Big Data for the Big Picture

For March 11, 2020       Please share this invitation with your friends & neighbors. 
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Being a high school history teacher, my Dad had some unusual books stuck on the shelves at 118 College Avenue in Dixon.  Among these was a 12 volume set of the Time-Life History of the United States.  At least a couple of these featured political cartoons by Thomas Nast. The German-born Nast proved that in America not only was the pen mightier than the sword, but also that a pen-and-ink drawing could be more cutting than the word.
Nast’s 19th Century cartoons were lithographs using continuous lines engraved on plates.  In contrast, the colorful comics in the Sunday papers of the mid 20th of my youth were created in part from stipples.  Under a magnifying glass one could see all the little dots that, when you pulled away the lens and looked at the paper from arm’s length, created a paradoxically-clear image.  
In the 1960’s Roy Lichtenstein took the dotted halftone to even more nuanced levels in his pop art. The point of all this was enough dots in the right places, with the right white spaces, can give a splendid picture.
I know just a little about Big Data, but the pointillist metaphor is my favorite:  get enough data points, and you can start to develop a picture of relationships and connections, maybe even of causes and effects, in Nature.
This week (March 11we welcome Claudia Solis-Lemus of Plant Pathology and of Statistics for her talk entitled, “Through the Looking-Glass of Big Data.”  
Big Data has become a Very Big Deal in the life sciences.  As an olde school plant pathologist, I’m looking forward to learning more about how data science can help us draw new inferences and find new ways to wrangle & wrestle with plant diseases. 
Here’s how Prof. Solis-Lemus describes her presentation:
Big data is creating a big splash. By 2020 we expect 2.7 million job openings in Data Science in the US alone — 10 times more than public health, another fast-growing field. But what exactly is Data Science? 
“In this talk, I will describe my research as a statistician in a Plant Pathology department, and how Data Science is revolutionizing the way we study plants and microbes. Statistics exploits the power of big data, redefining the way in which we do science by allowing us to spark discovery out of the massive amounts of data that are being collected in every scientific field. 
“I will describe specific examples related to soil and plant microbiome, and illustrate how the general applicability of statistical tools can help translate methodologies that we use in plants to human research, in particular, to gut and lung microbiome.”
About the Speaker:
Prof. Solis-Lemus’s research involves the development of statistical models to answer biological questions, balancing biological interpretability, theoretical guarantees, and computational tractability. In particular, her research deals with modern big data which are highly interconnected through graphical structures.
Examples of her research involve the inference of phylogenetic networks to study reticulate evolution, comparative methods on networks to study the evolution of traits on hybrids, new sampling schemes to improve on Bayesian MCMC tools, as well as the application of such new tools to real-life datasets such as cultivated potato and carrot, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, human endogenous retroviruses, among others.
Next week (March 18) Prof Adrian Treves, Dr Francisco Santiago-Avila, & Naomi Louchouarn will be here to talk about wolves & grizzlies & cattle (and cattlemen), and what it takes to get a satisfactory arrangement when re-introducing predators such as wolves & bears to roam in places where livestock now call home.
A Special Request: Please mark your calendars for the 18th Annual UW-Madison Science Expeditions campus open house April 3-5.  Three days, 30 venues, and more than 300 scientists welcome you to come explore science at the U.
Hope to see you this week at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

UW-Madison:  5.8 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university. 

Visit UW-Madison’s science outreach portal at for information on the people, places & programs on campus that welcome you to come experience science as exploring the unknown, all year round. 
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