Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar

Spring 2012 Seminars

All seminars are Tuesday at 12:05 pm in 4274 Chamberlin except as noted. Join us for lunch during the summer on the Union Terrace at noon each Tuesday, starting May 15th!


January 24, 2012

Linear social interactions models

Steven Durlauf, UW Department of Economics

This talk will provide an overview of recent efforts by economists to understand social influences on economic behavior. The talk will emphasize the difficulties involved in uncovering evidence of social forces from observational data. Links to the growing literature on social networks will be made.

This talk is available as a PDF file.

January 31, 2012

3D and beyond: Multidimensional imaging of cell based processes

Kevin W. Eliceiri, UW Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Molecular Biology
Director, Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI)

Revolutionary advances in biological and biomedical imaging over the last twenty years have brought about the development of improved methods for non-invasively imaging dynamic biological processes. Of particular significance have been optical (photonic) techniques that have allowed for the visualization and manipulation of molecular and cellular structures within living tissue with minimal perturbation. The efforts of the multidisciplinary UW-Madison Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI), to develop optical and computational approaches for biological and biomedical studies will be presented. These efforts include signal processing approaches for multidimensional image analysis, image informatics, nonlinear optical and intrinsic fluorescence studies, optical histopathology, and approaches for deep imaging of biological tissue.

February 7, 2012

Social networking sites and adolescent health

Megan A. Moreno, UW School of Medicine and Public Health

Social networking sites are popular among adolescents and college students.  References to health behaviors and conditions, such as alcohol and depression, are frequently seen on these sites.  The meaning and influence of such displays is currently under investigation and will be  explored in this talk.

February 14, 2012

Energy harvesting for mobile electronics

Ashley Taylor, UW Department of Mechanical Engineering

Energy harvesting is a very old idea arguably going back to the invention of the windmill, sail, and waterwheel.  More recently efforts have been focused on ways to convert environmental energy into electrical power. Many types of energy harvesters exist covering a very broad range of applications from large scale power generators to portable power sources for mobile devices and sensors.  The harvesting of environmental mechanical energy is particularly promising for portable applications by using such high-power sources as human  locomotion, but currently its use is substantially limited by  low power output of energy converters.  Existing methods of mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion such as electromagnetic, piezoelectric, or electrostatic are not well suited for effective direct coupling to the majority of high-power environmental mechanical energy sources suitable for portable applications, thus their energy output remains in the microwatt to hundreds of milliwatt range. However with the rapid growth of mobile devices the demand for power sources producing watts or tens of watts has acutely increased. To bridge this gap we have developed a radically new mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion method which is based on reverse electrowetting – a novel microfluidic phenomenon. Energy generation is achieved through the interaction of arrays of moving microscopic liquid droplets with a novel multilayer thin film. We believe that this approach has a number of significant advantages over existing mechanical energy harvesting technologies.

February 21, 2012

Evolution of intelligence

David Krakauer, Director, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

In this lecture I shall survey key ideas from the history of mathematics, physics, computation, and biology that have extraordinarily converged on very similar explanations for adaptive or selective behavior. This convergence presents itself in the form of a universal structure in all models describing adaptive search in high dimensional state spaces. I shall describe how intelligent mechanisms, to include nervous systems, evolved to overcome a fundamental limit to the velocity of evolutionary adaptation.

February 28, 2012

Dreaming and language evolution

Art Schmaltz, Prairie State College

Language evolution has been deemed the hardest problem in science. Part of the problem resides in discovering the prior evolved biological system upon which human language has scaffolded itself. Efforts to locate which simpler features evolved into language have met with problems. The resolution to the dilemma of language evolution may involve a Copernican leap. Instead of a theoretical trajectory going from a simple evolved system to a complex system, the opposite strategy might resolve the problem. Neuroscience has discovered the enormous amount of brain power required for language functioning. The only brain function more complex, involving more information processing in the human brain, occurs during REM dreaming. Dreaming is a biologically hardwired brain function that is in some ways more complex than waking linguistic functioning. Dreaming is also phylogenetically older than human language. Dreaming as the birthplace of language is throughly consistent with Darwinian evolutionary theory.

