This program was recorded at the 12th Annual Wonderfest, the San Francisco Bay Area Festival of Science.
Wonderfest's broad goals are best described by its mission statement: Through public discourse about provocative scientific questions, Wonderfest aspires to stimulate curiosity, promote careful reasoning, challenge unexamined beliefs, and encourage life-long learning.
Wonderfest achieves these ends by presenting series of scientific events to the general public. At most of these events, pairs of articulate and accomplished researchers discuss and debate compelling questions at the edge of scientific understanding.
Paul Berg is a biochemist and professor emeritus at Stanford University. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1943, received his B.S. in biochemistry from Penn State University in 1948 and Ph.D. in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University in 1952. He is a member of the Beta Sigma Rho fraternity (now Beta Sigma Beta). In 1980 he shared half of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with the team of Walter Gilbert and Frederick Sanger. All three were recognized for their important contributions to basic research in nucleic acids. His studies as a postgraduate involved the use of radioisotope tracers in intermediary metabolism. This resulted in the understanding of how foodstuffs are converted to cellular materials, through the use of isotopic carbons or heavy nitrogen atoms. Paul Berg's doctorate paper is now known as the conversion of formic acid, formaldehyde and methanol to fully reduced states of methyl groups in methionine. He was also one of the first to demonstrate that folic acid and B12 cofactors had roles in the processes mentioned.
Richard N. Zare is the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford University. He is a graduate of Harvard University, where he received his B.A. degree in chemistry and physics in 1961 and his Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1964.
In 1965 he became an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but moved to the University of Colorado in 1966, remaining there until 1969 while holding joint appointments in the departments of chemistry, and physics and astrophysics. In 1969 he was appointed to a full professorship in the chemistry department at Columbia University, becoming the Higgins Professor of Natural Science in 1975. In 1977 he moved to Stanford University. He was named Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Stanford University in 2005.
Professor Zare is renowned for his research in the area of laser chemistry, resulting in a greater understanding of chemical reactions at the molecular level. By experimental and theoretical studies he has made seminal contributions to our knowledge of molecular collision processes and contributed very significantly to solving a variety of problems in chemical analysis. His development of laser induced fluorescence as a method for studying reaction dynamics has been widely adopted in other laboratories.