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Friday, March 14th, 2014

Ask a Scientist's PI DAY Puzzle Party

Trying to decide how you're going to celebrate Pi Day (3.14) this year? Avoid the congested airports and typical math holiday madness, and join us instead for Ask a Scientist's Pi Day Puzzle Party — a boisterous math and logic puzzle competition, hosted by the inimitable Wes Carroll. You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. Come with your own crew, or form a team on the spot with other partnerless smarties. Bring your own pencils, scratch paper, and basic non-scientific calculators. The winning team receives a round of applause and a boundless feeling of pride!

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll of BodSAT SAT Prep and Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco. (This awesome venue has a huge indoor seating area.)

puzzlesDOWNLOAD THE PUZZLES

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

The Science of Beer

Whether it’s a lager or ale, sour or bitter, dark or light, most beer has one thing in common: yeast. And yeast can be explained by science! Join us tonight in partnership with KQED Science, and in celebration of SF Beer Week, for a night of learning, tasting, and educational hedonism. We'll be screening and then discussing KQED's new video, Science of Beer: Tapping the Power of Brewer’s Yeast, featuring GigaYeast, a commercial yeast laboratory, and Freewheel Brewery. Discover how yeast has been a player in both science history and beer production; plus spend a fun night out drinking for a really good reason.

Speakers: Jim Withee, scientist and founder of GigaYeast; and Malcolm McGinnis, biochemist, co-founder and brewmaster for Freewheel Brewery

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Do We Understand Pain?

To kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.
— Marcel Proust

Pain speaks as forcefully and as personally as any human experience. While the ability to experience pain is essential for survival, chronic pain is the scourge of sentient existence. As a topic of research, pain presents a formidable challenge for scientists. Why can it be so hard to control? Why does individual perception of pain vary? Come join the discussion, as two outstanding neuroscientists reply both “yes” and “no” to our title question: Do we understand pain? This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, the Bay Area Beacon of Science. LIMITED SEATING CAPACITY; REGISTRATION REQUIRED.

Speakers: Allan Basbaum, M.D., Professor of Anatomy, UCSF; and
Michael Rowbotham, M.D., Scientific Director, CPMCRI

Location: Sens Restaurant, Promenade Level, Embarcadero 4, San Francisco. Close to BART and Muni. Embarcadero garage charges $2 for 0-4 hours (with $10+ purchase).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Science Smorgasbord: Viruses, Stars, Brains, & Shapes

Four short talks presented by four Wonderfest Science Envoys:

"Viruses: Ancestors or Aliens?" Lauren Popov, Stanford
Biologists can’t agree if viruses are truly “living” entities. So if viruses aren’t alive, then how did they evolve and where did they come from? Together we will explore the mainstream hypotheses about the origins of viruses and marvel at the diversity of the ever-expanding viral family tree.

"Star Formation Through Radio Eyes" Chat Hull, UC Berkeley
How do stars form? And how do magnetic fields affect the star formation process? I focus on both of those questions in my research, which involves using radio telescopes to observe the dense blobs of dust and gas where stars like our sun are just beginning to form.

"How to Grow a Primate Brain, & Why You Should" Drew Halley, UC Berkeley
Primate brains (including yours) have some remarkable differences from those of other mammalian species. This talk will look at what’s different about primate brains, how development produces these differences, and why evolution selected them.

"What Is The Best Shape?" Otis Chodosh, Stanford
The best shape?! A question for the ages! What do geometers and physicists mean by “best”? And which shape is the winner?

This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, the Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco. (This awesome venue has a humongous, heated, indoor seating area.)

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Neuroscience of Magic (REPRISE!)

From ancient conjurers to quick-handed con artists to big ticket Las Vegas illusionists, magicians throughout the ages have been expertly manipulating human attention and perception to dazzle and delight us (or scare us, or steal our watches). Of course you know that the phenomena of cognitive and sensory illusions are responsible for the "magic" of a magic trick, but you've got to admit it still kind of freaks you out when some some guy in a top hat defies the laws of nature right in front of your eyes. Come meet neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and magician Robert Strong as they team up to demonstrate how magicians use our brains as their accomplices in effecting the impossible — and to explain what scientists can learn about the brain by studying the methods and techniques of magic. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest and Stanford's Humanist Community.

Speakers: Adam Gazzaley, UCSF Neuroscientist; and Robert Strong, the Comedy Magician

Location: Stanford's Geology Corner Auditorium (Rm #105 in Bldg #320 of Stanford’s Main Quad). Parking Structure #2 (corner of Panama and Via Ortega) is the closest place to park.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Science Trivia Contest!

Ready to put your science smarts to the test? Ask a Scientist will be celebrating the Bay Area Science Festival the best way we know how — with a boisterous science trivia contest hosted by Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours. (It’s just like a pub trivia night, but without all those other boring categories.) Even if you don’t know your cortex from a coprolite, come enjoy a night of fascinating science trivia and general revelry. You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive an awesome prize and a really cool feeling of superiority that should last at least several days. Six people max per team. Bring your own writing utensils.

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco. (This awesome venue has a humongous, heated, indoor seating area.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Neuroscience of Magic

From ancient conjurers to quick-handed con artists to big ticket Las Vegas illusionists, magicians throughout the ages have been expertly manipulating human attention and perception to dazzle and delight us (or scare us, or steal our watches). Of course you know that the phenomena of cognitive and sensory illusions are responsible for the "magic" of a magic trick, but you've got to admit it still kind of freaks you out when some some guy in a top hat defies the laws of nature right in front of your eyes. Come meet neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and magician Robert Strong as they team up to demonstrate how magicians use our brains as their accomplices in effecting the impossible — and to explain what scientists can learn about the brain by studying the methods and techniques of magic. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speakers: Adam Gazzaley, UCSF Neuroscientist; and Robert Strong, the Comedy Magician

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco. (This awesome venue has a humongous, heated, indoor seating area.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Strange Invaders: Ants, Termites, and Bedbugs

Have you heard the news? San Francisco took top honors in 2012's list of our country's most bedbug-infested cities! We are so good at being superlative! Even in locations that didn't make the list, we home-dwelling humans often have to do battle with creepy invaders trying to share our living spaces and possessions. Come and hear the latest research on the biology, detection, and control of these uninvited houseguests. (You might be surprised to discover which is the most dangerous room in your house.) Get ready for a fun night of creepy crawlies, disturbing stories, and props-a-plenty to go around. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speaker: Dr. Vernard Lewis, UC Berkeley

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Promise of Stem Cells: Hope or Hype?

I'm guessing you're all probably pretty excited about the potential of stem cell research to provide cures for debilitating conditions like diabetes, spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, heart disease, and neurologic disorders. You've heard about the enthusiasm, the caveats, and the controversy — and you want to understand what it all means, where the research stands today, where it's heading, and how people suffering from problems like those mentioned might be helped. Uta Grieshammer and Kevin Whittlesey of the state's stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will talk to us about why this area of medical research is so exciting to scientists and what we may see in terms of therapies in the future. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speakers: Uta Grieshammer and Kevin Whittlesey, Science Officers at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Modern Origins Story: From the Big Bang to Habitable Planets

The scientific understanding of our origins began in earnest with Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, and others, and has since evolved into a rich, detailed, and well-tested model. Direct observations of the infant universe now show that it was remarkably smooth compared to what we see around us today, with only tiny differences in its properties from one part to another. By contrast, in the present universe there are enormous differences in the properties of matter from one part to another: some regions host planets, stars, and galaxies (and even humans!) while others do not. In this talk, Professor Quataert will describe how the universe evolved from its smooth beginnings to its current state, emphasizing how gravity reigns supreme and builds up the planets, stars, and galaxies required for biological evolution to proceed. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speaker: Eliot Quataert, Professor of Astronomy & Physics, UC Berkeley

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco.

Friday, May 3, 2013

How to Be a Science Writer

Whether you're a seasoned science writer, greenhorn, dabbler, or just a person who likes to hear interesting science stories, you'll want to meet Thomas Hayden, co-editor of the brand new The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need To Know To Pitch, Publish And Prosper In The Digital Age. Tom and fellow Handbook contributors Robin Mejia, Monya Baker, Douglas Fox, and Liza Gross will share personal stories from the trenches of science writing — tales of frustration, victory, danger, and more. Post storytime, the crew will address questions about how to build a sustainable, profitable, sane science writing career. We'll discuss topics such as finding and crafting a story, working with multimedia, pitching to publications, dealing with emotional issues like isolation and envy, understanding business structures, negotiating contracts, being profitable, and handling ethical matters. Whatever your level of experience, you're invited to come chat, share, and learn. Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speakers: The Science Writers’ Handbook's Thomas Hayden, Robin Mejia, Monya Baker, Douglas Fox, and Liza Gross

Location: Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Topic: Parasites Among Us

Imagine, if you will, a tiny creature with the ability to invade your body, hijack your cells, change your DNA, and modify you physically and behaviorally to suit its own devious goals. Sound like science fiction? Maybe, but it's also the modus operandi of the real-life parasitic organisms that live among, and inside, the rest of us animals. While some parasites, in their quest for survival and propagation, may live undetected in the bodies of their hosts, others can cause sickness or death. Some of the world's most pernicious and persistent diseases are caused by these supremely successful and sophisticated organisms. But according to evolutionary biologists, parasites have also played a significant role in shaping the human species — including why we use sex to reproduce. (Nice job, little friends!) Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Jim McKerrow returns to Ask a Scientist with more strange and wonderful tales of parasite biology. This event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speaker: Jim McKerrow, Director, Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco. (This awesome venue has a humongous, heated, indoor seating area.)

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Ask a Scientist's PI DAY Puzzle Party

Trying to decide how you're going to celebrate Pi Day (3.14) this year? Avoid the congested airports and typical math holiday madness, and join us instead for Ask a Scientist's Pi Day Puzzle Party — a boisterous math and logic puzzle competition, hosted by the inimitable Wes Carroll. You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. Come with your own crew, or form a team on the spot with other partnerless smarties. Bring your own pencils, scratch paper, and basic non-scientific calculators. The winning team receives a round of applause and everlasting admiration!

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll of BodSAT SAT Prep and Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th Street, San Francisco

puzzlesDOWNLOAD THE PUZZLES

2012 return to top

Monday, October 29, 2012

Science Trivia Contest!