March 6, 2012

Perturbation in the system: Creative network practice

Michelle Riel, Artist, Designer, Theorist

In art practice, use of computers, electronics, and telecommunications began in the 1960s. What then differs in today's creative network practice?  In particular, chance operations of seminal 20th century artists and exploration of systems theory by mid-century artists have become the dynamical systems of today's creatives who employ coding, physical computing, and emerging networked technologies and methods. I relate historical precursors to current work and discuss how network practices employ non-linear dynamic processes.

March 13, 2012

Consciousness—A new paradigm for understanding & research: Navigating deep oceans with science and art

Bernard Z. Friedlander, Department of Psychology, Emeritus, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT

Human consciousness is the Moby Dick, the mysterious Great White Whale, the most elusive quarry for understanding, in the vast oceans of the worlds of knowledge on Planet Earth.

Can we explain how complex systems of electrochemistry, in billions of brain cells, become transformed into our infinitely varied human awareness of the sensations of touch, smell, taste, vision and hearing?

How does brain cell electrochemistry account for id, ego and superego; for memories, dreams and reflections; for our chaotic, grand, grandiose visions of ourselves, of each other, and of science, art, religion, governance, trade, war and empire.

Awareness of human experience—from raw sensation to fantasy, imagination and art—is the consequence of physical and social evolution in our species, and psychological development in individuals.  Despite the distinctive centrality of consciousness in the unfolding of human nature, its components, qualities and functions remain an unsolved puzzle.

This presentation identifies the collective operation of seven distinctive sets of variables that need to be taken into account if we are to fulfill a reasonable hope of comprehending how consciousness allows us to be human.

It is probable that no one or cluster of these elements of consciousness can be fully understood without the others.

March 20, 2012

Rise and fall of a billion dollar molecule

Olga Trubetskoy, UW Departments of Pharmacy and Comparative Biosciences

I will discuss a story of a “billion dollar molecule” that has been recently revisited on national drug discovery radar and will provide its less known links and direct connections to the history of local Madison biotech.  The presentation will focus on overall complexity of drug response in humans including drug metabolism and toxicity on molecular, cellular, organismal and environmental levels including effects of some specific human factors and current personalized  medicine approach.

March 27, 2012

The anatomy of economics

Jim Blair, Milton and Edgewood College

The Economist for January 6, 2012 has an article on the chaotic state of macro-economic theory today.  The internet has aided in a proliferation of heterodox theories.  I will survey several of these and contrast them with the orthodox classical and Keynesian views. 

April 10, 2012

Computation and Informatics in Biology and Medicine (CIBM)

David J. Baumler, UW Biotechnology Center

No other family of microorganisms has had a greater impact on human health then the Enterobacteriaceae, and these bacteria have evolved into a wide variety of commensal and human, plant, and avian pathogens.  These organisms have diverged from a common ancestor ~300-500 million years ago (MYA), and little is known about ancestral metabolism.  Using a paleo systems biology approach the metabolism of ancient microorganisms has been investigated through construction of metabolic models using either ancient genomic DNA (such as the Yersinia pestis genome that has been recently sequenced from human corpses that were victims of the 2nd pandemic of the black plague ~1300 A.D.) or through a comparison of 72 enterobacterial genomes of modern descendents.

I will present an analysis of the ability of these ancient metabolic models to utilize 300 substrates and how some of these metabolic strategies are used in numerous human niche locations where modern-day enterobacteria cause disease.  Overall this work will demonstrate that models of ancient bacteria can be used to accurately predict metabolism and to derive new targets to control human disease.

