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.
Science + Health
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.
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.
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.
Posted on September 3, 2019 - 3:44pm
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.
Posted on August 7, 2019 - 4:23pm
Walking into the Berkeley Cannabis Buyers Club might give you a dose of cognitive dissonance.
Posted on July 19, 2019 - 10:20am
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.
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!
Posted on June 20, 2019 - 3:30pm
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.
Posted on May 22, 2019 - 10:11am
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.
Posted on April 29, 2019 - 9:33am
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.
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.
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.
Posted on March 26, 2019 - 1:10pm
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.