Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar

Fall 2011 Seminars

All seminars are Tuesday at 12:05 pm in 4274 Chamberlin except as noted. Refreshments will be served.

Short List


September 6, 2011

Bat deaths near wind turbines: Barotrauma, or blunt trauma?

Melissa Behr* and Byron Dieterle** *Clinical Diagnostic Professor of Pathology, Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison **Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

The dark side of wind turbines, a popular source of green energy, is that they kill many bats and some birds. A publication by Baerwald et al (1) postulated that bats die of barotrauma near wind turbines, based on their finding of pulmonary hemorrhage and lack of broken bones. The press picked up the paper, and people began to talk about "exploding bats". A study by Grodsky et al at UW-Madison's Wildlife Ecology was undertaken of dead bats at a field of wind turbines in Dodge County. We were invited to participate, to contribute pathology (MB) and physics (BD) expertise. As in other studies, tree bats were found in largest numbers; a few hibernating bats were also killed by the turbines. X-rays showed that 75% of bats had one or more broken bones, and at least half of those weren't detected by physical examination. In addition, many bats had pulmonary hemorrhages as well as middle ear damage: those lesions could be the result of barotrauma or blunt trauma. Calculations show that bats can't echolocate a moving wind turbine blade, since typical tip speeds can equal 175 MPH, which results in lethal pressure differences of 6,000-10,000 Pa.

1. Erin F. Baerwald, Genevieve H. D'Amours, Brandon J. Klug and Robert M. R. Barclay. Barotrauma is a significant cause of bat fatalities at wind turbines. Current Biology, 2008; Vol 18, R695-R696

September 13, 2011

Systems Virology: Models and measures of virus growth and infection spread

John Yin, UW Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering Systems Biology Theme, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Viruses infect humans and cause diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, and influenza, annually impacting the health of a major fraction of the world's population. Basic science has revealed the molecular functions encoded by many viruses of biomedical importance, but relatively little progress has been made toward understanding how the individual functions of a virus contribute to the integrated processes of virus growth and infection spread.

September 20, 2011

Bees: What is all the buzz about?

Hannah R. Gaines, UW Department of Entomology

One in every three bites we eat is dependent on pollinators. Bees, the most important pollinators, however, are in decline around the world. Historically, farmers have relied upon one species, the non-native honey bee (Apis mellifera) for their pollination requirements. In recent years, however, honey bees have declined drastically as a result of mites, disease, and the recent emergence of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). As CCD continues to spread and devastate honey bee colonies, farmers will need to seek alternative ways of pollinating their crops. Native bees also provide valuable pollination services but have largely been overlooked and are at risk of decline due to habitat fragmentation, intensified agriculture, and agri-chemical exposure. In this seminar I will talk about the current status of pollinators, their importance to world agriculture, and our research addressing the importance of native pollinators and their response to landscape structure.

September 27, 2011

Bed bugs - They will rule the world

Phil Pellitteri, UW Department of Entomology

Human bed bugs were a common problem until DDT was used in the early 1940's. The seemed to disappear until about 10 years ago and now have become a major issue worldwide that shows no signs of going away. There are a number of factors involved in the resurgence, and we expect the problem to continue to increase. I will be discussing the biological and social aspects to the problem. It is not just a poem anymore.

October 4, 2011

Topological chaos

Jean-Luc Thiffeault, UW Department of Mathematics

Topological chaos is a type of chaotic behavior that is `forced' by the motion of obstacles in some domain. I will review two topological approaches, with applications in particular to stirring and mixing in fluid dynamics. The first involves constructing systems such that the fluid motion is topologically complex, usually by imposing a specific motion of rods. I will discuss optimization strategies that can be implemented. The second is diagnostic, where flow characteristics are deduced from observations of periodic or random orbits and their topological properties.

This talk is available as a PDF file.

October 11, 2011

Recent changes in Wisconsin's forests as seen by satellites

Mutlu Ozdogan, UW Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology

Wisconsin's forests are changing rapidly as a result of commercial harvest, disease and climate. However, these changes are captured only at the county or at the national forest scales and thus are not suitable for local scale hydrological, biological, and climate studies. Using satellite observations spanning three decades, we are developing stand-level forest change maps at five-year intervals for northern Wisconsin. Our maps show that commercial forest harvesting is a major form of disturbance in northern forests and as a result, the size of contiguous intact forest blocks that are important for habitat and hydrological connectivity are diminishing. The seminar will walk the audience through some historical perspective on forest harvesting in Wisconsin, show the impact of satellite technology in mapping harvested blocks, and discuss the implications of forest change.

