Policy can be tricky to write about - it's hard to stay out of the weeds because the nuances of policy *are* the weeds. This Breakthroughs article on some tricky policies behind the clean energy transition stays firmly anchored in specific examples to try and explain the real-world impact of well-intentioned rules and incentives.
Misaligned incentives and issues like NIMBYism are cautionary tales that show how failure to create affordable, equal access to clean energy undermines the larger climate goals the policies are meant to achieve.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” Sallee says. “We can get big efficiency improvements, and we don’t have to sacrifice equity to do it. That’s what we’re trying to push.” Read more.
This spring 2021 Berkeley Engineer magazine story shows off how scientists working on basic research sometimes stumble onto discoveries that address real-world problems.
Swab your nose, plunge the sample into a reaction chamber, insert the chamber into a cellphone-based device, then press “go.” In as little as 15 minutes, you’ll likely know whether you’re positive for COVID-19, with an unprecedented combination of speed and accuracy.... So where can you go to get this test? “The point is, you wouldn’t have to go anywhere,” says bioengineering professor Dan Fletcher, who developed the test in partnership with Berkeley’s Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna and UCSF professor of medicine Melanie Ott, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology. “The whole goal is that it would be a point-of-care test — it would be right where people are.” Read more.
Don't we all want to know? UCSF Magazine had me ask experts for a personal take on vaccine safety, encompassing a variety of perspectives from the university's medical and health schools and research centers. Despite numerous updates that delayed publication as vaccine news changed daily, the story went live in a sweet spot in the news cycle, just on the cusp of the FDA's Emergency Use Approval for the first U.S. vaccine.
"Two months [of safety data from a broad population] is not unreasonable for people who have the highest risk of COVID-19 exposure and the lowest risk of adverse vaccine reactions – people who have more to gain from a vaccine – such as primary care providers and first responders. If I were in this group, I would say, “OK, two months will do for me.”
But for people at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 – those who can work from home, for example – but at higher risk of medical complications, then I think when to get vaccinated becomes a personal decision. They may want to wait until we accumulate more information from longer follow-up times – perhaps six months from the start of the phase III trials." Read more.
This topic for UC Berkeley's Breakthroughs magazine was almost too big for the article's modest word count, but making these connections accessible and understandable for a broad audience was worth the effort. Thankfully, the researchers helped me boil down their complex work and the editors made sure the economic format didn't result in sacrificing any key points.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” has become connective tissue, [Morello-Frosch] notes. George Floyd’s tragic plea is a metaphor for police violence against Black and Brown people, but it also conjures the hallmark symptom of the sickest COVID-19 patients and evokes the respiratory impacts of living in polluted areas—even without the smoky air of climate-change-driven, high-intensity fire seasons.
“Our country needs to keep making these connections between justice, sustainability, and equity as we forge our economic recovery,” she says. “A recovery strategy has to provide economic and climate-mitigation opportunities that protect the most vulnerable among us.” Read More.
This Fall 2020 Berkeley Engineer magazine cover story is a good old-fashioned cool-science story: A curious researcher innovating with a material that has some unusual properties.
For another application, instead of increasing the visibility of objects in thermal scanning, Wu hides them. Thermal camouflage technologies — evading the detection of night vision goggles, for example — already exist, conjuring spy-versus-spy covert operations with obvious appeal for military and other surveillance and counter-surveillance applications. But they’re still clumsy, require energy input to work and have rigid, cumbersome structures. They also have glitches — when a hidden object’s temperature changes, it becomes momentarily visible while the devices adjust. The vanadium dioxide-based system is “power-free, monolithic and mechanically flexible,”...and continues to work even when the target object’s temperature surges. Read more.
It was great to step into the editor role for this reboot of the Graduate Theological Union's Skylight Magazine. The grad school and seminary consortium previously had taken a more academic approach to their biannual magazine, but wanted to pivot to more outward-facing tone and content.
They also had a new president to celebrate, and the coverage needed to reflect his quiet leadership style.
Working with a terrific East Coast designer already developing the GTU's new aesthetic, and subbing out some photography to my husband and occasional professional partner, our small team delivered a magazine that showed off the school's exceptional thinkers and doers as well as the spectacular Louis Kahn-designed library.
The Q&A and as-told-to formats of this UCSF Magazine series on the medical center's front-line COVID-19 responders allowed individual voices to shine. That felt like the right way to show these caregivers as both professionals and people living through extraordinary circumstances. Even the pharmacist had a gripping story to tell. The hospitalist, in particular, stuck with me. In these tumultuous times, each of us is seeking to find our own "true north."
-The Emergency Medicine Chief
-The Infectious Disease Pharmacist
-The Respiratory Therapist
-The Navajo Nation Volunteer
After days one and two, that crippling fear and anxiety were melting away. A huge part of that was just the human connection I built with the patients. I began to stop thinking of this as “I’m treating COVID.” It broke the anxiety when I realized, this is what I do – I take care of people. Bringing it back to the patients helps you find your true north. Read more.
