Carlmont High School


The Guest Lecture Series attracts distinguished working scientists with a passion for sharing their area of experitise and inspiring students in science. Science lectures are held monthly during the school year (excluding December and January). The monthly lecture series is primarily for students at Carlmont High with an interest in science and technology, but also open to the Belmont/San Carlos community. The lectures are held once a month 7-8 PM at the new Carlmont Performing Arts Center and present science and technology in many disciplines. We are fortunate to have world class scientists and engineers right here in Bay area available to speak to the students.

The seminars are organized by Carlmont science teachers Tina Smith and Dan Raffa and parent volunteer Claes Gustafsson.

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Science Department Chair and Biotech Institute Director
Ext: 35042 
Biotech Science Teacher
Ext: 35043 
Biotech Science Teacher
Ext: 35040 
Biotech Science Teacher
Biotech Science Teacher
Biotech Science Teacher
Biotech Science Teacher
Biotech Science Teacher

Current Lecture SeriesTop of Page

Lecture Series for the 2016-2017 School Year
Please note all lectures are from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. Q&A often goes longer. 
Date Speaker    
September 14, 2016   Mazen Kheirbek (UCSF)  
October 12, 2016  Karen Ring (California Stem Cell Inst)  
November 9, 2016  Zach Serber (Zymergen)  
February 15, 2017 Michelle Dimon (Google Research)  
March 8, 2017 Rachel Haurwitz (Caribou Bio)  
April 5, 2017 Eli Groban- Autodesk  
If you are interested in speaking or have an idea to share please contact:

Dan Raffa, Biotech Teacher

Current Lecture Series ArchiveTop of Page

April 5, 2017
Eli Groban
Head of BioNano Science
Over the past 10 years the ability to sequence, edit, and build life has grown
exponentially. Software in this space has not kept up with the rapid pace of
biological innovation resulting in a tremendous gap between the modeling and
manufacturing of biological systems. The Autodesk BioNano team works to
bring design solutions to biology, making the interaction of scientists with
software more seamless and efficient. Our goal is to allow scientists to focus
on what matters, the science. Autodesk has experience in designing and
displaying complex, man-made mechanical structures in the cloud. We apply
our digital design knowledge to biology in order to show how proteins and
molecules interact to create life. Autodesk’s BioNano group hopes to
empower scientists to Imagine, Design, and Create a better world.
March 8th, 2017
President and CEO
Caribou Biosciences, Inc.
CRISPR genome editing is an exciting new technology that has taken the research and biotech world by storm. Genome editing gives researchers the power to rewrite DNA, the code of life, inside of living cells. Scientists and companies around the world are testing ways to use CRISPR to potentially treat or even cure genetic diseases, breed better crops, and generate livestock resistant to devastating diseases. Rachel Haurwitz is the cofounder and CEO of Caribou Biosciences, a CRISPR gene editing company. She will talk about several of these possible applications as well as the ethical questions being debated such as whether gene editing should be used to alter human embryos.
Michelle Dimon, Google Research (February 15, 2017)
Machine Learning and Applications in Biology
Google’s machine learning technology is reshaping the world. Image search, text translation, video recommendations and more are all powered by machine learning, specifically deep neural networks, also called deep learning. Our team at Google Research uses the same technology to tackle important problems in science —- from diagnosing eye disease to analyzing high-throughput drug screens. My work combines machine learning and advanced sequencing technology to search for the best DNA sequences for identifying and curing diseases. In this talk I will cover deep learning at Google in general and specific applications to biology.
Zach Serber,  Zymergen (November 9, 2016)
Why the Next Revolutionary Materials Will Be Made From Biology

Cells are the most complex and capable chemical factories on earth, able to perform reactions that stymie the most sophisticated synthetic chemists. Moreover, chemistries performed biologically are green, conducted at standard temperature and pressure, without the need for environmentally hazardous catalysts or solvents. Unfortunately our ability to tap into biology’s chemical potential has been extremely limited, leading to the world we live in now, dependent on petrochemicals as the primary ingredient for most products. Dr. Serber will explain how Zymergen is unlocking the potential of biology to make environmentally conscious novel chemicals that will lead to materials with superior properties and that will ultimately displace petrochemicals. 

