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Join us for Headliners 15th-anniversary season! Due to the pandemic, this year's series will take place online via Zoom, and while there will be no charge for admission, registration is required.


  • 2020–21 Season: Oct. 1, Nov. 5, Dec. 3, Feb. 4, March 4, April 1, and May 6
  • Time: 7 p.m.
  • Cost: Fall events are FREE; registration required
  • Location: In a reluctant but steadfast nod to social distancing, this year's series will be offered online via Zoom 
  • Connect on Facebook and Twitter: Use hashtag #UMNHeadliners

Go beyond the spin and soundbytes when you engage with this popular series in which University scholars and researchers share firsthand knowledge of today’s most intriguing stories. From medical breakthroughs and culture clashes to social trends, international affairs, and more, you’ll learn the who, what, where, why, and how from an insider’s point of view and then share your insights and pose your questions during a lively, moderated Q&A. Headliners is a program of Lifelong Learning.

October 1, 7 p.m.

Photo portrait of Mark Hillmyer

Sustainable Solutions for Our Plastic Planet Predicament 

Dr. Marc Hillmyer, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair; Distinguished University Teaching Professor, and Director, Center for Sustainable Polymers, Department of Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering

Over the past century, natural polymers such as rubber from the Hevea brasiliensis tree (the rubber tree or plant) and modified natural polymers such as cellulose acetate have been mainstays of modern life.

However, their prevalence prior to World War II has been outstripped by the advent of modern polymers—petroleum-based compounds that are primarily derived from finite stores of fossil resources.

More than one-half century ago, synthetic polymer production from petrochemicals was in its infancy. Since then, the global production of polymers has increased by more than a factor of 100, while the earth’s population has increased only by a factor of two.

The rapid and continuous growth of the polymer industry has led to a myriad of useful technologies and, unfortunately, staggering levels of synthetic polymer (plastic) trash.

While much of this waste is all too visible, the refuse from degradation-resistant plastic that we don’t routinely encounter (in our oceans, for example) is wreaking ecological damage far and wide.

According to Professor Marc Hillmyer, basic research in the field of sustainable polymers is of paramount importance to tackle this challenge. Polymer scientists and engineers have a shared responsibility to help reverse this harmful course and more carefully consider the origins and fates of the materials they study.

“The challenge is all the more daunting,” he notes, “because polymers do and will continue to play a significant and positive role in modern society, and we cannot compromise on performance when developing materials for the future.

Join us October 1, when Professor Hillmyer will highlight the work being conducted in the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Polymers (headquartered at the University of Minnesota), where today’s research discoveries will undoubtedly lead to the packaging, construction, household, clothing, automobile, and energy materials of tomorrow.

Marc Hillmyer, PhD, California Institute of Technology, is a Distinguished University Teaching Professor and the McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota. He also directs the Center for Sustainable Polymers, a National Science Foundation Center for Chemical Innovation that is headquartered at the University.

Learn more about Professor Hillmyer and get tickets.

November 5, 7 p.m.

Kathryn Pearson

For the Ages: Election 2020

Dr. Kathryn Pearson, Associate Professor, Political Science, College of Liberal Arts

Take your pick: 2000, 2008, 2016, it seems as though nearly every recent US Presidential Election is new, unprecedented in some way, shape, or form. The polls, the 24-hour news cycle, the parties, the candidates themselves, have all played a role in the often fraught unconventionality of these election years.

Certainly, the 2016 election—no matter your view—was distinct and charged, and as the current presidential term winds down amidst a global pandemic and economic crisis, one can’t help but wonder about the country’s 59th quadrennial election.

Come November and this edition of Headliners, the 2020 election will have taken place and all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the US Senate, and the office of president of the United States will have been contested and decided. (We think.) Your guess is as good as ours as to what the post-election terrain will look like.

Join us—post-vote—on November 5, when political scientist Dr. Kathryn Pearson will help us gather our collective senses and better understand where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and the election’s implications for governing in the years to come.

