Sunday, January 25, 2015



I was very very honored to be asked by Artistic Director, Jodi Lomask, to join the Board of Directors for Capacitor – a remarkable multidisciplinary dance company. Capacitor literally dives into topics related to the environment and includes scientists into their process. Often taking up to two years to create, Capacitor is one of the most exciting creative organization I’ve had the pleasure to work with (and I think all the people I work with are the most fabulous!)

Fast Company wrote a brilliant article called “Capacitor: The Cirque Du Soleil Of Environmental Science” Ariel Schwartz captured their work perfectly.

BLUEMiND and Neuro-conservation  2011

Creative partner, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols made the cover of the December, 2011 Outside Magazine. The cover story not only explores his work as one of the worlds leading turtle biologists and oceans activists, but BLUEMiND,, and our development of the movement of neuro-conservation.

The sea turtle biologist wants to save the oceans—not by feeding people reams of alarming data, but by discovering how the brain’s emotional center is lit up by open water. By Michael Roberts

A World Ocean

By Kevin Zelnio

… “The ocean is the glue that holds our planet together. Nearly three-quarters of our planet is defined by salty water, weaving its way around continents and circumscribing islands. The water never leaves us. It moves around the planet, it evaporates and get dumped over land and joins with rivers, but it always makes its way back home to the ocean. We are just like that water, no matter how we flow, we always end up near the ocean. Understanding the “mind-ocean connection”, as Dr. Nichols calls it, could actually save own lives.

Whatever we do now to protect the ocean, to get its message out there, is not working – or, at least, not working quick enough. Many do not get the ocean. Though they may spend many hours of their lives entranced by it, they do not know why. And neither do scientists. To understand how to make conservation messages stick to people, we need to ask new questions about the neurological basis for conservation. We are included as components in the world ocean, just as vital to the ocean as the ocean is to us.

“It’s time to drop the old notions of separation between emotion and science,”suggests Nichols. “Emotion is science.[…] It’s likely, maybe even certain, that the greatest unexplored mysteries of the sea are buried not under a blanket of blue, but deep in the human mind.”

Article in full:


The Morning After

By Sheril Kirshenbaum Email Author

While flying between San Francisco and Raleigh, I’ve had time to reflect on the past two days..

BlueMind was a spectacular event where I met so many wonderful individuals from various disciplines and learned a great deal from each of them. We explored ocean science and neuroscience for the start of what’s sure to be an ongoing conversation. My favorite session included a thought-provoking talk by  Darren Schreiber, who studies the neuroscience of politics and Fabien Cousteau, who captivated the room with his stories and images during an inspiring presentation. I loved another presentation by Jodi Lomask who brought her outstanding and enchanting dancers of (pictured). And that’s only the beginning..

I left the California Academy of Sciences feeling inspired by the whirlwind of discussions and possibilities. Just imagine all we’ll learn about environmental stewardship–and ourselves–through a unique and unprecedented collaboration between experts across disciplines!

Special thanks to the brilliant J. Nichols for organizing BlueMind and inviting me to participate! And also to my lovely and creative session partner Anne Alexander Rowley. I’ll have far more to say about the event in time, but for now I have a another plane to catch…

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist at UT Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. She is author of The Science of Kissing and Unscientific America.

Don’t Talk About Fish, Talk About Saving Pristine Oceanfront Property


You have to talk to people where they live. So, if people aren’t concerned enough about the slow destruction of our oceans and seashores, stop talking about fish and let them know that their beloved ocean view isn’t going to be around much longer.

That’s the approach of Eric Johnson, a realtor at Sotheby’s in San Francisco, who mused on why people care so much about ocean views at this week’s BLUEMIND Conference at the California Academy of Sciences. He believes that the ocean resonates with humans on all levels of Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs: physiological (because, according to Johnson, we are above the water, firmly on the earth); safety (a sense of being able to see dangers ahead); love/belonging (we are all connected by shared oceans); esteem (a sense of relief and pride about being alive); and self-actualization/happiness (wanting to celebrate life milestones like engagements and weddings at the ocean) … So traditional environmental appeals might work some of the time, but it may also be worth exploring new ways of reaching people (i.e. by talking about sweeping ocean views). “[We could be] opening a mind that may not be open to conservation,” Johnson says. “It’s the idea of having a different approach for different demographics.”

Read article in full:

Our Oceans, Ourselves

–interview by Christa Morris

Interview in full:

Q: How does neuroscience play a part in ocean conservation?

