A World of Science

June 5th, 2008

This past week I attended the World Science Festival in New York City as a reporter for the Science Channel. I ran around the multitude of events with Melissa, the outstanding producer,

and a camera crew (Thanks, guys!)

wrangling all too brief interviews with scientists. I have never interviewed so many people in such a short period of time. It was fun, but I wish that I had more time with each of the scientists. I had so many questions to ask. Ah, well… I’ll just have to schedule them all for some time on TWIS!

For those of you who are not aware, the World Science Festival was a meta-event, encompassing something like 70 events within the city of New York. There were lectures, panel discussions, movies, performances at venues throughout the city, which managed to interlace science and culture in a way that I don’t believe has ever been done before. The whole shebang was brought to life by theoretical physicist, Brian Greene, and his wife, news reporter/journalist, Tracy Day. Scientists from all over the world were in attendance, and a majority of the events sold out with many experiencing lines down the street hoping for last minute tickets. In all, I think that everyone involved considers this inaugural year a massive success.

I thought they did a fantastic job with the multimedia presentation aspect of the various events. It gave a depth to the events that is not normally part of science lectures or discussions. Also, many of the events were designed with kids in mind. This was an essential part of the entire festival in my mind. It’s great to give adults the mental stimulation that might come from a discussion on quantum physics, but kids are the next generation of both scientists and voters. Creating events that stimulate a child’s scientific curiosity should be a major component of any science festival.

What specifically did I do at the festval, well here’s a synopsis…

Day one: We started with a presentation called Pioneers in Science, which brought two such pioneers, Leon Lederman and Cynthia Breazeal, to the stage to be interviewed by two teams of thoughtful high school students. The audience was filled with kids, and everyone seemed to react positively to the format. I got to interview both Leon and Cynthia after the event was over, and was highly impressed with how strongly they both felt about educating and working with youth.

Next it was off to a documentary premiere called Parallel Worlds, Parallel lives in which Mark Everett of the indie rock band the Eels delves into his now deceased father’s (Hugh Everett) body of work in the field of quantum/theoretical physics. After the film, three prominent physicists discussed Dr. Everett’s theory of parallel worlds, which has made quite a splash in recent years. I was able to interview all of the panelists: Mark Everett (who was interesting in his position because he doesn’t really have an interest in science, but knows the importance of his father’s ideas), Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, and Brian Cox.

Finally, we raced across the city to NYU to catch the end of a panel discussion/presentation called Illuminating Genius: Unlocking Creativity. Unfortunately, we were late and I was unable to see much of the discussion. Given my interest in neuroscience and memory this was one of the sessions that I really wanted to see. However, I was able to meet and (briefly) interview V.S. Ramachandran (a.k.a Rama), Nancy Andreasen, and David Eagleman. All three were fascinating, and I just wish I had more time, but it was already 10pm and everyone was getting tired. Knowing I had a full day coming up, I politely turned down an invitation to go out with Dr. Eagleman and friends.

Day Two: With a full day under our belts, this second day of the festival went a bit smoother. We also weren’t running around the city quite as much. First, was an event called Cool Jobs, and boy were the jobs represented cool. A monkey researcher – Laurie Santos, a forensic scientist – Peter Diacek, an oceanographer/research diver – Eileen Prager, a Disney Imagineer – Ben Schwegler, and a NASA researcher – Christopher McKay. I interviewed everyone except the monkey researcher, and I want all of their jobs. Although, I am quite aware that what I am doing is amazingly cool as well. How many people get to talk to their scientific heroes and share it with the world? My life is definitely not boring.

Later in the evening, we attended the presentation called Invisible Reality: The Wonderful Weirdness of the Quantum World, which was a fascinating discussion between leaders in the realm of theoretical and experimental physics and philosophy. I got to speak with Brian Greene, David Albert, and William Phillips after the event. We set the interviews up to look very red-carpet because scientists should be celebrities afterall.

