With increasing frequency, AI algorithms are making high-impact decisions: When should a self-driving car slam on the brakes? Can an MRI scan reliably detect a tumor? Will facial recognition software identify you as a Most Wanted fugitive? AI algorithms need to be aware of their confidence level — to "know what they don't know" — in order to be reliable and safe. Fortunately, time-tested ideas in statistics are providing solutions. How are old and fundamental mathematical concepts blending with recent tech breakthroughs to create safe, uncertainty-aware AI?
Our presenter, Dr. Stephen Bates, is a postdoctoral researcher in two departments at UC Berkeley: Statistics and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science. He is also a distinguished alumnus of Wonderfest's Science Envoy Program.
This admission-free Wonderfest event will be COVID-free, as well, because we ask that attendees be masked (except when dining) and vaccinated. The warm feeling of Wondernaut camaraderie radiates through masks and across social distances; please join us! Also, kindly use the Eventbrite space, below, to help Wonderfest promote the understanding and appreciation of science. (Please ignore any mention of "tickets"!)
COSMIC BONUS: If early-evening skies are clear during the hour that precedes this Wonderfest event, attendees can enjoy telescopic views of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Wondernauts need only ascend the grassy knoll of HopMonk's Beergarden to reach Dan Smiley and his impressive telescope. BIG THANKS to Marin Stargazers and HopMonk Tavern for trying this pilot pre-Wonderfest astronomy program!
Conventional wisdom suggests that knowledge and imagination — science and fantasy — are deeply different from one another. However, new insights into childhood development challenge this distinction. In fact, exactly the same abilities that allow children to learn about the world also allow them to imagine alternative worlds. Research in computational theories of cognitive development is allowing us to grasp the relation between imagination and causal cognition.
Our speaker is Dr. Caren Walker, Assitant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Early Learning & Cognition Laboratory at UC San Diego. Dr. Walker is also a distinguished alumna of Wonderfest's Science Envoy Program.
Dr. Caren Walker
WHAT: Thinking About the Possible: Imagination & Learning in Childhood
How much value will this FREE, unticketed, online experience have for you? Please consider a commensurate donation to nonprofit Wonderfest in the space below. (Don't be misled if the word "tickets" appears in that space. Please do carry on!)
Humans have grown food for over 10,000 years. As Earth's climate changes and the global population seeks fresh and healthy nutrition, advances in robotics gradually transform agriculture: robots assist in precise irrigation, drones fine-tune fertilizer delivery, and mobile robots optimize plant breeding. Robots even help combine research and art. In 1995, over 100,000 people remotely collaborated to tend a living garden; and in 2020, researchers trained a robot to sustain a diverse polyculture garden. Alas, robot help in the kitchen is significantly harder to achieve than on the farm.
Our presenter, Dr. Ken Goldberg, is Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at UC Berkeley. He is an award-wining roboticist who directs Cal's Automation Laboratory, and he is a filmaker and artist who works to bridge "the two cultures" of science and art.
This admission-free Wonderfest event will be COVID-free, as well, because we ask that attendees be masked (except when dining/drinking) and vaccinated. The warm feeling of Wondernaut camaraderie radiates through masks and across social distances; please join us! Also, please consider contributing to Wonderfest's mission of science outreach via the inaptly-named "tickets" button, below.
Globular star clusters are among the oldest astronomical objects in the Universe. Accordingly, they can provide valuable information about the early evolution of the galaxies they inhabit. This presentation, focussing on the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, will show what globular clusters reveal about their host galaxies' chemical composition. We will also explore the mysteries that still surround globular cluster formation, and possibilities for future observations.
Our speaker, Dr. Charli Sakari, is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University. She earned her PhD as a Vanier Scholar at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. This Zoom event is part of the 2021 Mount Tam Astronomy Program.
Dr. Charlie Sakari
WHAT: Galactic Archaeology: Galaxy Assembly with Globular Star Clusters
WHO: Dr. Charlie Sakari, Asst. Professor of Physics & Astronomy, San Francisco State University
WHEN: 2021-10-16 — 7:30pm PDT, Sat, Oct 16 (1 hour)
What value does this experience have for YOU? Accordingly, please consider sending a donation to help Wonderfest share the excitement — and civic value — of science via the inaptly-named "tickets" button, below.
Although humanity now knows the genetic sequences of many animals (including ourselves), the functions of these sequences -- the blueprints of life, so to speak -- often remain a mystery. In recent years, we have harnessed the power of synthetic biology and theoretical physics to glean new understanding of these mysterious genetic sequences. This presentation will highlight some new ways of thinking that have led to breakthroughs in decoding the blueprints of life.
