Tag Archives: UW-Madison

UW campus building offices contaminated with unsafe levels of lead

Bascom Hall, Agricultural Hall contaminated with lead based paint, Nancy Nicholas Hall safe

For The Badger Herald – October 5, 2017

MADISON, Wis. — Recent University of Wisconsin testing revealed elevated levels of lead contaminants in Agricultural Hall and Bascom Hall due to summer painting projects.

While there was concern the Nancy Nicholas Hall Preschool lab — located next to Agricultural Hall — was also affected, no detectable levels of lead were found in the preschool.

The tests were conducted by the UW Health, Environment and Safety department. Bascom Hall results were reported Tuesday. UW is awaiting further test results from affected office spaces in Bascom Hall and blood test results of workers who may have been affected.

There have been no elevated blood lead levels in anyone tested so far.

UW believes the lead contamination originated from painting projects conducted by contractors on the fire escapes in Agricultural Hall and Bascom Hall. These projects, which included paint removal, were completed sometime between June and September.

UW said the contractor, Structurewerks, is fully cooperating in reviewing the project and addressing the issues of contamination.

In response to growing concerns, UW held an information session Wednesday for employees affected by the contamination. The meeting was moderated by David Darling, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and management, Dr. William Kinzey, Chief Medical Officer and UW’s vice chancellor for finance and administration Laurent Heller.

In the session, Darling emphasized that while employees may have had continual exposure to unsafe concentrations of lead since June, the pathway for lead poisoning in this scenario is very low.

“That’s not the order of magnitude we’re talking about here,” Kinzey said. “We’re talking about lead levels that are orders of magnitude less than what we see with significant acute symptoms.”

Darling added that the contamination is being contained and the project is moving past the testing phase and towards the cleaning phase.

From the initial test results, Darling said many areas of the building had lead levels that fall below the acceptable standard on both windowsills and floor space.

“The high concentrations of lead… are somewhat isolated to the areas closest to where the activity was occurring, and much lower… in areas more than 50 or 100 feet away from that space,” Darling said.

At the session, UW offered free blood lead level tests to employees through University Health Services. Additionally, UW will be offering free testing through a mobile lead level testing clinic this Friday for employees. The clinic will be open at Nancy Nicholas Hall from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Overall, UW officials at the session said they just wanted to remain open about communication involving the lead contamination.

“I just wanted to say that I’m obviously deeply sorry about this,” Heller said. “We are looking into how it happened, we are committed that it will never happen again, [and] we will get to the bottom of exactly how it happened.”

Photo: Richard Hurd (CC-BY)


Student film highlights food insecurity, mass incarceration issues in South Madison

South Madison community works with UW students to expand urban farming program 

For The Daily Cardinal – April 18, 2017

MADISON, Wis. — What started as a capstone project for a class became two students’ mission to bring equality to South Madison residents.

After eight months of production, UW-Madison students Nyal Mueenuddinn and Mattie Naythons announced they were ready to share their documentary film with the student body. Last Friday, the pair held one of the first screenings of the film, titled “Break the Cycle.”

This project originated from a service-learning capstone course, Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison. In this course offered by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, students were tasked with collaborating with South Madison community partners, including Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and Neighborhood Food Solutions, to address the interconnected issues of food insecurity, racial inequality and urban agriculture.

In Fall 2016, Mueenuddin came into the course with a very distinct idea of how he would contribute to this project.

“There was one word in the syllabus which was ‘we’ll create some product’ and I saw that as an opportunity,” Mueenuddin said.

He believed that film was the perfect medium for communicating their message because “it’s able to break down barriers that exist between people by allowing people to share each other’s stories and voices with each other that you wouldn’t otherwise hear.”

Course instructors Alfonso Morales, a professor of urban and regional planning, and Dadit Hidayat, a doctoral student in environment and resources, quickly approved this idea and Mueenuddin started to work. He assembled a team of five other students, including Naythons, who were also enrolled in the course and they began to build the concept for the film.

In the following semester, both Mueenuddin and Naythons said they felt like their work was not quite finished. Ultimately, they decided to continue what they started as an independent study, in order to give the community something that they felt it deserved.

“My primary motivation was to give a voice to these members of the community that didn’t have a voice,” Naythons said.

Their ambition to expand this project manifested itself through investigations into two larger issues existing within South Madison: mass incarceration and food injustice.

This project partnership between Nehemiah and the Nelson Institute aims to tackle these issues by providing ex-prisoners an opportunity to build skills and earn wages while working in the urban agriculture industry. But the key feature is that this partnership simultaneously provides healthy, organic food for the South Madison Farmer’s Market, which hasn’t traditionally been available to this neighborhood.

