Entries in California Academy of Sciences (11)


Science Today: Whale Strandings

Whales are washing up dead along the northern California coast at an unprecedented rate (about twice the average for this year). What might be the cause?

My colleagues at the California Academy of Sciences have investigated the cause of each whale death and in this Science Today video, you can learn about the suspected causes of these and other animal deaths along the Northern California coastline.

Also, the Science Today mobile app makes it easier than ever to stay up-to-date on the latest science news. Science Today produces original content on a wide range of topics, from Earth, life, and sustainability to space and technology—and now you can enjoy these articles and videos anytime, anywhere.


Biodiversity Academy

Two of my favorite academies—California Academy of Sciences and Khan Academy—have partnered to produce an online series that investigates the amazing diversity of life on this planet. In the short, informative videos, viewers learn what biodiversity is, why it is important, where it is found, how it comes into existence, how you study it, why it is threatened, and how it can be protected.

Why is Biodiversity Important?
Discover why a high diversity of species sustains ecosystems, which in turn provide important services to humans.


  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Ecological interactions
  • Ecological levels: from individuals to ecosystems
  • Ecosystem services
  • Ecosystems and ecological networks
  • Healthy ecosystems

Where is Biodiversity Found?
Explore how life is found almost everywhere on Earth, but is not distributed evenly. And learn why the clumped distributions of species are the result of a wide variety of both natural and human-driven factors.


  • Biodiversity distribution patterns
  • Biodiversity Hotspots
  • Extreme life
  • How biodiversity is distributed globally
  • Tolerance ranges of species
  • Why biodiversity is distributed unevenly

How is Biodiversity Studied?
Delve into the history of humanity’s passion to document and display specimens from the natural world and learn how biodiversity expeditions are conducted today.


  • Biodiversity analyses and uncertainties
  • Biodiversity analyses and unknowns exploration questions
  • Biodiversity Expeditions Past and Present
  • Biodiversity fieldwork
  • Field Methods for Documenting Biodiversity
  • How much biodiversity do we really know?
  • Studying biodiversity in the lab

The tutorial videos are narrated by Dr. Rich Mooi, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, and the series includes a variety of supplementary educational materials, such as activities, case studies, community questions, glossaries, and quizzes.

According to the welcome site:

“We chose biodiversity as the focus of our first course with Khan Academy not only because it is so relevant to our institutional mission, but also because biodiversity is literally the stuff of life. It is the diversity of all the species on this planet, the genetic diversity represented by all the individuals, the ecosystem diversity, and the evolutionary lineages represented by all species, living and fossil. Biodiversity is all around us. It is crucial to the quality of our lives and the lives of all other living organisms, but we actually know very little about who all the players are in this pageantry of life, much less the roles they play and the benefits they can and do provide. We do know, however, that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming and unprecedented rate, driven by our own actions that result in habitat loss, pollution, climate change, overfishing and overhunting, to name a few. But it is not all bad news. We are learning more about biodiversity every day, and tremendous advances have been made in protecting and restoring biodiversity in many areas of the world. This course is designed to tell these exciting, amazing, crucial, and at times troubling stories of the diversity of life.

The course is designed for many audiences, including teachers, students, families, youth leaders, policy makers, and anyone interested in learning more about the diversity of life on our planet. We hope that you will not only learn things from the course, but will also be moved to become even more active stewards of the environment and its precious biodiversity.”

All of the video tutorials are wonderful and I especially enjoy the California Case Study, featuring Dr. Rebecca Johnson, my colleague and mentor who trained me as a Rocky Shore Naturalist.

Check it out!


BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival

The three national park units that make up the Golden Gate National Parks encompass more than 80,000 acres and 91 miles of shoreline along the northern California coast. These parks are home to an amazing array of biodiversity, including over half of the bird species of North America and nearly one-third of California’s plant species!

To better understand, appreciate, and protect this natural treasure, the National Park ServiceNational GeographicGolden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust are teaming up to host a 24-hour BioBlitz species count and two-day Biodiversity Festival, Friday-Saturday, March 28-29, 2014.


BioBlitz 2014 will take place in several national parks, including Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and locations in Golden Gate National Recreation Area including the Giacomini wetlands, Muir BeachMarin Headlands, Crissy Field, Presidio, Mori Point, and Rancho Corral de Tierra.

The event will take place Friday-Saturday, March 28-29, 2014 and will bring together more than 300 leading scientists and naturalists from around the country, thousands of local community members of all ages, and more than 2,000 students from across the Bay Area.

