Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 206 - Wednesday Night at the Lab

I have never attended a Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture. Although I have been aware of this weekly science-themed lecture series at the University of Wisconsin for some time, I never made time to attend one of the events. Given my keen interest in science and my insatiable curiosity for things unknown, I realized the fact I had never experience Wednesday Night at the Lab was a bit ridiculous. After all, the event occurred 50 weeks each year and the hall in which it was held was little more than a few miles from my house. As a result, I decided I would make attending a Wednesday Night at the Lab a part of my “I have never...” journey. As I sifted through the potential dates that would work for the new experience, I eventually landed on the presentation being held this evening, which solidified my plans to take on a long overdue new experience.

The Biotechnology Center

In what was quickly becoming a University of Wisconsin themed week in my “I have never...” journey, I made my way to the Biotechnology Center on the University of Wisconsin campus this evening with Rachael by my side. On a cold, dreary night the Biotechnology center was eerily silent as we entered through a pair of heavy doors on the building’s exterior. Traces of echoes from distant voices were the only sound accompanying the whisk of our winter jackets and the click of our feet on the tile floor as we moved through the building. At first unaware of where we were to go for the Wednesday Night at the Lab event, Rachael and I peered around corners and through windows looking for some sign of the event. Eventually, of effort led us to discover a Wednesday Night at the Lab sign directing attendees to a lobby in the building, which caused us to act in our pursuit of the lecture hall housing the event.

After passing through an interior door we took note of the quiet stirring of people in nearby room. Although we were eager to find the location of the Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture, our surroundings provided several distractions as we moved further into the building. In a corner of the lobby a roughly five foot tall scientifically accurate DNA double helix served as a fountain and samples of extracted DNA rested in vials on a table at the center of the room. The features were enough to distract us from our course and occupy us until minutes before the event was to begin. As a result, we hurriedly resumed our effort to track down the Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture hall.

DNA and other stuff

Luckily, the hall was just off the lobby at the center of the building, which made it easy for Rachael and I to find our seats with more than enough time to spare before the lecture began. As we got comfortable and found a place for all of the winter gear we shed upon entering the building the rows around us began to fill as traces of people entered the room. Eventually, about half of the space was occupied and the lecture was ready to begin. Following a brief introduction, the event’s main speaker, Biochemistry Professor Dave Nelson, took the podium at introduced the night’s topic, the history of the Enzyme Institute and the role of famed Enzymologist, Henry Lardy, in modern biochemistry education.

The lecture hall

The introduction

As he began his presentation, Professor Nelson provided the audience a background on the rise of modern biochemistry through a history of post-graduate institutes that once speckled the European continent. He spoke of the pre-World War II scientific advancements made at such institutions, with specific attention paid to the work of scientists, both American and European, who would later be integral contributors to the foundation of comparable institutions at the University of Wisconsin Madison. As he spoke, he made mention of the inventions and findings during the European era, which were uprooted by the destruction that came with World War II. Continuing, Professor Nelson explained the fall of the historic European institutes led to the foundation of such establishments in the United States, which gave rise to a new class of American Scientists and established the United States as the new center of scientific advancement and achievement.

Professor Nelson doing his thing
The background of these occurrences gave Professor Nelson a transition point to draw the crowd to the center of his lecture, the diverse and impacting research of Doctor Henry Lardy, who spent the majority of his career working in the Enzyme Institute laboratories on the University of Wisconsin campus. With Henry Lardy’s wife, son, daughter in-law, grandson, and other members in attendance, Professor Nelson took time to discuss the role of family in Henry Lardy’s life as he highlighted the critical work and discoveries the biochemist made in the areas of agriculture, medicine, and enzyme research. The breadth of Henry Lardy’s work and the offshoots of discoveries it contributed to during his time at the University of Wisconsin was absolutely astonishing. From discoveries in vitamin function to discoveries in the action antibiotics and hormones in human thyroids, Henry Lardy left a legacy that made many functions of modern science and medicine possible. By the time Professor Nelson ended his presentation I was left in a state of awe at the impact Lardy left in his more than 60 years of work.

Some of Lardy's accomplishments
As the Wednesday Night at the Lab presentation drew to a close, Professor Nelson posed a few questions to the audience regarding the future of scientific study and post-graduate institutions. The points of debate drew a few questions and remarks from the audience, to which Professor Nelson respond with informative, pointed thoughts. The presentation and the subsequent conversation made me realize the wealth of knowledge and experience emanating from nearly every portion of the room, which made me glad I took the time to finally experience a Wednesday Night at the Lab lecture. If I learned anything from tonight’s experience it is that there are some absolutely incredible people and some amazingly brilliant minds out there that prove the potential of each human being is limitless.

A window I crossed on the way back to the car

Hearing the story of Henry Lardy and the conversation it evoked tonight was humbling but inspiring. While I don’t think I will take up biochemistry anytime in the near future, tonight’s experience made me realize there are many different ways people can contribute to bettering all people. I don’t know when I’ll find the best way I can make that happen, but the story I heard tonight gave me reason to begin looking for that outlet. After all, if one man from rural America can leave a resonant impact on the world through hard work and dedication, why can’t I do the same?

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