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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Why You Like It: The Story of Your Musical Taste - Online Zoom Event

Dr. Nolan Gasser—composer, pianist, author, and architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project—discusses the sources and implications of your musical taste: where it comes from, what it says about you, and how it can make your life better. Musical taste is addressed and enlightened through the realms of musicology, anthropology, physics, neuroscience, culture, and psychology, among other topics. The discussion, including musical performances, will conclude with a Q/A session with Dr. Gasser.

» Dr. Nolan Gasser, Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

From Rocket Science to a Ventilator, in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic - Online Zoom Event

In the middle of March 2020, a group of JPL engineers were moved by reports in the news of the dire consequences of the national and global shortage of respiratory ventilators to treat the most severe cases of COVID-19 patients. A small group coalesced into a team which hosted Dr. Michael Gurevich from the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena to teach them how a lung works and how ventilators are used to treat COVID-19 patients. That same week, the team reached out to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for guidance; initiated the prototyping of at least two different JPL ventilators, and started to self-assemble into a functioning project, building upon well defined processes and systems engineering knowledge that the engineers would apply to build inter-planetary spacecraft and autonomous robotics systems that would successfully land and rove on Mars. We had a chief engineer, team leads, leadership team, project manager, well defined interfaces to the outside world, upward communications to the JPL leadership, communications with NASA HQ and more. The team started with well-defined and peer-reviewed systems engineering requirements; followed by peer reviews with external experts: technical implementation review; medical use review; and regulatory review; and manufacturing review. On April 21st, the first prototype was tested at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City; on April 24th the design was submitted to the FDA Emergency Use Authorization which was then approved on April 30th. Currently, the design is being licensed to companies in the US (8) and internationally (10) for use around the world. This presentation will outline the team, the process and lessons learned from the fast-pace project from the ‘white board to the White House’ in less than 40 days.

» Leon Alkalai, JPL Fellow

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World - Online Zoom Event

Climate models show that global crop production will decline every decade for the rest of this century due to drought, heat, and flooding. Water supplies are in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the world’s population is expected to grow another 30 percent by midcentury. So how, really, will we feed nine billion people sustainably in the coming decades? Amanda Little, an award-winning journalist and professor, spent four years traveling through a dozen countries and as many U.S. states in search of answers to this question. The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World tells the fascinating story of human innovation. Little‘s journey took her from an apple orchard in Wisconsin and tiny Kenyan cornfields to massive Norwegian fish farms and computerized foodscapes in Shanghai. This was a deep, transformative education, by turns shocking, funny, and powerfully hopeful. She explores new and old approaches to food production while charting the growth of a movement that could redefine sustainable food on a grand scale.

» Amanda Little, Vanderbilt University

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Thinking Culturally about the Science of Genetic Ancestry Tests - Online Zoom Event

Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry testing is a thriving business, and is generating a great deal of public interest in genealogy, genomics, and human microevolution. Its status as science is not in doubt, yet it has properties that are unusual for science: its products are narratives about ancestry, and there is room to reject the purchased narrative on epistemological grounds if you don’t like it. This is clearly not science like evolution, heliocentrism, vaccinations, and anthropogenic climate change. That something as seemingly natural as relatedness could in fact vary widely among peoples, based on ideas that may defy genetic relationships, was one of the earliest discoveries of anthropology. Today we can see genetic ancestry testing as a cultural site for contrasting ideas and assumptions about descent, the nature of human groups, and the role of science in modern life.

» Jonathan Marks, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Health effects of Vaping and E-cigarette use, what is known thus far

Before the hubbub over e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI), we had growing evidence that vaping would cause health problems. But how did this disease blow-up so fast? Is it really Vitamin E causing these cases of severe lung injury? We will discuss what is known and unknown about the effects of nicotine and THC containing e-cigarette aerosols on respiratory health, cardiovascular health, and neuro, renal and hepatic health while we are at it! Outside of this acute disease entity (EVALI), what health effects are likely to occur due to vaping?

