In sickness and in health: what the human genome reveals about us – May 2014 #valleycafesci

If you are intrigued (and perhaps apprehensive) about studies of the human genome, and the applications of genomic screening towards your own personal health, you will not want to miss our next Café event! We are delighted to announce that our Cinco de Mayo event will feature an old friend of our Café’s founder Madhusudan Katti! Dr. Vishwanath “Vishy” Iyer, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Texas at Austin, met Madhu in junior college (equivalent of high school in the US) in Bombay, in the early ’80s. After failing together to get into medical school, and training to become biologists instead, their paths diverged towards different ends of the biological sciences spectrum when they came to graduate school in the US a quarter century ago. Vishy is now a leading expert in genomics, having trained in some of the labs (at Harvard and Stanford) that pioneered the methods and technologies for unraveling the secrets of the genome. He will give us an overview of human genomics to help us navigate through the coming era of personalized medicine:

What the human genome reveals about us in health and in disease: Personalized applications of genome science
The sequencing of the human genome more than a decade ago was a milestone in the field of human genetics. Over the last several years, increasing use of genome sequencing and attendant experimental, technological and computational advances have generated much excitement, and promise to greatly improve our understanding of how the genome shapes human biology. This talk will give an overview of human genomics, focusing on its relevance to health and heritable diseases, and also discuss what genomics has revealed about genetic variation among individuals and populations, and human evolutionary origins. Genomics is now revealing the genetic underpinnings of many common diseases like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and cancer. Large consortium projects are engaged in understanding how the genome functions. Sequencing of cancer genomes has uncovered previously unsuspected genes whose mutation in tumor cells can drive cancer. All of this information, together with recent breakthroughs in cellular reprogramming and genome editing, herald an era of personalized medicine where diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases are tailored to individuals based on their genomic makeup. At the same time these advances raise issues of privacy, access, discrimination and impact on burgeoning healthcare costs.

Here are the details of the May event:

When: 5 May 2014, 7:00-8:30 PMDinner will be served from 6:00PM.

Where:  Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family:

Reconstructing the Footprint of an Ice Sheet on the Antarctic Continental Margin

We have another marine scientist visiting us for our next event on Monday, April 7th, 2014. Dr. Sandra Passchier from Montclair State University is a Distinguished Lecturer in the International Ocean Discovery Program‘s 2013-14 program. She will speak about research on the Antarctic ice sheet:

Throughout at least the past 34 million years the Antarctic ice sheet played a major role in global sea level variations. With its white reflective surface it also controlled the heat balance, wind patterns, and annual sea ice formation in the Southern Ocean. The exact mechanisms involving Antarctic ice sheet variability and heat transport in the global climate system, however, have been poorly understood due to a lack of data from the inaccessible Polar Regions. In recent years, boreholes within sediment archives on the Antarctic continental margin have begun to shed light on the conditions at the onset of Antarctic glaciation and the variable high-latitude climate of the Late Cenozoic icehouse period. By drilling continental shelf to rise transects the critical role of interactions between the ice sheet and the ocean is investigated in areas where the East Antarctic ice sheet is marine-grounded in deep subglacial basins.

Dr. Passchier’s research focuses on reconstructing the variability in the extent of the Antarctic ice sheets by analyzing the sedimentology, detrital mineralogy, and inorganic chemical composition of continental margin sediments. She participated on Ocean Drilling Program Leg 188 and Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 318, along with three other drilling projects targeting sediment archives on Antarctica’s continental margin.

Here are the details of the April event:

When: 7 April 2014, 7:00-8:30 PMDinner will be served from 6:00PM.

Where:  Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family:

Why should your mother care about the Arctic Ocean (and hence why should you)?

With apologies for the late notice, we invite you to our March 2014 event, where Dr. Mathieu Richaud will take you on a journey into the Arctic. We’ve entirely escaped the arctic winds that have had much of the US in the grip of their polar vortex this winter – but here’s our chance to learn a little bit more about the Arctic Ocean, and why it matters to all of us.

Dr. Richaud is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at Fresno State. He is an oceanographer interested in global biogeochemical cycles, and habitat mapping of the seafloor, and teaches Oceanography and the geology of California.

