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University events and lectures preview/review (Dec. 8-Jan.)

A preview and review of some U events and lectures occurring Dec. 8–Jan

Compiled by Adam Overland

Yak tent in China 165
A yak-hair tent in remote China is using yak dung for heat, and solar power to charge cell phones.

December 7, 2010

This issue's review comes in the form of another armchair session, courtesy of live-web-streaming via UMConnect. In particular, the Institute on the Environment's weekly Wednesday (noon–1 p.m.) lecture series, "Frontiers in the Environment," have allowed me many a lunch hour spent in satiation of both body and mind.

Unfortunately, distraction in the form of food usually gets the best of me during these seminars, and my body ends up "learning" more than my mind—through no fault of the lecturer. Fortunately, all of these lectures are online, so if I (or you) want to go back and learn more, they're always available.

The Dec. 1 lecture, "China's Challenges: Energy, Environment, and Development," was given by Elizabeth Wilson, associate professor of energy and environmental policy and law at the Humphrey Institute. Wilson spent a year (2009–10) in China at Tsinghua University studying the context, policies, and challenges that are shaping the Chinese energy revolution.

Most of us are fully aware by now that China will eventually overtake the U.S. as the world's leading economic superpower. But just how quickly that growth is taking place can be astonishing. Wilson showed images of a marshland—or what once was a marshland as recently as 1990—that is now a city of 3 million. To put this in perspective, my calculations put that at a pace equivalent to say, the New Orleans metropolitan area having been founded on vacant marshland in about 2003.

Wilson said that the rapid economic growth is fueling rapid development and an equally rapid increase in energy use and pollution. China has over 120 cities with populations greater than a million people, said Wilson. Beijing alone is laying 50 kilometers of rail track per year—compare that to the Twin Cities light rail. Electricity demand is growing by more than 10 percent per year, so the Chinese are tapping all energy sources, from wind to solar, nuclear, and coal.

In the process, they're become very innovative, likely out of sheer necessity. Wilson talked of places where the pollution was so bad a person couldn't see across the street. The air quality in Beijing was recently cited, officially, as "crazy bad." (On an air quality index of 0 to 500, crazy bad is the hybrid adjective officials chose to describe an index that was off the charts.) Still, China is a developing country, and the U.S. was once the same.

"In Pittsburgh, you had to change your shirt twice a day," Wilson said.

Still, she said, in many ways the cities are more modern than those in the U.S. More than 200 million people use rooftop solar-powered water heaters, for example. But China also still uses massive amounts of coal, and that use is projected to double by 2030, even while they're accelerating development of a low carbon green economy. Over the next decade, it seems things could get crazy bad.
Although not mentioned in Wilson's lecture, a time-lapse video that recently went viral on Youtube shows Chinese workers completing a 15-story building in less than a week! That's crazy fast.

--Review by Adam Overland

Perspectives on Climate Change: Featuring Qin Dahe and Elizabeth Wilson. Dec. 10, 7 a.m., Cowles Auditorium. Free. Incidentally, if you just read the above review, you'll have a chance to compare notes by attending a second presentation with Elizabeth Wilson. The Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy will host Qin Dahe, former administrator of the China Meteorological Administration, and Wilson, associate professor of energy and environmental policy and law at the Humphrey Institute. Dahe will share information about his climate research in cryospheric sciences (the study of frozen water on a planet surface), and Wilson will provide an update on the energy and climate research she conducted in China this past year.

Drinking from Your Father’s Skull: A Lombard Prehistory of Renaissance Marriage. Dec. 13, 5–6:30 p.m., 235 Nolte. Free
. In the eighth century, Paul the Deacon told the story of Rosemund, the ill-fated queen of the Lombards who murdered her husband when he forced her to drink from a cup made from her father’s skull. This story haunted the European imagination for centuries and became the subject of later plays, operas, and paintings. Professor of English John Watkins examines it as a chapter in the history of interdynastic marriage, a crucial feature of diplomatic alliances forged in the pre-modern period.

Surface Design Open House and Studio Sale. Dec. 17, 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m., B9 and B22 McNeal Hall. Free. It's gift giving season, and if you want to put a little you into your gifts, why not do it yourself? The Surface Design area within the College of Design's Graphic Design program is sponsoring an open house and studio sale, where visitors will be able to make their own holiday cards using both letterpress and screen printing. Bring your own t-shirt to print on, if you like; or just buy holiday gifts (cards, posters, and more) made by talented students from the college. The Graphic Design Student Association will offer their handmade greetings cards and gift tags to raise funds for student group activities.

Hot chocolate 165Hot Chocolate Walks. Dec. 18 and Dec. 29, 11 a.m. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. $10 member/$12 non-member. I love the landscape arboretum. I went snowshoeing on the trails there last winter, where just a short way into the woods I could hear little but the sound of my own, artificially big, footsteps. But the arboretum insists that life goes on under winter's quiet cover. On the walk, you can venture out with a naturalist to search the arboretum's snowy landscape for traces and trails of winter residents. You can also discover the strategies of plants and animals that survive the frosty northland, so if the economy gets really, really bad, maybe you can Bear Grylls your way through it like a champ. This event won't be that rough though, I promise. You can return to civilization and warm up afterward in the restaurant with a free cup of hot chocolate. Led by Matt Schuth, arboretum naturalist.

Faculty Recital: Dean Billmeyer, organ. Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m., Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Free. How about a little organ music over the holidays? University organist Dean Billmeyer is bringing it home at a special Winter Solstice recital on the historic 108-rank Æolian-Skinner Pipe Organ in Northrop Memorial Auditorium. It's sponsored by the Friends of the Northrop Organ.

Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling within the Forces of Nature. Bell Museum, through May 15. We've already mentioned this in Preview/Review, but it's worth mentioning again. If you've got a little time, spend a few hours at this Bell Museum exhibit. The exhibit reveals innovative new building technologies and strategies that can help restore the health and viability of natural cycles. You'll be introduced to the functions of shelters, and how animals and humans have adapted to differing environments through an amazing diversity of structures. The ICON solar house, the U's 2009 Solar Decathlon entry, has been reconstructed as part of the exhibit.

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.