|October 3, 2003|
Computer Identify T Cell Turn-Ons
By Lynn Yaris
Computer simulations, or experiments in silico, paved the way for subsequent genetic and biochemical experiments that yielded new information on how the body’s immune system gets sent into action. This new information has resolved a scientific controversy and holds therapeutic implications for autoimmunity.
Working with a custom-configured cluster of microcomputers at Berkeley Lab and cells derived from transgenic mice at the Washington University School of Medicine, a multi-institutional team of scientists has shown that an intercellular junction called the “immunological synapse” controls the strength and duration of signals that activate T cells, one of the body’s principal lines of defense against infections.
“We’ve found that the immunological synapse balances T cell receptor signaling and degradation, and if this adaptive control function goes awry, T cell activation will be misregulated,” says Arup Chakraborty, one of three corresponding authors of a paper published in the Sept. 25 issue of Science Express. Chakraborty holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences and Materials Sciences Divisions and with UC Berkeley’s departments of chemistry and chemical engineering. The other corresponding authors were Washington University’s Andrey Shaw and Michael Dustin of New York University (NYU).
Chakraborty is the first to capitalize on Berkeley Lab’s Scientific
Cluster Support (SCS) program, which was established to provide researchers
with a cost-effective mid-range computing resource. Computer clusters
consist of individual processors connected through Linux open-source
software so that they perform as a single high-performance system.
Through the SCS
“The results reported in this paper demonstrate how synergy between computational modeling and genetic, biochemical, and imaging experiments can solve important problems in cellular immunology,” says Chakraborty.
Says William McCurdy, Associate Laboratory Director for Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab, who initiated the SCS program, “This is the first example of a new kind of scientific support that Berkeley Lab is offering investigators. It is part of a continuing shift in our scientific culture towards more intensive use of computing in research.”
Computational models are ideal for studying complex phenomena such as the human immune system — an interdependent network of many different cell types that collectively protect our bodies from viruses and cancer cells. The process begins when markers on the surface of a cell called antigens identify the cell as “non-self.” In response, the cellular warriors of the immune system will attempt to engulf and kill the invader. Among these warriors are the lymphocytes (white cells) from the thymus, or T cells, whose appropriate activation is critical to a person’s well-being.
“T cells are the orchestrators of the adaptive immune response system,” explains Chakraborty. “They’re responsible for reading the molecular signatures on cell surfaces, detecting the presence of pathogens and leading a counterattack.”
The key to T cell activation is the signal that passes between antigen-presenting cell surfaces and T cell receptors. This signal must be enhanced and sustained long enough for the T cells to mount an immune response. The signal must also be cut off in time to avoid antigen-induced T cell suicide, or apoptosis.
The most logical control center for T cell signaling is at the point of contact between T cells and antigens, dubbed the immunological synapse after the synapses between communicating nerve cells. At this junction, a central cluster of T cell receptors surrounded by a sticky ring of adhesion molecules forms a sort of bull’s-eye. While early in vitro studies supported the view that the immunological synapse enhances and sustains T cell receptor signaling, more recent in vitro studies indicated that signaling in the synapse was too short-lived to play any significant role.
“Because T cell signaling involves so many coupled events and competing forces, it was difficult to refute or assert either point of view,” says Chakraborty. “But by intertwining computational studies with genetic experiments, we were able to delineate the various effects and resolve the controversy.”
What Chakraborty and his group found with their simulations is that the immunological synapse is indeed the site of enhanced T cell signaling, but
triggered T cell receptors degrade over an extended period of time. This degradation, which eventually results in the signal being cut off, serves as a safeguard against T cell apoptosis.
The results of these in silico experiments, which Chakraborty carried out with assistance from UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Aaron Dinner, were passed onto co-authors Shaw and Dustin, who were able to verify the computational model through specifically designed in vitro experiments using genetically engineered mouse cells. “There is a competition between the triggering of T cell receptors due to antigens and the degradation of triggered T cell receptors,” says Chakraborty. “In the in vitro tests prior to our computational simulations, this competition was masking the fact that the immunological synapse is responsible for intense but self-limited T cell signaling.”