Karen Ring, California Stem Cell Institute  (October 12, 2016)
The Power of Stem Cells
What are stem cells and why are they important? Stem cells are powerful tools that scientists use to understand human development, model diseases in a dish, and develop potential cell therapies to treat patients. Dr. Karen Ring is a former stem cell researcher and now science communicator at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). She writes about the latest discoveries in stem cell research and educates patients, students, and the general public about the advances of stem cell treatments towards the clinic. In her talk, she will discuss the basic biology of stem cells and the cool new ways that scientists are using stem cells to rapidly advance research and improve human health.
Mazen Kheirbek, UCSF  (September 14, 2016)
Deconstructing Brain Circuits that Generate Emotional Behavior

Almost 1 in 5 adult Americans  experience a mental illness in a given year, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most common, carrying an enormous personal, societal and financial burden.  Developing treatments for mood and anxiety disorders has been difficult because these are very complex conditions, resulting from dysfunction in a number of distributed brain regions, connections, cell types and neuronal circuits that generate normal adaptive emotional behavior.  In this talk, I will review recent findings that describe the brain circuits and connections that are disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders.  I will highlight how new technologies are allowing scientists to peer inside the black box of the brain, allowing for unprecedented control and visualization of the brain in action.  Finally, I will discuss the process of adult neurogenesis, the birth of new neurons from stem cells that live in the adult brain, and how this process may be harnessed for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

Archives 2015-2016Top of Page

Anca Dragan, UC Berkeley  (April 13, 2016)
Robots That Interact with People

What makes a robot a robot?  How can robots learn to help people?  How can a robot become “intelligent?”  The goal of Dr. Dragan’s research was to enable robots to work with, around, and in support of people intuitively.  Dr. Dragan will discuss some of the complex problems engineers and programmers must consider when designing a robot – from coordinating movement to delicate interactions between human and machine.  How does artificial intelligence evolve?

Katherine Strausser, Ekso Bionics  (March 9, 2016)
Building Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons offer a world of possibilities in augmenting human ability.  We can help restore motion to those who have been injured and we can provide extra strength to soldiers or builders.   The super suits offer a lot of possibility for improving our world, but creating them is not as easy as Tony Stark would have you believe.  We must bring together many facets of engineering and biomechanics to make these devices functional and useable.  I will discuss what it takes to make an exoskeleton.

Karen Havenstrite, Ocular Dynamics (February 10, 2016)
Why Eye Love Science, And You Should Too!

Karen Havenstrite is co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Ocular Dynamics, a medical device start-up dedicated to improving the comfort of contact lenses. In college she fell in love with scientific research while she worked on many different projects, including building an artificial leaf, designing a wound healing device for burn victims, and building equipment to detect biotoxins like anthrax. As a graduate student at Stanford, she combined biology and chemistry to design materials that match tissues, and used these to show that muscle stem cells change how they behave depending on the stiffness of their surroundings. After receiving her PhD, Karen started Ocular Dynamics based on an idea to engineer a device that would keep eyes hydrated and happy. She recently completed her MBA at Stanford and is passionate about entrepreneurship and using science to create cool technologies that have real impact in the world. 

Chris Davis, Impossible Foods (November 18, 2015)
Replacing the World's Most Destructive Industry

Impossible Foods is leading the way to a sustainable food system by replacing animal-derived foods with irresistibly delicious meat and dairy products – made directly from plants. Impossible has developed an innovative platform to make foods with all of the nutritional value and complex flavors of meat and dairy, without the negative impacts of animal farming. Its first product, the Impossible burger, is slated to launch in 2016. Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 and has a team of 100 top scientists, engineers, and business leaders working to change the way we think about food.

Chris Boshuizen, Planet Labs (October 7, 2015)
How You and Your Friends Can Get to Space

The space race captured the nation's attention in the last century, but does anybody care today? The idea of starting a space company or doing something in space yourself might seem impossible -- after all, isn't space supposed to be hard (like Rocket Science)? In this talk, Chris will show how a group of students can build and launch their own spacecraft, and even become space entrepreneurs. Chris is co-founder and CTO of Planet Labs, a Silicon Valley startup company that is launching a fleet of small low-cost satellites to image the Earth every day. Previously he was a Space Mission Architect at NASA Ames Research Center where he pioneered low cost spacecraft, including something fun you find out about in this talk.

