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University events and lectures preview/review

A preview and review of U events and lectures, Sept. 30-Oct. 16

Compiled by Adam Overland


September 28, 2010

IMA Math Matters Public Lectures:
"How Financial Engineering can Cure Cancer, Solve the Energy Crisis, and Stop Global Warming."

Math anxiety isn't technically considered a psychological disorder, but if that day ever comes to pass, I may be the poster child. For me, x + y = run.

But higher education is all about challenging oneself and even one's own beliefs, and I'd heard much good about the IMA Math Matters Public Lectures, sponsored by the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). At the very least, the titles are provocative. You may recall a February lecture entitled "From flapping birds to space telescopes: the math of origami," at which attendance was nearly overflowing. In fact, since the IMA began the free lectures in 1998, attendance has grown so that a venue upgrade to 175 Willey Hall was necessary—a room that can accommodate the average crowds of 300 to 400 people, says IMA director and the force behind the lecture series, Fadil Santosa. Among the attendees are sometimes hundreds of high school students, who get extra credit for coming, sure—but they learn what I never did in high school—the practical applications of math.

Santosa says attendance at the lectures has been growing more rapidly over the past several years. The lecture series was created to engage and inform the public, he says, but they've reached out to surrounding high school math teachers, too. "We want to excite kids about the possibilities of mathematics, and inform the public about the importance of mathematics in their daily life," he told me.

The lectures are also accessible to a non-mathematical mind like mine (with some topics nevertheless admittedly over my head), aimed at a broad audience, and feature distinguished mathematicians and scientists who tend to have a way with words that illuminate the role mathematics is playing in understanding our world and shaping our lives.

The most recent lecture on Sept. 21 featured MIT professor Andrew Lo, and held true to the provocative title theme with "How financial engineering can cure cancer, solve the energy crisis, and stop global warming."

Lo gave a brief overview of the origins of the financial crisis, the key role that mathematics played, and how a deeper understanding of human nature may in the future allow financial engineers to focus the power of global financial markets on some of society's most pressing challenges.

At one point in his talk, Lo illustrated the causes of the financial collapse in a highly entertaining exercise that showed how selective attention distracted our great minds from impending financial ruin—how they failed to notice the dancing gorilla in the middle of the room.

Among some of Lo's suggestions at the lecture? With the proper financial engineering, cancer can be cured in 20 years without good will or humanitarianism ever entering the equation. Global warming can be arrested with a trillion umbrellas each three meters wide, autonomously powered by small robots that act like a swarm and block out the sun. Skeptical? Well, higher education is, after all, about challenging oneself and even one's own beliefs.

Archives of IMA Math Matters Public Lectures, including Lo's Sept. 21 lecture, are available online.
--by Adam Overland

IonE Frontiers in the Environment Wednesday lectures: "Biochemical Bloodhounds: Using Enzymes to Detect Toxins.
" How can we detect food contaminants before they do harm? In 2008, deliberate doctoring of milk with melamine to provide misleadingly high protein content measurements sickened 300,000 infants and children in China. It also motivated Institute on the Environment founding fellow Larry Wackett to look back to melamine-related research performed in his lab seven years earlier for a potential tool that could prevent similar tragedies in the future.

As the first speaker in IonE’s fall Frontiers in the Environment lecture series, Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor of biochemistry, described how he and colleagues built on that earlier research to create an easy-to-use, enzyme-based kit to test for the presence of melamine as well as to uncover the biochemical basis for melamine toxicity. Wackett’s work resulted in production of a commercialized test kit by Texas-based BIOO Scientific and opens doors to developing similar tests for other contaminants that might accidentally or intentionally be introduced into the food we eat.

Find a link to Wackett’s presentation as well as the lineup for future Wednesday noon Frontiers in the Environment lectures on the Frontiers website.
--by Mary Hoff, Managing Editor, Institute on the Environment

"The Nature of Gentrification." A talk by Jeremy Bryson. Sept. 30, 4-5:30 p.m., 125 Nolte. Free. "The Nature of Gentrification: Urban Environmental Veneers and the Remaking of the Spokane Riverfront" will explore how the urban natural environment is used as a veneer to obscure the often harsh social, economic, and political ecological realities of gentrification. An examination of preparations for an environmentally themed World's Fair in 1974 by the city of Spokane, Wash., reveals the complex interactions between nature and urban redevelopment. Spokane's experiences with its downtown greening projects during this period offer insights into the contemporary relationship between urban sustainability practices and gentrification processes. Bryson is a Quadrant visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Mao2Now 165"From Mao to Now: Chinese Fashion from 1949 to the Present," opening reception. Oct. 1, 6-8 p.m., Goldstein Museum of Design, McNeal Hall, St. Paul. Free. I don't believe Chairman Mao had much to say about fashion in The Little Red Book, but his influence is unavoidable. Chinese culture changed drastically between 1949 and the present, and the evolution of Chinese fashion reflects how the culture transformed. “From Mao to Now” is divided into three periods: pre-Mao (1912-48), the Mao era of the nondescript Mao suit (1949-77), and the post-Mao era (1978-present), which demonstrates how, after Mao, Chinese fashion began to exhibit an increasingly dramatic melding of Chinese and Western design expression.

The work of four top Chinese fashion designers will be included in the exhibition, as well as photographs by high-profile Chinese journalists and photographers which illustrate the differences between the periods. On display from Oct. 2 to Jan. 2.

