Posts byGeorgeann Sack

Our Changing Watershed


Watershed is the fourth in a fantastic series of art and science events put on by BAASICS (Bay Area Art and Science Interdisciplinary Sessions). Join us in attending Watershed this Saturday, January 18th from 7-9 PM at the ODC Theater in San Francisco. Click here for tickets and details.


We live in a watershed. Berkeley is part of a 4,600 square mile region known as the San Francisco Bay Watershed, because all of the snow or rain that falls on this land drains into the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas, our beloved San Francisco Bay. As Chris Holdgraf mused in his recent post, “From Snowmelt to City Blocks,” it is easy to take the water we use in our homes for granted. He explained that much of our water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, 174 miles away. Though most of us never think of it, we are connected to Hetch Hetchy by meandering depressions in the earth that collect water as it travels down to the Pacific. This Saturday, BAASICS invites you to reflect on our local watershed through an evening of artist and scientist presentations. Our connection to Hetch Hetchy will be explored from the perspective of Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, Jay Lund, as well as from site research inspired composer Karl Cronin and the Americana Orchestra. The ecology and history of the San Francisco Bay Watershed will also be discussed. For several of the presenters, there is no distinction between science and art. Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien create ecological sculptures that heal damaged parts of the watershed. Megan Prelinger has curated historical maps of the San Francisco Bay landscape and co-authored an atlas showing the increasing emphasis on the watershed with time.

Let the Science Festivities Begin!

The Bay Area Science Festival starts today. You can see a complete schedule of events here.


Touch Me is THIS SUNDAY at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. We have been hard at work preparing this exciting event and have a few new important things to mention.

The amazing Dr. Kiki will be our “late show” host! Dr. Kiki Sanford founded the science podcast This Week In Science in 1999 while she was getting her Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Physiology Ph.D at the University of California, Davis. She has been working non-stop to bring science research to the public ever since.

Machine artist Kal Spelletich will be there with his fantastical robots. As described in his bio, “For 25 years he has been experimenting with interfacing humans and robots…Kal’s work is always interactive, requiring a participant to enter or operate the piece, often against their instincts of self-preservation.”

I visited Kal’s studio myself last week. It was like entering a house of horrors. Large robots filled every available corner of space in his warehouse on the bay, crawling up the wall on shelf after shelf. Some of the robots were outfitted with animal skulls, humanoid dummies or dolls, others with bags of wine, still others with tree branches. Any feelings of horror were quickly replaced by a playful curiosity as I started to interact with the machines. One of the robots looked to me like a giant praying mantis, and Kal let me take it for a test drive. As my hands approached the sensors the mechanical beast lurched forward. These capacitive proximity sensors are commonly used in factories, as they are capable of sensing an object passing by without touching it. A trio of these sensors was hooked up to manipulate the robot. I quickly learned how my actions resulted in different movements, bringing the mantis forward and causing his pincers to hiss and crash together. Even with a bit of practice I never felt completely in control. I think that is why Kal’s machines are so intriguing. It is more of a dance between human and machine, rather than input equals output.

If you are interested in learning more about Kal’s work, you can read these recent articles in the New York Times and Yahoo News, and learn about upcoming exhibits on his blog.

Come and play with Kal’s robots yourself! At Touch Me, Kal will use the touch sensitive electronic skin described in this previous BSR post to control some of his robots. He will also bring hugging and hand gripping machines.

If all of the cool science discussion and exhibits including a giant robot hugging machine does not convince you to go, perhaps this will.

Your $5 admission covers all the FREE Pacific Brewing Laboratory 8.8% ABV Belgian Golden Strong Ale and tingling spice cocktails you can drink!

We hope to see you there. Buy your tickets today:


Check out our three part series introducing the science of touch sensation, all in preparation for our Bay Area Science Festival event, Touch Me! Sunday, October 27th, from 6-10 PM at The David Brower Center in Berkeley. Click here for details and tickets.

TouchMe_poster1) The molecular basis of touch sensation — Learning about touch sensation from an unlikely creature, the star-nosed mole
2) Engineering touch sensation for robotics and prosthetics — Make awesome: the story of elastic electronic skin
3) Communicating emotion through touch — The Science of Touch and Emotion

Why be a scientist?


Why are you a scientist? I put out a survey asking this question and have collected twenty-seven answers so far. The overwhelmingly positive responses have been a great reminder of everything I love about science, and the people who choose to be scientists.

Scientists are sometimes represented as removed from real world concerns, locked in the ivory tower and out of touch with the general public. This is simply not an accurate representation of the individual scientists I know. According to my survey, people are scientists because they want to do some good in the world.

…I believe that knowing more about our surroundings, even if the immediate benefit is still not clear, is good for all of humanity. The more we know about our universe the better off we all are! As a scientist I get to be a part of this amazing process of discovery. I get to be the first person to know something new about the world, even if it is only a small part.


For the love of science: what we can learn from the magic of MBL

MBLcollageIn 2009, I took the nine-week neurobiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. I came into the course as a fourth year graduate student. Getting my Ph.D. was a fantastic experience, and I often referred to myself as the least bitter grad student in the room. That said, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue on in academic science after grad school. Other avenues were calling me. Taking the course at MBL was a test. Can I have fun doing science for 15 hours a day? The answer was an overwhelming absolutely yes.

I have returned to MBL every year since, to do some work or reunite with some of my favorite scientists in Boston and Woods Hole. This year I found myself reflecting on what made my experience at MBL so great, and why it can be difficult to recreate that joy outside of the magic land of horseshoe crabs, three eyed frogs and the squid giant axon.

PeerJ celebrates a year as innovators in open access publishing


Peter Binfield is so busy he almost forgot that his new company, PeerJ, was turning one year old this week. I met up with him on Wednesday during a rare moment of indulgent relaxation at Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur, California. Peter was preparing to go on vacation to celebrate Father’s Day with his family, his first break since he started working on PeerJ. We talked about his years at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), co-founded by UC Berkeley’s Michael Eisen, the progress PeerJ has made since their launch, and the future of open access publishing.