Ready to put your science smarts to the test? Ask a Scientist will be celebrating the Bay Area Science Festival the best way we know how — with a boisterous science trivia contest hosted by Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours. (It’s just like a pub trivia night, but without all those other boring categories.) Even if you don’t know your cortex from a coprolite, come enjoy a night of fascinating science trivia and general revelry. You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive an awesome prize and a really cool feeling of superiority that should last at least several days. Six people max per team. Bring your own writing utensils.

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours

Location: Atlas Cafe, 3049 20th Street, San Francisco

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Is Nature or Man the Most Effective Bioterrorist?

Via Wonderfest: Since at least the beginning of the written record, epidemics of infectious disease have swept through plant and animal populations, including humans, and altered the course of history. The unexpected, diverse, and seemingly sophisticated composition and behavior of these naturally-occurring epidemic agents has prompted many to proclaim Mother Nature to be a far more effective bioterrorist than Man could ever be. Yet, recent developments in the ongoing biology and biotechnology “revolution” may force us to reconsider this conclusion. New insights and capabilities in the life sciences, as illustrated by the recent creation of novel transmissible and virulent bird flu viruses in the laboratory, suggest that humans might rival Mother Nature for this dubious distinction. Tonight's event is presented in partnership with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speakers: Stanley Falkow, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology, Stanford; and David Relman, Professor of Medicine, Stanford

Location: California Institute of Integral Studies, Namaste Hall; 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

COSMOS Reconsidered, with Alex Filippenko

Via Wonderfest: Do you remember when Carl Sagan urged us to explore beyond the “shores of the cosmic ocean” and to search for other planetary voices in the “cosmic fugue” of life? How about when Sagan helped us to imagine the fourth dimension by using cute little cut-outs scurrying around Flatland? Or when he gently debunked alien-abduction claims while explaining and encouraging the SETI efforts of real scientists? Since the COSMOS television series aired in 1980, it has become the most watched science documentary of all time — seen by more than half a billion people! Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow) and Neil deGrasse Tyson will release a remake of COSMOS in 2014. Until then, we in the Bay Area are lucky to have astronomy legend Alex Filippenko shining his insight and enthusiasm onto our favorite COSMOS episodes. Tonight's event is presented in collaboration with Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science.

Speaker: Dr. Alex Filippenko, Professor of Astronomy, UC Berkeley

Location: California Institute of Integral Studies, Namaste Hall; 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter

Tonight Ask a Scientist will be co-launching the brand new Wonderfest Book Club with Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter. Professor Deacon’s presentation will focus on the idea that key elements of consciousness (values, feelings, meanings, etc.) emerge from specific constraints on the physical processes of a nervous system. Read the book (optional), chat about it on Wonderfest's book club message board (also optional), and then come join us to learn more.

Speaker: Terrence Deacon, Professor of Biological Anthropology and Neuroscience, UC Berkeley

Location: California Institute of Integral Studies, Namaste Hall; 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco

video icon WATCH THIS TALK ON FORA.TV

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Ask a Scientist's PI DAY Puzzle Party

Trying to decide how you're going to celebrate Pi Day (3.14) this year? Avoid the congested airports and typical math holiday madness, and join us instead for Ask a Scientist's Pi Day Puzzle Party — a boisterous math and logic puzzle competition, hosted by the inimitable Wes Carroll. You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. Bring your own pencils and scratch paper. Weather permitting, the back garden and front sidewalk tables will be available for overflow attendance — so bring a jacket too. The winning team receives a round of drinks and everlasting admiration!

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll; Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

puzzlesDOWNLOAD THE PUZZLES

Wednesday, November 2, 2012

Science Trivia Contest!

Ready to put your science smarts to the test? Tonight we will be celebrating the Bay Area Science Festival the best way we know how — with a boisterous science trivia contest hosted by Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours. (It's just like a pub trivia night, but without all those other boring categories.) Even if you don't know your cortex from a coprolite, come enjoy a night of fascinating science trivia and general revelry. You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive an awesome prize and a really cool feeling of superiority that should last at least several days. Six people max per team. Bring your own writing utensils.

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours

Location: Atlas Cafe, 3049 20th Street, San Francisco

2011 return to top

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Topic: Does the Weirdness of Quantum Physics Influence the Brain?

Neuroscientists say that there is a mystery at the core of our understanding of consciousness. Physicists say that there is a mystery at the core of our understanding of quantum mechanics. Do these two mysteries have anything to do with each other? UC Berkeley physicist Stan Klein, a founding member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, will help us to get a good scientific handle on this thorny, important, and controversial topic. Find out what Dr. Klein has to say about the role of "quantum weirdness" as it relates to the awesome capabilities of the brain, personal awareness, free will, and even parapsychology.

Presented with: Wonderfest, The Bay Area Beacon of Science

Speaker: Stanley Klein, Professor of Vision Science, UC Berkeley

Location: Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco

2010 return to top

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Topic: Science of the Bay Bridge

When the Bay Bridge was built back in 1933 it was heralded as a man-made wonder — the largest and most expensive bridge of its time. But not much was known about earthquakes back then. Even if you didn't live in the Bay Area in 1989, you probably recall the horrific images of the collapsed upper deck after the Loma Prieta earthquake. To help prevent such a scene from recurring, the western span of the bridge was retroffited; and the more vulnerable eastern span needed to be completely replaced. The awesome engineering of the new span hides ingenious seismic innovations within its simple-looking design. Learn about this marvel of modern engineering, and discuss the recent incidents that have raised public concern and curiosity about this colossal and critical project. Tonight's event is presented in collaboration with KQED's QUEST Science and Environment Series. We'll start the evening by watching QUEST's "The New Bay Bridge" video.

Speakers: Marwan Nader, Bay Bridge Lead Design Engineer; and Bart Ney, Caltrans Spokesperson

Location: Horatius, 350 Kansas (btw. 16th & 17th) San Francisco

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Topic: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer, a young mother of five who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and is now buried in an unmarked grave. Yet her cells, which have become one of the most important tools in modern medicine, are still alive today. The remarkable HeLa cells, the first human cells to live indefinitely outside the body, helped eradicate polio and develop AIDS treatments, and were vital to advances such as in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping. They've been subjected to nuclear testing, shot into space, and have helped scientists win Nobel prizes — all without the knowledge of Henrietta or her family. Science writer Rebecca Skloot tells this fascinating and dramatic story of science, bioethics, race issues, history, and family in the new book that one reviewer calls, "a science biography like the world has never seen." (I got a lump in my throat just reading the synopsis.) Come meet Rebecca and hear one of modern science's most powerful and gripping tales. Books will be available for sale at the event and Rebecca will sign them after the talk.

Speaker: Rebecca Skloot, Science Journalist and Author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Location: Horatius, 350 Kansas (btw. 16th & 17th) San Francisco

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

 

Get ready for something different, folks! Instead of the usual large lecture format, this month Ask a Scientist is partnering with the Exploratorium to bring you a small-scale, participatory event. The event will take place at Bazaar Cafe, with a 60-person limit. RSVP is required.

Topic: Tiny Science, Big Questions

If you use sunscreen, you've probably benefitted from the use of nanotechnology in medicine. Nanoparticles are being used and researched in a wide array of health care products, from cosmetics to chemotherapy. The ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale tantalizes with great potential for highly effective treatments that may have fewer side effects than current practices. Yet little is known about the long term implications of such treatments and regulation of these substances is in its early stages. Join us for a spirited evening in which we consider some of the societal questions around this emerging field of medicine. We'll start off with some Nano 101, covering the science and some of its ethical implications, and then break into small groups for discussion. Bring your open mind and desire to engage in lively conversation with others.

Location: Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Topic: Quantum Mechanics

The world of the very small isn't simply a scaled-down version of the big world we experience in every day life. That's why while classical mechanics accurately describes the motion of heavenly bodies, rocket ships, baseballs, and seesaws, we need quantum mechanics to describe the behavior of energy and matter at the atomic scale. And in this miniature world, some weird stuff can happen. An object can be in two places at the same time. Particles can pop into existence and then vanish, or go from spot to another without crossing the distance in between. One particle can even affect another particle meters away instantaneously. Weirdest of all, taking measurements of particles can fundamentally change their behavior — so how do scientists even know what they're talking about? Come learn the fundamental difference between the quantum world and the classical, and discover the principle methodology for probing particles.

Speaker: Ryan Nurmela, Director, QuantumCamp

Location: Horatius, 350 Kansas (btw. 16th & 17th) San Francisco

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Topic: Your Brain on Computers

Back in the 70s, did you ever fantasize about the idea of a Bionic Man who could play Pong using only his mind? Here in the 21st century, microelectrodes planted inside quadriplegics' brains translate the neural activity of thoughts into signals that can move a computer cursor, control a robotic arm, and yes, play Pong! Although in their infancy, the exciting innovations of neuromodulation and brain-computer interface have already helped people with spinal cord injuries, blindness, deafness, depression, and disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson's. For example, devices like NeuroPace's RNS Neurostimulator, implanted in the brains of epileptics, are able to detect abnormal electrical activity in the brain and attempt to prevent seizures. This incredible technology may also lead you to wonder about bioethically sticky non-therapeutic applications like enhancing cognitive ability or athletic skill. Biomedical engineer Brett Wingeier will lead what promises to be a fascinating discussion.

Speaker: Brett Wingeier, Principal Biomedical Engineer, NeuroPace
(Check out his new blog about all things neuro.)

Location: Horatius, 350 Kansas (btw. 16th & 17th) San Francisco

video icon WATCH THIS TALK ON FORA.TV

2009 return to top

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Topic: San Francisco's Primeval Waterscape

Did you know that the southeastern portion of San Francisco was once dominated by the watersheds of two large creeks, Mission and Islais, while large parts of the north and west of the city had no creeks at all because they were covered with sand dunes? Our waterscape has changed dramatically over the years, from the natural creek- and dune-scape to today's modern sewersheds. Come learn about the unique features of San Francisco's primeval waterscape and find out how the city used and abused its many creeks and lakes as it grew into the modern metropolis we call home. The Oakland Museum of California's Christopher Richard will explain the geological and political history of this transformation and will take us on a virtual tour of the remaining free-running creeks in San Francisco (which you can visit!).