For Naythons, it was vital to inform the public about the lack of food accessibility in South Madison.

“South Madison is a food desert and a lot of people don’t know that. We have Fresh Market and things like that, [but] that community down there doesn’t have anything like that,” Naythons said.

Both Mueenuddin and Naythons said they believe connecting the student body to the local community is an important next step to advance this project and continue their legacy.

The two said they publicized this film with the primary intention of creating awareness and generating discussion, not only within the university population but also between the Madison community and the university campus. Additional screenings and panels will be held on campus and throughout Madison.

The filmmaking process might be finished, but Mueenuddin and Naythons said the work to solve South Madison’s issues of mass incarceration and food justice is just getting started.

“We hope to just plant the seed and hope that people will reach out to each other and try to learn more,” Mueenuddin said.

Photo courtesy of Nyal Mueenuddin & Mattie Naythons

Student researcher uses art and music to understand, teach science of astrobotany

Rasmussen believes integrating artwork into website helps make information more accessible

For Badger Herald – May 2, 2017

MADISON, Wis. — As a child, University of Wisconsin student Kai Nakano Rasmussen had big dreams of becoming an astronaut one day.

He now lives out his dreams, but in a very different way — by sending plants into space and educating others about the science behind it. With rap music and graphic design, nonetheless.

Rasmussen is a biology major who works on a NASA-funded research project studying the effects of spaceflight on plant biology.

Rasmussen pipetting in a fume hood

Last February, he decided to launch a website in an effort to increase awareness and educate the public about the history and science of astrobotany — the study of plants in space.

The website expectedly provides explanations for scientific terms specific to astrobotany like gravitropism and spaceflight stress, but it also shines a spotlight on astrobotany-inspired pop culture and art.

Additionally, the website features interactive art designs centered around a thematic astrobotany resource page. Users can visit pages like “the shed” to learn about the tools of astrobotany research or “the garden” to track the progress of plant species sent into space.

Astrobotany garden of plants grown in space

Rasmussen has always appreciated how art can spark interest in an issue, so he decided to make his own illustrations to accompany the scientific knowledge.

This message, however, is not always easy for scientists to share, Rasmussen said. As an emerging research botanist, he was disappointed by the lack of information available on astrobotany research.

He said integrating artwork into the website helps to make the information more accessible, which can be difficult for a lesser-known subject like astrobotany.

But Rasmussen has found an even more creative solution to craft a successful scientific narrative — rap music.

He released a rap song titled “Young Mark Watney” last October, making his debut at the 2016 American Society for Gravitational & Space Research Conference in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rasmussen wrote this rap in reference to Mark Watney, the fictional protagonist of the popular novel and film “The Martian.”

People often compare his research to the popular film, he said, which provides him an opportunity to open a dialogue about astrobotany.

Rasmussen said his interests in botany began after taking an introductory biology class taught by Simon Gilroy, a UW botany professor. Gilroy said he’s seen Rasmussen’s raps in action, engaging nonscientists.

“People who are not scientists kind of get into it,” Gilroy said. “But, the scientists that listen to [Rasmussen’s] rap just go, ‘Wow, this is kick-ass! This is absolutely fantastic!’ so it bridges the gap.”

But Rasmussen did not originally intend on working in a botany laboratory before entering college. He was more interested in the space research of the Gilroy laboratory group.

Rasmussen has since worked with the Gilroy laboratory for over a year, in which he learned the historical role plants have played in shaping planetary land features.

“I actually went into his office hours and I said, ‘How do I become a astronaut?’ and Simon just kind of laughed,” Rasmussen said.

From the creation of an oxygen-rich atmosphere to the development of agriculture, Rasmussen learned that plants were an essential component in development of life on Earth and the advancement of civilization.

Photos courtesy of Kai Nakano Rasmussen

Tales from Planet Earth 2015

3,000+ people. 30 screenings. 3 days

November 22nd, 2015

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Tales from Planet Earth (TfPE) 2015 film festival. I dedicated myself to the operation of this event and in return I saw six films and listened to two lectures that would forever alter my view of the world. A lot of things happened this weekend, but I did my best to embody the journalistic spirit and record everything that transpired. This is my experience.


Dr. Mitman and Dr. Boger live on WSUM Radio!