Throughout March, BioBlitz collaborating organizations such as the Institute at the Golden Gate, California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, the American Cetacean Society, Marine Mammal Center, and Slide Ranch are hosting several BioBlitz-related events

Biodiversity Festival

The FREE Biodiversity Festival will take place at Crissy Field’s East Beach in the San Francisco Presidio, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, March 28, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 29. The festival features science demonstrations and exhibits, live animals, hands-on activities provided by prominent science and environmental organizations, National Geographic-led photography workshops, food, entertainment, and art. Explorers of all ages can enjoy the festival and “graduate” from Biodiversity University by participating in a variety of activities.

All festival events are free and open to the public, and no registration is required.

Download the event schedule to learn more.

Update! I graduated with a Doctorate of Biodiversity from Biodiversity University! 


Citizen Science at the Academy

The California Academy of Sciences is partnering with iNaturalist to enlist an army of citizen scientists working toward conservation efforts. This Science Today video features several of the Academy's citizen science programs, a few of which I've been able to join. 

Citizen science (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing crowdfunding. Formally, citizen science has been defined as "the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis."[1] Citizen science is sometimes called "public participation in scientific research."[2]

I'm particularly delighted to see my Rocky Shore Naturalist, iNaturalist, and Naturalist Center colleagues profiled prominently in the video.

Keep up the good work!


I'm a Rocky Shore Naturalist!

From March 2nd to May 11th, I've been training as a Rocky Shore Naturalist, a partnership program of the California Academy of Sciences and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary that trains volunteers to help protect intertidal areas through education, monitoring, and research. As part of the training, we had weekly classes, assigned readings, and three trips to the tidepools on field days.

In our training as naturalists, our group:

  1. Studied the natural history of tidepool animals and algae with Rebecca Johnson, Academy scientist;
  2. Joined the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and California Academy of Sciences volunteer corps;
  3. Leared monitoring techniques and participate in scientific research;
  4. Became a part of a larger citizen science community;
  5. Learned how to be the best stewards of tidepool habitats and how to convey stewardship messages to visitors; and
  6. Interacted with California Academy of Sciences visitors and visitors to the tidepools at Duxbury Reef in Marin County and Pillar Point in San Mateo County.

Now that our training is complete, my cohort will commit to volunteering at least once a month for a year. I'm going to volunteer as a docent at the Discovery Touch Tidepool at the Steinhart Aquarium and I hope to get involved in an exciting citizen science project soon!

Volunteer options include:
  1. Working as a roving naturalist at Duxbury Reef in Bolinas or Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay;
  2. Helping out with student intertidal monitoring at one of the beaches listed above;
  3. Working and talking to visitors to the Discovery Touch Tidepool at the Academy of Sciences;
  4. Participating in citizen science monitoring of invertebrates and algae;
  5. Counting visitors to the reef; and
  6. Other opportunities as they arise.

This experience was absolutely amazing! As I posted below, it also included an opportunity to participate in the BioCube project with David Liittschwager, an author and photographer working with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution.

Enjoy the iPhone photos that I took during the field days in the album above. Special thanks to Rebecca Johnson for her excellent teaching and for inspiring the next cohort of Rocky Shore Naturalists to communicate ecological concepts, continue learning, share a love of tidpools with others, and volunteer to conserve them for future generations.

Want to join the fun?

My first gig as a Rocky Shore Naturalist will be on Sunday, May 19, 2013 at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in San Mateo County. I will be leading a group as a member of the steering committe at Bay Localize, an organization inspires and supports Bay Area residents in building equitable, resilient communities. Contact me for more information or to join us!



This weekend as part of the Rocky Shore Naturalist training program, I joined my colleagues from the California Academy of Sciences and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to welcome David Liittschwager, an author and photographer working with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution.

David’s project is known as BioCube and its goals are document the biodiversity of one cubic foot of earth. With the help of his assistant, program participants, and several professional biologists to watch, count, and photograph the number of different living organisms that pass through a single cubic foot in a given habitat.

This weekend, we journeyed to Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, California, a rocky tidal area with amazing animal and plant life. We explored massive mussel beds and tidal pools that contained colorful starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, abalone, crabs, snails, clams, nudibranchs, and a wide a variety of algae and sea grasses.

Throughout the day, we learned how to explain biodiversity concepts to fellow nature enthusiasts by encouraging them to think about the special ecosystem relationships and to cultivate a sense of place. One personal highlight was seeing an octupus for the first time in the wild!

David is also working with my colleagues at NatureBridge in the coming weeks to examine one cubic foot of Rodeo Pond and one cubic foot of terrestrial habitat along the South Lagoon Trail at our campus in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

I look forward to taking these lessons with me as I continue to develop my skills as a naturalist! 

BioCubes at the Pillar Point tide pools. © Adam C. Bad Wound.