Speaker: Christopher Richard, Curator of Aquatic Biology, Oakland Museum of California

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Topic: Biological Invasion!

Humans are now moving around the world at a fantastic rate, carrying plants and bugs and diseases which have been trapped on separate continents for millions of years. The organisms we transport are changing our world —  Sudden Oak Death and other pathogens are eliminating forests, human pandemics are shaking national economies, and invasive plants are homogenizing natural communities. There are striking parallels between these biological invasions and the 19th-century human disease outbreaks which spurred the science of epidemiology. Thankfully, solutions to our invasion crisis are as clear and simple as those early public health solutions. Daniel Gluesenkamp will give us an overview of this exciting stage in Earth’s evolution, review solutions to this challenge, and present examples of recent efforts to clean up our act.

Speaker: Daniel Gluesenkamp, Director of Habitat Protection and Restoration, Audubon Canyon Ranch

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

video icon WATCH THIS TALK ON FORA.TV

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Topic: The Science of Magic

From ancient conjurers, to quick-handed con artists, to big ticket Las Vegas illusionists, magicians throughout the ages have been expertly manipulating human attention and perception to dazzle and delight us (or scare us, or steal our watches). Of course you know that the phenomena of cognitive and sensory illusions are responsible for the "magic" of a magic trick, but you've got to admit it still kind of freaks you out when some some guy in a top hat defies the laws of nature right in front of your eyes. Tonight Luigi Anzivino will explain how magicians use our brains as their accomplices in effecting the impossible — and what scientists can learn about the brain by studying the methods and techniques of magic.

Speaker: Luigi Anzivino, Neuroscientist, Magician, and Learning Studio Coordinator at Exploratorium

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Topic: The Story of Time and Life

In 2003 the California Academy of Sciences closed its doors to begin construction on their new facility. The enterprising folks at City College pillaged the remains of the Academy's Life Through Time exhibit, procuring panels, murals, fossils, rock samples, and scale models — all in need of a loving home. After five years of installing, designing, revamping, and augmenting, The Story of Time and Life was born. Come join Ask a Scientist at City College for a special presentation of this massive multidisciplinary display. Professor Katryn Wiese will give a talk on the history of life from the Big Bang up through humans, followed by an open house tour of the show. Science faculty and exhibit builders will be there to chat and answer our questions as we walk the exhibit along all four floors of the Science Building.

Speaker: Katryn Wiese, Earth Sciences Department Chair and Professor of Geology & Oceanography, City College of San Francisco

Location: City College of SF, Ocean Campus, Science Building, Room 136. 50 Phelan Ave. Convenient parking is available for $3; passes are sold from the machines in the lots.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Topic: Take a Tour of Your Brain

How often do you think about your own brain? For most of us, it functions so seamlessly that we rarely need to contemplate the masterpiece of engineering that quietly runs the show. Join Aubrey Gilbert, neuroscientist and medical student, for an overview of how the nervous system works, and perhaps even more interesting, what happens when it doesn't. On this jaunt through things fun, wild, and neurological, we'll learn about animals who can sleep one half of their brains at a time, blind people who can see, what the two hemispheres of your brain are really saying to each other, and the tricks your mind is playing on you every day.

Speaker: Aubrey Gilbert, PhD, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute,
UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Topic: Secrets of the Sleeping Brain

Why do we sleep? Although science has yet to explain the reason we spend one-third of our lives in this bizarre state, an exciting theory suggests that sleep can solidify newly learned memories by rewiring the architecture of brain. Emerging neuroscience evidence also indicates that sleep can intelligently associate and integrate new memories together, performing a kind of “sleep-dependent alchemy.” This phenomenon may fuel creative human insights, often reflected in dream content. In addition to memory benefits, recent findings also suggest that sleep can “refresh” emotional brain reactivity, smoothing away the rough edges from our prior waking concerns, thereby allowing rational next-day decisions. Thinking about skimping on your Zs? You'd better come hear what UC Berkeley's Matt Walker has to say about it first!

Speaker: Matt Walker, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

video icon WATCH THIS TALK ON FORA.TV

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Ask a Scientist's "Pi Approximation Day" Puzzle Party
...and Sixth Anniversary Celebration!

Come celebrate Pi Approximation Day (22/7) and Ask a Scientist's sixth birthday, at our long overdue Puzzle Party! Teaser-of-brains Wes Carroll hosts this boisterous and friendly competition, doling out math and logic puzzles that will make you shout both "Arghh!" and "A-Ha!" You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. Even if you're puzzle-shy, you can still come to observe, cheer, and support your favorite team. No calculators necessary, but you may use one if you'd like. No cell phones or internet allowed. Bring your own pencils and scratch paper. The winning team receives a round of drinks and the admiration of dozens! [NOTE the early start time!]

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll, Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

puzzlesREAD THE PUZZLES AND SOLUTIONS

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Topic: How to Keep an Illustrated Field Journal

Ok, get ready for something totally different. Tonight naturalist, biologist, educator, and artist John "Jack" Muir Laws will teach us how to start and keep a daily illustrated field journal. Jack, who spent six years backpacking the Sierra Nevada to research and illustrate The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, will share tricks and techniques for drawing birds, mammals, plants, and landscapes; noting signs of the season; and achieving the discipline and good habits that will help you keep your journal going once you've started. Learn to observe and appreciate the natural world in a whole new way. No drawing experience is necessary. Bring your own sketchpad and pencils if you want to follow along.

Speaker: John Muir Laws, Freelance Illustrator, Teacher of Natural History Field Observation and Illustration at City College, and Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Topic: LIFE

Among the myriad challenges faced by the modern world, here are two biggies: finding a clean, sustainable source of energy, and safely disposing of nuclear waste. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's LIFE Project (Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy) has the potential to resolve both. LIFE is a hybrid technology that combines the best aspects of nuclear fusion, a clean, safe, and virtually unlimited energy source, with nuclear fission, a carbon-free, reliable energy technology already in use around the world. And by burning nuclear waste for its fuel, LIFE would provide the added advantage of dramatically shrinking the planet's stockpile of spent nuclear fuel. Come learn about the benefits and challenges of this promising new technology.

Speaker: Jeff Latkowski, Chief Engineer, LIFE Project

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Topic: The Science of CG Animation

To those of us who grew up watching Popeye and The Flintstones, animation seemed like a pretty simple concept. You could even make your own respectable frame-by-frame cartoon with nothing but a notepad and pencil. These days animation is a whole different game — entailing technical innovations that make cels and gouache look like artifacts from Bedrock. Tonight we'll learn how the art and science of computer generated animation has evolved from a single pixel on a screen to fully rendered scenes that can be hard to distinguish from live action. Our DreamWorks dream team will walk us through the building blocks of a CG animated project, explaining the science and math behind the transformation of tiny dots of color into fluid that flows, fur that bristles, and feathers that ruffle.

Speakers: From PDI/DreamWorks Animation: Andrew Pearce, Director of R&D; Eric Tabellion, R&D Software Engineer; and David Eberle, R&D Software Engineer

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Topic: Parasites Among Us

Imagine, if you will, a tiny creature with the ability to invade your body, hijack your cells, change your DNA, and modify you physically and behaviorally to suit its own devious goals. Sound like science fiction? Maybe, but it's also the modus operandi of the real-life parasitic organisms that live among, and inside, the rest of us animals. While some parasites, in their quest for survival and propagation, may live undetected in the bodies of their hosts, others can cause sickness or death. Some of the world's most pernicious and persistent diseases are caused by these supremely successful and sophisticated organisms. But according to evolutionary biologists, parasites have also played a significant role in shaping the human species — including why we use sex to reproduce. (Nice job, little friends!) Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Jim McKerrow returns to Ask a Scientist with more strange and wonderful tales of parasite biology. Note to the squeamish: stay home!

Speaker: Jim McKerrow, Director, Sandler Center for Research on Parasitic Diseases

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Topic: Sex and War

Why is it that humans, nearly unique in this regard, have a natural inclination to band together and kill off members of our own species? The fact that chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, are the only other animals known to exhibit such organized warlike behavior is a big clue. Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, authors of the new book Sex and War, assert that the answers lie in our biological history — that aggression against our own species is rooted in deep evolutionary impulses and predispositions. In other words, intra-species battling among our protohuman ancestors gave a reproductive advantage to the most violent males — and here we are, their pugnacious descendants, still at it. Come learn how sex and war are inextricably linked, and perhaps, what we modern-day humans can do about it. Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speakers: Thomas Hayden; science journalist and lecturer in the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University. Malcolm Potts; obstetrician, research biologist, and Bixby Professor at UC Berkeley.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

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Tuesday, Feb 3rd, 2009

Topic: Ice Age Bay Area

The hamburger joint on my corner has been there forever...or has it?? Set your time machine back to the most recent ice age, 10-20,000 years ago, and you'll find yourself in a San Francisco you would scarcely recognize. You might think you'd been transported to the African plains, a grassy landscape teeming with mammoths, mastadons, saber-toothed cats, camels, llamas, and lions. Our familiar local geography would be unrecognizable as well. While much ocean water was locked away in ice masses to the north, lower sea levels exposed miles of land off of our current coastline, and the Bay Area had no bay — in its place was a vast, lush valley with a massive river running through it. Join us on a trip backwards in time with the Oakland Museum's Douglas Long at the helm. Tonight's event is presented in collaboration with KQED's QUEST Science and Environment Series. We'll start the evening by watching QUEST's "Ice Age Bay Area" video.

Speaker: Douglas Long; Chief Curator, Department of Natural Sciences,
Oakland Museum of California

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Topic: Bigfoot and Other Wild Men of the Forest

Bummer. The recent claim by two Georgia men to have discovered the remains of a Bigfoot corpse turned out to be a hoax. Sure, you didn't fall for it, but somehow a couple of blockheads and a frozen gorilla costume did manage to capture public attention and create a minor media stir. After all, Bigfoot, Yeti, and hordes of other cryptoid missing links have been igniting human imagination for ages. Even the most skeptical of us must wonder if it's possible there really could be large, undiscovered primates on earth, still unknown to us humans. Can we be so sure we've found them all? And if some enticing evidence presented itself, how would we test it scientifically? Tonight physical anthropologist Eugenie Scott will help us answer the question of whether or not we might one day be able to welcome some long lost relatives to the family tree. This event is presented in collaboration with the Bay Area Skeptics.

