Travels with the SciSchmooze

July 25, 2021

Hello again Science fans!

I recently took a road trip back east, my first journey of more than 50 miles or so from home since COVID-19 broke out. It felt good to get away, but also a little unsettling. I’m sure those of you who have ventured back into the world have felt the same way. Having been in the local bubble for so long, it seemed odd to travel into areas of the country that have been “unlocked” for much longer than California. I found masks much less frequently used almost everywhere other than in California. This remains true, even though vaccinated Californians have been able to go about mostly mask free since mid-June. Many locations around the country still had signs up saying masks are required, but there was no enforcement. Los Angeles county has issued an order requiring masks indoors once again, primarily due to the increase in cases.

I’ve been bombarded by articles about the increase in COVID-19’s Delta variant cases this week. While the statistics differ depending on the source, it should be clear that the Delta variant spreads far more easily than the others, and that at least 97% of the new cases are happening in people who have not been vaccinated.

This has caused some backlash among the vaccinated, if these Letters to the Editor of the LA Times are any indication.

I’ve written about failures in science communication here several times before, including COVID-related issues. In an effort to help people differentiate between the variants, scientists recently changed the nomenclature used to classify them. Rather than calling them by the place they were first identified or by the protein that mutated, the Greek alphabet is now being used. This includes renaming all the previous variants using Greek letters. I thought this was a welcome change as it simplified comparisons between the different variants. Then along came Delta Plus.

The Delta Plus variant – also known as B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 – contains a new mutation in the spike protein the virus uses to enter human cells, called K417N. As it’s still closely linked to Delta, it’s been called Delta Plus rather than another letter in the Greek alphabet, according to WHO’s naming system for COVID-19 variants. So far, Delta Plus has been found in relatively low numbers.1

While there may be technical reasons to not give this one a new letter, clarity can’t be one of them. This is confusing to a public that is not versed in the arcane rules of the World Health Organization. Each time there’s a communications problem like this, those who don’t believe how serious this illness is have another thing to point to as a reason not to listen to scientists.

Then there’s the list of the 12 most influential spreaders of Coronavirus misinformation online, lead by Joseph Mercola.

While not related to this particular problem, we came across this conference on science communication this week, “Communicating the Future: Engaging the Public in Basic Science”. It is free, and has a long list of speakers. If you are interested in communicating science more effectively, you might want to register for part or all of this one. But you’ll have to hurry as the conference happens Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton in San Jose, isn’t conducting their usual summer series of lectures and concerts this year. Of course, Lick was damaged by wildfire last year too. A series of evening tours has been announced, starting August 1. The first tours sold out within hours, and Lick announced a second set of tours that will start on August 13. This set goes on sale at noon (PDT) on July 30. In addition to August 13, dates include August 19, September 14, 16, 17, and 25.

We seem to be awash in euphemisms these days. Information is defined as “knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction” (Merrian-Webster). Misinformation is defined by the same source as “incorrect or misleading information”. Let’s just call misinformation what it is, a euphemism for lies. Then we have human-shark interactions, which shark scientists don’t want us to call shark attacks any longer. They prefer something less pejorative. Friday’s New York Times ScienceTimes newsletter goes further into this, somewhat tongue in cheek.

As you probably know, the FDA has not formally approved the COVID-19 vaccines, instead providing emergency use authorization. Some people view this as a reason to not be vaccinated, despite the overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are beneficial and safe. So why haven’t they been formally approved? Wednesday’s New York Times The Morning newsletter looked at this in depth, and it is worth a look.

One more health-related item, before we move into space. MIT has announced a new test to detect and pinpoint cancer cells in the human body. While not ready for use yet, it shows great promise.

Hubble is back! The images above were the first ones released by NASA since the Hubble Space Telescope was brought back online this past weekend. Hubble seems to have more lives than a cat!

The Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, reached three significant milestones this month in preparation for launch later this year. I can’t wait to see images from the Webb telescope.

The Juno spacecraft has been exploring Jupiter and its moons since 2016. It recently flew within 645 miles of Ganymede before rushing past Jupiter on its 34th flyby. A citizen scientist has compressed the images taken during this run into a 3 1/2 minute video. Beautiful!

Lastly, let’s look back in history a bit.

This past week marked the 52nd anniversary of one giant leap for mankind, namely the Moon landing. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon. On that same date this year, Jeff Bezos and four passengers flew to the edge of space in the second commercial space flight. Here’s a historical perspective of these two events that you might enjoy from historian Heather Cox Richardson.

