Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rethinking Buildings with Cyane Dandridge

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS
When I was asked by upcoming MSS speaker Cyane Dandridge, executive director and founder of Strategic Energy Innovations and executive director of the Marin School of Environmental Leadership, what the 5 “R”s are, I easily breezed through the first 3 – reduce, reuse, recycle - and managed to recall the fourth one – rot – but I could not think of the mysterious fifth “R”. Rethink is the fifth “R” and a very important one at that. As a community and as a society we must rethink how we use energy. For Cyane Dandridge and Strategic Energy Innovations, it begins with rethinking all aspects of buildings. People don’t normally think of buildings as the gateway to a more environmentally-friendly and energy-conscious society, but Dandridge maintains that they should be at the forefront. The various components of buildings – space for the building, resources for construction the building, electricity to power the building, even the stuff in the building – can be carefully considered, scrutinized, and altered to be more green.
Statistics from the EPA

Dandridge got an early start in the energy-efficient building movement. While attending a boarding school, Dandridge built a small house for two people using passive solar to capture heat. She then went to study physics at Reed College in Oregon. She served as a consultant to help people get solar installed. Dandridge then went on to MIT to study in the new building energy efficiency program. After her time at MIT, Dandridge worked for the EPA designing the energy star programs before founding Strategic Energy Innovations. 

Dandridge founded Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) in 1997 to answer the question of how can we help communities engage in sustainable practices. SEI is based on four pillars – jobs, government, housing, and education – and a collaboration of the four pillars to achieve sustainability within communities. See the video below to see more of what SEI does. 

Visit the SEI website for more information

 The project-based boarding school that Dandridge attended served as inspiration for the Marin School of Environmental Leadership. The goal of the program is to create strong  leaders and use the environment to address critical issues. The students in the program learn imperative 21st century skills - how to be engaged, how to take initiative, how to communicate effectively, how to think critically, and how to be innovative through project-based learning. The goal is to expand the program and spread the model to other schools. 

Visit for more information about the Marin School of Environmental Leadership.

Below are a few of the world's green buildings

From top left clockwise to bottom left: School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Acros Building in Fukuoka, Japan, California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and 30 St. Mary Axe in London, England

Learn more about energy-efficent buildings at "Innovations for Combating Climate Change: Clean Energy, Green Building & Energy Efficiency" with Cyane Dandridge, executive director and founder of Strategic Energy Innovations and executive director of the Marin School of Environmental Leadership on Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207

Get the flyer here

~Claire Watry

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Behind the Scenes Look into the Lawrence Berkeley Lab with Polite Stewart

by Jessica Gerwin, Drake HS

What makes Polite (pronounced “po-leet”) Stewart stand out from any other person working in the Advanced Light Source department at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab? The answer is that Polite is only nineteen years old. His remarkable story begins with a young boy who has a knack for learning.

Ever since an early age, Polite's parents could tell that he picked up new concepts at a much faster rate than other kids. After being enrolled in the Baton Rouge University at fourteen years old, Polite entered the Timbuktu program there which is designed to focus on studying advanced subjects of English and math. Polite excelled in his academic experience there and became one of the youngest graduates of the university’s 132 year history. His passion for physics can be expressed in his current work with the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

What is the Advanced Light Source?  “Think of it as one of the world’s most powerful microscopes. With such a tool, scientists and industry can study materials at the molecular level, such as improving the physical structure of pharmaceutical drugs to increase effectiveness, studying the degradation of materials in batteries to build energy storage devices that last longer, and identifying how the molecular structure of solar cells impedes energy conversion efficiency.” [1]

In the interview below, Polite talks about his work at the lab and provides valuable insights on how to strive reach your highest potential level of success.  His topic is highly specific so some here are some explanations of terms.


  • Postbac - Post Baccalaureate (a college level degree)
  • ALS -  The Advanced Light Source is a specialized particle accelerator that generates bright beams of x rays for scientific research. [2]
  • How the ALS works - Electron bunches traveling nearly the speed of light, when forced into a circular path by magnets, emit bright ultraviolet and x-ray light that is directed down beam lines or tubes to different research labs. [2]
  • How Bright Is It? - The ALS produces light that is one billion times brighter than the sun. This tool offers research in materials science, biology, chemistry, physics, and the environmental sciences.  

The Berkeley Lawrence Lab


1. What first sparked your interest in physics?
  • My interest in physics is related to kinetics (motion) Newtonian physics, and that interest was piqued because I knew it would be useful to know about force transmission in the martial arts. It also helped me gain a better understanding of mathematics, engineering, and chemistry via research and self-study; everything is connected. My true interest is bio-engineering. I plan to research neuro-muscular theory to help people improve and repair lost neuron connection.
2. What specific topic are you studying?   