Our speaker, Dr. Jonahan Liu, is a computational biologist and data scientist at Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub. Upon receiving his PhD, Dr. Liu gave the Physics Department graduate commencement address at UC Berkeley.
Dr. Jonathan Liu
WHAT: Decoding the Blueprints of Life with Synthetic Biology & Physics
This admission-free Wonderfest event will be COVID-free, as well, because we ask that attendees be vaccinated and masked. (Of course, lower masks to enjoy HopMonk food/drink.) The warm feeling of Wondernaut camaraderie radiates through masks and across social distances; please join us! Also, please consider contributing to Wonderfest's mission of science outreach in the Eventbrite space, below.
Ground-based telescopes have come a long way in recent decades. Today they can take advantage of adaptive optics systems that reduce the effect of atmospheric image distortion, and, also, of fast compact computers that allow small telescopes to reach the capability of large telescopes. The result is a lively community of citizen astronomers who (among other things) can detect exoplanets and help study the size, shape, and trajectory of near-Earth asteroids.
Our speaker, Dr. Franck Marchis, is Senior Planetary Astronomer at the SETI Institute's Carl Sagan Center. He is also Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar, maker of citizen scientist telescopes. This Zoom event is part of the 2021 Mount Tam Astronomy Program.
Dr. Franck Marchis
WHAT: Advanced Instrumentation in Optical Astronomy
In his latest book, Fear of a Black Universe: An Outsider's Guide to the Future of Physics, Brown University's Dr. Stephon Alexander explores some of nature's deepest questions. He uses the principles of invariance, quantization, and emergence to address ideas at the outer limits of physics, including even what happened before the big bang and what makes consciousness possible! Dr. Alexander argues that further progress in physics will likely be enhanced by embracing the excluded, listening to the formerly unheard, and being fearless in the face of possible error.
Dr. Stephon Alexander is Professor of Physics at Brown University. Access to this online conversation with the Commonwealth Club's George Hammond will be admission-free for registrants who apply the discount code WONDERFEST.
Aging greatly increases our susceptibility to a myriad of diseases, ranging from neurodegeneration to cancer. Given the very different tissues and manifestations of these diseases, aging researchers suspect there are basic aging processes that drive all or most of them. One such process is cellular senescence. Researchers, including those at Marin's Buck Center, are now beginning to understand the senescence response in some detail and, importantly, beginning to develop new drugs to deal with senescent cells.
Our presenter, Dr. Judith Campisi, is Professor of Biogerontology at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. She is also co-editor-in-chief of Aging Journal, and founder of the pharmaceutical company Unity Biotechnology.
To attend this FREE, in-person event, full COVID vaccination is required, as are masks (except while enjoying HopMonk food/drink). Please consider using the Eventbrite space below to contribute to nonprofit Wonderfest's work for public enlightenment through science understanding.
"I decided at an early age that we inhabit a very curious world." In fact, the discoveries of astronomer Vera Rubin have shown that we inhabit a very curious universe. Her study of galaxies helped us to see that mysterious dark matter constitutes 80% of the material universe. In comparison, the ordinary matter of flesh, earth, and stars seems insignificant! Wonderfest joins the Commonwealth Club in presenting science writer Ashley Jean Yeager in discussion of her new book: Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond: The Life of Astronomer Vera Rubin.
Ashley Jean Yeager earned a master's degree in science writing at MIT. After writing and editing at the Smithsonian Institution, Keck Observatory, and Duke University, she is now Associate News Editor for Science News magazine. Ashley will be in conversation with the Commonwealth Club's George Hammond, author of Conversations with Socrates.
Ashley Jean Yeager
WHAT: Vera Rubin's Cosmos
WHO: Ashley Jean Yeager, Associate News Editor, Science News magazine
Throughout history, the Universe has had a way of turning our grandest thoughts upside down. Now, we see that the cosmos is dark: dominated by dark matter and dark energy. With the Dark Energy Survey imaging 1/8th of the night sky — and mapping more than 100 million galaxies — we can get a clearer understanding of the vast Universe we call home.
Wonderfest joins the Mt Tam Astronomy Program in presenting Dr. Alexandra Amon, postdoctoral researcher and Kavli Fellow at Stanford's Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics & Cosmology.
Dr. Alexandra Amon
WHAT: Unveiling the Dark Universe with the Dark Energy Survey
Mathematicians, artists, engineers, and designers use three broad concepts to develop their creations: geometry, symmetry, and topology. We will clarify and explore these three subjects to see how they are applied in the understanding of mathematical knots and in the analysis and design of abstract geometric sculptures: math and art embracing one another, knotted together beautifully!