He will share his recent journey across the arctic and tell us about:

5 weeks in the Arctic Ocean onboard the R/V Akademik Fedorov during the NABOS 2013 Arctic Expedition:

Every year since 2002, the National Science Foundation has funded the Nansen and Amundsen Basin Observational System (NABOS) during which researchers deploy buoys and moorings to record year-round observations in the Arctic Ocean. The data have since been used in oceanographic, atmospheric, ice, biological, and geochemical studies. The 2013 expedition was significant in its multidisciplinary nature with advanced technological methods of observations utilized by each scientific discipline. One of the main goals of the expedition was to understand the relative role of factors that contribute to current Arctic sea ice reductions. I will present some of the techniques and tools (CTD profilers, moorings, Lagrangian buoys, bottle chemistry sampling, etc.) used by physical and chemical oceanographers to study chemical tracers, sea ice formation and melting, and the interaction of Atlantic Water branches with shelf waters, deep basin interior and upper ocean in the Eurasian and Makarov basins of the Arctic Ocean.

So join us again at Peeve’s Pub on Fresno’s Fulton Mall next Monday evening, for another fun evening of science over a beer or two. The Pub’s management assures us that they are working hard to resolve some of the slow food service issues we’ve had in the recent past events, so I hope that doesn’t deter you from giving them a try (you could also eat early and just savor a beer over the talk). They’re also setting up a second flat-screen TV display at the back, so you should be able to see the presentation better if you’re stuck there. We are thrilled to have such responsive hosts who are clearly keen to make us all feel at home – so I hope you will continue to give them your patronage.

Here are the details of the March event:

When: 3 March 2014, 7:00-8:30 PMDinner will be served from 6:00PM.

Where:  Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family:

Video: Dr. McFrederick on “Why we need bees”

We’re experimenting with recording and sharing videos of our talks. Still working out the tech involved, but here is the video of Dr. Quinn McFrederick’s January talk on the bees.

This was filmed by Kira Kratzer on her iPad – hand-held – so kudos to her! The videos are shared on Google Drive from where they can be embedded directly, so fingers crossed that that part works smoothly without needing to upload to youtube and so forth. Once we do work out the video workflow, we will probably create a youtube/vimeo channel for our cafe, and post video recordings there. Meanwhile, please bear with us, and excuse the vertical frame, people walking in/out of frame and other minor oddities of this recording.

Due to a glitch towards the end of the talk, Kira had to restart recording, so the entire talk is in two segments. Here is Part 1:

And Part 2:

An additional note: we’ve asked Dr. McFrederick to share his slides, and will add a link to those / embed them here when available.

Thomas Jefferson & The Giant Moose – A Darwin Day event on 12 Feb 2014

Each year we mark Charles Darwin’s birthday with a special Café Scientifique event on Darwin Day. This year we have another special treat for you, with a talk by Professor Lee Alan Dugatkin of Louisville University. Prof. Dugatkin will share a fascinating tale from the intersection of natural history with the early history of the United States of America, specifically with one of the founding fathers of the nation.

Dugatkin

Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose is a tale of both natural history and American history. What started out in the Revolutionary War era as an international dispute over natural history quickly took on important political overtones. The story revolves around three fascinating individuals. One of these characters — Thomas Jefferson — is known to every schoolchild. The other two characters1) the French Count and world-renowned naturalist, George-Louis Leclerc Buffon, who claimed that all life in America was “degenerate,” weak and feeble, and 2) a very large, dead moose—are less well known, but equally important to the story. Their interactions lay at the heart of an amazing tale in which Jefferson obsessed over a very large, very dead moose that he believed could help quash early French arrogance toward a fledgling republic in America, and demonstrate that a young America was every bit the equal of a well-established Europe. Despite Jefferson’s passionate refutation, the theory of degeneracy far outlived Buffon and Jefferson; indeed, it seemed to have had a life of its own. It continued to have scientific, economic and political implications for 100 years, and also began to works its way into the literature of the day, with folks like Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, Washington Irving, Immanuel Kant, John Keats and Lord Byron entering the fray. Eventually the degeneracy argument died; but it did not die an easy death.

You can read more about this story in the book Prof. Dugatkin published on the subject in 2009. And join us for his presentation next month!

When: 12 February 2014, 7:00-8:30 PMDinner will be served from 6:00PM.

Where:  Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family:

Why we need bees: Pollinator conservation in the 21st century – Quinn McFrederick in Jan 2014 Café

Welcome back to the Central Valley Café Scientifique, beginning its new season (belatedly) in the new year, at a new venue. We begin with a bee in our bonnet…

Bombustithonia

Why do we need bees?

