Nerd Nite 032

Date: Wednesday August 26, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Of Ants and ALF: Aliens, Inquilines, and Social Parasites of All Species

Summary: Ants are one of the most successful groups of organisms on Earth. They are fully social, incredibly adaptive, and form colonies of superorganisms capable of thriving on nearly every landmass on the planet. The Tanners are a suburban middle-class family in the San Fernando Valley. Both the Ants and the Tanners experience certain levels of social success, and with that social success comes freeloaders looking to cash in on the cushy, catered lifestyle of nesting with their successful associates. For Ants, these freeloaders take many forms: beetles, butterflies, even other ants. For the Tanners, it’s ALF, an Alien Life Form crash-landed from planet Melmac. In this talk, we’ll break down the beauty of social parasitism, and show how freeloading in the natural world can be so much more than just eating cats.

Presenter bio: Ben Taylor has been the Boss of Nerd Nite Madison since 2013. He’s big time psyched about that.


Killer Plants

Summary: If you’re feeling a little vengeful, look no further than the garden for an all-natural way to do a little damage to your fellow man. While you and I are no Walter White, a little know-how around castor beans and nightshades may give you an upper hand … or at least minimize your chances of harm when lost in the garden and hungry.

Bio: Christy Marsden is a Horticulture Educator for UW-Extension, a job that surprisingly makes use of both her BS in Human Development and MS in Environmental Horticulture from the University of California, Davis. This is her second time on the stage for Nerd Nite.


How to Invent an Alien Language

Summary: In 2013 I was hired to create a language for a race of aliens in a video game. Without actual aliens to go do fieldwork on, how do you go about creating an alien language? In this talk I’ll show how I used what we know — and don’t know — about natural human languages to help me create, if not a truly alien language, at least something better than processed gibberish or a simple code for English.

Presenter bio: By day, William Annis is a Unix systems administrator. Working all day with computers makes him about as mild-mannered as you might expect. By night, he practices the art of language creation, as he’s done for about thirty years now, mixed with occasional bouts of gardening, and playing the banjo to depress local property values.

Nerd Nite 031: “A Salute to Stereotypes”

Date: Wednesday May 27, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Sneaker Males OR “Sneaky Fucker Strategy”

Summary: Thanks to John Maynard Smith we have a title for this reproduction strategy in the vernacular. Guys dressing up as girls is an old trope that has been used to great comic effect throughout the ages. Turns out that is just another idea we stole from the animals. Whenever alpha males get too big and bad “life, uh… finds a way” as Dr. Ian Malcolm says and in that case The Way is for a non-alpha dude to look like a lady. We’ll drink champagne and dance all night under electric candlelight and by the end of the night we’ll all have a little more respect for those males sneaky enough to hide their secondary sex characteristics. 

Presenter bio: Brendon Panke is the organizer for Madison Storytellers. He spends almost all of the rest of his time taking care of a small human being. But before all of that he got a couple of degrees in ecology.


Holy Censorship Batman!

Summary: When everyone was focusing on the Rosenbergs and the Red Scare, something even more sinister was afoot. A plot of to tear apart the very fabric of the collective American imagination! Will Science Fiction and Fantasy ever be the same again? Will Dr. Wertham have his way? Find out tonight, when the biggest censorship in US history is revealed: The Comics Code Authority!  

Bio: Ken Goldstein is not a historian, but he does love his comic books. He has a BFA in Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking from the University of North Florida and a collection of over 5000 comics. You might call him a nerd’s nerd. This is his first time presenting at Nerd’s Nite.


Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-A-B-Select-Start: A Brief History of Console Gaming

Summary: I’ll tell you about systems more primitive than Pong, the designer of River Raid who was ahead of her time, the reason blowing on cartridges actually makes things worse, how Nintendo and SEGA got supplanted by an electronics company and a software publisher, and why virtual reality is finally here to stay. Enjoy the nostalgia—they ain’t makin’ any more of it!