Our speaker, Carlo Séquin, is Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley. Known for his accomplishments in computer design and architecture, Dr. Séquin is also expert in computer graphics and abstract geometric art.
Dr. Carlo Séquin
WHAT: The Magic Powers of Geometry, Symmetry, & Topology
In 2021, three nations are sending missions to the Red Planet — including NASA's Perseverance rover with the first Mars helicopter, Ingenuity. Ancient Mars was much like Earth, with rivers, lakes, and possibly the stirrings of life; but how has it changed? Using beautiful color images from the latest space probes, astronomer Andrew Fraknoi will reveal what we know, and what we hope to discover, about the alien world next door.
Andrew Fraknoi is Emeritus Chair of the Foothill College Astronomy Department. Professor Franknoi was the first recipient of Wonderfest's Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization, and we're delighted that he will inaugurate Wonderfest's post-COVID return to in-person science gatherings.
OR, register for the companion LIVE STREAM ZOOM program: HERE (hosted by our partner: Castro Valley Science)
WHAT: Rovers, Helicopters, & Ancient Martians: Why We Explore Mars
WHO: Andrew Fraknoi, Emeritus Chair, Astronomy Department, Foothill College [http://fraknoi.com]
WHEN: 2021-07-26 — 7:00pm, Mon, July 26th (1.5 hr)
To attend this FREE in-person event, full COVID vaccination is required, and (when not enjoying HopMonk food/drink) mask-wearing is welcomed. Please consider using the Eventbrite space below to contribute to nonprofit Wonderfest's work for public enlightenment through science understanding.
In 2017, astronomers detected an elongated object swinging past Earth on its way out of the solar system. The size, shape, and motion of Oumuamua (roughly “scout” in Hawaiian) inspired a few excited researchers to suggest the visitation of an interstellar “spaceship." This presentation will explore the physical nature of Oumuamua and a vast fleet of its extrasolar cohorts.
Our presenter, Dr. Douglas Lin, is Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. He is also the founding director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at Peking University. This online event is produced by Wonderfest for the Mt Tam Astronomy Program.
WHAT: Oumuamua: Interstellar Visitor
WHO: Douglas Lin, Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, UC Santa Cruz
Rather than just blow stuff up, lasers can be used to cool gases down to temperatures near absolute zero. Stanford physicist Benjamin Lev uses lasers and these ultracold gases to create a quantum version of the classic Newton's Cradle toy. Playing with this quantum toy has led to insights into the emergence of what is called "quantum chaos." Controlling such chaos may lead to new quantum devices for solving challenging practical problems.
Dr. Ben Lev is Associate Professor in Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. Among his other honors, Prof. Lev has earned both a Presidential Early Career Award and an NSF Career Award for his research into the realm of the very small (and/or very cold): quantum microscopy, quantum gases, and quantum neural networks, in particular.
On Thursday, June 10, there will be an “annular” eclipse of the Sun visible from parts of Canada, Greenland, and (going over the North Pole!) finally Russia (Siberia). The Moon will be directly between Earth and the Sun, but it won’t completely block the Sun’s bright disk as it does in a total solar eclipse. That’s because the Moon will be more distant from Earth than average in its elliptical orbit, and (this is a smaller effect) Earth will be more distant from the Sun than average in its elliptical orbit, so the Moon will look a little smaller than the Sun. People located in the right places (located along a narrow swath of Earth’s surface) will see the Sun appear as an “annulus” — sometimes referred to as a “ring of fire.” This is a special case of a partial solar eclipse, and it’s nowhere near as fabulous as a *total* solar eclipse, but it’s fun to view nonetheless. See the attached photo of a previous annular solar eclipse.
Over a much broader part of Earth’s surface, a more “normal” partial solar eclipse will occur. For people in the northeastern United States, the partial eclipse will already be in progress at sunrise, ending not long thereafter. Try to see it, if you can. (However, you’ll still need to put a *total* solar eclipse on your “bucket list.” There will be one in the United States on April 8, 2024 — I’ll write more about this later, but mark the date on your calendars now!)
To view a partial solar eclipse, you MUST have the right eye protection. For more information, see https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety and also https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/iso-certification. Look through green Shade 14 welder’s glass, or through special eclipse glasses (“CE certified”) sold by a reputable vendor such as Rainbow Symphony; see https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters for an extensive list of options. The filter *must* block 99.999% of the Sun’s visible light and 100% of the Sun’s ultraviolet and infrared light, or your eyes could be very seriously damaged (even blindness is possible). Regular sunglasses (even polarized ones) are NOT suitable at all, and neither is smoked glass or an exposed/developed film negative. If you use binoculars or a telescope, a proper filter *must* be placed at the front end of the device (closest to the Sun). Please be VERY careful when observing the Sun!
