Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Star Clusters: Many-Body Gravitational Laboratories" - An Interview with Nicholas Rui of UC Berkeley

By Shoshana Harlem (MSS Intern, Terra Linda High School)

Nicholas Rui
Nicholas Rui is a current fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley who is studying physics and astrophysics.

1.  What made you interested in studying star clusters?

I was always somewhat interested in astrophysics as a child, as it seemed fantastical to me that humans would be able to gain so much intuition about the cosmos from our humble vantage point of Earth. My first research project ever, in fact, was on a dissolving star cluster near the center of the galaxy called the Quintuplet cluster, and at that time I was introduced to the fascinating dynamics that govern astrophysical objects such as these.

2. What are some interesting facts about star clusters that you have learned from studying them?

When we take our first classes in physics, one of the first things we learn is Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation, which describes a straightforward attractive force between any two objects with mass. Even though the law, at first, sounds superficial (and a bit boring), it turns out that there are some strange consequences of gravity which appear when you have millions of objects all interacting under gravity. For example, when you add energy to a normal material, you cause the atoms within it to jiggle around faster (thus raising its temperature). However, in gravitationally bound systems like star clusters, adding energy actually causes the stars in the cluster to slow down—star clusters have negative heat capacity. This causes star clusters to undergo runaway "core collapses" during which the number of stars in the cluster core rockets up, producing a dense region where stars interact very often.

3. What are the best parts of your job? What are the hardest parts of your job?

The best parts of my job are where, after a very long period of work, my code finally outputs that coveted plot outlining the answer to the question that I was asking, and being able to weave it into a coherent physical picture. The hardest parts are, of course, some of the moments in between where I am wrestling with some code bug, or when I am struggling to word a sentence in a precise enough way to communicate some physical phenomenon without going too deep into the weeds. You learn to take the good with the bad, but I promise the good is worth it.

4. What advice would you give to people who want to study star clusters?

Perhaps the most important thing for people who know they want to do astronomy is to learn how to code. When people think about what astronomers do, they often imagine rough-and-ready eccentrics pointing their backyard telescopes at Saturn, and it's true that some of us do this some of the time. However, especially in the age of big data, one of the primary jobs of the astrophysicist is making sense of the data that we obtain, and this requires being able to deal with it efficiently and with insight. Also, never give up your curiosity.

5. What current projects are you working on?

5. My most recent project has been on matching real star clusters that we actually observe to simulated star clusters based off of the brightness of the star clusters, as well as the velocities of those in the star cluster. Even though we can't see things like black holes, provided we trust our models, we can figure out how many black holes we expect to be inside a star cluster based off of things that we can measure.

Want to learn more about Nicholas Rui and star clusters? Join us on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at Terra Linda High School from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM in Room 207!

Learn more at 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Let's Learn About Lysosomes" - An Interview with Gouri Yogalingam, Ph.D. of BioMarin, Novato

By Shoshana Harlem (MSS Intern, Terra Linda High School)

Dr. Gouri Yogalingam is currently working to develop therapies for treatments of genetically-defined diseases at the Bio Marin Pharmaceutical in Novato. She has already developed enzyme replacement therapy for a rare genetic disease, called mucopolysaccharidosis type Vl. 

1. What made you interested in studying lysosomes?

Dr. Gouri Yogalingam
I was working on lysosomal storage diseases in my PhD and got to know two young boys affected with MPSVI and MPS II, who came to our clinic in Adelaide, South Australia. Their names were Mathew and Vaughan. Over the years they both deteriorated and eventually died. This really affected me, making me realize how important and somewhat overlooked the lysosomal system is in terms of contributing to normal cellular homeostasis, as well as disease pathogenesis when lysosomes stop working. After my PhD I moved to the USA and into other research areas outside of lysosomal storage diseases but I think without realizing it I have always been interested in how lysosomes contribute to not only lysosomal storage diseases but also more common diseases that we all know about, like cancer and heart disease.

2. How do lysosomes contribute to cancer progression and cardiovascular disease?

In cancer cells the anti-cancer drug known as imatinib stops Abl kinase signaling and down-regulates autophagy, a lysosomal-mediated process that cancer cells have been reported to hijack to grow faster. In cardiovascular disease, a delta protein kinase C peptide inhibitor drug helps to up-regulate mitophagy, a cardio-protective lysosomal-mediated process that helps to remove damaged mitochondria in cardiomyocytes following myocardial infarction.

