Explore the Unknown!
For November 10, 2021
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Since at least the time of the mythical Daedalus, humans have sought to go higher to see farther and more clearly. While Daedalus and Icarus flew to flee more than to see, the exuberant Icarus was among the first to discover that changes in altitude can also result in changes in conditions.
On August 27, 1783 Jacques Charles launched his hydrogen-filled balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris. The balloon carried no passengers or cargo, but its ascent was witnessed by thousands. Among the multitudes was Benjamin Franklin, whose international stature as a scientist had been lifted up 31 years earlier by his use of kites to investigate the nature of lightning. When asked on the day of Charles’ flight what good was the balloon, Franklin blazed the phrase en francais that ever since has captured the hopes of inventors everywhere: “Eh! à quoi bon l’enfant qui vient de naître?” (What good is a new-born baby?)
Also in August and September 1783 the Montgolfier brothers in France were developing and flying their hot-air balloon, first with livestock as experimental passengers, and then in mid-October with Etienne Montgolfier being the first human to fly. These tethered flights near Paris were followed on November 21 with the first free flight with humans aboard; the balloon carried a physicist and an army officer, an early suggestion of the scientific and military potential of flight.
On December 1, Jacques Charles flew aboard his hydrogen-filled balloon, also near Paris, also with Franklin observing from the ground. According to John Lienhard, in the following several weeks Franklin’s insights had already analyzed the relative merits of hydrogen over hot-air, and the powers & cost-effectiveness of an airborne rather than seaborne invasion force.
What Franklin couldn’t foresee was that the hydrogen balloon, by allowing humans to go up through the atmosphere (up where the air is clear), would lead some 128 years later to the discovery of a new type of celestial rays that enable humans to see the Universe, including the Earth, in whole new ways. We call them Cosmic Rays, and today is the 10th Annual International Cosmic Day.
For this happy occasion, on November 10 I’m delighted to welcome back to WN@TL my friend from Firenze (the one in Italy), Paolo Desiati, who will share his insights into the outa sight ways of The Cosmic Rays.
Title: Celebrating Cosmic Rays on the 10th International Cosmic Day
Description: The talk will bring the audience through the gripping journey that started in 1911 with the unexpected discovery of the invisible but ubiquitous cosmic rays and continues today with searches for their sources in the universe. The journey will bring us through exciting discoveries that unveiled a complex and diverse invisible universe and technological advances that made it possible to see what our eyes cannot. Cosmic rays, once objects of study to reveal their very nature, became a useful tool for unveiling other mysteries—from looking through volcanoes or the Great Pyramid of Giza to peeking inside a nuclear reactor or hunting for smuggled weapons. Cosmic rays, consisting of the nuclei of almost all elements in the periodic table, travel through space at almost the speed of light. Humans have evolved in Earth’s protected environment and are directly exposed to the harmful effects of cosmic rays when traveling through interplanetary space. So we’ll explore how astronauts, at the dawn of a new space era, can be sheltered from such a source of radiation. Finally, as technology advances toward high levels of sophistication, we’ll look into potential future development limitations imposed by cosmic rays reaching Earth from space and how we can mitigate these effects.
Bio: Paolo Desiati is a senior scientist at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC), a research center of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studied physics at the University of Florence and got his PhD at the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy. He spent two years as a postdoc at DESY-Zeuthen, in Berlin, Germany, working with the AMANDA neutrino telescope, a prototype of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory. He then joined UW–Madison in 2001 and became staff in 2003. With IceCube, he has worked on point-source neutrino searches but mostly on cosmic ray scientific analyses. Paolo is also involved in the coordination between IceCube operations and the science working groups to support the science reach of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
Note: To commemorate the auspicious Day of the Ray, after the Q&A we will adjourn either to Union South or to The Libraray (speaker’s choice) for Libations and Absolutions. I’ll buy the first round.
On November 17 we get a chance to unravel the knotty problem of how the class of chemicals called lignins help give the cell walls of plants (and especially trees) such remarkable strength in compression, tension, torsion and shear. John Ralph of Biochemistry and the Wisconsin Energy Institute will drill deep into “Lignins: Intrigue and Controversies Surrounding a Little-Known Major Polymer.”
