Registration deadline approaching for UW-Madison Science Expeditions

Registration for the UW-Madison Science Expeditions 2017 (March 31 – April 2) is open until March 15. Current Science Expeditions activities include:

  • Exploration Stations on Saturday at the Discovery Building and additional Exploration Stations at Signe Skott Cooper Hall and Health Sciences Learning Center (HSLC) on Sunday (current list of Exploration Stations);
  • Destinations for Exploration at Washburn Observatory, DC Smith Greenhouse, Birge Hall Greenhouses, Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science Building (AOSS), UW Madison Scientific Glassblowing Lab, UW Geology Museum, Picnic Point, UW Health Clinical Simulation Center; and  
  • Science Spectaculars presented by Wonders of Physics, Science is Fun and Students Participating in Chemical Education (SPICE).

*To Sign Up to lead an Exploration Station, a Science Spectacular or a Destination for Exploration, please register at https://goo.gl/forms/fZA4HQ89JYIOh1Z02.

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Tom Zinnen (zinnen@biotech.wisc.edu608-265-2420) or Ana Garic (ana.garic@wisc.edu608-265-1861).

CALS Wellness Lunch and Learn: Eating healthy in the winter

Join the CALS Wellness and the UW-Madison Dietetics and Nutrition Club for a nutrition-themed Lunch and Learn for faculty, staff, and students.

The topic will be “Squash the Winter Blues: Eating Healthy in the Winter” and will be held noon – 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1 in 227 Nutritional Sciences. Snacks will be served.

Join us to discuss fun and delicious ways to eat healthy this season. We’ll include recipe ideas and tips on where to get your fruits and vegetables during the winter.

Nominations open for 2017 Honorary Recognition, Distinguished Service, Distinguished Alumni awards

Nominations are now open for the 2017 College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Honorary Recognition Award, Distinguished Service Award, and Distinguished Alumni Award. These are the highest honors awarded by the college and they recognize individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to their communities, their chosen career fields, and the citizens of the state and the nation.

An individual may be considered for only one award during a given year, so nominators should select the most appropriate award for their candidate. Please note that nominations remain valid for three years and that once an individual has received an award, that person may not be nominated again, for any award, for three years.

Information for each award, a listing of past honorees and nomination forms are available at cals.wisc.edu/honoraryNominations are due April 7, 2017.  As you consider possible nominees, think about those individuals who have demonstrated leadership and been an inspiration to others in agriculture, natural resources, and/or the life sciences.

The 2017 Awards Banquet and Ceremony will be held Thursday, Oct. 19 in the Varsity Room at Union South. A reception will be held at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 p.m.

Please contact 608-890-2999 or alumni@cals.wisc.edu for additional information.

Spring 2017 issue of Grow features science farm, milk marvels and more

The spring issue of Grow magazine will soon arrive in your mailboxes–and it’s also available online. Check it out for exciting features including:

* The Science Farm–A decades-long field project offers key insights into different approaches to agriculture.

* Lactation Sensation–Dairy scientist Laura Hernandez marvels at milk. And she’s exploring how to improve the processes that create it, for the benefit of both cows and humans.

* Students on the Cutting Edge–In labs and in the fields, in private companies and in public agencies, research and internship opportunities abound for CALS students. Their experiences lead to personal and professional growth–and give them an advantage when it comes to employment.

* Sloths! Five things you should know about them, according to wildlife ecology professors Jonathan Pauli and Zach Peery.

And, as always, if you ace our Final Exam, you might win a box of cheese from Babcock Hall.

Peter Krsko, bioinspired artist hosted by BSE, to give public talk March 1

The Department of Biological Systems Engineering may sound like an unusual host for a visiting artist, but Peter Krsko, the university’s Spring 2017 Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence, makes for a good fit.

Krsko is a bioinspired artist who combines science and art, drawing inspiration from processes as simple as dripping water and translates these into sculptures and other works of art. His approach involves participatory, interactive and community arts, and promotes play with hands-on education.

Krsko’s art installation in Birge Hall.

In that way, Krsko’s work embodies the Wisconsin Idea, notes BSE professor Sundaram Gunasekaran, lead faculty host for Krsko’s residency.

“Peter’s artwork offers an original approach to establish and develop new collaborations within and outside the university,” says Gunasekaran.