Speaker: Eugenie Scott; Physical Anthropologist and Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

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2008 return to top

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Topic: How Computers Look at Art

Thanks to cutting edge advancements in computer science, questions and controversies in the study of art are now being answered in ways that were not previously possible. For example, computer analysis is currently being used to authenticate paintings attributed to artists such as Jackson Pollock and Vincent Van Gogh. And analysis of perspective, shading, color and form has thrown a wrench into David Hockney's bold claim that as early as 1420, Renaissance artists employed optical devices such as concave mirrors to project images onto their canvases. How do these computer methods work? What can computers reveal about images that even the best-trained connoisseurs, art historians and artist cannot? How much more powerful and revealing will these methods become? In short, how is computer image analysis changing our understanding of art? Come find out.

Speaker: David Stork; Chief Scientist of Ricoh Innovations, Consulting Professor of Statistics and Visiting Lecturer in Computer Science at Stanford University.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Topic: Surviving in Space

Long-range space travel brings a new set of challenges to the already formidable mission of sending humans out into space. Now that the U.S. is ramping up plans to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually on to Mars, NASA scientists must figure out how to supply crews with air, food, and water for stretches of months, and even years, at a time. The cost of shipping water into space, for example, will shut down a Tang party pretty quickly — every pound of water consumed in orbit costs around $10,000. To meet such challenges, researchers like Sherwin Gormly and his colleagues are coming up with inventive ways to recycle in an enclosed space habitat. Arguably the most intriguing example is a 10-pound machine that turns urine into drinking water using processes that duplicate those that occur in nature. Pee-licious! Come find out what Sherwin has to tell us about all aspects of exploration life support, and how such innovations could impact real-world conservation efforts here at home.

Speaker: Sherwin Gormly, Water Process Research and Development Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Topic: The Moon

Let's talk about the moon. In my opinion it's the best celestial body to observe — it's big enough to see in captivating detail without a telescope, and it doesn't thank you for your wonderment by burning out your eyeballs. And while it may lack the kaleidoscopic coloring, dynamic vitality, and exotic mystery of some of the other local orbs, our moon is the old friend we wouldn't want to lose. Tonight we'll learn all about our trusty sidekick — the theories on its formation, predictions about its future, its internal structure, its geological past and present, and the many ways in which it affects the earth. We'll also talk about one of the next missions NASA will be sending to the moon, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. LCROSS will launch next year and will impact the moon in search of water ice near its poles! BONUS: Weather permitting, we'll do some telescope-assisted skygazing after the talk. On tonight's menu is a lovely waxing half moon and glamorous gaseous Jupiter.

Speaker: Jennifer Heldman, Planetary Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

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Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Topic: How Computers Look at Art (cancelled)

This talk was cancelled at the last minute, but impromptu panelists Zeke Kossover, Robin Marks, and Leif Steinhour pulled off an awesome grab-bag confab with about 20 minutes of notice. Topics covered: bicycle design, the Large Hadron Collider, science education and social issues, and much more. Thanks, guys! "How Computers Look at Art" is rescheduled for December 3, 2008.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Ask a Scientist's 5th BIRTHDAY PARTY: Physics Circus Part II

Hey everybody, Ask a Scientist is FIVE years old! To help us celebrate this momentous milestone, ringmaster Zeke Kossover and his crew of sensational sideshow scientists are returning to the big top to astound, confound, and expound! Tonight Zeke will perform a whole new set of dazzling demonstrations that illustrate physical principles — this time kicking it up a notch with torches, machetes, and broken glass. Why is a wooden stake better than steel for killing a vampire? What happens to an iPod dropped into liquid nitrogen? Will a toy boat float on gas? Can Zeke break a stack of wooden boards with his hand? How much fun is it to ride a hovercraft? Find out tonight!

Ringmaster: Zeke Kossover, physics teacher at Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

The crew: Tucker Hiatt, physics teacher at The Branson School and director of Wonderfest; Leif Steinhour, Constructor, One Off Shoppe.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Topic: Robots

From Talos and Golem to Rosie the Maid and KITT the Car, artifical humans have long been a source of fascination to real humans. While fiction and fantasy abound with an animated cast of automatons ranging from evil to endearing, today's real robots are building our cars, defusing roadside bombs, and vacuuming up the dog hairs while we're at work. Find out what David Calkins, one of America's most respected robotics authorities, has to say about the past, present, and future of artificial intelligence. Among his numerous titles, David is president of the Robotics Society of America, founder of the ROBOGames, and co-founder and president of ComBots — the country's largest organizer of robot combat. So if you've got questions about robots, this is clearly the guy to ask. Oh, and I forgot to mention, David will also be bringing some very special guests with him: ROBOTS!

Speaker: David Calkins, Lecturer of Computer & Electrical Engineering at SF State University

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Topic: Native American Science

Tonight Berkeley astronomer Isabel Hawkins and the Native American Academy's Rose von Thater Braan will join forces to discuss the topic of Native science. Isabel will talk with us about Native American astronomy from a western perpective, and Rose will address how Indigenous learning processes differ from the western scientific method that most of us are probably used to. You may already know that among the ancient world's top astronomers were Native Americans. For example, Mayan measurements of the known planets' synodic periods were every bit as accurate as Ptolemy's, and their calendar was so precise that it could predict the occurrence of eclipses to an error of one day in 6,000 years. But despite the concurrence of Mayan and Greco-Roman observations, the methods and goals of western vs. Native science contrast with one another in some thought-provoking ways. Discover how these two world views differ, what they share, and how bringing them together holds the potential for a paradigmatic shift and the emergence of a whole new kind of science.

Speakers: Isabel Hawkins, Research Astronomer at UC Berkeley. Rose von Thater Braan, cofounder of the Native American Academy.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Topic: Birds, Bees, and Boids

Everyone's seen birds flying, ants foraging, bees working, and fish swimming — all with the apparent purpose and coordination of a single conscious organism. But with no leader, no centralized management, how does each individual participant know what to do and where to go? The collective behavior of such animals — each oblivious to the master plan, but contributing to the group's goals and success — is what's known as swarm intelligence. Researchers have found that such self-organizing systems function through constant interactions between individuals, each of which is following simple rules. In 1986, computer graphics researcher Craig Reynolds created a steering program called boids, in which life-like graphical objects follow three basic rules of motion. The result looks awfully familiar. He is now a leader in the field of computer animated crowd simulation, doing research on visual effects for films and video games. Tonight Craig will talk with us about his work and how it relates to biology, society, business, robots, and more!

Speaker: Craig Reynolds; Senior Researcher at Sony Computer Entertainment US R&D

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Topic: Individual Differences in Perception

It's probably occurred to you that the way you perceive the physical world might not necessarily be the way other people perceive it — that what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell may be experienced differently by someone else. But what does science have to say about the matter? Research on the subject of individual differences in perception bears some interesting observations. For example, gender plays a role in the performance of visual tasks involving spatial discrimination and color, sensitivity to sounds and odor, and responsiveness to pain. Personal experience contributes as well — wine connoisseurs, musicians, and video gamers develop, respectively, heightened ability in detecting odors, sounds, and visual targets. And of course genetic quirks (like color-blindness, synesthesia, or supertasting abilities) also shape each person's unique experience of the material world. Come learn more about this fascinating and most fundamental of topics, and participate in a casual on-site research study!

Speaker: Ariella Popple; Vision Scientist, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Topic: Tornado Research in the Field

"Tornadoes are without question the ultimate manifestation of extreme weather. No other meteorological event is as violent or awe inspiring." (Chris Burt, Extreme Weather) You better believe it! While even a humble F0 or F1 on the Fujita Scale (like the one that visited South San Francisco in 2005) can damage property and push cars off the road, a monster F5 tornado can rip a house right off its foundation and obliterate it. These treacherous giants can reach a mile or more in width and can charge across the landscape at over 70mph. And while the sustained rate of hurricane winds has never exceeded 200mph (in recorded history), the winds of the most intense tornadoes can exceed a mind-boggling 300mph. Why and how do these atmospheric powerhouses form? What is it about the unique topography of North America that makes the U.S. home to more tornadoes than any other country? And most important, why would anyone want to get anywhere near one? One way to find out: let's ask John Monteverdi, meteorologist and storm chaser.

Speaker: John Monteverdi, Professor of Meteorology at San Francisco State University

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Topic: The Science of Baseball

With baseball season just around the corner, whose mind doesn't naturally turn to dreamy springtime thoughts of green grass, peanuts, science, and math? Come hear what our panel of experts has to say about the science of America's favorite pastime. Why is a curveball curved? What makes the sweet spot so sweet? Why do outfielders instinctively run in an arc instead of a straight line? Statistically speaking, are record-breaking players just really lucky? And why have some physicists stated that, at least on paper, hitting a home run is impossible? Come learn the answers to these questions and whatever else you've been wondering about the science and math of baseball. Tonight's event is presented in collaboration with KQED's QUEST Science and Environment Series and Exploratorium. We'll start off the evening by watching QUEST's "Physics of Baseball" video.

Speakers: Linda Shore, Exploratorium Physicist and Director of Exploratorium's Teacher Institute. David Barker, Exploratorium's senior graphic designer and resident baseball fanatic. Mathematician and NPR's "Math Guy," Keith Devlin of Stanford University.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Ask a Scientist's PI DAY Puzzle Party

Trying to decide how you're going to celebrate Pi Day (3.14) this year? Avoid the congested airports and typical math holiday madness, and join us instead for Ask a Scientist's Pi Day Puzzle Party — a boisterous math and logic puzzle competition, hosted by the inimitable Wes Carroll. You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. No calculators necessary. Please bring your own pencils and scratch paper. Weather permitting, the back garden and front sidewalk tables will be available for overflow attendance — so bring a jacket too. The winning team receives a round of drinks and everlasting admiration!

