Nature

Shutdowns Hurt. They Also Save Lives.

What would have happened if large-scale policies like shelter-in-place orders, travel restrictions, and business closures were not implemented early in the COVID-19 pandemic?

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

How to Kick-Start Your Bird-Watching Hobby From Home

Look up! While you were stirring up a tweetstorm on your phone, real (non)human drama was unfolding among the original tweeters—that’s right, the birds. Cooper’s hawks are in hot pursuit of pigeons through the Berkeley canopy. A consortium of bushtits gather on the sidewalk, and a black phoebe lands pensively on your fence post. 

The Legend of Indian Rock, Berkeley’s Bouldering Haven

THEY COME AT DAY’S END TO SCAMPER up the steps carved in the south face of the rock and sit and watch the sun set. Or they come earlier in the day, often bearing crash pads, to climb on the slightly overhanging face in the grotto-like area on the back side, called “The Pit.” Sometimes they come as a class, to geologize, or to learn about the mortar rocks where, for thousands of years, the Ohlone ground acorns into mash.

From the Summer 2020 issue of California.

Michael Mann Fought Climate Denial. Now He’s Fighting Climate Doom.

ONE AUGUST AFTERNOON IN 2010, Michael Mann was opening mail in his office at Penn State University when a dusting of white powder emerged from an envelope. At first he thought it was his imagination. “I figured maybe it’s just an old dingy envelope or something,” Mann recalled. His next thought: anthrax.  

From the Summer 2020 issue of California.

Kiss Me, I’m 61.5% Irish

THE YEAR HAS BEEN A JUMBLE FOR ME. Long story short: I was Portuguese, then I wasn’t, then I was again.

It all started after my wife and I spat in vials and mailed the samples off to a laboratory, where our DNA was extracted from the skin cells that had sloughed off into our saliva. Many thousands of DNA segments were read and analyzed, and the results returned via email.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

The Planet Is Suffering. How Do We Write About It?

Here’s the thing: The climate is warming, our population is growing, resource consumption is surging, and it isn’t looking so great for us—or our fellow earth-dwelling organisms. Speaking of which, the UN just released a report warning of “unprecedented” decline in environmental health and the threat of imminent extinction for some 1 million species.

I know, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Those environmental journalists just won’t leave you alone!

Reading Roundup: Volcanic Umbrellas, Student Oscars, More

Volcanic Umbrella

When Mt. Pinatubo exploded in the northern Philippines in 1991, it spewed millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. For nearly two years, that sunlight-blocking plume acted as a sort of volcanic “umbrella,” cooling the Earth by almost 1 degree Fahrenheit. As climate change increasingly alters our lifestyles and embeds itself into our collective consciousness, geoengineering—in this case, humans playing volcano to replicate this cooling event—became a fascinating idea.

Molecules of Life: Seeing the Way to Longer, Healthier Living

The Breakthrough

Researchers at Berkeley have produced the first detailed picture of the molecular structure of human telomerase, an enzyme that plays key roles in both the repair of aging cells and the endless cellular rejuvenation typical of cancers. Berkeley biology professors Kathleen Collins and Eva Nogales published their discovery, complete with 3D images, in the journal Nature in April.

The Background

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Can We Learn to Grow Color? Butterfly Wings May Hold the Answer

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, humans have been buttering up the natural world for a long time. It’s often called biomimicry. Think Olympic swimmers in sharkskin-inspired suits, bullet trains shaped like kingfisher beaks, or the ubiquitous Velcro, which was famously modeled after plant burrs.  

Yet all of these examples depend on man-made materials and processes. What if we took biomimicry one step further and learned how to grow structures the way they grow in nature?

From the Summer 2017 Adaptation issue of California.

Eyes on the Octopus: In Trio of Studies, Berkeley Scientists Strive to Make Sense of the Cephalopods

It is a curious thing to consider that UC Berkeley, a school notably lacking a marine biology program, has produced not one, not two, but three published studies on the venerable octopus within the last year. But then octopuses, too, are curious to consider. They have three hearts; blue, copper-based blood; regenerating tentacles; and a level of sentience unique among invertebrates.

From the Fall 2016 The Greatest Show On Earth issue of California.

The Case for Blind Analysis: In Research, What You Know Can Hurt You

Determining reality can be a confounding business. It’s hard to separate subjective sensory impressions, cultural imperatives, religious epiphanies, social mores, and gut feelings from what objectively is. No surprise, then, that many of us rely on scientists to tell us what’s what. And scientists, in turn, rely on the vetted and published results of significant research to both aid them in their own inquiries and derive an accurate sense of the cosmos and everything in it and beyond it.

Bones of Contention: Cal Paleo Expert Doubts Homo Naledi Is New Species

The popular science press went bonkers last month with news that fossilized bones of a previously unknown hominid had been discovered in a cave system in South Africa. Dubbed Homo naledi by lead researcher and University of the Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, these proto-humans appeared to have lived somewhere between 1 to 3 million years ago, used tools, walked upright, and may have buried their dead, a practice that has only been attributed to our own species, Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals.

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