Kathryn Pearson, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, where her research focuses on the United States Congress, congressional elections, political parties, and women and politics. She is the recipient of the University of Minnesota’s Morse Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

Learn more about Professor Pearson and get tickets.

December 3, 7 p.m.


Barry Kudrowitz taking a selfie of him and a muppet with his phone

Greased Lightning: How Play and Humor Fuel Innovation

Dr. Barry Kudrowitz, Morse Distinguished Associate Professor; Program Director, Product Design, Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel, College of Design, University of Minnesota

Let’s face it: the world is, and has always been, full of problems large and small, dire and trite. Throughout history, we have called upon creativity and innovation to address and solve these issues. Think: wheel, radio, pasteurization, Silly Putty. Necessity is, after all, the mother of (most) invention.

But how are these ideas generated? What creates the spark that eventually leads to a Cray CDC 6600 Supercomputer, a prosthetic limb, or even a Barrel of Monkeys?

According to product designer Professor Barry Kudrowitz, researchers have found that having a playful attitude is helpful to creative problem solving and ideation. In fact, improvisational comedians produced more creative ideas than professional designers in controlled, time-limited idea-generation challenges. And following improvisational training, engineers were able to generate significantly more ideas.

“Specifically, humor and creativity both involve making non-obvious connections between seemingly unrelated things,” says Kudrowitz.

Join us on December 3, when Kudrowitz delves into the connections between creativity, prolific idea generation, humor, and play, and why these things should be included in our work environments if we want to enliven creative leaders.

Barry Kudrowitz, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is an associate professor and the director of product design in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. A frequent speaker and workshop leader, Kudrowitz has presented his research findings to industry leaders at Target, 3M, Mayo Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente, as well as educators at MIT, Vanderbilt University, Purdue University, and City University of Hong Kong, among others. 

Learn more about Professor Kudrowitz and get tickets.

February 4, 2021, 7 p.m.

Jaime Modiano with his arm around a black and tan shephard

Of Dogs, Dinosaurs, Elephants, and Kids: Demystifying (and Curing) Cancer

Dr. Jaime Modiano, Perlman Professor of Oncology and Comparative Medicine; Director, Animal Cancer Care and Research Program, College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

What do you know about cancer? Did you know that in their long-ago day, dinosaurs got cancer? And that dogs, sharks, cows, and parakeets get cancer?

For most people, cancer is a mysterious and fearsome condition. This emotionally based response means that social stigmas are often tied to a cancer diagnosis. However, at its core, cancer is a disease caused by mutations in a cell’s DNA. In fact, the same mechanisms of DNA mutation that lead cells to become cancerous are the drivers of evolution. Therefore, cancer risk may be considered to be part of our evolutionary legacy. Moreover, few people realize that advances in cancer research and treatment are allowing millions of people and animals to lead healthy and fulfilling lives as cancer survivors.

According to Dr. Jaime Modiano of the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center, the biological and evolutionary foundations for why and how cancer happens across the animal kingdom are key to this research.

Join us February 4 when Modiano explains how breaking through the evolutionary lifespan barrier affects cancer risk, allowing scientists to not only demystify the condition, but also develop effective approaches to prevent and cure cancer in humans and companion animals alike.

Jaime Modiano is the Alvin and June Perlman Endowed Chair of Animal Oncology and director of the Animal Cancer Care and Research Program of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. Through the Modiano Lab, he seeks to understand how and why cancer happens, and to translate that research into clinical applications that improve the health and well-being of companion animals and humans. 

Learn more about Professor Modiano and get tickets.

March 4, 2021, 7 p.m.


Erika Lee

Xenophobia in America: How We Got Here and What's at Stake

Dr. Erika Lee, Regents Professor of History and Asian American Studies; Distinguished McKnight University Professor; Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History; Director, Immigration History Research Center, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota 

The United States is known as a nation of immigrants. Paradoxically, it is also a nation of xenophobia, and this irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants has been a defining feature of our country from the colonial era to the Trump administration.