My thanks to David Almandsmith for covering for me on the Schmooze while I was away.

Have a great week in Science!

Bob Siederer

Upcoming Events:
Click to see the next two weeks of events in your browser.

Monday, 07/26/2021

Wonderfest: Rovers, Helicopters, & Ancient Martians: Why We Explore Mars - Livestream - 07/26/2021 07:00 PM
Hopmonk Tavern Novato

In 2021, three nations are sending missions to the Red Planet - including NASA's Perseverance rover with the first Mars helicopter, Ingenuity. Ancient Mars was much like Earth, with rivers, lakes, and possibly the stirrings of life; but how has it changed? Using beautiful color images from the latest space probes, astronomer Andrew Fraknoi will reveal what we know, and what we hope to discover, about the alien world next door.

Measuring and Improving Engagement in Online Learning - Livestream - 07/26/2021 07:00 PM
SF Bay Association of Computing Machinery

With a lot of learning shifting online, many students turn their cameras off, making it impossible for teachers to understand whether their students are engaged. Teachers feel that they are teaching a vacant wall of icons while students are unable to show that they are engaged without inviting discomfort. This application allows teachers to enable a mode of encouraging and communicating engagement without making students turning their video on. Students who are uncomfortable turning on their cameras can convey relevant emotions and engage with the lesson, helping all participants in a video conference increase mutual engagement and trust.The application builds on facial landmark learning to detect and communicate engagement. It consists of four components: calibration, detection, communication, and reporting. The application first calibrates detection and display to the specific user, changing parameters for detection and the avatar that will be displayed to communicate engagement. It detects specific actions such as smiling or raising a hand, then conveys them through an avatar, e.g., if the user smiles, the avatar smiles. It also provides each student an aggregated engagement score and graph for the duration of the lesson. Optionally, they can even contribute to the teacher’s report which would average all students’ engagement, keeping individual scores anonymous, so teachers know if large sections of their classes found some parts of the class to be harder.

The application is a step towards communicating real-time engagement and measuring overall engagement, even without having the connection of communicating in person. It could be useful for ad testing, initial screenings, and flipped learning. Meanwhile, the changing avatar can bring interest and fun not only to classes, but in regular video calls among friends.

Speaker: Manasi Ganti, Monta Vista High School

Tuesday, 07/27/2021

Circus of Science (Home Edition) - Livestream - 07/27/2021 11:00 AM
UC Merced

A variety of fun, hands-on science (magic?) activities that can be done at home with materials you already have, meant to help you look at the world around you a little bit differently. The suggested list of materials will be sent before the session.

Speaker: Alauna Wheeler, UC Merced

Target audience: Elementary school students

State, Society and Vaccines - Livestream - 07/27/2021 05:00 PM
Long Now Foundation

As a society, how do we address the "wicked hard problem" of vaccine acceptance? How can public health institutions reach those who are hesitant when even robust fact-based campaigns don't seem to work?

Infectious diseases are one of the long-standing challenges for humanity; historical plagues and flare ups of disease have transformed societies, redrawn boundaries across the globe and instigated mass migrations. Successive civilizations have grappled with attempts to control contagion and tried to protect their populations. With the advent of vaccines in the late 1700's it seemed humanity had finally found the way out of this potentially existential threat.

But despite humans' deeply embedded fear of infectious disease, issues of vaccine acceptance arose from the start. Through decades of public health campaigns in multiple countries, a persistent thread can be seen of reluctance to adopt vaccines, despite extensive educational campaigns or even coercive tactics to get populations fully vaccinated.

Prerna Singh asks how do we go beyond the usual behavior modeling to find out what actually works for these critical public health campaigns? Can we uncover the keys to human motivation to get people to act for their own protection and for the greater good?

Ecosystem Restoration from Roots to Reefs - What's Happening and Why it's Essential for Ocean Health -Livestream - 07/27/2021 07:00 PM
American Cetacean Society

Join us for a captivating evening with Dr. Gretchen Coffman to explore the importance of mangroves to the health of ocean ecosystems. Dr. Coffman will discuss her work connecting the interdependencies of coastal flora (e.g., mangroves) to ocean habitat health and the support of local communities who are essential in the stewardship required for ecosystem restoration and sustainable fisheries. Dr. Coffman will also relate her work to the United Nations’ “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration” and the “30x30” initiative calling for 30 percent of the planet to be protected and managed for nature by 2030.