3. What are some benefits of lysosomes? In other words, how are they good for a person?

Think of lysosomes as the recycling center of your cells. If your lysosomes stop working old, damaged proteins and organelles build up and promote cellular damage.

4. What advice would you have to people who want to study lysosomes?

I don’t think anyone would graduate from high school wanting to specifically work on the humble old lysosome! My advice is to always think beyond the lysosome. I have several interests outside of lysosomes. For me my interest in lysosomes was because of a very emotional experience, seeing young children affected with lysosomal storage diseases passing away. The truth is that many of these kids still die and some of these diseases cannot be effectively treated with our current technologies. So perhaps the young scientists out there should take up the cause and get into this field of human disease with a fresh outlook and novel approaches that us oldies have not thought of. Assuming that high school students know that lysosomes are truly what they want to study then I guess that they should go to college and learn about cell and organelle biology. They can always reach out to me, and I'll point them in the right direction if they want to work in a lysosomal lab!

5. What has been your favorite project involving lysosomes that you have worked on?

There are many. I recently worked on a project at BioMarin, where we evaluated enzyme replacement therapy for the neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disease GM1 gangliosidosis. That was fun. We learned a lot of new things about the disease. The work that I care about the most was about a boy who was affected with another lysosomal storage disease, MPS IIIB. He passed away in his 30s after suffering from progressive neurodegeneration. I learned all about this patients genetic mutations. We worked out how the inherited mutations in this patient resulted in his unusually protracted disease symptoms. There is also the story about a naturally occurring form of MPS VI in cats, which I'll talk about at the Marin Science Seminar. Just like humans, even cats can inherit these devastating lysosomal storage disease. We learned that an extremely mild form of MPS VI can disguise itself as a very mild form of skeletal dysplasia - in cute, fluffy cats!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"Bad Blood: Battling Cancer in the U.S. and Vietnam" - An Interview with Michelle Hermiston, Ph.D. M.D. of UCSF

By Shoshana Harlem (MSS Intern, Terra Linda High School) 

Dr. Michelle Hermiston,  M.D. Ph.D. is director of the pediatric immunotherapy program at UCSF. She studies blood cancers in children and also works in Vietnam developing infrastructure for pediatric oncology.

  1. What made you interested in doing cancer outreach work in Vietnam? 

I am passionate about curing children with cancer. The cure rates for children with cancer in the United States is approaching 85% due to advances in basic research and clinical trials. However, 80% of children with cancer live in low or middle income countries (LMIC) where outcomes range from 5-40%. 

   2. What infrastructure have you already developed in Vietnam for children with cancer and other blood diseases? 

Our team at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals Oakland and San Francisco have been working with an international team of investigators to improve childhood cancer outcomes. We are using an implementation science approach. So far, we have performed a needs assessment involving all hospitals nationally that care for kids with cancer. Out initial interventions have focused on education, establishing a platform for kids with cancer. Our initial interventions have focused on education, establishing a platform for data collection for quality improvement and eventual clinical studies purposes, and development of uniform treatment protocols. 

   3. What is your role of the director of the pediatric immunotherapy program at UCSF? 

I oversee the development and implementation of our pediatric immunotherapy program. I am the principle investigator for several chimeric antigen receptor t (car-t) cell trials and oversee the care of these patients. 

   4. What are the best parts of your job? 

There is nothing better than curing a child of cancer and giving them a second change at life. No two days are the same. I have the privilege to work with an amazing interprofessional team. The children and their families I care for are inspiring and strong. I get to learn something new every day and be at the forefront of new technologies. I get to take this knowledge to a LMIC setting where I have the opportunity to improve outcomes for even more kids. 

   5. What are the hardest parts of your job? 

The hardest part is when a child's cancer is smarter than our best science. Our work is not done until we can cure every child, no matter what zipcode they happen to randomly be born into. 

