Skip to main content
Menu Icon

Space Grant Speakers Bureau

The WSGC funds Affiliate institutions to host in-state visits by Affiliate speakers for department seminars and colloquia. If you are a member of an Affiliate campus or industry partner and are available to speak on your work, please share your talk topics and contact information here. Thank you!


Register as an available speaker


Available Speakers and Talks


Prof. William Dirienzo, UW Sheboygan, Physics & Astronomy. Speaker Bio   Contact

Snakes & Bubbles: Star Formation in the Milky Way

Level: Undergraduate Majors

Massive stars have profound effects on the interstellar medium that lead to chemical and dynamical evolution of the gas. This contributes to galaxy evolution and may also trigger new star formation. The physical conditions of massive star-forming environments, and thus the formation mechanism, have been historically less well understood than their lower mass counterparts. This talk discusses investigations into massive star formation, primarily in two different phases of the evolution of massive star-forming regions. First are the environments of H II regions powered by massive stars and testing for newly triggered star formation. Triggering may be an important mechanism through which massive star formation propagates through a cloud, contributing to the observed clustering of massive stars. Second are Infrared Dark Clouds (IRDCs). IRDCs harbor the earliest phases of massive star formation, and many of the compact cores in IRDCs, traced by millimeter continuum or by molecular emission in high critical density lines, host massive protostars. The internal structure and kinematics of the IRDCs include velocity gradients, filaments, and possibly colliding sub-clouds that elucidate the formation process of these structures and their protostars. It appears that these IRDCs are still being assembled from molecular gas clumps even as star formation has already begun. The ongoing work in this field and possibilities for the future will be discussed.

Sounding Rockets with Students

Level: General Audience

Scientists send instruments above the atmosphere both to study space without interference and to study Earth from above. This can be done with complementary methods: expensive satellites in orbit, cheaper long-lived high altitude balloons, or with suborbital sounding rockets that take payloads into space for short periods of time. The UW Sheboygan Astronomy Club fielded a team to design and build such a payload that rode on a sounding rocket in June 2017 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Dual experiments tested the effect of rocket flight on DNA and the types of cosmic radiation in the upper atmosphere. This presentation will review the build and launch process and the results of the experiments.

Astronomy at Home

Level: General Audience

This presentation with describe the basics of astronomy appropriate for anyone with little or no background knowledge of astronomy. There will be a brief overview of the universe and the solar system, tips for observing on your own, and discussion of some upcoming astronomical events.

Prof. Travis Hurst, St. Norbert College, Physics. Speaker Bio   Contact 

Shining Light on Dark Matter

Level: General Audience

According to modern cosmology, ~25% of the Universe is composed of Cold Dark Matter. Observations indicate that the Dark Matter is composed of a new exotic form of matter. In this talk I will review some of the basic evidence for Dark Matter, discuss the most popular particle candidates, and outline current and future experimental efforts into the identification of the Dark Matter particle.

Astrophysical Probes of Dark Matter

Level: Undergraduate Majors

In the standard cosmology, ~25% of the matter-energy content of the Universe is in the form of Cold Dark Matter. Identifying the Dark Matter particle is of the utmost importance to cosmology and particle physics. In this talk I will focus on the potential astrophysical effects of the Dark Matter particle. These include an increase in the maximum mass of a Brown Dwarf, the halting of cooling in White Dwarfs, and altering the lifetimes of Main Sequence stars.

Gravitational Waves - 21st Century Astronomy

Level: General Audience

The last 2 years have witnessed the birth of a new era in observational astronomy - the detection of gravitational waves. One of the basic predictions of Einstein’s General Relativity, gravitational waves have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of astrophysics and gravity. Moreover, it is now possible to observe the electromagnetic (light) counterparts to gravitational wave events - launching a new era of multi-messenger astronomy. In this talk I will review the basic physics of gravitational waves and their detection. Discuss some of the early observed events. And outline future experimental efforts in gravitational wave astronomy.

Prof. Eric Barnes, Univ. Wisconsin - La Crosse, Physics.  Speaker Bio   Contact

Shedding Light on Dark Matter

Level: Undergraduate Majors

Modern astronomy suggests that most of the mass in the universe is not made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. This talk lays out the background of why this curious result is taken seriously and how Dr. Barnes and his students are trying to better understand this unseen dark matter.

