Moss Landing Professors Discuss ‘Tsunami Fish’ on CNN

San Jose State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) experts have a theory about how one fish swimming in the waters of the Monterey Bay ended up far from its natural habitat along the shores of Japan. A black-and-white striped fish known as the barred knifejaw, divers interviewed by CNN reporters described it as distinctive from the native fish in the cold and murky waters of the Bay.

Jonathan Geller, a professor and researcher based at SJSU’s MLML, told CNN on Dec. 13 that the fish likely landed in California as an after effect of the 2011 tsunami. Geller co-authored an article in Science that notes 289 living Japanese coastal species documented along the shores of Hawaii and North America following the tsunami in 2011.

“These currents circle around and around and then just depending on local conditions the water may move on shore,” Geller said. “This fish stands out because it looks quite alien in our water and it’s definitely a species we haven’t seen here before this event,” Geller told CNN, adding that many of the other species found looked like they belong.

Colleague and MLML researcher Rick Starr said the fish is unlikely to become invasive as fish from warmer areas can survive in cold water, but may not be able to reproduce.

“People have seen multiple fish, it’s not just one, but they’re all the same size indicating that they’re not offspring,” Starr said. “We’re not seeing multiple different size classes, so the best guess right now is that these fish are all older fish that haven’t reproduced.

SJSU Plans Spring Pilot of 21st Century Skills Badge Progam

San Jose State University is pilot testing a new 21st Century Skills Badge program in collaboration with Education Design Lab and two of SJSU’s top employers: Cisco and Enterprise Holdings.  The effort aims to identify which skills are most needed for entry-level positions with these employers and validate that students who have earned badges for the desired skills successfully transition to work with the employers.

SJSU is one of seven institutions selected to work with Education Design Lab, a nonprofit that specializes in designing and implementing new learning models, to evaluate the efficacy of the digital skills badge program that has been in development for nearly four years.

Don Fraser, an education designer and director of 21st Century Skills Badging, visited San Jose State University Dec. 10 to host a focus group with representatives from employer partners, SJSU’s Career Center, faculty and administrators, as well as a second workshop with students.

“We established this program to address the school-to-work pipeline,” Fraser said, of the #TeeUpTheSkills campaign.  The idea is that employers are looking for a skill set that resembles a T – with critical skills across the top of the t that are needed in all fields, and technical skills that are unique to each industry or position that form the base of the T.

Education Design Lab has developed curriculum around eight skills that they identify as key needs for employers from all disciplines including initiative, collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, oral communication, empathy, intercultural fluency and creative problem-solving.

During the first focus group with employers, Fraser walked them through an exercise that helped them identify the top three or four skills needed for their positions.

During the focus group with seniors who will graduate in 2019, Fraser helped students identify what they thought employees would most want to see, what activities they are involved in that might help them develop some of the skills listed, and what skills they most would want to develop.

Christian Orozco, Justice Studies, ’19, said he could see critical thinking developing as he watches sports.

“I am trying to identify patterns in mixed martial arts, so I can see what could the other person do to adapt to the moves,” he said, of one of the subskills under critical thinking.

Annol Pannu, Business, HR concentration, ’19, saw one of the skills in the Ted Talks she watches.

“I am gathering and assessing relevant information,” she said.

Anita Manuel, the associate director of career education in SJSU’s Career Center, said the university will pilot two of the eight badges in the spring.  The badge areas will be selected based on areas that line up for the employee partners and students.

“We want this to be accessible to all students, but as we pilot it we may reach out to capstone courses or senior seminars,” Manuel said, noting that the badges will likely be available as modules in Canvas, SJSU’s learning management system. “The goal is to have at least 50 students participate in the spring where students can get feedback from the Career Center, peers, faculty and employer partners.”


“New, AI-driven recruiting methods enable employers to assess fit for roles based on disaggregated bundles of skills rather than college majors alone,” said Catherine Voss Plaxton, SJSU Career Center director. “In other words, the sociology student may be a perfect fit for a user-experience position if they can provide evidence they have right mix of skills.  The process of earning a 21st Century Skills Badge can be a strong way to shift student understanding of those skills from the abstract to the specific behaviors valued in workplaces.”

Meg Virick, interim associate dean of Undergraduate Programs in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, attended the focus group with other colleagues.

“Preparing students for the workforce has always been a high priority for us, and the focus group held Dec. 10 exemplified that effort – bringing together representatives from industry, academia and the non-profit world around the table,” she said.

Spartan Completion Grant Helps Grads Get to Finish Line

Lean Columna, ’18 Civil Engineering, is one of 122 fall graduates who are part of a new pilot program for Spartan Completion Grants.

“I have always been intrigued by the various structures that I’ve come across in my life,” he said, noting his interest in the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. “When I visited that place, I was fascinated on how the structure was built and the features constructed through engineering.”

As he worked toward his degree, Columna found support in his department, with peers studying for exams and doing homework together, and sharing ideas.

“It means a lot for me and my family,” he said, of completing his degree this fall. “My father is the only one in the family that has a degree. As the first born, it sets a great example for my siblings who are also on their way to achieving goals.”

His advice to other students: “Reach out to one another in your department. Find people you can work well together with and help one another out. You’re not alone in all of this.”

The Spartan Completion Grant program provides funds to students who are on track to graduate within one year, in good academic standing and have a financial need. Students are not required to apply for the grants, but those who meet the eligibility criteria are selected by a campus committee. For more information on the grant program, visit the site.