You can also use the pinhole camera technique, which is much safer: punch a hole (roughly the width of a pencil is a reasonable size) in a sheet of cardboard and look at the image of the Sun projected onto a shaded region below the cardboard. If you use a collander or other object having lots of holes (such as a straw hat), you’ll get many images of the partially eclipsed Sun. Holes between the leaves of a tree can act like pinhole cameras and produce many Sun images on the ground.
I attach a detailed map made by Michael Zeiler, available at https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/2021-june-10. It shows the fraction of the Sun’s disk covered by the Moon at maximum eclipse and the Sun’s orientation relative to the horizon, as seen from southeastern Canada and the eastern/northeastern U.S. Views of the Sun rising above the horizon should be very pretty, looking like “horns” or a “shark fin” depending on your specific location. There will be outstanding opportunities for photography!
Note that this solar eclipse follows just 2 weeks after the May 26, 2021 total lunar eclipse. If you didn’t see it, I encourage you to view the recording obtained at the Chabot Space and Science Center (in the hills of Oakland, CA): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bhus6UBPcg. Be aware that the video is 4 hours long, and the first 15 minutes is just the “Starting Soon” slide. You don’t start noticing any significant change in the Moon’s appearance until about 45 minutes into the video. If you wish, you can fast-forward about 2 hours 50 minutes, to the time when totality was taking place (4:11-4:26 am PDT).
Happy (and safe) viewing, if you’re lucky enough to be in the right part of the world!
On Wednesday, May 26, there will be a total lunar eclipse (when the Moon goes into Earth’s shadow). Weather permitting, everyone on Earth’s dark (night) side will be able to see it. The eclipse will occur in the early morning, shortly before sunrise, as seen from the western continental United States, western Canada, southern Alaska, Mexico, and the southern part of South America. It will occur in the middle of the night as seen from Hawaii. [Across the Pacific Ocean, it will be visible on the evening of Wednesday, May 26, in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, eastern China, and eastern Russia.] See the excellent website https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2021-may-26 for a detailed map and the ability to see whether the eclipse will be visible from a specific location.
Totality will last about 15 minutes, a relatively short total lunar eclipse. Unlike the case in a total solar eclipse, the lunar eclipse will occur at the same time (after adjusting for time zones) from any location where it is visible. No optical aid is needed — just use your eyes (though the view through binoculars should be interesting as well). A photo of a total lunar eclipse (January 20, 2019, taken by Richard Spence) is shown above, and you can find many more on the internet.
Here are the relevant times in California; adjust for your time zone if you will be away from Pacific Daylight Time (PDT). (For example, mid-eclipse will be at 1:19 am Hawaii Standard Time on Wednesday morning, May 26 — that’s late on Tuesday night, of course.)
Partial eclipse begins: 2:45 am PDT Wednesday, May 26 Total eclipse begins: 4:11 am PDT Mid-eclipse: 4:19 am PDT Total eclipse ends: 4:26 am PDT Partial eclipse ends: 5:52 am PDT
“Prime time” (total eclipse) will be 4:11-4:26 am PDT. The Moon will be west, low over the horizon, shortly before it sets; try to avoid obstructions like mountains, buildings, and trees. The farther east you are in the continental United States, the closer to the horizon the Moon will be, and the closer to sunrise the eclipse will occur; Denver, for example, is near the eastern boundary, though at least a partial lunar eclipse will be visible throughout most of the continental United States. Viewed from southeast Asia, the Moon will appear low over the eastern horizon, shortly after it rises.
Note that there will be a partial solar eclipse (“annular” in some small parts of the world, so the Sun will look like a ring) on June 10, visible over much of the continental United States. I’ll try to provide more information later, but you can find many details here: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2021-june-10 .
Wishing you clear skies during the night of May 25/26,
The Moon doesn’t appear completely dark during a total lunar eclipse because some sunlight goes through Earth’s atmosphere and is bent (refracted) toward the Moon, and then it bounces off the Moon back toward us. But the Moon’s color generally appears some shade of yellow, orange, or even red because the light that reaches it has been filtered by Earth’s atmosphere, preferentially getting rid of the violet, blue, and green colors — just as in the case of the setting or rising Sun, which looks some shade of yellow, orange, or red, depending on the amount of particular matter (such as smoke) in the atmosphere.
