Nerd Nite East Bay #19: Burnside’s Lemma, Artificial Photosynthesis, and Paramedics

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I don’t need a counting theorem to let you know that the three talks we feature this month will be nothing less than nerd-a-licious. First, Nathan Ilten will offer one of the cooler pieces of group theory to show how you can count things. Then Alexandra Krawicz shows us how we can design better approaches to harvesting energy from the sun. Chris van Luen close, who gave us an alternative for his talk: “Life as a Street Medic. Yes, this shit really does happen.”

DJ Citizen Zain is back again already! And Rick and Rebecca will provide resuscitation between talks. Be there and be square.

Monday 5/26
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
The New Parkway, 474 24th St, Oakland
(less than half-a-mile from the 19th St BART)
All Ages


Mathematicians and young children have (at least) two things in common: they drool more than they should, and they love to count things. While children are often forced to rely on their fingers for counting, older mathematicians often have more sophisticated tools available. In this talk, we’ll examine one such tool: “The Lemma that is not Burnside’s”, first discovered by Augustin Cauchy in 1845. Not only does it have a confusing name, this lemma can be extremely useful when counting objects with some kind of symmetry. As an example, we’ll solve a problem that would make your three year old niece break down in tears: how many ways can you paint the faces of a cube using 97 different colors?

Nathan Ilten grew up counting with his fingers, but quickly learned to use his toes as well. After learning to count a bit higher, he got his PhD in mathematics from the Freie Universität in Berlin. When not spending his time working as a visiting assistant professor at UC Berkeley, Nathan can be found out on the Bay in a sailboat.


Plants are photoautotrophic, they do not depend on anyone to synthesize their “food” or give them energy to grow. Through a series of light driven reactions plants split water and fix carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis. Humans can mimic photosynthesis artificially, but are not as successful as plants. However if we become masters in mimicking plants we could use their “trade secrets” to become energy independent and produce carbon neutral and fully renewable solar energy. Our consumption of energy is growing at an exorbitant rate and since most energy comes from burning fossil fuels we continue to pollute the atmosphere we live in, and induce climate change. The goal of the work presented here is to mimic one part of the photosynthetic reaction. In nature, photosynthesis splits water into protons and oxygen and in the process releases electrons. These electrons are then used along with the protons to reduce CO2 and form sugars. We have developed a method for preparing an electrode composed of grafted molecular cobalt-containing hydrogen production catalysts onto visible light absorbing semiconductor p-type GaP(100) that can mimic the hydrogen production step. This construct is able to produce hydrogen (fuel) catalytically upon exposure to solar illumination. The preparation of the construct exploits UV-induced immobilization of vinylpyridine and subsequent surface-initiated photopolymerization to yield a covalently attached polymer with pendent pyridyl groups that bind to cobaloxime catalysts. Surface derivatization is characterized by several spectroscopic techniques and performance is assessed by electrochemical methods. The Co containing catalyst functionalized photocathode shows significantly enhanced photoelectrochemical (PEC) performance in aqueous conditions at neutral pH, compared to results obtained on GaP without attached cobalt complex, yielding a 2.4 mA cm-2 current density at a 310 mV underpotential, meaning that only solar light is driving the reaction and there is no applied bias. These results open new possibilities for re-engineering the catalytic constructs to improve their efficiency and durability.

Alexandra Krawicz is a Postdoctoral scholar at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and The Joint Center for Artificial Synthesis (JCAP). She joined JCAP in August 2012 as part of the Interface group to work on immobilization of molecular catalysts onto semiconductors for solar energy conversion. Currently she is working on developing
stable attachment strategies for molecular catalysts to photocathodes to create constructs for solar fuel production. Despite her best efforts, she is heterotrophic.

911….WHAT’S YOUR EMERGENCY? by Chris van Luen

Everyday we see ambulances speeding down the street with lights and sirens blaring. Have you wondered…what type of emergency are they going to? Is it the life threatening heart attack or car crash like we see in movies or on television? Well, you might be surprised at what the real answer is. Come join us as we take you on virtual ride-along with paramedics during a 24 hour period and get an idea of what life is really like as a paramedic on the street.

Chris van Luen is a veteran paramedic who has been working in Emergency Medical Services for over 25 years. As a young medic he served as a Helicopter Rescue Swimmer in the US Coast Guard for 13 years. In 1999 he returned home to the East Bay where he has since been working as a paramedic in Alameda County with several years working the streets of Oakland. He is a published author on topics relating to pre-hospital care, a paramedic instructor and has received multiple awards including Paramedic of the Year.

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