New Business Division to Integrate Functions
By Ron Kolb
In a move designed to integrate critical administrative functions and to define roles and policies more clearly, Berkeley Lab has created a new division — Business Services — and named veteran manager David McGraw to direct it.
Deputy Director for Operations Sally Benson says the reorganization will close the gaps that had been observed between the departments of Finance, Human Resources, and Administrative Services.
“What we have observed is people working very hard, but with very fragmented responsibilities,” she says. “When we looked at the whole picture, and we added up all the fragmented pieces, it didn’t result in a complete, comprehensive assurance system.”
So she and Lab Director Charles Shank have asked McGraw — most recently division director for Environment, Health and Safety and a deputy to Benson — to implement such a system. He will be able to draw upon the early successes of the Administrative Services Department (ASD) in establishing clear procedures and business practices, and the Human Resources Department’s (HR) highly-regarded model of “service centers,” located at various points throughout the Lab.
“People can fulfill their responsibilities if you tell them what they’re supposed to do,” Benson says. “We have to develop procedures appropriate for all of our business practices.” Both she and Shank reiterated the importance of personal account-ability and responsibility as core values of the Lab.
Benson cited the recently established ASD Academy as a good example of something the new Business Services Division can leverage as it develops. The Academy will provide the Lab’s administrative professionals with a wide range of educational, networking, training, and career development resources. Human Resources is also planning to develop programs to identify and improve leadership competencies, tying those skills back to the recently revamped Professional Review and Development (PRD) assessment process.
But the key to it all, she said, is integration of functions so that
service delivery to scientific divisions is robust and responsive.
She said McGraw was selected as the first division director for Business Services largely because “he is respected and trusted by people across the Lab, from senior management to the rank and file.” She called him “a person of integrity” who never shies away from challenges and difficult assignments, who understands the Laboratory culture, and who is sensitive to meeting the expectations of the Department of Energy and the University of California. (See Viewpoint, page 5).
In particular, she pointed out his success launching the Integrated Safety Management Program — which the DOE has called a model for other laboratories to follow — and in developing the “safety scorecard” in EH&S. His one-year service as acting Public Affairs manager, which led to the integration of Communications, Government and Community Relations, and Science Education into a single department, illustrated McGraw’s strengths as an effective manager and leader. He pulled three separate groups into an integrated whole which not only meets the Lab’s needs better, but is also more satisfying for the employees.
The Financial Services Department (FSD) will be led temporarily by
Jeffrey Fernandez, on loan from Lawrence Livermore Lab.
“We wanted someone who was very experienced in the DOE environment,” Benson says. “He is highly regarded as both a good leader and a highly competent budget officer.”
She also emphasized that all three departmental heads — Fernandez, HR’s Randy Scott and ASD’s Anil More — will continue to be full participants on the Laboratory’s senior management team under the new organization.
By Monica Friedlander
Through an eventful quarter century of Berkeley Lab history, one thing has stayed pretty much the same: the annual Runaround, which next Friday celebrates its 25th anniversary. Participants come and go, but each year they run, walk or bike the same 1.86-mile course. It is one challenging enough for the serious runners yet manageable for novices — up and down the same gentle slopes, starting off from the same place and crossing the same finish line.
And except for the Runaround’s first two years, the same person has overseen it through all its ups and downs. “When you complain three times, you’re in charge of an event,” laughs Steve Derenzo, whose name is almost synonymous with the event. Must be that no one else complained since.
The Runaround attracts everyone from competitive athletes to walkers
and even babes in strollers. “My favorite part is when the youngest
participant is given a prize and a three-months-old toddler grabs
that teddy bear,” Derenzo says. “No training required.”
Derenzo credits that to Harvey Levy, who founded the Runaround in 1978. “It was his genius to start high, at Building 46, and finish low, at the cafeteria.”
Participants assemble near the firehouse, a scenic area that can accommodate more than 800 people. From there on it’s mostly downhill, with only a few challenging areas, Derenzo says, most notably the ascent at Medical Services and again towards the finish line. (For a map of the course, look up the Runaround in the A-Z index on the Lab’s home page.) An informal bikearound will also be held.
