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Sharp Minds

Explore Exciting Topics With Local Scientists and Researchers

Sharp Minds Lecture Series  

Start the month the smart way, by attending a Sharp Minds lecture at the Fleet Science Center. At Sharp Minds, you’ll hear from local scientists about their latest research and discoveries in a friendly, inviting environment. These lectures address hot topics on the first Monday of every month and are held in the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater. Lecture is free with a general admission ticket or a Senior Monday ticket.


December 5

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Into America's Wild

Topic: Race, Ancestry and Genetics: From the Clinic to the Crime Scene

Recent developments in genomics have catalyzed the exploration of our DNA at unprecedented scales, as we determine what, if anything, genetics can tell us about ourselves and our past. But like many threshold technologies, the power of the genome evokes both our deepest hopes and most profound anxieties, at personal and societal levels. This session will explore ethical concerns surrounding using genomes and data for predicting ancestry and identifying family relations. We will draw on examples from law enforcement and how individuals process personal experiences with commercial ancestry tests, to engage participants in conversations around questions of identity, equity, privacy, benefits and risks.



Caryn Kseniya Rubanovich | Doctoral Candidate,  SDSU/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology
Rubanovich is a doctoral candidate in the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. Her research focuses on the ethical, legal, and social implications of emerging technologies in clinical care, as well as the societal-level impact of technology. She earned her master’s degree in narrative medicine from Columbia University, and her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. In her free time, she might be trying out a new recipe, treasuring that first sip of coffee, or tweeting on @MedEmpathy, a handle she founded aimed at “connecting clinicians, patients & caregivers, one story at a time.”


Ramya Rajagopalan, Ph.D. | Associate Director, Training, Evaluation, and Qualitative Research a the Center for Empathy and Technology at the University of San Diego
Rajagopalan holds a doctorate in genetics from MIT and has more than 12 years of experience conducting conceptual and applied research in genome ethics. She is an expert in bioethics and has examined the intersections of genomics and social categories of identity, the emergence of precision medicine and the role of omics and big data in clinical diagnosis and treatment, and the dynamics of interdisciplinary collaboration in the life sciences. Some of her current projects investigate ethical issues in genome editing and gene drive, and the impact of emerging tools in precision medicine on medical research and health care practices.

January 2

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Antarctica

Topic: Past, Present, and Future of AI 

Artificial intelligence (AI) started with Alan Turing. He proposed the “Imitation Game,” otherwise known as the “Turing Test,” which postulated that the intelligence of a machine is equivalent to that of a human when humans cannot tell if they are conversing with a machine or another human. Where are we now with AI innovation in both language and art? How can the future of AI augment human cognition and creativity? 


Sharon Zhang | CTO, Cofounder Personal.ai 
As CTO and cofounder of Personal.ai, Zhang (she/hers) is building a digital version of the human mind as your own personal AI. She began her journey in AI over 15 years ago in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT focusing on clinical decision-making. She has since worked to advance the lives of humans and applied deep tech across healthcare, finance, enterprise and consumer sectors. Zhang holds more than eight patents in AI for multilingual natural language processing and memory data retention and recall. She is a member of the MIT San Diego Board and is an advocate for women and diversity in STEM and AI.


February 6

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Everest

Topic: South African Middle Stone Age Archaeology

This talk gives a broad overview of the South African landscape during the Middle Stone Age. We will explore the techniques archaeologists use to assess ancient ecology and weather patterns, look at evidence of human dietary and hunting patterns, and delve into how ancient hunting impacted megafaunal populations (looking at the case study of the giant buffalo). The audience will be introduced to computer simulation modelling and will get a chance to use the model to test their own hypotheses about human hunting, weather, and megafaunal extinction.


Miriam Kopels, MA | Bio Anthropologist at SDSU
Kopels is a biocultural anthropologist and lecturer at San Diego State University. She is interested in all aspects of human health and subsistence (from ancient to modern) and is a part of diverse research projects ranging from modern food insecurity to ancient hunting and animal extinction events. 