I interviewed these healthcare providers just as the Bay Area was beginning its shutdown. These UCSF alumni stories describe these individuals' outsized contributions to their respective specialties. What the stories don't show is a relentless dedication to the work in the face of the increased personal risk and stress of the pandemic.
-This nurse practitioner is a community leader at work and on his own time.
-This renegade dentist improved U.S dental care with his research and persistence.
-This psychiatric nurse is an advocate for teens and underserved communities.
“You're kind of like an orchestra conductor because there are so many things to figure out about what's going on in this person's life,” Nakaishi says. She’d probe a patient’s economic circumstances, food access, school environment, and how the parents talk about food and eating behaviors. Then she’d work to get everyone – the school, the parents, the therapists – on the same page. “It’s a combination of medical science and social science,” she observes. “It's like people science – how do you motivate people to change?” Read more.
Talking to two leading computer-security experts for this Berkeley Engineer magazine cover story, I saw how data-sharing could be a profound force for good if handled securely. I also began to crack the layman's mystery of why "blockchain" is key to online security. Hint: Think nuclear codes.
“'People talk about data like it’s the new oil. But data is actually crude oil. You need to process it to turn it into something that’s useful and valuable.'” Read more.
To produce these research-area "vision statements" for the Campaign for Berkeley, I worked with the Alumni Relations team, attended meetings with subject-area leaders from across campus, then shaped all that info into stories, blurbs, and power-facts. The focal point of the campaign template was on one emblematic story that is compelling on its own, highlights a larger initiative, and shows off the campus's phenomenal impacts on large topical areas.
This Breakthroughs magazine profile of a retired Assistant U.S. Surgeon General focused attention on an interesting life, an unconventional outcome from undergraduate pursuits, and the "small but mighty force" looking out for public health in America.
Integration means avoiding patient labels like “noncompliant.” “That word takes a pejorative view,” [Wylie] says. “I ask, ‘Why is a patient struggling with guidelines for care?’ That’s a different question that gets to the underlying challenges anyone faces in being compliant with anything—whether it’s transportation to the clinic visit, taking medications, cooking a meal that helps control their diabetes. It’s all connected.” Read the full story.
This profile for Berkeley Optometry Magazine focuses on a distinguished alumnus having a career-long influence on the profession in his home country of Mexico, and expanding UC Berkeley's impact in the process.
The new León program is already thriving, with 25 to 30 students in each year and recruitment that is on pace to double those numbers next year.... Those results make Bromberg’s task almost complete. It’s work he has performed pro bono, and happily so. “One of my dreams was for somebody to come and tell me, ‘Here’s the money. Make the ideal optometry school in Mexico,’” he said. “And that’s what happened.” Read the full story on pages 16-17.
This challenging topic was the cover story of Berkeley Engineer's fall issue. Laying the groundwork for faculty and alumni research breakthroughs required explaining not just the complex gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, but also highly technical nuances of why it has not worked well on genetic diseases - until now.
While the CRISPR tool excels at deleting defective genes, it is less efficient at correcting mutations. Now, Berkeley bioengineers think they have cracked the stubborn barriers to correcting the Duchenne gene mutation, potentially optimizing both treatment and diagnosis. If they’re successful, their work could have implications for nearly every genetic disease. READ MORE
A storytelling platform helped communicate the intricate research, policy, and planning work conducted by the five divisions that make up Caltrans Planning and Modal Programs. I reported, wrote, and managed this magazine-style identity piece to make the group's work accessible to broad transportation, governmental, and public audiences. The project came through the Technology Transfer Program at UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies.
Writing about the changes happening in San Leandro was a fun return to a previous life covering urban events and entertainment. For this project, I produced a whole slate of stories for a San Francisco Business Times special supplement (they start on page 6). San Leandro's economic development team steered me toward lively and relevant topics and sources, including plenty on the science and tech beat.
The dozen-plus articles and sidebars include:
In returning to Breakthroughs, the UC Berkeley magazine I edited for five years, I also returned to a favorite topic in this donor profile. Who doesn't love food? And when it combines with health and nutrition, it's interesting, educational, and good for you.
The Mediterranean diet is a framework for all of her work. “Thousands of studies show that populations who eat this way are healthier, live longer, have less diabetes, heart disease, cancer…” she says. And it’s not all about recipes. “They also have more vitality as they age, and that has a lot to do with the social aspects of sitting down with other people to share a meal.” Read more.
A story based on my PSE Healthy Energy press release led the daily newsletter of the Environmental Health Network. The Environmental News Network also picked up the story, and it reached affected communities through several blog articles and reposts. Those are key target audiences for this public-interest research group filling in critical research gaps on the impacts of oil and gas development.
More than 80 percent of all waste from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas drilling operations stays inside the state, according to a new study that tracks the disposal locations of liquid and solid waste from these operations across 26 years. Numerous human health hazards have been associated with waste from oil and gas extraction, including potential to exposure compounds known to cancer. The study is the first comprehensive assessment of Pennsylvania’s waste-disposal practices, tracking from 1991 – when the state began collecting waste-disposal information – through 2017. Read more.