To athletes like Parkinson, who runs six to eight miles a day, the Runaround is an opportunity to challenge himself. After having won in his first try, he aims to keep improving his performance and eventually break the course record of 9:09 minutes.
The Runaround has attracted the support of some of the Lab’s biggest names, such as Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg and more recently Deputy Director Pier Oddone. With Oddone out of town, Deputy Director of Operations Sally Benson will start the race and award prizes next Friday.
Participation in the Run-around is higher than that in any other Lab
event, thanks not just to those who sweat it out on the course, but
to the many volunteers who work long hours before, during, and after
the event. Among them are Don Bell, in charge of security; Angela
Dawn of Human Resources; Steve Blair of Facilities, who makes sure
the course is safe and free of major construction; and last but not
least, timers like Jimmie Johnson, who pushes that stopwatch button
at the finish line some 800 times without missing a beat. That’s
an athletic feat in and of itself.
Chowing Down at the Lab
Though Lab employees are spread out across the hills and canyons above Berkeley, there is one place researchers, administrators, and staff can come together to break bread: the cafeteria. Indeed, the tasty comestibles, friendly service, and breathtaking views have made the restaurant the unofficial focal point of the Lab. On any given day, says restaurant manager Jerry Roselius, nearly 1,000 hungry staff and visitors pass through. Though taco salads are the most popular food item, Roselius says more than 100 pounds of tuna salad is consumed each week. And employees aren’t only hungry, they’re thirsty, too, evidenced by the 40 gallons of soda syrup the cafeteria goes through each week. Working hard to prepare breakfast, lunch, and now dinner, are the cafeteria’s 15 employees: two cooks, four pantry people, three utility people, one chef, two managers, one catering driver, and two baristas. Bon apetit!
Solar Cities, U.S.A
U.S. mayors, city council members, and board of supervisors members, as well as renewable energy experts, attended the second day of the Solar Cities Summit at Berkeley Lab on Sept. 19. Convened by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, the group gathered in Perseverance Hall to learn more about planning, implementing, and financing solar PV projects in their cities. EET Division Director Mark Levine gave a talk about how energy efficiency complements the use of renewable energy sources by providing more bang for the renewable energy buck. The mayors of Honolulu, HI, Boulder, CO, Scottsdale, AZ, and Montclair, NJ, attended, as well as a group of mayors from California cities, including Burbank, Campbell, Oroville and Santa Ana. The group also visited the Lab’s new Advanced Windows Test Facility, where they learned about electrochromic and other new efficient window technology.
Draft Impact Report Issued for Building 49
Berkeley Lab has issued a draft Environmental Impact Report on its proposed research office building, Building 49. Public comments are invited for 45 days, until Nov. 3. A public hearing will take place at the North Berkeley Senior Center on Oct. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. Documents can be reviewed at the Berkeley Public Library, the Berkeley Lab library in Building 50, or via the Internet. The Lab hopes to construct the six-story, 65,000-square-foot structure, relocating 240 existing employees, by fall 2005.
IImagine being able to study the motion of electrons during a chemical reaction. Imagine studying single molecule diffraction and bulk dynamics, or creating x-ray holograms. These were just a few of the ideas discussed during four brainstorming sessions held on behalf of “LUX” — the Linac-based Ultrafast X-ray source, a large new accelerator facility being proposed for Berkeley Lab.
Steve Leone, a chemist with the Chemical Sciences Division, and John Corlett, a physicist with the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division, organized the brainstorming sessions which were held earlier this month at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. The sessions drew a total of nearly 80 attendees from the physical, chemical and biological sciences, who were posed questions such as what experiments could they do if LUX existed today. LUX is conceived as a 2.5 GeV recirculating superconducting linac optimized to produce substantial fluxes of tunable x-rays at pulse lengths ranging from 50 to 200 femtoseconds, with a goal of attosecond pulse lengths in the future.
“There were a lot of good ideas discussed, including some we had not thought of before,” says Corlett. “These ideas will help us prepare for a major workshop on LUX which we’re planning to hold next spring.”
By Paul Pruess
David Wemmer’s group in the Physical Biosciences Division uses big magnets to study protein-protein and protein-DNA complexes with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). One of their newest has an operating frequency of 800 megahertz and a field strength of almost 19 tesla, approaching half a million times the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field.
