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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Author Archive: E. Kirsten Peters

Grizzly bear research may help human medicine

I’ve gained 5 pounds since last summer. My body mass index (BMI) is still fine, but I need to stop gaining to keep it that way. Grizzly bears put my weight gain to shame. In the late summer, they eat some 50,000 calories per day and gain more than 100 pounds. Then, when they hibernate, […]

Rock doc: Giving warning of volcanic eruptions

I was living in eastern Washington state in 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted after a massive landslide triggered by a magnitude 5.1 quake. Vast amounts of molten rock were violently released to the surface of the Earth, erupting as rocks and as fine-grained volcanic ash that floated on the breeze. Us “down-winders” were enveloped […]

Rock doc: Vitamin D levels can be checked

My mother lives with me and I’m involved in her medical care. She’s a tough cookie. But like many 88-year-olds, she has several health problems. We visit her doctor at least once a month to report what’s working and what isn’t doing the trick. Recently the doctor ordered blood work that showed she was low […]

Rock doc: Air pollution knows no borders

We’ve all seen globes in classrooms. They represent the Earth well — better than flat maps can do. But all the globes I’ve seen in schools have national boundaries on them, usually indicated by having nations in different colors. The U.S. is yellow, Canada is light green, Mexico is pink, and so on. When I […]

Rock doc: Termites and better biofuels

Every time I fill my gas tank, I see the notice on the pump that explains part of the fuel I’m buying is ethanol — a common biofuel. While biofuels can be good to promote national energy independence and possibly help with greenhouse gas emissions, the ethanol we all buy at gas stations is made […]

Rock doc: A step forward in predicting volcanic eruptions

There are two main things most people would like to know about particular volcanoes: when is the next eruption and how big will that eruption be? Scientists in Iceland have taken another step forward in monitoring volcanoes to best predict when they will erupt and even warn people of the size of the coming eruption. […]

Rock doc: Small but splendid snowflakes

Those of us living in the northern half of the country can be forgiven for being tired — at this stage of winter — of shoveling snow. I enjoy the brightness snow can bring to dark winter days, but I’m getting old enough that shoveling the walk in front of my house has very little […]

Rock doc: Designing better asphalt

Dr. Haifang Wen grew up in a rural area of Shandong province, in eastern China. In his youth there were not many paved highways in the Chinese countryside. “Lots of the roads were gravel,” he told me recently. “They were muddy when it rained. I remember riding a cow on them, or going along in […]

Rock doc: The door to hell lies in Turkmenistan

I’ve written here before about the problem of unwanted fires burning in coal deposits. Above and below ground, coal fires are a problem in both developed and developing nations. If we are serious about reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, we should address the unwanted fires burning around the world. Unwanted coal fires are not a […]

January 30, 2014 | Posted in Opinion | 1 Reply

Rock doc: New lessons for an aging geologist

When I was young geology student, I learned the basics of petroleum production as they were then understood. Deep layers of sedimentary rocks, including shale, were the “source rocks” for hydrocarbons. The source rocks were too difficult to exploit directly — it just wasn’t economical to mess with them. But through natural processes, the petroleum […]

Rock doc: Kicking the habit this year

Thirty years ago I was a light smoker. After several failed attempts to quit, I was able, for some reason, to go cold turkey and finally be done with tobacco. Maybe I got off easy. One thing is for sure: I don’t judge anyone who still smokes because I know some strong willed people who […]

Rock doc: A new medication that may help people stay sober

Alcoholism runs in part of my family. I lost a grandfather to it, and a couple of others in the family have been affected by it to greater or lesser degrees. Perhaps something like that is true for you, or maybe you have a friend or coworker who wrestles with the malady. This is a […]

Rock doc: Mercury contamination from the good old days

When I was a younger and more sprightly woman, I spent part of my life investigating unusual hot springs in rural California. They were salty and quite stinky springs out in the middle of nowhere, and several of them occurred right in the center of an old gold-laced mercury deposit. No one was actively mining […]

Rock doc: From Washington state to Washington, D.C.

