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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Multiverse of science was exciting beat

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Waipahu High School's science team at the 2010 Hawai'i State Science Fair.

Photo courtesy of Neal Atebara

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chris Oliver

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When I came to work at the Advertiser in 1997, my primary job was in Travel, but I also loved science, and some of the most meaningful reporting I have done for the newspaper has been about the impact of science and scientists.

The first science story I wrote in 1998 was about late University of Hawai'i zoologist Alison Kay. She discovered that a museum in London still had samples of Waikīkī sand collected by visiting British scientists in 1875, scooped up some modern sand, flew to London, and compared both samples under a microscope. Her conclusion: despite all the changes on the O'ahu coast in the past 120 years, we still have the same old sand.

History, science and our environment collided in the one Island substance we take daily for granted.

More science stories followed, including the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI), hunting for neutrinos down in the Antarctic, the use of seaweed and native plants in cancer research, and how airborne infrared cameras could spot the aggressive miconia, a plant that chokes our rainforests.

Writing about science meant meeting its visiting superstars: Robert Ballard, whose deep-sea exploration led him to the Titanic on the Atlantic sea floor; "Darwin's bulldog" Richard Dawkins, whose packed talk at the UH ballroom turned away scores of disappointed people; Craig Venter, the genome pioneer, who announced just last week the creation of the first synthetic cell, and Martin Rees, Britain's eminent Astronomer Royal who thrilled an audience here with his ideas on a "multiverse."

Not all superstars were alive. In an unforgettable talk by Bishop Museum entomologist Shepherd Myers at Kapolei Public Library, a west African goliath beetle caused uproar when it was paraded around an audience of kids in its display box.

I've enjoyed meeting and writing about physicists, chemists, oceanographers, astronomers, zoologists, botanists and others.

I've listened to talks on CSI, dolphins, asteroids, wave physics and tsunamis. At the monthly Science Caf at P.F. Chang's, I came to realize that Hawai'i is an extraordinarily vibrant place for scientific research.

I learned that there are scientists of all ages, from UH botanist Isabella Abbot, actively researching in her 90s, to Nolan Kamitaki and Kang Ying "Connie" Liu, 2010 Science Fair winners with brilliant futures ahead.

That science fires imaginations and has a rosy future was never more evident for me than in meeting Waipahu High School science teacher and Hawai'i Academy's Science Teacher of the Year Mike Sana.

"Many of our students have great ideas, and are tuned in with what's going on in our world," Sana said. "And I tell them they are the ones who will be solving the world's problems."

At the 2010 International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose last month, Sana organized a tour of the National Ignition Facility at nearby Lawrence Livermore Laboratories for Hawai'i students. In a building the size of an airplane hanger, scientists have built the biggest laser system in the world to try to replicate what goes on at the core of the sun. How's that for firing the imagination?

The Honolulu Advertiser merger with the Star-Bulletin brings in a new era. Newspapers are changing, but science is a continuum.