Category Archives: Science

Oceans Out of Breath

Scripps climate scientist Yassir Eddebbar takes you on an exploration of the ocean’s interior to reveal a fascinating phenomenon – oxygen minimum zones (OMZs).

Oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) are regions of the global ocean that present low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Although they represent only a small fraction of the global ocean volume, they are considered to be an important sink for fixed nitrogen, contributing 30-50% of the oceanic nitrogen removal. They are important sources of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O), the latter also involved in the destruction of stratospheric ozone.

Focusing on his work in the tropical Pacific, Eddebbar explains what causes OMZs, how they are likely to change in response to climate change, and their potential to impact marine ecosystems and fisheries as climate warms.

Watch Oceans Out of Breath: Oxygen Minimum Zones in a Warming Climate.

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Climate Change Making Allergies Worse

People with allergies know that daily weather determines symptoms and that symptoms vary by season. Dr. Katherine Gundling, an allergy and immunology specialist at UCSF, looks at how the warming of our planet might affect allergic respiratory disease. What is emerging from data collected at pollen counting stations around the world is that the length of pollen season is increasing, starting earlier and ending later, especially in higher latitude and higher elevations. As temperatures increase pollen concentrations rise. And increasing temperature may also cause pollen to be more potent.

There are similar indicators that climate change is increasing mold growth. Of particular concern are indoor molds that propagate in wet environments. As sea levels rise and flooding and humidity increase, so too does mold exposure which can cause severe asthma reactions, especially in children who are more vulnerable.

The good news is that we know what to do. Climate change solutions are also solutions to improving health disparities and allergic respiratory disease.

Watch Impacts of Our Changing Climate on Allergic Respiratory Disease.

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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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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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