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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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May 25, 2023

UW Engage Science sees a future where every graduate student has access to science communication training, and therefore good science communication becomes the norm. The outcome is an increased public trust and positive attitude toward science, ultimately strengthening the connection between the public and scientists. Join us for a look at the forefront of research in our region and meet the students who are leading the latest wave of scientific discovery.

Megan Gialluca: Using water to aid the search for life in the universe

At present, we are closer than ever to answering the age-old question: “Are we alone in the universe?” For the first time, new and upcoming telescopes will have the capability to search for the signs of alien life on planets in other solar systems (termed exoplanets). From plants to technology to oxygen, there are lots of things that could tell us alien life is living on a planet, but searching for these clues is challenging. During this talk, you will learn about the signs of alien life scientists search for, the methods they are using to do it, and the challenges they face along the way.

Megan Gialluca studies massive water loss on planets in other solar systems (termed exoplanets). This process can turn a potentially habitable planet, like Earth, into a burning hot, waterless environment, like Venus. Understanding whether or not a planet has undergone this process informs scientists on where to search for alien life in the universe, and what the clues we should look for are.

Abi Elerding: The science of motivation and the function of dopamine in the human brain

Dopamine is critical for many brain functions; it aids in our movement, motivates us to pursue our goals, and reinforces our inclination to pursue life’s many pleasures. Proper regulation of dopamine is essential since abnormalities in dopamine activity can contribute to the development of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, schizophrenia, and substance-use disorder. GABA is a brain chemical that acts as a natural brake on the activity of dopamine neurons, helping to regulate their function. Abi Elerding’s research focuses on understanding how GABA interacts with dopamine and its role in motivation and learning. These findings could pave the way for new treatment strategies for disorders associated with abnormal dopamine activity.

Abi Elerding is a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington working to identify and isolate neuronal cell systems that guide behavior in health and disease.

Emma Scalisi: How fishermen’s local knowledge can be used to improve policy

Commercial fisheries are important to people around the world for many reasons, including jobs, food security, and culture. However, with pressures from both fishing and climate change stressors, many fish populations are currently declining. Fortunately, there are many people who care deeply about protecting these resources, including the fishermen who rely on them. This talk includes how and why knowledge from fishermen can help promote sustainable practices within fisheries, along with the difficulties of putting this into practice.

Emma Scalisi is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, where her research examines the relationships between small-scale commercial fishers and fisheries management agencies in Alaska. She wants to know how fish and people can benefit from listening to both scientists and fishermen.