March 4, 2011

The Important Life of Bees

From apple orchards and pumpkin patches, to alfalfa fields and balsam firs, more than two-thirds of the world's crop species either need or benefit from honeybees. In the U.S. alone, the busy insect plays a crucial role in the fate of more than 100 different crops, with an estimated value of $20 billion.

Unfortunately, beekeepers from all over the country have noticed an increase in the disappearance and death of large numbers of bees in their apiaries--a trend that will be costly not just to the beekeepers, but to the U.S. (and global) agricultural engines.

On March 3, join Professor Spivak as she discusses her leading-edge research, and shares her thoughts on what is causing this die-off, whether it can be prevented or reversed, and what it means for our economy and food sources.

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February 4, 2011

Easing the Economic Slowdown

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is the Federal Reserve's principal decision-making body with regard to monetary policy, and its duty is to make key decisions about interest rates and the growth of the United States money supply.

Recently, Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, made news when he said that the FOMC's plan to buy $600 billion of long-term treasuries this year (an action known as quantitative easing) would only have a modest effect on the economy.

On February 3, join Kocherlakota as he shares his viewpoints and walks you through the role of the FOMC in current macroeconomic conditions, how those conditions affect the U.S. labor market, and his forecast for economic recovery. Speaker

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January 7, 2011

Get Smart: A Power Grid for the 21st Century

What would it take to bring our electric power grid up to 21st-century standards? How could sustainable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power connect with, and reinvigorate, our tired, old energy system? And what should be done to improve the reliability, security, and efficiency of the nation's electrical infrastructure?

On January 6, meet Massoud Amin, a pioneer in smart grid technology, as he shares his vision for the construction of an improved national power grid that would avert large-scale blackouts, save billions of dollars in wasted electricity, and increase the security of the country's essential power supply.

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December 3, 2010

Book Versus Nook (and iPad and Kindle and Kobo and...)

With the Nook and Kindle and cohorts battling it out at the top of holiday gift guides, it seems e-readers are becoming more ubiquitous each passing day. The machines themselves are dropping in price, and myriad titles are available--everything from cookbooks and self-help guides, to popular fiction and 16th-century poetry.

But where does that leave "real" books--and along with them, the publishing industry? Does paper have a future in publishing? What role will backlists play? Who will choose what goes digital--or decide what should even be considered? What will be the role of textbooks, scholarly press publications, and other educational materials?

On December 2, join Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, as he addresses the future of publishing in the digital age.

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November 5, 2010

Election 2010: Reading the Tea Leaves

With the balance of power in both Houses of Congress at stake, the economy still in turmoil, and President Obama's policies under scrutiny, as well as the Minnesota governorship up for grabs, the 2010 midterm elections are contested battlefields on both the state and national levels.

What will the results mean for Minnesota--and for the U.S.?

As the dust settles after the midterm elections, join political science Professor Kathryn Pearson on November 4 as she recaps the 2010 elections, reflects on their significance, and examines the "political tea leaves" to see what the results portend.

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October 13, 2010

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine: The Controversy and the Science

In August, a federal court judge stunned scientists nationwide when he issued a temporary injunction against President Obama's expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The result? Widespread controversy and confusion. Researchers in labs throughout the country scrambled to interpret the decision and assess its immediate impact on their work. The prohibition was condemned by advocates who believe that more permissive federal funding will lead to major medical breakthroughs in the fight against such diseases as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. At the same time, it was cheered by groups that oppose the research on moral grounds. Continuing this legal saga, just days ago an appeals court placed a temporary stay on the injunction as it considers the case.

Regardless of the outcome of this legal fight, the contentious debate over the ethical use of human embryos in biomedical research has gained new momentum. What does this recent court ruling mean? And how will it impact work being conducted at the U of M, home of the world's first interdisciplinary institute dedicated to stem cell research?

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April 5, 2010

The New Frugality

For the past decade, American consumers have been engaged in a credit-fueled spending binge, lured into an inflated sense of wealth by soaring home values and record-breaking stock prices.

By the time of the financial meltdown, personal debt stood at a staggering $13.8 trillion--nearly $125,000 per household. The ensuing economic crisis accelerated two concurrent national trends of frugality and sustainability.

Now, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, "The Great Recession" is technically over. Following every recession since World War II, penny pinching quickly fell out of fashion as Americans returned to their previous spending habits. Will this time be different? As the economy recovers, will we continue to practice a sustainable lifestyle that's as good for the planet as it is for our bank accounts?

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March 8, 2010

The Curious Culture of Wall Street

Fat Wall Street bonuses are back in the news, with reports of staggering compensation packages for the very people who helped cause the nation's financial collapse.

While the average American worker faces frozen wages, furloughs, plundered retirement funds, and double-digit unemployment, top Wall Street producers stand to reap millions.

In the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, how can investment bankers believe they deserve such princely pay packets? How did short-term shareholder value become such a short-sighted corporate goal? Does today's financial crisis differ from past boom and bust cycles? And what would it take to instigate meaningful reform?

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February 5, 2010

Who Really Makes National Security Policy?

Since World War II, the U.S. has been locked in a constitutional crisis over the authority and roles of the legislative and executive branches, precipitating intense disputes over the competing priorities of national security and American laws and values. With many crucial challenges facing the country, policy-makers must carefully weigh the consequences of their choice of action--diplomacy, international coalitions, constructive engagement, covert action, military force. But who decides which strategies are in the country's best interest? Who really makes national security policy?

