From astronomy to zoology, UW-Madison science talks inform public

May 28, 2019 GMT

From the use of light to treat tumors and the Roman mystery religion of Mithras to climate change and storm chasing, the topics of a UW-Madison public science series now in its 14th year span a broad range.

Wednesday Nite @ the Lab, which started in February 2006, allows the public to hear campus scientists — and occasionally researchers from other universities — share their expertise.

“We want to welcome people to their public land-grant, research and extension university,” said Tom Zinnen, outreach program manager at UW’s Genetics Biotechnology Center on Henry Mall, where the talks are presented at 7 p.m. on 50 Wednesdays a year.

“It’s something that is regular, routine and reliable,” Zinnen said.

Zinnen and Sarah Schutt, now with the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation, started the series through a Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment grant.


At the time, arts groups and select science venues, such as the Washburn Observatory and the Geology Museum, regularly invited the public to visit campus. But few other scientists had a way to routinely engage with the community, Zinnen said.

On average, about 60 people attend the weekly talks, which are live-streamed on YouTube. Recorded versions are available on YouTube and through Wisconsin Public Television.

Topics range from astronomy to zoology, and from bioethics to biomedical engineering, Zinnen said.

Recent talks explored cancer precision medicine, the history of cartography, water quality in private wells and living without a gasoline car.

On Wednesday, an archaeologist from the University of British Columbia will discuss ancient worship of the Persian god Mithras.

In June, UW-Madison scientists will talk about “biophotonics” in cancer research, visual awareness, health risks from climate change and the evolution of storm chasing.

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