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. San Leandro's on-the-ball economic development team steered me toward lively and relevant topics and sources. And because the city is all about forward thinking, the project included 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.
This story about an SF State class that uses solar suitcases as a teaching tool was one of my favorite projects to work on in recent months. The outstanding science, educators, and students involved, and the community impacts both locally and globally -- it's everything science education can and should be.
“It’s not just that the students learn hard skills and soft skills,” [Thoyre] says, referring to assembling electronics and mentoring children. “They are also literally creating renewable energy. They’re actually helping people in the world have access to energy who really need it.” Read more.
This profile of an SF State grad student was a change of pace: It was more about the subject's very personal journey, rather than being anchored in a field of study. It was a lesson in listening carefully to the story someone tells you about themselves, rather than trying to hang your own narrative on them.
When the deadline arrived for Christoph Zepeda to apply to transfer from Santa Barbara City College to UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), he needed a grade-point average of 2.75. He had a 2.79. “I just barely got in there,” recalls Zepeda. Read more.
In writing Envision Vallejo, a public-facing introduction to the City of Vallejo's new general plan, I found that covering urban planning has a lot in common with covering science: Technical content must be explained, meaningful context is key, and allegiance to the primary source is non-negotiable. Vallejo's city planner Mark Hoffheimer was a great project partner, keeping the content on track while also supporting creative flourishes that bring the piece to life.
The arts are a core value in Vallejo, and General Plan 2040 actively supports a thriving creative culture…. The plan supports siting new performance venues, artist studios, and interactive creative spaces, where coalitions of artists and makers welcome visitors for an array of classes, performances, and art shows. Projects like these attract artists, delight residents, and make Vallejo a destination for culture-hungry Bay Area people looking for their next great discovery.
It's well known in media circles that no one can resist a numerically modified greatest-hits list. So as part of PSE's end-of-year fund-raising effort, I put together these "Top 5 Healthy-Energy Tips" from the group's recent research and news efforts. PSE had a great fund-raising season and their in-house social media jockey Alex Abu-Hakima had fun unveiling them via dramatic countdown.
#1 MEET THE HEAT Meet heat pumps, the up-and-coming source for conditioning indoor air. As the grid rapidly moves to an energy mix that includes more renewables and less fossil fuel, electricity-powered heat pumps – which provide both heating and cooling with one unit – will be part of the clean-energy wave of the future.
Each story in these these short, topic-focused press packs for the Society of Neuroscience’s December annual meeting was like solving a puzzle. My two assignments were new opioid-addiction research and advances using new stem cell and gene-editing techniques. Not that I didn’t expect it, but I was sad that my suggested analogy to a benign Clockwork Orange scenario didn’t make the final cut on the incredible “memory treatments” research on addiction. Too dark? Guess so.
A novel procedure to “erase” drug memories reduces drug cravings and relapses in individuals addicted to heroin and undergoing methadone maintenance treatment, according to research released today.... “These findings demonstrate that using methadone as part of a memory-treatment strategy may be a promising method for decreasing long-term drug cravings and relapses in people recovering from heroin and other substance-use disorders,” said lead author Ping Wu, MD, of Peking University.
California community colleges are adopting a maker space-based pedagogy, integrating the problem-solving, innovative thinking of creative work into their curricula. The California Council on Science and Technology's Maker Space Symposium brought together educators and academics to support implementation with the latest evidence-based findings. My role: listen to presentations, conduct interviews, and write up all my reportage. The format was a little unusual — not a structured article but also not a dry academic report. Thanks to valuable guidance from project editor Brie Lindsey, the result was a lively public-facing event rundown -- a narrative that captured the key academic points as well as the on-site experience.
Lee Martin, associate professor in the School of Education at UC Davis, studies making in his mobile makerspace, the Beta Lab. Making has a cool “Burning Man meets science fair vibe,” he said, introducing his presentation, Promoting Equity, Complexity, and Centrality in Maker Spaces.
(Photos: Paul Kirchner Studios)
Few projects are more satisfying for me than creating a new publication - I love the progression of envisioning, planning, and then executing. Launching the newsletter PSE Energy Quarterly was easy because of the busy news season we had to draw on, together with a clear vision to keep it to short, digestible summaries with links.
Thanks to an assignment from Laura Melendy, assistant director at UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies, I'm privileged to have co-written this article about in-person technology transfer in TR News, the bimonthly magazine of the Transportation Research Board. Laura's stellar co-writing included, well, all the key ideas and sources, and her usual unfailing eye for what works and what doesn't as I developed and structured the narrative. TR News is copyright National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; posted with permission of the Transportation Research Board.
When a car ran over a school crossing guard’s foot—inside a crosswalk—a messy local traffic situation came to a head. Tensions were already running high at Pyles Elementary School in Stanton, California; the principal called the Public Works Department of the suburban Southern California city, complaining that parents were not respecting the crosswalk even when children were walking in it. Public Works Director Allan Rigg then called in surveyors from the Complete Streets Safety Assessments program based at the University of California, Berkeley to evaluate the school environs, as well as other serious traffic safety issues in the town. Read the whole article.
Multiple human dramas to interweave and multiple programs to explain -- this web story for San Francisco State's College of Health & Social Sciences (CHSS) had everything. Somehow, it all came together, thanks to some helpful editing by CHSS's Michael Broder, some really interesting, dedicated young teachers in training, and the programs' leadership. Maybe the ex-teacher in me is just a sucker for a public-education success story.
[Hurtado] noticed that teachers seemed to prefer interacting with certain children, while casting others aside. “I remember every gesture teachers made, both positive and negative,” she says, recalling hurtful slights she endured. “People think, ‘Oh they’re just little kids, they’ll forget about it. But in reality, that’s the time you take in everything.” She wants to work with kids so she can be present for every child, dispensing the positive gestures she didn’t always receive herself. Read more.
Some interviewees are naturally reserved. But in our hour-long interview, this mild-mannered, understated pharmacist revealed a few touching nuggets for a short Distinguished Alumnus profile for UCSF School of Pharmacy.
While the Haight-Ashbury exploded in psychedelia around him, Kishi was a serious young man focused on school, career, and the demands of a new family. And as a Japanese American during the prejudice and paranoia of mid-twentieth-century California (Kishi was born in a Colorado relocation camp in 1945 and soon after moved back to Sacramento), he remembers receiving clear messages at home: “Growing up post-war it was, ‘Don’t make waves. Fit in. Do well in school.’” Read more.
While research and outreach activities continued as usual at the nonprofit research institute PSE Healthy Energy, I was working in the background with their team and with web developers on an overhaul of PSE's public profile. Thanks to that team effort, the new website is live and looks fantastic, including the contemporary visual identity; it's populated with rich content; and, now that they have a "News" function, I finally had a place to tell their compelling birth story.
But the political fray around the topic of fracking created murky territory, and from the start, PSE’s leadership has had rigorous discussions on ensuring the scientific integrity of the research they produce. Could science be for anything? Wasn’t inquiry into the public’s health and safety just good citizenship? …“One thing scientists can advocate for is good science and the use of science in making decisions — that’s not outside our role,” Law says. “We can’t advocate for a particular cause or a particular outcome, but we also can’t shy away from findings that support a particular position.”
It was a privilege to work on this long-haul project with a distinguished team of researchers at
UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies. Managing and co-writing the public-facing report on research produced for the state, I learned a ton about rail and slung enough train-related puns and metaphors to last a lifetime.
These samples give a good sense of the 32-page glossy publication we produced. The clean, beautiful design is by longtime collaborator Betsy Joyce. The entire document is available on the California Department of Transportation website.