An Invitation to Mathematical Physics & Its History; Making Computers Everyone Can Use; The “Dear Pandemic” Project; Reducing Risks of Wildfires from Power Grids

Explore the Unknown!


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28 April 2021

Hi WN@TL Fans,

When I think of early math, I picture the calculus of little stones plinked one by one in the shepherd’s purse to count up the flock.  I think of the two bits in the market and the cubits of the Ark.  Then come the Egyptians and their geometry of the Nile floodplains—a riparian tabula rosa wiped clean by yearly inundations—and the Pythagoreans and their theorems, followed on by the Chinese, the Hindus, the Babylonians and the Mayans and their calendars and celestial charts.

Next come the Romans, with their magnificent civil engineering feats of aqueducts and roads, of harbors and coliseums, all achieved apparently with a baffling system of numerals that had no zero but that has worked great for delineating Super Bowls.  In my rather loose schooling, I skip ahead XV centuries to Leonardo and his genius for perspective, but otherwise his work seems scant on math.   Then comes something about Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, about Kepler and Galileo, about Descartes and Newton and Leibnitz—and that’s the integral end of my reach.  The Beyond awaits:  Maxwell equates, Fourier transforms, Gauss plumes—these are bafflements exceeding the slide rule of my mind.

These mathematics and more are for me the unseen sinews of many of the most powerful insights and astounding technologies achieved by humans.  I’m looking forward to getting a peek this week at some of those mysteries.

On April 28 Jont Allen of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will speak on “An Invitation to Mathematical Physics and Its History” based on his new book by that title.

Description:  Professor Allen takes an applications-based approach to teaching mathematics to engineering and applied-sciences students. The book lays emphasis on associating mathematical concepts with their physical counterparts, training students of engineering in mathematics to help them learn how things work. He covers the concepts of number systems, algebra equations and calculus through discussions on mathematics and physics, discussing their intertwined history in a chronological order. The book includes examples, homework problems, and exercises. This book can be used to teach a first course in engineering mathematics or as a refresher on basic mathematical physics. Besides serving as core textbook, this book will also appeal to undergraduate students with cross-disciplinary interests as a supplementary text or reader.

Bio:  Jont Allen is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois. After completing his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 1970, he went to AT&T Bell Labs, where he enjoyed a 32-year career.  At AT&T Allen specialized in nonlinear cochlear modeling, auditory and cochlear speech processing, and speech perception.

Since joining University of Illinois in 2003, he has taught and worked with his students on the theory and practice of human speech recognition, for both normal and hearing impaired hearing as well as reading disabilities in young children.

Professor Allen has more than 20 US patents on hearing aids, signal processing and middle ear measurement diagnostics.



On May 5 Gregg Vanderheiden of the University of Maryland will share insights into “How to Make Computers that Everyone Can Use, including Seniors Who Can’t or Won’t.” 

Description:  Our society is rapidly incorporating digital interfaces into all aspects of our lives. Those who cannot access and use digital technologies will not be able to participate in the society that is evolving.  Yet many cannot due to barriers related to disability, literacy, digital affinity or age.

COVID has highlighted the importance and the barriers here.  Solutions for some people exist but are buried in the device’s “Settings,” hard to find and difficult to understand and use. Other strategies exist but are not readily available.

Morphic is a new open-source approach that combines personalization, layering and other strategies to simplify both computers and the presentation and operation of features intended to help simplify their use. The combination seeks to make features more discoverable, lower the cognitive load needed to explore and employ them, and have them show up automatically on any computer the individual encounters. It also seeks to stabilize the interfaces experienced.

It has potential to help the elderly, people with disabilities, and those you just struggle with computers.  The Morphic software and tools will be described, demonstrated and made available to all participants (and anyone they care for).

Bio:   Dr. Vanderheiden is the Director of the Trace R&D Center and Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. He has been active in the field of technology and disability for 50 years and was a pioneer in the field of Augmentative Communication (a term originating from his writings), assistive technology and computer access. Access features developed by Dr. Vanderheiden and the Trace Center team can be found in every computer and mobile device internationally (Windows, MacOS, iOS and Linux).

Dr Vanderheiden was selected as part of the team designing the first digital talking book machines for the Library of Congress talking book service – and carried out extensive exploration and testing of approaches in senior living facilities.   He is a past President and Fellow of RESNA, a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) and Fellow in the Human Factors and Ergonomics society. He has been a long-time leader in the area of web accessibility, creating the first set of Web Accessibility guidelines in 1995 and serving as co-editor and co-chairing the WCAG Working Group from its inception through 2013.

At the 6th World Wide Web Conference, he was the third annual recipient of the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial World Wide Web Award, following Vint Cerf and Doug Engelbart. His most recent work has focused on development of a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) – and proposing a completely different way to approach accessibility for next-next generation ICT.



On May 12 Malia Jones of the Applied Population Lab and co-founder &  editor-in-chief of the “Dear Pandemic” Project will be here to tell us more about the origins, work and future of this group of epidemiologists, physicians and other health care providers.  As the Dear Pandemic website headlines: “It’s a Pandemic.  You Need Answers.”   The group provides insights and analysis in persuasive ways to people looking for guidance on how to deal with covid, its treatments, the ways to reduce its spread, and the vaccines to reduce the likelihood of disease and infection.  Last week Dear Pandemic folks introduced the term “Pandexit” to describe the coming phase of as the pandemic levels out and falls off, the Deity willing and the creek don’t rise (and the variants remain relatively pliant).

Bio:  Dr. Malia Jones is an interdisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of infectious disease and social epidemiology, demography, and geography. She is an Associate Scientist in Health Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory, where her work focuses on how the places we spend time affect our health, especially spatial clustering of infectious disease and vaccines. She is also the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dear Pandemic.

Her current research program is funded by the National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). She received a MPH and a PhD in Public Health at UCLA, and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. Her work has been published in journals including the American Journal of Public Health, Health Affairs, and Demography. She is a maker, a mom to two boys, and she loves David Bowie.



Remember, we now meet by Zoom, since we can’t gather all in one room.

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

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