  •       At the moment, I work with hard X-Ray Scattering, specifically Small-Angle(SAXS) and Wide-Angle(WAXS). X-ray scattering is an analysis technique that uses x-rays to determine the structural formation of an object. At my beam line, 7.3.3, we specialize in protein, block co-polymer, polymer, and semi-conductor based samples. Transmission SAXS/WAXS is used to view a sample's interior; whereas, Grazing Incidence(GISAXS/GIWAXS) is used to look at the surface structure of a sample.

X-Ray Scattering machine
Image Credits:

3. You are working with very sophisticated machines and ideas. Can you explain to high schoolers what the synchrotron does?
  •       A synchrotron is a huge particle accelerator that uses magnets to control electron bunches. The electron bunches are what make up the particle beam that each beam line end station (workplace) uses. The particle beam at our synchrotron is only a few micrometers wide and over 10x brighter than the sun.
4. Why is a synchrotron important?
  •      Well, that has a very long answer. The simplest answer would be to state that the aforementioned electron bunches are necessary to irradiate samples and therefore extract data...but, let's go deeper than that. First, a synchrotron is a just another version of the particle accelerator. So, we must determine why a particle accelerator is useful. Fundamentally, it is known that everything in this world is made up of atoms and molecules. There are smaller particles but we will only concern ourselves with the structures, for now, and not their components. Atoms and molecules are, of course, too small to see with the naked eye so, in essence, particle acceleration is our window into the world of the micro- and nano-structures.
  •       How does this work? The electron bunches are sped up to a very high constant speed and then the bunches are sent down each individual beam line's lead tunnel. The light is then rammed into your sample. When this occurs, the electrons in the beam will then collide with atomic and molecular structure of your sample. This will cause photons (light emission from the bouncing of electrons in particle space) to be emitted. This emission is then recorded and visualized as a scattering profile. This means that a synchrotron is very useful for allowing us to see the unseen. It is one of the many windows that helps us to understand the results of biology, chemistry, and engineering as a whole.

5. What do you hope to learn from this research?
  •       This research has only one real goal. It is to speed up the progress of science. At the synchrotron, there is something called beamtime. Beamtime is the experiment time given to each scientist who writes a proposal to use our beam line. This implies that many research groups frequent our beam line and the synchrotron itself. My job, and my employers', is to aid in the experimentation process. This increases (research) paper output, which in turn increases the output of scientific knowledge, and eventually improves consumer life (i.e. you).

6. Is this something that will help everyday people or businesses? Or both?
  •       The research that we do at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) is designed to help the commercial (consumer) and financial (business) sectors because helping the commercial automatically helps the financial.
7. How long do your projects take? 
  •       I have two jobs as a student researcher on the beam line: help the users (various research groups) at the beam line and write programs/make changes to enhance, and increase the efficiency of, the beam line. User assistance only lasts as long as the given research group's experiments. On the other hand, enhancement of the beam line will never stop.
8. What is a typical day in the lab like?
  •       There is no such thing as a typical day, but I would say days normally start off with determining whether users are present. If they are, the whole day is generally devoted to helping them with experiment setup and execution. If there are no users, then the morning might be spent cleaning the beam line and the remaining afternoon would be devoted to programming.
9. Where do you see yourself going?
  •       Currently, I see myself working for another year. Hopefully, it will be with Lawrence Berkeley Lab in the life sciences department. If not, I will apply to other labs and try to get a biological position. In the future, I would like to get a Masters in Bio-Engineering, possibly from Berkeley, and then go overseas to get my PH.D. and do my post-doc in Japan.
10. What do you recommend high school students do to get involved in research?
  •       This is a difficult question. The first step is to cultivate and maintain a self-driving spirit and will. From a different take, I'm saying that, first and foremost, the level to which you want to learn determines how much you learn. Effort and excellence are proportional; even you don't see the results immediately.
  •       Now that effort has been determined as the essential element, let us discuss the limiting factor: resources. Resources (lab equipment and opportunities) are hard to acquire and difficult to locate. However, there is a hack...and then there's a cheat code. I know they sound the same but they most certainly are not. The cheat code are summer programs. Look up as many as you can, find the ones that interest you, and apply with all the initiative you can possibly muster.
  •       Finally, the hack is the ability to network. How do you develop this hack? Talk to anyone and everyone who gives off a positive light. In school, on the street, in the store, at home, and especially at a place you would love to work at in the future. The key to your success is your voice and your ability to use it. When you see a person who could benefit you, address him/her, introduce yourself, and begin to discuss how you could help them and they can help you. Only practice can make you adept at communication, but once you can talk with poise and demonstrate mental rigor...there will be no limiting you or the passion which you hold in your heart.


   [1] The Collective Energy.  “Part 2: The Mad Scientists at the Department of Energy's National Laboratories”  Sept 23, 2013. <>.

   [2] "Advanced Light Source." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 July 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.   

    The Advanced Light Source - A Tool for Solving the Mysteries of Materials." Advanced Light Source. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>. 

    Further Reading:

    Learn more about Polite by clicking on the links below.
    What is the Berkeley Lawrence Lab all about? To learn more about getting involved, click here.

