Our Impact on the Earth

“Mother Nature is not happy right now and she’s trying to tell us, in many ways,” says Kimberly Prather, Professor of Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography at UC San Diego.

New weather patterns and events are causing concern but how do we know these changes are caused by human activity? Climate scientists are looking at trends over time to determine our impact on the planet.

Prather discusses recent CAICE studies aimed at advancing our understanding of how the oceans influence human and planetary health including novel experiments being conducted in a unique ocean-atmosphere simulator.

Watch — How Do We Know Humans are Impacting the Health of Our Planet? – Exploring Ethics

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UCSD Pascal

Starting in 1974, Kenneth Bowles – who at the time directed UC San Diego’s Computing Center – began to adapt the computer language Pascal for use on so-called “microcomputers,” precursors of today’s PCs. His primary interest at the time was a programming language that would allow students to work individually on projects without waiting their turn to do batch processing on the mainframe. But Bowles also foresaw the value of portable software that would allow programmers to write something once and run it anywhere. His solution was pseudo-code – p-code for short – an intermediate language to run on each machine and serve as a uniform translator.

Since most of his fellow computer-science faculty members were involved in more theoretical research, Bowles turned instead to students to fulfill his dream. He recruited one graduate student, Mark Overgaard, and a handful of undergraduates. At one point or another, more than 70 students were involved in the UCSD Pascal project, doing everything from writing code to shipping floppy disks to research centers around the world (for a token $15 royalty fee). In the early 1980s, the University of California sold rights to the technology to SofTech Systems, which tried but failed to convince IBM to adopt UCSD Pascal as the core operating system of its first personal computers. (Bill Gates’ MS-DOS won the IBM contract.)

Bowles gained world renown for initiating and leading this project that culminated in UCSD Pascal influencing many aspects of computing that are now ubiquitous, including modern PCs and Macs as well as Sun Microsystem’s Java language, which incorporates p-code.

Mark Overgaard and other alumni who worked on the ground-breaking language for what would later be called the personal computer gathered in recently to mark the 30th anniversary of the computer language and reminisce about the influence and legacy that Kenneth Bowles had on computing, teaching, and their lives and careers.

Watch — UCSD Pascal: Celebrating the Life and Work of Kenneth Bowles

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Medicine of the Future

UCSF has a long history of pioneering biomedical research and a bold vision for advancing science and seeking new ways to improve health care delivery nationwide. But, what does that actually mean in the near future and beyond?

This new series, part of the popular Mini Medical School for the Public, takes you inside the work of UCSF scientists to learn what the next decade may bring to the world of medicine. Hailing from a wide spectrum of disciplines, each explores a different topic that has the potential to impact the future of healthcare.

UCSF was the only medical school to be ranked in the top five in the nation in both research and primary care by US News and World Report, ranking fifth in biomedical research and third in primary care education. UCSF was also the only medical school ranked in the top five in all eight of the specialty areas covered by the survey in 2019.

Browse more programs in Next: UCSF Scientists Outline What’s To Come .

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The Intimate and the Cosmic

La Jolla Symphony and Chorus’ December 2019 concert is comprised of three pieces that seem disparate at first glance: the premiere of Celeste Oram’s “a loose affiliation of alleluias,” Robert Schumann’s “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” and John Adams’ “Harmonium.” As LJS&C’s Music Director and Conductor Steven Schick points out, however different these compositions are stylistically – and they are very much so – they nevertheless share key thematic interests. Chief among these is an examination of how and where mystical introspection intersects with shared public experience.

Nee Commission recipient Celeste Oram’s piece blends the orchestra with improvising violin soloist Keir GoGwilt and three offstage singers dubbed “Teen Angels” in an inventive mélange of Renaissance-derived styles, popular song, postmodern modalities and other sources. “a loose affiliation…” also employs elements of theatre. What emerges is a contemplative work that simultaneously embraces both the intimate and the cosmic.

This examination of the mystical and metaphysical continues (albeit in a different form) in Robert Schumann’s concerto. Schumann’s music often expresses his concern with spirituality and how one reconciles its demands with mundane daily life, something with which the composer himself struggled. His approach to this question became increasingly elliptical as his career progressed; indeed, the “Violin Concerto in D Minor” has been dubbed “enigmatic” and “mysterious.” Seemingly conventional in style, the concerto leads the listener through intricate layers of sound meant to engage the curious mind in spiritual inquiry while appealing to more casual listeners. Virtuoso violinist Keir GoGwilt returns to the stage as the featured soloist.

Upon the 1981 premiere of John Adams’ choral work “Harmonium” one prescient critic noted that “a major new talent has arrived.” Like Oram’s piece this work experiments with form by mixing styles, and like Schumann’s concerto it expresses a concern with spirituality, in this case by setting poems by John Donne and Emily Dickinson to music. In each section Adams’ subtle modulations gradually gather energy, resulting in near-celebratory climaxes; in the final movement, based on Dickinson’s sensual “Wild Nights,” following this exultation the music subsides into a long, quiet coda as it fades from our hearing. In its original usage this piece’s title, derived via French from the Latin “harmonia,” simply means “harmony,” and the composer uses constantly shifting tonal patterns to evoke what he called “always moving forward over vast stretches of imaginary terrain.” It’s not too great a leap to dub this a metaphysical journey, or to apply that term to the concert selections as a whole.

Watch — Oram, Schumann, Adams – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

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Searching for Autism in our Social Brain

All animals need to know and communicate with their own, so evolution has developed in every brain the ways we all recognize and socialize with each other.

But while other brains are social – no other brain is as social, or can do what the human brain can – and as far as science knows – it also seems that no other brain can suffer from conditions like autism. Are these two fortunes somehow linked?

That is a question that many are asking, including Alysson Muotri’s lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. They are using brain organoids to unravel this mystery, but where do they start looking for the root causes of these conditions?

Enter Katerina Semendeferi, noted biological anthropologist, whose experience conducting neuroanatomical comparisons of our primate predecessors, as well as typical and atypical human neuroanatomy, is helping to focus the search for causes of atypical behavioral conditions like autism and Williams Syndrome. Her work has pointed to neuroanatomical differences, on scales from whole brain structures, down to individual neurons and the genetics of neurodevelopment.

She reveals what she has found, and how this helps the Muotri Lab’s studies with brain organoids in the search for autism in our social brains.

Watch — Searching for Autism in our Social Brain.

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