Summer Forum

with Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Professor of Chemistry
William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea
Director, Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy
Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Course Description        What We Heard from Participants

Tuesdays & Thursdays, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
June 16 - July 9, 2015
Seminar Hall (Room 1315) Chemistry Building
UW-Madison Campus

Course email:

Tuesday, June 16
  Course Introduction
—Purposes and Expectations
Grand Challenges to Science and Society
Influencing Attitudes and Behavior for Responsible Action
Representation of Chemicals

Guest Speaker:
Rodney Schreiner, Senior Scientist and WISL Associate Director, UW-Madison Chemistry Department
What is Science?
List of Sources  

ACS Climate Science Toolkit Card

Thursday, June 18

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Patrick McBride, MD, MPH
UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health
Wellness: Cardiovascular Health and Cholesterol    

Suggested Readings:
2013 ACC/AHA Cholestrol Guideline

2013 ACC/AHA Lifestyle Management Guideline
2013 ACC/AHA/TOS Obesity Guideline

Periodic Table Handout
Climate Science: More than just a weather report

Science is Fun on Independence Day, July 4, Memorial Union Terrace

Tuesday, June 23

Guest Speaker: Kevin Strang, Faculty Associate, Department of Neuroscience, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health
The World's Second-Most Popular Drug

Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy
by Cynthia Kuhn, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilkie Wilson. 
WW Norten and Co, 2008
Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol
by Iain Gately
Gotham Books, 2008
The Ghost Map
by Steven Johnson
Riverhead Books, 2006

Carbon Dioxide
What We Know (This initiative from the AAAS details the facts about climate change.)
MG&E Natural Gas Safety Information
First official day of summer: Questions and answers about the year's longest day

Thursday, June 25

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Susan Nitzke, Professor Emeritus, Nutritional Sciences, UW-Madison College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Nutrition for Your Health

Suggested Readings:
Sodium: Q&A
How Change is Going to Come in the Food System by Michael Pollan
Optional: Scienitifc Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

Names and Symbols of Selected Elements
(Workbook for General Chemistry)
Names and Formulas of Some Common Substances
(Workbook for General Chemistry)
Climate Science Narratives & Presentations (Responses to common climate science questions and arguments, from the ACS Climate Science Toolkit)
Statement of Diane Grob Schmidt, Ph.D., president, American Chemical Society, upon the publication of the 'Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home' by Pope Francis

Tuesday, June 30

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenback Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor, Department of Philosophy, UW-Madison College of Letters & Science
Two Arguments for Intelligent Design—Complex Adaptations and Fine-Tuning

Suggested Readings:
Watchmaker Analogy (via Wikipedia)
Fine-tuned Universe: Counter Arguments (via Wikipedia)

Additional Readings:
Researchers turn to the ocean to help unravel the mysteries of cloud formation
(via UW-Madison News)
Your Contribution to the California Drought (via The New York Times)
A visual representation of the foods we commonly eat, and the amount of water required to produce them.
Chemistry of Fireworks

Thursday, July 2

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Dick Smith, Citizens Climate Lobby, Madison
Addressing Climate Change

Suggested Readings:
The Problem: What makes climate change a unique social problem?  First, it comes with a brutally short time limit for taking effective action. Second, it has no “reverse gear” (at least on any human timescale). Third, “business as usual” will lead to a “game over” scenario for human civilization as we know it.
Dave Roberts’ very popular 17-minute TEDx talk
introduces these key concepts very effectively.
Deniers: Find rebuttals to over 150 climate-denier arguments at website with “basic, intermediate and advanced” responses. This example rebuts deniers’ most effective message:
There’s no scientific consensus.

Solutions: The cumulative decisions of motivated individuals to reduce their carbon footprints will not reduce global carbon emissions big enough and fast enough to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Collective citizen action is essential in both the public and private sectors. Here’s a very small sample of options for active citizen participation in climate solutions:
             Carbon Tax
             Divestment, at and CTI
             Legal Action at Beyond Coal and Our Children’s Trust
             International, at 2015 Paris COP 

Special Guest: Marc Fink, Principal Oboist, Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Emeritus Professor, UW-Madison School of Music

Tuesday, July 7

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, UW-Madison
Sustainability: People and Environment in the Anthropocene

Almost Time for Pluto's Close-Up via The New York Times
Lake Lore: Information about the Madison Lakes
Connecting That Salty Sea Smell and Climate Change, ACS Headline Science (video)
Blue Sky Science: How do the sun and rain make rainbows? from Morgridge Institute (video)

Thursday, July 9

Bassam's Opening Talk Slides

Guest Speaker: Robin Goldman, Assistant Scientist, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, UW-Madison Waisman Center
The Neurobiology of Well-being And How it Can Be Trained

Final course handout

In honor of Oliver Sacks' birthday:
The Joy of Chemistry, a Chemical & Engineering News Editorial written by Roald Hoffmann and Bassam Shakhashiri on the occasion of Sacks' 80th birthday in 2013
Review of Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks


For those taking this class for credit:

Grading will be on Pass/Fail basis. To earn credit, you are to write a polished two-page report about the content of each of the eight sessions. The report should be aimed at informing a person or group of your choice (friend, family members, neighbor, local elected official, etc.) of the content of the session. Your goal is to inform, but you must also be persuasively convincing to your selected person/group that you understood the substance and importance of the session’s topic.

Reports are to be sent electronically to: and are due at noon sharp exactly one week after each session: 

  Tuesday, June 16 session report due no later than noon on Tuesday, June 23 
Thursday, June 18 session report due no later than noon on Thursday, June 25 
Tuesday, June 23 session report due no later than noon on Tuesday, June 30 
Thursday, June 25 session report due no later than noon on Thursday, July 2
Tuesday, June 30 session report due no later than noon on Tuesday, July 7 
Thursday, July 2 session report due no later than noon on Thursday, July 9 
Tuesday, July 7 session report due no later than noon on Tuesday, July 14 
Thursday, July 9 session report due no later than noon on Thursday, July 16