TfPE began in 2007 under the direction of festival founder Gregg Mitman, with the hopes of implementing film as a model for community engagement and critical thinking about environmental issues. But Mitman wanted to distinguish TfPE from other environmental film festivals by focusing on a positive message to empower people and deviating from the traditional apocalyptic lecture styles of modern era films. This is how he arrived at Hope, the theme of the first TfPE film festival.

Since the inaugural 2007 screening, the TfPE film festival has been declared a biennial event, each year implementing a new theme to unite the message of the films. Past themes have included: Justice (2009), Surroundings (2012), Futures (2013), and most recently this year’s cornerstone theme of Belief (2015).


Learning through stories

Two years in the making, Peter Boger is the man behind the scenes who makes all the administrative decisions for operations of TfPE. Boger said he operates under the mantra that issues don’t move people, stories do. Boger watched over 200 films for a preliminary screening, and from that list he refined and narrowed his choices to create a final volume of films that were shown at the festival.

His goal is to find an emotional way to connect to the people viewing the films. Boger views film as a community experience and strives to construct a space that allows people to connect not only with the concepts of the films, but also with the hearts and minds of the people watching it.

“Issues don’t move people, stories do”.

Radio Show Interview

In preparation for TfPE, I hosted the two TfPE coordinators on WSUM 91.7 FM radio with the show “Food, Nature & Good Vibes”. We wanted to know how they unpack broad, overarching themes in nature and unite them under the commonality of the festival theme, belief.

The discussion traveled a road less taken as our topic of conversation shifted from the philosophy of narrative film to Hayao Miyuzaki to #swifties and finally to the TfPE origin story (the actual topic at hand). But our range of topics provided a “soulful” experience that was insightful for our guests, hosts, and audience alike!

And for that I gave the Kai stamp of approval to Mitman & Boger, for their environmental storytelling efforts.

Opening Remarks

The opening remarks of the festival kicked off with an impassioned discussion from the Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, international documentary film maker Godfrey Reggio, and Bad River Chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr. on the nature of faith and the role of human beings on this planet. The Power of Belief lecture was balanced between the differing perspectives of each of the guests, from Reggio’s eloquently phrased challenges to humanity to Hayhoe’s hopeful data driven projections of the future to Wiggins Jr.’s peaceful acknowledgement of living in the present environment. Three different perspectives, but one statement for the future. We are all in this together. And we will change ourselves to save our changing planet.


From left to right: Godfrey Reggio, Katharine Hayhoe, Gregg Mitman, and Mike Wiggins Jr. 

Photography courtesy of Ingrid Laas from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

40 means “a really long time”

Trying to digest 40 films in over the course of three days (just over 48 hrs.) is a challenging task for even the most fervent movie critics. To sit and watch them is one thing, but to critically think about the issues presented in each of them is another beast entirely. Although it isn’t even possible to attend all 40 films, as each are spread across four different venues at the same time for the 2015 festival: the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chazen Museum, the Cinematheque, and the Marquee theater at Union South. Additionally, there was a special room in Upper|House for the Keynote lecture by Hayhoe with a special film screening.


Casting Doubt

The themes and motifs of the films at TfPE gradually transitioned from searching for interpersonal faith in the world around you to analyzing the truth behind government, media, and public figures that have influence over people’s beliefs about the world. And the documentary Merchants of Doubt was selected as the final film of the festival to encapsulate those ideas. Based off the popularized novel by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes, this film placed a lens over the clash of cultural, ideological, political beliefs and how it affects the interpretation of factual statements from established scientific sources. Viewers were forced to look internally at their own set of beliefs and analyze the credibility of the claims being made by mainstream media news sources, big business commercial campaigns, and scientific organization reports.

Most of the screenings at TfPE focused on the individual’s power to live with nature, but this film centers around the concept of misinformation and mass manipulation. In my opinion this was the must-see-film of TfPE 2015.

The Curtain Falls

Over the course of this weekend, my belief in environmentalism was cracked, broken down into a million pieces, and scattered in the four cardinal directions. The foundations lay bare and open to the world, ready to have a new ideology set in place to form my perception of the world. And while I may exaggerate the influence environmental film has on an individual’s philosophy of life, it would be a great disservice to neglect the impact these films have to spread the message of hope for the future.

I believe in the power of humanity to restore the land and coexist with nature. And after this weekend, I have solidified my belief in the human-environment history and all that has yet to come. I am sure that I speak for us all when I say that this festival awakened me to the cries of the Earth. Mother Nature was speaking. And it is our turn to listen.

