Hilldale Lecture Series – Current Lectures

No lecture was submitted in the Arts & Humanities.

Hao Wu
Asa and Patricia Springer Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular
Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School
Associate Director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine,
Boston Children’s Hospital

Inflammasomes at the Crossroads of Basic Science and Therapeutic Translation
April 6, 2022, 10:30 AM 
1345 Health Sciences Learning Center
750 Highland Avenue

Dr. Hao Wu is a world-renowned leader in the field of structural immunology. Using multidisciplinary structural biology approaches, including protein crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, biochemistry, cell imaging, and biophysics, she showed that many innate immune receptors assemble large oligomeric intracellular signaling complexes, or “signalosomes,” to induce the activation of caspases, kinases and ubiquitin ligases. Her work established a new paradigm for signal transduction that involves higher-order protein assemblies, for precise temporal and spatial control of enzyme activation, signal amplification, and reduction of biological noise. Such mechanistic understanding leads to translational research that would help curtailing cancers, autoimmune diseases, and inflammatory disorders.

Dr. Hao Wu’s Hilldale lecture will focus on NLRP3 and its downstream signaling molecule gasdermins. Both form large protein assemblies that control the innate immunity of broad immune cells and tissues in responses to bacteria/virus infections and danger/stress signals. They play crucial roles in diverse inflammatory/autoimmune diseases and cancer and are recently connected to severe COVID-19. Dr. Wu will describe the structural basis dictating the formation of NLRP3 inflammasome and gasdermin transmembrane protein pore, how they are regulated by diverse caspases and kinases, and how gasdermin pore gates the selective secretion of cytokines. Furthermore, her group discovered that an FDA-approved drug blocks the gasdermin D (GSDMD) pore formation and developed a small molecule that activates GSDMD and promotes anti-tumor immunity.

**A gentle request: we have a colleague who is sensitive to chemical deodorants and tide-pod or other pod-type detergents. Per allergy doctor’s suggestions, we greatly appreciate that you could minimize the chance of bringing such chemicals to the seminar room.​​​​**

Join by Zoom https://uwmadison.zoom.us/j/95629175029


Molly Przeworski (postponed from 2020-2021 to 2022-2023)
American population geneticist and Professor of Biological Sciences and Systems Biology at Columbia University

Gil Kalai
Henry and Manya Noskwith Emeritus Professor of Mathematics,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Professor of Computer Science,
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya

May 10, 12-1 PM 
The Argument of Quantum Physics

May 12, 12-1 PM
Quantum Computers, Predictability & Free Will

Join via Zoom: https://go.wisc.edu/d456cn

In the first lecture I will introduce quantum computers and present an argument for why quantum computers are impossible. From my analysis I will derive general principles for the behavior of noisy quantum systems and will also briefly discuss the recent announcements concerning “quantum computational supremacy,” which conflict with my theory.

In the second lecture I will discuss the connection between the possibility of quantum computers, the predictability of complex quantum systems in nature, and the issue of free will.

Both lectures are self-contained, intended for a wide audience, and will not assume prior background regarding quantum computers or philosophy. The second lecture does not rely on the first.

More details about each lecture can be found below.

Lecture I: The Argument Against Quantum Computers

May 10, 2022 12:00p – 1:00p CST via Zoom https://go.wisc.edu/d456cn

A quantum computer is a new type of computer based on quantum physics. When it comes to certain computational objectives, the computational ability of quantum computers is tens,
and even hundreds of orders of magnitude faster than that of the familiar digital computers,

and their construction will enable us to factor large numbers and to break most of the current cryptosystems.

We will describe a computational complexity argument against the feasibility of quantum computers. We identify a very low complexity class of probability distributions described by noisy intermediate-scale quantum computers (NISQ computers), and explain why it will allow neither good-quality quantum error-correction nor a demonstration of “quantum supremacy.”

The analysis also shows that for a wide range of noise rates NISQ computers are inherently chaotic in the strong sense that their output cannot be predicted even probabilistically.   Some general principles governing the behavior of noisy quantum systems in a “world
devoid of quantum computers” will be derived.

I will briefly discuss the recent announcements regarding “quantum computational supremacy” by scientists from Google (“Sycamore”) and from USTC, which conflict with my theory.

The lecture is going to be self-contained, it is intended for a wide audience, and we assume no prior knowledge of quantum computers.

Relevant papers are:

Lecture II: Quantum Computers, Predictability and Free Will

May 12, 2022 12:00p – 1:00p CST via Zoom: https://go.wisc.edu/d456cn

We will discuss the connection between the possibility of quantum computers, the predictability of complex quantum systems in nature, and the issue of free will.

The argument regarding the impossibility of quantum computers implies that the future of complex quantum systems in nature cannot be predicted. A more involved argument shows that the impossibility of quantum computation supports the view whereby the laws of nature do not in fact contradict free will. For this philosophical journey, we discuss in parallel the Google “Sycamore” quantum computer of 12 computational units (qubits), and the human-being Alice, whose free will we attempt to analyze.

At the center of the argument is the ambiguity inherent in the way the future is determined by the past; ambiguity that is not expressed in terms of the mathematical laws of physics
(which are fully deterministic) but rather in terms of the physical description of the objects we refer to.

The lecture will be self-contained and we will not assume prior background regarding quantum computers or philosophy. (It will also not rely on the first lecture.)

A relevant paper is:


John Sutherland (postponed from 2018-2019)

Group Leader in the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England

Origins of the RNA-Protein World – Lost in Translation
May 25, 3:30 PM
Reception after lecture
DeLuca Forum
Wisconsin Institute for Discovery
330 N. Orchard Street

The RNA-protein double act at the heart of biology raises several intriguing origins questions that can be addressed by prebiotic chemistry. Beyond the obvious ‘which came first?’, one can also wonder about the extent to which chemistry shaped the process of translation according to the genetic code.

In this lecture I will describe some mixed hydrogen cyanide-hydrogen sulfide chemistry that produces nucleotides and amino acids. Some degree of control is necessary for this ‘cyanosulfidic’ chemistry to proceed most efficiently and ways in which environmental factors could exercise this control will be suggested. Synergies in the assembly of nucleotide and amino acid building blocks into higher order structures will then be discussed as will experimental hints of a previously proposed second genetic code. Finally it will be shown how the strength of codon-anticodon binding likely influenced the partial initial assignment of the primary genetic code.

Raj Chetty (postponed from 2020-2021 to 2022-2023)
William A. Ackman Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Time and location TBD


Anne Case, PhD (postponed from 2020-2021)
Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs
Emeritus at Princeton University

The Great Divide: Education, Despair & Death
April 14, 2022, 7-8 PM

Reception 5-7 PM
Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Promenade Hall

The La Follette School of Public Affairs, Center for Demography of Health & Aging, and the Hilldale Lecture in the Social Sciences are excited to host Anne Case of Princeton University as the 2022 Hilldale-Offner Lecture. Funding is provided by the Hilldale Lecture Fund and the Offner Lecture Fund.

Anne Case, author of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, will give an account of how the flaws in capitalism are harming America’s working class. She will discuss the dramatic rise in deaths from opioid overdose, alcoholism, and suicide in recent decades and how the disparity between those who are prospering and those who are struggling continues to grow.

The event is free, open to the public, and available in-person at the Overture Center for the Arts or via YouTube livestream. The lecture will include time for Q&A which can be submitted at go.wisc.edu/askanne.