Register at weblink to receive connection information

Wednesday, 07/28/2021

The Science of Happiness - Livestream - 07/28/2021 06:00 PM
UC Berkeley

Speaker: Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Greater Good Science Center

The Ocean's Bad Acid Trip: A Look Into Climate Change's Effect on California Marine Ecosystems - Livestream - 07/28/2021 07:00 PM
Science on Tap

Oceans have helped buffer the worst effects of human-caused climate change. Acting like a sponge, the ocean has absorbed over 90% of the heat resulting from global warming, and approximately one third of all carbon dioxide emissions; however this has not been without consequence to the ocean and it’s inhabitants. When carbon dioxide is absorbed into seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur, reducing the pH of the water and causing a phenomenon called ocean acidification. While the ocean is becoming more acidic across the globe, the west coast of the United States is acidifying rapidly, threatening commercially and culturally important species.

In this talk, I will introduce the oceanography of the California coast, and why ocean acidification poses such a threat in our ocean backyard. I will also discuss how computer models that simulate the ocean environment are providing a new, detailed perspective on the threats marine ecosystems may face due to climate change.

Speaker: Julia Cheresh, UC Santa Cruz

Wonderfest: The Magic Powers of Geometry, Symmetry, & Topology - Livestream - 07/28/2021 07:30 PM

Mathematicians, artists, engineers, and designers use three broad concepts to develop their creations: geometry, symmetry, and topology. We will clarify and explore these three subjects to see how they are applied in the understanding of mathematical knots and in the analysis and design of abstract geometric sculptures: math and art embracing one another, knotted together beautifully!

Speaker: Carlo Séquin, UC Berkeley

Thursday, 07/29/2021

Build a Model to Understand the Role and Structure of DNA - Livestream - 07/29/2021 10:00 AM
UC Merced

We will first learn some basics about the hereditary material DNA: its structure, replication, and how it determines the appearance of living things. We will then build a DNA molecular model with straws and tape. The suggested list of materials will be sent before the session. 

Speaker: Xuecai (Susan) Ge, UC Merced

Target audience: Elementary school students

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare - Livestream - 07/29/2021 11:50 AM
Magnimind Academy

Healthcare is one of the most important area in our life and this will be more cooperated with technology in the near future. In this research presentation, the scope of artificial intelligence and machine learning for healthcare will be presented. Several inspirational approaches to the field of both academic and industry research will be introduced in the talk. Acquisition and processing of the clinical data using artificial intelligence in genomics, proteomics, oncology (cancer treatment), radiology, neurology, psychology, psychiatry, and many other health divisions will be more important in biotechnology life cycle. During the talk, many domains like drug discovery, tele-health and monitoring, bioinformatics, genomics, proteomics, medical imaging, early disease prediction and other predictive analytics, personalized medicine, virtual assistance, bio-inspired systems, developing medical devices, wearable devices and robots and more will be discussed. New ideas, potential research projects and opportunities will be explained. In this respect, both application-based and theoretical-based scientific achievements will be reviewed in healthcare. It is aimed that the audience will gain a perspective of how to develop new approaches to use artificial intelligence and machine learning in biomedical area.


11:45 am - 11:50 am Arrival and socializing

11:50 am - 11:55 am Opening

12:00 pm - 1:50 pm Dr. Tolga Ensari, "Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare"

1:50 pm - 2:00 pm Q&A

Speaker: Dr. Tolga Ensari is an assistant professor at the Department of Computer and Information Science, Arkansas Tech University, AR. Please register using the zoom link to get a reminder:Webinar ID: 848 6828 6639

Animal Adaptation in the Anthropocene - Livestream - 07/29/2021 05:00 PM
San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory

The present has been described as the "Anthropocene" or "human epoch": a time when humans are drastically modifying the world around us. How have animals adapted to this strange, changing world? This talk will explore interesting instances of animal resilience and flexibility, and remind you that evolution doesn't just happen under the academic gaze of bearded men cataloguing the Galápagos: it's happening all around us.

Speaker: Katie LaBarbera, SFBBO

Leaving Transistors in the Dust: Visualizing the Next Computing Revolution - Livestream - 07/29/2021 05:00 PM
SLAC Public Lecture

As we reach the limits of high-speed computation based on silicon, ideas for the next generation of computers have focused on electrically switchable nanoscale devices that operate in ways similar to the neurons and synapses of your brain. We have identified materials that can perform extremely fast switches by rearranging atoms within their structures. The next step is to photograph those atomic motions as they take place within operating devices so we can learn exactly how the switches work. This lecture will describe how scientists use X-ray and electrons at SLAC to visualize these motions, and how this approach opens new routes toward developing ultrafast, ultralow energy neuromorphic computers.

