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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

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/how-the-brain-invents-the-mind-tickets-59847212624


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


Recent Events

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.


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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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