Want to learn more about Michelle Hermiston and cancer? Join us on Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at Terra Linda High School from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM in Room 207!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Animation, and Einstein's Theory of Gravity

  By Shoshana Harlem, Terra Linda High School

Headsets are used in virtual reality.

     Virtual reality is when a computer generates an artificial simulation. By simulating a person's vision and hearing, virtual reality makes a person feel like they are experiencing the video game firsthand. To experience virtual reality, people wear a headset. There are two main reasons why people use virtual reality. One is for entertainment and gaming (E.g.: computer and video games, 3D movies) because it helps create and enhance an imaginary reality. Virtual reality is also used to help train for real-life situations by creating a simulation. This helps people be able to practice the situation beforehand, and therefore be prepared if and when the situation comes up in real life. Pilots often use flight simulators to train for real-life situations.

Augmented reality
     Augmented reality is a technology that uses computer-generated enhancements in order to give people an opportunity to interact with the situation. Augmented reality is used in apps and electronics. It is used in many situations such as to display the scores on sports games, have 3D emails pop out, along with phones and text messages on electronic devices. People are also using augmented reality to create motion activated commands on electronics, such as Iphones.

Artificial intelligence 
     Artificial intelligence is an area of computer science that creates machines that work and function like humans. It runs smart machines. Artificial intelligence is used in everyday lives such as SIRI, google search, and even self-driving cars. People have conflicting views on artificial intelligence and often debate whether it is safe. Artificial intelligence is good because it helps people complete tasks in their daily lives, which saves people time and energy. Another reason why artificial intelligence is good is because it helps people with disabilities such as helping visually-impaired people or people with hearing impairments with translations. For people who can't communicate that well, artificial intelligence can provide communication technologies. On the other hand, some people argue that artificial intelligence is not good because sometimes it fails and can land people in dangerous situations. For instance, a self-driving car might not see another car when merging into a lane and might therefore cause an accident.

3D animation helps explain Einstein's Theory of
     3D animation can help people see Albert Einstein's Theory of Gravity. Einstein visualized that gravity is not a force and instead is a curvature of time and space which is caused by energy and mass. Einstein said that gravity and acceleration are the same thing. Meanwhile, Isaac Newton thought that gravity was separate from acceleration. 3D animation allows people to run physics experiments to test Einstein's theories. The physics experiments show how gravity works, where people's weight comes from, and the effect of mass.

     To learn more about virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, 3D animation, and Einstein's Theory of Gravity, come to the Marin Science Seminar at Terra Linda High School in room 207 on Wednesday, September 25. David Levitt of Pantomime Corporation will be speaking. Join us and learn!


Sunday, September 22, 2019

AI, VR, & 3D: Amazing Applications for Understanding Physics

Marin Science Seminar for Teens & Community presents a free event:

AI, VR, & 3D: Amazing Applications for Understanding Physics” (plus learn about Swift mobile software development) with David Levitt of Pantomime Corp.

Date: Wed. September 25th, 2019; 7:30 – 8:30 pm at Terra Linda HS in San Rafael, Room 207

Dr. Levitt will present on augmented/virtual reality and Artifical Intelligence, and will show how 3D animation helps us visualize Einstein’s theory of gravity. He will also give a pep talk about becoming a self-taught Swift mobile software developer.

Dr. David Levitt is a cognitive scientist, artificial intelligence researcher, virtual and augmented
reality innovator, mobile software developer, entrepreneur, physicist and writer. He was on the founding team of the MIT Media Laboratory, on the team at VPL Research that created the first commercial virtual reality systems, and he was a co-founder of Atari research laboratories. Levitt’s doctoral thesis ‘A Representation for Musical Dialects’ includes algorithms for classical and jazz composition and improvisation, such as piano arrangements in Fats Waller’s style. Levitt holds patents for inventions in virtual and augmented reality, and intelligent media processing software. He earned his doctorate in Artificial Intelligence at MIT and his BS in Engineering and Applied Science at Yale. Prof. Levitt has taught at MIT, NYU and SRJC.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fall 2019 Marin Science Seminar schedule

