University of Wisconsin – Madison

In late 1998, a UW-Madison group led by James Thomson was the first to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells, master undifferentiated cells that arise at the earliest stages of development and are capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells and tissues in the human body. Access to human ES cells promises significant opportunities to study early development and could one day provide a near limitless supply of cells for transplant therapy.

In the early 1960s, UW-Madison atmospheric scientist Verner Suomi began to lay the technological foundation for the modern weather satellite through invention and ingenuity in the use of technology in space. His invention of the spin-scan camera enabled development of the geostationary weather satellite and gave us the first pictures of weather from space. Subsequently, Suomi invented technology for the processing and manipulation of satellite imagery providing scientists and others with powerful new tools for weather analysis and forecasting. The technology invented by Suomi underpins the weather images that appear on the 6 O’clock news and that we routinely take for granted.

In the 1960s, UW-Madison biochemist Hector DeLuca made the fundamental discovery that vitamin D is biologically inactive and must be modified by the liver and kidney to assume its active, hormonal form. Since, DeLuca has designed and synthesized a family of metabolites and derivatives of the vitamin D hormone. Drugs based on these compounds have been used worldwide to treat diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency, including osteoporosis and psoriasis. Most recently, this line of work has led to two drugs used to treat secondary hyperthyroidism, a complication of chronic kidney failure that can lead to heart diseases, bone deterioration and other life-threatening illnesses.

Digital subtraction angiography (DSA), a technique developed by UW-Madison medical physicist Charles Mistretta, provides the capability to subtract the screening effects of bone and soft tissue in X-ray images and allows physicians to more clearly visualize the cardiovascular system. DSA has been the dominant X-ray technique for imaging blood vessels ever since its introduction to the marketplace in 1981, and doctors worldwide have used it to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Equally significant was UW-Madison professor Paul Moran’s development of a method and device that greatly enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), allowing much improved diagnosis of various disease states and trauma-induced injury.

In 1986, UW-Madison researchers Folkert Belzer and James Southard developed a synthetic solution, dubbed the UW Solution, for cold storage of organs to be transplanted from one person to another. Before the UW Solution, organs were kept alive with a blood-based solution that consisted of natural products. But because these solutions were natural, they could only store livers for six hours and kidneys for up to three days. A frequent result was organ damage, which could lead to chronic rejection or a recipient’s need for dialysis. The UW Solution increased storage times for organs such the liver and pancreas from six to 36 hours, and up to 84 hours for the kidney. Longer storage times led to more organs being transported between transplant centers, more rigorous tissue matches and, ultimately, more life-saving transplant surgeries.

In the 1950s and 1960s, UW-Madison researcher Dale E. Wurster developed an air-suspension method and device for coating pharmaceutical tablets. His work resulted in a widely used method for applying various coatings to pharmaceutical tablets to mask tastes and control the release of drugs in the human body. Wurster’s technique is still widely used today to prepare granular preparations of pharmaceuticals for compression into tablets.

UW-Madison researchers Mark Cook and Michael Pariza identified conjugated linoleic, or CLA, in the late 1980s as a potential anti-cancer agent. Because CLA is safe for people to eat, being naturally produced in cow’s milk and red meat, it was designated as a potential nutraceutical. CLA is now widely used as dietary supplement, food ingredient and animal feed ingredient. Since CLA’s discovery as a possible anti-cancer agent, on-going research has revealed a number of additional benefits, including CLA’s ability to control body fat and enhance immune function. Other uses are now being studied worldwide in laboratories and clinical trials, and CLA has become one of the bigger nutraceuticals on the market.

Building on work he began as a graduate student at Yale, Joshua Lederberg as a young UW-Madison professor in the late 1940s and early 1950s helped reveal the sexual reproductive capabilities of bacteria, and why bacteria such as tuberculosis become resistant to antibiotics.

For 400 years, mapmakers struggled to portray a spherical world on a flat map. In 1963, UW-Madison professor Arthur Robinson set out to minimize the distortions inherent in world maps. Employing then-new computer techniques, Robinson produced a projection map that more accurately reflects the actual size of continents. In 1988, the National l Geographic Society adopted Robinson’s map projection, distributing more than 10.7 million copies.

In 1970, UW-Madison molecular biologist Har Gobind Khorana made the world’s first synthetic gene, demonstrating science’s ability to manipulate the chemical components of life. At the time, the accomplishment was likened to the splitting of the atom and built on Khorana’s earlier work synthesizing DNA, for which he won the 1968 Nobel Prize In Medicine.

In 1970, UW-Madison researcher Howard Temin discovered an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, that is the biological catalyst that permits a cell’s DNA to transcribe information from RNA. The discovery, which years later helped lead to the discovery of the AIDS virus, proved that viruses could carry genetic information in the form of RNA, and subsequently earned Temin a share of the Nobel Prize in 1975.

Wildlife ecologist Aldo Leopold, hired by UW-Madison in 1933 as the country’s first professor of wildlife management, over the decades developed the concept of a land ethic. Articulated poetically in his best-selling 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold blazed the philosophical trails that underpin much of modern conservation biology and ecology.

Historian Gerda Lerner , widely viewed as the godmother of women’s history, established one of the first graduate programs in women’s history. Lerner, who was imprisoned by the Nazis in her native Austria and fled Europe on the eve of World War II, returned to school in the late 1950s after raising a family and garnered a considerable reputation for virtually creating the field of women’s history and tireless agitation to help her female colleagues win respect and find audiences for their work.

The work of several UW-Madison researchers is giving rare and endangered primates a second lease on life in the wild. Anthropology Professor Karen Strier’ work on the muriqui, the wooly spider monkey of Brazil, underpins efforts to preserve that country’s coastal rain forests and has greatly increased the survival chances of these endangered monkeys. Equally important are the studies of the reproductive behaviors of the endangered golden top tamarin, another denizen of Brazil, by Wisconsin psychologist and zoologist Charles Snowdon.

Established in 1966, the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty has informed federal and state policies affecting the poor. The think tank has kept close watch on the well being of low-income families and children and today leads the way in evaluating the effects of welfare reform.

Wisconsin mathematic Professor Steve Kleene was a co-founder of a field of mathematical logic called recursion theory. Recursion theory helped set the foundations of theoretical computer science by providing a language and various hierarchies for defining and classifying computable functions. Kleene developed one of the original definitions of a computable function, and is perhaps the most succinct and useful version.

In August of 1968, the first modern synchrotron radiation facility went on line at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Physical Science Laboratory. Known as Tantalus, it was the world’s first electron storage ring dedicated solely for the production of synchrotron radiation to be used in scientific experiments and analyses. A booming field today, the use of synchrotron light has resulted in critical contributions to fields as diverse as electrical and computer engineering to cancer biology. A decommissioned Tantalus now resides at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Germaine Bree was instrumental in introducing modern French studies to America after World War II. As a UW-Madison professor in 1960, and before that as chair of the French and Romance Languages Departments at New York University, Bree helped invigorate American interest in 20th century French literature. The author of numerous books and textbooks, Bree served as president of the Modern Language Association and was responsible for helping bring issues of the humanities to the foreground at American universities.

Pediatrician and biochemist Harry Waisman was a pioneer in mental retardation research. Recognizing that a simple test could help prevent the onset of mental retardation in some people, he became a driving force in the enactment of legislation mandating testing of all newborns for the metabolic condition phenylketonuria (PKU), which results in mental retardation if undetected and untreated.