Presenter bio:  Mike Hendrickson is a staff member in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at UW-Madison. He is also co-founder of NeuroSolis, Inc., a drug development start-up working on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a spare million dollars to invest, see him after the presentation—he’ll buy you a beer and TWO slices of pizza. His all-time favorite console is the Atari 5200.

Nerd Nite 030

Date: Wednesday April 29, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Swayze Theory: An explanation for everything

Summary: Some scientists believe in a hypothetical theory that would be a coherent framework to explain all physical aspects of the universe. The recently-developed Swayze Theory posits that crux of this “theory of everything” has been in our minds and hearts for years: Patrick Swayze. This talk will delve into some of the history and present day discussion about the elusive ultimate theory, and explain why this tough guy and romantic heart throb holds the key to it all. Nerd Nite is the first time the Swayze Theory will be presented to the world. 

Presenter bio: Jamie is not what most would refer to as an “expert” in advanced theoretical physics or Patrick Swayze, but he does think Road House is just as interesting as the Higgs boson. This is his second time presenting at Nerd Nite, the first time he talked about Wikipedia (which assisted in some of the research for this talk).


Golden Orb-Weavers!

Summary: When asked, most people can name a few benefits that spiders have bestowed upon man-kind: maybe some people recognize that most of our food supply would be gone if spider-soldiers weren’t marching around eating up pest species, or some people appreciate the decrease in man-eating insect populations. However, did you know that one special group of spiders -the Golden Orb-Weavers- have contributed to the development of transgenic spider silk producing goats? Or that they were the first spiders to visit the international space station? The Golden Orb-Weavers do all of the above and more! Learn a little about what it takes to become a spider-naut, why on Earth anyone would want goatsilk, plus other amazing spiderfacts that will morph you into a superspidernerd.  

Bio: Meghan Fitzgerald is a graduate student in her last year of a Zoology PhD at UW Madison. She studies (non-) social interactions of Nephila spiders in Costa Rica and spends most of her time wishing it was acceptable to hire a dissertation ghost-writer. In her non-nerd time (ha!) she plays the ukulele, listens to storytelling podcasts and dreams of tiny-house building.


Monday Night Wars: When Professional Wrestling Ruled Cable TV

Summary: In the 90s, Ted Turner started World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and went head to head against Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Foundation (WWF). For six glorious years, these two shows battled over TV ratings. I’ll talk (and show video clips) about some of the major events in this era and how reality influenced the scripted world of professional wrestling. Prepare to learn about Hulk Hogan, the nWo, Bret “The Hitman” Heart, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Presenter bio:  Rob Lumley is a Digital Solutions Manager at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. He has zero experience as a professional wrestler, but he was able to get through his adolescence by watching wrestling every Monday night. Shockingly, he is now married with a kid.

Nerd Nite 029

Date: Wednesday March 25, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Why 60 Minutes? 5000 years of tradition and science

Summary: The minute and second were first measured by astronomers of 16th-century Europe, but both measures existed in writing as far back as the 11th century. Why did medieval astronomers choose to cut the hour into 60 pieces, and why did this choice persist for so long? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg, because this story actually traces back many thousands of years! The 60 we use today is the same the Sumerians used before the oldest known writing. This tradition has been handed from civilization to civilization in one long, unbroken line. We’ll follow 60 from its origins, to how it became tied to astronomy, trigonometry, and navigation, and how it came to be the system we still use today. 

Presenter bio: Robert Coolman is a graduate researcher in the department of Chemical Engineering at UW-Madison. Robert explores interactions between science and history in his writing at When he’s not getting anything done you can find him in the kitchen with his wife or in the living room playing tabletop games.