Speaker: Aaron Lindenberg, SLAC

See weblink for link to Zoom.

NightLife: Science Show & Tell - 07/29/2021 06:00 PM
California Academy of Sciences San Francisco

Calling all creatures of the night: explore the nocturnal side of the Academy at NightLife and see what's revealed. With live DJs, outdoor bars, ambiance lighting, and nearly 40,000 live animals (including familiar faces like Claude the albino alligator), the night is sure to be wild.

Step inside the iconic Shake House and our four-story Rainforest, where you can explore the Amazon’s treetops surrounded by free-flying birds and butterflies. Reservations for these exhibits are no longer required. However, please note that the last entry into the rainforest is 7:45 pm - our animals need their sleep!

Venture into our latest aquarium exhibit Venom to encounter live venomous animals and learn the power of venom to both harm and heal.

Visit the BigPicture exhibit in the Piazza to marvel at the most recent winners of the BigPicture Natural Photography competition.

Bask in the glow of one of the largest living coral reef displays in the world: our 212,000-gallon Philippine Coral Reef tank.

Take in the interstellar views from the Living Roof, then grab a bite from the Academy Cafe and head to the West Garden outdoor bar to drink and dine under the stars. For adults 21+.

Art for Action | After Dark - 07/29/2021 06:00 PM
ExplOratorium San Francisco

The artistic process - much like the scientific process - is a fundamental method of learning and discovery. Arts offer an open-ended process of investigation, imagination, and experimentation in which every artist has the potential to reinvent art practice anew. Tonight at After Dark, experience work from artists who use art as a tool to invigorate public spaces, evoke social consciousness, and encourage awareness. View two newly commissioned murals from Bay Area artists Mark Harris and Bianca Marie Rivera and learn more about individual artists’ creation processes - and the ways in which artworks can be used as powerful tools for prompting meaningful change.  

The Art of Mark Harris With Mark Harris

06:00-10:00 p.m. Osher Gallery 1

San Francisco-based artist Mark Harris combines his passions for social justice, activism, and art-making to engage audiences about critical issues facing society today. Tonight at After Dark, Harris will share a small collection of his work and share insights into his artistic process and how he generates his ideas.

Mark Harris embodies a strong voice with a gentle spirit. His work vacillates between sounding an alarm through confrontation and educating through humor by revisiting familiar images. Mark’s art practice includes mentoring youth through art education programs; he has also taught at schools such as the Lycée Français de San Francisco and Yang Fan Academy. He recently worked with students at La Scuola International School to create a legacy mural.  In 2017, he won the Teachers for Social Justice Award and established himself as an artist and educator with a strong independent voice. At the Exploratorium, Mark reminds us of our common human aspirations and rights, and what we have to lose if we do not protect them.

What a Long, Strange Year It's Been With Bianca Marie Rivera

6:00-10:00 p.m.Osher Gallery 1

What a Long, Strange Year It's Been features the only acceptable portals for communicating with others during the past year of global pandemic: the framed windows of our homes and the video chats framed by our phones, computers, and tablets. This piece also displays the spectrum of events and emotions that have taken place in the past year: moments of joy, celebration, sadness, community, and collective action. Check out this newly commissioned mural from Bianca Marie Rivera and experience a collection of illustrations from across her career.

Bianca Marie Rivera is a Black Puerto-Rican illustrator and muralist born in Brooklyn and currently based in San Francisco. Her practice utilizes bold, crisp lines and a vibrant color palette to visually explore themes of community, mental health, and all the moments of joy, quiet, and contemplation in between.

Quilting for Change With Social Justice Sewing Academy

6:30-9:30 p.m.

Osher Gallery 1

Learn about the power of textile arts as a vehicle for personal transformation and engagement with community and social change at this drop-in workshop. Hear from the educators and artists behind the Social Justice Sewing Academy about their mission and their approach to collaborative quilting for change, and learn basic techniques for crafting individual quilt blocks. Then try your hand at creating your own block using prompts from SJSA that encourage self-expression and community reflection. 