» Laura Crotty Alexander, University of California at San Diego

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

What Children Reveal About the Origins of Altruism and Fairness

Humans are able to cooperate with others in sophisticated, flexible ways: assisting others who need help, working collaboratively in teams, and sharing resources according to what’s ‘fair’. How do humans accomplish these behaviors? In some views, humans are initially driven by purely selfish motives and must be taught to be cooperative. Yet other views suggest we have a biological predisposition for cooperation that emerges early. He discussed developmental studies with children and comparative studies with chimpanzees that provide insight into the origins of human altruism and fairness, and the factors that shape human cooperation across development.

» Felix Warneken, University of Michigan

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

White rhino reproduction: a new recipe for success?

San Diego Zoo Global has a long-standing history of successfully breeding southern white rhinoceros (SWR). With nearly 100 calves born since the early 1970’s, our SWR conservation breeding program is the most productive outside of Africa. However, the world’s ex situ SWR population has struggled to become self-sustaining, due to low rates of fertility for females born in managed settings. For decades, the cause of this phenomenon has remained elusive. In this talk, Dr. Christopher Tubbs will present San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research’s Reproductive Sciences group’s work investigating the relationship between diet and fertility in SWR and highlight the steps taken to solve this problem. Finally, he will present an overview of SDZG’s Northern White Rhino Initiative for which exciting new assisted reproductive technologies are being developed to save SWR’s closely related cousin, the critically endangered northern white rhino, from the brink of extinction.

» Christopher W. Tubbs, Ph.D., Associate Director, Reproductive Sciences, San Diego Zoo Global Institute for Conservation Research

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Cellular Immunotherapy for treatment of cancer: from transplant to gene therapy

One of the first demonstrations of the immune systems ability to recognize and reject cancer came from the work done in stem cell transplantation as a treatment for leukemia. This therapeutic effect has been now shown for many other cancers including lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma and actually contributes to the cure of patients undergoing this procedure. In the years that followed, research was conducted to develop an immune therapy that was specific for a given cancer by introducing new genes into healthy immune cells( T cells) that endows the cells with the ability to recognize proteins on the surface of the cancer cell and eliminate it, similar to what the immune system does against viruses. This has now lead to a new therapy that is being increasingly utilized in the treatment of people with cancer using genetically engineered immune cells in addition to the traditional treatments of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. For some cancers, we can now imagine a time when immune based therapies will replace many of the chemotherapy approaches we now use for cancer.

» Stephen Forman, City of Hope

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas systems: Challenges and Opportunities in a New Era of Biology

CRISPR gene editing is transforming biology. Fundamental research to understand how bacteria fight viral infections uncovered how the CRISPR system uses Cas proteins with RNA as a programmable guide to detect and cut specific DNA sequences. Cas/RNA complexes constitute a powerful toolkit for genome editing in animals, plants and bacteria. I discussed research into this amazing family of proteins: where they came from, how they work and how CRISPR technologies are revolutionizing research, biomedicine and agriculture. I also discussed the ethical challenges of some of these applications with a focus on what our decisions now might mean for future generations.

» Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

An Open Discussion on Facial Recognition Technology

For nearly 60 years, the U.S. government has been investing in the development, testing and standardization of automated technologies for recognizing persons by their faces. In this talk, Dr. James Wayman will gave a brief history of the development of automated facial recognition, explained how the computer algorithms really work, showed recent government test results on system accuracies, looked at current state and local legislation limiting both government and private applications, then explored criticisms of racial bias and function creep.

» James L. Wayman, Ph.D., FIEEE, FIET, IEEE Distinguished Lecturer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Psyche: Mission to a Metal Asteroid

Do you ever wonder what the heart of a baby planet is like? NASA does, too! Psyche is an orbiter mission now in development to visit the asteroid named Psyche, one of our solar system’s most unique objects. As far as scientists can tell by examining it from the Earth, it is a large, perhaps mostly-metal asteroid big enough to span the distance from Los Angeles to San Diego... and it may be the now-exposed core of a protoplanet. Learn about the details from Tracy Drain, the mission’s Deputy Project System Engineer.