When my former UC Berkeley colleague Eric Craypo took over Berkeley Optometry Magazine, he transformed it from a hybrid research and news publication into a story-driven magazine - an especially impressive feat for an annual. This year I wrote on a fascinating study about eyecare in rural India that was desperately needed and yet vastly underutilized. Photographic storytelling was a novel and hugely successful approach to solving the problem.
Schor calculates that the clinic sees about 20,000 patients a year now, and that 10 to 15 percent of these patients are also screened or managed for vascular diseases, like diabetes and hypertension. “That’s a lot of previously undiagnosed or untreated people. [The LVPEI team] ended up doing much more than bringing in patients. They actually broadened the service,” he says. “They’re doing something that’s preemptively reducing risk of vision loss.” Read more.
What I love about covering science: I did a deep dive - OK, maybe just a shallow dive - into artificial intelligence just to be able to write a coherent one-sentence explanation of deep reinforcement learning. Working with old friends
at UC Berkeley's College of Engineering and Institute of Transportation Studies on this story about incorporating vehicle automation into traffic-management strategies, pulled back the curtain on a notable development in traffic-management technology and why it may soon important to all of us. The story yielded this great coverage in Science Magazine and this spot on the local ABC News affiliate.
The study specifies highly detailed scenarios — standard “tasks” that engineers can use to solve common types of traffic challenges like bottlenecks and intersection control. The solutions become shared baselines, called benchmarks, that are critical to making progress, researchers say. “Unless we’re working on the same problem, it’s hard to compare results. Are you looking at a New York highway or a California freeway? A group of 20 cars or 50? You need an apples-to-apples comparison to understand which solution works better,” Vinitsky said. Read more.
Symmetry Magazine did a beautiful job illustrating this profile about a gifted college football player who changed his career direction to physics. Writing the story changed up my game as well - It was the first time I took on physics as a subject matter. Dr. Rock made it easy and fun, making it clear that the education path was a great choice.
“Keep your eye on the ball,” was the stock advice Willie Rockward heard from football coaches as a teenager in the early 1980s in Houma, Louisiana, just south of New Orleans. But Rockward, who had a talent for both sports and physics, would come to know better. “You just need to see the first part of the projectile,” he says. “Once you know the trajectory of the ball, it’s not going to change.” On the football field, calculating the trajectory of the ball gives a receiver a few critical seconds to evaluate the oncoming defensive team. In Rockward’s life, calculating his own trajectory led him out of sports and into science. Read more.
I have plenty of bylines out there in the published universe, so I enjoy doing some ghosting to help clients get thinking, get moving, and get blogging so they can share information about important and timely research with a broad audience. Like "Why Local Air Quality Matters," a blog article for PSE Healthy Energy, the best case scenario is that it ends up being less of a ghost-write and more of a collaboration. Once I get the main architecture drafted, clients - scientists accustomed to co-writing - jump right in and define the main content for the piece.
June started with good news: The California Air Resources Board, or CARB, awarded PSE a half-million-dollar grant to conduct local air-quality monitoring in the cities of Richmond, North Richmond, and San Pablo. We received a CARB Community Air Grant to address goals outlined in AB 617, an assembly bill that directs state money to study air quality at a local scale rather than at the more commonly monitored regional scale. The shift to community-based data is important because regional-level measurements are often unable to address community-level air quality concerns and promote effective local policies to mitigate air pollution. Read more.
I've been eager to see this profile of an alum-turned-professor go live on the website at SF State's College of Health and Social Science. It's the best kind of science profile to tackle -- an interesting life story combined with innovative research that can improve society.
Public health policy, she soon discovered, was her path to a broader impact: How could society — schools and communities, cities and states — narrow the health disparities she’d observed between the low-income, minority communities like the migrant families she served, and the broader population? What levers could be pulled to narrow the gap between rich and poor on key health indicators like high obesity rates and low physical activity rates — and the litany of health problems that can accompany those indicators? Read more.
I get a lot of email from groups I'm interested in -- both in science and the arts. I appreciate newsletters that respect my time: brief and scannable, so I can get valuable info quickly or take in more when it looks especially relevant. The PSE Energy Quarterly fits into that mold. The spring issue was pushed out via email and a story-by-story social media campaign.
“The build-out and use of natural gas pipelines currently proposed across New York would put the state’s 2030 goal … virtually out of reach.” -- PSE Clean Energy Program Director Elena Krieger is quoted in an Albany Times-Union story on the pipeline report she led, titled “The Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Proposed Natural-Gas Pipeline Build-Out in New York.” Read more.
Despite its clear newsworthiness, this study from an Oakland energy-research group was still squarely in the more complex policy arena. Thus, we were pleased to get news hits from two national policy-focused magazines as well as a trade magazine - publications that will carry the information to the most relevant audiences.
Definitions of “protected groundwater” in 17 state oil and gas regulations are inconsistent and in many cases less protective than federal regulations used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), according to a study published Friday, March 2, 2018 in Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health. The findings demonstrate that the nation’s water supply is vulnerable to contamination from oil and gas production and wastewater disposal despite federal protections for groundwater. Read the press release.