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Video Highlights from Distinctive Voices events

Distinctive Voices has hosted hundreds of lectures and events featuring some of the best minds in the world—including members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine—all who volunteer their time to promote public science programs. Below are some samples of the videos of previous lectures. See the full selection of lectures available on the Distinctive Voices YouTube Channel.

Maryanne Wolf,
Reflections on the Reading Brain and its Impediments in a Digital Culture

This presentation will use research from cognitive neuroscience, literature, and education to illustrate how an understanding of the development of the reading brain sheds light on three key, societal issues: the development of literacy and its role in society; impediments to reading like dyslexia; and the impact of changes to deep reading in a digital culture for critical analysis, empathy and, potentially, democracy. » Maryanne Wolf, University of California Los Angeles

Jason Williams,
Open Science and Learning in the Genome Age

In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution (Kuhn, 1962). Since the 1950s we’ve understood DNA as the “molecule of life”, and we’ve learned how malfunctions (mutations) in its makeup are fundamental to health. A single DNA alteration might cause a disease that takes millions of lives or give rise to an agricultural trait that saves them. In this talk, we’ll touch upon two revolutions in the life sciences. The genome revolution incudes our surging abilities to read and purposely edit DNA. A parallel, but latent revolution is the development of open science and learning, which will redefine how scientists and the public work together in the genome age. Unlike past transformations of the scientific landscape, the life science boom is uniquely partnered with the modern conception of open science – a set of principles, technologies, and approaches for sharing knowledge. We will explore how open sharing and science education are critical to ensure that our new abilities to redefine life itself are grounded in equity and ethical context. Everyone has a genome, so everyone has the right and responsibility to understand it. » Jason Williams, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Michael Mendez,
Extreme Wildfire Impacts to Undocumented Latino/a and Indigenous Migrants

As climate change advances, communities across the United States are adapting to the increased threat of wildfires. Such disasters are expected to become more frequent and severe. In this lecture, Dr. Méndez explores why it is crucial to understand how these events amplify existing inequalities, and how to lessen the resulting harms, in particular for the most stigmatized populations, such as undocumented Latino/a and Indigenous migrants. » Dr. Michael Mendez, assistant professor of environmental policy and planning at the University of California, Irvine and Visiting Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

Jessica Payne,
The Science of Sleep and Stress: How they Affect Creativity, Emotion, and Memory

What's going on in your head while you sleep? The research of Notre Dame Professor Jessica Payne shows that the non-waking hours are incredibly valuable for your day-to-day life, especially for helping to commit information to memory and for problem solving. If you ever thought sleep was just downtime between one task and the next, think again. The fact is, your brain pulls an all-nighter when you hit the hay. Many regions of the brain - especially those involved in learning, memory, creativity, and emotion - are actually more active during sleep than when you're awake. These regions are working together while you sleep, helping you process and sort information you've taken in during the course of the day. Professor Payne's research has focused on what types of information are consolidated into memory, and has been instrumental in better understanding how the brain stores and reorganizes the information. » Jessica Payne, University of Notre Dame

James Schroeder,
Shedding light on Earth’s light show: how waves and particles produce northern lights

Electrons raining into the atmosphere from space cause northern lights (auroras), but where do these electrons come from? Earth is inundated with a constant stream of ions and electrons (plasma) from the Sun called the solar wind. Some of this plasma is trapped around Earth before being funneled into the atmosphere to cause auroras. There are mysteries along each step of this process. One 40-year-old mystery is whether the powerful waves above auroras give their energy to these captivating displays. A team of space physicists, experimentalists, and theorists have recently answered this question. This talk will focus on the science of auroras and the innovative research used to answer this long-standing question. » James Schroeder, Wheaton College

Sandeep Robert Datta,
Making sense of scents in the age of COVID 

Olfaction — the sense of smell — is both primal and sublime. Animals use smell to avoid predators, to find food, to organize their social structures, to decide when to attack and when to help. In humans, smell evokes deep memories and feelings; it is at once indescribably beautiful and grounds us in the world. And yet, smell is a neglected science. We know little about why things smell the way they do, and even less about why smells make us feel the way they do. The pandemic — which has denied so many their sense of smell — has brought a new focus to the problem of smell. Here I review progress towards a understanding our most elusive sense, and an update on what we know about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, interferes with neural circuits responsible for olfaction. » Sandeep Robert Datta, Harvard University.