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll; Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

puzzlesREAD THE PUZZLES AND SOLUTIONS

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Topic: The 2000-Year-Old Computer (and Other Achievements of Ancient Science)

We learn in school that the science of our ancestors included such endearing bunk as flat planets, geocentric solar systems, and the balancing of the body's four humors. (Even the pre-internet decades of my youth now seem to me like a dark, distant era of ignorance that I can't believe we all survived.) Did our ancient predecessors get anything right? Of course they did. Tonight, science historian Richard Carrier will discuss the nature and limitations of ancient science. While crucial contributions have come from many different cultures throughout history, Richard will talk about a handful of Graeco-Roman scientific and technological advances that might surprise you. Here's a teaser: we'll learn about the Antikythera mechanism, the oldest known computer — discovered in a 2000-year-old shipwreck near Crete. Cool.

Speaker: Richard Carrier; Science Historian and Philosopher, Columbia University.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

SPECIAL EVENT: Phat Tuesday Physics Circus!

Come join ringmaster Zeke Kossover and his crew of sensational sideshow scientists as they (and YOU) perform dazzling demonstrations that illustrate physical principles! Watch, and listen, as sound shatters a wine glass! Ride a hovercraft! Turn on an electric pickle! Try to look at invisible glass! Witness the stopping of time! (Ok, not time exactly, but the hands of a watch.) Zeke and his crew will astound, amaze and explain, every step of the way. Can you think of a more appropriate way to celebrate Mardi Gras, than sledgehammering a bed of nails into the chest of a physics teacher from New Orleans? I sure can't!

Ringmaster: Zeke Kossover, physics teacher at Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

The crew: Tucker Hiatt, physics teacher at The Branson School and director of Wonderfest; Leif Steinhour, Constructor, One Off Shoppe.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Topic: Where Did Language Come From?

Of all the features often proposed for distinguishing humans from the other animals — bipedalism, tool making — it's language that seems to be the most compelling difference between us and them. Even with the disputed definitions of what exactly makes communication among members of a species a "language," there is clearly something unique about the robust, versatile, complex and innovative way we humans transmit ideas and information to one another. The question that neurologist and anthropologist Terry Deacon attempts to answer is one every child has wondered: why can't animals talk? Deacon's research investigates the differences between the brain anatomy and chemistry of humans and that of the other primates, how those differences evolved, and what it all may tell us about the origins of our uniquely human cognitive and language abilities.

Speaker: Terrence Deacon; Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics, UC Berkeley. Author of The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

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2007 return to top

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Topic: The Dark Side of the Universe

A scientific revolution in our understanding of the universe is under way. In the last decade or so, cosmology has become an experimental science that has led to two mysterious observations: about a quarter of the universe is "dark matter," which gravitationally attracts but is otherwise invisible, and about two-thirds is "dark energy," which causes space itself to expand at an ever-increasing rate. That means only a small fraction of the energy in the universe is due to matter that we understand! Pretty spooky. In tonight's presentation, Stanford physics professor Patricia Burchat will guide us in exploring the evidence for dark matter and dark energy, and the experiments being developed to investigate their fundamental nature.

Speaker: Patricia Burchat; Professor of Physics, Stanford

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Sunday, December 9th , 2007

Ask a Scientist's Holiday Puzzle Party

Family dinners are a treasured tradition, and non-denominational mid-winter office functions totally rock, but let's face facts: most holiday parties lack math problems. Not so at Ask a Scientist! Kick off the season of celebration with merriment AND math at our Holiday Puzzle Party — a rollicking math and logic puzzle competition, hosted by teaser-of-brains Wes Carroll. You can compete solo or on a team of up to 6 people. No calculators necessary. Bring your own pencils and scratch paper. Weather permitting, the back garden will be open for overflow attendance — so bring a jacket too. The winning team will receive a round of drinks!

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll; Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

puzzlesREAD THE PUZZLES AND SOLUTIONS

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Topic: Synesthesia

How does violin music smell? What color is Thursday? To most people these questions might seem completely nonsensical, but to people with synesthesia they sound perfectly reasonable. (I've known for as long as I can remember that Thursday is a fuzzy, light olive green. Isn't it?) Synesthesia is a perceptual condition in which there is an involuntary blending of one or more of the senses. The most common form is chromagraphemia, the associating of colors with numbers and letters — but the sense-mingling can get a lot weirder. A synesthete might see moving blobs of color when tasting foods, or taste specific flavors upon hearing certain words. Some savants with computer-like math skills describe their ability in terms of being able to see the shapes and colors of the numbers they're calculating! Once dismissed as a product of an overly active imagination, drug use or even just craziness, synesthesia is finally being recognized as having a biological basis. UC Berkeley's Lynn Robertson will tell us about the current research on this intriguing condition.

Speaker: Lynn Robertson; Professor of Psychology & Senior Research Scientist, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Topic: The Science of Big Waves

If you're anything like me, you've watched all the big wave surfing movies just to see the waves. Maybe you've even been down to Mavericks in Half Moon Bay to watch intrepid athletes from around the world ride what many consider to be the most dangerous waves on Earth. If so, you've probably found yourself wondering: just what is it about this legendary surfing spot that makes mountains of water the size of office buildings rise out of the sea? Physical oceanographer Toby Garfield will talk with us about the geography, atmospheric conditions, and basic laws of physics that conspire to create monster waves so big they register on the UC Berkeley seismograph when they crash! Tonight's event is presented in collaboration with KQED's QUEST program — a new weekly multimedia series about Bay Area science and environmental issues. Special guest attendee: Grant Washburn, big wave surfer and filmmaker!

Speaker: Toby Garfield; Professor of Geosciences, San Francisco State University, and Director of the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies.

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Topic: Exoplanet Update

The last time Chris McCarthy spoke at Ask a Scientist, back in July 2005, I wrote: "In 1995 astronomers detected the first known planet outside of our own solar system — a gas giant (like Jupiter) orbiting a star called 51 Pegasi. Since then, about 150 extrasolar planets have been found around distant stars." Now, two years later, the story is begging for an update. The recent announcement of the discovery of 28 more planets outside of our solar system has brought the total number of known exoplanets to 236! Of particular interest is Gliese 581c, the smallest exoplanet discovered to date. Estimated to be only five times more massive than Earth, Gliese 581c orbits within its dim sun's habitable zone, the region around a star within which a planet's temperature can sustain liquid water on its surface. While we don't yet know if there is water, let alone life, on Gliese 581c, its discovery is a milestone that has astronomers very excited. BONUS: Weather permitting, we'll do a little telescope-assisted skygazing afterwards with Kenneth Frank from the SFAA, the SFSA, and Scope City.

Speaker: Chris McCarthy; Assistant Adjunct Professor, San Francisco State University

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Ask a Scientist's ANNIVERSARY TRIVIA CONTEST!

Can you believe it? Ask a Scientist is celebrating its Linen Anniversary! That's right, it was four years ago that we held our very first event — a lively and illuminating talk about the search for extraterrestrial life, held at San Francisco's beloved Bazaar Cafe. Four years and four dozen topics later, Ask a Scientist is still going strong. Come help us celebrate this perfect-squarish milestone the best way we know how — with a boisterous science trivia contest hosted by science writer Robin Marks. (It's just like a pub trivia night, but without all those other boring categories!) You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, compete solo, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive a round of drinks and a really cool feeling of superiority that should last at least several days.

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks; Science Writer and Multimedia Projects Developer, Exploratorium

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Topic: The Reality of Age Research

Understanding and dealing with disease associated with aging is arguably the greatest challenge for biomedicine in the 21st Century. In fact growing old is the single largest risk factor for human disease in developed countries. Unfortunately, we don't know much about the biological basis of aging — but a series of remarkable discoveries in simple animal models indicates that our understanding of the subject is beginning to change. For example, it is now commonplace to extend the lifespan of lab worms and flies by genetic or chemical interventions. (Do some of you remember Cynthia Kenyon's talk way back in August 2003?) These discoveries have far-reaching implications for how we think about human disease and may serve as the basis for the development of therapeutic interventions. Come learn about the latest in the new field of geroscience and talk about opportunities for living better, more productive lives.

Speaker: Gordon Lithgow; Associate Professor, The Buck Institute

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Topic: Sea Urchins

The sea urchin, a spiny little marine critter that looks far more like a plant than a person, has been a jackpot of biomedical insights for over 100 years. In the late 19th century, sea urchins provided researchers with their first glimpse of the fusion of sperm and egg nuclei. Their embryos, which develop rapidly and are easy to observe and manipulate, are providing today's biologists with insights into genetic diseases, cancers, and stem cells. Adding to its value as an interesting research subject, the sea urchin has a surprisingly advanced immune system totally unlike anything seen before. And certain species can live more than 200 years without showing much wear from aging. But biomedical researchers are not the only scientists interested in the sea urchin — its recently sequenced genome yields some tantalizing clues to the mysteries of evolution as well. What is a creature that has no eyes, nose, or centralized brain for dealing with visual or olfactory signals doing with almost 1000 genes for proteins designed to sense light and odors? Darn good question. Let's ask Fred Wilt.

Speaker: Fred Wilt; Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Topic: Terra Incognita

Antarctica, our planet's southernmost continent, is no longer terra incognita ("unknown territory") as far as explorers and cartographers are concerned, but what do the rest of us really know about this mysterious land of extremes? Evidence suggests that the White Continent was once part of a much larger land mass, with a temperate climate, before it began drifting down to its current position back in the Triassic period. Nowadays, 98% of its surface is covered with an ice sheet averaging about 1 mile in thickness, and containing 70% of all the world's fresh water. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest of the continents — in fact it gets so little precipitation that its interior, despite all the frozen water underfoot, is technically the world's largest desert. If you've never given much thought to this bizarre, distant land — or if you think about it all the time, like I do — this is your chance to learn more. Glaciologist Kurt Cuffey will tell us what his Antarctic research suggests about the continent's icy mantle, and also about the rest of the planet.

Speaker: Kurt Cuffey; Professor of Geography, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Topic: Amnesia

Amnesia, a condition in which memory is disturbed, is no doubt a familiar concept to anyone who's seen a Hollywood movie, a sitcom, or a soap opera. In real life, maybe you've heard the occasional news report about a missing person found wandering around in a fugue state — confused, far from home, with no idea who he is. Or more commonly, of a victim of head injury who retains no memory of the moments, or days, or even years, leading up to the trauma. Horrifying at a most elemental level, the idea of amnesia fills us with angst...and questions. Why is it that some victims forget the past but are able to form new memories, while for others it's exactly the opposite? Is it really possible to repress years of constant childhood trauma and then recall it suddenly, decades later? How can someone be at a total loss for personal and emotional memories, but still be able to read, write, and do math? Come learn how the study of amnesia has provided researchers with important insights into how the normally functioning brain forms memories.

