The UW at 175–Outlooks for Science Outreach; Wisconsin Weather Safety & You; A Model of Human Origins in Africa

Hi WN@TL Fans,


If one subscribes to the astronomical definition of summer, the first couple of weeks of August is high summer when we’re about halfway from the solstice to the equinox.  In the US, it’s a melancholy and anxious time of year, with pangs for the past and anticipation for what’s next, especially for those folks in June’s crop of high school graduates who are about to head off to college.  And understandably so:  leaving home and going off to school is a major milestone in a young life.


Colleges, too, have milestones, metaphorical rocks that institutions often use to redefine or reassess their touchstones.  UW-Madison is marking one this academic year, starting back on July 26 with the commemoration of the signing into law in 1848 of the statute that established the university.  The website at features timelines and stories on research, athletics, and the Wisconsin Idea, among others.  Throughout the year, campus will host events to highlight one aspect or another of the U’s missions and it’s achievements in changing how we look at life and how we lead our lives.


I anticipate the UW Science Alliance will organize an event in the fall and perhaps a second in the spring to focus on the sagas and successes, the past shortcomings and future aspirations, of the science outreach component of the university’s public service mission.  To help kindle the conversation, I’ll be talking this week on “Wisconsin’s Land-Grant U at 175:  Outlooks for Science Outreach.”  Sometimes, the way we answer the prospective “Where do we go from here?” depends on how we frame the retrospective, “How in the world did we get here?”


Of course, in five years we can do a 180 and see we what we can encompass then.


This week on August 16 I’ll return for my annual sojourn at the lectern with a talk on the outlooks for science outreach at Wisconsin’s two-time land-grant university as we commemorate the 175th anniversary of the founding in 1848 of what today is the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I’ll share some historical perspectives from the Wayback Machine, then focus on changes in places & programs in science outreach since the U’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 1998-99, and provide examples of initiatives & investments in science outreach at some other leading US universities that UW-Madison may want to emulate.


I’ll also be happy to hear your view of what my colleagues & I might want to do new in the next year or two or few.


On August 23 Kurt Kotenberg from the National Weather Service in Green Bay will be here to alert, watch & warn us about “Wisconsin Weather Safety & You.”


Description:  From blizzards to tornadoes to derechos, the weather in Wisconsin can be quite active (and sometimes dangerous!) all year around. In this talk, we’ll take a detailed look at the 4-seasons weather that impacts Wisconsin- which includes severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, snow squalls, and more. We will also discuss ways to receive hazardous weather information, and what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe when hazardous weather threatens.


Bio:  Kurt Kotenberg is the Warning Coordination Meteorologist of the National Weather Service (NWS) located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Prior to arriving in Wisconsin, Kurt worked as a forecaster at the NWS offices in Des Moines, Iowa, and Midland, Texas.  Before joining the NWS, Kurt was an (on-air) broadcast Meteorologist for four years at WEAU-TV in Eau Claire.


Kurt earned both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science Degrees in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While in Graduate School, Kurt served as a Teaching Assistant for two years- teaching Algebra courses and a mathematics course for elementary education majors.


To continue his personal growth, Kurt earned his Master of Business Administration degree from Iowa State University in 2015, while working full-time at NWS Des Moines.  In his spare time, Kurt and his wife- who is a Special Education teacher- are kept plenty busy by their two little kids. Kurt is happy to be back in the Badger State & enjoys spending time exploring his new home in northeastern Wisconsin.


Explore More:


On August 30 Aaron Ragsdale of Integrative Biology will speak on his research published in Nature on June 13 entitled “A Weakly Structured Stem for Human Origins in Africa.   Nature also published an overview article by Elsabé Brits: A New Model of Human Origins in Africa:


Description: It is now well-established that our species, Homo sapiens, emerged within Africa over the past hundreds of thousands of years before dispersing across the globe. However, apart from recent genetic discoveries of recontact between Neanderthals, Denisovans and humans, there is large uncertainty about the size, structure and connectivity of human populations during those early periods. Because the fossil record from this time is sparse, we rely on genomic data from present-day and ancient individuals to reconstruct the details of past population structure.


Here, we present a recent progress in our understanding of deep human history using genetic data from geographically and genetically diverse populations. We contrast models of archaic admixture with population structure, and discuss open questions in the field of human evolutionary history and paleoanthropology.


Bio: Aaron Ragsdale is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology. His research focuses on population genetic theory and computation methods for learning about demographic and evolutionary history from genomic data.


Explore More:  In this paper, we use geographically and genetically diverse populations across Africa and Eurasia to reconstruct detailed demographic models for our species in the deep past. We find that a model that includes long-lasting population structure, with populations connected by ongoing migration, provides the best fit to the genetic data. In contrast to other recent studies, we do not find evidence for a substantial contribution from an unidentified “ghost” population within Africa (akin to Neanderthal and Denisovan contributions in Eurasia). This work is in collaboration with my former postdoc advisor Simon Gravel, at McGill University, Brenna Henn and Tim Weaver at UC Davis, and others.

Ragsdale Lab:

Study Offers New Twist in How the First Humans Evolved:

Did Early Humans Interbreed with a ‘Ghost’ Population?:


On September 6 we move into the new academic year with a talk on volcanoes in Chile with Sally Stevens and Pablo Moreno-Yaeger of Geosciences.


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


Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H



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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.



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