Day Three: This our final and longest day of shooting and interviews was also by far the most fun. We attended a session called Your Biological Biography: Genes and Identity, which discussed the Human Genome Project and DNA testing in light of how this new knowledge might change the way we as humans think about ourselves. The take home message that all panelists seemed to agree with was the fact that we still don’t understand enough about the genome to make many useful inferences from genetic information. Afterwards I was able to speak with Dr. Francis Collins, director (until August at least) of the Human Genome Project, Paul Nurse (my third Nobel laureate of the week!), and Nikolas Rose.

Then it was time to hit the street fair. We ran around Washington Square Park taking a look at all the sciencey booths, performances, and interactive stuff. Most of it was aimed at kids, and there were many in attendance of all ages. My favorite interview from the fair was with the Imagineer who developed the most advanced animatronic robot to date, Lucky the Dinosaur.

After a rejuvenating sushi meal, we headed back to the festival for Powering the Planet: a Townhall Meeting. Although informative if you are new to the green arena, I wasn’t much impressed by the overall discussion here, and unfortunately the person who I thought would be the most interesting was not so much. Ah, well… you can’t win them all. And, maybe I was just tired. The interviews were not my best either. I think this was because I wanted to ask more complex questions that might have provoked argument, and really didn’t have the time to get into them. Also, this whole thing with the Science Channel was pretty much an audition. Not such a good idea to get people riled up during an audition. So, I was left frustrated and the questions I did ask suffered as a result. I spoke with M.Glen Kertz of Valcent Products, Saul Griffith of Makani Power, and Dan Nocera. At least I got to hug a chemist.

The final group of interviews were after a session that I wish I had time to attend, What it Means to be Human. The panelists were certain to play against one another in viewpoint and practice. I heard it was a vibrant discussion, and considering the hour the scientists brought that energy to our interviews quite readily. I had a lot of fun interviewing this lot, and again it might be due to my own scientific inclinations. Pat Churchland and Daniel Dennett were both interesting and inspired me to many more questions that could not be asked. It turns out that Dr. Dennett has worked with one of my graduate advisers, and I probably met him while I was in the early years of my graduate study. Unfortunately, I was oblivious to the greatness that was before me at the time. Heh. What a difference time makes.

Sunday was my last day in NYC, and thankfully I was able to get out a bit before heading home. I was able to connect with my adviser, Dr. Max Gomez, from my AAAS Mass Media Fellowship at WNBC back in 2005. It was a very pleasant lunch…

Oh, and this was the view out my hotel window…

And, this was the spyglass that came with the room…

Been To The East

May 22nd, 2008

Recent events have had my head spinning, so when the opportunity came up (thank goodness for conferences in stunning locations) to visit Florida’s sunny Gulf coast I jumped at the chance. My favorite things about Captiva Island were the beaches and the birds. Osprey were nesting everywhere I looked. What a treasure trove of bird activity!

I mentioned on Twitter that I took a few pictures of said birds and beaches. Enjoy:

The Skeptologists

April 20th, 2008

Breaking News!

March 10th, 2008

So, I’ve commented off and on and here and there about a new show being produced by Revision3 in which I get to play the mad scientist. Oh, oops… sorry, that’s the RAD Scientist. My segment, called Rad Science, is part of an amazing program called PopSiren that was just released to the public today. It’s first official showing will be today at 12 noon. You can find the show at Revision3‘s website.

PopSiren is hosted by Jessica Corbin and Sarah Lane (both of Tech TV fame), and features cool DIY tips, tricks, and projects for girls and boys. Neha Tiwari is the resident Nerd Bird, and I get to do science. Yay! My favorite. PopSiren is produced and directed by Heather Frank.

