Nitrogen & Ammonia:From the Industrial Revolution to a Future Nitrogen Economy;Having a bone to pick: The ins and outs of reconstructing dinosaur anatomy;Electric Vehicles & The Road Ahead

Come Explore the Unknown!


By Zoom:  at  

In Person: Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison.


For January 12, 2022


Hi WN@TL Fans,


Puzzle me this:  How many ways can humans make electricity? For starters: Rubbing amber (‘electrum’ in Latin).  Walking across a carpet.  Piling layers of copper and zinc. Turning an electrostatic or an electromagnetic generator. Sunning a photovoltaic cell.


The making, storing, and sending of electricity have long been a big deal, going back at least to the invention of the telegraph in the 1830’s and then the telephone in the 1870’s.   Luckily, we also have come a long way from the battery systems of 150 years ago.


Now in the era of greenhouse-gas-driven climate change, what drives the turning of today’s generators that energize most of our transcontinental electrical power grid?  Wind and water require no fuels to crank the generator.  Steam turbines, however, require heat from a range of sources, notably by burning greenhouse-gas-producing carbon-based fuels such as petroleum, coal and natural gas.


This week we get to hear about some astonishing achievements with what might be a new catalytic system:  getting electricity directly from ammonia, with no molecular oxygen needed, and no oxides of nitrogen produced.


And in turn, if chemists can solve the chemystery of light-driven synthesis of ammonia, then the energy circle may be driven by the Sun.  As John Berry, our speaker tonight, says,  “If we get to the point where we can make ammonia from air, light and water … then this method is going to really be the other side of the coin in terms of getting energy out of that fuel.”


On January 12 John Berry of Chemistry will lay out new options for harnessing energy from ammonia with his talk, “Nitrogen & Ammonia:  From the Industrial Revolution to a Future Nitrogen Economy.”
Could ammonia become a replacement for fossil fuels in generating electricity?  See the recent story here and the video here on Professor Berry’s research.
Description:  The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) saw over 140 countries pledge to reach zero-carbon emissions, prompting an important question of how the global energy economy can realistically be decarbonized. 
The alternative to a carbon-based energy economy is an economy centered around a different element. Research in the Berry Lab at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Chemistry is exploring the possibility of a Nitrogen Economy, based on interconversions between dinitrogen and ammonia. 
This presentation will review the basic chemistry of nitrogen and ammonia from a historical standpoint, focusing on the use of ammonia in agriculture, and also as a promising zero-carbon fuel. A look toward future applications will be presented outlining the key technologies necessary to sustain a zero-carbon Nitrogen Economy.

Explore More:

On January 19 Scott Hartman of Integrative Biology will talk and chalk us through his meticulous techniques for drawing the skeletons of dinosaurs, and especially for drawing out inferences about dinosaur anatomy.  


What can we know about the anatomy and habits of long-extinct organisms? Join us to see how new tools and old bones unravel the mysteries of how extinct organisms worked and lived. We will examine how dinosaur anatomy can help us appreciate unique aspects of avian anatomy today, and how some dinosaurs managed to approach the size of whales while living on land.
Bio:Scott Hartman is a paleontologist specializing in functional anatomy, evolution, and mass extinctions. A professional scientific illustrator and consultant for 25 years, he has supplied skeletal reconstructions for dozens of print, educational and media projects including Dinosaurs: The Textbook, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Walking With Dinosaurs movie.
On January 26 Bruce Johnson, Solar Farmer, returns to WN@TL to give us an update on the fast-moving field of electric cars.  
Description:  Ten-year-Electric Vehicle owner Bruce A. Johnson and several fellow EV owners will take you on a deep dive into the realities of electric cars in 2022 and beyond. And we will answer the question recently ripped from the headlines: Do You Want To Be Stuck In A Blizzard In An EV?   
The answer will surprise you. 
Tune in at or come see it live in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech!

Bio:  Bruce A. Johnson has spent over 38 years as a television production professional, first in the commercial and public TV sectors and now with a non-profit. He is also a fierce advocate for alternative energy, having installed his first set of solar panels 15 years ago, and having owned four electric cars in the last 10 years. This will be his seventh presentation to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab since 2008.
Explore More:  
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 Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H
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Continue to use the link found in the confirmation message Zoom sent you when you first registered.
WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central
You can also watch the web stream at for one last time on October 20.  The web stream thereafter will redirect viewers to the WN@TL YouTube livestream.

UW-Madison:  5.9 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. 
Here are the components of the WN@TL User’s Guide
1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center and on Zoom at 
2. The WN@TL YouTube channel
3. WN@TL on the University Place broadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin 
4. WN@TL on the University Place website 
Park for a small fee in Lot 20, 1390 University Avenue, Madison, WI