Summer Forum

with Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Professor of Chemistry
William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea
Director, Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy
Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison

What We Heard from Participants
July 17, 2015

Prof. Shakhashiri, you gave an excellent definition of the Wisconsin Idea and why it is so important!

Thank you for presenting the Chemistry and Society Summer Forum. Your encouragement to think deeply and engage in conversation about how science is integrated into our lives will benefit us as individuals, so that we can make more meaningful contributions our society as a whole.  My gratitude extends to Professor Schreiner, and the other scheduled guest speakers, as well, for also committing their time to promoting the Wisconsin Idea.

Thank you for bringing a topic I have little background in, in language that is understandable to me.

I was fascinated by Dr. Schreiner's presentation—especially when he made the statement about science being atheistic but not antitheistic. I also found the statement that the two strongest forces in society are religion and science very interesting.

Thank you for offering this forum…  I would be happy if I am able to talk to my friends and family about the important issues facing us today and how chemistry relates to them.

Your first class has already broadened my knowledge base, especially in making me think of other questions "out there."

I have greatly enjoyed the first two sessions of the Summer Forum on Chemistry & Society. You and your guest presenters have given us lots of information and lots to think about. I am hoping that some of the future sessions will give me some ideas to use to be more persuasive, but not threatening, when I talk to conservative friends and relatives who are dismissive of “tree huggers” who think climate change is a real problem of our own making.

Correct information is so essential to the well-being of humanity and all life on Earth. Can't believe that some state employees are not allowed to talk about global warming. So glad we have the Summer Forums to represent the 'Wisconsin Idea.'

I'm very happy I signed up for the class and I thank Dr. Shakhashiri, his team and the guest speakers for taking the time to teach us lifelong learners.

I'm so happy that I signed up for this course! The thing I've been thinking about the most from the first session is how what we think we know is greatly influenced by what our past experience has been. Experience is important, but it's only a piece of it. The point was especially driven home for me by your experiment at the end of the class.

Thank you for your efforts and your energy in preparing and presenting this forum. I'm eagerly anticipating our next weeks together.

It has been a very rewarding experience being a part of the class. My guess is my only complaint will be that I wished it was longer than 4 weeks.

I have really enjoyed this opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Thank you for the continuing enjoyable and informative classes. My wife and I have already adjusted our eating habits based on knowledge from your class. We are also getting a better appreciation of the chemistry all around us. Excellent job!

Thanks for such interesting and thought-inspiring classes.

I have really enjoyed your Forum and I haven't dozed off. This is quite a compliment to your guests and your selection of topics. I had taken the risk of occupying seats in the fourth row. I had greeted you in the beginning with the observation that you were smaller than I had imagined. Now I realize that through your attitude and commitment and love of people you are a giant.

You are truly a unique gift to your students. I so very much appreciate your genuine efforts to make connections and your touching personal request [to share a little bit about ourselves].

Thank you, once again, for sharing your knowledge and passion for science, as well as your passion for humanity.

Dr. Strang's presentation on alcohol: I found this very interesting, and particularly his comments about how people's chemical makeup affects how they metabolize alcohol. I've always wondered how it is that different individuals seem to have such very different tolerances for alcohol.

Susan Nitzke's presentation on nutrition was a model of clarity and full of very useful information.

Thank you for providing us with such a wonderful class this summer! I will miss it when it's over.

Last week's classes [Science & Religion, Climate Change] fit extremely well with my reasons for participating in the Summer Forum. As a retiree, I am enjoying the opportunity to take classes, attend lectures, and get involved in social justice causes.

Professor Sober's lecture was an excellent refresher on arguments on both sides of the science-religion debate.

The presentation on the Citizens Climate Lobby was exciting because it introduced me to a new way to help make a difference in the fight against climate change.

My husband and I also appreciated all the effort you had put into the Independence Day show. While it was disappointing that the show had to be cancelled, not all was lost. We saw a beautiful sunset, and later, some fireworks. We also had a nice visit with a fellow student and our neighbors, who had brought their kids to the show. And, there was ice cream, so the kids had a good time.

Thanks for providing the [American Trilogy] booklet that included the Declaration of Independence. I used a quote from it for a letter to the editor that was published today in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Thank you for an inspiring and memorable experience in the Chemistry Summer Forum. I found the time extremely worthwhile, regretting only that those showing up for the first session failed to attend all of the sessions offered. Because, you were clearly interested in leveraging the time you devoted to the 8 sessions our group met to the numerous conversations your eclectic curriculum could foment out in the community.

I enrolled in the Summer Forum with high expectations, having attended other events you’ve produced and hosted. I expected to learn from your perspective how chemistry is part of my everyday life and discover new ways to understand science and apply the scientific method. Going well beyond becoming facile with a body of knowledge you have mastered, I fully expected to become a new kind of observer of everyday life, to develop a new perspective. BUT, you even went beyond those already high expectations!

You created a space for people to be responsible for solving our problems and challenges, presenting such a meaningful array of resources and ideas that I would naturally share the insights gained and opportunities for action with people outside the classroom. Perhaps most important, you demonstrated respect for others.

When I grew up, school was about the basics; Reading, wRiting & aRithmetic. Your high level of pedagogy goes beyond the realm of communicating facts and immersing one in a new body of knowledge.  You even go beyond the life-lasting inspiration one gains from becoming a different kind of observer, college instruction at its finest. You demonstrate the Wisconsin Idea at its highest level when giving people the tools and new perspective from which to become a better citizen, grounded in a new kind of 3Rs: Resilience, Responsibility and Respect.

Being around you has helped restore my optimism while inspiring me to be a better citizen and to treat others with more kindness.

I am impressed by how often the topics discussed in your class have come then come up in my reading soon after, made more meaningful and understandable because of our class.