David Liittschwager (right) assembles the BioCube. © Adam C. Bad Wound.











What if?

At this year's Big Bang Gala, my talented colleagues produced a video featuring our education programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The video features our mission to explaine science and the natural world through our education programs

You can click here to make a donation to help support our mission.


Prepare To Be Moved!

Don’t miss Earthquake: Life on a Dynamic Planet, a major new exhibit and planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences. Take a kinetic journey toward understanding these super seismic phenomena and how they fit into the larger story of our ever-changing Earth.

Visitors enter through an oversized crack into a 25-foot-diameter model of the Earth to find touchable geology specimens and interactive stations explaining the basics of plate tectonics. The exhibit highlights how the same earth processes that cause destructive earthquakes in the human timescale can also provide constructive conditions for life in the geological timescale. Live ostriches, ancient fossils, plants, and mounted marsupials (mammals with pouches) illustrate the shared legacy of India, Antarctica, Australia, South America, and Africa, which were once joined together.

The exhibit features an earthquake simulator resembling an old Victorian home in San Francisco transports you back to 5:04 pm on October 17, 1989 – the date and time of the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake. A sudden sustained tremor, followed by a brief aftershock, will give visitors a sense of what this ground-jolting event felt like.

Finally, hands-on activities address what you should do before, during, and after an earthquake.

You might be asking, "What do baby ostriches have to do with earthquakes?" Well, as flightless birds found on multiple continents that were formerly connected, they demonstrate how techtonic shifts have separated them across vast oceans. Plus, they engage the public in learning more about science because they're so darn cute!

The exhibit is now open!  Brace Yourself!


Big Bang Gala 2012: Illuminate

Explore the tastes, sounds, and creatures of the night at the California Academy of Sciences during the Big Bang Gala, a special evening benefiting the Academy's research and education programs. The evening features Ira Flatow, NPR science correspondent and host of Talk Of The Nation: Science Friday; Dean Kamen inventor of the Segway and many other inventions; Salman Khan, founder and one-man faculty of the Khan Academy; and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google.

Big Bang Gala 2012: Party After Dark

April 19, 2012
8:30pm to midnight
For adults 21+

Tickets to the Gala are sold-out (!), but tickets are still available for Party After Dark, a post-dinner celebration featuring live music by Fitz and The Tantrums, late-night bites, and an open bar. Tickets for Party After Dark are $75 ($45 of each ticket is tax-deductible). For more information call 415.379.5411 or email

Join me!


The Greener "Greenest Museum in the World"

Chris Andrews, (left), Chief Operations Officer of the California Academy of Sciences with Dan Geiger (center), Executive Director of U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California Chapter, and Greg Farrington (right), Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences at the LEED Double Platinum Certification Ceremony. (Photo credit: Andrew McCormick)

Three years ago, on September 27, 2008, the California Academy of Sciences reopened in a rebuilt Platinum LEED Certified Green Building in Golden Gate Park. This building which was designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, houses a natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, and rain forest, all under a living roof.  Since it was rebuilt, the Academy has welcomed over 5 million visitors in its mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world.

Today, September 27, 2011, is the third anniversary of the California Academy of Science’s new home in Golden Gate Park and marks another important cause for celebration. This morning, the  U.S. Green Building Council presented the California Academy of Sciences with its second LEED Platinum award, making the Academy the world's first "Double Platinum" museum and the world's largest Double Platinum building.

About LEED

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is a voluntary, consensus-based standard for evaluating high-performance, sustainable buildings. By earning points across a variety of sustainability categories, buildings can earn a basic certification, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. In 2008, the Academy received its first LEED Platinum rating under the "New Construction" category, which focused on the building's design and construction process. Today, the Academy received its second LEED Platinum rating, which certifies that its day-to-day operations and business practices also meet the highest standards of sustainability.

According to Dan Geiger, Executive Director of U.S. Green Building CouncilNorthern California Chapter, these stages of sustainability are part of a complex process.  While it might be easy to think of the first category as a “destination” (one that ends in the sustainable construction of a new building), the second category is truly the journey (the ongoing process of sustainable use).  Together, our active pursuit of this complex process demonstrates the Academy’s commitment to sustainability and exemplifies what we mean when we say that we are the “Greenest Museum in the World.”

In the words of Christopher R. Andrews, Ph.D., Chief Operations Officer and Director of Steinhart Aquarium, “In reinventing this 158-year-old institution as a museum for the 21st century, we consciously decided to incorporate sustainability in all that we do.  It’s the right thing to do as a museum whose major themes are life—how did it evolve, and how will it persist?”

Read the full press release here.