Great classes, no quizzes: alumni go 'back to school' for Teach-Ins

Banana Slugs returning to campus for Alumni Weekend  2014 can learn about the secrets of forensic pathology, evolutionary genetics, and spymasters of Word War II without having to worry about pop quizzes or final exams. And when it’s all over, they can grab a glass of wine with the professors.

Registration is now open for this year's Teach-Ins: An Academic Afternoon, on Saturday, April 26, 2:15 – 3:30 p.m. Porter College Classrooms. The event is one of the highlights of a celebration April 25-27 that also features Launch! A celebration of the UCSC student experience, Friday, April 25, 6-9 p.m., University Center, featuring interactions with current students, followed by a talk by Leon Panetta, chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy and former Secretary of Defense, and the Banana Slug Lunch: Dine and Rewind, Saturday, April 26, 12-2 p.m, Porter Dining Hall.

This year's speakers will be:

• Alison Galloway, campus provost and executive vice chancellor and a renowned forensic anthropologist, who will share “A Day in the Life of the Dead,” a vivid look at the sort of cases that a forensic anthropologist examines, and what information can be gathered from skeletal remains;

• Richard E. (Ed) Green, assistant professor in biomolecular engineering, whose presentation, “Genetics and Human Evolution,” will share surprising insights into evidence of interbreeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals; and

• Bruce Thompson, a continuing lecturer in history and associate director of the Helen Diller Family Endowment Jewish Studies Program, whose talk,  “Spies: Espionage and Intelligence in the First and Second World Wars," will be filled with cloak-and-dagger intrigue.

The speakers said they relish the opportunity to share their knowledge with returning Slugs and say hello to former students.

“I often get asked about forensics but it really doesn't make for good dinner conversation,” said Galloway, a physical/biological anthropologist specializing in the study of the human skeleton. “However, in my current job I have to admit that I don't get to talk about my favorite topic much.  That’s why I am so looking forward to the Alumni Weekend 'Teach In' this year.  I want to let others know what forensic anthropologists really do and talk about some of my favorite cases.  'A Day in the Life of the Dead' is really just a jumping-off point for questions, because once everyone gets over the natural squeamishness, there is so much they want to know about the sensational and not-so-sensational situations associated with what I do.  While they'd like me to talk without mentioning blood, guts and decaying bodies - that's what makes the job interesting.  But I promise I'll make it fun and informative.”

Galloway regularly consults with law enforcement officials in California and beyond who rely on her forensic skills when they need help identifying human remains. Many of the bodies she examines are homicide victims, and Galloway often appears in court as an expert witness to present her findings.

"Our role is to provide testimony based on what we found from the body," Galloway explained in an interview in 2010 after being named campus provost and executive vice chancellor.  "We are the victim's only chance to provide information, which can result in a successful prosecution, or get somebody off who isn't guilty."

Green has been in the news recently for his surprising insights into human ancestry. He was, among many other things, leader of a team that showed that humans share DNA with Neanderthals. During his talk, he will discuss the technology behind the findings, explain the scientific results, how we are related to the Neanderthals, and what we can learn about human history from DNA sequences.

“The results kind of blur between the lines between species and make us even question the value of  (species) as a concept, and I will get into that,” he said.

While Green will discuss advanced technology, he said the talk will be accessible to a general audience. “I have a version of this talk that is well-vetted,” he said. “High school students love it. The cool thing about working in human evolution, and giving talks about this, is people come ready to be interested in it. Everybody wants to know where we came from, who we are, and how we relate to the rest of the world. It is human nature, as they say.”

Anthropology was always “a bit of a hobby” long before he made it his life, Green said. “I was always a bit of an amateur anthropologist and it just so happened that technology came along that I was following closely for other reasons, and could be applied to ancient DNA. That is what really pulled me over.”

Green marvels at the pace of the technology. “In the 1980s, knowing the complete sequence for the human genome was an impossible dream, and we did that at a cost of billions of dollars and many hundreds of people working on this over decades. In 2001 we hit a milestone, we got a draft of the genome, and UCSC was very much at the center of that. Since then, tens of thousands human genomes have been sequenced, but the next bar will be really understanding completely what it means when you get your genome. There is so much more to the genome than we can bring out right now.”

Thompson will explore the stranger-than-fiction stories of the most important double agents of the Second World War: Richard Sorge, who tried, unsuccessfully, to warn Stalin of the imminent Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union; and Juan Pujol Garcia, aka Agent Garbo, for the British, and Agent Arabel for the Germans, the key figure in the elaborate deception campaign that enabled the Allies to surprise the Germans in Normandy.

Nearly 70 years after the conclusion of World War II, the subject still fascinates, he said. “I think it’s the clandestine aspect of espionage, which automatically introduces an element of danger, jeopardy, and suspense. It is also a chance to study major events in modern history from a relatively unfamiliar angle. To what extent did intelligence and espionage make a difference (in the outcome of the war)? The answers are sometimes surprising.”

His talk will focus on an elaborate deception campaign before the Normandy invasion, designed to make the Nazis believe the assault would occur in the northern part of France rather than at Normandy. “The success of an amphibious invasion against a heavily fortified coast depended to a very great extend on the element of surprise,” Thompson said. “To achieve surprise, they needed a very elaborate deception campaign which depended on successful espionage.  It is hard to imagine, bloody as it was, that the invasion would have succeeded if the Germans knew it was coming exactly to that place.”