The reason that I initially became excited about this project was that I would have the opportunity to work with four amazing women, each with unique strengths and interests. The combination could be nothing more than amazing. And, so far it has. Each week I am absolutely impressed by the abilities these women bring to the table. What a fantastic experience!So, my first week on the job was the craziest experience ever. I was in the process of moving from Davis to SF with way to much stuff on my plate when Heather asked if I could have a segment ready for the following week. Of course, I said yes. I spent the week trying to fit my research for the segment in between packing boxes and cleaning nooks and crannies. The idea I came up with was inspired by watching a few sciencey videos on the internet. However, it was kind of involved and required the building of a fairly large apparatus – a Ruben’s Tube.

Enter my friends: thanks to the help of the amazing people in my life everything came together. Of course, it was all at the 11th hour, but it got done. We moved on a very rainy Saturday, and on Sunday the script was written and the Ruben’s Tube was built. We tested it sometime around midnight the night before the PopSiren shoot. Everything worked beautifully.The next day I hauled everything down to the Revision3 studios (and totally felt like a crazy person with this giant aluminum tube in my arms as I walked down the street) for the shoot. Once I was all set up, I had to deal with the actual recording. OMG! Tele-prompters?!? This was going to be interesting. It is actually quite difficult to read from a tele-prompter and NOT look like you’re reading. I guess you learn something new everyday, and today was the lesson in tele-prompters. We went through the segment a couple of times and then moved on to recording. It all went surprisingly smoothly. What a relief when it was over. I really wanted to do a good job, and I think that I did. My secret was to make sure I had fun. Not terribly hard when I’m playing with fire. 😉

What does a Ruben’s tube have to do with fire? Well, the Ruben’s tube, also known as a flame tube, is named after Heinrich Rubens (1865 – 1922), a German physicist who used to hang out with the likes of Max Planck. While he is better known for his role in working out quantum theory, he used his knowledge of sound and pressure to create the first flame tube. A flame tube consists of a pipe, sealed at one end, with holes drilled along its length. the unsealed end of the pipe houses a speaker. Flammable gas is pumped into the tube. When the gas begins to escape through the little holes, the gas is lit. It looks like lots of little candles. Then sound is transmitted to the tube via the speaker. This is where the fun starts.

Sound is a physical effect of the movement of matter. Some initial force creates waves of pressure that push air particles into and past each other. So, when the speaker is turned on it creates sound waves in the tube. The waves act on the gas in the tube, compressing it, and pushing it out through the little holes. Because of the tube itself, it is possible to visualize the standing waves of sound in the flames on top of the tube. The flame tube demonstrates the physical aspect of sound that is normally invisible to the human eye.Fun, right? I thought so. You can see what my friends and I built on PopSiren’s launch episode.

Check it out!

Food Science Demo Reel

March 5th, 2008

I got Joe Lindsay at Pixelcorps to edit me a demo reel of the work I’ve been doing with them on Food Science. Take a look! Oh, and if you want to see Food Science in full go to www.onfoodscience.tv for lots of great episodes brought to you by the amazing people at OnNetworks.

I’m Back…

December 13th, 2006

… from the dead so to speak. I have been fully ensconced in the writing of my dissertation for the past couple of months, but a few days ago I got the required signiatures and turned it in to the university authorities. I am done. I am a doctor. Let’s hope it helps me get my phd in the door somewhere.

I’m readying myself for the flurry of Christmas activity in which I usually become involved around this time of year. Buy the presents, visit the families, go to parties, drink and eat a lot. Sometimes the pomp and circumstance gets to me, especially the present purchasing bit. I mean if this month or so is supposed to be so about family and love, why ruin it by putting a dollar value on it with the number or extravagance of presents bought.

One potential gift this year that is getting a bit of press is the video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces”, based on the Left Behind book series about what happens to the people of the world after “the rapture”. The rapture is what born-again Christians expect to happen when Christ returns to the earth and takes all good (i.e. Christan) people to heaven. All non-believers will be left to face the anti-Christ here on earth. In the game as a player, you fight to convert people to Christianity and therefore save their souls or kill them if they won’t join you because that means that they must be with the anti-Christ. If you happen to kill someone unnecessarily (like they were a Christian, but they got their Sony PS3 before you, so you killed them for it), the game lets you atone for your sins through prayer. You can actually replace lost points through prayer.