Marina Sirota, UCSF (September 16, 2015)
Developing and Applying Computational Methods in Drug Discovery

Recent advances in genome typing and sequencing technologies have enabled quick generation of a vast amount of molecular data at very low cost. The mining and computational analysis of this type of data can help shape new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in biomedicine. In this talk, I will discuss how such technological advances in combination with data science and integrative analysis can be applied to drug discovery in the context of drug target identification, computational drug repurposing and population stratification approaches.

Archives 2014-2015Top of Page

Emily Leproust, Twist Biosciences (April 15, 2015)

DNA synthesis and its applications

Dr. Emily Leproust serves as CEO of Twist Bioscience. Prior to Twist Bioscience, she held escalating positions at Agilent Technologies where she built and led the fastest growing product line, resulting in more than $100 million in revenues and more than 300 customer publications. Dr. Leproust architected Agilent’s successful SureSelect product line which lowered the cost of sequencing and elucidated dozens of Mendelian diseases. In addition, she developed Agilent’s Oligo Library Synthesis technology where she initiated and led product and business development activities for the team as well as co-led marketing and sales efforts associated with the product line. Dr. Leproust designed and executed multiple experimental synthesis platforms to streamline manufacturing and fabrication. Prior to Agilent, she worked with Dr. X. Gau at the University of Texas developing DNA and RNA parallel synthesis processes on solid support, a project developed commercially by Xeotron Corporation. Dr. Leproust has published more than 34 peer-reviewed papers—many on synthetic DNA, and is the author of numerous patents. She earned her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Houston and her M.Sc. in industrial chemistry from the Lyon School of Industrial Chemistry in France.
Speaker Carlmont Science

Yann Chong Tan, Atreca (March 18, 2015)

Characterizing Antibody Immune Responses
Characterizing the antibody immune response to infectious diseases, in vaccinations, in cancer and in autoimmunity is important for better understanding of those diseases. However, this is challenging as antibody proteins are formed from two separate genes, the immunoglobulin heavy and light chains. Recovering the natively paired sequences in a high-throughput fashion therefore requires the ability to pair the information together for hundreds to tens of thousands of B cells. Atreca’s Immune Repertoire CaptureTM (IRCTM) technology does just this, which allows for an unprecedented view of the immune system. I will talk about some of the work Atreca is doing with our partners utilizing IRCTM technology.
Raymond McCauley, Singularity University (Feb 11, 2015)
Coming of Age in the Biotech Century

Biology, medicine, agriculture, and everything touched by the life sciences, are going through a renaissance. People call the 21st century the biotechnology century. What does this mean? What are the big trends and movement in technology? How will they affect all of us going forward? What happens to our families, the way we work and live, what we buy, who we are? What kinds of new careers open up? Will we live forever? Does the future look more like GATTACA, or Brave New World or something with a happy ending? Will I answer any of these questions, or just keep asking more? Who knows?
Tom ZimmermanThomas Zimmerman, IBM Research. (Nov 12, 2014) Data Data Everywhere: Instrumenting the World

In science and engineering if you want to solve a problem, one of the first things you do is make measurements, so you can see how bad the problem is and determine if you are solving the problem. Measuring your temperature when you are sick is a good example. In this talk I’ll describe how I’ve built sensors to measure hand movement, creating the Virtual Reality Data Glove, sensors to monitor environmental pollution, and most recently sensors to monitor the motion of sea turtle eggs to predict hatching and detect crab attacks. I’ll also share with you a new chip we invented at IBM that simulates neurons, part of a new frontier of computers that mimic human perception and thought.