Julia A. Clarke,
The Secret Lives of Dinosaurs

We used to wonder what it would be like if the larger-brained, big eyed and bipedal raptor dinosaurs survived to the present day. Would they have evolved to look and act like us? Would they exhibit traits we would recognize in ourselves? Now we know. Birds are dinosaur survivors. The 10,000 plus species of living dinosaurs dwarf the number of our own closer kin in Mammalia. While extinct dinosaurs have rich, vivid lives and a catastrophic demise in our imagination, the reality, and the breakthrough science behind understanding their biology and survival to the present day, is even more compelling. » Julia A. Clarke, University of Texas at Austin

Seth Shostak,
New Strategies in the Search for Cosmic Company

Are we alone in the universe? The scientific hunt for extraterrestrial life is now well into its fifth decade, and we still haven’t discovered any cosmic company. Could all this mean that finding biology beyond Earth, even if it exists, is a project for the ages – one that might take centuries or longer? New approaches and new technology for detecting life and sentient beings elsewhere suggest that there is good reason to expect that we could uncover evidence even of sophisticated civilizations – the type of aliens we see in the movies and on TV – within a few decades. It could be that the hunt for radio or laser signals is not the best way to proceed. But if we do find E.T., what would be the societal impact of learning that something, or someone, is out there? » Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

Manan Arya,
Origami and Spacecraft Structures: Current Work and a Brief History

The mathematics, physics, and engineering of origami is a thriving field of academic research. We will discuss the origin and the maturation of the formal study of paper folding. Of the many applications of origami, this talk will focus on the design of deployable elements for spacecraft. Using specific examples from current work at JPL on starshades and solar arrays, this talk will highlight recent advances in origami engineering and its application to unfoldable spacecraft structures. » Manan Arya, JPL

Samantha Montano,
Managing Disasters in the Climate Crisis

An increased risk of disaster is among the many consequences of the climate crisis, as we have begun to see around the world. Changes in extreme weather compound on already vulnerable communities to create cycles of disaster for which existing programs and policies are inadequate to effectively address. Fortunately, there is an entire discipline of study that exists to teach us how to address this risk – emergency management. Over a century of disaster research is available to inform our response to this increased risk but moving this work from academia into policy and practice is an exceptional challenge. » Samantha Montano, Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Joshua Grill,
The Neuroscience of Music and Dementia

In the battle against Alzheimer’s disease, Joshua Grill invokes a deceased jazz singer, iPods and a 35,000-year-old vulture bone that cavemen fashioned into a flute. Grill is a neuroscientist whose research interests focus on clinical trials across the spectrum of Alzheimer's disease. He will explain how music is a powerful force and that can tap into the deepest recesses of the mind, stir emotions and conjure memories, and why music memory is one of the last things affected by Alzheimer’s disease. » Joshua Grill, University of California, Irvine

Kay Tye,
The Neural Basis of Social and Emotional Processing

How does our brain rapidly determine if something is good or bad? How do we know our place within a social group? How do we know how to behave appropriately in dynamic environments with ever-changing conditions? The Tye Lab is interested in understanding how neural circuits important for driving positive and negative motivational valence (seeking pleasure or avoiding punishment) are anatomically, genetically and functionally arranged. We study the neural mechanisms that underlie a wide range of behaviors ranging from learned to innate, including social, feeding, reward-seeking and anxiety-related behaviors. We have also become interested in “social homeostasis” -- how our brains establish a preferred set-point for social contact, and how this maintains stability within a social group. How are these circuits interconnected with one another, and how are competing mechanisms orchestrated on a neural population level? We employ optogenetic, electrophysiological, electrochemical, pharmacological and imaging approaches to probe these circuits during behavior. » Kay Tye, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Lining Yao,
Sustainable Bites

From morphing pasta to save plastic packaging, self-wrapping cannoli to save time, to embedded 3D printing of nutritious food to save efforts, Lining Yao, the director of Morphing Matter Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, will uncover her team's research in food design and engineering. Her team takes a holistic approach to tackle the challenges and arts around culinary materials and practices, by combining food science and engineering, mechanics and mechanisms, computational design, as well as digital manufacturing. This talk is also situated within a larger context - the climate change that is primarily induced by how we make, grow, eat and consume physical things. Currently, both our food culture and food security are being challenged by global warming. Weaving different projects in her lab, Lining tries to maintain the fragile balance between our food culture and nature, our living for enjoyment and living for survival. » Lining Yao, Carnegie Mellon University

