Sunday, March 4, 2012

Science in the Theater

"Science in the Theater - Extreme Science" is over. It was an interesting experience, and, although I can't say that the four presentations melded well, they were all both good and interesting, and both the speakers and the audience enjoyed it.

We spoke in the ~ 600 seat Roda theater at Berkeley Repertory Theater. We arrived at 6 pm, for a 7 pm curtain, allowing time for mike and video checks, plus a quick dinner. The sound guy was impressive - I don't see how he could switch our microphones on and off so quickly whenever one of us said anything. It was cool to see the backstage area. My wife Ruth and I had seen Moliere's "A doctor in spite of himself" there only two days earlier. It was interesting to see some of the props up-close, and this certainly contributed to the feeling of being on the 'big stage.'

I brought a prototype Digital Optical Module as a prop. It was a pain to lug around, but made a great prop. As a bonus, I got to park in the Rep loading dock, mere feet from the stage.

The audience started arriving early - a few people were already there when we arrived. It was a good crowd - the lower level of the theater was full, with a sprinkling of people upstairs. It was an interesting mix of ages, with a good number of high school kids, plus some from junior high.

Andrew Minor started off, describing how he uses electron microscopes to explore the effects of extreme environments (such as inside a nuclear reactor) on matter. Then, Caroline Ajo-Franklin talked about her studies of organisms that live in extreme environments (for example, microbes that get their energy by oxidizing metals, instead of using oxygen), and about how we might be able to use the techniques and genes in these organisms to generate energy. Tamas Torok talked about his travels in the former USSR, searching for organisms that live in extreme environments, such as in heavily acidic lakes, volcanic craters, and in Lake Baikal.

Then, I discussed my work, starting with a brief explanation of why we do neutrino astronomy, leading to a 'guided tour' of IceCube and ARIANNA. Then, we had a phone call from the South Pole, with our two IceCube winter-overs, Carlos Pobes and Sven Lidstrom on the other end. I had been a bit nervous about the logistics for this, particularly getting the timing right. In the end, the timing was almost perfect. The audience seemed blown away by the call. One woman said that she couldn't get her head around what a temperature of minus 93 degrees meant; judging by the reaction, this was a common view.

Then we answered questions for an hour. These varied widely in level and in form. A number of people expressed concern, with varying degrees of specificity, about the genetic engineering aspects of the extreme biology.

A video of the event is posted on youtube at
Also, there are photos of the event here.

Many thanks to Carlos, Sven and IceCube outreach coordinator Laurel Norris for their help with the phone call to the South Pole. Also thanks to the LBNL folk who organized this, particularly Jeff Miller and and Dan Krotz, plus videographer Ivan Berry, and also to the folks at Berkeley Rep for providing great logistical support.

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