WUWM: Innovation Reporting

It seems like every day there are breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology. But what do those advancements mean for you? WUWM’s Innovation Reporter Chuck Quirmbach will answer your questions, and make the difficult easier to grasp.

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More solar energy proposals, more energy efficiency projects, and more sustainability — that's what two top Wisconsin officials are predicting for this year.

One of them is Tyler Huebner, appointed by Gov. Tony Evers to the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin last year. Huebner told RENEW Wisconsin's annual conference Tuesday that six large solar farms, totaling 1,049 megawatts, have received PSC approval over the last 20 months, including one in the Town of Paris in Kenosha County.

Huebner said more proposals for large solar farms are seeking PSC approval.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

Updated at 3:45 p.m.  

Highway safety advocates are urging Wisconsin, other states, and the federal government to pass laws that the advocates say would keep thousands more drivers and passengers alive. 

A Milwaukee-area doctor is part of the push.

Amanda Edwards / Getty Images

Many people may be tuning to television Friday evening for the final episode in which Alex Trebek hosts the game show "Jeopardy!" Trebek died in November of cancer.

For all the years "Jeopardy!" has been on, and remember it existed before Trebek started as host, the program been a test of memory for both contestants and viewers. 

NRCGOV / FLICKR

A federal agency announced it has started to review an application to keep Wisconsin's only nuclear power plant open until about 2050. That's roughly two decades longer than currently authorized. 

The owner, Florida-based Next Era, says the two generators at the Point Beach Nuclear Plant along Lake Michigan, north of Manitowoc, are reliable sources of emissions-free energy. Milwaukee-based WE Energies used to own the large plant, and still buys power from it.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

After a difficult year for rail travel in Wisconsin, passenger groups and government officials are hoping for a better 2021. One bright spot is that the newest COVID-19 relief bill President Donald Trump has signed includes aid that Amtrak hopes will carry them through the end of March. 

And, despite the pandemic, work continues on some rail projects not due to be completed for several years.

Who’s still riding?

Chuck Quirmbach

State health officials said that as of midday Monday, more than 10,000 health care workers in Wisconsin had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Department of Health Services (DHS) expects that number to quickly rise. But vaccine supply questions are hampering estimates on when most U.S. residents will be immunized.  

Meanwhile, a state site in West Allis is about to start giving out a drug to treat some people with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.   

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

More health care workers are starting to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine. That includes at the Milwaukee VA hospital, which has about 4,000 employees. The immunization of staff may shed some light on how things will eventually go for veterans who use the Zablocki Medical Center and other VA sites.

UW Health

Health officials say about 10,000 doses of the first federally-approved, COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Wisconsin. That's about one-fifth of the doses expected in the state by later this week. Health care workers are supposed to be the first to get the vaccine, but most won't be vaccinated until later this month.

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock

With COVID-19 patients filling many hospital beds, some health care systems are expanding care of milder coronavirus cases at the person's home. When Green Bay resident Dan DeGrave tested positive for COVID-19 in late September, he wasn't admitted to the hospital. He was sent home, and soon after, an iPad was delivered to his house.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

Construction has started on the two pipelines that will carry Lake Michigan drinking water from Milwaukee to Waukesha and treated wastewater back towards the lake. It's expected to take almost three years to finish the diversion project aimed at providing Waukesha with a reliable source of clean water. But along the way, there could be challenges with communication, cost and political cooperation.

Long black pipes and gravel to be used as fill are already on top of the ground outside the wastewater treatment plant in Waukesha.

Image from East Side and Downer Ave. Business Improvement Districts

It's unclear how many people will go shopping during Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and the rest of the post-Thanksgiving weekend — what with COVID-19 still surging in Wisconsin. But merchants are doing what they can to attract shoppers into stores or online.   

The pandemic has meant tough going for several types of businesses, including restaurants, entertainment venues, the hospitality industry and some retail establishments. Bill Smith is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which has nearly 10,000 members in Wisconsin.

Screen capture from Put Em' Down music video

New efforts to reduce gun violence are underway in the Milwaukee area. One new plan involves having city of Milwaukee firefighters responding to an emergency call hand out free gun safety locks to any city resident who wants one.

The gunlocks, which use a small cable and padlock through the firing mechanism, or barrel, to prevent a gun from firing, will also be available at Milwaukee fire stations.

Kati Kokal

Northwestern Mutual is pledging to invest $20 million in Black-founded startup companies in Milwaukee and across the nation.

The life insurance company says it will aim to provide money and access to young firms that focus on financial technology, improving customer experiences, digital health — including wearable devices, and data analytics. 

Craig Schedler, of Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, says venture capital (VC) efforts usually talk about the importance of proprietary deal flow.

Ann-Elise Henzl / WUWM

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) says financial woes related to lost business because of the COVID-19 pandemic are deepening for some business sectors. The organization says tens of thousands of firms are seeking assistance.

WEDC secretary and CEO Missy Hughes told the agency’s board Tuesday that after a bad economic hit during the spring, restaurants saw some improvements during the summer.

