Science + Health

Unboggling Minds: New Brain Study May Impact Language Research

Scientists have long believed that the cortex, the outer layer of the brain, was responsible for figuring out the meaning in a sentence. But a new study out of UC Berkeley shows that the hippocampus, a brain structure long believed to act as a center for linking memories together, plays an active role in extracting meaning from language.

“This gives us a new insight into how memory works in humans, and how memory interacts with the rest of the brain to produce behavior,” says study co-author and Berkeley psychology professor Robert Knight.

Clear Sound, Sleek Styling, and Microwave Radiation

The release of AirPods, those sleek wireless earbuds from Apple, is again spurring debate over the safety of radiation-emitting devices—including cell phones, WiFi routers, and wireless headsets. While U.S. regulatory agencies and some scientists believe the risk from these devices is either low or unproven, there are experts, including a UC Berkeley public health researcher, concerned about their safety.

A Cal Alum’s Recipe for More Tuolumne River Salmon: Add Water

The Tuolumne River has long been revered by whitewater kayakers and rafters for its pristine wilderness canyon and challenging rapids. But “The T,” as it’s known by river-runners, was once famed for something else: Salmon. Before the Hetch Hetchy and Don Pedro Dams were built on the river’s upper reaches in the last century, the Tuolumne supported up to 130,000 spawning Chinook salmon annually.

Poking the Sleeping Giant: Quake Swarm Could Unleash San Andreas

The swarm of small temblors just off Bombay Beach in the Salton Sea on September 26 isn’t a sign that Palm Springs is about to become beachfront property, but it does point to the inevitability of the “Big One” hitting the South State, say seismologists.

Message in a Bottle: Nearly Four Decades After Launch the Voyager Record Still Inspires

This Friday night the Greek Theatre will host a one-night-only performance of music and storytelling exploring the “sounds, ideas, and culture of California and the West today.” Called “The Golden State Record,” the evening’s program—a joint presentation by the folks at Pop-Up Magazine, California Sunday Magazine (not to be confused with this magazine), and festival producer NoisePop—is a nod to the NASA Voyager Golden Records, which are carried by the twin space probes, Voyagers 1 and 2.

Well in Control: Berkeley Startup Helps People Find Out What They’re Drinking

Two factors that contributed to the poisoning of tens of thousands of Washington, D.C., residents through their drinking water in the early 2000s—lead pipes and a disinfectant called chloramine—continue to coexist in countless water systems nationwide, including in the Bay Area. But not to worry, says UC Berkeley water expert and engineering professor David Sedlak; they’re safe when properly managed, which happens in the vast majority of public water systems.

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

Breathing Easier: A New Device Could Help Detect Asthma Attacks Before They Start

To a very real degree, Charvi Shetty’s future was molded by her college roommate. Or rather, her roommate’s health.

“She had asthma,” says Shetty, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a bioengineering degree in 2012 and took a master’s in biomedical imaging from UCSF in 2013. “She had to use an inhaler six times a day. She told me that her childhood memories were of going to the ER, not Disneyland or the beach, and she was never allowed to play outside because of her allergies. Asthma controlled her life.”

From the Fall 2016 The Greatest Show On Earth 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.

Fire Fight: FEMA Yanks Fuel Reduction Funds After Conservation Group Wages Legal Battle

Next month will mark the 25th anniversary of the Oakland Hills Fire, the epochal conflagration that started on October 19 and, driven by strong northeasterly winds, burned more than 1,500 acres over three days, killing 25 people and destroying some 2,500 homes and 400 apartments.

Anyone who lived in the Bay Area at that time will recall the massive column of smoke that rose from the East Bay during the day and the walls of flame that limned the topography of the hills at night. Those three days felt nothing short of apocalyptic.

Nobelist Randy Schekman Is Not Resting on His Laurels

When Randy Schekman looks up from his computer screen, which he now spends more time staring at than petri dishes, his eyes sometimes fall on a faded copy of Cell displayed nearby. The issue is dated June 17, 1994, and the cover depicts a swarm of magnified vesicles—tiny sacs that transport molecules inside cells—resembling a crowd of miniature suns.

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

The Bot Versus the Bard: Researchers Teach a Computer to Write Poetry

What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit

King of hell no quarrel have I left thee
No lovely maid who gleaned in fields or skies

One pair of lines above is the work of Shakespeare. The other was written by a computer. Can you tell which is which?

Notes from Understory: A Berkeley Biologist Gauges the Health of the Redwoods from the Ferns on the Forest Floor.

Emily Burns was driving north from the Bay Area one day, idly woolgathering, when it hit her.

“Western sword ferns,” she recalls thinking. “They’re twice as big in the northern end of their range as in the southern end. And it struck me that it had to be due to water availability. The fact that it’s wetter in Redwood National Park in Humboldt County than, say, Lime Kiln Creek on the Big Sur coast translates as larger ferns in the north. It all seems obvious now, but there was nothing in the literature on it.”

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