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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 will discuss 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 will also discuss 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, 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, April 22, 2020

Ice sheets, sea level rise, and solutions.

The ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica have been responding sooner and more strongly to climate change than anticipated. Combined with the melting of glaciers and ice caps around the world, we are currently on a trajectory to raise global sea level by more than 1 meter by the end of the century versus 20 cm in the previous century. The potential exists, however, for multiple meters of sea level rise beyond 2100, but that largely depends on whether humanity acts sooner on the climate system or later. In this talk, I will review our current understanding of the rapid changes taking place in Greenland and Antarctica, what physical processes are driving the retreat of glaciers, how they relate to human activities, and what this means for the upcoming decades and century of sea level change. This review is based on a wealth of direct observations from above and below, combined with conceptual and numerical models and basic physics. I will discuss the concept of irreversible retreat and what it means for specific sectors of Greenland and Antarctica where dramatic changes are already taking place. The presentation will end with a discussion of adaptation strategies to regional sea level, including in Southern California, and more importantly what mitigation strategies should be put in place to preserve our coastlines, the World's glaciers and Antarctica for future generations.

» Eric Rignot, UCI


Recent Events


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 give a brief history of the development of automated facial recognition, explain how the computer algorithms really work, show recent government test results on system accuracies, look at current state and local legislation limiting both government and private applications, explore criticisms of racial bias and function creep, then open the floor for a give and take with the audience on the appropriateness of government and private applications. Come give us your opinion on facial recognition technologies.

» James L. WaymanPh.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


Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Why Ensuring Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Is the Hardest Problem in Health Policy

Prescription drug costs in the United States have risen to an unsustainable level, accounting for 1 in 6 dollars spent on health care and compromising many patients’ ability to afford the medications they need. Although there is broad, bipartisan agreement that policy action is required, several aspects of the problem make it unusually hard to solve. Drawing on a recent report by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Dr. Mello will discuss those problems and paths forward recommended by the committee.

» Michelle Mello, Stanford Law School


Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Linguistics in the Courtroom

Our written and spoken language provides a wealth of data that can be used to inform legal disputes. In matters ranging from criminal prosecutions (some of which can be elucidated by speaker or author identification) to trademark litigation (for which consumer confusion can be dispositive) to wrongful-termination suits (which may call for assessment of a co-worker’s accusations), linguists have been called upon to direct their analytical skills to issues that may be of importance to the finder of fact. For example, a combination of vocal overtones and dialect shadings served to cast doubt on suspicions that a disgruntled employee had phoned in anonymous bomb threats to his company. Linguistic quantification techniques helped to end a dispute between two competing mortgage lenders with similar-sounding trademarks. And a survey of the psycholinguistic factors which may impede the aural recognition of a familiar voice was instrumental in challenging the attribution of a threat by 15 confident and outspoken earwitnesses. These and other examples will illustrate some of the possibilities afforded by forensic linguistics.

» Sandra Disner, University of Southern California


Tuesday, November 27, 2018
The Rise of the Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Promise of the Antipoverty Vaccines

The neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) represent the most common afflictions of people living in extreme poverty. Through an integrated program of mass drug administration we have seen important gains in the prevalence reductions of several NTDs including lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, and trachoma. However, new 21st century forces of war and conflict, shifting poverty known as 'blue marble health', and climate change have been allowed a new set of NTDs to emerge. There is an urgent need for new antipoverty vaccines to combat the NTDs, which are now under development and in clinical trials Success will require overcoming a rising tide of antiscience including a well organized and financed antivaccine movement.

» Peter Hotez, Baylor College of Medicine

Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Climate Change, Insect Biology, and the Challenges Ahead

Our climate is changing. C02 levels in the atmosphere are growing at unprecedented rates and temperatures are increasing so quickly that in less than one hundred years humans will be living on a planet that will be hotter than at any time in the evolution of the human species. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric C02 are already effecting insects and plants. Rainfall patterns are changing. These effects lead to series of critical challenges that we must overcome even as human populations are rapidly growing. Clearly, we must find ways to increase the global food supply. Among our biggest competitors will be insects. Climate change and global travel are enhancing the introduction of new agriculturally and medically important insects into natural and agricultural systems. Some of these movements are predictable and plans for their introductions should be made in advance. From a scientific viewpoint, the likely ecological changes in insect-plant interactions are fascinating. From a societal point of view, now is the time to begin training the next generation of agricultural scientists and farmers. Unfortunately, the current trend is for universities to cut back on agricultural departments, and many students do not find agricultural disciplines to be as exciting (or as profitable) as manufacturing, engineering, and the sciences that have taken us into space. We have to do a better job of showing our students how advanced and interesting agricultural sciences really are. Eventually the need for food will drive the need for more scientists and improved farming techniques, but unless we act on all of these challenges now, we risk falling too far behind to sustain either the population or our environment.

» John Trumble, University of California, Riverside

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