Events celebrate a tradition of discovery ranging from chromosomes to climate change


cornea implant patient

Patients blinded by damaged corneas had their vision restored with techniques developed at UC Davis, including implants of artificial corneas and use of laboratory-grown replacement tissue. Read about more real-world impacts from UC Davis health research

When the University of California's new University Farm School at Davis — formerly Davisville — opened its doors in 1908, modern medicine, as we know it today, was in its infancy.

Scientists were just beginning to explore the new world of microbes and their impact on disease, and the discovery of penicillin, which would cure many diseases caused by bacteria, was still two decades into the future.

A century after the so-called "Founding Farmers" set up shop here, UC Davis is still the home of the Aggies, and biological pursuits are prevalent in classrooms. But a school that started with just a hundred students now boasts 30,000 students, 8,200 faculty and a long tradition of big ideas affecting health and well-being.

What has long been arguably the nation's top agricultural school is also home to:

  • one of the top 50 hospitals in America,
  • one of its top 50 medical schools,
  • an internationally renowned research center on neurological disorders, the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute,
  • one of the nation's largest cancer clinical trials programs at the UC Davis Cancer Center,
  • one of only two federally supported centers for translating human stem cell research into medical therapies, and
  • major research institutes for air quality, clean transportation and other environmental issues that affect public health.

"We are a university with an unusual dedication to building strong communities and solving real-world problems," says UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. "Our first century, in fact, was built on that premise, and our next will surely continue to fulfill that promise."

Events showcase benefits of 'dreaming big'


UC Davis Centennial logoUC Davis kicks off its Centennial celebration this fall with a variety of special events such as the "Dream Big" exhibition, a 6,000-square-foot display at this summer's California State Fair that illustrates how the school is making a difference as one of the nation's top public-research universities.

The UC Davis Health System is helping to support the exhibit, which includes highlights about UC Davis medical breakthroughs, treatments and healing strategies, plus interactive games and puzzles showcasing unique UC Davis research into the mind.

"We are at the forefront of initiatives that are changing the face of medicine and directly impacting patient care," said Dr. Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences at UC Davis and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. "We're making medical history today and we're building a bold vision for the next 100 years of discovery."

Noted for contributions to society

Indeed, UC Davis ranks in The Washington Monthly's top ten U.S. universities based on their contributions to society. It also ranks among the top twenty public universities nationwide for research funding and fifth in the nation in non-federal research expenditures, reflecting the real-world applicability of the work.

To grasp the breadth of UC Davis discovery, one only has to look at that venerable symbol of the Sacramento region's traditional economy — the tomato:

  • UC Davis scientists teamed after World War 2 to develop tomatoes resistant to mechanical damage – and a new harvesting machine that could pick the fragile fruit. Partly because of this piece of equipment, California now produces 95 percent of the processing tomatoes grown in the U.S., according to the California Farm Bureau Association.
  • UC Davis nutrition scientists study the positive impacts of tomatoes on heart health, and research antioxidant levels of certain tomatoes with an eye toward helping to boost levels in other varieties.
  • UC Davis public health scientists help demonstrate low-income families' limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables, experiment with ways to increase access, and study how to promote better eating habits among students.
  • The UC Davis-centered California Biomass Collaborative works on ways of turning agricultural waste and even municipal cardboard into clean fuels and power.

And don't forget 1975's cult-classic film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, co-written by Davis grad Costa Dillon.

$3.4 billion economic impact

The stage is set for more breakthroughs to come. For example, UC Davis is one of a dozen academic health centers tapped by the federal government to identify how scientists can share information more easily and provide new patient treatments more quickly.

UC Davis already provides a boost to the state and regional economies. Studies estimate the university's annual economic impact between $2.7 and $3.4 billion in California, and returns of $5 to the state economy for every dollar the state government invests in UC Davis.

For every two direct jobs here, another job is created in the state of California. The university is also the second-largest employer in the capital region.


Old university farm poster

Yolo County officials competed with 70 other communities to land the University Farm, using this pamphlet and mantra.

Instruments for improving the world


A Fresno raisin magnate's passing almost prevented UC Davis from happening at all. When lawmakers authorized a University Farm School in 1905, tiny Davisville was one of 70 communities vying for the new facility, a satellite campus to UC Berkeley.

Yolo County leaders proclaimed their home"absolutely the nearest point to Berkeley which possesses all the requisites," but competition grew fierce when the Fresno magnate's death left thousands of acres willed to the state. When an heir tied up the land in court, regents proceeded with the Davisville location.

Historian and former state librarian Kevin Starr calls the establishment of the University Farm at Davis one of the greatest legacies of the Progressive Era, the period of social reform that paralleled major industrialization at the turn of the last century. "The University Farm expressed the Progressive ideal that science and engineering were not merely speculative arenas," Starr wrote in a forward to Ann Scheuring's campus history Abundant Harvest, "but were also instruments by which the world could be improved."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

For more about special community events celebrating the UC Davis Centennial, click here. 


A timeline

1868 - The University of California is chartered.

1907 - The California Legislature appropriates $132,000 for the University Farm at Davis.

1965 - UC Regents vote to establish a medical school at Davis.

1971 - Students establish the Asian Health Clinic, a free clinic for the underserved.

1974 - Regional Burn Center established, eliminating the need for local patients to travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles for care.

1984 - UC Davis Medical Center becomes a trauma center able to treat severe injuries and conditions.

1989 - UC Davis is named a national center for AIDS research. The UC Davis Children's Hospital is born.

1992 - UC Davis establishes first telemedicine link with Colusa Community Hospital, allowing women to remain in their community for delivery.

1998 - UC Davis establishes the unique M.I.N.D. Institute focused on neurodevelopmental disorders.

2002 - UC Davis Cancer Center achieves National Cancer Institute designation.

2007 - $100 million grant launches Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

More UC Davis history