   Click here to see an interactive map of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab!

   See the Advanced Light Source Quick Facts in a pdf here.
   See the flyer for Polite’s upcoming presentation here.

   - Jessica Gerwin

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Imitating Nature Through Robotics

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

What do Olympic swimwear, Velcro, and office buildings all have in common? They are all inspired by nature and created through the process of biomimicry. According to the Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry is “a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems”. The high-tech swimsuits worn by Olympic swimmers (before they were banned from competition) to be able to swim faster are based off of shark skin. Velcro is a hook-and-loop product created by Swiss engineer George de Mestral based on a burr. Termite dens serve as the inspiration for office buildings because of the ability of their cooling chimneys and tunnels to maintain a constant internal temperature.

Meet Terra Linda High School grad Ian Krase, a junior at University of California, Berkeley studying mechanical engineering who will be presenting at the upcoming Marin Science Seminar. In his presentation Bioinspiration: Bird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley, Ian will discuss how robots are developed through the process of biomimicry. In college, Ian joined the Fearing Lab, a group that works to create small, efficient robots by mimicking nature. Ian’s explanation of the Fearing Lab is “in university research, each professor runs a lab, with several graduate students who are working on their PhDs or Masters degrees. Each student has a project, and the whole lab has a unifying theme with its own laboratory space and shared resources. Fearing Lab is Professor Fearing's lab, and is focused on biomimicry and small-scale robotics.” The interview below shows how Ian became interested in robotics, what kind of work is done in the Fearing Lab, and advice on how to become involved in robotics.

What sparked your interest in robots?
I've been interested in mechanical things for as long as I remember, and robots are a developing field with some of the most interesting open questions. While I tried building a robot in junior high on a whim, my current interest began when I saw some robotics labs while visiting colleges. 
What past project are you most proud of?
Probably the work I did on BOLT (Bipedal Ornithopter for Locomotion Transitioning), a hybrid running and flying robot. I designed a carbon fiber frame for it to allow it to steer. My work on flight evolution was also pretty cool, but the part I actually worked on didn't end up panning out very well. 

Read more about BOLT here
What project are you currently working on?
Currently, I'm working on an upgraded ornithopter and on a project to study the evolution of flight in birds by building robotic models of extinct birds and test-flying them. 
What lessons have you learned from mimicking nature?
Natural systems are incredibly complicated, even the ones that seem simple. You need a LOT of iterations. And there is almost always a reason for everything -- you have to look a long way for something you can actually change. Also, natural systems seem to be incredibly strong and damage resistant. It's actually a little creepy. 
What do you see as the future/potential of biomimicry? 
We can expect some much more efficient equipment, especially small UAVs. I also expect to see prosthetics to get much better, although Fearing Lab doesn't work on things of that scale. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of equipment replacing motors or manual latches with shape-shifting actuators. 

How can students learn more about and get involved with robotics and biomimicry?

Robotics is pretty popular, and easy to get into -- you can pick up a Lego robotics set or use an Arduino and a simple driving base. On the other hand, if you want to go Fearing Lab style, you'll do better starting with the mechanical parts. (Most of our work is more about mechanical systems and controls than about software). In the last five years there's been an explosion in the availability of cheap and easy to use 3D printers and electronics development kits. You might want to join a hackerspace -- these often have classes or workshops in electronics and other subjects. If you want to get your hands on a Fearing Lab project, you can check out Dash Robotics. And there is also a project to make gecko tape in a school chemistry lab environment on the Fearing Lab website.

Gecko Tape
For more information: Gecko Tape Activity
As far as college goes, you'll probably want to go to a research institution for mechanical, electrical, or bioengineering. Fearing Lab at UC Berkeley, the Poly-Pedal lab at Berkeley, the Biorobotics Lab at Case Western Reserve University, and the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation lab at Stanford are all biomimetic robotics labs. General robotics labs are quite common at universities with engineering research. You should also look at joining TL's FIRST Robotics team. 

For more information about the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab click here

Learn more about biomimicry in engineering on NOVA's Making Stuff: Wilder. You can watch it online here

Learn more about robotics and biomimicry at BioinspirationBird-bots and Bug-bots at Berkeley" with Ian Krase, TLHS grad and junior at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, October 30th, 2013, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207


Claire Watry

"Transportation Research Panel" - An Interview with En-Ya Zhang from the MSEL Transportation Team

by Shoshana Harlem, Terra Linda High School En-Ya Zhang is a Sophomore at Terra Linda High School. She is part of MSEL's Transportati...

About Us

Marin Science Seminar is a one-hour science lecture/presentation with a question and answer period open to all interested local teenagers, educators and community. Seminar sessions are held 12 Wednesday evenings during the school year, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in room 207 at Terra Linda High School, 320 Nova Albion Way, San Rafael. Seminar speakers are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, physicians, technologists and computer programmers. The topics presented are in a specific area of the speaker’s expertise, geared to interested high school students.