Alcibiades: Classical Greece’s most legendary badass and possibly, its biggest douchebag

Summary: If you were to get wasted, walk up to Morgan Freeman, and clock him in the face you would probably end up one of the most hated people on the planet. If Alcibiades were do the same thing, Mr. Freeman would ask him to marry his daughter. Alcibiades was one of the Athenian Athenians to ever roam this planet. He was a tactical genius, a great orator, obscenely wealthy, and absurdly beautiful. When he wasn’t banging Socrates and leading Athenian armies he was leading Spartan armies against Athens (while banging the King’s wife). Join the talk and learn more about one of history’s most ridiculous characters. 

Bio: Teddy de Groot is a graduate student in the biomedical engineering department at the UW. Though a biomedical engineer all his life, he has taken an inexplicable interest in classical studies and how history was written before it was ruined by Germans in the 19th century with their socioeconomic-driven explanations for everything.


Linguistic attitudes: Why we think the things we do about language

Summary: We all place different values on the ways that we, and others, use language. Southern accents might make us tingle (in a good way) while hearing the word ‘literally’ just one more time might drive us up the wall (like, figuratively speaking). But why? In this talk we’ll look at the science behind language attitudes, the term that linguists use to describe our common understanding of different varieties of language. Come prepared to look at the language of wartime cartoons, overanalyze why we love and hate different slang terms, and raise a glass to the diversity of English dialects.

Presenter bio: Joshua Raclaw is a postdoc and resident sociolinguist at the UW’s Center for Women’s Health Research, where he studies how biomedical researchers use language in their evaluation of grant applications. He’s also interested in how language helps construct our relationships and identities and how new technology changes how we communicate with one another, and one time he wrote over two-hundred pages on the word ‘no’. In his spare time he enjoys huddling for warmth in his apartment with his wife, cats, and beloved Netflix account.

Nerd Nite 028

Date: Wednesday February 25, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

How the Sun got its spots…(and other plasma astrophysics stories)

Summary: A long, long time ago, down by the banks of the Limpopo River…well, the Sun probably had sunspots back then too. The question astrophysicists ask is, why? We know that sunspots are a result of the Sun’s turbulent and twisting magnetic field, but the real question is: why do stars, planets, galaxies – practically every visible thing in the universe – even have magnetic fields to begin with? In this talk we’ll go on a whirlwind tour of the many different types of magnetic structures that populate the heavens, and see how scientists are trying to replicate the underlying physical processes in laboratory experiments. The key ingredient? Plasma, the exotic 4th state of matter, unimaginably hot at millions of degrees, and being tamed here on Earth for next-generation power plants, microprocessor fabrication,…and graduate dissertations.  

Presenter bio: Dave Weisberg is a doctoral candidate in the UW Madison Physics Dept. studying hydrodynamic flows and kinetically-driven MHD instabilities in unmagnetized plasmas. When he’s not burning off his fingerprints in the electronics lab, Dave also likes to study the aerodynamics of Frisbees, the friction coefficients of rock climbing, and (insert compulsory coffee joke here). PS: Happy Global Plasma Month!


From Photons to Faces: A Visual Tour of the Visual System

Summary: For most humans, vision dominates our experience of reality. With decent acuity, we perceive depth, color, and motion. To accomplish this, our visual system collects and processes a tremendous amount of data. It contains specialized modular areas to maintain your circadian rhythm, track moving objects, and recognize faces. We’ll follow the flow of visual information from detection of photons in the eye through creation of conscious visual percepts in the cortex with a few stops along the way. Immediately after the Q&A, we’ll test your knowledge of facial recognition with a contest to name characters form nerd-dome. 

Bio: Mike Hendrickson is a staff member in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at UW-Madison, and has a long-standing interest in neuroscience. He is also co-founder of NeuroSolis, Inc., a drug development start-up working on treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a spare million dollars to invest, see him after the presentation—he’ll buy you a beer and a slice of pizza. He’s not joking about the last part.


Love is Weird, and Sometimes Gross

Summary: Love is an elusive topic to define, but for as long as people have been baby-makin’, bizarre and sometimes gross rituals and practices have been put in place for the single end-goal of helping people get down. And if love wasn’t complicated enough already, enter the internet! and science! It’s a messy story of love in its past and present forms that will ultimately have you falling in love with love and all its quirks, squirts, and sweaty shirts.

