Dugout Canoes of Wisconsin; The Curious Story he Midbody Remnant; Exploring the Legendary Foundations of Ancient Vietnam

“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 Wednesday,  May 3, 2023

Hi WN@TL Fans,

As our state flag reminds us, we are a maritime people of a land bounded by the Great River and by two Great Lakes . These waters are not just boundaries; they are arteries.  Our predecessors and we steer our boats on streams and across inland seas that serve as liquid highways that lead us to the Atlantic Ocean, to the Gulf of Mexico, even to Hudson Bay & beyond.

For generations many of our homes and communities have clung close to our interior rivers and lakes and flowages, flush with their fish and fowl, their fur-bearers and wild rice beds.  These waterways are also roadways, too, and their portages–the carrying places between navigable waters–are literally in our Constitution.

“Carrying” becomes a coin with two sides:  what our boats can carry, and whether we can carry our boats.  Among vessels built for carrying, the canoe comes first to my mind, and the foremost kind of Northwoods canoe to me is the birchbark canoe, the nimble craft with twin curved & upturned bow and stern.  These are fragile boats, and delicate, too, made of phellem and wood sewn and steamed and glued together with ribs, thwarts, gunwales.  I have no more idea of how people originally figured out how to make them than I know where Stuart Little paddled away in ‘Summer Memories.

On the other hand, there’s another flavor of canoe, the dugout, and its construction seems as straightforward as its name.  I can imagine how this craft could be crafted from a single tree, a straight trunk, a solid bole, with a combination of a flinty adze, a sinewy arm, and a glowing brand.  The dugout is about taking away, not about putting together, and the vessel is solid, durable, of a single piece, heavy, and rugged. It is the pick-up truck of its time.  Or, at least the ones that have survived tend to be.

Of the two types, I am guessing that birchbark canoes have shorter half-lives, that if stored outdoors they fall away to fluff in a matter of a few seasons, that the high surface-area of exposed wood gives fungi rampant opportunities for fine dining. As it turns out, one of the oldest museum-piece birchbarks in existence dates from the mid 1700’s, a mere 270 years old.   In contrast, the dugout is more enduring, with examples dating back millennia, perhaps because of the boat’s unibody construction, perhaps because the use of fire chars the surface and slows the appetite of the wood-rotting microbes, and perhaps because a dugout can sink into water or mud.

This week fire up your paddling muscles as we get to go rogue with a pirogue and explore more about these bateaux de bois.


This Wednesday we glide our way into May with a presentation on “Dugout Canoes of Wisconsin” by Sissel Schroeder of Anthropology and Tamara Thomsen of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Description:  The Wisconsin Dugout Canoe Survey Project highlights the persistence of cultural traditions and technological ingenuity. It embodies the Wisconsin Idea by engaging local and national museums, historical societies, and tribal museums in this project that is documenting an important yet relatively rare form of material culture.

As a result of intensive efforts to contact local museums and historical societies across Wisconsin, and through diving expeditions, we have identified and documented more than 40 dugouts from around Wisconsin. We present preliminary results of the survey, including analyses of canoe size, style, raw material, and age, to show similarities and differences in dugouts through time and across space. Our efforts to document the dugouts include photogrammetry and handheld LiDAR to construct 3D models of the canoes. The results of this project enhance the accessibility of these uncommon objects for scholars and the public, raise awareness of the importance of curating even fragmentary wooden canoes, and enhance our understanding of construction technology and use of dugout canoes.

Bios:  Sissel Schroeder is a professor of archaeology in the Anthropology Department at UW-Madison. Her research focuses on the archaeology of the southeastern United States and the Midwest, and has ranged from studying the earliest peoples in Wisconsin that archaeologists call Paleoindians to investigating sources of social power, networks of relationships, climate change, the environment, and other factors related to the emergence, florescence, and fragmentation of ancient complex societies and the persistence of people and their traditions.

Tamara Thomsen is a Maritime Archaeologist with Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Preservation and Archaeology program. Her research has resulted in the nomination of fifty-nine submerged sites to the National Register of Historic Places. She has received awards from the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society, and in 2014, she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame.

Explore More:




On May 10 Ahna Skop of Genetics will pose the puzzle:  “One Cell Divides into Three Things?  The Curious Story of the Midbody Remnant”

Description: During the last step in cell division, abscission, a unique organelle called the midbody begins to assemble between the newly formed daughter cells. The midbody (MB) is a transient structure who resident molecules are required for cytokinesis. Long ignored as a vestigial remnant of cytokinesis, we now know MBs are released post-abscission as extracellular vesicles called MB remnants (MBRs) and can modulate cell proliferation, fate decisions, tissue polarity, neuronal architecture, and tumorigenic behavior. But little is known about this long-forgotten organelle. In this talk, Ahna will weave a story of the history of the midbody and reveal new findings showing that the midbody is a site of RNA assembly, active translation, and reveal the genes important for these functions.


Bio: Ahna Skop is a geneticist, artist, author, and a winner of the prestigious Presidential EarlyCareer Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Her lab seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie asymmetric cell division, with a focus on the midbody. The last step in cell division, abscission, relies on a transient electron-dense structure called the midbody, which resides inside the intercellular bridge between newly forming daughter cells. Long conceptualized as a structural remnant subject to degradation following cell division, emerging data suggest that midbodies play instructive post-mitotic roles in establishing cell fate, proliferation state, tissue polarity, cilia formation, neuron function, and oncogenesis. Midbody dysregulation leads to birth defects, cancer, and age-related neurodegenerative diseases. In 2004, Ahna pioneered proteomic and genomic approaches to identify novel cell division proteins by utilizing biochemically purified midbodies, which was published in Science. More recently, the lab has discovered that the midbody is a translationally active RNA containing organelle. The Skop lab’s focus now is to determine how this signaling organelle behaves as novel form of intercellular communication in mammalian cancer and stem cells.

