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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.



Valentino Gantz,
Active Genetics Comes Alive: A Journey from Evo-Devo to CRISPR Gene Drives

In 2014 in an attempt to solve a basic research problem for my Ph.D. thesis project, I used CRISPR to develop a novel genetic element that bypassed the fundamental rules of traditional genetics. Such a genetic element could actively promote its propagation from a transgenic chromosome to its companion unaltered one. When this process occurs in the germline of an individual, the “Active” element can be inherited in a super-Mendelian fashion, promoting the preferential transmission of the element to the progeny, a process known as gene drive. Such selfish genetic entities offer a variety of potential applications including gene-drive strategies to disseminate payload genes that confer desired traits throughout insect populations for the purpose of controlling disease vectors or pest species, allelic drives biasing inheritance of preferred allelic variants, neutralizing genetic elements to delete and replace or to halt the spread of gene-drives, split-drives with the core constituent Cas9 endonuclease and guide RNA components inserted at separate genomic locations to accelerate the assembly of complex arrays of genetic traits, and inter-homolog based copying systems in somatic cells to develop tools for treating inherited or infectious diseases. Here, I summarize the substantial advances that have been made on all of these fronts since the generation of the very first CRISPR gene drive. » Valentino Gantz, Senior Scientist at IconOVir Bio » Valentino Gantz, Senior Scientist at IconOVir Bio



Brett F. Sanders,
Understanding and addressing urban flood risk with simulation models

Flooding disasters in the U.S. are on the rise and concentrated in cities. The combined effects of hardened land surfaces, more intense storms, and reliance on aging and undersized infrastructure for protection has resulted in severe flooding that is disrupting millions of lives and causing tens of billions of dollars in losses every year. Here we present an innovative modeling framework that aims to inclusively understand and equitably address flooding alongside other urban challenges impacted by flood infrastructure design, maintenance and operation. Using the Los Angeles Metropolitan Region as a case study, where severe flooding that overwhelms infrastructure is possible from a major atmospheric river event, we present an application of the model to characterize the scale and inequity of flood exposure and to identify and understand flood vulnerabilities. This reveals flood risks that are vastly different from what has previously been mapped by FEMA, and disproportionate exposure by racial and ethnic groups in line with recent nationwide modeling. The scale and inequity of exposure calls for major investments in infrastructure here and across the U.S., which represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset the social ecology of cities. Hence, we will also showcase a vision for how the framework can be used to develop regional adaptation plans and pathways of infrastructure investment. » Brett F. Sanders, University of California, Irvine



Elise Zipkin,
Why are monarch butterflies declining?

Declines in the abundance and diversity of insects pose a substantial threat to terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. Yet, identifying the causes of these declines has proved difficult, even for well-studied species like monarch butterflies, whose eastern North American population has decreased markedly over the last three decades. Three hypotheses have been proposed to explain the changes observed in the eastern monarch population: loss of milkweed host plants from increased herbicide use, mortality during autumn migration and/or early-winter resettlement and changes in breeding-season climate. We use a hierarchical modelling approach, combining data from >18,000 systematic surveys to evaluate support for each of these hypotheses over a 25-yr period. Between 2004 and 2018, breeding-season weather was nearly seven times more important than other factors in explaining variation in summer population size, which was positively associated with the size of the subsequent overwintering population. Although data limitations prevent definitive evaluation of the factors governing population size between 1994 and 2003 (the period of the steepest monarch decline coinciding with a widespread increase in herbicide use), breeding-season weather was similarly identified as an important driver of monarch population size. If observed changes in spring and summer climate continue, portions of the current breeding range may become inhospitable for monarchs. Our results highlight the increasingly important contribution of a changing climate to insect declines. » Elise Zipkin, Michigan State University



Charles C. L. McCrory,
Designing Catalysts that Use Green Electricity to Convert Carbon Dioxide into Useful Chemicals and Fuels

Green electricity generated from renewable energy is one of the fastest growing sources of electrical power around the world. In the United States, solar and wind energy make up over 10% of electricity generation comes from solar and wind energy, and this percentage is expected to increase in coming years. However, our increased reliance on intermittent energy sources raises a significant technological challenge: how do we store energy generated during peak production so that we can use it when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing? Existing storage solutions like pumped hydrostorage and battery technologies have been used to meet this challenge up until now, but a novel and promising alternative solution is to harness green electricity to convert carbon dioxide and water into useful chemicals and fuels—e.g. “solar fuels.” To generate these solar fuels efficiently with minimal waste energy, catalysts are needed to activate the reactants and lower the energy barriers to drive the reactions. This lecture will explore some of the fundamental scientific principles behind catalysis, and discuss some of the ways researchers around the world are approaching catalyst design for solar fuels generation from renewable electricity. » Charles C. L. McCrory, University of Michigan



Marcia J. Rieke,
The Webb Telescope: Twenty Years in the Making but Worth the Wait!