“The magnet weighs five tons and stores as much energy as a semi-trailer going 40 miles an hour,” says researcher Jeff Pelton. “We’ve been looking for a place to put it for almost two years.”
“With space at the Lab severely limited, Building 31 was ideal,” says Bill Wu, project manager in the Facilities Department, “but making it a workable site for NMR was a challenge.”
Given the building’s history, that may be an understatement. Located on the slopes of Strawberry Canyon below Lawrence Road — and better known as the Chicken Ranch — Bldg. 31 owes its barn-like appearance to the fact that it actually was a barn, says building superintendent Steve Waters, and at one time actually did house chickens.
Waters, who came to Berkeley Lab in the 1970s, remembers when the structure was converted to a labor shop and storage facility. “It used to be an open-sided shed, but very solid. Despite erosion problems, which we corrected, the foundation and floor slab are firm and level.”
Solid is good, when dealing with a five-ton magnet. Other features, like a lack of insulation, were less convenient. To guard against field distortion caused by uneven expansion, Pelton explains, “the magnet has to be kept at a constant temperature, within plus or minus one degree Fahrenheit.”
Wu says, “Instead of air conditioning the whole building, we determined it would be easier to maintain a constant temperature in an enclosure inside the building.”
Unfortunately a traditional building inside a building “would have put costs through the roof,” Wu says. He began considering the kind of innovative enclosures researchers use in places like the South Pole. An internet search led him to the Weather-Port company, based in Colorado. Although busy with a rush order from the U.S. military for portables to be sent to the Middle East, Weather-Port took time to design a custom structure for the Chicken Ranch: a tent.
Not just any tent. Double walled, fully insulated, and 41 feet long, this one uses no magnetic materials. Its five bays are supported on 12-inch, welded aluminum trusses and cross-braced with stainless steel cables.
“We replaced all the screws near the magnet,” says Wu. “The concern was, the magnet is so strong it would tend to pull regular screws out of the wall.” Concern extended to the floor beneath the magnet: a 12-by-12-foot section of slab was cut out and replaced with concrete poured around stainless-steel reinforcing bars.
“Another thing we’ve never done here at the Lab is the air-conditioning supply: it’s called DuctSox,” Wu says. “Standard ducts bring in air through registers, but here the air comes out uniformly, through the fabric. This helps keep the temperature stable throughout the enclosure.”
With all necessary systems including emergency generator and liquid helium cooling in place, Bldg. 31 is ready for its magnet. A yellow five-gauss line has already been painted on the floor, warning of strong magnetic fields that can interfere with pacemakers and scramble credit cards.
Working with the users and suppliers, Bill Wu, architect Kathie Milano,
and the other members of the Facilities design team have achieved
an imaginative and economical solution to the challenge of housing
a powerful magnet in a less-than-traditional laboratory setting —
a good example of thinking inside the barn, but outside the box.
By Dan Krotz
IIf life ever existed on Mars, it’ll take more than luck to find it on a planet nearly twice the size of the moon. The vestiges of biological activity could be underground, inside rocks, or strewn about the surface. They could be near the red planet’s icy poles, or somewhere along its equator.
To narrow the search, a team of scientists that includes five Berkeley Lab Earth Sciences Division researchers will explore what it takes to sustain primitive life — and then determine if, when and where these conditions arose on the red planet. Thanks to a five-year, $5 million grant from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, the team will analyze Mars’ natural history, study arid regions on Earth that mimic the Martian landscape, and investigate exotic microbes that thrive in extreme environments.
“Ultimately, we want to determine if life evolved elsewhere in the universe,” says principal investigator Jillian Banfield, also a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science. She leads a team of ten scientists that includes fellow Lab researchers Kristie Boering, Donald DePaolo, William Dietrich, and Michael Manga, all of them also professors in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science. “We chose Mars because it’s relatively accessible, and it may have possessed the ingredients necessary for life.”