Although bees are vital to both wild and agricultural ecosystems, both wild and managed bee populations are in decline. Dr. Quinn McFrederick, newest member of the Department of Biology at California State University, Fresno, will discuss what we know about the causes of these declines, and what we are trying to do about it. The talk will focus mainly on one avenue of pollinator conservation: understanding the role that microbes play in pollinator health. New technologies have allowed us to get a better understanding of the role of microbes that are both beneficial and detrimental to bee health, and we will discuss how this understanding may contribute to the conservation of wild bees.

When: 6 January 2014, 7:00-8:30 PM; Dinner will be served from 6:00PM.

Where:Peeve’s Public House
, 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, CA 93721

Contact:  559-278-2460 (cafe inquiries) / 559-573-5735 (Pub’s number)

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family. 

Here’s the full poster for this event – please feel free to download, print, and share with your friends and family.

Reboot. And a move into a new home with a brief existential glance behind us…

Hello and welcome back!

We are about to reboot the Central Valley Café Scientifique after a longer than usual hiatus. Its been a challenging year for many of us in our lives, and with me (Madhusudan Katti, in case you’re wondering who mostly writes here) and Kaberi being away for most of it on sabbatical in India, things went into a rather prolonged lull. Many of you have been asking about when the next event will be, and we’ve been regrouping to make a fresh start. We will resume on the first monday of 2014, January 6th, at a new venue, Peeve’s Public House on the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno. Mark that on your calendars, and allow me to look back a bit at our efforts with this cafe over the years.

I started the Café soon after arriving in Fresno as a new faculty member at the university. As a scientist, I have always felt it is important to make science a more regular part of the cultural discourse in our community. This is particularly true in the Central Valley where, for a variety of reasons, we remain somewhat behind the curve when it comes to public understanding of science and its role in helping us understand the nature of the universe, and in improving our lives. Many scientists have tended to remain within the ivory tower—either because maybe we just are socially awkward geeks, or more because we are inclined and trained to focus on our research questions often to the exclusion of all else. Of course, many of us in universities are also educators, but that too remains behind the ivy as part of formal education. We share the excitement of doing science and learning how the universe really works quite regularly with our colleagues and students, but rarely so with the broader society which enables us to pursue these passions. Meanwhile, there has been a growing distrust of scientists and science in general to the point where America is falling behind in its position as a global leader in science and technology. You may have heard me lament this also on the radio recently.

Community forums like our cafe are, therefore, extremely important to help us turn this tide around. Even as we share the excitement of all the cool discoveries and innovations coming from science in the 21st century, we must also examine the role of science in society and how scientists can do more to solve the many challenges facing humanity. Our cafe is intended to be a conversation, more than just a forum for scientists to come and lecture the public about what we do, but as a forum where we can also get to hear different perspectives from people outside academia. Just as it is important in this age for citizens to be well informed about science, it is crucial for scientists also to take more seriously their roles as citizens in a democracy.

Creating and running the Central Valley Café Scientifique has therefore been one of the more rewarding things in my life here, and one that my colleagues in the university have also come to appreciate. It was great to have active support from community members like Scott Hatfield, Rick Hutchinson, and Nancy Key who joined me and my university colleagues to organize and run this forum over the past 6 years. A huge part of our success, of course, comes from all of you, the public, who have turned up regularly, often in numbers much larger than jaded academics expected, to keep the conversation going. I remember our very first meeting in October 2007, in the now long-gone Lenny’s Bistro Deli in River Park (remember that place?). Some of my colleagues were worried that not enough people would show up for such a public science event in Fresno, and that Lenny’s might not get enough business to continue supporting us. They needn’t have, because we overflowed the bistro that night, with barely any standing room by the time the talk started.

Ironically, Lenny’s did go out of business shortly thereafter, but we kept on chugging. Those of you who are our regulars know that we’ve moved around a fair bit over the years, to a number of different restaurants throughout Fresno and Clovis. Part of the challenge of running a science cafe in a place like Fresno, unlike say in the Bay Area, is finding a venue that shares our vision of making science a part of the cultural discourse, and can provide the logistical support to host our monthly events. This hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve done well over the years in different locations (despite a drop in attendance over the past year or so). Now we have a new venue, where the owner shares our vision of community and is really keen to support us as we reboot our Cafe in January.

