Kelsey Levinson's blog

At the Crossroads of Science and the Humanities

At the State of the Environmental Humanities seminar, distinguished speakers from around the world presented their perspectives and opened the floor to discussion on their recent works-in-progress. Catriona Sandilands addressed the intersection between ecology and politics in “Some F Words for the Environmental Humanities: Feralities, Feminisms, Futurities.” She focused on a strip of land in Canada dubbed The Strip, which was recently transformed from a chemical and garbage dump to a feral landscape straddling the border between artificial urbanity and natural wilderness.

Eleventh Place But Still Man's Best Friend

In Chinese mythology, the order of the zodiac animals was determined by their ranking in a swimming race. The dog was a talented swimmer, but he came in second to last because he was too busy frolicking in the river. Ancestral myth from the Jin Dynasty tells the story of Panhu, the dog of the Chinese sovereign Di Ku. Panhu killed the general of the enemy’s army and brought his head to Di Ku. Di Ku rewarded Panhu with marriage to the emperor’s daughter, and they had many children.

Fermentation, Antibiotics, & Probiotics

During the Open Source Fermentation workshop, I was surprised that the only ingredients necessary for natural fermentation were vegetable and a little bit of salt. I was not expecting to be able to make sauerkraut from scratch without any chemical preservatives or unnatural ingredients. After the first night of fermenting, the juices of my sauerkraut spilled over into the collecting bowl. I have not tasted it yet, but it looks like it is going to be delicious when I try it in a few days.

Bee Protection

The integral nature of bees in our daily lives, demonstrated by “Breakfast without Bees” among others, affirms the delicacy and interconnectedness of nature. My admiration for these tiny yet indispensible creatures was enhanced by Jason Fahrion’s presentation. I did not realize how many facets of agriculture and food production rely on bees for pollination. Because colony collapse disorder continues to threaten the bee population at an alarming rate, current research is becoming ever more critical for their survival.

A Drop in the Bucket

EcoFacts caught my attention as a very practical approach toward slowing environmental degradation. Whether or not we realize it on a daily basis, the severity of California’s drought is detrimental both in terms of agriculture and the people who live here. The water label in particular would help consumers to identify which products take the most water to produce and perhaps encourage the more environmentally conscious shoppers to make choices based on their environmental footprint.

Understanding Plants

Despite lacking brains and neural tissue, plants have elegant electrical systems that allow them to react to their environment. Recently, there has been much compelling research to suggest that plants also possess sophisticated systems of learning and memory. For example, studies have shown that certain plants can participate in classical conditioning by associating a light or heat cue with an unpleasant stimulus such as an electrical shock. In the case of Mimosa pudica, the plant will close and retract its leaves more quickly with each trial.


I admire Kathy High for embracing her condition by using provocative art to bring it into the public eye and educating people about it. The ceramic “samples” that were “preserved” in honey were remarkably realistic. I would have continued to believe that they were real if she hadn’t described her friend’s process of making them for the exhibit. I was also blown away by Kathy’s replicated David Bowie photographs. I like to imagine that when she contacts David Bowie, he will appreciate them as much as we did and offer to participate in a fecal transplant, assuming he is a suitable match.

Foraging & Blood Wars

Our foraging excursion effectively underscored the natural beauty on our campus. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of edible plant species we were able to identify, especially in public spaces right outside of Bunch and Broad. The short nature trail behind Broad was such a treat—I love stumbling upon and exploring less-frequented paths. We transcended “stopping to smell the roses;” instead we stopped to taste the cactus fruit in the succulent garden above Bomb Shelter.

First Impressions of Biotech + Art

Although I didn’t recognize it as such initially, my first introduction to the subject of biotechnology and art was probably the “brainbow” that neuroscience professors often use to showcase the exquisite intricacy of neural networks in the brain. The process of creating a brainbow involves the expression of many brightly colored fluorescent proteins in neurons and imaging them with confocal microscopy. The microscopy process excites the fluorophores in the proteins, causing them to emit a signal that is captured on a red, green, or blue channel.

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