We visited the Salk Institute, a world-renowned biological research center that was founded in 1960 by polio-vaccine inventor Jonas Salk and is home to multiple Nobel winners. The stunning campus, which overlooks the Pacific in La Jolla, was designed by architect Louis Kahn, whose strange personal story (he kept three separate families, with a wife and two mistresses) you may recall from the movie My Architect. Pamelia, by the way, has had the privilege of meeting and talking with Jonas Salk’s widow, the painter Francoise Gilot (who also was married to Pablo Picasso) on several occasions in New York.
As you know if you follow The Naturalist’s Notebook’s Facebook page, Pamelia and I are in California meeting with top scientists, naturalists and creative artists for Notebook installations and collaborations. We aren’t even halfway through the trip yet but have already had so many great meetings with so many smart, inventive people that our brains are whirring nonstop. You’ll be learning more about all of these collaborators (and ones we’re scheduled to see in the days ahead) at the Notebook this year, and also on Facebook and the blog.
We began our trip in San Diego, and not because of the sunny, 70-degree weather. Though its climate gets most of the attention, San Diego should be better known as one of the world’s leading centers of scientific research and innovation, especially in biotechnology. We are lucky enough to be friends with Gary Robbins, who covers science, technology and defense for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and he has opened doors for us at some of the top institutions in the area. (Those of you who were in Maine last summer may have seen Gary’s engaging talk at the Asticou Inn as part of the MDI Biological Lab’s Science Cafe lecture series.) We’ve seen researchers working with unimaginably small subatomic particles and mind-bogglingly sensitive superconductor sensors and talked with an astrophysicist who’s studying the overwhelming vastness of the universe and and its origins 13.7 billion years ago. We’ve delved into oceanography, moon missions, primate research and even how the digital revolution is affecting how children learn.
Oh, yeah, and we’ve gone to the beach and explored tide pools and stared at the ocean. It’s essential, I think, when you’re on the California coast to regularly study how the sun sets.
I’ll get back soon to our ongoing science-stories-of-the-year countdown, the latest news on our 13.7-billion-year interactive timeline installation at a school in Connecticut, the Puzzler quizzes, and other blog features, but for now, here’s a peek at some of what we’ve been seeing and doing. Our next stop will be Berkeley.
After a great meeting at the San Diego Zoo with bonobo researcher Debbie Sandler, we stopped to see the capuchin monkeys. Thanks to Gary for this shot, which captures the spirited attitude the capuchins were displaying. Whenever I see a capuchin I can’t help but think of the movie Night at the Museum, in which one gleefully torments Ben Stiller.
This, if you didn’t know, is a bonobo (pronounced buh-NO-bo). We spent more than an hour with Debbie Sandler and two San Diego Zoo staff members studying and discussing bonobos, which genetically are humans’ closest relatives, with almost a 99 percent DNA match. (Perhaps you’ve seen a few humans demonstrating this particular bonobo behavior?) These fascinating animals are, of course, endangered; there may be fewer than 10,000 left in the wild. Past Notebook visitors may recall that we have a museum cast of a bonobo skeleton; you’ll be able to study it this summer in Seal Harbor while learning more about bonobos, other primates and Debbie’s work.
Pioneering research oceanographer Jules Jaffe of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has invented all sorts of devices for studying the seas, including cameras that photograph the most minute life forms. This is a picture of some of Jules’s extraordinary zooplankton photos. Jules also helped design the optical system used to locate the Titanic.
At the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where we met with education director (and author and space-program expert) Francis French, we saw the command module from the Apollo 9 space mission, which circled the Earth for 10 days in 1969 in a test run that set the stage for the first Moon landing, four months later.
Sculptor Tim Hawkinson used eight uncarved granite boulders to create this more than 20-foot-tall, 180-ton stone teddy bear on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. Just FYI, UCSD sports teams are known as the Tritons, not the Teddy Bears.
The UCSD’s Geisel Library is named after Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who spent much of his adult life in La Jolla and is honored out front with this statue.
A pelican joined us in watching a boogie boarder ride the waves at Windansea Beach in La Jolla (just a few blocks from Mitt Romney’s California home, by the way). Again, thanks to Gary for this shot.
We also saw ospreys—that is, Osprey tiltorotor aircraft, which are a hybrid between a helicopter and an airplane and served as a reminder to us that San Diego is also one of the U.S.’s biggest Navy and Marine hubs.
No, that’s not Dorothy’s house atop the engineering building at UC San Diego. As mentioned on Facebook, it’s an art installation by Do Ho Suh called Fallen Star. Here’s a view of it from the office of one of the people with whom we met, Seth Lerer, the dean of arts and humanities and distinguished literature professor at UCSD (and also superb writer and expert on digital literacy).
We went inside the crooked-house artwork, where standing up straight isn’t easy. I actually felt queasy after a few minutes.
This sculpture of a breaching gray whale outside the Birch Aquarium echoed the real gray whales currently offshore here.
Astrophysicist Brian Keating showed us some of the sensors his group uses to detect cosmic microwave background radiation that is just now reaching us from the Big Bang, 13. 7 billion years ago. Brian does a lot of his work using a telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is one of the world’s best astronomical observation sites and also happens to be the driest place on the planet.
We were mesmerized by the beauty of the flamingos at the zoo.
Gary took us to Mister A’s, a rooftop restaurant from which you can see the entire city and watch airliners come in surprisingly close to downtown. With all the air bases around (including the one made famous in the movie Top Gun), the roar of jets is a recurring note in the San Diego soundtrack.
That’s Gary on the right, during a tide-pooling trip. Next time I’ll show you some of the cool geology we saw along the shore cliffs. Talk to you soon from Berkeley!