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USC 2014: The year’s top USC News stories

One in a series showcasing a year of university highlights

Diet and health, a USC legend, research on autism and quantum mechanics, and a couple of game-changing groundbreakings – these and more were Trojan topics in the news in 2014. Here are some of the USC News stories you made among our most popular for the year.

Benefits of fasting

Researcher Valter Longo at work

Corresponding author Valter Longo (USC Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

In the first evidence of a natural intervention triggering stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system, a study in Cell Stem Cell showed that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. “We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect,” said Valter Longo of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute.

Meat, cheese as bad as cigarettes?


The cheeseburger sure looks tasty, but eating animal proteins during middle age makes you a candidate for cancer. (Photo/Perry Hall)

Just how bad for you are meat and cheese? In a study that tracked a large sample of adults for nearly two decades, researchers have found that eating a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age makes you four times more likely to die of cancer than someone with a low-protein diet — a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking. “The question is not whether a certain diet allows you to do well for three days, but can it help you survive to be 100?” corresponding author Valter Longo said – something to think about next time you’re craving a cheeseburger.

USC mourns Xinran Ji

Xinran Jiz

The university community joined in mourning the tragic death of Xinran Ji, a graduate student in electrical engineering. Ji, a native of Hohhot, China, was remembered by friends and colleagues as “amiable, willing to help all the time” with a love of engineering and interests in photography, music and cycling – “a balanced blend of left- and right-brain skills,” said Dean Yannis C. Yortsos of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Why are so many innocent people behind bars?

Judge Jed Rakoff

Judge Jed Rakoff (Photo/USC Gould School of Law)

In today’s justice system, only 2 percent of cases in the federal system go to trial, and 4 percent of cases in the state system go before a jury. Accepting a deal from prosecutors despite one’s guilt or innocence has become a common choice for individuals accused of a crime. In a USC Gould School of Law lecture on “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” the Hon. Jed Rakoff, onetime defense attorney and federal prosecutor and now a U.S. District judge in Manhattan, N.Y., said prosecutors should have smaller roles in sentence bargaining and that mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated – two things he doesn’t think are going to happen.

Occupational therapy gift

Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and wife Barbara Chan

Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and his wife, Barbara (Photo/Dave Choi)

In the first naming gift to any occupational therapy program in the history of the field, USC Trustee Ronnie C. Chan and his wife, Barbara, dedicated $20 million to USC’s pioneering occupational science and occupational therapy program. Given in honor of Chan’s mother, the gift endowed the division, now known as the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

Unbroken legend

Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini

Angelina Jolie directed the film Unbroken, about the life of the late Trojan legend Louis Zamperini ’40. (Photo/Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The incredible story of Louis Zamperini, the USC Trojan Olympian whose heroics as a World War II prisoner of war earned him respect and fame, is hitting the big screen in Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken, in general release on Christmas Day. “Lou was one of the greatest Americans and Trojans of all time,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said after Zamperini died in July. The USC Trojan Marching Band paid tribute to him with a special halftime performance during the Nov. 29 game against Notre Dame. Selected in May to serve as grand marshal of the 2015 Tournament of Roses, Zamperini will be honored posthumously during the Jan. 1 parade.

It takes a Village

USC Village groundbreaking

Kathleen McCarthy, left, C. L. Max Nikias, and Mark Ridley-Thomas during the USC Village groundbreaking celebration Sept. 15. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

After the ceremonial groundbreaking, construction got under way on USC Village, a 1.25-million-square-foot residential and retail center that will reshape the university and its residential life. The biggest development in the history of USC at $650 million, the project also will be one of the largest in the history of South Los Angeles. Scheduled for completion in 2017, USC Village will include housing for up to 2,700 of USC’s top students under the mentorship of faculty masters, a Trader Joe’s market, drugstore, restaurants, a fitness center and a Trojan Town USC store.

Autism help, in a game

It may look like just another video game, but when an autistic child fires up an iPad and launches the app for Social Clues, there’s a higher purpose. The game transports players to a make-believe world that entertains but also teaches children on the autism spectrum to make eye contact, listen to others and engage in conversation. Social Clues came to life thanks to USC’s “Advanced Games” course, a jointly run class from USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Secret of quantum mechanics?

quantum mechanics string theory

Two USC researchers used string field theory to try to validate quantum mechanics. (Photo/

It’s a mystery of science: There is currently no set of rules that can be used to explain all of the physical interactions that occur in the observable universe. Physicists have long sought to unite quantum mechanics and general relativity, and to explain why both work in their respective domains. USC Dornsife’s Itzhak Bars, working with Ph.D. student Dimitry Rychkov, took a new approach: using what’s known as string field theory and working backwards to try to validate quantum mechanics.

A home for dance

KAUFMAN_RENDERINGzConstruction is underway for the 55,000-square-foot Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center on the University Park Campus after groundbreaking in April. The world-class facility will house a studio performance space, five smaller dance studios, dressing rooms, faculty and staff offices and space for future classrooms. The building will be home to the USC Kaufman School of Dance, the first USC school to be established through an endowment in nearly 40 years, and is scheduled to be complete in time to welcome its first cohort of students in fall 2015.

Our own college town: downtown

Expo Line sign

USC students and alumni are increasingly drawn to the vibe of downtown Los Angeles. (USC Photo/Holly Wilder)

There’s a renaissance in downtown Los Angeles – one that’s partly driven by USC students. A few years ago, students might (shamefully) head to Westwood for a typical college town experience. Not anymore: The revitalized downtown LA has become USC’s college town. Thanks to an explosion of new restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, it’s become a place where students want to spend their evenings. And new transportation options like the Metro Expo Line make it easier than ever for them to get there.

Of course our band is best

The Trojan Marching Band performs at the 2014 Widney Society gala. (USC Photo)

The Trojan Marching Band performs at the 2014 Widney Society gala. (USC Photo)

It’s nothing we didn’t already know, but it’s nice to get the validation: As part of its season-long College Football Fan Index series, named the USC Trojan Marching Band the Best Band in College Football. Citing its reputation as “Hollywood’s Band” and notable performances at the Grammys, Academy Awards, Super Bowls and Olympics, The Spirit of Troy heads a list featuring notable programs at universities such as Ohio State, Texas, Michigan and Tennessee.

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