Although many scientists suspect conditions on Mars are currently too harsh to sustain life, except maybe deep underground, they also suspect the planet once harbored life’s prerequisites. The Martian landscape is riddled with canyons that were possibly carved by ancient rivers. And, perhaps long ago, a robust atmosphere protected the surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The planet was never lush — far from it — but it may have been hospitable enough to give life a tiny foothold. And as more and more strange microbes are discovered on Earth, such as extremophiles that live inside basalt, the possibility that a few hardy microbes called Mars home becomes more plausible.
The trick is finding the microscopic mess they left behind, and this involves an ever-narrowing search for life’s calling cards. A good start is water, the bath in which biochemical reactions occur. Manga and Dietrich will study the evolution of the Martian hydrosphere. Did magma-melted ice unleash rivers? And is water trapped in the soil today? Solving these puzzles could reveal regions most likely to yield life.
The early Martian atmosphere poses other questions. In her lab, Boering will investigate whether a sun-induced chemical haze ever shielded the surface from ultraviolet radiation. This same haze could have also regulated Mars’ surface temperature, providing still more clues as to the conditions faced by microscopic Martians.
The team will also study several sites in the cold desert that straddles the Oregon-Idaho border. Some sites were chosen because they mirror the Martian topography. The sinuous Box Canyon, which drains into Idaho’s Snake River, is a dead ringer for Mars’ channels of the Nirgal Valles. Did the same groundwater-driven erosion that created Box Canyon also create its Martian twin? And if so, did this water support life?
Other sites were chosen because they host microbial ecosystems that could also live on Mars. A mine in California’s Iron Mountain boasts a flourishing population sustained not by photosynthesis but by sulfur and iron oxidation — common elements in Martian geology.
In addition to zeroing in on where to look, they’ll also determine what to look for. Isotopic changes are one such biosignature. Unlike inorganic phenomena such as sedimentation and volcanism, organisms change the proportion of certain isotopes when they metabolize energy. A bird’s bones possess more calcium 40 than calcium 48 relative to the calcium in its diet — and if a person eats the bird and uses its calcium to make bone, that person’s calcium is lighter still.
Using mass spectrometry, DePaolo will look for this fractionation in a slew of Martian meteors housed at the Johnson Space Center and museums. He’ll also learn how extremophiles here on Earth leave behind fractionated isotopes, an inquiry that could someday help detect the remnants of microbial life in Martian rocks.
“If we see fractionation in Martian meteors or rocks, it would be difficult to explain without biological activity,” DePaolo says.
To pinpoint other types of biosignatures, Banfield will investigate how mineral surfaces change when exposed to biologically produced compounds. She’ll also characterize how entire microbial communities, not just individual organisms, leave telltale mineralogical and isotopic records.
The team will also test ways to detect these biosignatures using remotely operated sensors, an initiative that could lead to the development of robots that roam Mars and hunt for signs of life.
“We need to determine how robots can conduct biogeochemical measurements in the field, and what they should search for,” Banfield says.
“Our work will hopefully inform a future mission,” adds
DePaolo. “We’ll take what we know about robotics, the
Earth’s hydrology, planetary formation, and Mars in particular
— and narrow the focus concerning where life could have existed.”
From Hockey to Business, McGraw Emphasizes ‘Team’
If David McGraw were a baseball player, he’d be considered a utility infielder, someone who can play many positions equally well to help the team. At Berkeley Lab, he’s been ubiquitous. When he arrived 13 years ago from Apple Computers, he was asked to guide an environmental health and safety program that was about to be slapped with 1,000 findings that had to be corrected (“We cleared every last one of them,” he says proudly) by the DOE’s investigating “Tiger Team.” Over time, EH&S came to be known as the most effectively managed division at Berkeley Lab. “David led a revolution in understanding our perceptions and our responsibilities in EH&S,” says Lab Director Charles Shank.
McGraw developed a safety “scorecard” to let division directors know how they were, or weren’t, doing in their oversight function. He led the Department of Energy’s systemwide implementation of Integrated Safety Management, in which programs are more closely linked to the regulations that guide their work.
When the Lab needed someone to focus its outreach functions into a more effective and strategic direction, Director Shank asked McGraw to assess the needs. He came up with the Public Affairs Department and served as its interim head. And when Deputy Director Sally Benson needed a leader to develop and negotiate a new “best practices” management contract with the Department of Energy and the University of California, she tabbed McGraw.