Chaz Firestone,
Seeing what isn't there

How do we see the world around us? The story we learn in school is that light bounces off of objects — tables, chairs, apples, people — and then enters our eyes, allowing us to see them. But this story is false (or, at best, incomplete): As we know from visual illusions, objects can sometimes appear to be the wrong color, shape, or size, because of how our minds interpret and even distort the information reaching us (think of #theDress, for example). In this talk, Chaz will explore what may be the most extreme disconnect between the light entering our eyes and our experience of the world: A series of visual phenomena in which we have vivid experiences of objects that cast no light whatsoever onto our eyes, because they don't even exist in the first place. By experiencing these curious visual effects for ourselves, we'll see how the seemingly coherent experience we have of our environment is often an invention of our own minds and brains. » Chaz Firestone, Johns Hopkins University

Adam Fincham,
A Glimpse into the Journey to Create the Perfect Wave

15 years ago, inspired by the vison of now 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater, a small group of surfers, engineers, scientists, and businessmen, set out on a journey to create a man-made wave that could rival the best surfing waves found in nature. Here we will explore the characteristics that make a wave suitable and desirable for surfing, methods for generating such a wave in the laboratory, the scaling of the physical processes to full size and the engineering required to create such a wave. Reference will be made to the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s formation, its collaboration with the University of Southern California and eventual delivery of a full-scale working prototype that shocked the surfing world in December 2015. » Adam Fincham, University of Southern California, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

James Finley,
Reimagining the Future of Mobility Training Through use of Immersive Technologies

Recent advances in consumer-level virtual reality (VR) have opened the door for the development of low-cost, fully-immersive systems for interactive mobility training. The promise of VR for improving mobility lies in its ability to mimic real-world challenges such as obstacles and crowds while providing systematic control over the environment and augmented performance feedback. However, creating effective training applications requires an understanding of how sensory information provided in VR is integrated with ongoing locomotor commands and how the practice of locomotor skills in VR transfers to the real world. He shared recent work from our lab exploring sensorimotor integration and locomotor skill learning in virtual reality. Through a series of studies, we demonstrated that the quality of visual information about the lower extremities influences visuomotor coordination during virtual obstacle negotiation. Moreover, we showed that locomotor skills learned in VR can transfer to walking outside of the virtual environment. He concludes with a description of how we use this information to develop interactive mobility training experiences for people with neuromotor impairments. Ultimately, gaining a deeper understanding of sensorimotor control and learning in the context of VR is critical for informing the development of effective VR-based clinical interventions to improve mobility. » James Finley, University of Southern California

Steven Davis,
Carbon in the Time of COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered human activities, and thus our energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Since the onset of lockdowns in the first quarter of 2020, Steve and his colleagues have compiled data and developed methods to assess global and regional CO2 emissions sooner and in greater detail than ever before. Rather than annual emissions updated yearly, they are estimating daily—and in some cases hourly—emissions in near real-time. Steve will discuss how these new estimates are being made, what they’ve learned, and how they will continue to be important in the post-COVID world. » Steven Davis, University of California, Irvine

Rachel Carmody,
Challenging cooked calorie counts considering chemistry and co-inhabitants for public health

Cooking is a part of everyday life in human cultures worldwide, and this is no accident. Cooking predates the origin of our species and has given humans a distinct evolutionary advantage by increasing the calories we extract from our foods. Yet, current food labels fail to capture the caloric effects of cooking, despite the management of caloric intake being a key tool for combating prevalent public health challenges like obesity and malnutrition. In this talk, Rachel will help us understand where cooked calorie counts go wrong. We will journey across time, behind the chemistry of cooking, and into emerging research on the gut microbiome that is actively rewriting our understanding of human biology. Along the way, we consider the past, present, and possible future of the human diet and the levers at our disposal to manipulate its effective caloric value. » Rachel Carmody, Harvard University

David Lo,
The Salton Sea: Health Disparity Amid An Environmental Crisis

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, surrounded by a large agriculture economy, and also a major stop for migratory birds. Unfortunately, the sea has been drying up, resulting in very high salinity, a stressed ecosystem, and high levels of wind-blown dust from the exposed lakebed. The dust has major impacts on health in nearby residents, who are predominantly Latino agriculture workers, as childhood asthma rates are three times the incidence of the rest of California. Our team has been studying the dust generated at the Salton Sea, looking at dust components and transport by the seasonal winds. More importantly, we are looking at how the dust affects the lungs, and its potential relationship to asthma. Our findings will have important implications for our relationship to this huge ecosystem, and policies to address its impact on the regional community. » David Lo, University of California, Riverside

