California State University, Long Beach

Land, Sea and Air

Everything from planes to sea creatures and even the earth moves, and it’s how these things move that interest several CSULB faculty.

Flying High

Psychology Professor Kim-Phuong Vu, associate director of CSULB’s Center for Human Factors and Advanced Aeronautics Technology (CHAAT), is trying to understand how humans deal with increasingly complex transportation automation.

One of her projects is a four-year NASA grant in collaboration with the NASA Ames Flight Deck Display Research Laboratory and the firm Rockwell Collins to study an aviation concept called Reduced Crew Operations.

“With the automation technology that’s been developed over the years, now we’re looking at whether it’s possible to reduce the crew to one pilot and have ground support — maybe an operator in a ground station who can provide assistance when needed,” and support multiple pilots at once, she explained. However, it’s essential that both pilots fully know what each other are doing and how to handle emergencies.

“It’s a really new groundbreaking area,” Vu said. Students work in the CHAAT lab during the academic year and then come to NASA Ames during the summer so well prepared that NASA presented last year’s group with certificates of achievement. “We brag in the human factors program that we have 100 percent placement rates for our students within six months of graduation,” she added.

Turtle Tale

Users of the San Gabriel River Trail between Long Beach and Seal Beach, and Anaheim Bay near the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station are delighted to see an unusual sight in the water — eastern Pacific green sea turtles, a federally listed endangered species.

Marine biology Professor Christopher Lowe studies a variety of sea creatures and is an expert in underwater tracking technologies. NOAA Fisheries approached him to help study turtle movements, so he and his graduate student, Dan Crear, working with NOAA researchers who hold capture and tagging permits, applied acoustic transmitters onto 18 turtle shells.

They examined how anthropogenic (human) effects on water temperature may influence turtle distribution and residency. “There are several power plant in the river that discharge seawater used to cool the generators,” Lowe said. Turtles like the warm outflow water, so Lowe’s group put acoustic listening stations and water temperature loggers along a section of the river and in Anaheim Bay.

“Most of the turtles tagged in the river stayed in the river,” while some traveled to Anaheim Bay and even into Long Beach’s Alamitos Bay in the summer, but in winter, they all returned to the warmer river, Lowe explained.


Accurately predicting earthquakes remains elusive, but understanding quake history is helpful.

That’s why geological sciences Associate Professor Nate Onderdonk is looking at two areas of the San Jacinto Fault in Riverside County, a branch of the San Andreas Fault zone. At the first site, he’s focusing on past quakes and now has an idea of what happened over approximately 3,500 years.

He determined that San Jacinto quakes occur on average about every 180 years, and the last was around 1812. He also found that over approximately 1,500 years, more than half the quakes on San Jacinto occurred around the same time as San Andreas jolts. However, he cautions that scientists cannot yet precisely determine the timing between related prehistoric quakes.

Estimating prehistoric quake magnitudes and how fast stress is building are different processes, so his second San Jacinto location is better for this. “We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to get these different pieces of the problem on the same fault,” he said.

This field experience is helping students get geotechnical consulting jobs or enter grad school, Onderdonk said. He also works with the Southern California Earthquake Center and its internship program that also includes several CSULB students.

Geologists’ data also helps geotechnical engineers like Assistant Professor Lisa Star in CSULB’s Civil Engineering and Construction Engineering Management Department prepare buildings to withstand quakes.

Her particular interest is in how soils and the buildings on top of them behave during shaking. Much of her work analyzes quake geological reports that describe soil performance and characteristics like liquefaction. “Over time, records are getting better,” she said, as quake-prone nations like Japan and Chile improve their seismic data networks.

Although most of her students will work for engineering firms, “This work gives students a taste of what is cutting-edge research in the field and to possibly consider a Ph.D.,” she noted.