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“There is nothing conceited about strandbeests, even though they are sophisticated and multilayered. And that combination of sophistication and simplicity extends even to their construction, because if you look at them they seem complex but actually they are built up from repetitions of just a handful of core principles.”
—Lena Herzog, in conversation with Lawrence Weschler Thrown from supernovae, silicon is the eighth most abundant element in the universe and second only to oxygen in the Earth’s crust, which is primarily comprised of silicate compounds, including silica (SiO2), or quartz, commonly found in sand. Silica is absorbed by plants and transformed into intricate glass shells by radiolarians and other microscopic marine creatures. Humans, for their part, have worked silica into glass, ceramics, and devices such as phonograph pickups and crystal oscillators for clocks. Thrown from supernovae, silicon is the eighth most abundant element in the universe and second only to oxygen in the Earth’s crust, which is primarily comprised of silicate compounds, including silica (SiO2), or quartz, commonly found in sand. Silica is absorbed by plants and transformed into intricate glass shells by radiolarians and other microscopic marine creatures. Humans, for their part, have worked silica into glass, ceramics, and devices such as phonograph pickups and crystal oscillators for clocks. Join Exploratorium exhibit developer, Denise King, as she explores the magic of biogenic silica. What if your brain showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease—decades before any symptoms occurred? Would you want to know?
Alzheimer’s disease, which “can’t be slowed, stopped, or prevented,” is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Among older Americans, Alzheimer’s is more feared than any other disease, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Research suggests that the molecular changes of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may occur up to two decades before symptoms appear.
Clinicians are able to clarify diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease using molecular “biomarkers” found through techniques such as lumbar punctures or molecular brain scans. Someday, these techniques could be applied to cognitively normal people to predict whether or not they’ll develop the disease. But should they?
Professional societies have cautioned against this use, given the lack of proven treatments to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in cognitively normal individuals who test positive. Many of us would value knowing this health information, either in its own right or to help us plan for our futures. But society hasn’t caught up to living with a brain at risk. There are laws prohibiting employment insurance discrimination based on our genetic information; however these laws don’t apply to molecular biomarkers. Those who seek predictive testing may also face serious, unintended consequences from receiving this information. The United States’ population of older adults is projected to double by 2050. This unprecedented demographic shift has wide-ranging implications for our society as demand grows for programs and services tailored to the needs of older adults. As many quickly discover, navigating the patchwork of medical, financial, social, and legal systems needed to meet one’s needs in retirement can be a burden requiring complex decision-making in an uncertain environment.
This is a challenge for even the most sophisticated consumers and there is particular concern about older adults navigating these decisions, as converging neuroscientific and economic research indicates that many cognitive skills decline with age—and age is a principal risk factor for impairing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Given this body of evidence, many advocate for stronger protections for adults from fraud and exploitation. At the same time, persistent ageism and common misperceptions about the prevalence of cognitive impairment in older adults raise concerns about whether well-intentioned attempts to protect older adults risk depriving them of their rights to make autonomous decisions.
Please join David Faigman in conversation with special guests Daniel Marson and Winston Chiong to discuss current and emerging scientific research about how we make decisions as we age, how physicians assess our capacity to make decisions, and the legal and ethical implications for families and society. Recorded live at the Exploratorium in 2015. Furiously reactive, fluorine has a ferocious appetite for attracting electrons from other elements, and a fearsome habit of killing chemists. Due to the strength of its bonds, fluorine is found almost exclusively in compounds such as the colorful mineral fluorite. Early attempts to isolate the element were met with injury and death from explosions, corrosive burns, and poisonous fumes. In 1886, the treacherous gas was at last isolated by Henri Moissan, whose innovative processes are still in use today. Recorded live at the Exploratorium 2015.
Earth, water, air, fire: our world is ruled by oxygen, the third most abundant element in the universe. Originating inside of stars, oxygen is scarce on planets outside our own. It comprises roughly half the mass of Earth’s crust and a fifth of its atmosphere. Nonmetallic and highly reactive, oxygen is key to combustion and corrosion, and forms stable bonds with almost every element, notably hydrogen (H2O) and itself. Recorded live at the Exploratorium in 2015.
Earth’s oxygen is produced in equal measure by terrestrial vegetation and microscopic life in the sea. Explore the profound influence of phytoplankton on the atmosphere with Exploratorium scientist Jennifer Frazier, and learn how their populations are changing along with our climate. Investigate oxygen’s physical properties and follow the history of its discovery, as well as its more breathtaking applications. Join us for an intriguing evening of discussion about climate change and technology. The French-American Climate Talks (FACTS) is a conference series organized by the Embassy of France in the United States, and the Exploratorium is proud to host the San Francisco chapter. Don't miss this opportunity to see renowned scientists, prominent industry figures, and top entrepreneurs gather.
The Science of Sharing Forum on June 6, 2015 featured Dr. Shachar Kariv, Benjamin N. Ward Professor of Economics and Economics Department Chair at UC Berkeley. He has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, the European University Institute, the University of Oxford, and the Norwegian School of Economics. Much of his research focuses on social networks, behavior under uncertainty, and decisions about sharing and giving.