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Berkeley Lab open house draws in curious crowds

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Entertainers on stilts at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs amuse visitors.


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OCTOBER 15, 2011

A mad scientist on stilts was spotted Saturday morning roaming between the booths at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s annual open house to answer questions from the community.

The Berkeley Lab hosted its annual open house Cirque des Sciences on Saturday, where scientists and researchers from the lab displayed their research on topics as varied as nanotechnology and the carbon cycle in the ocean at booths, answering questions from the throngs of curious visitors.

“This event is to inform the public of all the great science done here and to get young people excited about science,” said Eric Norman, a physicist in the lab’s Nuclear Science Division and a professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley.

Researchers at the sustainable energy technologies booth answered questions from a group of energetic children about electricity vampires — electronics that continue to use energy even while not in use.

“Electricity vampires are powers that suck up electricity when they’re not being used, and they have two little fangs, like phone chargers,” said Leo Rainer, a scientist in the lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

The goal of the division is to create intelligent electronics that do not waste as much energy, he added.

Hans Johansen, an employee at the lab, said he always brings his daughter to the open house as a way to get her enthusiastic about science.

“(The open house) is to inspire people to pursue a career in science,” said Andrew Bower, a UC Berkeley junior and intern at the lab.

The public was free to wander through the Advanced Light Source  — a synchrotron that generates bright beams of x-rays for scientific research — that was a popular attraction.

“At the light source we look into frontier problems” said Eli Rotenberg, a researcher at the source.

By placing samples of a protein in front of an x-ray beam, researchers at the lab are able to use the light source to display the exact shape and structure of proteins.

“We can find out the shape of a virus and other diseases in order to cure them,” said Leif Steinhour, a scientific engineer at the lab’s Berkeley Center for Structural Biology.

The researchers were keen to answer the questions from the public.

“This is the first time I’ve done an open house and I really enjoy meeting the public because they’re excited to know what we’re doing,” Rainer said.



Contact Sybil Lewis at 


OCTOBER 16, 2011