By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Web Master STEPHEN NAFTILAN, Ph.D., professor of physics at the Joint Science Center of the Claremont Colleges, researching stellar astrophysics, star formation and spider web construction
"The colleges are very liberal in what they'll let you do. I can head off in bizarre directions. I've taught classes in postmodernism. I team-taught a course in extraterrestial biology.
"I'm working on two projects right now. In astronomy I'm looking at the abundance of three elements -- lithium, beryllium and boron -- in the atmospheres of certain stars. All of the stars I'm looking at have planets. And I'm curious about how the planet affects the early evolution of the star. The reason I'm looking at those three elements is that each of those elements is destroyed by high but different temperatures. So by looking at the abundance pattern, we can tell something about the circulation patterns in the upper atmosphere of the star and get an idea about how those are being affected by the presence of the planet.
"As for the spider stuff . . . I'm looking at spider webs. Spiders obtain information about what's going on in their web through the vibrations that are transmitted through the web when prey -- a fly, say -- gets caught in the web. I'm interested in questions of discrimination -- how does the spider know what it's caught? Is it a fly, which is dinner, or is it a big bee, which is a potential danger? Or even a stick, which is not worth going after? The spider clearly knows.
"The other problem I'm working on is orientation. The spider doesn't just randomly run around the web; it runs right to the prey. But spiders have terrible vision. In fact, you can put patches over their eyes so they can't see and they can still catch the prey. They're doing it by vibrations. I'm curious to know, what is the mechanism? Different amplitudes? If the prey is more to the right, are there stronger vibrations coming from the right as opposed to the left? Or is it a time-delay factor? Will they get the vibrations from the right first and then a millisecond later get it from the left?
"So that I can answer some of these questions, I've built fake insects with devices that mimic the vibrations that insects produce. It's quite humorous to see a spider attack a big metal stick. It comes running up and embraces it and acts like it's going to bite it, then it's like, 'What's this?'
"I should add that my spiders are well-fed. They're very resilient."
"I grew up on Lake Huron, and I've had an interaction with water all of my life. But here in California, all of the uses that we make of the ocean collide in more dramatic ways than anywhere else in the United States, and maybe the world. We've got 80 percent of the large population living within 50 miles of the coast, we've destroyed 90 percent of our wetlands, we've diverted the fresh water away from the coast to turn the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley into agricultural areas -- they used to be deserts.
"The challenge now: Can we figure out ways to live in harmony with our environment and with each other? It's a perfect laboratory for an aquarium like this one [in Long Beach]. These are wonderful institutions. They're called free-choice learning institutions. You choose what you're going to look at and what you're going to learn. Science is beautiful and fun. It's not something we have to overcome. When you're a scientist working within your discipline, you write for your peers. And now, when I write a paper or give a talk, I'm writing for the public.
"People in Southern California are less averse to taking risks than they are in New England. Scientists are, by nature, risk takers within their own fields, because if you don't take risks you make only incremental advances in understanding. It's kind of a big stage out here. If we can choreograph the play in an interesting way, then we can become a model for other parts of the country and other parts of the world."
Quake Tracker DONALD ARGUS, Ph.D., geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, specializing in satellite geodesy to pinpoint and predict earthquakes
"I apply NASA technology to outstanding geoscience problems. You have a GPS [Global Positioning System] in the car that tells you where you are to about a hundred meters. We bring that data back and we figure out [our] position to about 10 millimeters. And then we use that to watch the earth move, to watch the plates move, and to monitor the strain building up across Los Angeles.
"I'm perfectly comfortable living here. My building is on a fault. [There was] a magnitude 6.5 quake there 3,000 years ago. It's okay unless an earthquake ruptures right underneath it. We found that where the squeezing is the fastest is in the northern part of metropolitan Los Angeles, between the Santa Monica Mountains, Beverly Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains. The Valley is bad. Pasadena is right in the contractions. Venice is fine. But that's [based on] sort of an average over the next thousand years.