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UW’s Saturday U Program Returns to Jackson Oct. 8

September 27, 2016
Merav Ben-David, Michael Dillon, and Kirsten Kapp

The University of Wyoming’s popular free one-day college education program, Saturday U, returns to Jackson Saturday, Oct. 8, for a discussion on three different topics from a trio of professors.

The day begins with coffee and pastries at 8:30 a.m. at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, followed by opening remarks at 8:50 a.m.

Each Saturday U term features lectures from three outstanding UW professors or community college representatives. Following the lectures, all three professors will participate in a final roundtable discussion. Participants may attend one, two, three or all four sessions. No registration is required, and the event is free and open to the public.

In its eighth year, Saturday U is a collaborative program that connects top UW professors with lifelong learners. Offered six times a year -- twice each in Jackson, Gillette and Sheridan -- Saturday U is sponsored by the university, the UW Foundation and Wyoming Humanities Council, and presented locally by Central Wyoming College and the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts.

Listed below are program topic descriptions and UW professors lecturing in the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts:

9-10 a.m. -- “Flight of the alpine bumblebee in cold, thin air,” Michael Dillon, UW Department of Zoology and Physiology associate professor.                

“The challenges of high altitude to human mountaineers are widely appreciated,” Dillon says. “Reduced available oxygen -- hypoxia -- makes it tough to breathe, such that most climbers require supplemental oxygen to summit the highest peaks.”

And bitterly cold temperatures can penetrate even the fanciest of outdoor gear, he says. Imagine, then, the challenges faced by animals living in these extreme environments without supplemental oxygen or technical gear.

Dillon says that small flying insects have the highest oxygen demand of any organism, but their ability to acquire and use oxygen may be severely compromised by both hypoxia and cold temperatures. Compounding the problem further, flapping wings produce less lift at altitude because air density is low. Despite these challenges, bumblebees are abundant and diverse at high elevations (17,000 feet), presenting a compelling physiological paradox. Dillon asks: “How do bumblebees flourish at high altitude despite the compounding physiological challenges of limited O2, cold temperatures and reduced aerodynamic lift?”

10:15-11:15 a.m. -- “The Ecological Impacts of Our Plastic Footprint: Microplastics in Aquatic Environments,” Kirsten Kapp, Central Wyoming College biology and math professor.

Humans have enjoyed the benefits of plastic for more than a century, so much that global plastic production increased 38 percent between 2004-2014. Yet, there are costs to humans’ love affair with plastic, Kapp says.

Kapp will explain why plastics constitute an environmental contaminant and why leading scientists continue to express concern over this environmental problem. She and her students researched the presence of microplastics in the Snake River watershed, and Kapp’s talk will highlight the science on microplastics and their local impact.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. -- “When the planet warms up will social relationships cool down? A furry tail,” Merav Ben-David, UW Department of Zoology and Physiology professor.

Coastal river otters (Lontra canadensis) exhibit an unusual social organization with higher sociality among males, Ben-David says. Her lecture will discuss climate changes limiting fish, which leads to the decline in otter abundance and sociality.

“Declines in otter abundance and sociality will reduce community diversity, resilience and carbon sequestration capacity of Alaska’s coastal forests,” Ben-David says.

For more information about the Jackson program, visit the Saturday U website at

The final Saturday U program for the fall 2016 semester is Thursday, Oct. 27, in Gillette.

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