Speaker: Art Shimamura; Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley

Location: Axis Cafe, 1201 8th Street (btw. 16th & Irwin) San Francisco. Click here for map and directions.

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Topic: The Mind-Body Connection

With billions of nerve cells and trillions of connections between them, the human brain is considered the most complex structure in the known universe. But thinking, feeling, and behaving are so fundamental to our existence that healthy individuals rarely stop to ponder the marvelous motherboard behind this effortless functioning. To UC Berkeley professor David Presti, the question of how chemical processes in the brain are related to manifestations of behavior remains one of the most fascinating and challenging issues in neuroscience. How does meditation affect brain chemistry? Why do placebos (sometimes) work? Can our minds influence our health? What do fancy new imaging technologies reveal about the connection between activity in the brain and our thoughts and feelings? Come find out what the current research tells us about these questions and more.

Speaker: David Presti; Professor of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Topic: The World's Most Fascinating Numbers

Come meet the superstar celebrities of the number world! From zero to infinity (and not restricted to the range between the two), mathematics is teeming with a riveting cast of characters rich in history, intrigue, eloquence, and profound significance. There's pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, whose mysterious identity was known (close enough) to ancient mathematicians. There's the Fibonnaci sequence and its close friend phi, a.k.a. the golden mean, a tantalizingly lovely ratio pondered by biologists, artists, architects, historians, and even mystics. You'll meet the irrational (e), the imaginary (i), and even the familiar (1). Keith Devlin — math professor, prolific author, NPR's "Math Guy," and advisor to the hit TV show NUMB3RS — will take us on a tour of his favorite values. A selection of Keith's books will be available for sale at the event.

Speaker: Keith Devlin; Executive Director of Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Ask a Scientist's PI DAY Puzzle Contest

Still trying to decide how you're going to celebrate Pi Day (3.14) this year? Avoid the congested airports and typical math holiday madness, and join us for Ask a Scientist's Pi Day Puzzle Party instead. Puzzle Master Wes Carroll hosts this friendly competition of math and logic brain twisters that will make you shout both "Arghh!" and "A-Ha!" Competitors can go it alone or form teams to solve problems, win prizes, drink beer, and eat hot dogs. Bring your own pencils and scratch paper. No calculators necessary.

Puzzle Master: Wes Carroll; Do The Math Private Tutoring Services

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconDOWNLOAD THE PUZZLES

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Topic: String Theory Demystified

Modern physics has reduced the complexity of the world to two grand theories: (1) general relativity, the theory of gravity, and (2) quantum mechanics, the theory of the very small. Each theory agrees with experiment beautifully, but only in its own realm. Where the two realms overlap — inside black holes, say, and deep inside the atomic nucleus — these two mighty theories contradict each other. Most physicists agree that string theory offers our best hope of reconciliation. It is a candidate "theory of everything" that shows promise in explaining the "standard model" of all ordinary matter. But can string theory go further? Can it make predictions that are testable? Can it be mathematically elegant? Theorists like Shamit Kachru are working to find out.

Speaker: Shamit Kachru; Physics Professor, Stanford

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

Topic: Gene Regulation and You

Before the human genome project was completed, the best estimates were that humans had at least 100,000 genes. But after the genome was sequenced, that number fell to about 30,000. That doesn't exactly sound like enough to account for all of the different cells and proteins that make up our bodies. Furthermore, if humans and chimpanzees share a nearly iden*tical genome, as we've all heard, how is it that we're such different creatures? The answer lies partly in gene regulation — the "switching on and off" of an organism's genes in early development and throughout its life. So it turns out that the source of the differences between us and chimps (and flies and mice and worms et al.) lies not only in the differences between our genomes, but in how our genes are used. Some pretty fascinating stuff has come out of the research on this subject. Mike Eisen will tell us more.

Speaker: Michael Eisen; Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Adjunct Asst. Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, UC Berkeley.

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

2006 return to top

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Ask a Scientist's HOLIDAY TRIVIA PARTY!

Come celebrate the wintery holidays with a rollicking night of science trivia, hosted by the Exploratorium's Robin Marks. Last July's Anniversary Trivia Contest was a blast. Will our triumphant trio prevail again? Will the high schoolers do a little more homework and pull into first place? Or maybe it will be YOU who puts them all to shame. Even if you don't know your cortex from a coprolite, come enjoy a night of fascinating science trivia and holiday festivity. You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive drinks, prizes, and everlasting glory.

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks; Science Writer and Multimedia Projects Developer, Exploratorium

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Monday, December 4th , 2006

Topic: E=mc2

This legendary equation, part of the theory of relativity set forth by Einstein in April 1905, changed our understanding of nature at the most fundamental level. "c" is the speed of light. It is the ultimate speed in the universe; nothing can go faster. "m" stands for mass. For centuries after Newton it was believed that mass is absolute. But Einstein's equation revealed that mass is yet another form of energy, "E", that can change to other forms — kinetic, gravitational, chemical, thermal, nuclear — and back again to mass. Come learn the meaning of the world's most famous equation, as we explore energy, mass, matter, antimatter, and those pesky missing pieces of the universe: dark matter and dark energy.

Speaker: Hitoshi Murayama; Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley, and Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Sunday, November 12th , 2006

Topic: Why We Study Monkeys

Just like humans, the furrier primates exhibit an extraordinarily diverse array of behaviors and social systems, allowing them to exploit a wide range of habitats. By studying monkeys we gain insight into the physiological and behavioral evolution of our own lineage. In other words, when we study them, we're essentially studying ourselves. Anthropologist Alexander Harcourt has been has been travelling the world conducting fieldwork on primate behavior studies since the early 1970’s. He'll tell us how research in the field and laboratory can elucidate the cognitive and behavioral capabilities of monkeys, providing  a window into the evolution of intelligence, and a deeper insight into the biological and behavioral processes that drive our own behavior and thought processes. Tonight's event is presented in partnership with The Leakey Foundation.

Speaker: Alexander Harcourt; Professor of Anthropology, UC Davis

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Topic: Attention and Memory in the Aging Brain

Normal aging is characterized by deficits that cross multiple cognitive domains, including attention, working memory and episodic memory. UCSF neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley studies the common neural mechanisms whose impairments underlie a broad range of age-related cognitive deficits. Have you ever caught a glimpse of someone and had a flash of recognition, only to find out after further inspection that he or she had some similar features, like clothing or hairstyle, but was otherwise just a random person? Our brains make assumptions to sort through the deluge of sensory information they're constantly receiving. Scientists call this top-down modulation, and its role in the study of the aging brain is one focus of Dr. Gazzaley's research.

Speaker: Adam Gazzaley; Neuroscientist, UCSF

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Monday, September 11th, 2006

Topic: A Cleaner Future for Cars

Our beloved internal combustion engine has gotten us into a whole lot of trouble — namely, pollution, price, and politics. Is there really an efficient, affordable, clean, safe alternative on the horizon? You've probably heard a lot of talk about hydrogen fuel cells — a source of electricity that could power cars whose exhaust would be clean enough to drink (water!). But this technology presents its own challenges, like the amount of energy it takes to isolate pure hydrogen, and the potential to create pollutants in the process. Presented in conjunction with the American Chemical Society, tonight's talk will focus on this and other alternative energy technologies, and will feature selected clips from Nova's fun and friendly new ScienceNOW programming. (Follow the link and watch a few episodes online!)

Speaker: Nancy Garland; Technology Development Manager, U.S. Department of Energy

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

Topic: Vision and Misperception

As we go through our daily lives, most of us rarely give a thought to the miraculously complex operations that allow us to understand and negotiate all the stuff we see. The field of vision research has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past two decades, with the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging. But what do those pretty pictures of highlights on the brain really tell us about how we see? Ariella Popple, a vision scientist from UC Berkeley, will demonstrate the limits of our perception and understanding with stunning visual illusions and entertaining audience participation experiments, to show that sometimes even neuroscientists don't know what they're talking about.

Speaker: Ariella Popple; Vision Scientist, UC Berkeley

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Ask a Scientist's ANNIVERSARY TRIVIA PARTY!

Believe it or not, it's been three years since Ask a Scientist's very first event. During those years we've chatted with dozens of local scientists — from paleontologists to parasitologists — who have generously shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with us. Let's hope you've been paying attention because tonight we're turning the tables and asking YOU the questions. Come celebrate Ask a Scientist's third anniversary with a rollicking night of science trivia, hosted by the Exploratorium's Robin Marks. You can bring your own team of ringers with you, assemble a team with others on the spot, or just come to cheer, hang out, and learn stuff. The winning team will receive beer, prizes, and lifelong gloating rights!

Trivia Mistress: Robin Marks; Science Writer and Multimedia Projects Developer, Exploratorium

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Ask a Scientist and KQED present: Gray Whale Mystery

Once hunted to the brink of extinction, the gray whale has made an amazing comeback in the last 80 years. But in 1999 and 2000, these unique creatures suddenly began to disappear by the thousands — losing an entire one-third of their population. In the Gray Whale Obstacle Course episode of KQED's Jean-Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures (airing July 19th), Cousteau and his team look for answers as they travel the friendly giants' long migration route through polluted waters fraught with hungry killer whales and dangerous military sonar, all the way to their diminishing Arctic feeding grounds. Come get a sneak preview of this thought-provoking episode and learn more about these fascinating animals at tonight's talk, co-presented with KQED.

Speaker: Shari Bookstaff; Professor of Biology at Skyline College and President of the American Cetacean Society

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Topic: From Galileo to Einstein—Classical Physics 101

Classical physics tells us many things that are both little-known and fascinating, and has implications that are both profound and controversial. Tucker Hiatt, everyone's favorite physics teacher (even if you don't know it yet), will show us how every step we take moves the entire Earth; how Galileo's insights into relativity led smoothly to Einstein's; and how while Newtonian mechanics is deterministic and quantum mechanics is random, neither quite leaves room for free will. Whether you last picked up a physics book decades or days ago, don't miss this chance to brush up on space, matter, energy, entropy, heat, electricity, magnetism, light, radioactivity, and even a little chaos.