Benjamin Franklin ridiculed Germans for their “strange and foreign ways.” Americans’ anxiety over Irish Catholics turned xenophobia into a national political movement. Chinese immigrants were excluded, Japanese immigrants incarcerated, and Mexican immigrants deported. Today, Americans fear Muslims, Latinos, and the so-called “browning” of America.

Join us March 4, when award-winning author and historian Dr. Erika Lee helps us to confront this history and explains how xenophobia works, why it has endured, and how it threatens the United States. 

Erika Lee teaches American history at the University of Minnesota, where she is a Regents Professor, a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History, and the director of the Immigration History Research Center. One of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians, Lee was recently awarded an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, (also known as the “brainy award”) and named incoming Vice President of the Organization of American Historians. 

Learn more about Professor Lee and get tickets.

Headliners Podcast

The 2019–2020 season of Headliners (truncated as it was by COVID-19) is now available via Headliners new podcast. Catch the first five episodes and subscribe on Apple Podcasts to receive new episodes as they become available.

Headliners Archive

Photo of Neel Kashkari smiling, facing camera

A Candid Conversation with Neel Kashkari (audio) 
A Candid Conversation with Neel Kashkari (video)
Neel Kashkari
March 5, 2020

Fed official uncertain how economy will fare during the coronavirus crisis 
Neel Kashkari (60 Minutes, CBS, air date: March 22, 2020) 


Michael Georgieff profile

What’s on Baby’s Mind? The Developmental Origins of Adult Mental Health and Disease
Dr. Michael Georgieff
February 6, 2020


Kate Brauman

Beyond Extinction: On Nature’s Value, Biodiversity Trends, and Causes for Hope  
Dr. Kate Brauman
December 5, 2019 


Francis Shen

How Neuroscience Will Revolutionize the Law
Dr. Francis X. Shen
November 7, 2019


Timothy R Johnson

The US Supreme Court: Still the Least Dangerous Branch? 
Dr. Timothy R. Johnson 
October 10, 2019



Clem Pryke

Studying the Beginning of the Universe from the Bottom of the World
Dr. Clem Pryke
May 2, 2019


Jane Kirtley

“Believe Me”: Seeking Truth in an Age of Disinformation
Jane Kirtley, JD
April 4, 2019


Tom Hanson

The Waning of Pax Americana? 
Tom Hanson
March 7, 2019


maria Gini

Intelligent Machines: AI’s Present and Future 
Dr. Maria Gini
February 7, 2019


Kathryn Pearson profile

Another Year for the Record Books? 2018 Election Results and the Implications for Governing
Dr. Kathryn Pearson
December 6, 2018


Dr. Sophia Vinogradov

Investigating Suicide, Self-Injury, and Psychosis: The Importance of the Research, the Risks to the Researchers  
Dr. Sophia Vinogradov
November 1, 2018
Audio not available

Mark Seeley

Climate Change in Our Own Backyards: Evidence and Implications
Dr. Mark Seeley
October 4, 2018


Overprescribed: Moving Beyond Opioid-Centered Care
Dr. Erin Krebs
May 3, 2018

Net Neutrality: Then, Now, Later
Christopher Terry
April 5, 2018

Astronomy’s Golden New Age: Observing the Universe with Gravitational Waves 
Dr. Vuk Mandic
March 1, 2018

Hidden Harms: The Supply and Demand of Sex Trading and Trafficking in Minnesota
Dr. Lauren Martin
February 8, 2018

Augmenting You: 3D Printed Bioelectronic Devices 
Dr. Michael C. McAlpine
December 7, 2017
Audio not available

From ICE to Sanctuary Cities: The Myths and Realities of Immigration Enforcement
Linus Chan, JD
November 2, 2017

From the Lab: Untangling Alzheimer’s Disease 
Dr. Sylvain Lesné
October 5, 2017

The Art of the Wasted Day 
Patricia Hampl
May 4, 2017
Audio not available

Our Health Economy: The Undiscovered Country
Dr. Stephen Parente
April 6, 2017
Audio not available

Cyber Crime: From Phishing to The Dark Net
Mark Lanterman
March 2, 2017

Best of Class: Can We Feed the World Without Destroying It? 
Dr. Jason Hill
February 2, 2017
Audio not available

