Can X-Rays Trace the Origins of Printing?; Inflation, the Global Economy, & the Midterm Elections; WN@TL Goes Dark for Thanksgiving; Photovoltaics

“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Talks

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI, 


Stream by zoom at


For 9 November 2022    

Hi WN@TL Fans,

It’s a good thing to make a good impression the first time, but to make a good impression over and over again, well, that takes a great printer.

When I was in junior high school I did an internship at Slagle Printing on First Street, a block west from my house on College Avenue in Dixon IL.  I had a chance to learn about offset printing and the photoetching of text or photos onto thin, flexible sheets of aluminum that wrapped around a drum on a rotary press.  As the drum rotated it printed an impression on a sheets of paper continuously fed between two drums, one with the aluminum sheet and the other without;  the drum with the aluminum sheet also rubbed continuously against a roller that transferred ink to the sheet of aluminum.  The press flew through reams of paper like a machine gun blazing through belts of ammo.

But lurking in the back of the shop was an old Heidelberg letterpress machine.  Unlike the offset press, this one fed a single sheet of paper onto the bed, made an impression by compressing the paper between the bed and the galley containing the type, then pulled with a pneumatic suction arm the now-printed sheet off, then ran the ink roller over the galley like a rolling pin over pie dough, and started the process all over again by adding with the pneumatic arm the next sheet of blank paper.

However, the mystical part of letterpress to me wasn’t so much in the press itself, but rather in the dark art of the typesetter who composed the type plucked (sometimes with fingers, other times with tweezers) from a drawer containing little bins each loaded with one of the 52 letters (26 in lower case, 26 in upper) in the selected font.  The typesetter literally set the type letter by letter by letter, and backwards to boot.  Getting the spelling correct was necessary but not sufficient:  the typesetter had to justify the type with slugs or spacers, and the justification was both left to right and top to bottom.  Moreover, the type had to rest darn near perfectly flat in the galley frame, or the printed image might warble.

The cool thing: if somebody made a mistake (who, me?), you didn’t have to toss out the whole galley; you could fix errors one piece of type at a time.

It happens that 1970 was about 520 years after Johannes Gutenberg was perfecting his innovative system of printing that encompassed a screw press (as in making olive oil and cider), oily ink, and moveable type, among other ingenuities.   Within a few generations, high-capacity printing transformed European learning, religions, social structures and politics.  I could feel that the printers at Slagle were proud to share in that history and that heritage.

Years later I read that Gutenberg’s primacy was suspect, that as with so many ‘firsts’ attributed to my European forebears, the achievements were pioneering but not primal.  This week we get to hear how X-rays can cast new light on the origins in the East of the technology that eventually rocked the Western world.


On November 9 Minhal Gardezi of Physics takes us back to the 14th Century with her exploration entitled, “Can X-rays Trace the Origins of Printing?”

Description: With the advent of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid 15th century came a boom in literacy, revolutionizing the way Europeans standardized and disseminated information, and establishing the printing press as one of humanity’s most important inventions. While multiple original Gutenberg Bibles have been preserved to the present day, surprisingly little is known about the actual press itself, leaving several unanswered questions about the origins of printing.

However, Gutenberg’s press is only a fraction of the story of early human print. While the first Gutenberg Bibles were being print, thousands of miles away, Korean artisans were building upon hundreds of years of diverse printing experience. The earliest known preserved document printed on a moveable type printing press is a Korean Buddhist text called Jikji, printed in 1377, nearly 80 years before Gutenberg’s Bibles. A wealth of documents proceeding Jikji remain preserved, and their study is critical to understanding early human print.

The questions remain: How were early Eastern and Western printing presses constructed? And how, if at all, were they connected? Here we bring a physicist’s perspective to the investigation. We use synchrotron-generated X-rays to study the makeup of early printed pages from both regions, including leaves of an original Gutenberg Bible and a Korean Confucius text. Collaborating with a large team of scholars from around the globe, we seek to shed new light (literally) on the origins of print.

Bio: Minhal Gardezi is a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Physics conducting X-ray research under Dr. Uwe Bergmann. She focuses on using X-ray spectroscopy methods to examine cultural heritage artifacts. Minhal graduated from Wellesley College in 2020 with a degree in Physics and Computer Science. She completed her undergraduate thesis and post-graduate research fellowship in Condensed Matter Physics at Harvard University. She is interested in using her interdisciplinary background to collaborate with scholars outside her field and broaden the direct applications of X-ray Physics. She is interested in science communication and education, seeking new ways to make high-level research and theory accessible to a general audience.

Explore More:

Bergmann Research Group site

“From Jikji to Gutenberg” collaboration site — which includes a list of media coverage so far


Next week (November 16) Mark Copelovitch of the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science will speak on “Inflation, the Global Economy, and the Consequences of the Midterm Elections.”

Bio:  Mark Copelovitch is a Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs. Copelovitch studies and teaches international political economy, with a focus on global financial governance, exchange rates and monetary institutions, the effects of global capital flows on national economic policies, and theories of international cooperation.

His 2020 book with David Singer of MIT, Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises, is published by Cambridge University Press.

Professor Copelovitch is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in 2005. Prior to his appointment at Wisconsin, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University.

Explore More:



In two weeks (November 23) we’ll go dark on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.

Explore More:


On November 30 Michael Arnold of Material Science & Engineering will give a talk entitled “The Sun Is Ready to Make Your Electricity Greener and Cheaper in Wisconsin.”

Description:  The Earth is continuously bathing in over one-hundred-million-billion watts of sunlight. Photovoltaic solar cells can harvest this green energy and convert it into electricity. Over the last ten years, the price of solar electricity has plummeted, global installations have increased more than 10-fold, and solar is beginning to significantly penetrate into Wisconsin.

This presentation will focus on the materials and composition of photovoltaic solar cells and the principles of their operation. It will discuss the history of photovoltaics, how efficiency has increased, and how price has dramatically decreased. Finally, the presentation will provide a forward-looking perspective at upcoming growth, challenges, and opportunities in photovoltaics and how solar electricity will fit into our future.

Bio:  Michael Arnold is a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign before completing a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University.

His research focuses on the development of new semiconductors for electronics and energy applications, with an emphasis on carbon-based nanomaterials such as semiconducting carbon nanotubes and graphene.

In his free time, he enjoys tennis, mountain biking, running, eating Babcock Dairy quadruple scoops, and spending time with his partner and children.

Explore More:

Arnold research group website:

US Department of Energy Solar Photovoltaics Technology Basics:


Hope to see you soon, in person or by zoom, at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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