A: Some people say ‘Oh, you want to use neuroscience to figure out how to manipulate people to do the right thing,’ but that is not the goal. That is what neuro-marketing is. People who use neuro-marketing understand the brain and create their advertisement to get you to do something that may not be good for you or that may not be good for the planet. That’s not the goal here. This is neuro-conservation. It is about better understanding who we are and what’s good for us.


How do you translate that to policy? You start connecting the dots, and having neuroscientists work with ocean practitioners. So if being near the ocean reduces stress by x amount, and we know stress causes disease, that’s interesting. That’s medicine. There are a lot of chemicals you can pay for and put in your body to decrease your stress, or maybe you can just take a walk on the beach. Not to oversimplify it, but if that does work, then that gives us a powerful new tool in public policy for ocean protection, for coastal protection, for public access.

Baby CDs and neuroscience collide in new ocean research

By Laure Latham

” … Sound is only one human sense affected by the sea but others are affected just as strongly. According to Dr. Amir Vokshoor, M.D. at the Institute of Neurosurgical Innovation, we rely on our vision to experience life and in the case of the ocean, the color blue is key to an array of feel-good sensations. Blue is typically associated with concepts of calm, cooling, expansive, liberating and protective.

In fact, scientists have found evidence of the healing power associated with the neurotransmitter changes that result from our interaction with the ocean. On that basis, just watching a blue liquid horizon, a landmark free horizon, could qualify as stress reduction therapy

Sound is only one human sense affected by the sea but others are affected just as strongly. According to Dr. Amir Vokshoor, M.D. at the Institute of Neurosurgical Innovation, we rely on our vision to experience life and in the case of the ocean, the color blue is key to an array of feel-good sensations. Blue is typically associated with concepts of calm, cooling, expansive, liberating and protective.

In fact, scientists have found evidence of the healing power associated with the neurotransmitter changes that result from our interaction with the ocean. On that basis, just watching a blue liquid horizon, a landmark free horizon, could qualify as stress reduction therapy …”

Read the article in full:

Posted: 06/03/2011 04:45:05 PM PDT
Updated: 06/03/2011 06:00:00 PM PDT

A legendary big wave surfer was so drawn to the ocean, even as a toddler, that his worried parents sent him to college in Idaho.

“They were trying to break me from the ocean,” said Jeff Clark, who grew up in Half Moon Bay and now owns Mavericks Surf Shop.”It was brutal,” said Clark, who came home to the sea in six months.

Entering the ocean, he said, “is like recharging. It’s what drives my life.”

The lure of breaking waves, shimmering blue waters and an endless horizon universally attracts people seeking the calm and renewal.

That inexplicable connection of brain and ocean was the focus of a first-of-its-kind scientific conference this week in San Francisco, at which Clark and 30 others spoke.

The connection between the ocean and the brain “is poorly studied and (a) tricky territory of discussion among scientists,” said Wallace J. Nichols, a noted sea turtle biologist and research associate at the California Academy of Sciences who organized the “Bluemind Summit.”

Among the connections attendees considered were the similarity in chemical composition of the brain and seawater, seawater and body water, and the physical similarity of the flat expansive sea and the flat grasslands.

Considering the worldwide appeal of the ocean throughout the ages, it confounds Nichols that it’s taken so long to embark on serious scientific look at its neurological effects.

“The neuroscientists haven’t thought about the ocean, remarkably,” Nichols said during an interview at the Cliff House overlooking the Pacific in San Francisco. “Considering the ocean is three-quarters of the planet, it’s kind of a big miss.”

The sea and the brain have common chemical compositions, the conferees gathered at the academy learned. And all life arose from the ocean, said Philippe Goldin, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist from Stanford University who spoke at the event.

“There’s no lack of clarity that we came from the ocean,” he said. “Seventy percent of my body is saltwater. My brain is bathed in saltwater.” Even neurons fire because of salt level changes in the brain.

This evolutionary connection to the ocean explains some of its draw, said Michael Merzenich, an emeritus professor of neuroscience from UC San Francisco.

But he and other scientists described how the ocean instills a sense of safety with its flat horizon that allows humans to spot any oncoming threats like lions or warriors, and unlimited supply of water that’s so essential to life.

“To the evolving mind, it’s the cleanest savanna ever experienced,” said Nichols.

Cultures worldwide pick photos of the savanna as the most appealing, even if they’ve never seen one, pointed out one scientist at the event. And Nichols said even though we rationally know salt water isn’t drinkable, the abundance is nonetheless comforting.

And the smooth surface of the ocean rarely surprises, which is also soothing, Merzenich said. “When it’s landmark-free, it’s naturally calming to us, much like closing your eyes is calming.”

