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UC San Diego Leads Sessions on Climate Change, Space, and Neuroscience at SXSW 2023

Expanded climate change programming focuses on impacts and solutions

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The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas, brings together the worlds of technology, film, culture and more, with the goal of providing opportunities for discovery, learning, and creativity to an audience of global professionals. At the 2023 conference, which runs March 10-14, scientists and leaders from UC San Diego will contribute their expertise to programming on climate change, space, health, and blue technology.

In 2022, SXSW drew an estimated 250,000+ attendees across industry, start-ups, education, and non-profit sectors. In recent years, the conference has expanded its focus on climate change, with a programming track now dedicated to covering the consequences of soaring temperatures and rising oceans, and showcasing the most promising efforts on mitigating the effects of global warming. Scripps Institution of Oceanography is organizing two sessions in the Climate Change track, featuring Director Margaret Leinen addressing the ocean as a climate solution, and Kate Ricke, assistant professor at Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, focused on the geoengineering debate. 

Space is also a big focus at SXSW, and Scripps assistant professor Lia Siegelman will join CNN in a session on space and oceans in the 2050 programming track, which is focused on long-range, big-picture thinking, with topics that range from nanotech breakthroughs to interplanetary expeditions.  Professor Alysson Muotri, director of the Stem Cell Program at UC San Diego, is giving a presentation at the intersection of space and cutting-edge health research. His session, part of the Health and MedTech programming track, will highlight his pioneering research to grow brain organoids, and how the International Space Station plays a critical role in the study of autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer's and astronaut health.

Given the SXSW audience’s interest in start-ups, Vanessa Scott, Scripps Director of Corporate Affiliates, Business Development, Industry Outreach and Innovation, has been invited to a SXSW side event for the blue tech space, which focuses on ocean technology. She will highlight the innovation coming out of the university’s startBlue program, an accelerator from Scripps and UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management that supports the formation of advanced science and engineering startups tackling ocean-focused challenges and solutions. Additionally, UC San Diego alumnus Jonathan Pompa, CEO of Reefgen, will be featured in a session highlighting National Science Foundation-supported startups creating cutting-edge technologies intended to support disaster resilience and ecosystem regeneration. 

Details for each UC San Diego-affiliated event are below, and events are accessible to SXSW attendees unless noted otherwise.  

Looking to Our Ocean for Climate Solutions

March 10, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. CST, Austin Marriott Downtown, Waller Ballroom C 

As greenhouse gases warm our planet, our ocean plays a significant role in regulating heat and absorbing carbon dioxide—absorbing a third of the carbon and more than 90 percent of the extra heat we add to our atmosphere. There are consequences to this, as scientists track warming temperatures, depleting oxygen zones, a more acidic ocean, and rising sea levels. The ocean can also be a potential solution if we can leverage the ocean’s existing ability to remove carbon dioxide. In this panel, leading ocean experts will discuss the ocean’s role in climate, the potential for ocean-based carbon dioxide removal, and a code of conduct for CO2 removal that could maximize collective societal and environmental benefit for our ocean planet. #OceanSolutionsSXSW


  • Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
  • Ken Buesseler, Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Susan Lozier, Past President of the American Geophysical Union
  • Ashley Strickland, Space and Science Writer for CNN

NASA’s Bet for Life Beyond Earth is Underwater

March 11, 4:00 p.m.- 5:00 p.m. CST, JW Marriott

At first glance, Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus don’t appear to be the most promising sources of life in our solar system with their thick icy shells. But beneath the ice are oceans of potential that NASA and oceanographic partners are interested in exploring. Learn what they hope to find in the deep, and the science fiction-style missions being developed to discover it, including the Europa Clipper and Dragonfly missions.


  • Lia Siegelman, Assistant Professor of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
  • Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division
  • Britney Schmidt, Associate Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Earth & Atmospheric Science at Cornell University
  • Ashley Strickland, Space and Science Writer for CNN

Autism in Space: How Neuroscience is Reaching New Heights

March 12, 2:30-2:30 p.m. CST, Austin Convention Center, Room 5ABC

One of the most influential characteristics of modern humans is our sophisticated social brains, but how can we ethically study the human condition in situations where the social aspect is impacted? Previous studies done on post-mortem tissue samples are being phased out in favor of a futuristic new method--the brain in a dish. Learn how one doctor has pioneered a scientific method to grow brain organoids in a petri dish that spontaneously generate complex brain waves, and how the International Space Station plays a critical role in the study of autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer's and astronaut health.

  • Alysson Muotri, Professor at the Departments of Pediatrics and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego, co-director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program and UC San Diego Archealization Center, and co-Investigator on the NASA – Space Tango Award within the Sanford Stem Cell Institute 

What if Someone Tries to Re-Engineer the Climate?

March 13, 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. CST, Austin Marriott Downtown, Waller Ballroom C

There are various potential ways to “geoengineer” the Earth to counteract global warming. Brightening clouds, putting a haze into the stratosphere, bringing cooler water up from the ocean depths: all are being studied. There is little doubt that at least one of these methods could, if used in concert with significant emission cuts, end the warming and bring temperatures back down sooner than emission cuts can on their own. But if a nation starts geoengineering, how should others react? Would they continue to cut emissions in the face of an alternative? What if geoengineering helped in some places but made things worse in others? Worries about justice, democracy and safety mean some want research into the area stopped. In an ever-hotter world would everyone comply with such a ban? #GeoengineeringSXSW


  • Kate Ricke, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego
  • Peter Frumhoff, Senior Science Policy Advisor at the Woodwell Climate Research Center and Harvard University Professor
  • Oliver Morton, Briefings Editor at The Economist
  • Shuchi Talati, Founder and Executive Director, The Alliance for Just Deliberation on Solar Geoengineering

Washington Maritime Blue SXSW Ocean Innovation Event - “Maritime Innovation Programs Around the U.S.”

March 13, 3:00 p.m. CST, at Capital Factory 

Register here

This Blue Startup Showcase features a panel discussion on impact investing in the Blue Economy featuring speakers from maritime and ocean innovation programs in the U.S. The event is organized by Washington Maritime Blue, which is a program partner of the UC San Diego startBlue program. #SXBlue 


  • Vanessa Scott, Director of Corporate Affiliates, Business Development, Industry Outreach & Innovation, Director of StartBlue Accelerator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
  • Jim Cooper, Chief Technology Officer, Braid Theory
  • Mark Huang, Managing Director, Sea Ahead
  • Phoebe Wang, Amazon Climate Pledge Fund

Planetary Regeneration for Disaster Resilience

March 14, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon G

Worldwide ecosystems are declining at unprecedented rates, causing large-scale species extinctions. Loss of these ecosystems is making communities more susceptible to ever-increasing natural disasters. Startups and small businesses supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation are creating cutting-edge technologies intended to support disaster resilience and ecosystem regeneration with the potential to improve the lives of millions. From machine learning to understand local and global ecosystems to robotic technology that can help replant lost reefs, startups are moving basic research out of the laboratory and into communities throughout the world.


  • Jonathan Pompa, CEO of Reefgen and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego Alumni
  • Troy Carter, CEO and Co-Founder of EarthShot
  • Elizabeth (Ela) Mirowski, Program Director for the SBIR/STTR program at NSF
  • Ronni Wilcock, Senior Risk & Biophysical Adaptation Specialist at Two Bears Environmental Consulting

Learn more about research and education at UC San Diego in: Climate Change

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