Also, this time the full moon will be a little closer to Earth than average in its elliptical orbit and therefore look a bit bigger — a “Super Moon” (or “Supermoon”). But in my opinion, this is often exaggerated by the press; though the Moon is nearly at its closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit, even the best Super Moon looks only slightly bigger (6-7%) and brighter (12-14%) than an average full moon. Also, “Super Moons” are pretty common; in fact, this will actually be the second in a series of three consecutive “Super Moons” in 2021. Since the totally eclipse Moon can appear reddish orange, it is sometimes called a “Blood Moon,” so this particular eclipse will be a “Super Blood Moon.”
Given that the Moon will be passing through the top part of Earth’s shadow, I predict that at the time of mid-totality, the top (north) part of the Moon will appear substantially brighter and more yellow/orange than the bottom (south) part of the Moon (darker; orange/red).
Note that during the partial phases, Earth’s shadow on the Moon looks distinctly curved. This is always the case during a lunar eclipse, and it was one of the many pieces of evidence that the ancients used to conclude Earth is round, not flat.
In the above list of times, I didn’t include the “penumbral” eclipse, when Earth blocks only part of the Sun as seen from the Moon; the full moon will look slightly fainter during the penumbral eclipse, but this effect is hard to notice and isn’t very interesting. It begins at 1:48 am PDT and ends at 6:50 am PDT, after the Moon has already set.
Scientific forecasts span a staggering breadth of time scales, and they range in precision from vague & qualitative to exact & quantitative. This presentation will provide anoverview of predictability. We’ll look at examples drawn from trading, meteorology, celestial mechanics, and cosmology. Finally, we'll end with the latest research-based forecasts for what will happen to the Universe in the extremely distant future.
Our speaker, Dr. Greg Laughlin, is Professor of Astronomy at Yale University. He is co-author of The Five Ages of the Universe and co-founder of the online prediction aggregator Metaculus.
WHAT: Deep Prediction: Forecasting on Time Scales from Microseconds to Eons
WHO: Greg Laughlin, Professor of Astronomy, Yale University
WHEN: 2021-06-19 — 7:30 PDT, Sat, June 19 (1 hour)
This free event is co-produced by Wonderfest and the Mt. Tam Astronomy Program. Please use the Eventbrite space below to help nonprofit Wonderfest share the excitement of science with the general public.
How "future-oriented" are you? In the near term, nearly half of US adults would have trouble finding $400 to cover an emergency expense. Looking further ahead, our collective futures are threatened by global climate change. Meeting such challenges partially depends on the human ability to regard future selves as continuous with — if not identical to — current selves. What does psychology research have to say about future self-continuity so that we might better guide our individual and collective development?
Our speaker, Dr. Brian Knutson, is Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at Stanford University. His research, generally encompassing the neural basis of emotion, has been featured in both popular and academic media including the Economist, Nature, the New York Times, NPR, and Science.
WHAT: The Future of You
WHO: Brian Knutson, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Stanford
WHEN: 2021-06-10 — 7:30pm PDT, Thu, Jun 10 (1 hour)
How valuable will these psychology and neuroscience insights be to YOU? Accordingly, kindly use the Eventbrite space (below) to help Wonderfest share these — and other — science insights with the world.
Wonderfest joins the Commonwealth Club in presenting astrophysicist Heino Falcke, live-streamed from Berlin, Germany. Professor Falcke's new book Light in the Darkness tells the story of our first direct image of a black hole, and what its significance for humanity might be. Dr. Falcke ponders why black holes are so difficult for most of us to understand, comparing that to our inability to envision our own inevitable death. He regards black holes as exquisite representations of fear, death, and — surprisingly — the divine. Empirical and profound, Falcke examines both the physical nature and the spiritual meaning of black holes, which he calls “the epitome of merciless destruction.”
Heino Falcke is Professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Germany. He chaired the Event Horizon Telescope Council when the EHT captured our first black hole image. Prof. Falcke is recipient of the Henry Draper medal of the US National Academy of Sciences, and the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific honor of the Netherlands.
WHAT: Black Holes and Us
WHO: Heino Falcke, Professor of Astroparticle Physics & Radio Astronomy, Radboud University [http://heinofalcke.org]
Physical activity is powerful medicine: it can promote health and change the trajectory of aging. Science has taught us much about the pathways of disease, the causes of aging, and the mechanisms by which exercise exerts its benefits. Now, targeted exercise strategies can slow the aging process and improve both health and fitness.
Our speaker, Dr. Anne Friedlander, is Adjunct Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University. She has broad research experience in the areas of enhancing human performance, physiology in extreme environments, and using physical activity to promote healthy aging.
WHAT: Exercise and Aging
WHO: Anne Friedlander, Adjunct Professor of Physiology, Stanford