Christmas morning brought a treat to astronomers as the successful launch of the Webb Telescope opened a new era of discovery. The mission went through a six-month period of deploying the sun shield, aligning the telescope segments, and checking the functionality of the science instruments. The data collected during commissioning gave hints at this telescope's power, and now with the first observing programs receiving data, we are just beginning to appreciate what this telescope and its cameras and spectrometers can do. » Marcia J. Rieke, The University of Arizona



Jeff Sakamoto,
Battery technology to enable the widespread adoption of EVs

Internal combustion engines revolutionized transportation and advanced civilization in ways that were unimaginable at the turn of the twentieth century. Currently, however, owing to depleting fossil fuels and impacts on the climate, there is an urgent need to electrify transportation. It is generally accepted that achieving the widespread adoption of EVs requires batteries with higher energy density and lower cost, use sustainable materials, and exhibit improved safety compared to state-of-the-art (SOA) Li-ion technology. Moreover, as the rate of EV adoption increases, there is further motivation and urgency to augment the electrical grid capacity, which also benefits from improved batteries though not necessary the same batteries used in EVs. A typical battery consists of three components: an anode (negatively charged electrode), cathode, (positively charged electrode), and an electrolyte that provides the transport of Li ions. It follows that increasing battery performance involves approaches to improve the performance of these three components. Historically, the fields of materials science, chemical engineering, and chemistry work in concert to develop electrodes that have higher Li ion capacities and electrolytes that provide sufficient transport of Li ions while minimizing unintended side reactions that cause degradation. Though tremendous progress has been made in achieving the performance and affordability of SOA Li ion, pushing the frontier of battery technology to accelerate the adoption of EVs requires breakthroughs in battery research. This seminar described how SOA Li ion technology works and the related challenges in the near future. Looking toward the future, this presentation also discussed advanced cell chemistries that beyond SOA Li ion technology. » Jeff Sakamoto, University of Michigan



Will Rice,
When the Last Campsite Fills: Allocation of Outdoor Recreation in an Age of Extreme Scarcity - Online Zoom Event

Surging outdoor recreation demand during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed cracks in the allocation infrastructure for outdoor recreation across the U.S. For avid or even occasional campers, who comprise two thirds of North American residents, scarcities in campsite supply were revealed which paled in comparison to demand. According to Recreation.gov, those trying to reserve a spot for a specific date in a popular federally-managed campground now have an approximate 0.3% chance of success. This lecture will explore the results of a recent study which used big data to understand the unintended inequities in outdoor recreation access resulting from the allocation strategies employed to manage increased demand, including a discussion of environmental justice and proposed solutions. » Will Rice, PhD, Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation and Wildland Management, Parks, Tourism, & Recreation Management Program, Department of Society & Conservation, W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, University of Montana



Amy Williams,
The Curiosity to Explore and the Perseverance to Rove: A Decade of Discoveries on Mars

The exploration of Mars has taken us from ‘Follow the Water’ with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, to ‘Follow the Carbon’ with the Curiosity rover. We now accept the challenge to ‘Follow the Life’ with the grand search for ancient life on Mars through the Perseverance rover mission and the Mars Sample Return program. This lecture will explore the foundational discoveries and ongoing exploration of Mars with NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. » Amy Williams, University of Florida



David Harel,
On Odor Reproduction, and How to Test For It

A reliable odor reproduction system (ORS) has a vast spectrum of potential applications: from e-commerce, games and video, via the food and cosmetics industry, to medical diagnosis. Such a system would enable an output device --- the whiffer --- to release an imitation of an odor read in by an input device --- the sniffer --- upon command. To realize this scheme, one must carry out deep and complex research, involving, e.g., computer science, mathematics, chemistry, brain science and human physiological experimentation. In the process, we expect a deep understanding of this least understood of our senses to emerge. I will discuss the feasibility of an ORS, including some of our recent encouraging work. I will also address the question (not unlike Turing’s 1950 question about AI) of how to test the validity of a candidate ORS, and will propose a novel testing method, which takes advantage of the availability of near-perfect reproduction methods for sight and sound. » David Harel, Weizmann Institute of Science, President of the Israel Academy of Sciences



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



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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