Chuck Quirmbach

COVID-19 has cut back or eliminated attendance at many arts and cultural venues. This includes properties designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright that are usually open to the public. But people who run those homes, museums and other sites say they're ready for reinvention, as Wright often reinvented himself.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

Financial investment in Wisconsin startup businesses remains relatively low. So, some company founders, investors and others have formed a coalition to advocate for policies that improve the state's innovation ecosystem.  

It's not just that Wisconsin trails financial centers like California, Massachusetts and New York in venture capital, or VC, funding. Matt Cordio, of Skills Pipeline and Startup Milwaukee, says the Badger State badly trails the Gopher State.

Chuck Quirmbach

Beginning Tuesday, UW-Milwaukee and other University of Wisconsin System campuses are offering to the public and university employees a free rapid COVID-19 test. But medical experts warn the exam may need a follow-up.

POOL / ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES

On the presidential campaign trail this summer and fall, it hasn’t all been about COVID-19 or the leadership skills of the two major party candidates, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden.

For example, both candidates have occasionally talked about scientific and technical changes for the nation. One technology advocate says the winner of Tuesday's contest will have a long list of issues to address.

Chuck Quirmbach

A Mequon company which makes a robotic cart that has a British accent has won this year's Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest, which is run by the state business group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. 

Another finalist was a mother and daughter who make adaptive clothing for kids with health problems.

The Mequon firm is MuL Technologies. In a back warehouse, company officials demonstrated the MARC 2470, a four-wheeled black plastic cart that can be quickly programmed to tell it where to move.

Chuck Quirmbach

There have been more than 140 homicides in Milwaukee this year, about double the number last year at this time. It's possible that in 2020, the city will set a new record for killings, most of which involve fatal shootings.

Creators of a new online tool at the Medical College of Wisconsin hope to eventually reduce the violence.

Courtesy of UW-Madison

The U.S. Army is giving UW-Madison $11.4 million to help develop a new type of airplane engine that could someday power everything from drones to commercial air taxis.

Hybrid-electric engines already exist in some cars. But scientists say despite aircraft engines being much different, hybrids hold promise in the skies as well.

UW-Madison mechanical engineering professor David Rothamer is principal investigator for the project. He says there are multiple fuels that could work in a modified airplane engine.

Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak in Janesville Monday. His campaign appearance comes a few days after a Trump administration appointee, Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Mark Menezes, traveled to the Janesville-Beloit area. Menezes’ visit highlighted the potential of more federal funding for two companies involving in making radioisotopes used in diagnosing medical problems. 

Петр Смагин

Many medical centers use a radiation-releasing element called a radioisotope to help diagnose and treat health problems. Friday, a high-ranking member of the U.S. Department of Energy will visit two southern Wisconsin companies involved in making the radioactive isotopes.  The Trump administration official is expected to highlight support of a program to reduce dependence on foreign imports. 

Chuck Quirmbach

The telecommunications industry continues to promise faster wireless service with a technology known as 5G. Cables and antenna towers related to 5G are now being installed in neighborhoods in part of the Milwaukee area. But a Milwaukee alderperson says she's getting  many complaints about how the work is being done — complaints that an analyst says should worry a lot of communities.

One place the cable is going in, is along S. Delaware Avenue in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood. 

Courtesy of Healthy Minds Innovations

Local medical experts say they're worried about the mental health of people in the Milwaukee area after dealing with months of COVID-19 and economic challenges related to the pandemic.  

Counselors are recommending various ways to positively cope with additional stress. Some Wisconsin researchers have even developed a free app, designed to help through meditation.

Rendering supplied by Independence First

Thousands of people with disabilities are hoping to vote in Wisconsin on Aug. 11, in November, and in many other elections in the years ahead. But advocates say people in wheelchairs, the visually impaired, and people with other concerns have a more difficult time exercising their right to vote. Technology is helping ease some problems, but not all.

Chuck Quirmbach

Thirty years ago this summer, the landscape slowly started to change for people with disabilities in the U.S. The change in 1990 came through the passage of major legislation known as The Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in four adults in this country has some type of disability. Those include people with vision or hearing impairment, loss of movement, mental health concerns, speech and memory loss. 

Courtesy of Katarina Braun and Gage Moreno / University of Wisconsin-Madison

Many in the university research community say science will eventually help find a vaccine for the coronavirus. But across Wisconsin, it's an uncertain time for the thousands of scientists — young and older — studying and working at universities. The COVID-19 pandemic has already brought some changes, and it's expected to bring more.

Chuck Quirmbach

The Milwaukee Brewers start their coronavirus-shortened 60-game baseball season Friday evening in Chicago against the Cubs. For now, there won't be any fans in the stands, either at away games or July 31, when home games start at Miller Park. 

But baseball will try to make it sound like fans are at the stadiums.

The Brewers just wrapped up a few weeks of what would normally be called spring training, except this year it was summer camp. The team webcast some of its intrasquad games at Miller Park, complete with announcers describing the action.

Screenshot / UW Health

On Thursday, Milwaukee will join Shorewood and Dane County in requiring masks to be worn in some outdoor and indoor locations. It's an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But as face masks become more common, experts in speech impediments and hearing loss are asking people to be aware that mask wearing can affect communication.

Meanwhile, engineers and designers are working on potential solutions.

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