Now he’s being asked to pull together his skills at program management, consolidation, and business acumen (he was with IBM for seven years after a decade of teaching) as the new division director for Business Services. The View caught up with McGraw this week as he prepared for his latest transition.
THE VIEW: You’ve been the Lab’s “go-to” guy when it comes to solving problems and stabilizing programs. Why do you think you’ve been successful?
MCGRAW: There is no genius to leading people. You get the best and brightest that you can. You look for the proper academic preparation to do the job, and for professionals who believe in excellence. Then make clear what your expectations are, and get out of their way. And if you’re really smart, hire people that are smarter than you.
THE VIEW: As you begin the process of merging programs into the Business Services Division, what are your highest priorities?
MCGRAW: My highest is making sure everybody in the new group gets to know me and then relaxes enough to do their job. Then there are things we need to deliver in the next 30 days, like closing on the PWC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) audit appropriately. Long-term, we need to develop standards and procedures, so that we are doing things that are of strategic importance to the Lab. We’ll only be able to do that if Business Services demonstrates that it deserves to be a strategic partner with the scientific divisions.
THE VIEW: What is your vision for the new division?
MCGRAW: Professionalism and excellence. I want to be able to instill in our people a passion for what they do. There are no entitlements, but together, we’ll create an environment where you’ll go home every day knowing you’ve contributed to one of the greatest basic science institutions in the world. To do that, we have to be accountable to each other.
THE VIEW: You’ve seen Berkeley Lab now from a variety of program perspectives. What makes this place special?
MCGRAW: I’ve thought a lot about that. To me, it’s a collection of people who don’t want to be ordinary. They want to make a difference. People are creative here, and they tend to give more than they get. They have no sense of entitlement. They want to be the best at what they do.
This (Berkeley Lab) has been the most demanding and the most rewarding experience of my life. I actually feel I made a difference here, and anyone who works here should feel the same way.
THE VIEW: When you look back on your years with the EH&S Division, what achievements stand out as solid foundations for your successor?
MCGRAW: I will leave one of the greatest EH&S groups I’ve ever worked with — the qualifications of the people, how dedicated they are to their profession and to the laboratory, people who can execute when asked. There’s also a good management system in place, with everyone’s responsibilities tied to the talents and interests of the staff. But it can’t be more of the same. It’s time for me to leave, and for the division to get new thinking, fresh energy and creativity.
When I first came here (in 1991), there was a pending fine for $250,000,
the group was understaffed for the mission it was called to do, morale
was low and they were not a part of the core mission of the laboratory.
We had some exceptional professionals, but not enough of them. Since
then, we’ve had no environmental fines — in fact, we have
excellent relationships with regulators. That’s a real endorsement
of the professionalism of the staff. The trust factor with the Department
of Energy has gone way up.
MCGRAW: Well, I really had a dream of becoming a professional hockey player and a doctor in college (University of Calgary, Canada). I thought I could do both, but I found out, with 33 hours of science classes a week, I wouldn’t be very good at either. Luckily, I had a wonderful mentor in one of my science classes who encouraged me that graduate school in science was a better path to follow. When I came down to (UC) Berkeley as a visiting scholar (1977-78), I decided I wanted to try to make it in the private sector. So I went to work for IBM in their management program. That set the path for coming here.
THE VIEW: Is there anything you draw from those experiences as a varsity hockey player in college that help you at Berkeley Lab?
MCGRAW: That was 40 years ago. But I still have a bias for people
who played competitive sports. They teach you a lot about excellence,
about failing without giving up, about discipline. And team sports
teach you you’re not number one. If you don’t play your
position, the whole team fails. I try to apply that each day. If I
don’t play well, others fail. Others count on me. It’s
personal accountability that we all need to be successful here.
This time, a journalist teaches, scientists listen
By Dan Krotz
The struggle is almost as old as the printing press: scientists versus journalists, those who seek truth for truth’s sake versus those who seek it to beat a deadline — “us and them,” as National Public Radio science reporter David Kestenbaum succinctly characterized the great divide.
The chasm narrowed a little thanks to a Sept. 24 Nuclear Science Division seminar in which Kestenbaum revealed what goes on inside a journalist’s head and how scientists can better discuss the esoteric nature of their research. He’s uniquely qualified to know.