Mr. Brian Ewenson, Spaceport Sheboygan.  Speaker Bio   Contact

Living and Working in Space: No Shoes, No Shower…No Problem!

Level: General Audience

Grab your space helmet, get strapped in and go for a ride to space and back. In this hands-on/minds-on presentation, you will participate in a space mission from crew selection, training, launch and back to Earth Safely. Real space artifacts with many hands-on demonstrations and audience participation.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon-We Discovered Earth


In 1968, the first time astronauts left the confines of Earth orbit, we saw our home planet in its entirety for the first time. While reaching for the Moon, we came back with a much greater appreciation of the fragility of planet Earth and it provided us a platform to observe the seasons and cycles for the planet, as well as natural and man-made changes.Come along on a voyage to the home planet, explore continents, discover a world without lines on a map and test your geography skills. An excellent presentation for Earth Day!

Space Shuttle: The End of an Era


A visual look behind the scenes of the world’s only manned reusable spacecraft. Follow a shuttle mission from landing to launch. While only seven people flew a shuttle mission, tens of thousands of people train the astronauts, build the vehicle, support the mission and launch the shuttle with their hands and hearts. This is the story of the shuttle workers who made history happen.

Dr. Carrie Kissman, St. Norbert College, Biology and Environmental Science.  Speaker Bio   Contact

The effects of disturbance on aquatic ecosystems in the Midwest

Level: General Audience

Waterbodies throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest have been plagued by various disturbances in the past few decades. What are some of these disturbances? How do they affect lakes? And what are the implications for recreational boating and fishing industries?

Prof. Brant Carlson, Carthage College, Physics & Astronomy.  Speaker Bio     Contact


Level: General Audience

Despite centuries of study, much of the behavior of lightning remains a mystery. A lightning discharge typically starts inside a thundercloud, grows in a series of seemingly-random bursts of activity separated by periods of relative boredom, and can grow to hundreds of kilometers in length, strike the ground multiple times in multiple places, and end all in a fraction of a second. Much of that information, however, rests on the boundary between observation, speculation, and nascent theory. It’s fascinating science, especially in the context that lightning happens about 50 times a second globally, kills thousands of people every year, and does billions of dollars of damage. I will describe the behavior of lightning starting from fundamental physics, work my way up to large-scale phenomena, describe some recent ideas about how lightning might happen, work in a bit of my own research, and finish by describing some related topics of practical importance. 

Sun, Earth, electricity, and magnetism

LEVEL: Undergraduate Science

While mentioning Earth and the Sun in physics usually refers to planets, orbits, and gravity, if you look closer, the environment is much more complicated. From above, the constant competition between Earth’s magnetic field, the Sun’s magnetic field, and the solar wind drive huge electrical currents and trap energetic radiation in near-Earth space. Sudden snapping of magnetic fields brings intense radiation to the upper atmosphere. Unstable regions of plasma release their energy as radio waves that, if played back, sound surprisingly like birds chirping. From below, lightning pumps electromagnetic energy upward and electrons downward, and Earth’s rotation continually stirs the system up. The scenario is electric… electromagnetic, even. Satellites, the power grid, and telecommunications systems cannot afford to ignore these issues, so scientists are trying to learn more and better understand the physics and behavior of this fascinating system.

Modeling the lightning channel corona sheath

LEVEL: Upper Level/Graduate Seminar

Transfer of charge along a lightning channel leads to strong electric fields that drive such charge outward. This charge flow is nonuniform, breaking up into millimeter-scale discharge structures called streamers. The motion of such streamers can carry charge many meters outward from the channel, but each individual streamer only carries a small amount of charge. Transfer of macroscopic charge outward thus requires a large population of streamers that are expected to interact and exhibit interesting collective behaviors. We attempt to simulate such collective behaviors by approximating the behavior of each streamer but retaining streamer interactions and overall electrodynamic effects and apply this simulation to a few key scenarios. For the case of flow of charge off a lightning channel, we simulate a continually growing population of streamers injected near a charged conducting channel. Further, motivated by lightning initiation, we simulate the growth of a population of streamers from a single seed streamer as might initiate from a hydrometeor. For all cases considered, we characterize the charges and currents involved, compare to observations where possible, and characterize the collective effects including spatial and temporal non-uniformity. (NOTE: this abstract was written in summer 2017. If you’re reading this after early 2018 I will likely have more recent research to talk about.)

Background Image of Earth