Nick Touran,
How offshore nuclear power stations can help achieve rapid deep decarbonization

The need for deep decarbonization is now well understood. While meaningful progress has been made, the magnitude of this task cannot be overstated. Deeply decarbonized electric grids in France, Ontario, and Sweden use large fractions of nuclear power, and thus nuclear is included in many rapid deep decarbonization scenarios. Unfortunately, construction schedule slippage and cost overruns have been significant in recent nuclear builds, especially in the West. The concept of building nuclear power plants in shipyards and operating them on floating platforms several kilometers offshore offers intriguing solutions to these challenges. The controlled, serialized construction environment can improve both quality and speed. Deep-water operation can decouple the plants from earthquakes and tsunamis, and provides a robust heat sink (the sea). While perhaps surprising at first, this approach was seriously considered in the US in the 1970s. Today, Russia operates a floating nuclear power plant while China and South Korea are both planning similar projects. In this talk we will take a deep dive into the historical and technical bases of floating nuclear plants and explore the modern research and projects focused on ramping them up for deep decarbonization. » Nick Touran, nuclear engineer and reactor physicist based in Seattle, Washington

Katherine L. Bouman
Capturing the First Image of a Black Hole & Beyond

This talk presented the methods and procedures used to produce the first image of a black hole from the Event Horizon Telescope, as well as discussed future developments for black hole imaging. » Katherine L. Bouman, California Institute of Technology

Carolyn Mendez-Luck
A Perfect Storm: Climate Change, Emerging Disease, Us

This talk addressed the cultural values associated with elder caregiving in Latino families, and the challenges and opportunities they present for Latino caregivers. » Carolyn Mendez-Luck, Oregon State University

Daniel Brooks
A Perfect Storm: Climate Change, Emerging Disease, Us

Even before the COVID19 pandemic, Emerging Infectious Diseases in humans, livestock and crops cost humanity more than 1 trillion dollars a year in production losses and treatment costs, more than the GDP of all but 15 countries. The global economic collapse associated with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic underscored that the traditional approach of crisis response is not simply expensive, it is failing. Finding an effective action plan for risk management requires new risk assessment. Novel evolutionary insights about pathogens, based on what is called the Stockholm Paradigm, link the potential for emerging infectious disease outbreaks directly to climate change. Highly specialized pathogens evolve in localized settings in association with one or a few hosts. Climate change and ecological disruption alters geographic distributions and ecological connections, bringing pathogens into contact with susceptible but previously unexposed hosts. This has been true throughout the history of life on this planet. Human activities during the past 15,000 years, including domestication and agriculture, population growth, conflict and migration, urbanization and globalization have all increased the risk of emerging diseases. Technological humanity now faces an existential crisis. The risk space for emerging diseases is much greater than we realized, so we need to begin to find them before they find us. The DAMA (document – assess – monitor – act) Protocol links activities from neighborhood gardens to global surveillance systems that can allow us to anticipate to mitigate emerging disease. We can lower costs to society, limiting the global impact of pathogens and slowing the expanding and accelerating crisis, while buying time for traditional efforts to medicate, vaccinate and eradicate. » Daniel Brooks, University of Toronto

Christopher Hendon
Chemical and physical considerations and the production of coffee

Numerous physical and chemical processes play a determining role in the qualities of a cup of coffee, ranging from agricultural practices, to roasting and brewing. This talk canvases the landscape of coffee research to date and discusses burgeoning efforts to better understand the key factors that determine cup quality and reproducibility. A focus will be placed on the production of espresso-based beverages, and protocols to systematically improve flavor reproducibility, while minimizing coffee waste. » Christopher Hendon, University of Oregon

Dorsa Sadigh
A Human-Centered Perspective for Interactive Robots

Machine learning and control theory have made substantial advances in the field of robotics in the past decade. However, there are still many challenges remaining when studying robots that interact with humans. This includes autonomous vehicles that interact with people, service robots working with their users at homes, assistive robots helping disabled bodies, or humans interacting with drones or other autonomous agents in their daily lives. These challenges introduce an opportunity for developing new learning and control algorithms to enable safe and efficient interactive autonomy. In this talk, She will discuss a journey in formalizing human-robot interaction. Specifically, she will first discuss developing data-efficient techniques to learn computational models of human behavior. She will continue with the challenges that arise when agents (including humans and robots) interact with each other. Further, she will argue that in many applications, a full computational human model is not necessary for seamless and efficient interaction. Instead, in many collaborative tasks, conventions —low-dimensional shared representations of tasks — is sufficient for capturing the interaction between agents. She will conclude the talk with challenges around adapting conventions in human-robot applications such as assistive teleoperation and collaborative transport. » Dorsa Sadigh, Stanford University