Kai Brito is a senior in the Environmental Studies department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Freakfest 2015

Per spooky and festive tradition, October 31st has taken to mean an alternative definition on the historic State Street of Madison, Wisconsin. Halloween has transformed the stresses of #undergraduatelyfe into to a night of neglect from the productivity expected from our generation. The UW-Madison campus has certainly discovered the technique for releasing the stress and giving in to the PAAAAAARRRRTT-AAAAAAAAAYY!!!!

I had never been to Freakfest before, but this was the year of living dangerously (allusion!), and I wouldn’t miss the Midwest’s largest gathering of good vibrations, questionable costumes, and ratchet parties. Not this year!

With so much mischief afoot, there was would be a lot to do that night, a lot to see that night, and a lot of time that night…


Here are the Top 10 costumes that I saw at Freakfest 2015. And I must say, some were quite freaky and other made me LOLz, but all met my standard of awesomeness. Enjoy!

Living up to its “work hard, play hard” mantra, UW-Madison showed everybody that we could throw a party. Freakfest 2015 fell a little flat for my expectations though. It proved to only be a fraction of the hype that I had heard about for the past 3 years. I guess I just expected too much. Don’t get me wrong, I still had fun traversing what felt like a crossover between State Street and Halloween Town, but it didn’t quite capture the magic this year. And magic is important. It what makes the wizarding world go ‘round…

Happy belated Halloween!!!

A Badger Tradition

Football is a long-standing tradition for any college campus. Historically, a college football stadium exists as a sanctuary for students to unite under a single common goal: to kick the other team’s ass. And as a Big 10 (14) Conference Member school, this tradition was all the more important to the growing body UW alumni, students, and Wisconsin-born citizens.  Saturday, October 17th, 2015 I entered the ranks of the Wisconsin Badger football student section alumni. I jumped around, ate chips and fondue, did the wave, and cheered for the UW Badgers (and I actually did have fun, surprisingly). So as far as I could tell, the tradition hasn’t changed much. I will try and recount to you some of the observational notes I made during this particular field study of Homecoming 2015: Purdue vs. Wisconsin.

First, I should describe what a standard game day can look like to anyone that hasn’t had the opportunity/ever wanted to come close to attending a Badger football home game.V__D97C(1)

Badger Football group picture! Check.

For those of you wondering, Badger Game-Day was not just one day. Sure, the game might have been on Saturday, but UW football did not claim only one day of the week. Preparations were needed for this most holy of days. Some would travel for miles, determined to stand in the bleachers and emphatically cheer their favorite team whilst simultaneously jeering the opponents. Others were up last night stockpiling brats and alcohol for tomorrow’s crowd of Badger crazed fans that would flood the streets of Madison. I would normally be sleeping at this time, because it was the weekend and the only time that I had the option to sleep. But not this weekend. I would sacrifice one day to have an authentic Wisconsin Experience.

Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day. As a precursor to the game, the innumerable masses of die-hard Badger fans would eat brats and drink beer like it was life support. Every bite brought them life. Every drink made them livelier.  And their spirits would soar, each fan ready to embrace their inner Badger. They would slowly meander (drunkenly stumble) out of the pre-game parties and tailgate picnics and towards Camp Randall stadium as the clock ticked closer to start time. Every minute, more and more students would gather ready to witness the spectacle they had been waiting for all week. They were gathered by the masses, clad in the symbolic Badger red and channeling their thoughts into the only conceivable outcome for that day: the bombshell defeat of the opposing team. The crowds would chant and cheer and scream and it wouldn’t make a difference what noise we made because it was lost in the roar of the crowd. It didn’t matter what we said because we were all saying it. We were all there for one reason. We would play hard. And we would win. There wasn’t any other option.

“Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day.”

Before knowing all this, I struggled to find a compelling reason as for why I should attend a Badger football game. It just didn’t appeal to me. Every Saturday I would walk out into a sea of red, swimming against the current with my dark black & blue wardrobe. Purposeful opposition to the inexplicable phenomena occurring around me. I was immune to the solidarity of student body around me. Nothing could have swayed my decision at that point. But something changed this year. I wanted to experience something different, something new, something that I could only do as a UW-Madison student. So I thought I might try it this once. I would give the football game a shot.

And I am glad I did. And I am glad we won (24 – 7). But even if we didn’t win, there was something about standing in that massive crowd, so large that I felt insignificant. It wasn’t a time to be special or be different or be anything. We were just supposed to watch our team, rally hard, and have fun. It was about being a part of something (even if I really actually wasn’t because crowd-standing is not that inclusive and anyone else could have been there). It was about continuing a tradition. Without the support of the students, the game would not mean anything. Something that can bring 80,000+ people together had to be special. There was no doubting that. And it helped that we were victorious that day! I am glad that my friend extended her hand outward and asked me to be a true Badger. I came along with her that day blind to the spirit of the Wisconsin tradition, but I emerged with a new perspective of UW sports and what it means to be a Badger.


