2012 at Berkeley: a quick look back Published: December 13, 2012 By: Dick Cortén Leaping lizards and dinosaurs inspire robot design An African Agama lizard swings its tail upward to prevent pitching forward after a slip during take-off. Photo by Robert Full lab, UC Berkeley, courtesy of Nature. Grad students were key players on the Berkeley team of biologists and engineers who studied lizards and their ancient predecessors in order to stabilize a robotic car — with a highly mobile tail. Working under team leader Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology, they published their findings in the January 2012 issue of Nature. The paper’s first author was mechanical engineering grad student Thomas Libby. Read the full story. A $60 million Simons Foundation grant will launch a theory-of-computing institute at Berkeley James H. Simons, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars nationally for research in autism, math and physical sciences, and life sciences, earned his doctorate in mathematics at Berkeley. (photo: Peg Skorpinski) In April, the campus was highly pleased to announce a groundbreaking $60 million gift. From the Simons Foundation, the funding will establish the campus as the worldwide center for theoretical computer science. The grant funds the creation of a new institute where top computer theorists and researchers from around the globe will converge to explore the mathematical foundations of computer science and extend them to tackle challenges in fields as diverse as mathematics, health care, climate modeling, astrophysics, genetics, economics and business. Each semester, the Simons Institute, to be housed in Berkeley’s Calvin Hall, will bring to this campus many of the world’s leading researchers, as well as the next generation of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, to work together on new computational topics in workshops, seminars and informal collaborations. Read the national story in the New York Times. Read the multifaceted story from the UC Berkeley NewsCenter. Two telescopes, two young astronomers, one amazing discovery Nick Hand A young Russian astronomer in 1972 — Rashid Sunyaev — is proven right in 2012 by another young astronomer, Nick Hand, an American who’s now a grad student at Berkeley. Sunyaev predicted something very subtle about cosmic microwave background radiation (the stuff that has helped scientists at Berkeley and elsewhere compute the age of the universe and confirm the Big Bang Theory of its origin), but he had no way to check his prediciton. Four decades later, Hand was the first author (out of 58) on a paper confirming that Sunyaev was right. Read more about the studies and their implications. Students watch election results on giant screen as Barack Obama is re-elected and Proposition 30 passes A great deal was at stake in the November election and Berkeley students of all political affiliations, many of who were active in campaign, kept track of the election returns on a Jumbotron screen set up in Sproul Plaza. Read more in the Daily Californian and Businessweek. The first Tuesday in November, 2012, on the steps of Sproul Hall, as the vote was reported, state by state, punctuated by occasional groans, but mainly cheers. (photo: Dick Corten) The changing of the guard in Berkeley’s top office Robert Birgeneau, Berkeley’s outgoing chancellor, congratulates his successor, Nicholas Dirks, after the regents’ vote. Dirks’ wife, Columbia history professor Janaki Bakhle, is at left. (photo: Peg Skorpinkski) In March, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who has led the Berkeley campus since 2004, announced that he would step down. Read more on Chancellor Birgeneau and his eight-year term in the Los Angeles Times A nationwide search brought a decision toward the end of November: Nicholas Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president and dean of its faculty of arts and sciences, would succeed Birgeneau and take office as Berkeley’s tenth chancellor, in June of 2013. Read the UC Berkeley NewsCenter account of the announcement.