A Magician of Dentition for Identifying Soldiers Missing-In-Action; Special Saturday Edition on Snake Vision & Snakes; Winter in a Changing Climate; Aeolian Landscapes

“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Talks

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

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


Zoom at https://go.wisc.edu/240r59


Stream at https://www.youtube.com/@wednesdaynitethelab8948


For 15 March 2023

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Teeth, horns, antlers and tusks seem to me to be bones, but alas, no.  Too many differences lurk in origin, composition and capacity for repair and regeneration, among others.

But they are considered part of the skeletal remains of an animal, and thus in the case of humans, teeth along with bones are part of the skeleton.  Together these are the longest-lasting anatomical parts of the human body.

Modern dentistry, with annual x-rays and electronic medical records of fillings & extractions over time, means that our teeth likely are the best-collected and curated record of our skeleton.

For anthropologists, teeth are travel-trackers and timekeepers for folks who know how to read the isotopes in these enameled chronometers.

Teeth can also be identifiers in at least two ways.  First, the pattern of dentition on a mandible and cranium—which teeth are present, their pattern of wear, the array of cavities & fillings & crowns—can be key and convincing evidence for accurately assigning names to the remains.  Second, the pulp of teeth can yield DNA that can provide a kind of molecular barcode that traces back through parents & grandparents, and to siblings & cousins, and offspring.

A key difference in the two approaches as identifiers is that dental records showing the pattern of dentition are often at hand, while the physical teeth containing the DNA are entombed.  The first requires opening up records; the second requires opening up graves.

This week we get to explore more about how analyzing the records of molars & their kin can be at the cusp of helping identify the remains of people, including soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, who died during WWII.


On March 15 Alan Lee of Anthropology will reprise and expand on his recent talk to the Recovery Innovation Technology Summit at the Biotech Center Feb 22-24.  He’ll roll out how he uses computer analysis and machine learning applied to dental records to speed the identification of remains of MIAs. 


Description:  The MIA Recovery & Identification Project’s Dental Project is our effort here at the Biotech Center to use computer algorithms to speed up the research process that eventually leads to the identification of unknown persons from WWII. Currently in US custody there are 8,600 Unknown Bodies (X-Files) from WWII that have yet to be identified.

Trying to identify a single person requires a tremendous amount of labor on behalf of the researcher who has to individually comb through dozens if not hundreds of missing person files (IDPFs) in order to make a probable match that can lead to a disinterment request. We intend to speed up that process.

The gist of how this Dental Project works is that dental records are used as the forensic fingerprint to create a tier list of probable matches between X-Files (unknown bodies) and IDPFs (Missing Service Members). We use the computer to rapidly do our comparisons for us once we have digitized the data.

Bio:  I am a graduate student and PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UW-Madison. My scholastic interests are metal-working, blacksmithing, and iron smelting in South Asia! I come from a chemistry background with a Chemistry Master’s from UW-Madison in materials chemistry, and I am now a dissertator in the UW-Madison Department of Anthropology.

My PhD advisor is none other than Dr. J. Mark Kenoyer, a world-renowned archaeologist of South Asia. Check out the website for the famous site Harappa that he excavated for decades.

I am also a member of the UW-MIARIP team out of the Biotechnology Center. Their mission is to find and repatriate the remains of MIA soldiers back to the United States.


On Saturday March 18 at 10am get a WN@TL Weekend Special with the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s “Vision at the Biotech Center” event featuring Richard Dubielzig of the School of Veterinary Medicine speaking on “Snake Eyes & Snake Vision,” followed by Will Vuyk of the School of Medicine & Public Health speaking on “Snakes Where We Live.”


On Wednesday, March 22 Jonathan Martin of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences tunes us in to  Warmer Winters and Wavier Jet Streams: The Cold Season in a Changing Climate.”

Bio:  Jonathan Martin joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994 after completing his Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

He has earned recognition for his teaching, including the Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award, a fellowship in UW’s Teaching Academy, the Mark H. Ingraham Distinguished Faculty Award, and the UW Vilas Distinguished Service Professorship.

He was honored by the American Meteorological Society in 2016 as the Society’s recipient of the Edward N. Lorenz Teaching Excellence Award for “outstanding teaching and mentoring that combines boundless enthusiasm with consummate skill to educate and inspire a generation of undergraduate and graduate students.”

His research expertise is in mid-latitude weather systems, and he has authored over 70 scientific papers, as well as the leading textbook on mid-latitude atmospheric dynamics. He recently published a biography of an influential British meteorologist of the mid-20th century – Reginald Sutcliffe and the Invention of Modern Weather Systems Science – and he also appears regularly on Wisconsin Public Radio as part of the two-man “Weather Guys” segment. He served a 9-year term as Chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and was named by the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s Top 300 Professors.

Explore More:

Jonathan Martin’s 2021 book entitled Reginald Sutcliffe and the Invention of Modern Weather Systems Science (Purdue University Press),


Hope to see you soon—in person, by YouTube livestream or by Zoom —at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

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

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