Founded in 2017, the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) is a youth education program that bridges artistic expression with activism to advocate for social justice. Through a series of hands-on workshops in schools, prisons, and community centers across the country, SJSA empowers youth to use textile art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community cohesion and become agents of social change. The powerful imagery youth create in cloth tells their stories, and these quilt blocks are sent to volunteers around the world to embellish and embroider before being sewn together into quilts. This visual dialogue bridges differences in race, age, and socioeconomics, and sparks conversations and action in households across the country.

Curious about what to expect during your visit? Check out our current safety protocols and guidelines.

Micromitigation: Fighting Air Pollution with Activated Carbon - Livestream - 07/29/2021 07:00 PM
Counter Culture Labs

We would like to invite new members to join Counter Culture Labs' Micromitigation Meetup alternate Thursdays. We will be discussing ways to deploy existing adsorption technology using commodity granulated activated carbon for the mitigation of air pollution. 

We welcome those interested in both the environmental justice and technical engineering aspects of air quality.Please sign up by joining the Counter Culture Labs' Meetup group, then RSVPing for the event. Weblink provided after signup.

Saturday, 07/31/2021

Urban Gray Fox Talk - Livestream - 07/31/2021 01:30 PM
Environmental Volunteers

Join us for this informative and engaging multi-media presentation about the gray fox. Although gray foxes are frequently spotted in the Bay Area, very little is known about them, especially their behavior. The Fox Guy, Bill Leikam, begins his presentation with an overview of the gray fox’s general ecology as an orientation to the life of a gray fox. He then weaves together the science through personal stories about foxes he studied in the Bay Area as he follows them over the course of a year. You will witness juvenile gray foxes begin new relationships, and experience the secret lives of gray fox pups as they learn how to survive in their ever changing world. This presentation is suited for high school age and adults, but all ages are welcome.

Speaker: Bill Leikam, Guadalupe-Coyote Resource Conservation District

This event was rescheduled from July 3 and has a different time.

Register at weblink to receive Zoom link.

Coyote Point Movie Nights - 07/31/2021 08:30 PM
Coyote Point Recreation Area San Mateo

Gather friends and family, pack a picnic and join CuriOdyssey for a fun-filled summer evening during Coyote Point Movie Nights in July, August, September and October at Coyote Point Park in San Mateo.  Watch your favorite movies, experiment with fun CuriOdyssey science experiments, play creatively with San Mateo County Libraries, and learn more about the San Mateo County Parks Foundation. Movies begin thirty minutes after sunset, the last Saturday of each month, activities will open one hour before the movie begins.

Virtual Telescope Viewing - Livestream - 07/31/2021 09:00 PM
Chabot Space and Science Center

Join our resident astronomers on Facebook Live every Saturday evening live from Chabot’s Observation deck!

Each week, our astronomers will guide us through spectacular night sky viewing through Nellie, Chabot‘s most powerful telescope. Weather permitting we will be able to view objects live through the telescopes and our astronomers will be available for an open forum for all of your most pressing astronomy questions.

Sunday, 08/01/2021

Evening Tours of Lick Observatory - SOLD OUT - 08/01/2021 06:30 PM
Lick Observatory Mt. Hamilton

Tuesday, 08/03/2021

How to Prepare for Climate Change - Livestream - 08/03/2021 12:00 PM
Commonwealth Club - Online Event

Wednesday, 08/04/2021

Got Hormones? The Do's and Don'ts of Stem/Leaf Propagation - Livestream - 08/04/2021 05:30 PM
Speakeasy Science

Thursday, 08/05/2021

NightLife - 08/05/2021 06:00 PM
California Academy of Sciences

After Dark: Phenomenal Physics - 08/05/2021 06:00 PM
ExplOratorium San Francisco

Evening Tours of Lick Observatory - SOLD OUT - 08/05/2021 06:30 PM
Lick Observatory Mt. Hamilton

NightSchool: Surviving the Deadly Bucket - Livestream - 08/05/2021 07:00 PM
California Academy of Sciences

Saturday, 08/07/2021

Nature Day on Codornices Creek - 08/07/2021 10:00 AM
Codornices Creek Berkeley

Little Sap - Virtual Book Reading - 08/07/2021 01:30 PM
Environmental Volunteers

Virtual Telescope Viewing - Livestream - 08/07/2021 09:00 PM
Chabot Space and Science Center

Sunday, 08/08/2021

Evening Tours of Lick Observatory - SOLD OUT - 08/08/2021 06:30 PM
Lick Observatory Mt. Hamilton

Monday, 08/09/2021

Measuring and Improving Engagement in Online Learning - Livestream - 08/09/2021 07:00 PM
SF Bay Association of Computing Machinery