To say that taking “Chemistry and Society” has opened a world of wonders for this math and science phobic person would be an understatement. Who knew the Periodic Table of Elements had grown from 113 (back when I was offered chemistry, in high school, but declined the offer) to 118? Well, I do—now. Who knew how simple it was to increase my science literacy, even just a little that I have?

I have deeply appreciated the thought and care you’ve taken to assemble your roster of guest speakers, each and every one of whom has moved me intellectually and psychologically. After departing the night of Rodney Schreiner’s presentation, I was deep in thought for days, contemplating the definition and meaning of the field of science. He presented us with an enormous perspective, inviting those of us who’ve mentally enclosed the word “science” within a tidy border to remove that border. After hearing Dr. McBride and Susan Nitzke speak, I gained a new respect for triglycerides and duly altered my diet. After Kevin Strang’s talk, I borrowed both Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol and The Ghost Map from the public library and am now halfway through the former. As an opponent of “intelligent design,” I appreciated Prof. Sober’s articulate and smartly nimble presentation, plus his list of recommended readings (which, with their many hyperlinks to other essays, require an investment in time to get through). I left Dick Smith’s talk thoroughly impressed with his demonstrated commitment to changing public policy on climate change and re-committed myself to re-thinking some of the way I live. And, I relished his recommended readings, particularly the Politico article on how the Sierra Club’s "Beyond Coal" campaign is winning the war against America’s coal plants. Lastly, while I am familiar with the Nelson Institute, it was terrific to get a sense, from his presentation, of the style and mode of thinking of Institute director Paul Robbins, who was wonderfully frank, breezy and personal—and gave us plenty more of substance to think about. In all these presentations I came across unfamiliar names of principles and authors, scientists and otherwise, about which and whom I am determined to learn more. (Your own recommended reading list on is now on my bucket list.)

One more thing: how I appreciate your sharing, in each and every class session, your “Grand Challenges to Society and Scientists” principles.  I, who hold dearest the right of women to live a full and free life, and especially the right to reproductive choice, have come to appreciate the critical importance that implementing your last principle—‘Denial of basic human rights, especially the right to benefit from scientific and technological progress’—would have on all the peoples of the earth, women, men or otherwise.

Thank you for providing students of “Chemistry and Society” an eye-opening experience.

First, many thanks for this extraordinary summer opportunity. I appreciated your introductions and wrap-ups, which so well conveyed your conviction and passion for those topics, and how you brought these issues back to chemistry.  Many thanks to all of the presenters. It was wonderful to remind us, your participants, how proud we are of UW-Madison's extraordinary scholars. Please convey my thanks to everyone who made "Chemistry and Society" possible.

Prof Shakhashiri: Thank you for sharing your expertise and those of your guests. It has been a wonderful example of the Wisconsin Idea! I’ve shared your websites with several others.

I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to so many topics covered in these eight sessions and would definitely hope to attend again if possible. I was impressed by the speakers and by the questions posed by attendees. Many thanks for your efforts in making this forum possible!

Well, Professor Shakhashiri, thank you, once again, for spearheading this informative and thought-provoking summer lecture series, and for your reminder that it's never too late to learn or too early to act. Writing to you throughout the forum has been like writing to a friend, a diary, and a newspaper Editor, all at the same time ~ a process that prompted me to revisit the PowerPoint presentations provided on your Web site, and reflect on the interconnectedness of the topics to each other, as well as the impact on our world, as a whole. It has truly been a privilege to learn from you. In this very short amount of time, you have encouraged me to to think more purposefully and express myself more accurately. You truly are a powerful educator and force of inspiration.

I did feel like I learned much in your class. I had 16 quarter-hours of science in college, but they were in biology and physics. I learned that chemistry is visual (and audible and smellable)—from The Joy of Chemistry—and part of the great chain of being where all things are interdependent. We also introduced three young kids (and their parents) to your website. I also agree that denying access to the truths of science and technology, the rise of religious fundamentalism, overpopulation, unbridled capitalism without consequences, and oligarchies will probably drive the survival issues of climate change, war, violence, disease, and malnutrition. I think the crux of the matter will reside in distinguishing between truth, fact, “truthiness’’, scientific knowledge, and belief. I think your classes and passion go a long way to set the record straight. Thank you for your efforts, and we really enjoyed your class.

“Chemistry and Society” was a great success in my opinion. Keeping educated adults (and at least one young person) up-to-date on issues important in our local and global lives will help our communities prosper if we put the ideas into action. I enjoyed and learned from all of the speakers. From the health of the planet to our personal physical and mental well-being, there was much to consider. I appreciated the groundwork for the scientific method from Dr. Schreiner and learned a lot about alcohol from Dr. Strang. All of the speakers were memorable but I especially appreciated your enthusiasm which I think was the unifying factor as well as the major draw. And thank you for including the musical addition [from oboist Marc Fink] for the commemoration of Independence Day. Thank you for your dedication to spreading the word about the threat of global warming and the other issues addressed in “Chemistry and Society” and I pledge to continue to keep them at the forefront of my personal and political activities.

Dr. Goldman's presentation on the Neurobiology of Well-being brought the summer forum full-circle for me, back to the beginning where Professor Schreiner posed the question, What is Science? Three years ago, during a time of personal crisis, I attended a lecture presented by Dr. Davidson on the topic of emotional styles. I found his book on the subject to be informative as well as helpful, and appreciate the research he, Dr. Goldman, and the others at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds are conducting, in an effort to enhance well-being through a scientific understanding of the mind. I know that my brain has changed over these past three years, and in turn, I feel like a different person, so I believe that it is possible to train yourself to be more at peace, if not happy.