Enhancing quality of life

For more than 150 years, UW–Madison has been contributing to the daily lives of Wisconsin citizens. University researchers look at the full range of what makes us human — how we learn, how society sustains and challenges us, how we interact with our world — and share their findings, with a goal of enriching our quality of life.

Creativity in the North Woods: It’s been called “the week I wait for all year.” For nearly 50 years, more than 250 people have gathered for a week of study, performance, exhibits, and other creative activities at School of the Arts at Rhinelander. A program of UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, the school offers more than 45 workshops in visual and performing arts, mind-body-spirit, music, and writing.

Autism from many angles: For families living with autism, information can be hard to come by. As part of a national center, UW–Madison is committing expertise in neuroscience, psychiatry, psycholinguistics and social work to tackle this condition. Together, these researchers are working to understand all aspects of autism, with a central goal of helping children, their families and their teachers.

Making every day Earth Day: A special institute at the university, now named after environmentalist and former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, has been keeping Wisconsin’s natural resources at the forefront since 1970. The institute coordinates a variety of activities — from community forums about key environmental issues to symposiums about energy sources to student projects that explore how to improve water quality — all meant to protect and nurture the state’s resources.

Spreading the word: Affordable heath care is beyond the reach of many Wisconsin families. And, sometimes, those most at risk don’t know there is help available. The university is working on a statewide program — Wisconsin Covering Kids and Families — to make sure children and families who are eligible for family Medicaid programs are aware of them and can easily enroll. Local providers get help in reaching those most in need in their communities.

Fill ‘er up… with biodiesel: In light of rising gas prices, finding new sources of motor fuels is more important than ever. The university, in partnership with Madison Area Technical College, built a reactor that produces fuel blended from waste vegetable oil and methanol. The project is a win-win: Students will learn how best to produce this biodiesel fuel and maintain the engines that use it, and Wisconsin benefits from a clean, renewable energy alternative.

Exploring global warming with art: In an unusual twist, artists and scientists are teaming up to teach the complex topic of climate change. A project funded by a university grant and the Wisconsin Arts Board created a touring art exhibition that explores the impact of climate change in the Lake Superior region. The exhibition, which tours Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois, includes 20 pieces pieces of fine art, as well as educational materials.

Cleaning our lakes: The rusty crayfish, a voracious bully that has damaged Wisconsin’s lakes, may have met its match. UW–Madison research shows the crayfish may be vulnerable to a “double whammy” of intensive trapping and predator fish manipulation — to the point where it may now be possible to rid lakes of a creature that has vexed scientists, anglers and conservation agencies alike for decades.

Giving comfort: Through a project called Threads of Remembrance, UW–Madison students have created infant bereavement gowns to help families that experience the loss of an infant. The garments, which are designed to fit tiny, premature infants, along with an educational video and other resources, are on their way to becoming a national standard for hospital infant-loss programs.

Books via keyboard: Wisconsinites — including students in K–12 classrooms — and others around the world now have hundreds of thousands of books and documents right at their fingertips. UW–Madison partnered with Google to digitize public holdings and make them searchable on Google Book Search. The combined library collections of UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Historical Society comprise 7.2 million holdings, one of the largest collections of documents and historical materials in the United States.

Traveling safely: Getting a handle on the economic and societal effects of traffic safety is improving dramatically, thanks to a new Web portal sponsored by a UW–Madison program. The portal is gathering data related to crashes, health outcomes, weather information, emergency-response times, lane closures and more — all of which used to reside in individual databases. Among other benefits, the new comprehensive data will make it far easier for Wisconsin to respond to federal legislation that requires states to report the top 5 percent of locations with significant road-safety issues.

Maps for the masses: In the same way that bloggers have influenced online publishing, just about anyone can now make a map. A UW–Madison geographer created public-domain software that provides powerful new tools that help lay map-makers with tasks such as selecting colors, representing changes and filtering enormous amounts of data.