The enthusiastic group spent the day brainstorming how emerging knowledge in neuroscience could give credence to the role of the ocean in promoting health through stress relief, and to develop ocean conservation messages that resonate with audiences better than disaster- and fact-based pitches.

“This sort of conference is the first step to integrating what we know we feel and what we can prove,” said Shelley Batts, a Stanford University neuroscientist specializing in the effects of sound.

What’s known in her field is that humans react to sound, with pleasant or unpleasant sounds altering heart and breathing rates, and the release of hormones such as the stress activator cortisol.

The ocean’s sound is especially appealing. “The sound of the sea is one of the most evocative to people,” Batts said because of its regular wave patterns, while noxious noise is random.

The “whoosh” sound at the ocean “brings up feelings of relaxation and tranquillity.”

Goldin, the Stanford neuroscientist with expertise in the effect of meditation on the body, said the ocean induced a mild meditative state. And rather than simply relaxing people, the meditative state heightens awareness of the surroundings and one’s own emotions.

Harnessing the power of neuroscience can also hone advocacy for the ocean, Nichols said.

“People get really tired and bummed out from relentless bad news. This effort has to do with reminding people how good the ocean can make them feel.”

Long Beach Vice-Mayor Suja Lowenthal showed slides of a river estuary in her city clogged with garbage after a storm, fed from litter in Long Beach and 51 other cities upstream. Lowenthal stressed that many children in her city had never even been to the beach, and without that experience there’s less motivation to protect it.

Fifth-graders in Long Beach are required to attend the symphony, Lowenthal added. She plans a similar push for all Long Beach children to visit the beach.

Sotheby’s real estate agent Eric Johnson said he has long pondered why his wealthy clients are willing to pay up to 40 percent more for a high-rise unit in San Francisco facing the water rather than facing land.

Johnson said he believes water views inspire a sense of infinite possibilities, as opposed to the finite sense of looking at land.

“If I’m standing on the 50th floor of penthouse in Maui or Florida or California, I’ve achieved, I’ve accomplished and the world is filled with endless opportunities as far as the eye can see,” he said.



“San Francisco Students Learn Ocean Conservation with Blue Marbles”

By Laure Latham, May 17th, 2011

“When was the last time you saw teachers use marbles to teach class to kids? All right, probably never. However Rooftop Alternative K-8 School has turned this playful idea into reality and reached awesome results that took the kids, parents and even teachers by surprise. Here is how to heal the planet one blue marble at a time and how an ocean-friendly attitude opened up new possibilities for one San Francisco school.


When Rooftop School’s technology instructor Andi Wong introduced Wallace J. Nichols’ Blue Marbles Project to her students in 2010, she didn’t anticipate this: the kids would learn about plastic pollution in the ocean and albatross on the Midway Islands; they would learn about the Iditarod race in Alaska; students would work with San Francisco Opera to create a new opera that sings Claude Monet and Jacques Cousteau’s love of the ocean. This unlikely sequence of events happened in barely a year and now, the Blue Marbles fever reaching other schools …”

… Nichols diversifies his collaborations on all of his project, working with futurists, neuroscientists, oceans innovators, teachers and artists. The aim of his work is to bring unusual players to the table, and in doing so bring a fresh voice to science.  Sarah Kornfeld is one of those collaborating with Nichols and the Blue Marble Project. When asked about her view on the impact on the marble she said, “There’s something about holding a small marble in your hand and not feeling overwhelmed, instead thinking, ‘I can do that, I can help the planet’.”

Continue reading on



David Pescovitz at 10:57 AM Tue

Plastic Century: a Taste of the Polluted Oceans

“Would you drink from a cooler of water littered (literally) with old toothbrushes, candy wrappers, film, drinking straws, and other plastic detritus? What if that cooler represents our oceans, circa 2030? Plastic Century is a simple-but-provocative art installation that demands you to consider, in a visceral way, how plastic is impacting our environment. On display this week at the California Academy of Sciences, Plastic Century was created in honor of Jacques Cousteau’s 100th birthday by my pal and Institute for the Future colleague Jake Dunagan, futurist Stuart Candy, artist Sarah Kornfeld, and oceanographer Wallace J. Nichols.”

Plastic Pollution in the Water? Drink Up!


Monday June 7, 2010

“What happens when you bring together an artist, a marine biologist, and two futurists for an interactive art installation? The answer, on display this week at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, is Plastic Century, an installation created for the 100th birthday of Jacques Cousteau…”