Science + Health

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.

Losing Paradise: The “New Normal” of California Wildfires

On the morning of November 8, 2018, Don Peck awoke to the sound of bombs going off.

“It was boom, boom, boom,” recalls the retired jeweler, who had slept in late after a bout of insomnia the night before. Now, as the 70-year-old struggled to gain full consciousness, he realized it was propane tanks, not bombs, he heard. His town, Paradise, was on fire.

Peck knew that he had probably lost everything—his home, his belongings, his cat.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Meet Frances Arnold, Teenage Rebel Turned Nobel Laureate

At 15, she was a class-skipping, catch-me-if-you-can maverick hitchhiking to D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. Looking back on those years now, Frances Arnold says, “Fifteen is one of those terrifying ages, where you’re frustrated because you know something’s wrong, but you have no idea how to fix it. So I did what I could, which is protest.

“But as I’ve gone through my life,” she continues, “I know that it’s my responsibility to fix it. I’m much better at fixing things than protesting.”

She pauses.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

The Twin Tunnels Are Out—Berkeley Experts Say That’s a Good Thing

The extravagantly wet winter notwithstanding, California’s water woes are far from over. But recent moves suggest Governor Gavin Newsom is leading the state into a new era of water policy. Last month, he decided to scale back his predecessor’s decades-long effort, the Twin Tunnels, to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick.

Wine Is Money: How the Rich Are Changing Napa Valley’s Drink

Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, put down a $500 option on about 200 acres of land on the slopes of Spring Mountain in 1971, eventually purchasing the property for $70,000. The views of the adjacent Napa Valley were stunning, and Smith, who had developed a passion for wine while completing his undergraduate degree in economics at Berkeley, was determined to get into the nascent California premium wine business.

Tunnel Vision: This Water Plan Might Make a Splash in the Delta

A long-debated water plan that could change the course—literally—of water in California, will be up for a vote by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) next month. Originally scheduled for November, the vote has been postponed until December 11, per California Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newson’s request.

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.

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