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Peeve’s Public House is a new pub in downtown Fresno, right in the heart of Fulton Mall, and it takes the “Public House” in its name very seriously indeed. Craig Scharton, the owner, has been an active member of Fresno’s business community, and has been engaged in rebuilding community in Fresno in recent years. His eyes lit up when we approached him last month about hosting our cafe there – an enthusiasm that was more than I had dared to hope for given the lukewarm (at best) responses from many other venues. The Pub has ample space, a well-stocked bar, great locally sourced food, and all the logistical support we need with a built in projector and sound system and even an event manager ready to help us promote the cafe!

So we’ve found a new home, which we hope will become our long-term venue as we participate in building a more engaged and informed community to help make our lives in Fresno a little bit better. And we have some new members coming forward to help us run the cafe, even as some of the stalwarts in our core group have had to step back because of other demands on their times. Running this forum has certainly enriched my family’s life here in Fresno, and I hope it has yours too. It has been gratifying to know that people have missed the cafe this fall, and are anxious for its return.

You won’t have to wait long: we will resume when the calendar turns, with our first event on January 6, 2014, at Peeve’s Pub. Stay tuned for details about that event, and please spread the word among your friends and family and colleagues that the Central Valley Café Scientifique is back!

See you at the pub in the new year!

The Science of Stroke

Join us for our May Café, as Dr. Tanya Warwick discusses the Science of Stroke.

Dr. Warwick works at the Community Regional Medical Center as Medical Director of the Stroke Program, and is currently researching prevention techniques for people who have already experienced a subcortical stroke and prevention of the onset of heart attacks and strokes by targeting insulin resistance among patients who have experienced a stroke or TIA.

As with previous Café Scientifique presentations, we will be at Café Via, with dinner beginning at 6pm and the presentation at 7pm. Below is a pdf link and jpeg poster of May’s presentation.

The Science of Stroke_CafeScientifique

The Science of Stroke_CafeScientifique

Chemical-weathering rates of aquifers and soils: using sediment-age-dating and geochemical mass-balance techniques to understand how groundwater gets its geochemistry

Hey Cafénistas…this is not an April Fool’s joke!

Come join us for Café Scientifique April 1, 2013 with Beth Weiman as she discusses her research that examines how groundwater attains its geochemistry. An important aspect of sourcing and maintaining our water supply deals with understanding how usable fresh-water resources gain their natural geochemistries.  In not knowing from exactly where groundwater is gaining its geochemistry, the goal of this work tries to identify from where groundwater is gaining most of its geochemistry.  In South and Southeast Asia, where many developing countries have natural arsenic contamination in their groundwaters, some work suggests that arsenic is sourced from an aquifer’s overlying soils, while others surmise it to be due to weathering of the underlying aquifer matrix. Based on past research showing that “younger” material weathers faster than “older” material, one objective of this work was to test whether aquifer age was a determinant parameter in arsenic groundwater chemistry.

We will continue to meet at the Cafe Via, near Herndon and Blackstone, where dinner will be served from 6:00 PM onwards, with the talk to begin at 7:00 PM.

A poster with full details is available below, for download and sharing. Please join us, and bring a friend or two along!

Groundwater geochemistry_CafeScientifique

Groundwater geochemistry_CafeScientifique

ALPR1-SL1: The Accident that Never Should Have Happened

Hey Cafénistas…Forget March Madness!

Come join us for Café Scientifique March 4, 2013 as Owen Gailar discusses the first nuclear reactor accident in the U.S. The  SL-1  reactor,  originally  named  Argonne  Low  Power  Reactor,  ALPR,  was designed  for  the  USA  Army  as  a  prototype  of  a  low-power,  300  kWe  boiling-water reactor plant to be used in geographically remote locations.  The SL-1 was accidentally destroyed in a prompt criticality accident caused by the accidental  ejection  of  a  control  rod  during  maintenance  operations,  followed  by a steam explosion causing the death of four people on January 3, 1961.

We will continue to meet at the Cafe Via, near Herndon and Blackstone, where dinner will be served from 6:00 PM onwards, with the talk to begin at 7:00 PM.

A poster with full details is available below, for download and sharing. Please join us, and bring a friend or two along!

Café Scientifique Presents_March2013

Café Scientifique Presents_March2013