» Tracy Drain, Systems Engineer working at NASA’s JPL

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Exercise Builds Brain Health

An overall objective of research in the study of brain aging is to identify effective intervention strategies to reduce age-related cognitive decline. Over the past few years, there has been a growing focus  on the importance of exercise for promoting healthy brain function, particularly in the aged and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) brain. Studies on the mechanisms by which exercise can improve brain health and reduce aging-related cognitive decline have revealed that physical exercise increases brain levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF  mobilizes a sequence of molecular and cellular events which promote synaptic plasticity, learning and memory and brain health. Overall, it appears that a moderate to high level of physical for the elderly can reprogram the brain’s gene expression patterns to a more youthful state. Currently, a 300 person multisite clinical exercise trial for people with mild cognitive impairment is ongoing to evaluate the impact of aerobic exercise vs stretching and toning on biomarkers and cognitive function in this population.

» Dr. Carl Cotman, University of California, Irvine

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Connecting to Urban Nature in the Age of Extinction

The planet’s human population is rapidly expanding towards 8 billion people. More people live in cities and developed areas than in rural or non-developed areas. Around the world, we are progressively becoming more urban, and less familiar with the natural world. This trend is highlighted by the continued removal of nature words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Recently, words like acorn, fungus, fern, and willow were removed from the dictionary, and replaced with blog, MP3 player, and chatroom. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is tackling this trend head on, to connect people to their urban nature and create an environmentally literate public. Lila Higgins will speak about her leadership in the community science field, from co-founding the large global City Nature Challenge event, to her work in the local community that bring people together, in their own neighborhoods, to learn about and document nature. She will talk about the NSF, Wellcome Trust, and ESRC funded learning research she is conducting on international youth’s development of environmental science agency, and various other projects that work to communicate urban nature concepts to a wide audience. Projects such as the Museum’s Nature Gardens & Nature Lab exhibits, the recently published Wild LA book, and use of novel social media practices with @NatureinLA.

» Lila Higgins, Senior Manager Community Science and Co-founder of the City Nature Challenge, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Using Science for Good

We expect that the products we use every day will be safe, reliable, and effective. However, that does not always occur. A computer battery can unexpectedly catch fire, bedroom furniture can be unstable and topple, and food can be contaminated. Consumer Reports (CR) is committed to revealing the truth and raising the bar for safety and fairness, and empowering consumers with trusted information. Learn how CR uses science for good, applying its scientific findings for diverse audiences—from consumers to rulemakers, industry to government, all with the goal of driving marketplace change that benefits everyone.

» James Dickerson, Consumer Reports

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Integrated mountain research systems - people, plants, and glaciers on Mt. Everest and in the Peruvian Andes

Nepal’s Himalaya and the Cordillera Blanca of Peru have both provided ecosystem services for local people for thousands of years. However, new economic possibilities combined with climate change impacts on local resources have changed local community vulnerabilities and resilience to change. From 1996 to 2006, civil war engulfed Nepal. The insurgents used the Himalayan national parks as their bases and this had severe social and environmental consequences – consequences that have continued to this day. John All was on Everest leading an NSF-supported expedition during the 2014 icefall and subsequent closure of the mountain by the former Maoist insurgents. John’s research team was in the middle of the icefall that, at the time, had the greatest death toll in Everest history, and one member of his team was killed as they studied climate change impacts on the Everest massif. He discussed the positive and negative environmental impacts resulting from the Maoist insurgency and how these impacts have reshaped the cultural and social dynamics of the area. Dr. All then linked this project with similar work in Peru as the Mountain Environments Research Institute conducts holistic, interdisciplinary research in the world's highest mountains. The interaction of local resource decision-making and climate change impacts will continue to shape mountain landscapes as environmental and population stresses increase for the foreseeable future.