One for the Record Books: 2016 Election Results and the Implications for Governing
Dr. Kathryn Pearson
December 1, 2016

Beyond Cecil: Lions, Conservation, and Controversy
Dr. Craig Packer
November 3, 2016

Radio K Interview "Beyond Cecil" with Dr. Craig Packer
November 2016

Protecting Your Lunch: Food Fraud and Adulteration
Dr. Amy Kircher
October 6, 2016

Radio K Interview with Dr. Amy Kircher
October 4, 2016

The Anti-Campaign
Dr. Larry Jacobs
May 5, 2016

The Growing Stickiness of Criminal Labels
Dr. Christopher Uggen
April 7, 2016

News from Paris: Deciphering the UN Conference on Climate Change
Dr. Jessica Hellmann
March 3, 2016

When Everyone is Above Average: Inflated Rhetoric in Higher Education
Julie Schumacher
February 5, 2016

Mapping and Interfacing with the Human Brain
Dr. Bin He
December 3, 2015 
Audio not available

Stronger, Faster, Brighter: Wearable Technology and the Future of Clothing 
Dr. Lucy Dunne
November 5, 2015

Energy Evolution: Shaping the Future of Electricity
Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson
October 8, 2015 
Audio not available

Contemporary Fiction and the Modern Security State
Charles Baxter
May 7, 2015

Copper, Nickel, and Precious-Metal Deposits in Northeastern Minnesota: A Geological Perspective
Jim Miller
March 5, 2015

The Shifting Tides of Global Terrorism
Dr. Jarret Brachman
February 5, 2015 
Audio not available

Paleofantasy: What Evolution Tells Us about Modern Life
Dr. Marlene Zuk
December 4, 2014

Ebola: Rethinking Global Emergency Response
Dr. Jeffrey Bender
November 6, 2014

Explore, Teach, Inspire: Taking Education and Innovation to the Next Level
Dr. Aaron Doering
October 9, 2014

What's Next for Generation Next? R.T. Rybak Tackles the Education Achievement Gap
R.T. Rybak
May 1, 2014

Stem Cell Research and the Frankenstein Complex
Dr. John Wagner
March 6, 2014

Managing Global Crises and the Future of Our World
Dr. Eric Schwartz
February 6, 2014

A Trillion Reasons to Care: Early Evidence and Expectations of the Affordable Care Act
Dr. Jean Abraham
December 5, 2013

Galápagos Fragile Past, Brighter Future
Dr. Julia Ponder
November 7, 2013

Big Data Landscape: Technology, Economy, Society
Professor Ravi Bapna
October 3, 2013

Alleviating Global Poverty
Professor J. Brian Atwood
April 11, 2013

The Secret World of the Body's Blood-Clotting System: An Inside Look at the Elusive Platelet
Professor Christy Haynes
March 7, 2013

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Impact of Climate Change on Terrestrial Ecosystems
Regents Professor Peter Reich
February 7, 2013

What's Next? Envisioning the U's Future
President Eric Kaler
January 10, 2013

Fracking: Facts, Fiction, and Fixes
Professor Lawrence Wackett
December 6, 2012

Election 2012 Recap
Professor Kathryn Pearson
November 8, 2012

Post-Revolution Egypt: The Struggle Continues
Professor Ragui Assaad
October 4, 2012

The New Public Square
Professor Heather LaMarre
April 5, 2012
View New Public Square Slides

Ramp Up to Readiness: Should College Be the Goal for Every Student?
Kent Pekel, executive director of the University of Minnesota College Readiness Consortium
March 1, 2012

What's Past is Prologue: The Global Economic Crisis
Professor Tim Kehoe 
February 2, 2012

Treating Man and His Best Friend
Professor John Ohlfest
January 5, 2012

Seven Billion and Counting
Professor Jonathan Foley
December 1, 2011

American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality
Professor Myron Orfield
November 3, 2011
American Metropolitics: PowerPoint Presentation