Description: Lignin, comprising some 15-30% of plant biomass, is arguably the 2nd most abundant terrestrial biopolymer, yet many have never heard of it (although the term ‘lignocellulosics’ is now becoming more widespread). Its structure and biosynthesis are intriguing on many levels, and the theory of lignification has been delightfully controversial. We’ll attempt to highlight some of the intrigue with an emphasis on new findings that offer enhanced opportunities for ‘exploiting’ Nature’s most abundant source of aromatics.
Bio: John Ralph is a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin−Madison and, since 2015, a Distinguished Professor of the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. He obtained his B.Sc. (Hons) in Chemistry at Canterbury University, New Zealand, in 1976, and his Ph.D. in Chemistry/Forestry at the University of Wisconsin−Madison in 1982.
Ralph’s group is recognized for its work on lignin biosynthesis, including delineation of the pathways of monolignol biosynthesis, lignin chemistry, and lignin reactions; particular interest is in the chemical/structural effects of perturbing lignin biosynthesis, and extensions of this work are aimed at redesigning lignins to be more valuable or more readily degraded. The group has developed synthetic methods for biosynthetic products, precursors, intermediates, molecular markers, cell wall model compounds, etc. It has developed methods for solution-state NMR of lignins, including whole-cell-wall methods that require no pre-fractionation of wall components, and chemical/degradative, NMR, and GC-MS combinatorial methods for cell wall cross-linking mechanisms and cell wall structural analysis.
Ralph was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2005, is on the Editorial Boards of five international journals, and has been named by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the 10 most cited authors in the plant and animal sciences every year since 2007.https://biochem.wisc.edu/faculty/ralphhttps://energy.wisc.edu/about/energy-experts/john-ralphhttp://www.glbrc.orghttps://scholar.google.com/citations?user=gkLpFa4AAAAJExplore More:
November 24 is The Night Before Thanksgiving and WN@TL goes dark for our annual excursion over the river and through the wood to Grandfather’s house we go. The song, like the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, is conflicted: in the original, it is a singular wood, not woods; it is to Grandfather’s house, not to Grandmother’s; and it’s about Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
But hay, as we say in America’s Dairyland: close enough.
WN@TL resumes on December 1 with Cody Wenthur speaking on the work of the new Transdisciplinary Center for Research on Psychoactive Substances.
Psychedelics as Catalysts for Change
Description: Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy approaches using ketamine, MDMA, or psilocybin have shown substantial promise in human trials for the treatment of difficult psychiatric conditions including end-of-life anxiety, treatment resistant depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there remain many important questions regarding the mechanisms by which these interventions lead to both rapid and lasting behavioral change. Using translational approaches that range from organic synthesis to human studies, the Wenthur Lab is interrogating the role of acute corticosteroid release in the behavioral outcomes following psilocybin administration, assessing polypharmacologic contributions of active metabolites to ketamine’s functional profile, and investigating how differential self-identity and experiential memory contribute to variation in clinical psychedelic studies. In this talk, Dr. Wenthur will discuss the results of these studies to date, highlighting the possible means by which psychedelics may act as molecular change agents, and he will also share insights into how the design and development of these psychedelic research studies have acted to change the trajectory of his own career development thus far.
Bio: Cody Wenthur is an innovative, translational investigator in psychopharmacology who has been on the UW–Madison faculty since 2018. His work is focused on improving our understanding of the basis for beneficial and detrimental effects of opioids, cannabinoids, psychedelics, and other neuroplasticity-inducing approaches in the context of novel therapeutic approaches for promoting and maintaining mental health. His research program has received both basic and clinical grant and fellowship support from NIGMS, NIDA, NIMH, independent foundations, and philanthropic funds. The resulting findings have been published in leading journals such as Nature and PNAS and have yielded the development of first-in-class tool compounds and generated new pharmacologic techniques for the investigation of complex psychoactive mixtures. His scientific research is complemented by his dedicated support of graduate education in neuropharmacology, including active service as the founding director of the Psychedelic Pharmaceutical Investigation Master’s program, and mentorship of PharmD and PhD students in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, and Neuroscience Training Programs.
Remember, we’ve now shifted to Hybrid so we can both Zoom and gather in one Room—Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!
Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H