“I used to be one of you, and now I’m one of them,” said Kestenbaum, a Harvard-trained physicist — whose Ph.D. thesis detailed part of the discovery of the top quark — turned broadcast journalist. He began with something of a mea culpa on behalf of his profession.
“Let me say that journalists sometimes screw up,” Kestenbaum acknowledged to a less-than shocked audience. “Among other things, we get details wrong, and we sometimes overplay stories to get them on the front page.”
So, why, he asked, do we need science reporters? On an overhead projector, he plopped down the cover of Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory — A Clear Explanation that Anyone Can Understand. The inside jacket listed several rave reviews, all heralding the book’s easy-to-comprehend format. Einstein sticks to this claim in the beginning, but by page 32, dense equations appear. It seems that many scientists aren’t as good at explaining their work as they think they are. An interpreter is needed.
And even scientifically trained interpreters like Kestenbaum have trouble untangling science’s jargon. Perhaps knowing he was outnumbered roughly 200 to one in the nearly packed building 50 auditorium, he veiled his criticism as a compliment.
“In short form, you know way too much,” Kestenbaum said. “But you have to explain it in terms that everyone will understand. We constantly struggle to take a complex subject and make it clear.”
Kestenbaum then demystified how journalists work. Every Monday morning he learns what will be published that week in the big journals such as Science, Nature, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He also sifts through “millions” of press releases, most of them un-newsworthy, and many of them from NASA’s public information juggernaut. Once he finds something truly new, with a fresh spin, he interviews all sides of the topic: the proponents, the naysayers, and the holdouts. Even with every angle covered, packaging the scientific process into a two-minute story is never easy.
“The narrative of journalism doesn’t fit the random walk of science,” he said.
He also divulged some of the pitfalls and formulaic clichés journalists fall victim to, such as the lazy habit of always ending articles with a pithy quote. He then concluded with a friendly pointer.
“When you are talking to the press, don’t forget that
physics is magic to some people. There is a lot of great wonder in
it — let them in on some of your secrets.”
By Ron Kolb
Despite a federal budget process that was not completed on time this week, Berkeley Lab’s funding situation for fiscal year 2004 should be “reasonably good,” according to Laboratory Director Charles Shank.
Speaking with employees at the second in a series of executive brown bag conversations on Sept. 19, Shank said the Lab will benefit from a curious economic phenomenon in Washington politics. “When things are going well, the response is to want to cut government,” he said, “and we get squeezed. Now the economy is in a worse place, and Congress wants to pass a budget that gets people back to work again.”
That should translate into an overall Lab budget as good or better than FY03, albeit delayed through continuing resolutions while negotiations conclude.
Shank and Deputy Director for Operations Sally Benson spent the lunch hour answering a variety of questions on issues ranging from the Lab’s management contract with the University, to the difficulties confronted in a new purchasing system, to the impacts of overhead costing on research project competitiveness.
The managers pointed out that Berkeley Lab’s contract with UC, unlike those with Livermore and Los Alamos, is exempted from outside competition for at least five years. Benson said she hoped negotiations with the University and the Department of Energy could proceed “by early October” and conclude with a new best-practices- based contract by month’s end.
Shank was asked about areas most likely to see scientific growth for the Lab, and he responded with two that will have a direct impact on the life sciences, in whose division the meeting was taking place. The DOE’s Genomes-to-Life (GTL) program and the Joint Genome Institute will both build on the established strengths of the division. He also cited the recent arrival of division director Joe Gray as an opportunity “to forge important and meaningful partnerships with UC San Francisco” in the coming years.
Other promising areas for the Lab are nanotechnology and the forthcoming Molecular Foundry, the search for dark energy via a proposed satellite telescope, carbon sequestration, and an upgraded and more powerful Advanced Light Source, Shank said.
“None of these would be possible without the connections of programs, the crossing of fields,” Shank said. “No other institution is like ours, with its array of technologies, its diverse programs, and its mutual interdependence. The future is ours to make with the skills and capabilities we have here. Anything is possible, and we need to position ourselves to compete for anything that comes up.”