Speaker: Tucker Hiatt; Physics Teacher and Director of Wonderfest

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconTRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE (PDF)

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

Topic: Forensic Science—the Science of the Sleuth

Forensic science has come a long way since fingerprint comparison, "dust" analysis, and toxicology were first introduced at the beginning of the last century. The methods used by these disciplines have since been modernized, and scientists have expanded their mystery-solving toolkit to include such powerful techniques as forensic DNA typing, bloodstain pattern interpretation, and trace evidence analysis. What can DNA analysis of the grime under the fingernails of a corpse tell us? What mysteries can be revealed by an examination of the pattern of blood drops on a wall? Do fingerprints really provide an absolute identification? Come find out!

Speakers: Norah Rudin of Forensic DNA Consulting and Keith Inman of Forensic Analytical Specialties

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

SPECIAL EVENT: Springtime Puzzle Party!

Has your brain been hibernating for the winter? Well, wake it up and stretch it out at the Ask a Scientist Springtime Puzzle Party—a friendly competition of math and logic puzzles, hosted by Puzzle Master Phil Farmer. (Last December's first ever Holiday Puzzle Party was so much fun we decided to do it again!) Compete solo or join a team of up to four people to solve problems, win prizes, drink wine, and eat panini. Even if you're puzzle-shy, you can still come to observe, cheer, and support your favorite team. Bring your own pencils and scratch paper. No calculators necessary.

Puzzle Master: Philip Farmer; Math Instructor, Diablo Valley College

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconDOWNLOAD THE ASK A SCIENTIST PUZZLES (PDF)

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Topic: Celebrating Our Faults: 1906-2006

One century ago, our beautiful city experienced a monumental shakedown—one that still looms in the psyches of San Franciscans whose grandparents weren't even born yet at the time. Come celebrate the centennial anniversary of the infamous 1906 earthquake, Ask a Scientist style, with David Schwartz of the USGS. A pioneer in the newly developing fields of earthquake geology and paleoseismology (the study of prehistorical seismic events), he'll tell us everything we ever wanted to know about our terra not-so-firma. Plus: Temblor Trivia to test your seismic smarts! Win incredibly cool prizes, courtesy of David Burkhart (author of Earthquake Days) and The Bay Nature Institute!

Speaker: David Schwartz, Geologist/Paleoseismologist, USGS

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Topic: The Secret Life of Ants

For such a tiny creature, the ant has always played a big role in human allegory; its physical strength, complex cooperative behaviors, and endless busy-ness have long fascinated us. Stanford's Deborah Gordon, author of Ants at Work: How an Insect Society is Organized, researches the harvester ant, investigating the coordinated behavior of its colonies, the evolution of its unusual 3-sex system, genes linked to foraging behaviors, and much more. Come learn to appreciate ants as more than just pantry invaders and picnic ruiners!

Speaker: Deborah Gordon; Professor of Biology, Stanford University

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

Topic: Synthetic Sight

Last year Dirk Trauner and colleagues at Berkeley did something really interesting: they reengineered a non-photosensitive nerve cell so that it could be turned on or off in response to light. Come find out how they did it and how their technique could eventually become the basis of a gene therapy for certain kinds of blindness. Says Trauner: "We're taking a basic building block of life and souping it up to do something it did not evolve to do. This is true synthetic biology."

Speaker: Dirk Trauner; Assistant Professor of Chemistry, UC Berkeley

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Topic: Black Holes, Space Warps, Time Machines: Einstein's Universe in Everyday Language

Welcome to the bizarre and wonderful world of black holes—collapsed stars where gravity has overwhelmed every other force in the universe. In the neighborhood of these stellar corpses, strange things happen to space, time, and the unwary visitor. Learn why falling into a black hole is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, how black holes make a serious kind of time machine possible, and how new instruments have allowed astronomers to detect the presence of these elusive dark objects in our galaxy and beyond.

Speaker: Andrew Fraknoi; Chair, Astronomy Program, Foothill College

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (21st Ave) San Francisco

2005 return to top

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

SPECIAL EVENT: Holiday Puzzle Party!

Math Month continues with a friendly competition of math and logic puzzles, hosted by Puzzle Master Steven Bodovitz. Competitors can go it alone or join a team of up to four people to solve problems, win prizes, drink beer, and eat chicken curry over rice. If you're not puzzle-prone, just come along to cheer on your favorite mastermind in his/her efforts! Bring your own pencils and scratch paper.

Puzzle Master: Steven Bodovitz; Principal, BioPerspectives

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconDOWNLOAD THE ASK A SCIENTIST PUZZLES (PDF)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Topic: The Math Instinct

Whether you love math or hate it, you're a natural mathematician. In fact, our innate math instinct is so hardwired that even newborn infants can detect errors in simple calculations of addition and subtraction. Keith Devlin, NPR's "Math Guy" and author of The Math Instinct, will talk with us about the natural number sense that allows dogs to catch frisbees, bees to build honeycombs, birds to migrate, ants to navigate, and much more. Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speaker: Keith Devlin; Executive Director of Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconTRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE (PDF)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Topic: From Spatial Awareness To Consciousness

It's hard to imagine how we would exist without spatial awareness, yet that is exactly what many patients with stroke and other forms of brain damage must do. The study of such patients has revealed new insights into the role that the perception of space plays in producing accurate descriptions of the world. Lynn Robertson, author of Space, Objects, Brains and Minds will discuss her work on spatial functions of the brain and their role in perceptual awareness.

Speaker: Lynn Robertson; Professor of Psychology & Senior Research Scientist, UC Berkeley

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

Emotion, Lies, and Wizardry

Humans are natural-born liars. Evolutionarily speaking, what's the purpose of this devious skill? And why is it so hard for us to detect deception? If you're a "truth wizard" (the top 2% of lie-spotters) you're pretty good at it, but research suggests most of us are not. Tonight Maureen O'Sullivan will talk to us about the biology of emotion, reading the true feelings of others, and the role of deception in maintaining social relationships, romantic bonds, and even happiness.

Speaker: Maureen O'Sullivan; Professor of Psychology, USF

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconTRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE (PDF)

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

Topic: The War on Cancer—Where We Are Now and Hopes for the Future

Cancer consists of a spectrum of over 200 different diseases that afflict tens of millions of people worldwide. We now understand that cancer arises due to alterations in genes responsible for promoting or restraining normal cell growth. Armed with such knowledge, considerable progress is now being made in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment—giving us hope and optimism for more rapid progress in tackling the challenge of this dread disease.

Speaker: Martin McMahon; Efim Guzik Distinguished Professor of Cancer Biology, UCSF

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

transcript iconTRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE (PDF)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

Topic: Genomes—From Human to Neanderthal

Until very recently, the only DNA recoverable from extinct species was from the mitochondria — the cell's energy producing organelles. While mtDNA reveals much about our evolutionary family tree, it's nuclear DNA that tells the real story of life. Now, with the exciting news that scientists at the DOE Joint Genome Institute have successfully sequenced nuclear DNA from an extinct cave bear species, that story is about to get even more interesting.

Speaker: Eddy Rubin, director of the DOE Joint Genome Institute

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco 831-5620

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

Topic: Hunting for Planets

In 1995 astronomers detected the first known planet outside of our own solar system — a gas giant (like Jupiter) orbiting a star called 51 Pegasi. Since then, about 150 extrasolar planets have been found around distant stars. Small, rocky, earth-like planets with life-friendly chemistry have not yet been identified — but the spanking fresh discovery of the smallest planet currently known has planet hunters saying such a find may not be far off.

Speaker: Chris McCarthy; Research Fellow, San Francisco State University

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Wednesday, June 8th, 2005

Topic: The Rise and Fall of the Antibiotic of Last Resort

It is the certain fate of all antibiotics to be fought off eventually by the pathogens they target. But the process is accelerating — an alarming situation for public health officials as well as for anyone planning to get a potentially fatal infection. Are we near to exhausting all of nature's warriors in our battle against disease? Can we synthesize effective substitutes? And why are big pharmaceutical companies pulling out of antibiotic research when it's most needed? Uh-oh. Come find out.

Speaker: Steven Dong; Scientist, Kosan Biosciences

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Friday, May 20th, 2005

SPECIAL EVENT: Ask a Scientist teams up with the SF Sidewalk Astronomers!

If you've ever stumbled upon a crew of telescope-wielding Saturn-lovers out on a random San Francisco street corner, you've most likely had an encounter with the SF Sidewalk Astronomers. Tonight we're teaming up with them to bring you a full evening of starry goodness. First, come hear Sensational Seth Shostak from SETI (AAS's very first speaker ever) talk about the search for extra-terrestrial life. Afterwards we'll go on a field trip out to 9th and Irving, one of the SFSA's favorite spots to set up their telescopes. Weather permitting, we'll be able to view Saturn, Jupiter, the moon, and who knows what else!

Speaker: Seth Shostak; Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Topic: Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

With billions of nerve cells and trillions of connections between them, the human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. The question of how it creates consciousness has challenged our very best thinkers, from philosophers to evil robot designers. Dr. David Presti will tell us how imaging technologies, psychoactive drugs, and studies of brain damaged individuals are revealing connections between the chemical and physical mechanics of the brain and our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Speaker: David Presti; Professor of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Topic: Extreme Weather

If you think that talking about the weather is nothing more than a survival tactic for dull cocktail parties, you haven't met Christopher Burt. He's the author of Extreme Weather, a gripping page-turner packed with shocking statistics, bizarre stories, and beautiful photographs. Why doesn't California get hurricanes? What's up with global warming? And was that really an F1 tornado that recently twisted through South SF? Come ask Chris. Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speaker: Christopher Burt, author

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

Topic: Mysterious Moon Landing

Scientists believe that Titan, Saturn's largest moon, may have similarities to pre-life Earth. In January, the Cassini spacecraft dropped a probe into Titan's thick atmosphere, discovering a dynamic weather system and a surface eroded by rains and rivers of liquid methane. Chris McKay, who spoke to us last year about Mars, will tell us what this may mean for our understanding of planetary formation and maybe even the origin of life.