Amir Alexander
How Mathematics Shapes our World, and our Values

That abstract mathematics, the most logical and insular of fields, would impact the rough-and-tumble world of human affairs might seem unlikely. Yet that is indeed the case, as some of the core principles of modernity are founded on mathematical order. From the avenues of Versailles to the streets of New Delhi, and from the National Mall in Washington to the open plains of the American West, mathematics has been imprinted on the landscapes of the modern world. Along the way it has shaped not only our esthetics, but our values, our institutions, and even our politics. » Amir Alexander, University of California, Los Angeles

Eric Rignot
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, University of California, Irvine

Ilkay Altintas
Harnessing Big Data to Battle Wildfires

Wildland fires and related hazards are increasing globally. A common observation across these large events is that fire behavior is changing to be more destructive, making applied fire research more important and time critical. Significant improvements towards modeling of the extent and dynamics of evolving plethora of fire related environmental hazards, and their socio-economic and human impacts can be made through intelligent integration of modern data and computing technologies with techniques for data management, machine learning and fire modeling. However, there are still challenges and opportunities in integration of the scientific discoveries and data-driven methods for hazards with the advances in technology and computing in a way that provides and enables different modalities of sensing and computing. The WIFIRE cyberinfrastructure took the first steps to tackle this problem with a goal to create an integrated system, data and visualization services, and workflows for wildfire monitoring, simulation, and response. Today, WIFIRE provides an end-to-end management infrastructure from the data sensing and collection to artificial intelligence and modeling efforts using a continuum of computing methods that integrate edge, cloud, and high-performance computing. Though this cyberinfrastructure, the WIFIRE project provides data driven knowledge for a wide range of public and private sector users enabling scientific, municipal, and educational use. This talk will review some of our recent work on building this dynamic data driven cyberinfrastructure and impactful application solution architectures that showcase integration of a variety of existing technologies and collaborative expertise. » Ilkay Altintas, University of California, San Diego

Dr. Jennifer Brandon
Microplastics: The Ocean’s Biggest Tiny Problem

Dr. Jennifer Brandon has been studying microplastics in the Pacific Ocean for eight years. She is an expert in the spatial and temporal analysis of microplastics. She helped develop new methods to determine how microplastics weather and degrade in the marine environment, as well as how to quantify the smallest size classes of microplastics. In this talk, she will provide an overview of marine plastic pollution and how we became so dependent on plastic, discuss her research, and talk about ways you can help the problem.

Podcasts from Distinctive Voices events

Below are some podcasts of previous lectures. See the full selection of lectures available on the Distinctive Voices Podcast Channel. New podcasts every other Friday.

s04e09: Stephen Forman: Cellular Immunotherapy for treatment of cancer: from transplant to gene therapy

Stephen Forman, City of Hope: 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.

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s04e08: Dr. Carl Cotman: Exercise Builds Brain Health

Dr Carl Cotman, University of California, Irvine: 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.

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s04e07: Jennifer Doudna: Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas Systems: Challenges and Opportunities

Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley: 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.She 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. She also discussed the ethical challenges of some of these applications with a focus on what our decisions now might mean for future generations.

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s04e06: James L. Wayman: An Open Discussion on Facial Recognition Technology

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

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s04e05: Tracy Drain: Psyche: Mission to a Metal Asteroid

Tracy Drain, Systems Engineer working at NASA’s JPL: 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. Come learn about the details from Tracy Drain, the mission’s Deputy Project System Engineer.

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s04e04: Lila Higgins: Connecting to Urban Nature in the Age of Extinction

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

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s04e03: James Dickerson: Using Science for Good

James Dickerson, Consumer Reports: 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.

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s04e02: Wanda Sigur: 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 discussed systems assessments leading to strategies for making the space program of the “Artemis generation” relevant through the long cycle effort of reaching these goals.

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s04e01: John All: Integrated mountain research systems

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.