» John All, PhD, JD, Western Washington University

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Human Lunar Exploration – Are We Really Planning to Stay?

This year marks the semi-centennial celebration of the accomplishments of the Apollo lunar landing missions, some saying these were the crowning achievements of human space exploration. Our generation’s fingerprints on the next saga of human space exploration can surpass those amazing milestones by leveraging technology, data analytics, non-government capital and partnerships. Beyond reaching the lunar surface … again, today’s challenges include the development of a sustainable extraterrestrial ecosystem supportive of extended lunar exploration with the added goals of burning down the risks of humans to Mars. This presentation will discuss systems assessments leading to strategies for making the space program of the “Artemis generation” relevant through the long cycle effort of reaching these goals.

 » Wanda Sigur, NAE Member, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Science at Play!

The challenge of micro- and nano-fabrication lies in the difficulties and costs associated with patterning at such high resolution. To make such promising technology—which could enable pervasive health monitoring and disease detection/surveillance—more accessible and pervasive, there is a critical need to develop a manufacturing approach such that prototypes as well as complete manufactured devices cost only pennies. To accomplish this, instead of relying on traditional fabrication techniques largely inherited from the semiconductor industry, we have developed a radically different approach. Leveraging the inherent heat-induced relaxation of pre-stressed thermoplastic sheets—commodity shrink-wrap film—we pattern in a variety of ways at the large scale and achieve desired structures by controlled shrinking down to 5% of the original, patterned sizes. The entire process takes only seconds yet enables us to ‘beat’ the limit inherent to traditional ‘top-down’ manufacturing approaches. With these tunable shape memory polymers, compatible with roll-to-roll as well as lithographic processing, we can robustly integrate various materials from thin metal films to various nanomaterials in order to achieve extremely high surface area, densified, and high aspect ratio nanostructures directly into our microsystems for conformal wearable sensors as well as other applications.

» Michelle Khine, University of California, Irvine 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How the Brain Invents the Mind

One of the most striking creations of the brain is the mind … of other people. What I mean is: each human brain faces the critical challenge of predicting and explaining the choices and behaviours of other human brains. Because the true full causal story of how brains work is preposterously complicated, our brains invent simplified causal models of other people, that are not exactly true, but nevertheless very useful. This simplified, useful model of other's brain is called our “theory of mind”. This talk will give an introduction to how theory of mind works in the brain. We’ll see that each of us has whole patches of brain cortex dedicated to the puzzle of understanding others, and that we use these patches not just to predict and explain but also to evaluate others actions. We’ll see that understanding others is not the same as empathizing with them. The final lesson is that our brain’s models of other minds is imperfect, but not immutable or limited to minds similar to our own. It is up to us to learn enough, to listen enough, to model the minds that matter.

» Rebecca Saxe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Ocean-Atmosphere Studies Aimed at Understanding Mother Nature's Control of Climate

Nearly 50 years ago, it was proposed that microbes in the ocean can regulate planetary health by maintaining a homeostatic balance through the exchange of chemical species with the atmosphere. Ocean microbes including phytoplankton, viruses, and bacteria have been coined the canaries in the coal mine as they show faster adaptive responses to our changing climate than other organisms. When waves break, these microbes are transferred into the atmosphere and profoundly influence human and planetary health. This presentation will focus on recent studies aimed at advancing the understanding of the control of ocean biology on the atmosphere, clouds, and climate. Highlights will be presented of a novel laboratory mesocosm approach developed in the NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE) that transfers the physical, chemical, and biological complexity of the ocean/atmosphere system into the laboratory. A discussion is presented on new insights that have been obtained using this approach as well as next steps, and a future vision for how to unravel human versus microbial impacts on the changing Earth’s system.