March 6

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Turtle Odyssey

Topic: Using New Technologies to Combat an Ancient Plague

Why is tuberculosis, such an ancient disease, still with us?  In the past two decades, scientists have made extraordinary progress toward ending the global tuberculosis pandemic, but like many other things, COVID-19 reversed these gains, putting goals to end TB by 2030 seemingly out of reach. How can we regain momentum? We can think about adapting COVID diagnostic innovations for tuberculosis screening and diagnosis worldwide.


Sophia Georghiou, M.S., Ph.Dd | Molecular Epidemiologist
Georghiou is a molecular epidemiologist who holds a master’s degree in molecular biology from San Diego State University and a doctorate in global the University of California, San Diego. She is a senior scientist at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), a World Health Organization collaborating center for laboratory strengthening and diagnostic technology evaluation. She joined the tuberculosis program at FIND in 2016 and her work has informed WHO review and global guideline development group meetings, as well as technical documents for the use and implementation of tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis diagnostics.

April 3

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: National Parks Adventure

Topic: Gene Therapy in the Age of CRISPR

Rather than taking a pill every day for the rest of your life, what if you could get a single injection that would cure your disease forever. This is the promise of CRISPR gene therapy. In this talk, Mammoth Biosciences bioinformatician Julia Nussbacher, Ph.D., will explain what CRISPR is and how scientists are hoping it can fundamentally change how we treat genetic diseases. 


Julia Nussbacher, Ph.D. | Bioinformatician, Mammoth Biosciences
Nussbacher is a California native who earned her bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from Brown University, her doctorate in biomedical science from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and completed post-doctoral work at The Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation. She has worked for six different biotech companies in the Bay Area and San Diego and is currently a bioinformatician at Mammoth Biosciences in San Francisco, where she helps identify the efficacy and specificity of novel CRISPR proteins to treat disease.

May 1

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Great Bear Rainforest

Topic: Blue Carbon Ecosystems: A Natural Climate Solution

In this presentation, WILDCOAST will discuss the importance of wetlands as a natural climate solution and how the nonprofit environmental organization is restoring, researching, and encouraging policy to conserve these ecosystems. For example, blue carbon is carbon removed from the atmosphere through photosynthesizing plants and algae in coastal and marine ecosystems, such as coastal wetlands. When wetland plants die, they become buried and decompose at a much slower rate than terrestrial ecosystems do, resulting in the carbon they have sequestered being stored for hundreds or even thousands of years. In addition to removing and storing atmospheric carbon, coastal wetlands buffer coastlines from flooding, improve water quality through natural filtration, and increase biodiversity. 


Angela Kemsley | Conservation Director, WILDCOAST 
Kemsley is the conservation director of WILDCOAST. She manages WILDCOAST's natural climate solutions program in California, leading blue carbon ecosystem restoration, carbon sequestration studies, and climate action planning.  


Mary Liesegang | Blue Carbon Conservation Manager, WILDCOAST
Liesegang is WILDCOAST’s blue carbon conservation manager. She manages wetland restoration, climate action planning, and blue carbon research projects. 

June 5

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

Noon Documentary: Dream Big

Topic: Tumor Immunology - How Studying Immune-Tumor Cell Interactions Can Lead to Novel Therapies

In 2018, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for pioneering work that laid the foundation for cancer immunotherapy. And indeed, in the past decade, immunotherapy has given researchers, clinicians, and patients new hope in the fight against cancer. But what does it mean exactly, immunotherapy? And why is this not (yet) a universal remedy for all cancer types? Tanja Eisemann, Ph.D., will give insight into the field of tumor immunology that will explain the mechanism, power and challenges of immunotherapy in cancer.


Tanja Eisemann, Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Researcher at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute
Eisemann is a cancer biologist who is specialized in brain tumor biology and tumor immunology. She is originally from Germany, where she graduated from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. At the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Eisemann is exploring approaches to enhance the patient’s own immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells.

July 3

NO lecture and movie in observance of the July 4 Holiday

August 7

10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Lecture

12 noon show: A Beautiful Planet

Topic: TBA, Speaker: Michael Frazier, Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego


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