A Shared Experience to Value Chemistry and Conservation: The Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Despite Chemistry being all around us, we rarely consider our daily and intuitive interactions with Chemistry – from the air we breathe to the gasoline we use in our vehicles, to the medications we take, and to the kitchen products we use for cooking and cleaning.  Chemistry influences every facet of our life, yet the prevailing societal ideas about Chemistry is that it is abstract, done by people in white coats and glasses, and does not go beyond a laboratory. For the introductory chemistry course at Fresno State, we are tackling such societal ideas by challenging our students to investigate chemical concepts in the real-world scenario of Fresno Chaffee Zoo.  Students collect water samples from different aquatic environments including the Sealion Cove, the Stingray Bay, and the Otter exhibit, and investigate important characteristics of the water including the amount of salt, the buffer capacity, and the temperature, and their implications for each animal. Such an approach to teaching Chemistry has raised several important considerations about how we engage our students and we are interested in sharing and discussing these considerations with participants at Café Scientifique.

Dr. Donnelly is a chemical education researcher with a Ph.D. from the University of Limerick in Ireland.  He has studied in Ireland, New Zealand, and Berkeley.  He studies the impact of technology and teaching practices on student ownership and power in science classrooms.

Dr. Person is an applied chemist with a Ph.D. from the University of California San Francisco.  He has a background in forensic and environmental chemistry and is currently interested in strategies for evaluating and scaffolding experimental design ability early in the chemistry curriculum.

Who: Drs. Dermot Donnelly and Eric Person, Department of Chemistry, Fresno State

When: May 6, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704



The future of curing blindness: Using the eye’s ability to rewire itself to find new cures.

Please join us on Monday, April 1, 2019 (no joke!) at 7:00pm for a discussion led by Dr. Anahit Hovhannisyan.

Blindness is one of the most common Neurodegenerative Disorders that affects over 21 million adults in United States.  It has been very challenging to find a cure, because the visual system is very complex and poorly understood.  Yet there is also hope, because the visual system is also very plastic, meaning that the nerves of the visual system can rewire to recover from damage. Scientists are working on combining a wide range of different approaches (genetic studies, physical and biological experiments) to answer one question: How can we treat blindness so that patients not only recover the basic ability to recognize objects, but also see the whole colorful and detailed beauty of life surrounding us?

Dr. Hovhannisyan is a biophysicist with a PhD from Tübingen University, Germany.  She has worked as a researcher at University of California Santa Cruz and Stanford University and she is currently a lecturer and researcher at California State University.  She looks for cures for blindness by better understanding this co-called plasticity, that is she studies the mechanisms that allow the visual system to rewire itself. She studies the eyes of mice, squirrel and rabbits as models for human eyes, building a foundation for developing techniques that implant photoreceptors in damaged retina and for increasing the efficiency of genetic treatment.

Who: Dr. Anahit Hovhannisyan

When: April 1, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704


Rattlesnakes, Newts, and Toads: Chemical Defenses in California Reptiles and Amphibians

Please join us Monday March 4, 2019 at 7PM for an informative session on defense mechanisms of some of California’s fauna.

How is it that a single Rough-skinned Newt contains enough toxin in its skin to kill 58 humans? Why can some garter snakes feast on newts without any ill effects? Finding food and avoiding becoming somebody else’s meal are powerful forces for natural selection. This is certainly true if we examine how some of California’s snakes, salamanders, and frogs survive and thrive. Many of our native species employ powerful toxins in defense against predators. In some cases, the toxins are fairly mild and work by making the potential prey merely distasteful. However, in other species the toxins are incredibly powerful, capable of causing death.

Robert Hansen has a long-standing interest in the amphibians and reptiles of the American Southwest and Mexico. His research has included studying the ecology and systematics of salamanders, work that has led to descriptions of three new species in California. He is also keenly interested in desert snake communities, and in an ongoing study begun in 1982, he and collaborators have examined the local distribution, relative abundance, and activity patterns of snakes at the interface of the southern Sierra Nevada and Mojave Desert of California. An accomplished photographer, his photos of herpetological subjects have appeared in numerous books and journal articles. Since 1991, he has been Editor of Herpetological Review, a quarterly journal published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. In 2015, he received the SSAR Presidential Award for Lifetime Achievement in Herpetology.

Who: Robert Hansen

When: March 4, 2019 at 7PM

Where: Santa Fe Basque, 3110 N Maroa Ave., Fresno, CA 93704

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