What's Next?: Debunking the Myths about Retirement in America
Professor Phyllis Moen
October 6, 2011

The Important Life of Bees
Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Entomology
March 3, 2011

Easing the Economic Slowdown
Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
February 3, 2011

Get Smart: A Power Grid for the 21st Century
Professor Massoud Amin
January 6, 2011

Book Versus Nook (and iPad and Kindle and Kobo and...)
Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press
December 2, 2010
Download Book Vs Nook MP3

Election 2010: Reading the Tea Leaves
Professor Kathryn Pearson
November 4, 2010
Download Election 2010 MP3

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine: The Controversy and the Science
Professor Jonathan Slack, director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota
October 7, 2010
Download Stem Cell MP3

The New Frugality
Chris Farrell, journalist and personal finance expert
April 4, 2010
Download New Frugality MP3

The Curious Culture of Wall Street
Professor Karen Ho
March 4, 2010
Download Wall Street MP3

Who Really Makes National Security Policy?
Vice President Walter Mondale and Larry Jacobs, director of the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
February 4, 2010
Download National Security MP3

A Way Forward in Afghanistan
Professor Iraj Bashiri 
January 7, 2010
Download Afghanistan MP3

New Models for the News
Nora Paul, founding director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for New Media Studies
December 3, 2009
Download New Models for News MP3

The Journey of Solar Decathlon 2009: A View from the Trenches
Peter Hilger, architect and CCE Construction Management faculty
November 5, 2009
Download Solar Decathlon 2009 MP3

Touching the Third Rail: The Politics of American Health Care
Larry Jacobs, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
October 1, 2009
Download American Health Care MP3

The Awful, Lawful Joyride: Minnesota's Budget Rollercoaster
Jay Kiedrowski, former state finance commissioner and co-chair, Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission
March 5, 2009
Download MN Budget MP3

Living on a Shrinking Planet: Challenges and Opportunities for a Sustainable Future
Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota
February 5, 2009
Download Sustainable Future MP3

A Culture in Peril: Hmong Grave Desecration in Thailand
Professor Mai Na Lee
January 8, 2009
Download Hmong Grave Desecration MP3

Where Do We Go From Here?: Transition in the White House
J. Brian Atwood, Dean, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
December 4, 2008
Download White House 2008 Transition MP3

Election 2008: History in the Making
Professor Kathryn Pearson
November 6, 2008
Download Election 2008 MP3

Petropolitics and the Middle East
Professor William O. Beeman
October 2, 2008
Download Petropolitics MP3

The Foreclosure Crisis Hits Home
Professor Prentiss Cox
April 3, 2008
Download Foreclosure Crisis MP3

The China Connection
Professor Yongwei Zhang
March 6, 2008
Download China Connection MP3

On the Road in Search of Latino America
Professor Louis Mendoza
February 7, 2008
Download Latino American MP3

Global Warming...Regional Impact: Minnesota's Role in an Environmental Crisis
Professor Deborah Swackhamer
January 10, 2008
Download Global Warming MP3

Game Theory in an Economic Maelstrom
Professor Varadarajan V. Chari
December 6, 2007
Download Game Theory MP3

A Discovery of Cosmic Proportion
Professor Larry Rudnick
November 1, 2007
Download Cosmic Proportion MP3

Bridges Fall Down
Professor John S. Adams
October 4, 2007
Download Bridges MP3

How "Free" Is the Freedom of the Press?
Professor Jane Kirtley
April 5, 2007
Download Freedom of the Press MP3

Understanding the Conflict in Somalia
Professor Abdi Samatar
February 1, 2007
Download Somalia MP3

The Next Generation of Biofuels
Professor David Tilman
January 11, 2007
Download Biofuels MP3

The Science, Politics, and Ethics of Stem Cell Research
Professor Meri T. Firpo
December 7, 2006
Download Stem Cell Research MP3

The Social Web
Professor John T. Riedl
November 2, 2006
Download Social Web MP3

The Prospects for Peace in the Middle East
Professor Michael Barnett
October 5, 2006
Download Peace in the Middle East MP3

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