Madison Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar

Fall 2015 Seminars

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

Short List


September 8, 2015

An introduction to memristors
Wesley Thio, Ohio State University (ECE)

In this talk, an introduction to the electrical circuit element called the “Memristor” will be given. The memristor was first mathematically postulated in 1971, but was not acknowledged by the engineering community until it was built for the first time in 2008. Aside from being an addition to fundamental circuit theory, the memristor also has some unusual properties such as being capable of remembering its past state. This makes the memristor potentially useful for neuromorphic circuits and other technologies. Some demonstrations with memristor emulators will also be given in this talk.

The man who first theorized the memristor, Leon Chua, will be giving a series of lectures at HP starting Sept 8 to Nov 24. These lectures will be posted online and you can register to watch them for free. They are highly recommended to anyone wishing to further learn about memristors:

September 15, 2015

Field Day Lab @ Wisconsin Institute for Discovery: At the intersection of media and education theory

David Gagnon, UW Department of Academic Technology

In this talk, David Gagnon, director of the Field Day Lab, will discuss how a methodology of Design Based Research is allowing for innovation at the intersection of media theory with education theory. Several prototypes and associated studies will be discussed, ranging from iPad games to teach thermodynamics to iPhone field research apps to scaffold ornithology education. The purpose of the talk is to both expose the exciting work happening within the lab, but also to seek new opportunities for collaboration with other UW researchers.

September 22, 2015

Chemical selection and the origin of life

David Baum, UW Department of Botany

The underlying puzzle of the origin of life is, How could something capable of evolving by selection arise spontaneously? The most compelling hypothesis is that autocatalytic metabolic networks arose on mineral surfaces and could evolve adaptively by an analog of group selection. Such adsorbed, life-like chemical complexes would be expected to yield cell-like entities as a means to solve the problem of colonizing other mineral surfaces. This theoretical framework for explaining the origin of life suggests a class of experiments, which we are now embarking upon: selecting for collective mutual catalysis on complex chemical mixtures associated with mineral surfaces.

September 29, 2015

What’s a “bone attack” and why should I care?

Neil Binkley, UW Institute on Aging

We all know that heart attacks signify artery disease and that they may cause disability and even death.  However, many people do not appreciate that fractures (broken bones) in older adults, what we are calling “bone attacks,” similarly indicate underlying bone and muscle disease.  A Bone Attack is a broken bone (fracture) occurring in an adult age 50+ from a fall or other minimally traumatic event. Bone attacks are common and occur in 1:2 women and 1:4 men over 50.  Fractures of the spine, hip and forearm are the most common types, but rib, pelvis and upper arm fractures also occur.  Bone attacks, like heart attacks, are serious health events that may cause disability and even death.  Indeed, 20-30% of older adults who break their hip die within one year and approximately half of those who survive a hip fracture require assistance with everyday activities and approximately 1/3 require nursing home care, some permanently.

Bone attacks (fractures) result from osteoporosis (bone loss) and sarcopenia (muscle loss) in older adults.  In essence, both our bone and muscle strength decline as we age. This combination increases our risk for falling and when falls occur onto weakened bones, bone attacks (fractures) result.  The likelihood of these fractures is increased by obesity and diabetes.  Despite the high prevalence of these bone attacks, they remain largely ignored by physicians, patients and the healthcare system.  It’s time for a change.

October 6, 2015

Making computer networks work

Aditya Akella, UW Department of Computer Sciences

We depend on computer networks for literally every aspect of our daily lives, e.g., work, family, education, socializing, entertainment, and finances. Yet, the quality of experience that we as users derive from these networks is far from satisfactory. We're routinely hit by poor or variable page-load times and download speeds, and even outright unavailability of critical network-accessible services. Researchers and practitioners alike work round the clock to develop fixes, but disruptive applications, protocols, and hardware quickly render them ineffective.

In this talk, I will argue that design and operational deficiencies in key components of the network infrastructure play a crucial role in this unfortunate predicament. I will then describe two sets of technologies my group has developed to ensure that network infrastructure offers good performance, and remains robust and agile, even in the face of unforeseen disruptive trends. One is a suite of analytics-driven management plane designs for ensuring robust and flexible operation of complex networks. The other is content-aware systems that ensure bandwidth-efficient and low-latency content delivery. These technologies have been incorporated into a variety of commercial systems in operation today.