On February 4, gain firsthand insight into policy-making at an open forum featuring long-time public servant, Vice President Walter Mondale and Larry Jacobs, director of the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

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January 13, 2010

A Way Forward in Afghanistan

Last month President Obama announced his long-awaited strategy for America's involvement in Afghanistan. With much riding on this decision--from our own national security to the future of this war-weary region--his announcement triggered vigorous debates on both sides of the aisle. After eight years, is this military action winnable? Is it possible to dismantle Al Qaeda and its extremist allies within the publicly announced timeline? Can we rely on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a government rife with corruption to "step up as we step down"?

While many pundits dissect the American-led war effort, few understand the region's cultural history, which reflects the country's position as a crossroads for successive waves of invading forces.

On January 7, professor Iraj Bashiri, who recently returned from the region, discusses what history reveals about a way forward in Afghanistan.

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December 8, 2009

New Models for the News

For most of the 20th century, newspapers were the primary source of information for the American public. At their best, they held governments and corporations to account and set the news agenda for the rest of the mass media. Until the early 1990s, the newspaper business was doing extremely well, earning staggering returns for its owners and shareholders. But more recently, it has been forced to rethink its place in a world of wireless communication.

Last year was the worst on record for the U.S. newspaper industry. Already hit hard by decreasing circulation and declining ad revenues, newspapers across the country laid off staff and cut editions to counter the combined effects of online competition and economic recession. Locally, the Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection in January, only emerging in late September. Just months after its workers agreed to concessions in bankruptcy, the St. Paul Pioneer Press opened discussions with its guild members seeking similar cuts.

Are today's diminished news organizations capable of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends? Are newspapers an endangered species? Or are they just obsessing too much over the "paper" part of their names?

On December 3, join Nora Paul, founding director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for New Media Studies, as she explores new models for the news.

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November 5, 2009

The Journey of Solar Decathlon 2009: A View from the Trenches

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Solar Decathlon, a challenge to college teams from around the globe to design, build, and operate an aesthetic and livable, fully solar-powered house. This international competition helps accelerate academic research in renewable energy technologies and educates the public about the benefits of energy efficiency and green building technologies.

In October, for the first time, the University of Minnesota was one of 20 teams on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., competing in the Solar Decathlon. The U's "Icon House" was the tangible result of two years intense, inspiring, and collaborative effort of 150 students in disciplines ranging from architecture and design to engineering and construction.

Meet architect Peter Hilger, adviser to the students working on the U's solar house, as he recounts their life-changing journey to Solar Decathlon 2009.

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October 1, 2009

Touching the Third Rail: The Politics of American Health Care

Since Theodore Roosevelt first called for national health insurance nearly a century ago, U.S. presidents have tried and failed to provide universal health benefits to all Americans. Today, the U.S. has the most highly privatized and expensive system in the world, with one in six dollars spent on health care and an estimated 46 million Americans left uninsured.

Restructuring America's health care system is now President Obama's top legislative priority. But during the August recess, irate opponents of his health care proposals confronted Democrats on the town hall circuit with inflammatory accusations, including outright distortions. The intensity of the debate galvanized the attention of the national media and caught the Obama administration off-guard.

What can we learn from the history of major health care policy debates? How did Lyndon Johnson win passage of Medicare and Medicaid, when Harry Truman and Bill Clinton failed to advance their versions of health care reform? How does the process work on Capitol Hill and when, if ever, can we expect to see this issue come to a vote?

Larry Jacobs holds the Walter and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and directs the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. An expert in American politics and policy, he is the author of ten scholarly books including The Health of Nations: Public Opinion and the Making of U.S. and British Health Policy and Healthy, Wealthy, and Fair, as well as articles on health reform in The New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. Professor Jacobs received a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1988.

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May 13, 2009

Knowing Our Place in Time

May is graduation time at the University – a celebration of the accumulation of knowledge and the commencement of a new chapter of life. Yet as we graduate from one life experience to the next, our need to continue learning only grows. What advice might a commencement speaker give those of us contemplating a new phase of our wild and precious lives? Upon retirement, what insights might a faculty member “bequeath” about the principles and practices that have guided their tenure in higher education? Evolving from the concept of the best selling book, The Last Lecture, the last Headliners of the 2008-09 season examines the most important lessons of all, the core themes and personal meanings that guide us in knowing our place in time.

On May 7th, you are cordially invited to join Steve Simmons, Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus, as he embarks on the most personal research project of his long and distinguished career.

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April 3, 2009

Solar Decathlon: Building a Greener Future

Radiant heat from the sun has been harnessed by human ingenuity since the earliest times and sunlight has influenced building design throughout architectural history. Still only a fraction of available solar energy is being used in today’s buildings, creating a burden on the environment. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy held its first Solar Decathlon, a challenge to college teams from around the globe to design, build, and operate an aesthetic and livable, fully solar-powered house. This biennial event helps accelerate academic research in renewable energy technologies and serves as a reminder to all of us to act responsibly when making energy decisions at home. This year the University of Minnesota was selected as one of twenty teams invited to compete in the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., the first and only Minnesota team ever to participate in this unique international competition.

On April 2nd, meet Ann Johnson, the project manager of the U of M’s 150-student Solar Decathlon team, as she unveils their house’s iconic design and discusses innovative energy features that just may help build a greener future.

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