Marin Science Seminar - Fall 2019

Join us and Learn!  Please share if appropriate. We have targeted extra credit forms available at all sessions. We will send out a more detailed email about the talks before each presentation. More details can be found at
  • 20:  MSS internship application deadline
  • 25: "AI, VR, & 3D: Amazing Applications for Understanding Physics" (plus learn about Swift mobile software development) with David Levitt  Sci.D. of Pantomime Corp.
  • 9: "Bad Blood: Battling Cancer in the U.S. and Vietnam" with  Michelle Hermiston Ph.D. M.D. of UCSF
  • 16: "How Dangerous are Microwaves? The physics behind non-ionizing radiation and a tale of two books titled 'Zapped'" with Warren Wiscombe Ph.D. of NASA Goddard
  • 6: "Let's Learn About Lysosomes!" with Gouri Yogalingam Ph.D. of BioMarin, Novato
  • 13: "Star Clusters: Many-Body Gravitational Laboratories" with Nicholas Rui, UC Berkeley
  • 20: "Adventures of a Plant Ecophysiologist: Studying How Tropical Forests Survive Drought" with Roxy Cruz Ph.D. candidate, UC Berkeley Dawson LabF

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Deep Roots of Climate Skepticism with Warren Wiscombe PhD

Title: “Merchants of Doubt: The Deeper Roots of Climate Skepticism ” with Warren Wiscombe of NASA-Goddard

Date, Time, Location: Wednesday, February 13th, 2019; 7:30 – 8:30 pm at Terra Linda HS in San Rafael, Room 207

Description:  Climate skepticism often appears superficial — just lazy people who have anointed themselves “climate scientists” without putting in the work required to earn that title.  But there is more to it.  We dig below the surface to uncover the roots of the phenomenon in the 1980s.  After the fall of the Soviet Union and the turn of China toward capitalism, a group of Cold Warrior scientists with no communists left to fight turned their fire instead on environmentalism (which in their minds equated to “big government and regulations”).  These people were strongly rooted in “free-market fundamentalism”, an economic philosophy going back to Friedrich Hayek in the 1940s.  Their rise coincided with that of Ayn Rand and her dramatizations of the woes inflicted on entrepreneurs by socialism. The movement had the backing of powerful, wealthy interests who founded and funded a dozen or more “institutes” devoted to spreading doubt about any science that might lead to government regulations.

Dr. Warren Wiscombe has done research in climate science since its birth in the early 1970s. He worked 30 years at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and before that in the Climate Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He taught climate and atmospheric science in several countries and universities. His interest turned to exoplanets in his last few years at NASA. 

RSVP on Facebook here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Green Building with Barry Giles CEO of BREEAM - Wed. 1/16/19

Green Building with Barry Giles of BREEAM

Title: “Green Building Standards: How to Make Existing Buildings Healthier and Better for the Environment” with Barry Giles of BREEAM

Date, Time, Location: Wednesday, January 16th, 2019; 7:30 – 8:30 pm at Terra Linda HS in San Rafael, Room 207

Description:  Most of us spend about 90 percent of our time inside buildings of one sort or another –homes, offices, schools, or shopping centers. Despite the best endeavors from those involved in building design, construction and operations, buildings have a mostly negative effect on our health and well-being as the occupiers and on the environment. Climate change will have a major effect on how efficient buildings can be – or if they will even stand up to extreme weather events.
While we could just demolish all the existing buildings and start again, that’s not practical. So what can we do to increase our health and well-being and make buildings more resilient? How can we turn all the ‘ugly ducklings’ into ‘swans’.

Barry Giles, CEO of BRE America
Barry Giles, CEO of BRE America
Barry Giles has worked in virtually every aspect of the building industry —engineer, general contractor, systems operator and facilities supervisor. He helped the US Green Building Council create the LEED Operations and Maintenance rating system for existing buildings in 2003, and from that gained LEED Fellowship and an iconic status in the green building industry. In 2016 he was appointed CEO of BRE America to bring the BREEAM standard to the USA. BREEAM was the original green building rating system and today is the most widely used program worldwide with over 2.2 million registered buildings and over 560,000 certifications.

RSVP on Facebook here.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"The Higgs Boson" - An Interview with Heather Gray, PhD of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Labs

By Shoshana Harlem (MSS intern, Terra Linda High School)

Heather Gray is an Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley Lab. Her main area of study is the Higgs Boson, but she also focuses on studying silicon pixel detectors and algorithms.

