Sun Power for Making Electricity Greener & Cheaper; Pulling Viruses Out of Thin Air; What the Heck is X-Ray Astronomy, and Why Do We Bother?

“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 30 November 2022

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Not everything in US science traces back to Benjamin Franklin, but much does, especially science done with a sparkle.  Franklin is famous for, among other insights, his research into electricity from the Heavens and his experiments on batteries made of Earth, or more precisely, on Leyden jars made of glass.

Electricity originally came from rubbing amber with wool, so-called ‘resinous electricity’, and a second type from rubbing a glass rod with silk (‘vitreous electricity’).  These were intriguing phenomena but it took metal-and-magnet-based generators turned by water, steam or wind to make electricity into the essence that lights our homes, powers our factories, and energizes our trains & (increasingly) our cars.

So many of the big questions go way back:  how to make electricity? How to store it? And how to move it from where it’s made to where we need it?  For most of my lifetime, the answers were found in a continent-spanning electrical-grid system fueled by large-scale power plants like the coal-burner that I grew up next to in Dixon, IL, that was fed by the Illinois Central railroad tracks carrying black hopper-cars full of coal to the plant — and hopper cars to carry away the clinkers and ash.

Today, this millenia-spanning enterprise in ingenuity to find new materials to create, collect and convey electricity at scale continues to transform how we envision our power system, and especially how we fuel it.  The possibilities of low-to-no-carbon electricity made by sunlight using solar panels on our houses once was the stuff of space satellites and early-days Epcot Centers.  But given what we’ll learn about tonight, I wonder:  in ten years, how many roofs in Wisconsin will remain unadorned with solar cells?


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:


On December 7 Mitchell Ramuta of Professor David O’Connor’s lab will speak on “Pulling Viruses Out of Thin Air.”

Description:  We are using air sampling as an alternative environmental surveillance strategy to improve the detection and monitoring of (re)emerging viruses in the community.

Bio:   Graduate Student in the Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program, Dr. David O’Connor’s laboratory

Explore More:   There’s Something in the Air: Monitoring Indoor Air for SARS-CoV-2

Let’s Meet the Virologist (LMtV) Episode 92: Game Changer? Environmental Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2

In the Air Tonight: COVID Testing Spaces, Not Faces.



On December 14 Professor Dan McCammon of Physics will speak on “What the Heck is X-ray Astronomy, and Why Do We Bother?”

Description:  A story about how a rocket flight amongst the creepy-crawlies of the Australian boondocks is related to what our Universe is made of, and why you need to cool your X-ray detectors to 1/20th of a degree above absolute zero to look at million-degree gas.

Explore More:


And that’ll wrap up the WN@TL lineup for 2022, as we go dark on December 21 and December 28.  We’ll fire back up on January 4, 2023.

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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WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central.

You can also watch the web stream at the WN@TL YouTube channel.

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