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Friday, May 17, 2024

Department of applied sciences shuts down

UC Davis’ department of applied sciences was shut down this summer, due to the recent cuts the UC system faced in the California budget.

“The department of applied sciences was a strong interdisciplinary department with the opportunity to cross traditional barriers between basic research and engineering,” said Walt Harris, a professor within the department. “This was never fully exploited, but we had less than 10 years at the main campus to develop and implement a strategy.”

The program began in the early 1960s in Livermore, where most of the original faculty members were nuclear physicists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. There they worked on nuclear weapons.

The scientists were interested in participating in graduate education and found a home within the College of Engineering at UC Davis. Though the original members were based in Livermore, over time much of the department migrated to Davis, said Associate Dean Bruch Hartsough.

Hartsough added that faculty had moved away from just the nuclear weapons aspect to a number of different fields, including biophysics, material science, electrical engineering and computer science. They explored new ways of studying nuclear weapons.

“If you explode a nuclear weapon, you’ve got fallout and all sorts of negative effects,” said Hartsough. “Instead of exploding a bomb, a good computer model will explain what is going to happen and how it will behave if you modify it. You don’t have to conduct the actual experiment.”

Due to the cuts, the College of Engineering was asked to reduce their faculty by 9 percent over a three-year period. The budget pushed the closing of the department of the edge, Hartsough said.

Two faculty members retired, and since tenured faculty cannot be laid off, the remaining faculty members were accepted into other departments within UC Davis.

“In the short term we are saving almost nothing,” Hartsough said. “The needs of the faculty don’t change. If we kept eight departments we wouldn’t be able to replace those who retired, but once we hit the target, we can maintain the numbers in the remaining department versus having to cut everyone by 9 percent.”

In addition to a graduate program, the department hosts two undergraduate majors: computational and applied science, and optical science and engineering. The students who are already in the programs will be allowed to finish their degrees with limited resources, but no new students will be accepted.

Any courses formerly taught through the department of applied sciences will be available at the discretion of the faculty member that taught the course, said Harris, who has been accepted into the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Faculty member Atul Praikh will split his time between two departments, the department of Biomedical Engineering and the department of Chemical Engineering & Material Science.

“Academic needs of the students currently in the program will most certainly be met,” said Parikh in an e-mail interview. “But the reduced support structure, the absence of cohesive environment such as provided by departmental activities, seminar series, etc. will no doubt prove hurtful.”

AKSHAYA RAMANUJAM can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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