October 13, 2015

The power to change lives: The UW Odyssey Project

Emily Auerbach, UW Department of English

Yasmin’s son rescued her from a crack house in Chicago and brought her to Madison, where she enrolled in the UW Odyssey Project. She now has her bachelor’s degree, works as a substance abuse counselor, and is on her way to a master’s in social work from the UW-Madison.  How can one intervention, one alteration in a pathway, change whole families and break a cycle of generational poverty? Why is improvisation the best teaching method for helping at-risk adults and youth find their voices and change their lives? Come learn how the UW Odyssey Project ( has been transforming lives for over a dozen years.

October 20, 2015

What climate change and world change really mean for all of us

Bernard Z. Friedlander, Department of Psychology, Emeritus, University of Hartford
(with contributions from his grandson Noah M. Friedlander)

Can American and World politicians face the possibilities that some of our smartest scientists may be right about Climate Change? That’s what this presentation seeks to understand and explain: the standoff between–
CCSS concepts of simplicity, intricacy, complexity and chaos appear to account for problems that must be overcome if America and the World can solve these problems before it’s too late.

October 27, 2015

Cosmic rays from the simple to the complex

Justin Vandenbroucke, UW Department of Physics

Cosmic rays and their siblings, astrophysical gamma rays and neutrinos, are fundamentally simple objects: high energy subatomic particles. However, they arrive at Earth bearing information about some of the most energetic and enigmatic phenomena in the universe, including exploding stars, giant black holes at the center of distant galaxies, and dark matter. I will discuss recent progress and open questions, including the prospects for answering some of them with a new instrument called the Cherenkov Telescope Array. Finally, I will present the Distributed Electronic Cosmic-ray Observatory, an app and website that enable members of the public to detect cosmic rays with cell phone camera sensors.

November 3, 2015

The downstream consequences of problem-solving mindsets: How playing with Legos influences creativity

Page Moreau, UW School of Business

Business leaders, governments, and scholars are increasingly recognizing the importance of creativity. Recent trends in technology and education, however, suggest that many individuals are facing fewer opportunities to engage in creative thought as they increasingly solve well-defined (versus ill-defined) problems. Using three studies that involve real problem-solving activities (e.g., putting together a Lego kit), we examine the mindset created by addressing such well-defined problems. The studies demonstrate the negative downstream impact of such a mindset on both creative task performance and the choice to engage in creative tasks. The research has theoretical implications for the creativity and mindset literatures as well as substantive insights for managers and public-policy makers.

November 10, 2015

Will Darwin become a casualty of the Cambrian Explosion?

Jim Blair, Milton and Edgewood College

When "On the Origin of Species" was published in 1859 it was rejected by the various churches but soon accepted by the scientific community. 100 years later, Darwin's ideas were accepted as the basis of biology and also by popular culture. "Survival of the Fittest" and "slow gradual change" permeated all aspects of society.

However since then, starting with Mendel's genetics, some newer discoveries have begun to undermine Darwinism as understood by both the general public and by many scientists. These anomalies include the Genetic Code, the Big Bang Theory, more recent findings in paleontology, and the Cambrian Explosion.

I will explain why these discoveries undermine Darwin, and offer some speculation on how to resolve the conflicts.

This talk is available as a PowerPoint presentation

November 17, 2015

The evolution of music from emotional signals

Charles T. Snowdon, UW Department of Psychology

There have been many attempts to explain the evolutionary origins of music. I will review theories of music origins and take the perspective that music is originally derived from emotional signals in both humans and animals. An evolutionary approach has two components: First, is music adaptive? How does it improve reproductive success? Second, what, if any, are the phylogenetic origins of music? Can we find evidence of music in other species? I will show that music has adaptive value through emotional contagion, social cohesion and improved well-being. I will trace the roots of music through the emotional signals of other species suggesting that the emotional aspects of music have a long evolutionary history. I will show how music and speech are closely interlinked with the musical aspects of speech serving to convey emotional information. I will describe acoustic structures that communicate emotion in music and present evidence that these acoustic structures are widespread among different human cultures and also that similar strictures function to induce emotions in animals. Similar acoustic structures are present in the emotional signals of nonhuman animals. I will conclude with a discussion of music designed specifically to induce emotional states in animals, both cotton top tamarin monkeys and domestic cats.

