World science journalists explore Berkeley’s best

Postdoctoral researcher explains to a group of science journalists how he designed the leg of a jumping robot at UC Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. (UC Berkeley photo by Jeremy Snowden)

Postdoctoral researcher Mark Plecnik explains to a group of science journalists how he designed the leg of a jumping robot at UC Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. (UC Berkeley photo by Jeremy Snowden)

Almost 300 science writers and journalists from 70 countries spent Sunday getting to know UC Berkeley’s best scientific minds as part of the five-day World Conference of Science Journalists, an annual gathering that came to the Bay Area for the first time this year.

The group had easy, intimate access to experts like psychology Professor Alison Gopnik, who studies the development of young children, radio astronomer Aaron Parsons and Omar Yaghi, who discovered a material that can pull liters of water out of thin air.

“This is way different than the reality in my country, this campus is beautiful,” said Jonathan Montoya, a science writer for Revista Periodismo Cientifico de EAFIT, a Colombian science journal.

Montoya, who specializes in jungle biodiversity, said he listened to the lecture “When Itch Becomes Pain,” by Diana Bautista, a professor of molecular and cell biology who studies chronic pain. “It isn’t a kind of research I had thought about, but it was interesting to learn this is a field to research,” he said.

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Berkeley and UCSF co-hosted the influential conference, which brought top science writers from across the world to the two campuses. The group spent three days in downtown San Francisco hearing lectures from researchers like Berkeley Professor Jennifer Doudna, who co-invented the gene editing program CRISPR-Cas9.

On Sunday they visited Berkeley, where the school’s leaders hoped to make the major public research university accessible and interesting to journalists.

“We think of Berkeley as a place of intellectual excitement and discovery,” G. Steven Martin, the interim vice chancellor for research, told the crowd. “What you’re going to hear about today is that Berkeley is a place where fundamental discoveries are made, and how those discoveries are translated into applications that benefit society.”

The journalists listened to a panel of climate change experts, who said they remained optimistic that humanity could adapt and avoid global catastrophe by pushing research into renewable energy and expanding wetlands. And they visited the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, where researchers are building tiny robots that can search through the rubble of collapsed buildings.

A group of international journalists watch as UC Berkeley researchers show off the jumping Salto robot at the World Conference of Science Journalists on Sunday. (UC Berkeley photo by Will Kane)

A group of international journalists watch as UC Berkeley researchers show off the jumping Salto robot at the World Conference of Science Journalists on Sunday. (UC Berkeley photo by Will Kane)

“These demonstrations are a source of ideas for sometime in the near future,” said Jacpo Pasotti, a freelance science writer from Switzerland, after he watched a demonstration of the jumping Salto robot. “I think it is essential for journalists to touch; that’s the best way to make a stable and lasting memory of what you saw.”

The conference also gave journalists a chance to understand how colleagues across the world are covering scientific developments.

After listening to a presentation on climate change, Tarek Abd Elgalil Ibrahim, a senior writer for Al-Fanar Media in Egypt said he was more inspired to start writing articles on rising seas and warming temperatures.

“Very few people are talking about (climate change); we don’t have the culture,” he said. “I think I will go home and search for research happening in the Middle East or Egypt, to see who is thinking about this where I come from.”

Contact Will Kane at willkane@berkeley.edu