April 17, 2012

Towards quantifying biological complexity: Lessons from circadian rhythms

Amir Assadi, UW Department of Mathematics

Computational complexity has been the subject of intensive research with rewarding theoretical and practical accomplishments.  Shannon’s mathematical formalism to quantify and study digitized information has provided a powerful framework for applications to science and engineering. In biology, the analog nature of the system observables and “signal-encoding” pose a formidable challenge to draw biologically insightful parallels between the digital information theory and the analog theory of biological information, even if such a theory could potentially be developed.
We provide an outline of a systematic program that aims to better understand the phenomena generally recognized as the culprit to “biological complexity”, namely, variation of phenotypic traits within a single genotype. A quantitative theory of phenotypic variation leads to the theory of biological complexity at DNA level; which is as a central question in theoretical biology, and sheds new light on the evolution of diversity of life.
We use the physics approach to extract the hints from a data set of gene expression time-series (courtesy of the Chory Lab, Salk Institute), regarded as observations from a complex dynamical system in the ground state and subject to various perturbations. We provide a sketch of the steps to compute variations at the very first molecular stage past the DNA. In parallel to Kolmogrov’s theory of computational complexity, we propose a multi-scale multi-resolution theory to elucidate ideal measures of the most efficient description of computations initiated at the genome level, leading to the phenotypic observables. We discuss an application to “quantifying phenotypic plasticity” and formulate new hypotheses regarding the DNA-level sources and molecular mechanisms of plasticity. These results are obtained via massively parallel and distributed computation, which offer exciting new research problems of their own.

April 24, 2012

Adaptive information

Rob Nowak, UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

This talk will discuss the notions of adaptive and non-adaptive information in the context of statistical learning and inference.  Suppose that we have a collection of models (e.g., signals, systems, representations, etc.) denoted by X and a collection of measurement actions (e.g., samples, probes, queries, experiments, etc.) denoted by Y. A particular model x in X best describes the problem at hand and is measured as follows.  Each measurement action, y in Y, generates an observation y(x) that is a function of the unknown model.  This function may be deterministic or stochastic.  The goal is to identify x from a set of measurements y_1(x),...,y_n(x), where y_i in Y, i=1,...,n.  If the measurement actions y_1,...,y_n are chosen deterministically or randomly without knowledge of x, then the measurement process is non-adaptive. However, If y_i is selected in a way that depends on the previous measurements y_1(x),...,y_{i-1}(x),  then the process is adaptive. Adaptive information is clearly more flexible, since the process can always disregard previously collected data.  The advantage of adaptive information is that it can sequentially focus measurements or sensing actions to distinguish the elements of X that are most consistent with previously collected data, and this can lead to significantly more reliable decisions.  The idea of adaptive information gathering is commonplace (e.g., humans and animals excel at this), but outside of simple parametric settings little is known about the fundamental limits and capabilities of such systems.  Some  preliminary results addressing this situation will be described.

May 1, 2012

Moving beyond sliced bread and dragonfly vision: How can researchers and extension professionals understand complex, social-ecological systems across disciplinary lines?

Bethany Laursen, UW Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology

Researchers and extension professionals in all program areas solve puzzles and problems in the real world--where people and the environment interact. Learning about such complex, social-ecological systems is itself a complex project: a plethora of interdisciplinary social-ecological paradigms offer potential insights. How can puzzle-solvers and knowledge-translators synthesize the best from all of these paradigms? How can we integrate paradigms as distinct as slices of bread and as dizzying as dragonfly vision to create whole, coherent, and useful understandings of the places where we live and work? If you have succeeded in this or still struggle, please come and share your hard-earned wisdom as Bethany Laursen shares her findings from a semester-long study in transdisciplinary paradigms of social-ecological analysis.

Intended audience: extension professionals in all program areas; all those interested in complexity, interdisciplinarity, philosophy of science, epistemology and/or social-ecological systems, especially researchers and students.

Fresh, homemade bread will be served for refreshment, sliced in a myriad of ways.

May 8, 2012

Are you holding your breath?  - Structures of arousal and calm

Deric Bownds, UW Department of Zoology

This talk discusses some of the structures of calm and arousal - whether we are chilled out or losing it.   The material is cooked down to four sections, that (1), note some structures regulating calm and arousal  (2), list some brain and body correlates (3) consider the definition of the self that stresses or calms.  (4) discuss bottom-up and top-down regulators under some voluntary control that can alter the balance between calm and arousal.

This talk is available on the Web.