Tom Zimmerman is a Research Staff Member and Master Inventor in the Computer Science Department of IBM’s Research Division. He has over 30 years of experience exploring the frontiers of human-machine interaction. His 40+ patents cover position tracking, user input devices, wireless communication, image and audio signal processing, biometrics and encryption. His Data Glove invention established the field of Virtual Reality, selling over one million units. His electric field Personal Area Network (PAN) invention sends data through the human body, exchanging electronic business cards with a handshake, and prevents air bags from injuring children in cars. His expertise combines electrical engineering with computer science, enabling him to engage in all aspects of design and innovation including circuits and sensors, signal processing and communication, firmware and systems, and intellectual property protection. He received his B.S. in Humanities and Engineering and M.S. in Media Science from MIT.
Nobel laureate Brian Kobilka, Stanford Univ (Oct 8, 2014)
Cellular Communication

Complex organisms require a sophisticated communication network to maintain homeostasis. Cells from different parts of our bodies communicate with each other using chemical messengers in the form of hormones and neurotransmitters. Cells process information encoded in these chemical messages using G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) located in the plasma membrane. GPCRs detect the presence of these chemical messages on the outside of a cell and activate signaling proteins (G proteins) inside the cell that modify cellular behavior. GPCRs also mediate communication with the outside world. The senses of sight, smell and taste are mediated by GPCRs located on specialized cells in the eyes, nose and mouth. Thus, GPCRs are nature’s most versatile chemical sensors and are important targets for drugs that treat a wide variety of diseases. There are over 800 GPCR genes in the human genome. Brian Kobilka will discuss how he became interested in this field and his efforts to understand how GPCRs work at a molecular level.
Wallace J Nichols, California Academy of Sciences (Sept 10, 2014)
Blue Mind

A ground breaking conversation surrounding Blue Mind, a New York Times Best Seller by author Wallace J. Nichols, on the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under or simply near water. Combining cutting edge research with compelling personal stories, Dr. Nichols shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success. Blue Mind not only illustrates the crucial importance of our connection to water – it provides a paradigm shifting ‘blueprint’ for a better life.

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, activist, community organizer, best selling author and dad who works to inspire a deeper connection with nature. He is a research associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates; SEEtheWILD, a conservation travel network; Grupo Tortuguero, an international sea turtle conservation network; and LiVBLUE, a global campaign to reconnect people to our water planet, among other international organizations and initiatives. He’s the author or co-author of more than 50 scientific papers, reports and books, including Blue Mind, and his work has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. Nichols has degrees in biology and Spanish, a master’s in environmental economics, and a doctorate in wildlife ecology. He is a recipient of both a Marshall Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship and in 2014 received The University of Arizona’s Global Achievement Award.

Archives 2013-2014Top of Page

Narges Bani Asadi, Bina Technologies (4/9/14)

How Software and Data Science is going to change medicine. The view from the Genomics world.

In this talk we will discuss how DNA Sequencing and other high throughput data measurement systems are empowering scientists to gain visibility and knowledge to the underlying molecular causes of health and disease. We will discuss how this information can potentially revolutionize our medicine, drug development, and our understanding of complex diseases. Then we will study the data analysis, and data science challenges of this field and how computer science and statistical analysis is crucial and much needed to make this leap happen. We will end by introducing what the team at Bina is developing and how we are bridging the computer science and biology to revolutionize medicine!
Margot Gerritsen, Stanford University (3/12/14)

Computational mathematics gives you wings

I’m a computational mathematician. My colleagues and I develop mathematical models for engineering or science applications, and write computational algorithms to simulate the models on high performance computers.
We use our algorithms to model fluid flow around airplanes or sails, in oil and gas reservoirs, in the ocean and atmosphere, or to optimize wind turbine placement in wind farms, study the dynamics of molecules or folding of proteins, find the best possible dose for cancer radiation, or analyze FMRI data of children with ADHD. But we also use our knowledge to build recommender systems, such as the ones used in Netflix or Amazon, to improve Google searches, or to discover cultural trends in Flickr data. The amazing thing is that all these applications use similar building blocks. Building blocks that you are at the cusp of discovering and understanding.
In this talk, I will explain the similarities in the mathematical models and the computational algorithms across disciplines, and (I hope) open your eyes to the versatility and beauty of linear algebra and numerical analysis.
Catherine Mohr, Intuitive Surgical (Feb 12, 2014)