» Kimberly Prather, University of California, San Diego

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Rise of Misinformation in and about Science

In 2017, Jevin West and a colleague developed a course titled “Calling BS.” The goal is to teach students how to spot and refute BS, especially the kind wrapped in numbers, data, figures, and statistics. The class discusses the role that social media and misdirected algorithms play in spreading this and other forms of misinformation, and how the breakdown of communication systems in science and journalism have made it more difficult to combat it. Since the inception of the class, more than 70 universities have shown interest in adopting some version of the course. The content is now expanding into into high schools and middle schools (sans “BS”). Hear what has been learned teaching the class, and, more broadly, the rise of misinformation, specifically within and about science, and what can be done in education, policy, and technology to address this threat to democracy and the integrity of science.

Jevin West, University of Washington

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Minds and Brains of Media Multitaskers

Media and technology are ubiquitous elements of modern life, and their use can offer benefits and rewards. At the same time, decisions about how we structure our use of media can be informed by consideration of whether and, if so, how the mind and brain are shaped by different media use patterns. Anthony Wagner will discuss seminal findings from psychological science that demonstrate that humans cannot multitask—rather, attempts at multitasking result in frequent task switching— and how task switching creates performance costs. There is a growing body of research into the cognitive and neural profiles of individuals who differ in the extent to which they "simultaneously" engage with multiple media streams, or ‘media multitasking’, in everyday life. Evidence suggests that, relative to lighter media multitaskers, heavier media multitaskers exhibit poorer performance in a number of cognitive domains, including working memory and sustained goal-directed attention, even when they are performing such tasks in isolation. Given the potential implications of these findings, there is a critical need for further research that uncovers the mechanistic underpinnings of the observed differences, including determining the direction of causality. Through psychological science and neuroscience, we ultimately aim to inform decisions about how to minimize the potential costs and maximize the many benefits of our ever-evolving media landscape.

» Anthony Wagner, Stanford University

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Annual Seymour Benzer Lecture: Genetic privacy: friend or foe?

We generate genetic information for research, clinical care and personal curiosity at exponential rates. Sharing these genetic datasets is vital for accelerating the pace of biomedical discoveries and for fully realizing the promises of the genetic revolution. However, one of the key issues of broad dissemination of genetic data is finding an adequate balance that ensures data privacy. Yaniv Erlich will present several strategies to breach genetic privacy using open internet tools, including a systematic analysis of the strategy that implicated the Golden State Killer. Our analyses show that these strategies can identify major parts of the U.S. population from their allegedly anonymous genetic information by anyone in the world. The talk will conclude with practical suggestions to reconcile genetic privacy with the need to share genetic information.

» Yaniv Erlich, Columbia University

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

This is the Way the Cookie Crumbles: Excess Dietary Sugar and its Effect on Taste Perception

Over the past decades our diets have become sweeter because of the use of sugar as a food additive: today over 75% of foods sold at grocery stores contain added sugar (1). During the same time, the number of calories consumed per day has increased by 20%. What is the connection between food environment and obesity? Does excess dietary sugar reshape our eating patterns to promote overconsumption? Monica Dus will present recent neuroscience research in humans and animal models on the effects of dietary sugar on taste perception, food intake, and obesity.
S. W. Ng, M. M. Slining, B. M. Popkin, Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. J Acad Nutr Diet 112, 1828-1834 e1821-1826 (2012).

» Monica Dus, PhD, University of Michigan

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Physics of the Collapse of High-Rises in Large Earthquakes

There is a building boom for tall buildings for West Coast Cities; daring architectural designs trumpet that they are designed to withstand the 2,500-yr earthquake shaking. In this talk, Dr. Heaton will explore whether or not these claims are scientifically based; or are scientists being used as “useful idiots” to facilitate the ambitions of developers? Cutting through the claims of current high-rise development is surprisingly difficult. Technical reports describing the attributes of real buildings are mostly proprietary and the deliberations of peer-review committees are secret. To help better understand the collapse resistance of typical tall buildings Dr. Heaton has worked with his colleagues and students to simulate the response of steel buildings designed to meet building codes that have evolved considerably since the 1950’s.

» Thomas Heaton, California Institute of Technology

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