Understanding how cells divide is highly dependent on in vivo microscopy and large amounts of visual data, which dovetails perfectly with one of her other passions, art. The combination of scientist and artist inspires her to think differently and maintain an open mind. Some of her work can be seen in the main entrance of the Genetics/Biotechnology Center building on the UW-Madison campus with a 40ft-scientific art piece called “Genetic Reflections”. Her accompanying book, “Genetic Reflections: A Coloring Book”, showcases the beauty of genetics, model organism biology, and DNA found in the art piece. She has also curated and contributed to a traveling exhibition of scientific art called “TINY: Art from microscopes” from the UW-Madison campus, and she has organized the bi-annual Worm Art Show for the International C. elegans Meeting for over 25 years. Ahna is also passionate about increasing the numbers of underrepresented students in STE(A)M fields. In 2016, she was awarded the very first of two, Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award for her outreach and inclusive teaching efforts. She has served as a board member for SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) and on the ASCB (American Association for Cell Biologists) Minority Affairs Committee, where she has broadened her impact on underrepresented students in science nationally.

Ahna is the child of artists. Her father, Michael Skop, was a bit of a Renaissance man and was a classically trained fine artist who studied with Mestrovic (a pupil of Rodin) and also taught college-level anatomy. Her father operated an art school at their home studio for over 30 years and attracted artists, musicians, and philosophers from all over the world. Her mother was a high school art educator, ceramicist, and has dabbled in fiber art, sculpture and painting. Her two sisters and brother are also graphic and industrial designers. She has embraced her parents’ love of creativity in everything she does. She majored in biology and minored in ceramics at Syracuse University (1990-1994), where her father had played football and studied with Mestrovic. She received her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1994-2000) and conducted her post-doctoral work at UC-Berkeley (2000-2003).

Ahna is a Professor in the Department of Genetics and an affiliate faculty member in Life Sciences Communication and the Division of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She mentors both scientists and art students in her lab, and also serves on the board of the Wisconsin Science Museum, where many of her art-science collaborations are on display. In 2008, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the College of St. Benedicts, and was named a Remarkable Women in Science from the AAAS. In 2015, she was honored as a Kavli Fellow from the National Academy of Sciences. In 2018, she was awarded the first ever Inclusive Excellence Award by the ASCB and HHMI. She has served as an advisor to the chief diversity officer at the NIH, and is a diversity consultant to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In 2019, she was honored as one of 125 Women in STEM with an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadorship. Her science and art have been featured by Apple, The Scientist, USA Today, Smithsonian, PBS.org, NPR and Science magazine. One of her great hobbies is cooking/baking (including scientific cakes!) and she manages two foodblogs, foodskop.com, and her AAAS IF/THEN funded labculturerecipes.com in her free time.


On May 17 Nam C. Kim of Anthropology returns to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab to speak on “Exploring the Legendary Foundations of Ancient Vietnam

Description:  In contemplating the foundations of cultural and historical identity, many people in Vietnam point to the Bac Bo (northern) region of the present-day country. Colorful tales describe the birth of powerful kingdoms over two thousand years ago in this region, and one of the most enduring accounts tells of the Au Lac Kingdom and its capital city, known as Co Loa. Situated in the Red River Valley, the defensive stronghold represents one of the earliest examples of urbanism in Southeast Asia. Its massive system of fortifications suggests unprecedented military power, as well as concerns over outside, predatory threats, namely the early empires of Chinese civilization. To this day, Co Loa holds a deep national significance as a national symbol of fabled dynasties and resistance against foreign aggression. This lecture presents new and ongoing archaeological research that addresses this fascinating early history of Vietnam.

Bio:  Nam C. Kim is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the current Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies on its campus. He holds degrees in anthropology (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago), political science (MA, New York University) and international relations (BA, University of Pennsylvania).

As an anthropological archaeologist, he has conducted research in various countries. His research deals with early civilizations and the significance of the material past for modern-day stakeholders. He is especially interested in the archaeological history of organized violence and warfare. Since 2005 he has been conducting archaeological fieldwork in Vietnam at the Co Loa settlement in the Red River Delta. A heavily fortified site located near modern-day Hanoi, Co Loa is connected to Vietnamese legendary accounts and is viewed as an important foundation for Vietnamese civilization.

Professor Kim’s work has been featured in various podcast interviews and a documentary (on the History Hit website). He has also authored several articles and books. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam (2015) provides a glimpse into the foundations of Vietnamese civilization, as seen through the archaeological record. Emergent Warfare in Our Evolutionary Past (2018, co-authored with Marc Kissel) provides a comprehensive view on the origins of war within the history of humanity. It seeks to answer questions about the antiquity of warfare, and whether or not organized violence is somehow innate within our species.

Explore More:


“Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam’s Ancient Capital” (2020). Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients


Violence and Warfare in Humanity’s Past. Lecture given for PBS Wisconsin’s University Place (March 3, 2021)


Matters of the past mattering today. Oxford University Press Blog post, July 22. http://blog.oup.com/2016/07/vietnam-history-archaeology-heritage/

The Origins of Ancient Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2015)



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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