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Popular UW Lecture Program Returns to Sheridan Feb. 25

February 16, 2017
photos of Scott Henkel, Daniel Tinker and Kara Pratt

Diverse topics focusing on how the brain learns to see, the history of democracy and the future of forests will be discussed by three professors from the University of Wyoming during UW’s popular Saturday U program Saturday, Feb. 25, in Sheridan.

The half day of college classes and discussion in Sheridan College’s Whitney Academic Center begins with coffee and pastries at 8:30 a.m., followed by a welcoming address at 8:50 a.m. The guest lectures begin at 9 a.m. The program is free and open to the public.

Participants may attend one, two or all three lectures. A lunch and question-and-answer session follows the program at 12:30 p.m.

In its ninth year, Saturday U is a collaborative program that connects popular UW and Wyoming community college professors with lifelong learners. Offered seven times a year -- twice each in Jackson, Gillette and Sheridan; and once in Rock Springs -- Saturday U is sponsored by the university, the UW Foundation and Wyoming Humanities Council, and is presented locally by Sheridan College and the UW Outreach School.

Listed below are program topic descriptions and professors lecturing:

9 a.m. -- “How the Brain Learns to See: Studying Tadpoles to Understand People,” Kara Pratt, UW Department of Zoology and Physiology assistant professor.

Brains process information through neural networks, but a new brain contains masses of neurons without connections. Pratt will discuss how the proper connections are made.

“The study of Xenopus tadpoles -- whose see-through skin lets us view the brain directly -- reveals how the brain creates itself by self-assembling neurons into networks that transform external stimuli from the environment into internal perceptions,” Pratt says. “One key discovery is that visual experience -- the act of seeing -- actually guides the precise wiring up of the visual system.”

Pratt will describe her research and explain what it reveals about the nature of human sight.

10:15 a.m. -- “Democracy’s Past, Democracy’s Future: Problems and Possibilities,” Scott Henkel, UW Department of English assistant professor.

Now that the fall election has passed, Henkel will look more broadly at the history and the future of democracy. His lecture will examine how writers and thinkers have understood democracy and have imagined its possibilities.

“What has democracy been in the United States, in ancient Athens, in cooperative workplaces, even on pirate ships and spaceships?” he asks. “Who should participate in the democratic process, and what should that participation be? What might the future of democracy look like?”

11:30 a.m. -- “Will We Ever Have Beautiful Forests Again? Bark Beetles, Resilience, and Future Forests,” Daniel Tinker, Department of Botany associate professor.

The intermountain West’s bark beetle epidemic that began in the late 1990s is unprecedented in recorded history. Its intensity and geographic scale have been overwhelming, and it continues today in many forests of the western United States, Tinker says.

“The ramifications for such an intense and prolonged epidemic are far-reaching, and many are not well understood, especially considering the changes in our climate happening at the same time,” he says.

Tinker’s lecture will explore the bark beetle phenomenon, its ecology and management, and the resilience of current and future forest systems.

The next spring Saturday U program is March 4 in Jackson.

For more information, visit the Saturday U website at

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