Robotic Surgery

Would you let a robot perform surgery on you? Robots like the da Vinci can be found in operating rooms everywhere, but it is still the surgeon performing the surgery. The success of surgical robots depends heavily on the high quality three-dimensional capture of clinical images, the display of this clinical information to the surgeon , and the dexterity of the manipulation. Currently, new imaging technologies that augment the surgeon’s senses are being explored for use with less invasive robotic surgery. Dr. Mohr will explain how improved imaging has the potential to radically change the way surgery is performed. In particular, she will describe the technologies used that allow surgeons to operate through the small ports used in minimally invasive surgery. But unlike traditional laparoscopic surgery, the highly intuitive user interface provides an experience very much like that of performing open surgery.
Rich Schneider, UCSF (Nov 13, 2013)

Making Faces

How do individual components of the face achieve their proper size, shape, and functional integration during development and evolution? To address this question, we created a surgical transplantation system that involves two distinct species of birds, quail and duck, which differ considerably in their growth rates and facial anatomy. The experimental approach is straightforward: stem cells that give rise to facial structures are exchanged between quail and duck embryos. This causes faster developing quail cells and relatively slower maturing duck cells to interact with one another continuously. Also, chimeras are challenged to integrate species-specific differences in size and shape between the donor and host. By looking for donor-induced changes to the formation of bone, cartilage, muscle, tendon, nerves, and other tissues, we have been able to identify molecular and cellular mechanisms that pattern the face. A goal is to devise novel therapies for regenerating tissues affected by birth defects, disease, and trauma. Our work has also helped elucidate the role of development in evolution.
Rich is a Professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He graduated from Hampshire College in 1991, got his PhD from Duke University in 1998, and joined the UCSF faculty in 2001. Currently, Rich is Director of the Laboratory for Developmental and Evolutionary Skeletal Biology.
Kevin Donnelly, Theravance (Oct 9, 2013)

Dino-sores: Evidence for Injury and Disease in the Fossil Record

Paleontologists have long noticed changes in fossilized bones that likely represent injury, disease, and healing during the life of dinosaurs. However, being mostly geologists by training, paleontologists lack insight in the possible biological mechanisms. As a veterinary pathologist – a specialist in the study of the animal diseases – I started a collaboration in 2005 with the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota (who discovered the famous T-rex named “Sue”), the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and National Geographic, to participate in the scientific analysis and interpretation of lesions in dinosaur skeletons. It would appear that dinosaurs likely lived, endured, and died with many of the same disease processes present in the animal kingdom of our world today. It is possible to provide insight into this aspect of the life and death of ancient animals based on the clues in the fossil record. A good example is a recently discovered skeleton of a Gorgosaurus (Tyrannosauridae) from Montana which shows many pathological findings including healed broken bones, torn tendons, serious bone infections, tooth decay, and a particular mass in the skull occupying a portion of the braincase, consistent with the presence of a large cancerous tumor which could have caused this dinosaur’s incapacitation and death.
Emmanuel Mignot, Stanford University (Sept 11, 2013)

Neurobiology of Narcolepsy

Dr Mignots research focuses on the neurobiology, genetics and immunology of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder caused by hypocretin cell loss, and the neuroimmunology of other brain disorders. His laboratory uses state of the art human genetics techniques, such as genome wide association, exome or whole genome sequencing in the study of human sleep and sleep disorders, with parallel studies in animal models. His laboratory is also interested in web-based assessments of sleep disorders, computer-based processing of polysomnography (PSG), and outcomes research.

Archives 2012-2013Top of Page

Andrew Hessel, Autodesk (April 17, 2013)

The Design of Living Things

Living cells are molecular 3D printers, capable of making a wide variety of outputs, including more of themselves. Moreover, cells are programmable. Upload a bit of genetic code and you’re well on your way to creating your own bioengineered friends, right? Not so fast. It turns out that before we can 3D print living things, the hardware and software tools used in life science need a major upgrade. That’s where Autodesk comes in. The company is a world leader in 3D design software for manufacturing, building, construction, engineering, and entertainment. Recently, it formed a group to explore useful tools for designing biological systems, nanotechnology, and other forms of programmable matter. In this talk, I’ll share some of the projects we are working on and what they should allow you to create in the future.
Dave Morrison, NASA (March 13, 2013)

What Happens when an Asteroid Collides with Earth?

