FooCampSunday

Sunday at camp was a little less intense.  In part I was tired from a fun late night drinking and discussion with many folks so I kind of zoned out in the first morning session.  I also was preparing to give a presentation on genes and evolution along with another postdoc (Angela) at Berkeley talking about cis-regulatory evolution and 3-D images of drosophila development (which is SO much cooler than my stuff…).

I also went to a session on teaching children basic scientific principals through comics with instructions on how to build things.  The HOWTOONS comics are definitely the coolest way to teach science and I wish this was required for all elementary science classes.  I was really blown away by this.  Some other pictures from the books showing how to make ice cream.

The day wrapped up with debrief of how to improve scifoo camp.  Some people wanted more time in sessions – others wanted a longer meeting that went to Sunday night.  I would vote for more diversity as well – there seemed to be an awful lot of white males there (myself included) and I think it doesn’t represent the breadth of interesting scientific discourse if those are the majority of the people coming to the table to discuss.  I also think some more controversial discussions took place about innovation, science, and commercialization of it through patents and copyright.  Most of the people there agreed that the patent system is hurting biotech – what about someone who didn’t agree arguing the counter-point (or would they feel attacked the whole time by virtue of being in the minority)?  One person suggested there need to be more arguments and I think that would help and maybe distinguish this more from a scientific meeting where people present their work and there is not much challenging of it (depending on the meeting I guess).

At any rate, I found it to be a very interesting collection of people that I would have otherwise not met, and I definitely enjoyed the discussions and a chance to communicate some of my work to non-biologists.

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FooCampSaturday

Well a thoroughly full day was had. I heard talks from “Radicalizing science” to engineering structures with DNA to smallpox erradication and google.org‘s mission. There was a lot going on that I am not sure I have absorbed it all.

The campus/venue is really amazing and well suited for this sort of collaborative meeting. Many breakout rooms and corners for people to get into deep discussion. The only problem seems to be making enough time to really meet people – mealtime seems to work great for that since you can try and randomly sit down with whoever.

Synthetic biology definitely seems to be the rage – can we engineer small cellular machines either as minimal organisms with just the pathways we want?

I have to say, putting together a conference like this takes faith in the people you invite and that people will really embrace a certain chaos in it and start building connections with people they don’t know. I found I gravitate towards the biologists, but am learning a lot from the specialities as well.

Other thoughts/observations

Biology has been called both a soft and hard science here which I find interesting. Physics and Chemistry are considered hard sciences while Biology is soft due to its imprecision. Is it the advent of massive amounts of digital data that makes it hard now (which still has uncertainty in it)? I am re-reading James Glieck’s “Chaos: making of a new science” and am reminded about how imprecise much of our predictions can be – if you understand that there is chaos operating in dynamical living systems does that make studying even more of a hard (to do) science?

At Science Camp

SciFooLogo I’m at Science Foo camp this weekend hosted at Google (so I get to see the googleplex).

It is apparently not universally revered because it is an invite only event. I feel lucky for the chance to interact with some interesting people. Certainly different from any other conference I’ve been to. The participant list is private so maybe to give people freedom to say what they want?

My concern about the format is that science is so broad. Will we have enough in common to have discussions? Will we spend all the time explaining what we do but never getting to a higher level of discussion – or never discuss? So far I seem to be gravitating towards the other biologists since I know them, but maybe that will change. It seems like most people are either computationally saavy or are working with large datasets from earth science to genomics to biology. There are several science writers and SciFiction writers as well which I find very interesting – I guess where else do you get cutting edge material. So who did Gibson talk to before Neuromancer – I wonder?