Science + Health

The Periodic Table Is Turning 150. Please Clap.

In 1669, Hennig Brand, a German merchant and alchemist, tried a novel experiment he hoped would yield the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” a way to spin base metals into gold. His exact formula is lost to history, but we know he heated urine in a retort, or glass chamber, until the vessel glowed and the dripping liquid burst into flames. Urine, it turned out, wasn’t a source of gold. It was a source of phosphorus, a previously unknown element and the first one isolated in the laboratory.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

The Element Named After Berkeley

Glenn Seaborg was born too late to have spawned Cal’s spirit cry. It’s coincidence, surely, that his name is an anagram for “Go Bears!” And, although he was definitely a Bears fan and was Chancellor when Cal last made it to the Rose Bowl in 1959, he was never in Oski’s league as a campus celebrity. While others led rallies, he had to settle for spearheading decades of trailblazing nuclear science, endowing UC Berkeley with bragging rights to the discovery of a record 16 new elements.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

Warning! AI Is Heading for a Cliff

Asked if the race to achieve superhuman artificial intelligence (AI) was inevitable, Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor of computer science and leading expert on AI, says yes.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

Whose Fault?

When a series of earthquakes rolled through the Mojave Desert over Independence Day weekend, the 500,000 Angelenos who’d downloaded the mobile app ShakeAlertLA thought they’d receive advance warning. Notification never came. Left to their own (silent) devices, many expressed frustration: Had the United States’ new earthquake early warning system, co-piloted by Berkeley researchers, failed its first major trial?

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

From Ashes to Ashes: Can California Safely Rebuild?

Edna Colridge was irritated when her dog jumped on her chest, rousing her from a deep sleep. Then she looked out the window and noticed that the sky was red. A few seconds later, she saw that her neighbor’s house was engulfed by flames. And the house behind that. The entire neighborhood, she realized, was burning.

Scientists Are Using Laser Technology to “Fireproof” California

When the Tubbs and Nuns wildfires exploded across Sonoma County in 2017, firefighters found they lacked critical information. Details on the vegetation, structures, and roads distributed across the landscape would have helped them better evacuate residents and allocate fire suppression resources.

An Incurable Infection Is on the Rise. A Vaccine Remains Elusive.

Sherry D. Martinez thought she had the flu. The then-45-year-old had all the usual symptoms—fever, fatigue, sore joints—and then some. When it became difficult to breathe, a doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia and sent her home with antibiotics. A few days later, bumps appeared on Martinez’s skin. When she scratched at them, they oozed. Her doctor put her on stronger antibiotics, but still her condition worsened. She developed a rash and severe eye pain.

From the Summer 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!

First Response to Ebola? Inoculate Against Rumor

On March 29, 2019, fifteen cases of Ebola were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the biggest one-day spike in an outbreak that started last summer and was deeply worrisome for a few reasons: Ebola has a mortality rate of at least 50 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and spreads quickly through contact with bodily fluids. Also, the sudden uptick in cases could presage a rapid expansion of the virus throughout the entire Congo Basin and beyond.

I Just Don’t Get It: Why Do So Many People Treat Pets as Human Equals?

This rumination begins with a phone call from my brother, but it’s really about domestic animals, dogs and cats mostly, and our changing mores about them: How they are now viewed as peers and family members rather than pets, how we’ve come to define ourselves as their guardians rather than their owners, whether our growing obsession with them is somehow a simulacrum for the complicated and messy human relationships that formerly dominated our lives, and whether apotheosizing them somehow minimizes our sensitivity to human suffering.

Playing with Fire: Welcome to the Experimental Forest

UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Experimental Forest is situated on the Georgetown Divide between the Middle and South forks of the American River, about 80 miles southeast of Paradise and smack in the heart of California’s most productive timber country. It’s just one of four such research forests owned by the University, but Rob York, Blodgett’s director and Berkeley adjunct professor of forestry, calls it the crown jewel.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned

The first signs of trouble were subtle. For some, it was the strange amber hue of the midday light. Others caught the distinctive scent of burning eucalyptus. By two in the afternoon of September 17, 1923, just about everyone in Berkeley had taken note of the uncommonly warm, dry wind blowing in from the northeast. What they didn’t know was that a small grass fire over the hill in Wildcat Canyon was growing fast, leaping from grass to brush to tree—and it was about to crest the hills of North Berkeley.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Q&A: Roe v. Wade Is on the Stand. Could a Grassroots Movement Save It?

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized abortion access as a fundamental right, has been contested by conservative activists and legislators since it was passed. And while the decision remains popular 45 years later, with 71% of voters opposed to overturning Roe, Trump’s recent appointments to the Supreme Court indicate there may be an opening to do just that. The size of that opening, and the stakes involved, are being hotly debated.

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