You can find the detailed information about me at

October 18, 2011

Algorithmic music composition - Philosophy, methods, implications, and possible applications

Dave Smith, UW Space Science and Engineering Center

Most modern music composition methods are based on the music of previous successful artists, like Mozart, the sonification of complex data sets and mathematical processes, or by combining a large number of manipulation methods and searching for interesting sounds....

My approach is drawn more from cognitive science - determining what types of coherence we can recognize, and presenting these as structure, content and boundaries. One advantage of this approach is that the resultant music can be well defined in both cognitive and aesthetic domains....

In the larger (non-musical) view, by looking at these methods as mechanisms for coping with chaotic and complex phenomena, we end up with a rough map of consciousness which brings surprising questions about our knowledge and educational systems.... For example: How do "what we like" and "what we know" interact?... How do classification systems compete with non-discrete phenomena?

And some groovy music!

This talk is available as a PDF file.
Listen to some sample music.
Visit the speaker's website.

October 25, 2011

Airway sensory deficits in Parkinson’s Disease – Evidence of a complex system gone awry? Now what?

Michael J. Hammer, UW School of Medicine and Public Health

Historically, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) has simply been classified as a “movement disorder”. Recent evidence, including data from our laboratory, strongly suggests a more complex model of sensory-movement interaction whereby airway movements are guided by sensory (e.g., touch) inputs to the central nervous system. Sensory-movement interactions, and the related deficits that accompany PD, substantially impact a constellation of important airway functions such as breathing, cough, speech, swallow, and voice. This seminar will focus on (a) how airway sensory-movement functions are negatively impacted by PD, (b) the clinical consequences of this impact, and (c) strategies that may improve these airway sensory-movement functions in PD.

November 1, 2011

The Eelgrass Meadow and One Hundred White Pelicans

Robin Chapman, UW Department of Communicative Disorders

Robin Chapman will read poems of nonlinear change in species and climate from her new book The Eelgrass Meadow (Tebot Bach, Huntington Beach CA) and a manuscript-in-progress, One Hundred White Pelicans.

(The previously announced speaker had to cancel due to illness.)

November 8, 2011

 The early development of empathy

Carolyn Zahn-Wexler, UW Departments of Psychology & Psychiatry

Compassion, cooperation and concern for others are essential for individuals in all societies to survive and thrive. Yet many competing factors can inhibit their expression. It is essential then to understand processes that contribute to empathy, both those that enhance and hinder its development. Empathy makes it possible for people to connect with others’ experiences; moreover, it motivates individuals to help and comfort others, share resources, and provide protection when needed. Empathy has both cognitive and affective components, i.e. the ability to understand the perspective of the other and to resonate emotionally to another’s distress. It has neural and physiological correlates; neuroimaging studies support the notion that we are biologically wired to respond to the suffering of others. Emotional contagion is present in the first days of life, seen in infants’ reflexive cries when they hear the cries of other infants. This shared emotional response is commonly viewed as a precursor to empathic concern for someone in distress. It quickly becomes more regulated and transformed; between the ages of one and two years children show both cognitive and affective empathy and prosocial efforts to help others in distress. I will focus on longitudinal studies of the early developmental course (0-5 years) of young children’s concern for others, providing examples of empathic concern and caring behaviors. These findings, when first reported, ran counter to prevailing theories of early social-emotional development. Early empathy shows moderate consistency over time which means some children change whereas others do not; moreover, change can manifest itself in different ways. While the potential for empathy may be innate and universal, there are clear individual differences. Other biological (e.g. genes, temperament) and environmental (e.g. parenting practices, parental psychopathology, culture) processes can alter its expression and developmental trajectory. I will review some of these factors and consider future directions which include the study of gene-environment interactions.

This talk is available as a PowerPoint Presentation.

November 15, 2011

Teaching computers to extract complex information from news articles

Jude Shavlik, UW Department of Computer Science

Several of us in Computer Sciences are part of a DARPA program called Machine Reading, whose goal is to read ordinary English text and create "knowledge bases" in a formal knowledge representation. The knowledge representation we use is first-order predicate calculus (e.g., "forall x human(x) implies mortal(x)"), extended to handle probability. I will describe the probabilistic logic we use, discuss how we represent the output of natural-language processing programs (syntactic parsers, part-of-speech taggers, time-phrase recognizers, etc.), and describe one of the machine-learning algorithms we use. A central challenge in machine learning is getting training examples, and I will also describe how we use the on-line knowledge base called FreeBase to automatically create "distantly labeled" training examples.

