55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

Please note: The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 10/24 (final entry at 2:00 pm). We apologize for any inconvenience.

There are no notifications at this time.

Chief Penguin
Musings from the Academy’s Global Ambassador

October 25, 2012

Thomas Jefferson, Patriot and Science Advocate



Thomas Jefferson has long been a hero of mine. Besides all his other pursuits, he was a man of science. If you visit the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, America’s first natural history institution, you can see some of the bones that he collected in his role as citizen paleontologist. Here is a piece from Archiving Early America which describes Jefferson’s life as an amateur scientist. As he wrote to Dupont de Nemours, “Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight.”

And here’s a blog post on Scientific American about Jefferson’s connection to citizen science:

That’s it for this week. The maples in Golden Gate Park are aflame with autumn’s colors. Roadside farm stands groan with bushels of apples and fresh pumpkins. There’s a chill in the air with flurries of snow to follow soon. Fall is here in all its pageantry.

Oops, wrong coast. Outside it’s sunny and green, and the air is delightful. No apples, however.

Filed under: Uncategorized — gfarrington @ 4:23 pm

October 18, 2012

The Great Shakeout

Did you participate in the Great Shakeout earthquake drill today? We did.

Filed under: Uncategorized — gfarrington @ 4:31 pm

October 12, 2012

Annual Fellows Gathering at the Academy


David Wake

Nearly 200 Academy Fellows and their guests attended the annual meeting and dinner held on October 9. Academy Fellows comprise a governing group of distinguished scientists who have made notable contributions to the natural sciences.

The evening included a talk entitled, “Crisis Biology: Can we control a deadly infectious amphibian disease before it is too late?” by Vance Vredenburg of San Francisco State University. Tweet summary? It’s a risky time to be a frog. If you are a frog, choose a Yosemite pond to hang out in.

During dinner, David B. Wake, Professor Emeritus at Berkeley, was honored with the Fellows Medal. His tribute to his wife Marvalee, who was an earlier winner of the Fellows Medal, was a heartfelt salute to their life-long professional collaboration and 50 years of marriage. From his comments, it would seem that life really works out well sometimes.

George Bell, volunteer diver at the Academy, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award for giving over 1,000 hours each year to the diving program. George was escorted by a duo of divers dressed formally in “drysuits.” Thank you to George and all the other volunteers who help make the Academy work.

Connor Lockridge, who obviously has a career as a new Tom Lehrer, serenaded dinner guests with a tribute to amphibians with ukulele accompaniment. You ain’t never heard nothing like it, that’s for sure. You may never again. But just in case, here’s a link the song: http://thewigglytendrils.bandcamp.com/track/7000-kinds-of-amphibians-a7k

And finally, ten new Academy Fellows were inducted. It’s a great group. Click here to see their bios.

Filed under: Uncategorized — gfarrington @ 1:02 pm

October 4, 2012

A Very Different World


Some recent news got me thinking about the National Science Foundation, and the great success that federal funding of research has enjoyed during the post-World War II period. The world we live in today would be very different if research funding had been left to private corporations over the past six decades. “Very different” does not mean better. Rather, we would likely be much less advanced in our science, health care, technology, innovation, wealth creation, and strength as a nation. To my mind, NSF research is one of our nation’s most powerful and effective investments. It’s really inexpensive on a cost-benefit basis. We underfund the NSF to our future peril.

How did the NSF come into being? It happened after World War II. Major advances in science and technology were made during World War II because the federal government actively sponsored a wide variety of research and technology development projects. There really was no alternative. After all, it was wartime. But the science and technology that were developed didn’t just help win the war; they transformed the peace that followed and catalyzed the age of science and technology that we live in today.

After the war, the National Science Foundation was set up to continue and expand government funding for research, and ensure that the projects supported would be awarded on the basis of merit and not politics. Advanced research funding has proven to be one of the smartest investments our country has made. If we were to get out of the business of funding research, or to dramatically decrease it, we would be making one of the dumbest choices this country could make. We would be surrendering our future economy and national strength to other countries.

Lest you have any doubt, much of the post-war explosion of medical advances, scientific understanding, and high-tech industry—and the jobs, wealth, and health they have generated—has grown out of research funded by the NSF and its sister federal agencies like the NIH, DARPA, and a variety of others. Even if the titles of individual grants are incomprehensible to many, they mean a lot to people who know the subjects and why they are important to the advancement of science. Federally funded research has built much of the world we enjoy today. If funding had been left to private sources, progress would have been much slower.

As just one example, think about Wall Street and the modern financial industry it represents. The financial industry is based on high-speed computers. Computers are based on electronics. Electronics is based on a fundamental understanding of the solid state. Understanding solid state conduction involves explanations like, “Extra holes in the band gap allow excitation of valence band electrons, leaving mobile holes in the valence band.” That’s gobbledy-gook to most people. To physicists and electrical engineers, however, it’s really important and as natural as saying that rain falls down and not up. I used to teach this material to sophomores at the University of Pennsylvania, and the phenomenon it describes lies at the heart of the Macintosh on which I am typing, my iPhone, the Internet, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. As Yul Brenner, that great King of Siam, said many times, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

Fortunately, during the post-war period, successive U.S. administrations at the national and state levels have continued to make major government investments in education and advanced research. They have had the good sense to understand the utterly vital importance of education and science. One result has been the growth of our great universities, both public and private, along with dozens of major research laboratories, such as Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia Labs, and many more. These engines of education, innovation, and human liberation have produced the educated individuals and basic knowledge from which Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, and thousands of other wealth- and job-generating companies have sprung. American higher education also has been a beacon to the world, a magnet that has attracted some of the finest minds to become immigrants to our shores. As a result, the U.S. has led the world in education and research, and thus in job and wealth creation.

Success has come from the national community, the social fabric, the investment of governments, and the power of individual creativity, drive, and initiative. Success has not been simply the product of so-called rugged individuals living on real or virtual islands. If scientific research had been restricted to commercial laboratories, and the results had been kept secret, our technological and economic development would have been much slower. Scientists at different institutions would have had to “invent the wheel” over and over again, instead of learning what others had done from research—research that was funded by society and published openly for everyone’s benefit.

By the way, continued American leadership in the future is not guaranteed. It will depend on whether we remain competitive. We don’t have a world monopoly on education and research. Other countries know the secrets of success. Some are trying very hard to catch up with us. They are smart. Make no mistake. We have to compete harder and harder. Hello Red Queen.

Filed under: Uncategorized — gfarrington @ 3:22 pm

Academy Blogroll