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s03e15: Rachel A. Sitarz and Eric Katz: Cyber Forensics Research

Learn about research that is shaping global policies for digital forensics and redefining what is possible in cyber investigations. How do the latest solid state drives and cloud computing effect evidence recovery? How do criminologists profile online predators and understand the effects of social networking in criminal behavior?

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s03e14: Jeffrey Miller: Driver's Ed: Ethics for Driverless Car Software

As driverless vehicles are on the horizon, decisions about how they react in different situations need to be determined. If a driverless vehicle is in a situation where a collision is unavoidable, should it take the option that minimizes the overall impact at the possible expense of its occupants or should it always make the decision to protect itself? Should drivers get to make the decision themselves? Should the age of the occupants, criminal history, driving record, marital status, family situation, cost of vehicle, legal liability, and potential contribution of the occupants to society be considered? These and many other questions related to the ethics and technological innovations with driverless vehicles will be discussed.

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s03e13: E.O. Wilson: Evolution and the Future of the Earth

The Darwinian revolution began in a new understanding of how species change through time by means of natural selection, and affirms that each species, including our own, is genetically adapted in exquisite detail for life in a particular environment. The studies of adaptation through time and the diversity of the millions of other species are the core of evolutionary biology. Functional biology, including medical research, will do well to incorporate the study of biodiversity and the process of evolution that has created it. Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist, researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants. Wilson is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. He is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. As of 2007, he is Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

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s03e12: Alan E. Waltar: The Future of Nuclear Technology ... After Fukushima

Nuclear technology, the basis for well-known energy production via nuclear power, has also been harnessed to serve a plethora of humanitarian functions in the fields of in agriculture, medicine, electricity generation, modern industry, transportation, public safety, environmental protection, space exploration, and even archeology and the arts. This talk explores continuous improvement in many areas of science, industry, and medicine through tapping the incredible potential of nuclear technology.

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s03e11: Alex Filippenko: Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe

Observations of very distant exploding stars show that the expansion of the Universe is now speeding up, rather than slowing down due to gravity as expected. Over the largest distances, our Universe seems to be dominated by a repulsive "dark energy" of unknown origin that stretches the very fabric of space itself faster and faster with time. Alex Filippenko (NAS), University of California, Berkeley, was a member of both teams that discovered in 1998 the accelerating expansion of the Universe, driven by "dark energy."

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s03e10: John Villasenor: Bitcoin and Beyond: Cryptocurrencies Explained

Non-state-backed, decentralized “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin have introduced new paradigms for money movement in which transfers are public but the identities of the individuals behind the transfers are masked. This presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, cryptocurrencies have important speed, efficiency and (in some respects) security advantages over traditional approaches. Yet, all mechanisms for moving and storing money—new and old—involve risks and the potential for misuse. This presentation will discuss what bitcoin is, how it works, and the broader implications of systems built on the concept of decentralized trust. John Villasenor is a professor of electrical engineering and public policy at UCLA, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a national fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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s03e09: Beth Shapiro: How (and why) to Clone a Mammoth

What if extinction is not forever? Recent advances in ancient DNA research and genome engineering technologies have opened the door to turning this idea from science fiction into science fact. But, how close are we to actually making de-extinction happen, and, are there compelling reasons to do so? In this talk, ancient DNA scientist Beth Shapiro discussed the science and ethics of de-extinction, including what is and what is not technically possible today and how scientists might overcome the existing barriers to bringing extinct species back to life.

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s03e08: Rebecca Saxe: 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.

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s03e07: Jevin West: 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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s03e06: Anthony Wagner: 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 discussed 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.

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s03e05: Kimberly Prather - 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.

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s03e04: Michelle Mello - 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.

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s03e03: 9th Annual Seymour Benzer Lecture - Yaniv Erlich - 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.

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s03e02: Monica Dus 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. 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.

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s03e01: Thomas Heaton: 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.

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s02e20: Thomas Barclay: In Search of Alien Worlds

Are we alone in the Universe? This is a question that has puzzled countless generations. While we are still unable to say whether there is life out there we are beginning to think about whether there are planets that remind us of home. The Kepler spacecraft has been used to identify several planets in the habitable zone of other star - a region around a star where a planet could host liquid water at its surface given an appropriate atmosphere. Of particular note is Kepler-186f which is an Earth-sized planet that orbits within the habitable zone of a star that is smaller and cooler than the Sun. This talk will focus on the search for Earth-like worlds, discuss what we know about the planets we have found and look at what we don't know right now but hope to learn from future NASA missions.

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