Heather Gray PhD
Heather Gray 

1. What made you want to study the Higgs Boson? 

I came to study physics somewhat by chance, but as soon as I heard about particle physics, it was immediately obvious to me that this is something that I find extremely interesting and wanted to study. When I finished my PhD, we were collecting lots of data and I wanted to look for the Higgs boson because it's an important particle and was the only particle missing from the Standard Model.

2. What are the best parts of your job?

 There are many great parts about my job. The privilege of being able to understand deep questions about how the universe works is probably the best. I also get to work with smart people from all over the world and to travel to interesting places.

3. What are the worst parts of your job?

Not much, but if you push me, I guess I'd have to say too many meetings.

4. What is the Higgs Boson?

Higgs Boson particle
The Higgs boson is a particle that is thought to be responsible for particle masses. It was first predicted back in the 1960s and discovered by my experiment (ATLAS) and another one (CMS) only in 2012. We collide protons traveling at close to the speed of light and destroy them to use that energy to produce Higgs bosons. The Higgs boson is very unstable and decays almost immediately to other particles in the Standard Model.

5. What current research are you working on?

Right now I'm working to study how the Higgs interacts with quarks. In the Standard Model, the Higgs is predicted to interact with all particles that have mass and for the strength of the interaction to be proportional to the particle mass. The quarks have a wide range of masses so this makes them particularly interesting to study to try to understand if this particle that we've discovered is the Higgs boson as predicted by the Standard Model. 

Want to learn more about Heather Gray and the Higgs Boson? Join us on Wednesday, January 9 at Terra Linda High School from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM in Room 207!

Monday, January 7, 2019

"Green Building Standards" - An Interview with CEO of BREEAM USA, Barry Giles

by Shoshana Harlem, Terra Linda High School

Barry Giles
Barry Giles has worked as an engineer, general contractor, systems operator, and a facilities supervisor. In 2016, he was appointed CEO of BREEAM USA. BREEAM USA is the original green building rating system created in 1990 in the United Kingdom. Barry also helps think of practical approaches to green building.

       1. What made you want to work for BREEAM USA?
The only realistic 'green building rating system' in use in the USA is the US Green Building Councils' LEED program. For existing buildings that program has many prerequisites that stop many buildings getting into its program. BREEAM dispenses with those prerequisites and allows all buildings to make a start.

       2. What are the best parts of your job?
   The best parts of my job are working with great buildings and great clients.

       3. What are the worst parts of your job?
   The worst part of my job is t.ravel

       4. What is your practical approach to green building?
   My practical approach to green building is to be efficient in your pays off 3:1.

       5. What current research are you working on?
 I am currently trying to get multifamily apartment complexes to be more efficient.

Want to learn more about Barry Giles and green building? Join us on Wednesday, January 16 at Terra Linda High School from 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM in Room 207!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Winter - Spring 2019 Marin Science Seminars Announced!

Join us and learn!

Marin Science Seminar sessions take place on Wednesday evenings from 7:30 - 8:30 at Terra Linda High School (320 Nova Albion) Room 207 in San Rafael. See the Contact page for directions.
Download the Winter-Spring 2019 flyer here. - Subscribe to our newsletter to be informed when new events are scheduled. An archive of previous talks 2008 - previous year can be found here: MSS Calendar Archives (opens in a new tab/window)

Winter - Spring 2019
  • 9: “The Higgs Boson” with Heather Gray PhD of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Labs
  • 16: “Green Building Standards: How to Make Existing Buildings Healthier and Better for the Environment” with Barry Giles, CEO of BREEAM USA
  • 13: “The Deep Roots of Climate Skepticism: Merchants of Doubt” with Warren Wiscombe PhD of NASA Goddard
  • 27:  NEW DATE!Air Quality in the Bay Area and Around the World” with Kaitlyn Lieschke of Ramboll, Novato
  • 13: “Dental and Medical Education Simulation Workshop!” with Rich Fidler PhD, Dr. Sheryl Miyazaki and the VAMC SF Medical Simulation Team
  • 3: “Myths of Astronomy” with Thomas Targett PhD of Sonoma State University

"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.