"Psychedelic Psychiatry: An Historical Look at LSD Experiments in the 1950s." Oct. 4, 12:20 p.m.-1:10 p.m., 555 Diehl Hall. In 1956, psychiatrist and superintendent of the Provincial Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Humphry Osmond, first used the word ‘psychedelic’ to describe the feelings and sensations associated with an LSD reaction. A year later his new word was published and later added to the English lexicon. In spite of the popular connotations now connected to the word, Osmond developed the term out of his experiments with LSD, which led him to propose a new theory of schizophrenia alongside a somewhat radical suggestion to treat alcoholism using LSD. Although Osmond was not alone among 1950s psychiatry colleagues fascinated with the medical applications of the drug, his work in Canada brought him international recognition and made him a major figure in the history of LSD.

"Choreographed Landscapes." Oct. 4, 6-7:30 p.m., 100 Rapson Hall. Free. San Francisco-based architect Andrea Cochran will discuss how she shapes space as a landscape architect in both small gardens and larger landscapes: spare geometry applied to vibrant plant life results in sharp compositional order, yielding landscapes that convey a heightened sense of texture, light, and movement. Cochran has been practicing landscape architecture in the San Francisco Bay area for more than 25 years. She graduated from Harvard's Graduate School of Design and worked on the East Coast and in Europe before moving to California in 1981.

Eray Aydil 165 Eril Aydil"Eight-Track Tapes, Compact Discs and Solar Cells," Oct. 6, noon-1 p.m., IonE Seminar Room 380, VoTech Building, St. Paul campus, available via UMConnect. Free. Held every Wednesday at noon, IonE's Frontiers in the Environment lecture series explores the frontiers of knowledge in climate change, renewable energy, land use, food security, and other environmental hot topics. In the next installment, professor Eray Aydil, of chemical engineering and materials science, will address whether society should invest in research to develop new solar cell technologies, or just work to improve existing ones. If you're still listening to The Who's Quadrophenia on eight-track, you probably won't much care, but Aydil will make the case that we should continue research on new types of solar cells, basing his argument on the decision in the 1970s to develop new recording technologies beyond the eight-track tape—a decision that led to compact discs and, eventually, to digital formats.

"Transnatural Ethics: Rocky Flats and the Queer Ecology of NuClia Waste"—a presentation by visiting fellow Shiloh Krupar, Oct. 7, 4-5:30 p.m., 125 Nolte. Free. This talk includes nuclear waste and drag queens. Needless to say, I am intrigued. For over 40 years, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Rocky Flats facility near Denver, Colo., produced the plutonium trigger device of nearly every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal and in the process amassed an incomprehensible amount of waste. Wiped clean of all former buildings and signs of human labor and industrial production, the site is slated to open to the public as a national wildlife refuge.

Using a framework based in Michel Foucault’s work on ethics, the presentation offers an alternative response to radioactive natures that recognizes and politicizes the permutations of waste and nature, humans and waste. The talk then turns to the performative persona of radioactive drag queen comedienne NuClia Waste, who provides one striking example of transnatural practice with potentially profound implications for Rocky Flats. NuClia Waste reconstructs subjectivity in waste and cultivates a specifically "queer ecology" that displays relations of power, critiques normative dimensions, questions boundaries, and plays with new ways of being in the world.

"Eruption in Iceland: The Story of Eyjaffjallajokull." Oct. 10, 2-3 p.m., Bell Museum Auditorium. Free. Learn how to pronounce the name of the volcano that erupted in Iceland and then some with Icelandic geologist Kristinn Gudjonsson at this illustrated talk exploring an event that was remarkable, even in a land known for volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs, as well as difficult-to-pronounce words.

Red Stag image 165Research at the Red Stag. "Something from Nothing: The Mystery of Landscape Patterns and Self-Organization." Oct. 13, 5:30 p.m., Red Stag Supper Club. Free. Science at a supper club…is there a better pairing? Taking a page from the Bell Museum's popular Café Scientifique series, the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory's National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED) is launching Research at the Red Stag, a series featuring monthly discussions that bridge the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly. Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications, and its fascinations, from Earth-surface dynamics, global change, and environmental restoration. At the first event, Chris Paola, a principal investigator with NCED, will discuss his fascination with landscape patterns and how scientists are approaching their analysis.

fs_080109_doering.jpg Aaron Doering "Designing for Learning: Engaging Students and Teachers from the Arctic to Australia" Oct. 14, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Coffman Union Theater. Over the past five years, Aaron Doering has logged thousands of miles through the Arctic on a dog sled, communicating remotely with millions of children in K-12 classrooms and sharing lessons in global climate change and sustainability. An expert in online and adventure learning, Aaron Doering will speak about his transformative work on the design of online learning environments and the impact it has on teaching and learning, as well as geospatial technologies such as Google Earth, and how it can be used to evaluate classroom teaching and improve student learning. Doering holds the Bonnie Westby-Huebner Endowed Chair of Education and Technology in the College of Education and Human Development.

"Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling Within the Forces of Nature." Oct. 16-May 15, Bell Museum. Free. Just as birds select and gather materials from their local environments to fashion safe and nurturing nests, humans use natural resources to build homes to meet an array of needs and desires. But while shelters in the animal kingdom work in tandem with natural cycles, human shelters typically consume more than they need in natural resources and energy. "Sustainable Shelter" investigates the way human dwellings extract, use, and discard energy, water, and other natural resources.

Through graphics, cartoons, interactive computer games, model homes and mock shelters, visitors can explore how ordinary activities from reading a book to drying clothes impact the planet's carbon and water cycles. The exhibit also compares and contrasts human dwellings with those of other animals, offers a cross-cultural look at human dwellings from around the world, and looks at the changes in building methods and consumption patterns of U.S. houses over the past 150 years. Visitors will also get the chance to try out ways to make their homes more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable with hands-on exhibits.

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

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. Review submissions should be no more than 500 words, previews 200 or fewer. Both are subject to review by the Brief editor.