Jeez Louise! We look darn fine, don’t we?

Operation Free the Flamingos! (Part 2/2)

October 16th, 2015. The “Operation Free the Flamingos” launch date was quickly approaching and preparations were needed to ensure the success of this mission. I would not falter in the face of danger, I would not let the dreams of my loyal companions die, and I would not accept defeat. I called all the people that I thought could sway victory on my side. Only the chosen few – fleet-footed, natural instincts, and rebellious hearts – could ally themselves to the cause. The stakes were high, but the reward outweighed the risk. But not everyone could muster my overly enthusiastic fantasies of flamingo freedom. Opposition to my cause arose. And the damages from flamingo property loss were not the issue. The problem was that people didn’t want to steal from the Alumni Association. I hadn’t considered the fact that I was actually stealing from anyone. In my mind it was a harmless prank, embodying the ideals of the original prankster. The Father of the Flamingos. But I had to wonder… Would I really be honoring his legacy? I had to consider that if I was going to eradicate the flamingo population.

I continued to call people and think about the implications of my actions. And I had to accept the criticisms. Maybe stealing a flamingo was not as glorious as I thought it would be… The WFAA was doing this fundraiser for the university. And with the recent budget cuts, we have a large gap to fill if we want to continue to uphold our reputation for excellence. I could not rob from the organization that funds our school. The organization that funds my scholarship. I had a dilemma. Because I still needed a flamingo. But if I still needed a flamingo, I would have to try a new approach.

Over the past year, I built a rapport with the Alumni Association. And I would use that network to overtly plead for my primary objective. I was resolute in will, determined to ask even the smallest connection to help me with my outlandish request. The emails flew to and fro, scattering their information to computers all over the university and leaving my laptop as fast as my words per minute could bring them to life. And lo and behold! Tuesday evening I received a fortuitous email from my correspondent informing me that, due to my Red ShirtTM history and new found friends in high places, she could secure a “leftover” flamingo for me.

Wednesday morning, 8am at the Wisconsin Alumni Association building. There will be a package waiting for you at the front desk. (of course I am making this sound more like a drug deal than a personal favor, which is far more interesting)

With a flamingo held firmly in my grasp, I basked in the glory of victory, cast my hands out into the air thanking any otherworldly influence that could have even remotely contributed to the outcome of these events!! I didn’t need to lead a clan of battle-hardened college students in a raid on the home décor of Bascom Hill (though it would have been awesome). I just asked. And I received. It was as simple as that.


Love can be found in the strangest of places.

But my story was not finished that day. Not yet. I was indebted to the WFAA. I had to make it up to them somehow. And I had the perfect solution: I would exchange my criminal past for a new future of security detail. As much as I had previously wanted to steal all the flamingos, the WFAA wanted to keep every last one of them. But something changed. Our once conflicting views now aligned. Everything came full circle, from thief to defender in the matter of minutes. That is how quickly life can change. And I would hold myself to the same standard that I held on the opposing side (but reverse, kinda like an enantiomer). Before I wanted to leave Bascom Hill barren from an attack by a ragtag strike squad of college lunatics, but now I would safeguard the livelihood of the flamingo residents in unison with the Alumni Secret Defense Forces (ASDF, just for kicks). Not a single flamingo would leave that hill. Not today. Not on my watch.


Freeze! Put the flamingo down on the ground and no one gets hurt #flamingosecurity

So I didn’t catch anyone that day. It probably because no one wanted to steal a flamingo while I was on guard. They knew their chances would exponentially increase once I left. And I applaud them for that. I wouldn’t want to steal a flamingo if the original bad-ass was now guarding the treasure. But that wasn’t the point. I didn’t need chase anyone down the hill for miles on end, screaming at the top of my lungs and unleashing a battle cry that would stop men in their tracks. Or tackle perpetrators to the ground and rub dirt in their faces alongside the failure as I pinned them to the ground and dashed their dreams of owning an authentic Bascom Hill rarity (though this all would be MATHMATICAL!). I just wanted a flamingo.

One more item was crossed off my bucket list that day. And one more person could enjoy the sentiment of the UW-Madison flamingo. I was living my dreams and I would continue to do so.


Me and muh PIC enjoying a mission success. ‘nuf said