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University events and lectures preview/review

A preview and review of U events and lectures, March 10-25

Compiled by Adam Overland

The Viking in the Wheat Field book cover

March 10, 2010

A reading and book signing with Susan Dworkin, author of The Viking in the Wheat Field, March 3, 4 p.m., U of M Bookstore. Sometimes when we see the results of research it's easy to take for granted the work, and inevitably the drama, that must have gone on behind the scenes—both professional and personal. After all, an agronomist worthy of wearing a cape does not the best superhero-fodder make.

But set aside the idyllic assumption of what makes a hero—x-ray vision and the strength of a hundred oxen--and you're often left with real human qualities characteristic of regular beings who've gone on to achieve extraordinary, nay, heroic accomplishments.

Such is the story of Bent Skovmand, champion of international seed banks, breeder of revolutionary new grain varieties, and lifelong warrior against world hunger. He is perhaps best known as the man who helped make the key, so to speak, to the doomsday vault—a massively fortified cavern to safeguard millions of unique crop seeds against catastrophe. Skovmand used to say, (paraphrasing) that "if seeds disappear, food disappears—and so do we." The power to disappear was one he did not desire to possess, for himself or for the human race.

The Viking in the Wheatfield, written by social historian and best-selling author Susan Dworkin, chronicles the efforts of Skovmand, his friend and mentor Norman Borlaug, and other agronomists—many with University of Minnesota connections—on their crusade to save and preserve lost strains of wheat and other crops and breed them into stronger, more disease-resistant varieties.

Skovman worked hard, said Dworkin during her talk, and Borlaug demanded self-sacrifice, which could mean absence from family life for four to six months per year. That sacrifice proved devastating to Skovmand's first marriage.

And yet hundreds of millions of lives have been saved by this work—a feat that would humble superman himself. That legacy still carries over into the U's current research on the UG99 fungus, a disease that could prove catastrophic to the wheat that provides a third of our calories.

Dworkin said that everyone associated with the University of Minnesota should be proud. But, she emphasized, as wonderful as the accomplishments of Skovmand are, the creation of gene banks and seed vaults shows just how scared all of us really are that somewhere, sometime, a catastrophe awaits that could doom us. Let us hope great heroism is still to come.

A podcast of Dworkin's talk is available at U of M Bookstore author podcasts.


Frontiers in the Environment: Engaging Audiences in the Anthropocene with Patrick Hamilton. March 10, noon-1 p.m., IonE Seminar Room, R380 Vocational-Technical Education. Also available through UMConnect. We live in a world being thoroughly reconfigured by human activity. Humans cumulatively have set in motion global changes that will reverberate for millennia. The term Anthropocene is being used to describe this new geologic epoch in Earth history, where humans are the dominant agents of planetary change. Scientific research on global change is evolving rapidly, but the U.S. public’s awareness of and concern about global environmental issues has not kept pace, hindering the formulation of corrective societal actions. How might scientific and informal education institutions work together to help advance how solutions to pressing environmental problems are communicated and discussed by citizens and decision makers? Patrick Hamilton, director of Environmental Sciences and Earth-System Science, Science Museum of Minnesota, will address these questions.

Film screening: Garbage Dreams, March 11, 4 p.m., 180 Humphrey Center. The Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy and the Institute on the Environment will host a conversation about the critically acclaimed film Garbage Dreams. The film documents Zabbaleen, an impoverished community of mostly Coptic Christians that use traditional methods of collection and hand-sorting to reuse more than 80 percent of the garbage they collect. Humphrey Institute professor Ragui Assaad, along with producer, director, and cinematographe Mai Iskander, associate professor Tim Smith, and CEO and co-president of Eureka Recycling Susan Hubbard, will talk about lessons to be learned from the Zabbaleen and the implications for global waste management and recycling efforts. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Comic Amusement, Emotion, and Cognition with Noel Carroll, Temple University. March 12, 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m., 1-132 Carlson School of Management. Free. In this talk, Noel Carroll will defend one version of the incongruity theory of humor while also arguing that comic amusement is best understood as an emotion. Taking single panel cartoons with captions (e.g., New Yorker cartoons) as his focus, Carroll examines how this kind of visual humor engages cognition in the process of engendering comic amusement. Carroll is distinguished professor of philosophy at the City University of New York's Graduate School. He's authored numerous books, including The Philosophy of Motion Pictures, Comedy Incarnate: Buster Keaton, Physical Humor and Bodily Coping, Engaging The Moving Image, and Beyond Aesthetics.

