Date: SATURDAY October 18, 2014
Time: 8pm
Location: DISCOVERY BUILDING, UW-Madison Campus (map)

Anything you can do, ants can do better: why ants rule and humans drool

Summary: Us… humans…we like to pat ourselves on the back, citing several accomplishments that make us superior and unique (e.g. modern medicine/antibiotic use, agriculture/domestication of crops, and complex social society). In addition, humans are “uniquely” capable of extraordinary, and sometimes shameful, tendencies (e.g. global colonization, slavery, and military defense). What you might not know is that these things are not unique to humans. In fact, they evolved in ant species millions of years before humans evolved. This presentation will reveal many of the extraordinary behaviors that ants exhibit, showing how these tiny creatures can be just as complex and interesting as us humans.

Presenter bio: Eric Caldera is a native Texan who is either well rounded or confused – he is a biologist, musician, and aspiring poet. As a doctoral candidate studying evolution, ecology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has received the National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship and doctoral dissertation improvement grant, and a National Institute of Health fellowship. For his research, Eric studies coevolution between ants and a complex of microbial symbionts, which combines fieldwork in neo-tropical rainforests with population genetics. Eric is also the guitarist in the Madison-based instrumental band El Valiente and plays guitar and sings in the singer/songwriter project Oedipus TX.


Why is an ear growing on the back of that mouse?

Summary: You have likely found yourself wondering, “Why did researchers grow an ear on the back of a mouse, and how can I get one?” It was 17 years ago that we first saw pictures of “earmouse”, and 20 years ago that researchers and the media declared that we would have fully functional engineered organs ready for transplantation within a decade. Where do we stand with this prediction? Can you go to the hospital and receive an off-the-shelf living organ to repair your own damaged tissues? The answer: kind of. In this talk, we will explore the hype and hope of tissue engineering, and I will answer your burning questions about whether those off-the-shelf organs will be ready in time to complement that totally awesome costume you have planned for this Halloween. 

Presenter Bio: Ten years ago, Kristyn Masters decided to take a break from being a full-time rock climbing bum and try out this whole professor thing. She is now an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering whose research focuses on using tissue engineering to better understand the progression of various cardiovascular diseases. In addition to climbing and science-ing, Kristyn’s other talents include being remarkably bad at dancing and regularly consuming truly unreasonable amounts of chocolate.


0.9999… = 1, But Not For The Reason You Think, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Hilbertian Formalism

Summary: People get really heated up over whether 0.9999….., where the string of 9’s is understood to go on forever, is equal to 1. I have seen otherwise sober people nearly come to blows over it. Tonight I will try to settle the question once and for all, and try to make the case that this is not just a trivial nerd battle but a question where fundamental questions about mathematical philosophy are at stake. Not that there’s anything wrong with trivial nerd battles. 

Presenter Bio: Jordan Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics at UW, specializing in number theory and arithmetic geometry, which is a long way of saying he’s part of the three-thousand-year-old tradition of being confused about basic questions about whole numbers. He is the the author of the New York Times bestseller How Not To Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.


Ribonucleic Acids: A Love Story

Summary: The fields of biochemistry and genetics experienced a revolution in the mid-20th century. In this talk, I look back at the radical and heroic experiments that established the central dogma of molecular biology, and marvel at the skill and chutzpah of the scientists who performed them.

Presenter bio: Emily Ruff is a postdoctoral scholar at UW-Madison who studies molecular biology and physical chemistry. She previously presented a Nerd Nite talk entitled “Entropy: Everyone’s Favorite Thermodynamic Function.” Emily loves DNA, J. W. Gibbs, talking about science at bars, Atlas Improv Co., and strong coffee, among many other things.