Recap: CCST Science & Technology Week 2024

February 15, 2024 |  

Recapping S&T Week 2024: Kickoff panel on AI, Reception and Leadership Awards Ceremony, Science Translators Showcase, and an Expert Briefing on making California more resilient to smoke.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for a Resilient California

A collage of three images showing Secretary Tong, the panel, and Secretary Crowfoot speaking.

Our kickoff “Blue Sky” panel brought together a diverse group of experts to explore the untapped potential of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to mitigate the impact of disasters, particularly in the context of California’s unique challenges and the escalating impacts of climate change.

California Secretary for Government Operations Amy Tong opened the panel by highlighting the topic’s timeliness, after a weekend of intense atmospheric river storms across the state mobilized disaster relief efforts. Citing the Executive Order by Governor Gavin Newsom laying out a measured approach to the development and use of generative AI, Secretary Tong acknowledged that the uncertainties of this new technology evoke both excitement and fear. She emphasized that the State is “rolling up our sleeves” to launch pilots and truly experience the possibilities of AI, adding:

“With 35 of the 50 generative AI companies headquartered in California, we wanted to create an environment where innovation and creativity are celebrated…while at the same time providing necessary guardrails to responsibly use this technology.”

In a discussion moderated by Jenn Phillips, California Natural Resources Assistant Secretary for Climate Change, the panelists examined opportunities for AI to revolutionize disaster preparedness, response, and recovery and in so doing better safeguard Californians in the face of a variety of natural and man-made disasters.

California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot gave closing remarks, reflecting on the potential of technology, partnerships, and artificial intelligence “to help us confront the challenges we face in California and in the world.” He noted that in the case of the current emergency storm preparation and response, it was modeling, or artificial intelligence, that guided much of the state’s decisions. Secretary Crowfoot added that the need for AI technology in mitigating the impact of disasters “has never been greater. Whether it’s wildfire, flood, drought, extreme heat, or sea level rise, California is on the frontlines of climate change.”

Jenn Phillips
Assistant Secretary for Climate Change
California Natural Resources Agency

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan
Assembly District 16

Kate Dargan Marquis
Senior Advisor for the Wildfire Resilience Initiative
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

David Korsmeyer, PhD
Acting Deputy Center Director
NASA’s Ames Research Center

Meredith Lee, PhD
Head of Strategic Partnerships and Chief Technical Advisor to the Dean
College of Computing, Data Science, and Society
UC Berkeley

In the media: “Experts weigh in on how California could use AI technology for disaster response” (KCRA 3)

Watch the video:

Reception & Leadership Awards Ceremony 

A graphic with the three photos of the recipients in thirds and a lower third with CCST's logo and the award title.

We had a great turnout for our S&T Week Reception & Leadership Awards Ceremony, where we honored the recipients of our 2024 CCST Leadership Awards for Science in Public Service: Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Senator Anthony Portantino, and California Department of Finance Director Joe Stephenshaw.

As members of the policy community and our extensive network of science and technology experts mingled, forged new connections, and reunited with past colleagues, we also celebrated 15 years of CCST S&T Policy Fellows and more than 35 years of remarkable partnerships. These partnerships make it possible for us to deliver a variety of science services to policymakers in California, including the Fellows program, Expert Briefings, workshops, and in-depth, peer-reviewed reports on key issues facing policymakers.

Read more about the Awardees.



CCST Science Translators Showcase

The return of CCST’s California Science Translators Showcase was a big success! During this networking event, the chosen Translators (graduate students and postdoctoral researchers) had a chance to discuss their research with legislative staffers, agency managers, and senior policy leaders at the California State Capitol. The event was sponsored by the Office of Assemblymember Mike Fong, Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, who gave opening remarks and praised the “amazing students and researchers” who were there representing universities across California.

This year’s thirteen translators learned and practiced their science communication skills during a set of training sessions led by CCST, in preparation for conveying the relevance of their research to policymakers. Read more about the origin and the impact of the Science Translators Showcase.

A flyer for the Translators Showcase featuring photos of each translator, their names and slogans, a white background, blue and gold text, a grid of images from the last showcase, and CCST's logo and S&T Week 2024 logo.
Meet the 2024 Science Translators.

View the Photo Gallery



Expert Briefing: Pathways for a More Smoke-Resilient California

A photo of the five panelists sitting at the dais of a Capitol hearing room.

Presented in partnership with The Office of Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil, this in-person Expert Briefing explored opportunities to build more robust connections between forest management and public health with the goal of making California’s communities more smoke resilient.

Moderator Alan Talhelm, Assistant Deputy Director of Climate & Energy at CAL FIRE, opened the briefing by providing some background into California’s history with fire:

“Fire has been a part of California’s landscape for millenia,” Talhem said, noting that much of this fire was generated by indigenous tribes who used fire, and smoke, for a variety of purposes. Now, as unprecedented wildfire and smoke activity increases due to climate change, California faces a very smoky future, and communities must be prepared to respond.

CCST’s peer-reviewed report, The Human Health Benefits of Improving Forest Health in California, found a growing body of research suggesting that forest management to improve forest health can be tailored to reduce the adverse impacts of smoke and benefit human health – even when, Talhelm said, “improving health means more beneficial fire, or putting fire on the landscape.”

Experts representing the public health sector, the Tule River Tribe, Native American studies, and a nonprofit climate and wildfire boundary organization, discussed interdisciplinary solutions for mitigating the health impacts of wildland fire smoke in California’s communities.

Alan Talhelm
Assistant Deputy Director of Climate & Energy

Bethany Hannah
Deputy Director, Operations & External Affairs
Climate and Wildfire Institute

Deniss Martinez
Research Administrator, Native American Studies
UC Davis

Kerri Vera
Director, Department of Environmental Protection
Tule River Tribe

Matt Wolff
Climate and Health Program Manager
San Francisco Department of Public Health

In the media: Smoke briefing coverage and panelist interviews (KQED)

Watch the video:


About the California Council on Science and Technology
The California Council on Science and Technology is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established via the California State Legislature in 1988. CCST responds to the Governor, the Legislature, and other State entities who request independent assessment of public policy issues affecting the State of California relating to science and technology. CCST engages leading experts in science and technology to advise state policymakers—ensuring that California policy is strengthened and informed by scientific knowledge, research, and innovation.

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