Stretch your brain at Alumni Weekend 'Teach In'

Returning Banana Slugs will have an opportunity to “go back to class” with a selection of engrossing lectures to choose from during Alumni Weekend, April 26-28

You’re sitting in a classroom at one of those school armchair desks, and a distinguished professor is guiding you through the latest research on a fascinating topic. You take a few notes—but there won’t be any pop quizzes, no need for NoDoz or late-night cramming sessions, and certainly no worries about grades.

After class is over, you grab a glass of wine with the professor and some classmates, and continue the conversation.

If college worked that way, no one would ever want to graduate. But Banana Slugs returning to campus for Alumni Weekend, April 26–28, will get a taste of this surreal academic lifestyle during a new Alumni Weekend event, “Teach Ins: An Academic Afternoon,” on Saturday, April 27, from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Lectures alumni will be able to choose from are:

●      Associate professor of history Alan Christy -- The Geisha, the Dandy and the Scientific Revolution in 18th Century Japan.

●      Emeritus research professor of psychology and sociology G. William Domhoff  -- What’s New in the World of Dreams

●      Research professor of biomolecular of engineering David Deamer: First life and next life: An engineer's approach to understanding living systems

●      Sinsheimer professor of molecular biology Harry Noller: Exploring the ribosome: The ancient molecular machine that translates the genetic code into proteins for all living things

●      Associate director of the Center for Games and Playable Media Jane Pinckard: Video games as visual culture

 The faculty participants are fired up for the event.

“I look forward to sharing with alumni some of the excitement that we have had in the lab during our explorations of the ribosome,” Noller said.

Domhoff, an emeritus professor who retired in 1995, and used to teach up to 700 students a year, is eager to share the latest developments in dream research. “I am going to go decade by decade with discoveries and reports,” he says.

Among the questions he is going to address: Do dreams serve some crucial function that helps us make our way in the world and live our lives—or are they just one byproduct of our large and imaginative brains?  In other words, do we dream because we should—or because we can?

Because there are no grades, participants should feel free to attend a class outside their area of expertise. In other words, humanities majors, here is your chance to learn about biomolecular engineering from a leader in the field.

David Deamer said his course “won’t be high tech, but more like a first-year introductory course, so it will be accessible.”

When we think of engineering, it's usually bridges, automobiles and dams, said Deamer.

“But here at UC Santa Cruz, I am in a department called Biomolecular Engineering,” he said. “This is engineering on a nanoscopic scale, because we work with nucleic acids and proteins, and how they function in living organisms.”

Two members of the UCSC faculty were first to put the human genome online, and now anyone can browse through the base sequences in DNA that make us human, Deamer said.

Deamer plans to talk about the nanopore research group he’s associated with. The group is working on ways to pull single molecules of DNA through a tiny pore in order to determine base sequences. This discussion will give Teach-In students an intriguing glimpse into the future:

"Sequencing the first human genome cost several billion dollars by the time it was completed in 2000, but a few years from now we expect it to be so inexpensive that anyone can have their genome on a thumb drive,” Deamer said. “This will usher in the era of personalized medicine, because your physician will be able to use that information to diagnose disease and to prescribe medication that is specific for your particular genetic makeup.”

Pinckard's class should also be eye-opening for participants -- whether they are younger alumni or older Slugs who went to college when video games were something they encountered only in arcades. 

Pinckard will give a presentation on video games as a powerful form of visual culture, and why examining them with a critical lens can help students become active players rather than passive recipients of the messages conveyed within games.