A number of events will be held throughout March to celebrate Krsko’s work. The first is a free artist talk at the Art Department’s Visiting Artist Colloquium on March 1 at 4:30 p.m. in L160 Elvehjem. All events are free and open to the public. Visit artsinstitute.wisc.edu/iarp/krsko/events for more information.

His work can be seen in a couple of campus locations. He recently completed a site-specific installation in Birge Hall, which will stay up through the end of the semester. There is also a Krsko installation exploring the geometry of the boundaries between flexible cells in space in the Discovery Building, through May 8.

As part of his residency, Krsko is leading a hands-on, interdisciplinary course co-listed as BSE 375, titled “Zoethica: Bioinspired Art and Science.” The class asks students to interpret the natural world around them using modern instruments, as well as solicits their input on Krsko’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math)-based curriculum.

Some background about Krsko: Since earning his Ph.D. in Biophysics and Materials Science from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 2006, Krsko has embarked on a career marked by interpretive design artwork. After graduating from SIT, Krsko was awarded a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he first explored the relationship between artistic expression and the sciences. His portfolio includes numerous works on display for the public, and his clients include the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Department of State, and the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, among others.

Co-sponsors of Krsko’s visit include the Departments of Art, Design Studies and Physics.

America Saves Week Feb. 27 – March 4

UW System Administration is sponsoring a variety of events for employees from protecting their credit score to managing cash flow as part of the America dSaves Week, a national campaign, that encourages individuals and families to assess their saving status, set savings goals, and develop a plan to realize them.

Click here for more information, including a full list of events and registration information.

Deadline extended for John E. Sawyer Seminars program

The deadline for proposals for the Andrew W. Mellon John E. Sawyer Seminar program has been extended until Friday, March 10 at noon.

The Sawyer Seminars provide support for collaborative research on historical or contemporary topics of major scholarly significance in the arts, humanities, and interpretive social sciences. They are excellent sources of support to extend groundbreaking and timely research that is already taking place on campus, and augments already-existing resources through the support of graduate assistantships and non-teaching postdoctoral fellow positions.

Members of the review committee — Sara Guyer, Venkat Mani, and Steve Nadler — are willing to consult with those interested in creating a proposal in order to meet the internal March 10 deadline. In addition, Linda Neusen in the College of Letters and Science is available to assist with the preparation of the required budget. Laurie Mayberry can provide examples of successful past proposals.

Please send your proposal information by email to Laurie Mayberry, Assistant Vice Provost (laurie.mayberry@wisc.edu), with a copy to Michael Bernard-Donals, Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff (michael.bernarddonals@wisc.edu), no later than noon on Friday, March 10, 2017.

Please download the Sawyer memo and attachment document for further information. If you have any questions, please contact Laurie Mayberry at laurie.mayberry@wisc.edu.

How science should respond to fake news

The rise of fake news has dominated the world of politics since the last U.S. election cycle. But fake news is not at all new in the world of science, notes University of Wisconsin–Madison Life Sciences Communication Professor Dominique Brossard.

“Fake news about science has always existed,” she says. “What has changed now is social media and the potential to disseminate this kind of news much faster among social networks.”

Addressing scientists Feb. 18, 2017 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Brossard discussed the fake news phenomenon in the context of science and online social networks like Facebook and Twitter. She joined moderator Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press and speakers Julie Coiro of the University of Rhode Island and Dan Kahan of Yale Law School.

Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.

Fake news, Brossard says, is produced using false information, with the goal of sharing it as real news to influence people. However, “in the context of science, I think this is much murkier and unclear.”

She recalled an unpublished study she conducted while a graduate student at Cornell University in which she examined science coverage of the supermarket tabloid Weekly World News. The black and white magazine reported on “strange news,” like 30-pound newborns, giant insects and alien abductions. Most of it was made up. But some stories, Brossard says, were based on odd-but-true science. It was a way of enticing readers who were not always certain what was real and what was not.

“We’ve always had things that can be called inaccurate,” she says. “The problem in the science realm is deciding where is the line between bad science reporting and fake news.”

For instance, is a news story that says caffeine might cure cancer, based on a study of just 10 people, fake news or is the study just poorly reported?

