Pamelia was sitting on the hotel bed when she read the sentence aloud: "The 1960s had revolution in the air in music and politics, but arguably the most lasting change was the emergence of a new way of seeing the planet."
Those words, written by scientist Neil Shubin in his new book, The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People, seemed particularly appropriate as we settled into our room in Berkeley, a block from the University of California campus. Berkeley and Cal were at the epicenter of that 1960s cultural revolution, and today Cal scientists are (as they have been for more than 80 years) at the forefront of discovering new ways of seeing both our planet and the universe. Moreover, the "lasting change" Shubin was citing—that is, the widespread scientific acceptance that the Earth is covered by continental plates that constantly move and collide, and that "old" land is swallowed up and "new" land created along mid-ocean volcanic ridges in a sort of geological conveyor belt—explains how California developed its wrinkled, mountainous, earthquake-prone landscape.
Some of those ideas had been around for years, but in science as in other fields, new ideas aren't always immediately welcomed. Pamelia and I were hoping that on our visit to Berkeley—and neighboring Emeryville, home of Pixar studios—we would find scientists and artists willing to collaborate on some of our own new ideas.
As you know from my last post and Facebook postings, we traveled from Maine to California to meet with experts who might collaborate with us on Naturalist's Notebook initiatives that merge science, nature and the arts in creative, educational ways. I'm happy to report that every person we have met with on the trip—from a funny, inventive authority on music and sound effects and paper theater to a top science writer to renowned astrophysicists to a primate researcher to a distinguished professor of literature—has come on board. They're excited and so are we. And in the Bay Area we added one of America's foremost astrophysicists, Cal professor Alex Filippenko, and an animation whiz from Pixar, Dan McCoy—both of them wonderful people on top of being experts in their field—to our efforts to inspire and enable people of all ages to embrace a love of learning and share in the discoveries at the frontier of knowledge.
The last time I'd set foot on the Berkeley campus was in February of my senior year of college, when I was temporarily living in the Bay Area and writing my honors thesis for a school back East. I was allowed to use the Cal library to do some research. My recollection is that Berkeley felt a bit wilder and scruffier then than it does now; someone in fact told me before Pamelia and I drove up here from the San Diego leg of our trip that she would be eager to hear if I felt that Berkeley had become a "Disneyfied" version of its old radical self.
I suppose that to some extent I did, but Pamelia and I loved wandering the town and the hilly campus, looking at the redwoods, watching the birds, seeing all the bear statues and painted footprints, and listening to students making comments to each other such as, "I'm still trying to figure out which direction the rings of Saturn spin..." and "I was reading Stephen Hawking..." and "I would go to WAR over Doritos..."
The photos here are showing you some of the sights we saw, but scarcely begin to reflect the richness of the visit. In a few minutes we will be heading south along Route 1 to see elephant seals and find a place to celebrate Pamelia's birthday. However, we'll still be thinking about our Cal-Pixar experience.
Answer to the Last Puzzler As several of you correctly responded, the plant in the photo was witch hazel.
Today's Puzzler The photo below shows parts of seed pods from a common California tree that in fact is an invasive species, having been introduced from Australia during the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. What type of tree is it?
a) coastal redwood b) palm c) eucalyptus