Presenter bio: Maia first fell in love with love when she found out that (Spoiler Alert!) chemicals in our sweat may have something to do with it. This was for a project on the “Neuroscience of Love” she did as a wee college student. Maia is now a grown-ass graduate student studying Neuroscience full-time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her part-time leisure activities include playing matchmaker for her friends and consuming music by the earful.

Nerd Nite 027: Sex, Drugs, and Frisbee

Date: Wednesday January 28, 2015
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

What Makes a Sport Real: The Case of Professional Ultimate Frisbee

Summary: Professional sports are a big business, and sports once considered niche are attracting more and more attention in the form of media coverage and financial sponsorships. But the biggest hurdle sports face when trying to break into the mainstream is the perception over whether or not they are real. So what makes a sport real? This talk will discuss various benchmarks established by fancy academics to judge when a sport has successfully transitioned from the edge into the mainstream, and apply them to the case of pro ultimate. It will also look at how a historically marginalized sport attempts to shed the stereotypes that have long defined the sport in order to attract new fans.  

Presenter bio: Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen is a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she specializes in media history and writes papers about Ultimate Frisbee on the side (her lack of coordination prevents her from being a serious on-the-field threat).


A Brief History of Cannabis: A Dope Story

Summary: Cannabis is currently legal in four states and the District of Colombia, and 23 states have medical marijuana laws. But what is Cannabis? Why was it illegal? Why did these states legalize it? What effects have these drug laws had? What is “medical marijuana” used for? Should you care? In this invigorating talk, I’ll keep you from feeling dazed and confused and take you on an excellent adventure to learn more about this famous plant, its history, and its uses, so you can be a better educated citizen! 

Bio: M Stillwell has learned from his time in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin that science is an incredibly important aspect to understanding the world around you. Originally from Colorado, he takes great interest in nature and loves finding new surprises that nature leaves. He is also interested in policy and does his best to stay up to speed with politics when he isn’t living under a rock in lab.


Rodents of Unusual Size and Islands, Environments of Unusual Character

Summary:Approximately 150 years ago, mouse stowaways made the jump from ships to Gough Island, one of the most remote islands on the planet. Since that time, Gough Island mice evolved the largest body size of any wild mouse population in the world – truly, rodents of unusual size! This phenomena has been observed in other species on other islands: animals and plants marooned on islands often evolve either gigantism or dwarfism. Our lab maintains a colony of Gough Island mice. We aim to uncover the mutations and genes underlying the island-induced size evolution of these mice. Perhaps our most helpful colleagues in this quest are other islands, since they naturally crank out other unusually sized rodents, permitting us to answer one of the most important questions in evolutionary biology: Do two widely separated populations that share a trait, such as large body size, evolve that trait as a result of mutations in the same or different genes?

Presenter bio: Mark J. Nolte is a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Genetics at UW-Madison. He hopes that his academic success in Evolutionary Biology can catch up to his success in applied Darwinian Fitness where he boasts four children and a beautiful, choosy wife. He enjoys reading about altruism, cognitive science, religion and naked mole rats (which is really just more altruism).

Nerd Nite 026

Date: Wednesday December 3, 2014
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

Bitcoin and the Mystery of Money

Summary: It’s in your pockets, it’s deep underground, it’s even in the cloud. Everyone uses it in some ways shapes and forms, that right I’m talking about money! All sorts of money from dollar dollar bills to gold to cryptocurrency, it’s everywhere in our society, but have you taken a moment and actually thought about what money is? Fear not, this talk is going to break if down for you. In the first half we’ll go on an allegorical journey and shift your paradigm of what money is in a cultural and philosophical sense. In the second half, we’ll break down this convoluted and controversial topic of Bitcoin.  

