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A Formula for Funny: The Surprisingly Smart Humor of The Simpsons

FOR CENTURIES, FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM defied mathematicians to prove that there are, in fact, no natural numbers for x, y and z that can satisfy the equation xn+yn=zn when n is greater than 2. Countless great minds tried and failed, until 1995, when mathematician Andrew Wiles, after years of monk-like devotion, provided the undisputed proof once and for all. 

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

The Editorial That Split the Daily Cal (And May Have Provoked a Riot)

Editor’s note: The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s student newspaper, marks two momentous anniversaries this year. The first is its founding, 150 years ago. Since 1871, the paper—originally called the College Echo—has been published continuously, reporting on the campus and community through world wars and loyalty oaths, depression and recessions, student rebellions and global pandemics.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Will AI Write the Next Great American Novel?

IN SEPTEMBER OF LAST YEAR, a startling headline appeared on the Guardian’s website: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?” The accompanying piece was written by GPT-3, or Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, a language-generating program from San Francisco–based OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research company whose founders include Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and Berkeley Ph.D. John Schulman. “The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear,” the robotic author explained to readers.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Editor’s Note: Nothing Writes Itself, Yet

“This practically writes itself,” is something writers often say but don’t really believe. No story worth telling comes without toil. That could change, however, with an assist from artificial intelligence. Already, AI programs are being used to help craft poetry, stories, and essays.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Chancellor’s Letter: COVID and the Arts

Since the pandemic began, Jeremy Geffen, director of Cal Performances, has been sending a weekly email to patrons, a play­list of half a dozen or so performing arts videos, entitled “Now, More Than Ever.” The title resonates. At a time of great crisis, like the one we are experiencing, we need the arts, to bring us moments of beauty, of profound reflection on the human condition, of heightened emotion captured in the symmetries of form.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Meet Cal’s New Changemaker in Chief

RICH LYONS SPENT TEN YEARS (2008–2018) as dean of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where he himself studied as an undergraduate, before being appointed the University’s first-ever chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer in January 2020.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

First Lady of Physics Gets Stamp of Approval

IN FEBRUARY, THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE released a new Forever Stamp honoring the late Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, one of the most influential nuclear physicists of her era.

Born in China in 1912, Wu came to America at age 24 and studied nuclear physics at Cal. As a graduate student, she worked at Berkeley’s Radiation Laboratory—now the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—under Ernest O. Lawrence, for whom the lab was later renamed.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

In the Wake of the Capitol Riot, A Conversation on Right-Wing Ideology

On January 6, 2021, a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to his successor, President Joe Biden. The insuing riot led to five deaths, hundreds of arrests, and renewed concern over the impacts of right-wing rhetoric.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Plants for the People: The UC Botanical Garden Is Blooming and Ready for Visitors

ON JULY 14, 2020, THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BOTANICAL GARDEN at Berkeley welcomed visitors for the first time since its closure four months earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic. The garden’s executive director, plant biology professor Dr. Lewis Feldman, stood by the gates, greeting the first arrivals. “When people came in, [they] burst into tears,” says Feldman. “It was, for them, as if something normal had been returned to their lives. … I think the garden here represents a return to what life was like. … It’s very renewing.”

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

A Bug’s Life: Surviving Disease in the Colonies

It’s a warm, spring day. You’re sitting under a tree snacking on a bag of potato chips, when a breeze tickles your nose. You sneeze, sending a soggy crumb into the grass where it bonks an unsuspecting ant on the head. Unfazed, she nibbles the chip, then heaves it over her shoulder and carries it back to the colony. Little does she know that, during its brief flight from your mouth, this sticky glob picked up a fungal spore that is deadly to ants. Within a day she’ll be sick, within two she’ll be dead.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Smooth Sailing? A Public Health Expert Is Hopeful About the Vaccine Rollout

California periodically touches base on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic with John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley Public Health Clinical Professor Emeritus and an international authority on infectious diseases and vaccinology. In October, Dr. Swartzberg was hopeful that forthcoming vaccines would be at least 70 percent effective; as it turned out, they far surpassed that figure, with both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines approaching 95 percent efficacy.

You Should Know About Ida Jackson

“Since I’ve gotten old, I have wondered how I did all the things that I did then,” Ida Louise Jackson reflected in 1984 at the age of 82. Jackson participated in some of the major movements of the 20th century: the Great Migration, school desegregation, the battles for equitable education and health, and the Civil Rights Movement. Some of her earliest activism began at Berkeley when she organized the second Black sorority on the campus (shortly after the founding of AKA’s rival Delta Sigma Theta).

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

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