Are you a secret geek? Or a science lover? Then the Lawrence Hall of Science’s “Geek Out”, happening tonight, may be the place for you.

Every few months the Lawrence Hall of Science hosts an adults-only evening posing different scientific questions. The March 10 evening is billed as a “seismic challenge,” where participants can learn what goes into building a structure that can resist earthquakes. People will be able to create their own structures and put them on a shaking table to see if they stand up or fall down.

April 14 will be a “Fix-it Clinic”, where people can bring in their broken DVD players, Playstations, and other electronics and learn how they might be repaired.

If the Geek Out’s slogan, “So Many Nucleotide Sequences and so Little Time,” makes sense to you, then the lab is the place to be. For those who draw a blank at the phrase “nucleotide sequences,” Biology Online defines it as “the order in which nucleotides are situated in a chain relative to one another, which in future will provide the template of a particular amino acid, therefore making the order of the nucleotide sequence important.”

Yeah, I don’t get it either. But we are in Berkeley, so there are a lot of people who do.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. In case your *not* joking about not getting the nucleotide sequence joke, I just want to say that you almost certainly *do* get it, just not quite in the (strange) way it’s phrased.

    You know your cells have DNA – your “genes”, right? You’ve got (probably) 23 chromosomes — big long molecules of DNA. Like, “girls” usually have two X chromosomes (two out of those 23) and “boys” usually one X and one Y. There are variations on this general pattern, of course.

    Those chromosomes – those molecules – are that spiral-ladder thing that’s now basically an icon for DNA. The famous Watson/Crick breakthrough was figuring out how those big long molecules of DNA were structured.

    Each “rung” of that ladder is a pair of complementary nucleotides. There are four nucleotides in typical DNA: A, C, G, and T. You can read down one side of the ladder and get sequences like ACCCCGTTACGT. (that’s a nonsense sequence I just made up but you’ve probably seen stuff like that as an iconic representation of what a genetic sequence looks like).

    The particular sequences present in *your* DNA determine how *your* cells work. Everyone in the world has quite a lot in common but there are differences. So maybe you have brown eyes and I blue. And maybe I have an oddly shaped yet unusually strong jaw since I come from an evolutionary line selected for its ability to survive bar fights. That’s all different sequences: ATTCGT where someone else has ATTCAT — that kind of thing.

    That bit about amino acid expression? Well, your DNA (somewhat) controls how your body works but kind of indirectly. It’s a little bit like getting a bunch of peons to build you a castle but the the only way to direct them is by telling them what shape bricks to make next. The cell as a whole is constantly “asking” the DNA: “hey, what kind of bricks should we use next?” And the DNA “looks” at who is asking, matches that to right portion of the ATTCCCGT-blah-blah sequences, and says “this one”. And, in the context of the question, the peons usually do something useful with a brick of that specification.

    The slogan of the event is trying to say: “So many unique people, so little time — let’s socialize.” (And, amen to that.)

    The slogan is kind of sloppy the way it uses the terms. I think it should be more like “So many homo sapien phenotypes and such short lifespans” or something more like that, at least.

    Oh, gawd, listen to me. I should probably go to one of these things. I can bring the slogan issue up to the plenary committee or something… 🙂