Unlike other kinds of fake news, inaccurate science news often spreads through social networks because it sometimes offers hope, Brossard says. People will share stories that fit what they want to believe, like a new treatment might cure a loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease.

“Journalists are not all well-trained to assess the validity of a study,” she says. “They are trying to find the human interest and the hope — a headline like: ‘New study brings hope to families with Alzheimer’s.’”

Efforts like those of Facebook, which added an option to report fake news, are not going to solve the problem for science, Brossard says. “It may not be a fake story but just bad reporting. Maybe it’s not a great scientific study, although I bet if you read the study they mention the limitations.”

“Fake news about science has always existed. What has changed now is social media and the potential to disseminate this kind of news much faster among social networks.”

So, what is the answer?

Brossard offers three paths toward better science communication and less inaccuracy in science news.

“As scientists, we need to actually know what we’re doing with respect to communicating science and break the echo chambers as much as we can,” she says, explaining that social science research shows simply offering “more facts” to people will not change minds. In fact, it can cause people to double down on their beliefs. Rather, she says, scientists need to find common ground with others, including nonscientists.

Dominique Brossard

As part of this, she suggests scientists need to take responsibility for communicating science by being willing to talk to and work with journalists, to help explain and contextualize their work.

“We need to train scientists themselves to talk about their results and scientists need to be out there,” she says. “If we don’t, the reporter is going to call someone else. It’s our responsibility to make sure fake news or bad reporting is not disseminating.”

Second, agencies and institutions must do a better job of what Brossard calls “quality or brand control.” She uses Coca-Cola as an example. The company monitors news around the world and flags any media in which it is mentioned, looks at related conversations taking place on social media and launches damage control whenever necessary. Institutions and agencies should be doing this with their science and act when studies are misinterpreted, she says, though there is currently no systematic way to do this.

“It’s not that people don’t trust science, it’s that they are going to use science that fits their beliefs.”

Third, Google and other search engines should remove retracted studies from search results, Brossard says. For instance, Andrew Wakefield’s falsified and discredited study in 1998 fraudulently linking autism and vaccines is still available, though online it is marked as retracted. This does not always matter to the mother or father concerned about the health of their child.

“If I tell you that 87 percent of scientists believe there is no link because the evidence shows that, but then there is this one study, many parents will say: ‘I’m not going to take the risk. I’m going to believe that one,’” Brossard says. “It’s not that people don’t trust science, it’s that they are going to use science that fits their beliefs.”

While efforts like medical writer and journalism instructor Ivan Oransky’s blog Retraction Watch — which roots out retractions and cases of fraud among scientific publications — have been instrumental in bringing attention to inaccurate or false studies, Brossard says bad studies might still resurface and Retraction Watch can’t catch everything, although they now report between 500 and 600 retractions a year.

“Social media has played a big role,” Brossard says. “It’s a way for people that share a set of beliefs to be assured they’re not alone.”

Which is why, she says, it’s important to get science news right from the start.

“There is not a clear dichotomy between fake news and real news,” she says. “Scientists should engage in communicating their work and realize it’s not ‘us versus them, the public.’ They need to be aware of the consequences of what they say and take into account what we know about science communication. They shouldn’t shy away.”

This article was originally published on the UW-Madison news site.

University experts help Roelli create champion cheese

If you walk into Roelli Cheese Haus near Shullsburg in southwest Wisconsin, you’ll see plenty of succulent Wisconsin cheeses — but not Little Mountain, the company’s champion cheese. It lives behind the counter, with nary a sign.

Master cheesemaker Chris Roelli holds a fifteen-pound wheel of Little Mountain cheese aging in a storage facility at Roelli Cheese. Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.

Little Mountain, described by its maker as a “classic upland style from Switzerland,” is not contraband, but Roelli is practically running on empty after a “Best of Show” at the American Cheese Society contest in July. “We feel pretty honored,” says company owner Chris Roelli, noting that Little Mountain bested 1,842 other cheeses in the competition.

Although Roelli is a fourth-generation cheesemaker, in creating the recipe and honing the details of microbiology, timing and equipment, he got assistance from the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “For us as a small business, tapping the experience at CDR was invaluable,” he says. “It accelerated our path to bring this cheese to the market, literally by years.”