On February 15 an incoming asteroid exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk in the Russian Urals, with the energy of 40 Hiroshima-size bombs. No one in modern times had ever witnessed such a display of celestial fireworks, which injured more than a thousand people from flying glass. Preliminary data indicate that the Chelyabinsk projectile was about 20 meters (60 feet) in diameter, or half the diameter of the famous Tunguska impact of 1908, which leveled more than a thousand square miles of Siberian forest. Both projectiles were stony fragments of asteroids.

There are millions of small asteroids with orbits that bring them close to the Earth. Fortunately they don’t hit the earth very often. However, one of the largest such impacts, 65 million years ago, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs never knew what hit them. But unlike the dinosaurs we have telescopes to search the sky and predict future impacts. We also have a space program that provides us the technology to deflect an incoming asteroid. I am going to talk about the Chelyabinsk explosion, asteroids, impacts, and what we can do to protect ourselves from future impacts.
Lori Giver, Codexis (Feb 13, 2013)

Directed Evolution – How and Why We Make New Enzymes in the Laboratory.
Enzymes are proteins that can catalyze chemical reactions. Humans have been utilizing enzymes and the microorganisms that make these enzymes for a variety of uses for centuries (for example, making cheese and alcohol). With new techniques molecular biology and biochemistry, scientists can now produce new enzymes to enable new processes for the production of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and biofuels. Lori has been working at Codexis, a biotechnology company in Redwood City, for the past 10 years, and will present some examples of how they make new enzymes and how those enzymes are then used to make different products.
Kristy Hawkins, Amyris (Nov 14, 2012)
Metabolic engineering of yeast for the production of pharmaceuticals, fragrances, and fuels

After successfully engineering yeast to make the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, Amyris sought to apply the same strategies to produce similar isoprenoid molecules with a variety of applications including biofuels and fragrances. Along the way, Amyris has invested in a tremendous amount of infrastructure to automate the most tedious steps of strain engineering such as DNA design and assembly so that scientists are limited only by their imagination, not by what they can build. Kristy will give an overview of these high-throughput methods and the application of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology to real industrial challenges. Kristy will also talk about her path from bodybuilding to cell building.
Mark Bunger, Lux Research (Oct 17, 2012)

Learning to hack in the languages of life: DNA, Biotechnology, and Light

Human languages, computer languages, and the languages of life itself are strikingly similar. All are very powerful. All seem mysterious if you don’t speak them. But knowing one can help you learn the others, and in this talk, Mark Bünger will help you get started “speaking” DNA, pheromones, and light – the words that cells, plants, and animals use to communicate.

Why is this important? While the power and potential of computer technology has captured the attention of creative minds for the last thirty years, biotechnology is set to surpass it – and you will be a part. Biotechnology has transformed medicine, food, and industry, by enabling us to produce human insulin for treating diabetics; crops that feed more people with less pesticide and water; and bio-based plastics and chemicals that replace those made from petroleum. Society debates genetic privacy, the risks of GMOs, and the risks of pandemic diseases and immunization. Our first attempts to read and write DNA are already at the heart of today’s hot cultural, economic, and social issues.

But the revolution is just beginning, as new tools and techniques are putting more of biology’s languages in the hands of hobbyists and amateurs, in bio hackerspaces and at-home labs. They’re diagnosing their own sicknesses, and testing their food and their environment. They’re making living biogadgets that light up, dance to music, and play games, with genetic code as the software, and light as the network. Sounds scary – or exciting! And undeniably important. So please join us, and start learning the languages of life!

Ignacio Chapela, UC Berkeley (Sept 12, 2012)

The Environmental, Social and Health Consequences of Genetically Modified Crops.

Do you know about Prop 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods, also known as California’s Right to Know Initiative, on the November ballot? Do you want to know more about the science behind genetically engineered foods? If so, come listen to Dr. Chapela, a microbial ecologist from the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, talk about some of the lesser known consequences of GMOs. Dr Chapela has appeared in several documentaries about GMOs and food systems isues, The Future of Food and The World According to Monsanto. He is also notable for his work with natural resources, indigenous rights, and bio-safety.