The Suzanne Farrell Company—Balanchine. March 12-13, Northrop. Suzanne Farrell, one of the most acclaimed dancers of the 20th century, is bringing her company to Northrop on March 12-13, and will engage in a public conversation with Northrop director Ben Johnson and Kim Motes, managing director of Theater Latté Da, March 11, 4 p.m., Rapson Auditorium. A legendary figure in the dance world, Farrell is considered to be the most influential American ballerina of the late 20th century and emerged as an inspiring ballet teacher and director after retiring in 1989. As part of the Balanchine Preservation Initiative, Farrell is dedicated to continuing the legacy of George Balanchine's classic, rarely seen, or "lost" work.

Meat and Dairy, March 18, 7 p.m., Bell Museum. Learn about the world of meat and dairy production with Department of Animal Science professors Noah Litherland and Ryan Cox. They'll discuss the history, ethics, and production of animal products around the world.

From the Bottom Up: A Presentation by Margaret Crawford. March 23, 4-5:30 p.m., 125 Nolte. Margaret Crawford is a professor of Architecture in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. She teaches courses in the history and theory of urban development, planning, and design. Her research focuses on the evolution, uses and meanings of urban space. Her book, Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns, examines the rise and fall of professionally designed industrial environments. She edited The Car and the City: The Automobile, the Built Environment and Daily Urban Life and Everyday Urbanism, and has published numerous articles on shopping malls, public space, and other issues in the American built environment.

Military Justice in an Age of Terrorism: Alberto Mora, former general counsel of the U.S. Navy. March 23, noon-1:15 p.m., Humphrey Institute. Alberto Mora, who served as general counsel from 2001 to 2006, will be joined by former vice president Walter Mondale and professor Lawrence Jacobs to discuss the use of military justice in an age of terrorism. Mora was instrumental in opposing the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees from the war on terror. As the chief legal officer of the Navy and Marine Corps, he managed more than 800 attorneys and personnel across 146 offices throughout the United States and overseas.

Sustainable Foods and Farming: Local Growers Panel. March 23, 7-9 p.m., Bell Museum Theater. Free. Local growers will share stories of gardening and farming using organic and sustainable practices, native plants, and alternative market structures. The panel will discuss why sustainability is important for land and people, what is being done in Minnesota to help reduce environmental degradation, and why should we care. Speakers include Jim Riddle, organic farmer and sustainable agriculture advocate; Tony Thompson, a grower of corn, soybeans, and native plants; Courtney Tchida, with the U of M’s Student Organic Farm; Norm Erickson, a grower of hazelnuts for food and fuel; and other local growers. The last hour will be interactive, allowing audience members to ask questions and share information about opportunities to get involved in the local foods movement in the Twin Cities and beyond. Before the panel, see the Bell Museum's Hungry Planet exhibit.

"Medical Alley: The Rise of the Minnesota Medical Device Industry," with David Rhees, executive director of the Bakken Museum. March 25, 4 p.m., 3-115 Electrical and Computer Engineering Building. Rhees examines the factors that led to the establishment of a thriving network of advanced medical device firms in Minnesota that made what is sometimes referred to as "Medical Alley" possible. The factors include a favorable "business-technology infrastructure" including the University of Minnesota, the migration of high-tech professionals from other industries, the emergence of specialized services and suppliers, the availability of capital, government encouragement, and support from trade associations.

University events and lectures preview/review is a periodic column (about every two-weeks) highlighting events and lectures recently past and soon-to-come on the UMTC campus. Faculty and staff are invited to contribute. Preview submissions should be no more than 500 words, reviews 150 or less, and are subject to review by the Brief editor.

Find more Twin Cities events using the U's events calendar.