“Left Behind: Eternal Forces” seems like the worst idea for a Christmas gift I have ever heard of. Way to teach Christian values, guys. So, first, it promotes the idea that non-Christians should be killed. This sounds like something I’ve heard about in the news in recent years. Let me think… Oh, right, like the small-minded jihadist thinking spouted by religious zealots in the Muslim community. Or, maybe like the Borg from Star Trek; you must be assimilated. However, in this case, instead of becoming one of a hive-like community of beings, you get to go to heaven. Second, this game promotes the idea that you are not responsible for your own actions as long as you pray. Sure, by prayer alone, you suddenly, magically, will be absolved of your actions. If we had a direct line to GOD, I am certain that if you killed someone, and called HIM up to say, “Hey, GOD… I kind of made a boo-boo and killed my friend for his PS3. I’m sorry.” Then GOD would say, “Yo, Dude… no problem. I understand, totally. No harm done.”

I’m glad that there are Christian groups out there who are against the sale of this game in stores. People should stand up to remind the world that violence is not religious truth. Wars are fought in the name of religions, but the basic beliefs of those religions are not based on violence. In fact, the basic beliefs of most major religions are pretty much the same in their emphasis on love and kindness. It’s in the interpretation that things get screwed up. It’s too bad that some people can’t just get over themselves, and realize how amazing we all are in our differences.

I’m not religious, so the aspects of the holiday season that revolve around organized religion are pretty lost on me. But this time of year is special to me. It is a time that almost forces me to sit back, and think about how lucky I am to have the friends and family that I do. There aren’t many times of year that do that. My life is quite active, and taking any time to spend with loved ones is a luxury. I mentally reserve this time of year to be luxurious in the company of my friends and family. It makes me sad when the real importance of the season, the personal chance to take stock and be more aware of the things in my life and to consciously be present in my life instead of running through it, takes a back seat to commersialism and obligation. If more people were to stop chasing life and actually start living it, there would be a lot more meaningful giving going on in this world. Maybe then we could stop celebrating Christmas and start celebrating humanity. That’s something we can celebrate all year long.

So, walk more slowly and enjoy the creativity and beauty around you as you shop for presents. Chew more slowly as you eat the holiday meals. Drink moments deeply and savor the amazing people around you. If you have nothing else to give, give a smile and a hug. Being present is the best present you can give.

New York Stories

April 17th, 2006

When I traveled to New York this past fall for the AAAS fellowship I was required to write biweekly reports on my experience, a midterm report, and a final report. In addition, the American Physiological Society who sponsored my adventure asked that I write for their publication, “The Physiologist.” The first piece they published can be found here. I just finished working on a couple of stories, one is a final thought based on my experience at WNBC, and the other an opinion piece about the public image and future of science. I’ll wait to see which they choose to publish, and maybe post the other here on my site at that time.

Did you feel it?

March 1st, 2006

So, according to my friends in the Bay Area, there was an earthquake today. I didn’t feel a thing being in Davis and far enough away from most epicenters to be clueless. However, as I sit here in my safe little town thinking about what I am going to do with myself when my dissertation in finished, it strikes home that there really isn’t anyplace safe to live. California, wherever I may go, is earthquake prone; the next BIG ONE due to hit either the Hayward faultline in the north or the San Andreas in the south. Whether I live in SF or LA, I’ll be screwed eventually either way. Living in New York seems like the safest option, but it’s far from home and suffers from deathly hot summers on the tail end of bitter cold winters (even though this year has been especially mild as far as winters go nevermind the blizzard). Florida has too many hurricanes, and the center of the country is constantly on tornado watch. If only it weren’t so dull in small towns I might actually be happy to stay put and live out the small town life.