November 24, 2015

Pluto: Planet, TNO, KBO, or a dwarf planet is still the last solar system outpost?

Sanjay Limaye, UW Space Science and Engineering

In a little over half a century since the first successful fly-by of a planet on 14 December 1962, the survey of the solar system was completed when the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on 14 July 2015.  Discovered during a long and tedious search started by Percival Lowell for a massive planet beyond the orbit of Neptune on 18 February 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, it was found to be too small to affect the orbits of other planets.  In the last few decades, we have learned that Pluto is the innermost (closer to the sun) member of a class of icy, rocky and small objects that comprise the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.  New Horizon's survey of Pluto and its moons shows it to be an object unlike anything else we have seen in the solar system to date.  Now on its way to another distant object, New Horizons is continuing to send its treasured data back to Earth.

December 1, 2015

Effects of Facebook self-presentation on individual and relational well-being

Catalina Toma, UW Department of Communication Arts

Facebook invites users to compose detailed personal profiles, where they describe their activities, interests, and values; express daily thoughts and musings; and articulate "friendships" with other users in the system. Research shows that users engage in copious yet careful self-disclosure in their own profiles, and that they frequently provide positive feedback ("likes," "comments") to friends' postings. What are the psychological implications of constructing and engaging with this socially connected, online version of self? I will first discuss the emotional well-being effects of engaging with one's own profile. In a suite of studies, we found that users experience self-affirmation, increased positive affect, and increased self-esteem after examining their own profiles. They also gravitated towards these profiles when feeling badly about themselves, in an effort to repair feelings of self-worth. I will then discuss the effects of profile self-presentation on users' romantic relationships. Data show that users who publicly declare their involvement with a romantic partner (by listing themselves as "in a relationship," posting couple photographs, etc.) experience increased commitment towards that partner and are less likely to break up after 6 months. I will end by discussing future research avenues on the psychological effects of Facebook self-presentation.

December 8, 2015

Imaging around obstacles and into lunar caves using scattered light

Andreas Velten, UW Department of Molecular Biology

The Computational Optics Group at the UW Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI) develops novel imaging systems by combining new hardware designs with novel computational image reconstruction methods. The traditional method of imaging is based on hardware that resembles the human eye to produce images suitable for analysis and pattern recognition by a human viewer. A traditional camera like this only accesses a very small fraction of the information provided by the light field. Most of the light detected by optical systems occurs in the form of multiply scattered photons that can not be used to create an image in this traditional way. In this talk I will show different systems that, using custom methods to selectively capture and control photon time of flight, allow us to capture information inaccessible to a regular camera.

Our Modular Indirect Remote Imaging System (MIRIS) uses ultrafast illumination and detection to collect and utilize light transport information. A laser is used to direct a pulse train towards one of the visible surfaces in a scene. The light bounces off of this surface and reflects off objects in the scene before heading back towards the visible scene where it is imaged with high time resolution by a camera. Images of the scene are reconstructed from the collected time-encoded information using a modified backprojection algorithm.

In collaboration with the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, we are performing studies to apply this method to explore the inside of caves on the moon from a low lunar orbit.

December 15, 2015

The gorilla that coughs on command (and covers her mouth): What a human-fostered ape can teach us about the evolution of language

Marcus Perlman, UW Department of Psychology
Major theories of language evolution have often assumed that 1) great apes lack the capacity to produce pantomime-like gestures, and 2) they lack the capacity for flexible vocal behavior. I will present evidence from a case study of Koko – a 44-year-old human-fostered gorilla – showing that both of these assumptions are wrong. Koko has developed the ability to produce pantomimic gestures, as well as to exercise voluntary control over learned vocal and breathing-related behaviors. Koko’s unique behavioral repertoire presumably arose from an ordinary capacity of gorillas that expanded within her unique environmental circumstances. Building on findings from Koko and other apes, I will argue for a theory of language evolution in which gesture and vocalization evolved together in synergy.