Little Mountain requires at least seven months of careful aging to achieve its characteristic flavor, texture and rind. Aging occurs in an above-ground “cellar,” with cooling pipes along the walls. Forced air would waft microbes, threatening the cheese with spoilage.

Roelli’s great-grandfather, Adolph Roelli, immigrated from Altburon, Switzerland to Green County in the early 1900s. “He was a cheesemaker’s apprentice in different areas of the Swiss Alps,” says Roelli. “He settled here as a farmer and sold milk to a co-op, which offered him a job as head cheesemaker, based on his experience in Switzerland.”

Roelli says he’s been in and out of cheese factories all his life. “I watched my granddad make commodity cheddar,” but the factory closed shortly after Chris got a cheesemaker’s license in 1989. “We weren’t able to compete.”

Master cheesemaker Chris Roelli discusses cheese at Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, Wisconsin. Roelli Cheese created an award-winning product, known as Little Mountain cheese, with the consulting and test-batch help of the Center for Dairy Research at UW–Madison. Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.

In 2005, unable to stay away from the family business, Roelli returned with “Cheese on Wheels,” a cheese plant mounted on an 18-wheeler.

In 2006, he started an artisanal cheese business in a new factory behind his store on Highway 11 east of Shullsburg, and started to envision a Swiss cheese that would “go back to the family’s roots.”

In preparation, he says he “went around and tasted as much Swiss mountain-style cheese as I could.”

Both Emmentaler and Gruyère were already produced nearby, and Roelli mulled a Swiss version of Parmesan before settling on an Appenzeller, a hard-rind cheese flavored with “washes” of brine as it ages. He approached John Jaeggi at the Center for Dairy Research with some flavor profiles he was looking for. “I made a couple of batches here as total experiments, and we went to the CDR and made six batches, to fine tune the culture and process.”

The CDR is the world’s mecca for dairy product research. Operated at UW–Madison with funds from dairy farmers and food processors, its experts boast hundreds of years of combined experience in industry and academia. Those experts have something else in common: Many grew up in the same milieu as the cheesemakers they work with.

For example,  Jaeggi, the cheese industry and applications coordinator at CDR, is a third-generation, Swiss-descended cheesemaker from Green County who, like Roelli, grew up in a cheese family. “If you look at the history of Wisconsin, a lot of cheese factories were family operations and the family was involved in all aspects of the business,” Jaeggi says. “The younger generation would start on the bottom floor, cleaning, sanitizing, packaging and working their way up.”

Stamps used to mark and grade packages of Wisconsin-made cheese are pictured at Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, Wis. Photo: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison.

Jaeggi says the initial conversations with Roelli concerned flavor, texture and equipment. “We talked about aging, culture, the ‘make’ schedule. Chris came up to CDR and worked in our test vats, looking at cocktails of microbial cultures for different flavor profiles. Once we got close, we went to his plant two or three times to make the cheese, then optimized the make procedure to fit his plant.”

The cheese would be aged from seven to 16 months while being washed with a hush-hush recipe of salt, yeast and bacteria. The wash would break down proteins and fat to create the rind and desired flavor.

“Although artisan cheesemakers are pretty open in general, when it comes to world-class cheese, there are still secrets out there,” Roelli says. Holding secrets is a point of pride at CDR. “To be able to draw from the knowledge base at CDR was invaluable,” says Roelli. “There is nowhere else you could get that. If John Jaeggi or Mark Johnson (a CDR cheese scientist) asks for help from someone in Europe, they will help. They don’t know me, but they know them.”

Someday, the world’s top cheesemakers may start to know Chris Roelli, who has built his future atop his history and the cheese wisdom brought by his great-grandfather from Switzerland. “If you make something really good, people will find it,” Roelli says. “We entered competitions to garner some interest from places where we don’t normally get it. You don’t have to set the world on fire with advertising.”

Between the store and the cheese plant, Roelli Cheese Haus has five employees. Chris Roelli also runs a larger business hauling milk from farms.

Demand for Little Mountain exploded after the award in July, Roelli says. “We beat the world champ from last year, and three other American Cheese Society Best of Shows from past years. We have upped production for the end of 2017 as much as we can. I still have a list as long as my right arm wanting the next batch.”

This article was originally published on the UW-Madison news site.