Physics Professor Khatami Publishes Latest Groundbreaking Research in ‘Science’

Ehsan Khatami is one of two San Jose State University faculty members selected as an Early Career Investigator Award winner in 2017-18. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Ehsan Khatami is one of two San Jose State University faculty members selected as an Early Career Investigator Award winner in 2017-18. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

San Jose State University Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami in collaboration with a group of professors from MIT and the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms published today in the journal Science their latest experimental discovery about conduction in a tiny system of atoms in a vacuum.

Khatami, who was granted early tenure and promotion to associate professor this year, received a funding from the National Science Foundation with colleague Sen Chiao, of the Meteorology Department to build the first high-performance computing cluster on campus. The equipment has proven essential to his research as well as the work of students and faculty in other disciplines that require big data analysis.

In his most recent article, Khatami and his colleagues discuss an experiment that is impossible to perform using real materials. They were able to focus on the movement of atoms’ intrinsic magnetic field, or “spin,” across a few microns without disturbing their charge arrangement (charge is another intrinsic property of atoms) as the first of its kind with a quantum system. The results shed light on the mostly unexplored spin transport property of models condensed matter scientists use to describe the unusual behavior of solids at very low temperatures.

Atoms are like small magnets, so applying a magnetic force pushes them around, here to the left (top left). Since these atoms repel each other, they cannot move if there are no empty sites (top middle). But the atomic “magnetic needles” are still free to move, with stronger magnets (red) diffusing to the left in the image, and weaker magnets (blue) having to make room and move to the right (bottom row). This so-called spin transport is resolved atom by atom in the cold atom quantum emulator.

Atoms are like small magnets, so applying a magnetic force pushes them around, here to the left (top left). Since these atoms repel each other, they cannot move if there are no empty sites (top middle). But the atomic “magnetic needles” are still free to move, with stronger magnets (red) diffusing to the left in the image, and weaker magnets (blue) having to make room and move to the right (bottom row). This so-called spin transport is resolved atom by atom in the cold atom quantum emulator.

Khatami’s research aims to help scientists understand how superconductivity works—a finding that could potentially pave the way for a room-temperature superconductor, which would improve transportation and data storage and make homes more energy efficient by creating materials that allow better use of electricity. That is, as electricity goes through a device such as a phone or laptop, none of the electronic components would heat up. Superconductivity is the property of zero electrical resistance in some substances at very low temperatures (<-135 degrees Celsius).

The experiment was carried out using 400 atoms cooled down to just a hair above absolute zero temperature (<-273 degrees Celsius). The atoms were manipulated to be two different types and to act as if they were electrons in a solid with two species of spin. The atoms were then trapped in a square box to see how they would respond when magnetic fields keeping one species on the left side and one species on the right side of the box were turned off. Scientists watched the process by using an electron gas microscope to measure the speed at which mixing takes place and deduce the “spin” current.

Khatami compares the box of atoms to a shallow pool of water – if there was a divider in the middle with clear water on one side and water dyed black on the other side when the divider is suddenly removed the water would mix together and turn gray. The two shades of water would be similar to the two spin species in the quantum experiment, with the behavior of the atoms governed by quantum mechanics.

To support the experiment, Khatami used more than 300,000 CPU hours on SJSU’s Spartan High-Performance Computer to solve the underlying theoretical model that was emulated in the experiment to support experimental observations.

“As exciting as these findings have been, there are still so many unanswered questions we can explore using similar setups,” he said. “For example, the dependence of spin transport on the temperature or the concentration of atoms in the box can be studied.”

Khatami received the SJSU 2017-18 Early Career Investigator Award and has offered insights into his research on the web series Physics Girl. He was featured in the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of Washington Square alumni magazine.

Faculty Promotion: Nicholas Taylor

Nick Taylor

Nick Taylor

Nicholas Taylor

Promotion to Professor

Years at SJSU: 11

Department: English and Comparative Literature

RSCA focus: Creative Writing

English and Comparative Literature Professor Nicholas Taylor is a scholar of Steinbeck who serves as the director of SJSU’s Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. In this role, he coordinates the annual John Steinbeck Award, manages a Fellows program and coordinates other events that promote literature. He also served as a Fulbright-Nehru Visiting Lecturer in Hyderabad, India in 2011.

But when asked about his research, scholarship and creative activities, he first acknowledges his creative writing projects. He has published essays, short stories and is especially proud of a series of detective novels penned under his pseudonym T.T. Monday.

As a member of the University Library Board and the College of Humanities and the Arts RTP committee, he says his experiences with students have been a highlight of his nearly dozen years working at SJSU.

He appreciates the opportunity to connect with students, and recalls one student who came to SJSU as a transfer student who struggled with writing. Taylor worked with him for several years. The former student and SJSU alumnus now teaches high school English and has published a short story.

“Anyone interested in a career in the arts must learn, first of all, to be resilient,” he said. “The writing life is full of criticism and rejection. My advice, if you feel the calling, is to persevere and take pride in your work regardless of its reception.”

Note: Congratulations to the 43 faculty members who received tenure and/or promotion for 2018-19. We have invited each faculty member to participate in a series of posts profiling their teaching, service, and research, scholarship and creativity activities. Those faculty who opted to participate will be featured throughout the fall semester on the Academic Spotlight blog and the digital sign in the Administration Building lobby.