Archives 2011-2012Top of Page

Kimberly Barnholt, 23andMe (Sept 14, 2011)

Making Science Personal — Life as a Researcher at 23andMe

Science is all about learning and discovery. What better subject to study than your own body and health? Research at 23andMe, a leading company in personal genetics, gets people involved in the science process from genotype to phenotype. 23andMe’s mission is to advance personalized medicine and to accelerate the pace of research by combining the Human Genome Project with crowd sourcing and online tools. At 23andMe, I have found a fun and exciting career that combines science, business, and technology and allows me to be part of a paradigm shift in health care and research. Following a passion for science and a curiosity about how the body works has directed my career path… from the non-profit world to grad school to 23andMe. The right career, like science, is a process of discovery. Come learn about opportunities at 23andMe — life outside the lab coat.
Dan Whaley, Climos (Oct 12, 2011)

Mankind’s success comes at a price. Scientists are concerned that our increasing CO2 emissions are already having profound impacts on climate, and that those may accelerate in the near term. We need to reduce emissions. But even the effects of CO2 already emitted are potentially harmful enough that additional action might be necessary to help us avoid more serious impacts. Geoengineering is a term for techniques that some scientists think might help prevent the worst of the warming we expect. Dan will talk about some of these techniques, their upsides and downsides and what research scientists and others are planning next.

Dan Whaley is the founder of Dan earned his BA in English from Univ Illinois 1990, went on to build the first e-commerce platform in 1994 and later built the first travel reservation system GetThere which IPO’d in ’99 and later was sold to The Sabre Group. He has spent considerable time focusing attention on the need for a larger research program in geoengieering. His latest project,, aims to crowdsource peer-review on information everywhere.
Christina Smolke, Stanford University (Nov 16, 2011)

Synthetic Biology: Can we reprogram the living world?

Recent advances in synthetic biology are revolutionizing treatment, prevention and diagnosis of disease. Breakthroughs include therapies that can detect and target diseased cells in the body and the development of microbial biofactories that are reshaping drug discovery and supply. Synthetic biology focuses on making bioengineering — the engineering of the building blocks of life — faster, cheaper and more effective. Christina will discuss recent advances in this fascinating field and their potential to spark a revolution in human health and medicine.
Russell Fernald, Stanford University (Feb 15, 2012)

How does social behavior change the brain?

Inequality in social status can have profound effects on the physical and mental health of individuals. For example, children from low socioeconomic status backgrounds have higher rates of mortality and are at greater risk for injuries, chronic medical conditions, and behavioral disorders compared with those from high socioeconomic status. Similarly, in adults, many studies have shown that higher ranking individuals in organizations may have only one third the mortality rate of those of lower ranking individuals. But how does our perception of social rank influence the brain and the body? What are the mechanisms that allow social information to change brains? In animal systems, the effects of low social status can be measured and promise the hope of identifying underlying brain mechanisms responsible.
Jonas Korlach, Pacific BioSciences (March 14, 2012)

The New Biology

The development of new biotechnologies has resulted in an explosion of data that inform about the living world. I will describe one of these new approaches, SMRT DNA sequencing, emerging from a 3-person effort at a university through a silicon valley startup to a public company with currently more than 300 employees over the course of ~15 years. I will highlight how this and other technologies fundamentally transform the way biologists carry out research and apply it to achieve breakthroughs in disease prevention and treatment, agriculture, and alternative fuels.
Brian Fisher, California Academy of Sciences (April 25, 2012)

Did you know that biologists estimate that the collective weight of all ants on Earth is equal to the weight of all humans? Listen to Dr. Brian Fisher describe the unique behaviors and incredible adaptations of our planets’ most charismatic “microfauna”. See how ants farm, hunt and tend “herds of livestock”. Learn how primitive “Dracula” ants feed on their sisters’ blood. Watch the fastest recorded movement of any animal – in this case, a feisty ant that Dr. Fisher filmed with one of the world’s fastest high-speed cameras. Discover more about Dr. Fisher’s important work in Madagascar. And gain new respect for our smallest neighbors.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Dr. Brian Fisher is a modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems. And what they lack in size, they more than make up for in numbers.