He and Benson both stressed the importance of employees letting them know when things don’t work as well as they should. “You have to speak up. If we don’t fix things, then you figure out how to get around [the problems], and I get in trouble,” he laughed. “Let’s get it right. Don’t tolerate things that don’t work.”
The next Brown Bag is Jan. 14 in Building 937.
Ads are accepted only from Berkeley Lab employees, retirees, and onsite DOE personnel. Only items of your own personal property may be offered for sale.
Submissions must include name, affiliation, extension, and home phone. Ads must be submitted in writing (e-mail: fleamarket@ lbl.gov, fax: X6641,) or mailed/delivered to Bldg. 65.
Ads run one issue only unless resubmitted, and are repeated only as space permits.
The deadline for the Oct. 17 issue is Thursday, Oct. 9.
By Paul Preuss
Alan Alda and the crew of Scientific American Frontiers, PBS’s popular science documentary series, spent last Thursday at Berkeley Lab learning about the search for supernovae and the quest to understand dark energy.
Most of the taping tracked an intense, hours-long conversation between
Alda and Saul Perlmutter, leader of the Super-nova Cosmology Project
— an exchange of ideas that continued on and off camera, straight
through lunch at the Lab’s cafeteria.
Alda also talked with Greg Aldering and Michael Wood-Vasey about searching for supernovae and with Gerson Goldhaber about astronomical standard candles. The crew filmed a roomful of undergraduate supernova scanners (plus some youthful stand-ins) and paid a visit to the newly established SNAP office, where engineer Robin Lafever was at work on satellite designs.
Delighted by their warm reception, the crew regretted being unable
to videotape everything prepared for them. Of the more than four hours
they did tape, what doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor
will be on PBS next spring.
By Jon Bashor
William E. “Bill,” Johnston, a Berkeley Lab senior scientist
who has worked in the fields of networking and high-speed distributed
computing since the creation of the Internet, was appointed this week
as project manager for the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet).
to this position. His experience in high-performance networking research and his worldwide recognition as a leader in grid development uniquely qualify him to lead ESnet, said Associate Laboratory Director Bill McCurdy. Johnston most recently served as head of the Distributed Systems Department in the Computational Research Division and has also served as a task manager for data and grid service projects at NASA Ames Research Center. He has been a leader in the development of DOE’s Science Grid as well as NASA’s Information Power Grid.
“Reliable, highly capable, and very high-speed networking is at the heart of today’s data and information-centric process of science, and ESnet is the country’s premier network dedicated to the practice of large-scale science,” Johnston said. “I look forward with enthusiasm to working with the excellent ESnet staff. Together we will continue leading the way in making networking serve science, and in creating new scientific capabilities from advanced networking and network related services.”
Jeffrey Fernandez knows what he wants to accomplish in his brief role as Interim Chief Financial Officer at Berkeley Lab: a blueprint for the financial department and operations of the future.
“We’re going to do an analysis of the current state of the organization and the business processes, and identify areas where we may need some assistance and some process and systems changes,” said Fernandez this week, soon after settling into his temporary office in Building 937. “I want to have the path forward in place.”
He was asked to leave his post as Deputy CFO at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, where he has worked in various financial management capacities since 1983, to help get Berkeley Lab’s financial house in order. His commitment is three to four months.
“Near-term, I want to conduct basic operational things, to close out the year and to get budgets established for FY04, and to respond to the immediate audits and reviews,” he said. After that, Fernandez said he wants to spend time “getting to know the people and the strengths of the organization and the areas where current staff feel they need additional help.” He called them “dedicated, understaffed, and working very hard under very difficult conditions.” He will have an interim organization in place by Oct. 20.
Areas that Fernandez said present significant challenges are the physical separation of the central financial operation from laboratory programs -— a lack of integration that the new Business Services Division is designed to help -— and the need to update and augment procedures and processes and develop a financial training program for all Lab financial professionals.
Of the similarities he finds between the staffs at Livermore and Berkeley,
one stands out -— “the passion of the people in the organizations
are similar. In the few days I’ve been here, I’ve been
impressed with the professional dedication, the hard work, and the
general concern for the mission of the lab. It hit me immediately.”