his block in a subdivision not far from the UC Merced campus.

It's what's inside that's different — the home office of a start-up company offering a web service that has, in less than a year, become very popular with government agencies, large companies and universities across the country and around the world.

Shaddix and his partners Jared Calinisan, also a graduating senior, and Jorge Marquez, a grad student, have been working on the company while going to school. After graduation, Shaddix will be able to devote his full attention to Tin Bin, the company they've based around a product Shaddix designed.

It's called OOcharts, and it started, as many such developments do, as a way to solve a problem.

"I was working on a website for a client and needed a certain function," Shaddix explained. "I couldn't find it on the Web, so I wrote it in a week, put it up on a server and forgot about it."

OOcharts allows users to tailor Google analytics to their own needs, and creates charts for the information they specifically request. No one had come up with this code before, and once universities and companies found Shaddix's free code, they went nuts.

In eight months, OOcharts has gained nearly 800 users, and has had 3 million requests for analytics charts. In one day recently, OOcharts received 146,000 requests — nearly 100,000 more than the single-day limit.

The service is mostly for web developers, but Shaddix said he and his partners have gotten to know some CEOs, people with a Federal Reserve bank, people with city governments in the U.S., Canada and Italy, developers in e-commerce and at multiple universities.

Tin Bin (so named because Shaddix remembers his engineer grandfather using coffee cans to keep all of his projects and thoughts organized) is working on a new version of OOcharts and figuring out how to make it pay, though Shaddix said he doesn't want to charge a lot.

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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