Look up into the sky and see some amazing constellations.  We’ve been trying to make sense of those stars for a long time, and science has been expanding our understanding as we see farther and more minutely.

Now you can look into the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and see a remarkable new constellation.

..The Big Dipper from the European Southern Observatory.

The University of Wisconsin does not have a major science museum on its campus, but it is a crossroads of constant scientific inquiry and education.  UW-Madison was established as a land-grant university , funded by the sale of state land and dedicated to teaching agriculture, science and engineering.  We used to value science literacy as a nation.

Furthermore, UW-Madison has been guided by The Wisconsin Idea for more than a century, which directs that research conducted here should be applied to practical problems of the state’s citizens.

...Tom Zinnen

The latest manifestation of this mandate is a new concept called the University of Wisconsin-Madison Science Constellation, which aims to make all that research more accessible to every student and citizen.  I learned about it from Tom Zinnen.

It’s a truly noble undertaking, and I wrote an article that appeared in this week’s Isthmus on the subject.

Science Constellation concept unites campus facilities
Twinkle, twinkle massive institution

Tom Zinnen sees it as a matter of geography.

..UW Geology Museum (photo credit)

“If you fold a map of the UW-Madison campus in quarters, Babcock Hall is at the center of the creases. It’s the heart of the life sciences and engineering campus,” says Zinnen, the university’s biotech outreach specialist. “The center of gravity on campus has shifted.”

Zinnen should know. He’s one of the forces driving this shift. About a decade ago, he launched an annual science open house on campus. Next, he helped organize the UW-Madison Science Alliance to strengthen collaborations among campus science outreach groups. Then he created Wednesday Nite @ The Lab (WN@TL), a weekly showcase of campus research open to the public.

Last August, Zinnen returned to Madison after being loaned to the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., where he served a two-year stint as the director’s speechwriter. Now he’s hitting the ground running, blazing a trail for an invigorating new concept. He calls it the Science Constellation, a way of mapping and connecting the UW-Madison’s science facilities.

...UW Washburn Observatory

These will appear on special campus maps and be stops on guided and self-guided tours. Computer-based maps that visitors can access on their smart phones are also in the works.

Key stops include the Geology Museum, Washburn Observatory, Physics Museum, Wisconsin State Herbarium, Microbe Place, the Insect Research Displays in Russell Laboratories, the Dairy Cattle Center and the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

“This is a land-grant institution, and exploring our Science Constellation will give people a better feeling about what they own,” says Zinnen, 53. “Each star has an X-marks-the-spot factor. These are places where award-winning discoveries have been made, and more are under way. Researchers here are figuring out things that nobody has ever figured out before.”

read the rest of the article here

Have you ever made a field trip to explore the sciences on the UW-Madison campus?

...These are microscopic spicules. A spicule is a small, slender, pointed structure or crystal that makes up the skeleton of a sponge or coral; coincidentally it is also an astronomy term meaning a spiked ejection of hot gas occurring above the sun’s surface. Besides being beautiful, I think is perfectly illustrates the concenpt of a constellation of science. (photo credit:

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