Welcome to the 21st issue of the Berkeley Science Review. As we saw when this year’s Nobel prizes were awarded last month, UC Berkeley research is perpetually interesting and relevant. (UC Berkeley graduate students are also interesting to Nobel laureates, as Greg Alushin describes in his travelogue from the Lindau Conference.) What we’d like to highlight in this issue is the driving force making science relevant and interesting to the public: mathematics and statistics. In our cover story Digitizing the Drawers, Joan Ball relates the efforts undertaken by programmers and archivists working with Berkeley’s natural history collections to contextualize and coordinate massive numbers of specimens. In UC Berkeley herbaria alone, there are 360,000 specimens, 14 per Cal undergraduate. The number of cacti in our Botanical Garden alone is equal to the number of professors at UC Berkeley. Tracking down every miniscule insect specimen in a museum can be a challenge, but at least pinned insects stay in one spot; some researchers on campus are trying to track all of us, every time we leave our houses. Ginger Jui, in There’s a Map for That, gives us a broad view of the algorithmic and statistical analysis behind how we travel, from traffic data on a Google map to cell-phone tracking of road usage and transit time. Robert Gibboni’s Back Page delves into the calculations behind routing algorithms, and explains why choosing the faster road can sometimes leave us in the dust. Researchers hope that, along with taking convenience into account, understanding the costs of commuting in time and energy can drive us to make better choices. Driving more efficiently can make a tangible difference; the typical US household releases 50 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. A 50-ton carbon offset costs $750 on the Chicago Climate Exchange, a kind of NYSE for greenhouse gases, but of course Berkeley puts a higher value on the environment; to purchase the same amount of carbon dioxide for a campus lab is $1532.
Statistics can also help us analyze the behavior of individuals. In The Brain Is Half-Full, Azeen Ghorayshi investigates the Greater Good Science Center, an initiative to quantify our better nature, from altruism to collaboration. Even if our capability for good behavior may seem inextricably linked to factors outside of our control, Audrey Chang and Kristina Garfinkel report that anxiety and sleep deprivation are chemically predictable; even itchiness is attributable to a few proteins, described on page (##). Further afield from the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley students are still behaving altruistically, bringing Hepatitis B vaccination to underserved communities in Alameda County, as SharmisthaMajumdar describes.
Each issue of the BSR requires the coordination of six editors, eighteen authors, seven layout editors, and a statistically significant amount of time and care. I’m overwhelmingly grateful to have Amy Orsborn as my counterpart leading the Layout team, and Mary Grace Lin keeping our resources on track, from finances to enthusiasm. We’re also lucky to have six regular authors (including one author and editor) on our blog team, who will keep you updated this semester on posts that tie in with some of the print articles and our second Reader’s Choice Award, where you can vote for the best feature article or brief. It’s a difficult choice.
Enjoy the issue,
Editor in chief