Archives 2010-2011Top of Page

Steve delCardayre, LS9 (Sept 15, 2010)

Renewable Petroleum through Synthetic Biology: Redesigning Microbes to Save Our Earthly Assets

The urgent need for renewable alternatives to petroleum has fueled global efforts to develop and commercialize technologies for the conversion of abundant renewable resources to liquid transportation fuels and renewable chemicals. Synthetic biology, which enables the rapid design, construction, evaluation, and improvement of engineered biological systems, is actively being leveraged to this end. At LS9, we apply synthetic biology to engineer microbes to efficiently convert renewable sugar directly to diesel and other petroleum derived products. Useful genes are first identified from Nature and then surgically engineered into single cell “micro-refineries” that convert sugar to secreted oil products. These products are produced in a fermentation process similar to beer making except the products don’t mix with water and float. Through systematic genetic engineering to optimize cell metabolism in combination with process engineering, a economically competitive process has been developed. This talk will describe the challenge we face as a species, efforts to overcome this challenge, and the technology that LS9 is bringing forward as one of many very promising solutions.
Drew Endy, Stanford University (Oct 20, 2010)

Building a New Biology

All human civilizations depend on biology. From the foods and fuels that we eat and use to the medicines and clothes that we take and wear. Researchers have recently started developing powerful new technologies that begin to allow life to be built from scratch. Engineered microbes and organisms are being constructed in the hopes of curing cancer, producing renewable energy, and growing living computers. Teenagers can now begin to learn to program DNA in a manner not unlike they might learn to program computers. Who will control these new biotechnologies? What good and bad possibilities seem likely to come true? How might we best work together to ensure that the future of biotechnology is overwhelmingly constructive?
Paolo Vatta, Life Technologies (Nov 17, 2010)

Genomics: From Fantasy to Reality and Beyond

A brief technical history of DNA sequencing and how the incredibly rapid development of his technology has brought genomics to the forefront of various scientific disciplines from medical research to infectious agent and pathogen detection to forensics and much more. With in depth analysis of where is this technology now and how is it evolving.
Lynn Rothschild, NASA (Feb 16, 2011)

Defining the Envelope for the Search for Life in the Universe

The search for life in the universe relies on defining the limits for life and finding suitable conditions for its origin and evolution elsewhere. From the biological perspective, a conservative approach uses life on earth to set constraints on the environments in which life can live. Conditions for the origin of life, even on earth, cannot yet be defined with certainty. Thus, we will describe what is known about conditions for the origin of life and limits to life on earth as a template for life elsewhere, with a particular emphasis on such physical and chemical parameters as temperature, pH, salinity, desiccation and radiation. But, other life forms could exist, thus extending the theoretical possibility for life elsewhere. Yet, this potential is not limitless, and so constraints for life in the universe will be suggested.
Joseph DeRisi, UC San Francisco (March 16, 2011)

Virus Hunting

Joseph DeRisi will discuss new technological approaches to the study of infectious disease, especially viruses. He will use examples from his own work to illustrate the rapidly changing landscape of emerging viral illness.
Peggy Lemaux, UC Berkeley (April 27, 2011)

How Much Did You Spend on Your Lunch Today?

We think nothing of spending $5 to buy lunch. But did you know that one billion of the world’s poorest people live on less than $1 per day? It is estimated that over 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. In developing countries, many of these people depend directly on growing their own food. Increasing the quality and quantity of the food they grow is important to improving their lives. Making progress toward this goal will require numerous approaches including genetically engineering crops. Genetic engineering allows the direct introduction of genes from the same plant, a different plant, a bacterium or an animal. A number of crops, most notably canola, cotton, maize and soybean, have been genetically engineered (GE) to protect them from weed killers and insect pests. While the US has the highest acreage of GE crops, 38% of land planted and the bulk of resource-poor farmers in developing countries have also grown them. What kinds are they growing? Why are they growing them? What kind of problems does this raise? Most of the efforts aimed at crop improvement in Africa, for example, are aimed at improving the lot of the farmer. But, increasingly organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are focusing on improving the nutritional quality of crops of importance to African consumers, i.e., sorghum, cassava, banana and rice. These efforts aim to increase the quality of the protein, to add missing vitamins, to augment mineral levels and, for sorghum, to improve digestibility. Although you are not likely to eat sorghum or cassava for your $5 lunch, these changes could improve the lives of millions of Africans.