The Future of Hybrid Vehicles

For February 3, 2021

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Hi WN@TL Fans,


When I was at Northern Illinois University in the mid-1980’s I stumbled on a survey compiled by the National Science Foundation that ranked US universities by their research & development expenditures.  I was astonished that the University of Wisconsin-Madison was ranked so high—the top 3 or 4 in the nation, if I remember correctly.


A good chunk of the astonishment came from having spent four years of my life getting my PhD here and never once had the ranking of the university by this measure ever penetrated my consciousness.  Maybe it’s not the type of thing a 26 year old cares about.  But by 31 I had come to be amazed.


For several decades since NSF had started counting, UW was always in the top 5.  But in fiscal year 2015 the UW fell to sixth place and then in FY 2018 to eighth.  The UW remained 8th for FY 2019, as NSF announced on Friday when it released the annual report of the Higher Education Research & Development Survey.


The good news is that the university dropped no lower.  The bad news is the university climbed no higher.  Alas, there is no easy elixir or fixer at hand.


There’s another set of data that comes out every year that I pay some happy attention to, and that’s the Data Digest from UW-Madison.  If we value what we measure, and if we measure what we value, then the Data Digest tells us much about the values of the university.  The Digest also gives us the current lay of the land and also in many cases it plots out the lay of the trends of the past 10 years.  If the Data Digest doesn’t tell us where we’re going to go, it does hint at what likely may be, and certainly can point out a strength or a deficiency.


Drawing up fair comparisons is one of the powers of compiling data on research & development budgets of many universities over time, or of compiling data on a range of missions of one university over time.  Getting to a fair comparison is also a major emphasis for this week’s speaker.






On February 3, 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.






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 ( and VirGA (http:// You can keep up with the lab’s research at:, or on Science Twitter @SzparaLab.

Websites:  Here is the Szpara Lab’s website, to see our past papers & related resources:
ViralZone is a wonderful resource to look up details of any virus:
This Week in Virology (TWiV) is a fabulous podcast & blog by a group of fellow virologists:




On February 15 we’ll have a special Monday edition of Wednesday Nite @ The Lab as Sean B. Carroll of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute returns for a screening of his documentary The Serengeti Rules as part of UW-Madison’s Darwin Day celebrations.


On February 17 the Darwin Day organizers have arranged for a panel of 4 researchers from around the country to speak on The Co-Evolution of Mammals and Microbes.




Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!


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