UC Merced Connect: Cognitive program gets big break

July 1, 2013 

Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced will be the top program represented this summer at the discipline's première conference.

There will be 25 presentations from the program's faculty, researchers, graduate students and undergraduates, the most from any one university, according to conference data analyzed by UC Merced's Rick Dale, professor and Cognitive and Information Sciences graduate group chair. Indiana University will have 21 presentations; UC San Diego will have 20; and Stanford University will have 19.

"We hope Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced will quickly become known as one of the top research programs in Cognitive Science in the world," Dale said. "These data suggest this status is not just a long-term dream, but a feasible outcome of our plans in the near term."

The international conference is in its 35th year. This year's theme is "Cooperative Minds: Social Interaction and Group Dynamics." It runs from July 31 to Aug. 3 in Berlin. More than 1,000 people will attend it, coming from hundreds of universities and research institutions.

The campus's representation is an example of the excellent research for which the UC Merced is becoming known. UC Merced cognitive scientists are slated to organize this conference in 2015.

Cognitive science was among the first research areas established at UC Merced — its foundation was laid a year before the campus opened. At the time, the only other cognitive science Ph.D. programs in the University of California system were at San Diego and Irvine, according to Teenie Matlock, the first cognitive scientist to join UC Merced's founding faculty in 2004.

"We established the program when cognitive science was gaining popularity internationally, and worked hard to recruit talented faculty from across the country," Matlock said.

"Some of these individuals had been stuck in rather traditional departments and were excited about joining an interdisciplinary group and taking their research in new directions."

Additionally, Matlock said the program's research has been funded by a number of grants, including the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

The group has benefited from a generous gift from UC Berkeley professors Robert Glushko and Pamela Samuelson that supports the Mind, Technology and Society talk series, which brings cognitive scientists from around the world to speak on campus.

The campus' representation is significant, especially considering the program's small size in comparison to others like it. This year, presentations will be delivered by eight faculty, almost all of the program's 21 graduate students, postdocs and even three undergraduate students.

"It's really exciting and rewarding to see the program evolve," Matlock said. "At a local level, it shows what you can do as a brand new campus."

Faculty member honored with grant

A five-year CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation is helping UC Merced professor Alberto Cerpa develop the next big breakthrough in wireless sensor networks – an autonomous, self-learning system that uses its own energy wisely.

"We need to maximize its lifetime while maximizing the amount of data being sensed, and those are contradictory goals," Cerpa said.

The CAREER Award is an honor for Cerpa, who is a founding faculty member with the School of Engineering. The recognition serves as more proof of the contributions UC Merced's stellar researchers are making to sustainability and the conservation of global resources.

Wireless sensor network research is an important, growing field. The devices have nearly unlimited applications, from monitoring the structural integrity of buildings or the amount of moisture in a canopy of trees to monitoring an oncoming tsunami or a person's internal health.

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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