Presenter bio: By day, Sisi Li is a graduate student studying neuroscience at UW-Madison. By night, she is a crochet and wine enthusiast. Ever since a young age, she’s been interested in understanding how the world works which naturally lead her to investigate the superlative organ that enables all learning, the brain. Her hobbies include International traveling (6 continents and counting), improv, sailing, crochet, ultimate frisbee, wine, and most importantly learning.


Wikipedia (disambiguation)

Summary: Wikipedia is the sixth most popular site on the interwebs, it has been cited in important legal rulings–including Wisconsin’s Wolf v. Walker–and now it even has a statue (in Poland of all places). In this talk I’ll share how the site came to be what it is today, and share some facts that will be especially useful in cocktail party banter. I’ll also demonstrate why Wikipedia is such a splendid distributor of knowledge: a fancy thing called hyperlinks. 

Bio: Jamie Holzhuter once made it through an entire semester of Greek classics literature by writing response papers based on reading Wikipedia articles (he prefers to call it “efficient learning,” and the articles were actually quite good). We works at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, which is not at all related to his talk but it’s good to know anyway.


Axotlotl in Regenerative Research

Summary: Learn the tale of a delightful little amphibian that did just fine despite its perpetual immaturity. Through a presentation that spans evolutionary biology, massive inbreeding, regenerative medicine, and a handful of disturbing images, Laura Felley hopes to convince you that no matter how large the discrepancy between your chronological and behavioral age, everything will be peachy just the way it is.

Presenter bio: On graduating college, Laura Felley decided she was not yet ready to leave her warm cocoon of academics and social awkwardness. As such, she joined the MD/PhD program at the University of Wisconsin. Currently a graduate student, she studies human immunology and novel vaccination strategies. Her average workday is spent drawing blood, ordering reagents and equipment worth two to three times her net value, and trying to convince everyone to get a flu shot. (You DID get the flu shot, right?)

Nerd Nite 025

Date: Wednesday November 5, 2014
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Magic of Solar Panels and Why They Will Save the World

Summary: Solar power has been in the news lately as the “it” girl of alternative energy. But is she really that awesome on the inside, or is it just more hype? We’ll play science dodge-ball, and learn why solar roadways are a HORRIBLE idea but other applications of solar power will truly save the world.  

Presenter bio: Robin Lawson is a Jane of all trades, master of many. A 4th generation mechanical engineer, she grew up in northern WI with her very own maker space in the woods. Robin is currently the co-founder (with her genius engineer brother) and design diva of Lumen Electronic Jewelry, which creates twinkling LED jewelry powered by the magic of solar cells. She also enjoys tricking minors into loving science through their kits and classes. When she isn’t melting metals she can also be found dancing like no one is watching.


All Samples Cleared: The Curious Rise and Fall of Sampling In Hip-Hop

Summary: At the bedrock foundation of hip-hop is sampling. Flipping drum beats, chopping up horn stabs, and looping breaks for the b-boys used to be the way it all went down. Then, once the money started flowing starting with Rapper’s Delight, the lawyers came calling and more or less put an end to it making it so that landmark albums like Paul’s Boutique would now be too cost-prohibitive to ever get produced and released legally in today’s music landscape. In the same way that English teachers use hip-hop to make poetry fun, let’s try and use it as a jump off to examine the current messed-up state of copyright laws in America. 

Bio: A Madison transplant from North Carolina where he wrote his undergrad thesis on “Hip Hop’s Interdisciplinary Cultural Roots”, Chris sometimes writes things for The Isthmus and Tone Madison, occasionally performs standup comedy, often times sells people records at MadCity Music Exchange, and will always have a last name that’s a sex-verb.


Midwest is Best!: Serial Killer Heavy Hitters

Summary: We’ve all heard the phrase “Midwest is Best,” and that sure rings true when it comes to serial killers. Four of the most infamous serial killers of the past 150 years have hailed from the great states of Illinois and Wisconsin: H.H. Holmes, John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer. This presentation will delve into the lives and deaths of these four men and their heinous crimes, looking at what may have driven them to kill, details of some the murders, and the aftermath personally for these men, for popular culture, and for the reputation of the midwest. Whether it’s that clown at your child’s birthday party, your doctor, that chocolate factory worker, or your neighbor, you just can’t always trust that Midwestern hospitality.

