A Series of Fortunate Events

For January 27, 2021

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Hi WN@TL Fans,
Finally, after an insurrection, an impeachment, and an inauguration over the past three Wednesdays, this week we get a chance at some introspection.  It’s timely, because the topic actually is chance, luck, Fortune.
Louis Pasteur gets credit for noting, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”  I will take credit for saying, along with about 5 million fellow Wisconsinites, that “In the fields of football, chance favors only those who play prevent defense on the last play of the first half.”
On Sunday’s Packer game we got to see how small differences in fortune—a dropped pass in the end zone, a missed holding call on an interception—can play early, pivotal roles in larger outcomes that can’t be undone, at least in the realm of sports. Moreover, the fickle, the capricious, and the serendipitous have long been leading drivers & notorious deciders in literature, theater, and history.
On January 27, Sean Carroll will zoom to us from Maryland where he serves as Vice President for Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  He’ll be speaking on topics covered in his latest book, “A Series of Fortunate Events:  Chance, the Making of the Planet, Life, and You.”
Why is the planet the way it is? How did we get here?

Does everything happen for a reason or are some things left to chance?

Philosophers and theologians have pondered these questions for millennia, but over the past half-century, startling scientific discoveries have revealed that we live in a world driven by chance. Sean Carroll tells the stories of the mother of all accidents, the accident of all mothers, and much more in an entertaining and awe-inspiring tale of the surprising power of chance in our lives and the world.

Bio:  Sean B. Carroll is an award-winning scientist, writer, educator, and film producer. He is Professor Emeritus of Molecular Biology and Genetics at UW-Madison, and currently Vice President for Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Head of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, and the Balo-Simon Chair of Biology at the University of Maryland.
Sean is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, been a finalist for the National Book Award in non-fiction, and earned two Emmys for documentary films. His last book was the basis for Emmy-winning nature film The Serengeti Rules. His new book, A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You, was just published by Princeton University Press.
On February 3, Dr. Andrea Strzelec, Director of the College of Engineering’s Master’s of Engineering in Engine Systems program, will be here to provide comparative analysis of vehicle powertrains with internal combustion engines, battery electrics (using an electric motor), and hybrid systems (which have both an engine and electric motor).  Her talk is entitled The Future of Hybrid Vehicles:  Electric vs Electrified Powertrains.
Description:  There is a lot of important discourse about the need for a cleaner and more energy efficient future. This is fantastic! However, it can also be fanatic and lacking in scientific truth. Engine bans and “Zero Emissions” vehicles are perfect examples of this.I want to stipulate that the issues surrounding CO2 emissions are real and problematic. However, just like all hot button issues, there are a lot of false claims surrounding this issue that need to be addressed. Knee-jerk reactions based on faulty assumptions or an incomplete view of the engineering analysis will not solve the problem, and in some cases may make it worse. In this talk, I will try to explain WHY.There is a significant difference between “electric” and “electrified” when it comes to vehicle powertrains that is necessary to understand. In addition, much like “there is no free lunch” there is also no such thing as a zero emissions vehicle or ZEV. Drawing the “box” for our analysis has to be done honestly for comparison – there is just one global atmosphere for us to inhabit – so there is no hiding the truth.
In this talk, I will focus on the details of why word choice matters when it comes to clean vehicles, and how….. “dirty” is in the details.
Bio:  Andrea Strzelec is Program Director for the Master of Engineering in Engine Systems (MEES), Polymer Engineering (MEPE),  and Power MS Programs at the College of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison.   She is a Chair, Exhaust Aftertreatment & Emissions Committee; and Vice-Chair, Powertrain, Fuels & Lubricants Committee, of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).  In addition, she works closely with the UW Nuclear Reactor Director Robert Agasie on developing Neutron Radiography capabilities at the UWNR. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Mississippi State University and Texas A&M University, after post-doc fellowships at the Pacific Northwest National Lab and the Oak Ridge National Lab.
Dr. Strzelec teaches graduate courses in thermodynamics, internal combustion engines, exhaust aftertreatment, combustion science, automotive engineering, and heat transfer. She has also taught undergraduate courses in automotive engineering, internal combustion engines, thermodynamics, heat transfer, thermal fluids analysis and design, and senior capstone design. She is the recipient of the 2015 SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award and the Texas A&M Mechanical Engineering 2015 Brittian Undergraduate Teaching Award.
Links:  https://www.andreastrzelec.com
On February 10 our guest speaker for UW Darwin Days is Prof Moriah Szpara from Penn State who will speak on “Viruses As Unique & Long-lived as Their Human Hosts.”
Description:  Much of the “Invisible Biology” of the world around us consists of viruses, which are as diverse and varied in their lifestyles as the other organisms we see around us. Herpesviruses are a particularly widespread family of viruses. Unlike acute infections that we clear in days or weeks, these viruses are resident within us for an entire lifetime — always capable of re-emerging and spreading to new hosts. This talk will highlight the unique biology of herpes simplex viruses, which infect humans and set up a lifelong infection in our nervous system. I’ll explain how the revolution of next-generation or “deep” sequencing has revealed far more diversity and flexibility in these viruses than we thought possible. We’ll also explore how changes in human behavior are in turn re-shaping these viruses.Bio:  Moriah Szpara is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biology, and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, at the Pennsylvania State University. Her group is part of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (CIDD) at Penn State, within the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences. Szpara received her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California Berkeley, in neurobiology. As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University with Dr. Lynn Enquist, Dr. Szpara focused on the neurotropic herpesviruses. The Szpara lab now explores the impacts of viral genetic diversity on virulence and disease severity, with a focus on viruses that infect the nervous system. Our research spans the range from genomic and bioinformatic comparisons of viral genomes, to dissecting viral interactions with human neurons, to examining viral diversity in real-world human infections. We also build open-source tools for working with viral genomes, like VirAmp (http://viramp.com) and VirGA (http:// virga.readthedocs.org/). You can keep up with the lab’s research at: http://szparalab.psu.edu/, or on Science Twitter @SzparaLab.Websites:  Here is the Szpara Lab’s website, to see our past papers & related resources:  http://szparalab.psu.edu/
ViralZone is a wonderful resource to look up details of any virus: https://viralzone.expasy.org/
This Week in Virology (TWiV) is a fabulous podcast & blog by a group of fellow virologists: https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H