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'Ask a Scientist' series resumes Feb. 13 with new focus

| Denise Olson

A familiar UW-Eau Claire series resumes this spring with a few new twists, including a different coordinator under a new department and a new collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire.  

On Feb. 13, the campus will launch the spring lineup of the long-running "Ask a Scientist" community outreach program, a series of three public discussions that are aimed at bringing a better understanding of scientific discoveries to the public, in ways that can be understood by all interested community members. 

The series now will be coordinated by Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff, professor and chair of the UW-Eau Claire biology department, who picked up the reins of the program when founder Dr. Paul Thomas, professor of physics, decided it was time to transition into some other adventures after 11 years as coordinator. Kleintjes Neff is honored to step into this role, for what she sees as an essential outreach program offered to the community.  

"Paul set the stage with his innovation and execution for 11 years of 'Ask a Scientist,' and we are indebted to him," Neff said about having the opportunity to continue the program. "I can think of few things more important, especially in today’s current climate of mixed messaging, than to continue to bring fascinating, credible and well-documented scientific knowledge to the Eau Claire community in a means that can be understood by a broad audience, and not just the experts. More than ever, we need to explore and discuss the wealth of our scientific discoveries, facts and ever-changing and innovative processes to improve human understanding and ability to adapt to the uncertainties of the future."

Kleintjes Neff says the series will continue the established schedule of three speakers each semester, representing a diverse suite of scientific disciplines on topics appropriate for a variety of ages and interests. What is new for the series moving forward, she said, is the coordination of speakers in a collaboration between the UW-Eau Claire biology department and the education committee of Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire. 

"It is the goal of this partnership to continue to provide opportunities for local and guest speakers to share and discuss science in the casual and warm comfort of the Acoustic Café," Neff said, with events continuing to take place on Thursday evenings. 

Thomas speaks to the Acoustic Café location and what he felt was an essential component of the program's past success, thanking the downtown eatery for its support. 

"The location was a very important aspect of the program's success — bringing ideas in science to the community in a comfortable and popular meeting place in downtown Eau Claire. I want to thank the Acoustic Café team for continuing their enthusiastic support of this program."

For more than a decade, "Ask a Scientist" speakers have touched on a wide range of topics, both local and global in scope. Following are a sample of program titles over the years: 

  • "Power issues in the doctor-patient relationship"
  • "Acoustic communication of birds"
  • "Knot theory"
  • "The Maven mission to Mars"
  • "The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami"
  • "Noise in the Chippewa Valley"
  • "The controversy and necessity of mining sulfides"
  • "The physics of curling"

The spring series kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, and the lineup for the season is as follows: 

Thursday, Feb. 13
"Epidemics in a Connected World"
Dr. Larry Lutwick
Professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire

Thursday, March 12
"Saturn's upper atmosphere; the role of electrodynamics" 
Jess Vriesema
Associate lecturer, computer science and mathematics departments, UW-Eau Claire

Thursday, April 9
"Current Status of the Gray Wolf in the Upper Midwest"
Scott Thiel
TWIN Timber Wolf Information Network and secondary earth science educator, Altoona Middle School

Kleintjes Neff said that while the spring calendar is complete, she and the selection committee are always open to suggestions for future topics or speakers. 

"All of us involved with the planning and hosting of the series are thrilled to continue to bring science and the latest in scientific thought to the Chippewa Valley. The series complements the local arts scene and the nexus of art and science, which draws such enthusiastic learners."

Photo caption: For more than a decade, "Ask a Scientist" speakers have touched on a wide range of topics, both local and global in scope, at the Acoustic Café in downtown Eau Claire.