Melting Ice and Dancing Robots at AAAS 2013

by Kathryn on February 18, 2013

Snow falling in Boston during AAAS 2013

This year, the AAAS annual meeting came to Boston. How could I not go? I live just 45 minutes outside the city, and working science writers can get in for free. I’ve never attended a conference as press before – in fact, I’ve only recently come to describe myself as a journalist. I was always a children’s writer first, and writing about science and science news grew out of that.

As the director of last year’s NESCBWI conference, which attracted about 550 attendees, I have a lot of respect and awe for whoever pulls together the AAAS annual meeting. They estimate that as many as 10,000 (!!!) people came throughout the weekend, including parents and kids attending Family Science Days (which, I have to admit, looked like more fun than the regular exhibit hall!)

The regular exhibit hall did have this dancing robot from Aldebaran: Gangnam Style Robot. And lots of graduate and PhD students eager to talk about their work.

The most fascinating presentation I attended was Richard Alley‘s talk titled “Ice Sheets, Sea Level, and Other Surprises: Benefits of Understanding Some Beautiful Places.” He was entertaining, engaging – as good as any TED talk I’ve ever seen, and perhaps even better. The main point I took away from his talk is that climate scientists like him are not “one side” of a debate with climate change deniers on the other side. His side is the middle. Expecting that nothing bad will happen is one extreme, and on the other extreme is the possibility that something totally disastrous will happen. We insure against the extreme possibility that a drunk driver will strike and kill us on the way to work, he argued, so why not insure against the possibility that a giant chunk of ice will suddenly drop off into the ocean?

Despite the difficult situation scientists like him are in when it comes to convincing politicians to act, he remains humorous and optimistic, and made sure to include several gratuitous penguin pictures in his powerpoint presentation. Who doesn’t love penguins?

I also got the chance to talk to members of the team in charge of the LCLS, the world’s most powerful x-ray laser. Stay tuned for news of an article about this sometime in the near future.


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