Science + Health

How Algorithms Could Save the Planet

As the natural world unravels, conservationists are looking for new solutions to save what’s left.

Big conservation initiatives take big bucks, but there’s only so much money to go around. So, how do we allocate? And once priorities are determined, how do we identify the most effective approaches?

One possibility: Big Data. It’s now poised to do for conservation what it has done for self-driving cars and online retail, says Carl Boettiger, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley.

Two Brains Are Better Than One: AI and Humans Work to Fight Hate

It started with a conversation. About two years ago, Claudia von Vacano, executive director of UC Berkeley’s social science D-Lab, had a chat with Brittan Heller, the then-director of technology and society for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The topic: the harassment of Jewish journalists on Twitter. Heller wanted to kick the offending trolls off the platform, and Vacano, an expert in digital research, learning, and language acquisition, wanted to develop the tools to do it. Both understood that neither humans nor computers alone were sufficient to root out the offending language.

Berkeley Brains of Yore: Wendell M. Stanley & Joel H. Hildebrand

Eureka! The Diving Bell and the Bullet Wound

On August 4, 1919, Berkeley chemist Joel H. Hildebrand (above, right) was shot and wounded by a lab assistant who accused the professor of opposing his application for appointment. Hildebrand survived—fortunately for the Navy. Twenty years later, in 1939, his work on the properties of gasses being dissolved into liquids saved the lives of 33 members of the USS Squalus when their submarine sank.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Gambling and the Inevitable Remorse

So you’re in Vegas at the penny slots, and you promise yourself you’ll only play a dollar. That’s it! No more. Just enough to have the Vegas experience. If you win, you may regret not wagering a ten-spot to get a bigger jackpot. If you lose, you’ll probably regret sitting at the machine at all. But no matter what, you’re gonna be thinking: “Shoulda coulda woulda.” Or at least, that’s what recent findings out of Berkeley indicate.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.

Burning Questions: A Quick Guide to Key Wildfire Terms

A week after the eruption of the Camp Fire near the town of Paradise, California, 142,000 acres have burned, setting state records for wildfire destruction.

Despite the hundreds still missing and worsening air quality in much of the state, there has been significant progress in battling the flames. As of this writing, according to Cal Fire officials, the Butte County blaze is now 45 percent contained, with full containment expected by November 30.

As California Burns, Experts Anticipate a “New Normal”

Tens of thousands of Californians have evacuated as massive fires, driven by intense winds, rage in both Northern and Southern California. The Camp Fire in Butte County, which destroyed the town of Paradise, grew to 70,000 acres overnight. It sent up a pall of smoke that has triggered air quality advisories across a large swath of the northern part of the state, including the Bay Area. In the South, two fires—the Hill and Woolsey fires—are being fanned by Santa Ana Winds and have forced some 75,000 homes to be evacuated in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

The Cost of Cobalt

Cobalt has been valued for centuries for the deep blue color it imparts to ceramic glazes and glass. Its current value has little to do with such stuff, however. Cobalt is sought today because it’s a critical element in lithium ion batteries, the devices that power our cell phones, computers, and electric vehicles.

Why Are Animals Becoming More Nocturnal?

Research out of UC Berkeley shows that animals around the world are becoming more nocturnal in response to human populations.

The study, published in the journal Science in June, found that mammals have, on average, become 1.36 times more active at night. In other words, a creature that normally would have split its activities equally between day and night, now carries out 68 percent of its activities at night, presumably in avoidance of humans.

From the Fall 2018 Culture Shift issue of California.

Beauty Is in The Eye of the Beholder (of Kidney Stones)

Amethyst, rose quartz, garnets, pearls…kidney stones? That’s right—it might just be time to add a lesser known formation to the list of gemstones you might want for your engagement ring. Turns out, those uncharming urinary deposits that affect more than ten percent of people across the globe are surprisingly interesting, beneath their rough exterior.

Q&A: The Most Toxic Town in America

Located in the high desert of eastern Washington along the Columbia River, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has played a crucial role in global war and peace for more than half a century. It’s also the most heavily contaminated nuclear site in the country—one that few people know about.

ShakeAlert Is Shaking Things Up In Earthquake Detection

Today, millions of people practiced their “drop, cover, and hold on” for the Great California ShakeOut. The annual earthquake drill, held a day after the anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, celebrated its 10th birthday—with a twist. This year, for the first time, ShakeOut partnered with ShakeAlert 2.0, an earthquake early warning (EEW) system created in collaboration with the Seismology Lab at UC Berkeley.

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