Presenter bio: Originally from Ohio, Alexandra Newman came to Madison a few years back, receiving her Master’s degree in Art History in 2012 with the thesis “The Trope of the Enwhitened Boy Adventurer: Tintin and Jonny Quest.” She studies French and American cartoons and comics, and American pop music ephemera. Currently she teaches Art History at Madison College, serves as the Celebrity and Stardom Chair for the Midwest Pop Culture Association, and has a mild obsession with watching Investigation Discovery crime shows.

Nerd Nite 024: At the Wisconsin Science Festival!

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.

Nerd Nite 023: Everything You Know Is Wrong

Date: Wednesday September 24, 2014
Time: 8pm
Location: High Noon Saloon (map)

The Truth Is Out There: The Science of The X-Files

Summary: The X-Files was more than just alien colonists, our beloved Smoking Man, and Scully’s amazing pantsuits. Killer cockroaches. Giant psychedelic mushrooms. The Flukeman. How much is science fiction, and how much could be reality? Using a few of everyone’s favorite episodes, I’ll tell you what they got right and what they got awesomely wrong. 

Presenter bio: Alison D. Scott is a pinball wizard, founding editor of The Strobilus, and grad student in the Department of Botany. She left California and moved to Madison to study the evolutionary history of certain big trees using DNA and fossils. When she’s not doing research, you can find her at science outreach events, or at home reading about plane crashes. She thinks your hair looks really great like that.


Squatting for Squares: Your Guide to Proper Pooping

Summary: Everybody poops, and a lot of people poop inefficiently. Through the use of anatomy, images, and anecdotes, I argue that the squat position is much more efficient than the sitting position when pooping. Going “number 2” is such a normal, taken-for-granted part of life that most people who have grown up with westernized sitting toilets don’t think twice about their posture. Most people don’t consider the fact that humans evolved to squat, yet we contort our intestines into unnatural positions and make said intestines work harder by forcing poop out of our bodies while sitting on the toilet. I will present a solution to this dilemma by introducing a way to squat from the comfort of your porcelain toilet seat! I call this method “perching,” and hopefully it will improve people’s pooping lives for the greater good. 

Presenter Bio: Makenzie Graham is an avid advocate of natural healthcare and well-being. She provides therapy for children with Autism, and has just started going back to school to get the pre-reqs needed for a graduate Occupational Therapy program. She spends her free time paddle boarding and learning how to drum and dance to different West African rhythms. She has a holistic view of health, and believes that everything, from the different food we eat to the way we evacuate waste from our bodies, should be considered when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She’ll be moving out to Portland, OR at the end of this year, so she’s happy to start spreading the message about perching here in Madison!


To Split or Lump: What Constitutes A Species In Today’s Changing World?

Summary: Can you think back to freshman year biology class? Chances are, you were taught some obscure definition of how to classify a species. As it turns out, there is not universal consensus among scientists even within different fields on how to group individuals. In this talk we will discuss and debate two contrasting views by a conservationist and an anthropologist of how to deal with variation among populations. The ultimate question: are you a lumper or a splitter?

Presenter bio: Sarah Traynor and Mary Dinsmore are both third year graduate students at the UW-Madison. Sarah Traynor is in the Department of Anthropology where she spends her days measuring Inuit skulls to identify the underlying mechanisms of modern human variation. Mary Dinsmore is a student in the Environment and Resources department. She’s conducting her research in Madagascar where she spends her nights following endangered nocturnal lemurs to study their behavioral plasticity and relationship with the local people. During their first semester these two became fast friends where they discovered their mutual love of science, curvaceous cats, and the occasional desire to slink around town.