Speaker: Chris McKay; Research Scientist, NASA Ames Space Science Division

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

Topic: Stem Cells

If you're anything like me, you're excited about the potential of stem cell research to provide cures for diseases and disabilities like Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, stroke, and heart disease. You've heard the enthusiasm, the cautions, and the controversy...but you're not exactly sure what it all means. Bruce Conklin will talk to us about why this area of medical research is so exciting to scientists and what we may expect to see in terms of therapies in the future.

Speaker: Bruce Conklin; Gladstone Institutes, UCSF

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, January 24th, 2005

Topic: Two Hands, One Brain

Moving, talking, seeing, and hearing are so easy that we rarely give a thought to the masterpiece of engineering that runs the show. The two hemispheres of the brain are connected by the corpus callosum, allowing smooth functioning in healthy individuals. But much of what we know about the hemispheres actually comes from studies of people who have had them separated because of neurological disorders. Rich Ivry will tell us about this fascinating research.

Speaker: Rich Ivry; director of the Cognition and Action Lab

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

2004 return to top

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

Topic: Plant Sex

The birds do it, the bees do it...and so do sunflowers and strawberries! Every living thing on Earth has some clever way of making more of itself. Tonight plant "sexpert" Karen Kalumuck will give us a shocking sneak peek into the secret world of garden shenanigans. We'll even get the chance to dissect and examine fruits and flowers at this special hands-on event. You'll never look at your dinner table the same way again.

Speaker: Karen Kalumuck; biologist and educator, Exploratorium

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, November 22nd 2004

Topic: Becoming a Tiger

When it comes to all of us animals, some of our behaviors are instinctual and some are learned. Susan McCarthy, author of Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild (and coauthor of the bestselling When Elephants Weep) will talk about Nature and Nurture's greatest collaboration: turning baby animals into skilled, thriving adults. How do baby elephants learn which plants to use for self-medication? What kind of song does an orphaned bird sing? Come find out. (Books will be available for sale at the event.)

Speaker: Susan McCarthy, biologist and author

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Tuesday, November 9th 2004

Topic: The Big One!

Earthquakes are an inescapable fact of life for San Franciscans. But aside from the vague and disquieting warning that The Big One is coming, what do we really know about them? If you're anything like me, you approach the entire topic with a combination of dread and denial. Tonight Jack Boatwright from the US Geological Survey will tell us everything we ever wanted to know about our terra not-so-firma: myths, facts, precautions, and more.

Speaker: Jack Boatwright; Seismologist, US Geological Survey

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, October 25th 2004

Topic: Sex, Time and Power

Why did big-brained Homo Sapiens suddenly emerge some 150,000 years ago? In his provocative new book, Sex, Time and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution, Leonard Shlain presents his theory that profound alterations in female sexuality hold the key to this mystery. Dr. Shlain, Chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery at CPMC in San Francisco, is also the author of the bestselling Art & Physics and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speaker: Leonard Shlain, surgeon and author

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, September 27th 2004

Topic: Saturnalia!

After a seven year, 2.2 billion mile journey through the solar system, the Cassini spacecraft has finally reached its destination: Saturn. Its mission, however, is only beginning. Over the next four years Cassini will orbit Saturn 76 times, sending images and information back to us earthbound busybodies. Tonight Mark Showalter will tell us what we have learned, and may soon learn, from all this. And since we're talking about glamorous, photogenic Saturn, expect slides!

Speaker: Mark Showalter, NASA Ames

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Monday, August 30th 2004

Topic: 101 Things You Can Do with a Corpse

Mary Roach, author of the fascinating and hilarious Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, will tell us how our dearly departed have helped us make strides in plastic surgery, crime solving, and guillotine technology, to name just a few examples. And if we're lucky she'll also tell us about human composting, full body (or head, depending on how you want to look at it) transplants, and cannibalism! Books will be available for sale at the event.

Speaker: Mary Roach, journalist and author

Location: The Canvas Gallery, 1200 9th Ave (@ Lincoln) San Francisco

Monday, August 23rd 2004

Topic: Beyond the Genome

The Human Genome Project was the single biggest, and most hyped, endeavor in the history of biology. Now, just three years later, genomics is already passe. The new big thing in biotech is proteomics, the study of the structure and function of proteins. (If genes are the recipe for baking a life form, then proteins are the flour, sugar, and eggs. Sort of.) Come learn what proteomics is teaching us about disease, cures, and the mystery of life itself.

Speaker: Mimi Roy; Scientist, SurroMed

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, July 26th 2004

Topic: Mad Cows & More

The bizarre story of prions, the infectious agent believed to cause "mad cow disease" (BSE) and a handful of other equally gruesome degenerative disorders, unfolds like a mystery, thriller, and adventure story all rolled into one. You've most likely heard the horror stories about the human variant of BSE and were at least a little alarmed by the recent discovery of a couple of mad cows in the U.S. So should you stop eating burgers? Paula Shadle will give us the scoop.

Speaker: Paula Shadle; Principal Consultant, Shadle Consulting

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, June 7th 2004

Topic: The Nanotechnology Revolution

Fifteen years ago IBM's Don Eigler made nano-history when he spelled out "IBM" with 35 individual xenon atoms. Since then nanotechnology has given us computers so tiny that a single drop of water could hold a trillion of them, miniscule wires that can assemble themselves using synthetic DNA, and the dream of cell-sized machines that may someday be able to patrol and repair our bodies like benevolent viruses. Don't miss this glimpse into our very near future!

Speaker: Don Eigler; IBM Fellow, IBM Almaden Research Center

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, May 24th 2004

Topic: Reading The Book Of Nature

The universe may be a mystery, but it's no secret! Michael Schneider, educator and author of A Beginner's Guide To Constructing The Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes Of Nature, Art and Science will show us how the same few beautiful patterns of mathematics appear over and over again in nature, mythology, religion, science, art and architecture. You may use numbers and see shapes every day, but you'll never look at them the same way again.

Speaker: Michael Schneider, author and teacher

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, April 26th 2004

Topic: Killer Animals: Fears, Facts, Statistics and Reality

Douglas J. Long knows his killer animals. He's worked with the best of them, from sharks to scorpions to snakes and wild mammals on six continents. With the media's obsession on attacks and killings, what's the truth amidst the hype, panic and paranoia? And how can we best co-exist with the animals that also call California their home? If you were just going to sit on the couch tonight watching Animal Planet, come meet Douglas instead.

Speaker: Douglas J. Long; Researcher, California Academy of Sciences

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, March 22nd 2004

Topic: How Dinosaurs Learned to Fly

Not all dinosaurs went extinct. The survivors fly all around us...we know them as birds. But the question remains: How did dinosaurs learn to fly in the first place? This conversation will cover some of the recent, exciting work on the topic of the origin of avian flight as well as answer those burning paleontology questions you might have.

Speaker: Alan Gishlick; Research Paleontologist, UC Museum of Paleontology

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, February 23rd 2004

Topic: The Evolution Controversy

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution," Theodosius Dobzhansky once said. Yet from the Scopes trial to last month's exclusion of the e-word from a proposed set of state science standards in Georgia, opposition to evolution education continues to be strong. Come hear about the motivations, tactics and prospects of antievolutionism.

Speaker: Glenn Branch; Deputy Director, National Center for Science Education

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, January 26th 2004

Topic: Life on Mars (?)

There's some interesting stuff going on over at the place next door. The current missions to Mars are searching for evidence of life, and we nosy neighbors are waiting eagerly for answers. And what about the future? Will we ever visit? If life was once there, can we bring it back? Could we ever make Mars habitable for humans? Don't start packing yet, but do come ask Chris your questions.

Speaker: Chris McKay; Research Scientist, NASA Ames Space Science Division

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

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Monday, December 8th 2003

Topic: A General Theory of Love

What's behind romantic attraction? Why do parents love their children? Can pets really improve our physical well being? Why does loneliness hurt? Dr. Thomas Lewis, author of A General Theory of Love (written with co-authors Drs. Fari Amini and Richard Lannon) will talk to us about the evolution of the psychobiology of love, and how love determines our moods, stabilizes and maintains our health and actually changes the structure of our brains.

Speaker: Thomas Lewis; Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, November 10th 2003

Topic: The Evolution Detective

Dr. Jerry Lowenstein's work on extracting genetic materials from fossils was one of the inspirations for Michael Crichton's book Jurassic Park. His research has made the front page of the NY Times, he has worked with Jane Goodall and the Leakeys, and has published over 200 articles for scientific journals. Tonight he'll tell us about his research using molecular techniques to determine how extinct species are related to the living.

Speaker: Jerry Lowenstein; Professor of Medicine at UCSF, Professor of Biology at SFSU

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, October 27th 2003

Topic: The Genomics of Gattaca

Learn genomics from Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman? The futuristic sci-fi thriller Gattaca raises interesting issues that are becoming more contemporary, and less futuristic, every day. For example, will future generations be custom-designed? Come watch selected scenes and discuss them with scientist Steven Bodovitz. (Think of this as Genomics 101...bring all your DNA-related questions. No need to have seen, or liked, Gattaca.)

Speaker: Steven Bodovitz; Principal, BioPerspectives

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, September 22nd 2003

Topic: Things That Go Bump in the Night - Parasites!

What did Darwin die of? Why is sickle cell anemia so common? A worm that penetrates your skin in San Jose? Forget that horror movie you were going to watch and join us instead to learn about organisms that are truly stranger than science fiction.

Speaker: Jim McKerrow; Director, Sandler Center for Research on Parasitic Diseases

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, August 25th 2003

Topic: The Myth of Aging

Come hear Dr. Cynthia Kenyon tell her astonishing story of how genetic tinkering in nematodes caused them to live up to SIX times their normal lifespans. The implications for humans are staggering. (Just think of all the extra nematodes we can now enjoy!)

Speaker: Cynthia Kenyon; Director, Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging; UCSF faculty

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

Monday, July 28th 2003

Topic: Aliens!

What are the chances that life has developed elsewhere in our solar system and all throughout the universe? Could any of it be intelligent life? And what are we doing to find it? Come find out what we Earthlings are up to in this fascinating realm of modern science.

Speaker: Seth Shostak; Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

Location: The Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St. (22nd Ave) San Francisco

 

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