November 22, 2011

Sleep: A global or a local process?

Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, UW Department of Psychiatry

Sleep is usually thought of as a global behavior and a global brain state. However, recent evidence indicates that sleep intensity, measured as electroencephalogram (EEG) slow-wave activity, is not uniformly distributed across cortical areas. Some brain regions appear to need more sleep (or more "intense" sleep) than others, and such local sleep regulation occurs in a use-dependent manner. When the brain is awake, neurons in the cerebral cortex fire irregularly and the EEG displays low-amplitude, high-frequency oscillations. After falling asleep, neurons start oscillating between ON periods, when they fire as during wake, and OFF periods, when they stop firing altogether, and the EEG displays high amplitude slow waves. However, after sleep deprivation, cortical neurons can go briefly “OFF line” as they do in sleep, accompanied by slower waves in the local EEG. Strikingly, neurons often go OFF line in one cortical area and not in another. During these periods of “local sleep”, whose incidence increases with wake duration, rats appear awake, active, and display a wake EEG. Thus, in sleep-deprived rats, though both the EEG and behavior indicate wakefulness, local populations of neurons in the cortex may be falling asleep.

November 29, 2011

Feeding behavior elicited from the prefrontal cortex: a case of lower-level brain centers for homeostatic energy-balance control “taking orders from above?”

Brian A. Baldo, UW Department of Psychiatry

Feeding is a simple behavior that is required for the survival of the individual. Fundamentally, feeding replenishes chemical energy and maintains an energy reserve for adaptive behavior and physiological housekeeping functions. Nevertheless, the neural controls over this simple behavior are exceedingly complex. There appear to be specialized brain circuits for distinguishable aspects of feeding, for example, feeding elicited by negative energy balance (hunger/starvation), by the anticipated experience of pleasurable taste (the “dessert stomach”), or by stress (“emotional eating”). My lab explores how these diverse circuits interact, by chemically stimulating discrete brain sites in rats and observing the effects upon the organization of feeding behavior.

Recently, we found that stimulating a specific neurochemical system within the prefrontal cortex, usually viewed as a seat of higher cognition, decision-making, and impulse control, produces a remarkable set of behaviors characterized by intense hyperactivity and abrupt, disorganized feeding responses. The neurochemical system under study was the mu-opioid peptide system (the “brain’s own heroin”), known to mediate drug reward and to play a role in drug craving and relapse. Our studies were the first to show that feeding behavior can be driven by stimulating specific opioid-sensitive “hot spots” within the prefrontal cortex. Moreover, we showed that stimulating opioid systems in these cortical hot spots activates simpler downstream brain systems that regulate the homeostatic control of energy balance and body weight. Finally, we have obtained preliminary evidence that opioid stimulation of these same hot spots degrades cognitive function, as measured in a task of working memory.

Taken together, our results indicate that mu-opioid-mediated activation of the prefrontal cortex simultaneously degrades higher cognitive function and elicits dysregulated feeding responses by “usurping” control of lower brain systems that regulate energy balance. Our findings may have implications for understanding eating disorders and addiction, which are characterized by the loss of control over food- or drug-seeking behaviors.

December 6, 2011

A history of El Niño / the Southern Oscillation

Dan Vimont, UW Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Scicnces

This talk will provide a brief history of our understanding of the El Niño / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena from the late 1800's through the present.  The talk will highlight how advances in our observational networks and theoretical understanding of the tropical atmosphere and ocean - advances that were not necessarily motivated by a desire to understand ENSO - have shaped the development of ENSO theory.  Finally, I will discuss an emerging shift in our current understanding of ENSO variability from the perception of ENSO as a linearly unstable mode of variability to thinking of ENSO as a linearly stable phenomenon that experiences transient growth through non-normal processes.

December 13, 2011

Dimensional Analysis: Can a trick to help physics students pass exams provide insight into the Nature of the Universe?

Jim Blair, Milton and Edgewood College

1- Equations, Units and Dimensions

2- The Fundamentals: Mass, Length and Time. (and the Derived: all the others.)

3- Some Anomalies: Fractional Exponents? Different things with the Same Dimensions? The same things with Different Dimensions?

4- Add Charge, Temperature and Angle to the Fundamentals to resolve the anomalies (But the units are arbitrary and not explainable to Aliens.)

5- Change the Fundamentals to Angle, Charge, Mass, Velocity, Action, and Entropy, and make a unit system that Everyone can understand. (even Bug Eyed Monsters and Little Green Men all over the Universe)

6- Another way to look at the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.