I know we are still only in Advent. But at this point in December, my mind starts to turn toward Christmas. It just can’t be helped, especially in light of all the ads featuring Santa. Christmas is about tradition: traditional foods, traditional songs, traditional church services. For a few geeks, Christmas is also an ideal […]

Rock doc: The battle of the bulge

We all know the basic medical facts: we should make healthy choices about what we eat and incorporate exercise into our busy lives. Most of the science of weight loss matches common sense. But it’s also true that more and more Americans are overweight or obese. As a nation, we are losing the battle of […]

Rock doc: Shake, rattle and roll

“It’s 8:16 on a chilly, wet morning…You’ve just arrived at work and are pouring a cup of coffee when you become aware of a low rumbling noise. Within seconds, the rumbling becomes a roar, the floor beneath you heaves, and the building begins to pitch and shake so violently that you’re thrown to the floor. […]

Rock doc: The world of pointing

I don’t know the full heritage of my mutt from the pound, Buster Brown by name. Buster was listed as a “Lab mix” by the Humane Society but my vet has said he is more of a German shepherd mix. We all can agree he’s a mongrel — indeed, one or both of his parents […]

Rock doc: Undulant fever in cattle and people

Normally, when a bacterium invades your body, it’s surrounded and engulfed by a white blood cell. At least that’s what we were taught in high school biology. If all goes well, the white blood cell kills the bacterium and the infection is over: case closed. But a few bacteria have some tricks up their sleeves. […]

Rock doc: One big eruption

When I was a child, I read a lot of murder mysteries. At a young age I favored the books featuring Miss Marple by Agatha Christie. When I was a bit older I fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey in the books by Dorothy Sayers. No matter the book, I liked to follow along […]

Rock doc: The science of detecting bluffs

Experienced poker players know the basic odds of drawing the card they need to build a better hand. They also are good at estimating if their hand is likely to be better than those of the other players around the table. In other words, probability and statistics are built into the game of poker. Proficient […]

Rock doc: The longevity of dogs

It’s just a fact: most of us outlive our dogs. Indeed, for people who are dog owners throughout their lives, a lot of grieving is guaranteed. Fido No. 1 dies, is replaced by Fido No. 2 who also dies, and so on down the long line of dogs in our households. I was reminded of […]

Rock doc: Refrain from rinsing raw poultry

Cooking is part necessity, but it’s also partly cultural. The way we cook says a lot about the societies we live in and the traditions that influence our families. I know that a lot of what I do in the kitchen is an echo of what my mother taught me. When I crack an egg […]

October 17, 2013 | Posted in Opinion | 9 Replies

Rock doc: Space exploration in one lifetime

In 1957, several years before I was born, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik — the first man-made object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. That simple little satellite captured people’s imagination around the world. We Americans were alarmed that the Soviets had “beat us” to space. Sputnik therefore helped spur both the U.S. space effort and […]

Rock doc: An explosion in the history of life

Many scientists would say that life on Earth has a complex but single blueprint. For example, many animals have left hand and right hand parts that are mirror images of each other. There are lots of other regularities, such as the fact that all mammals have backbones. Some of the most interesting parts of life’s […]

Rock doc: The Sun is switching poles

This week all of the globe enjoys roughly 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of night. The “reason for the season” relates to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. During summertime, our planet’s north pole points mildly toward the sun and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere get more than 12 hours of […]

Rock doc: Infections spread by tick bites

When my dog and I walk along the Snake River during the warm seasons of the year, we can both come home with a tick or two. I’m used to feeling those little legs on my skin or scalp and picking off the critters. If I’m lucky, I get to them before they attach and […]

Rock doc: Hamburger grown in a laboratory

It sounds like science fiction when you first hear about it, but some people see it as a way of addressing both animal welfare issues and environmental concerns. I’m talking about growing meat cells for human consumption from stem cells harvested from a cow. This so-called “cultured beef” recently was unveiled in London by a […]

Rock doc: Ignorance and the progress of science

“Knowledge is a big subject. Ignorance is bigger. And it is more interesting.” So begins Stuart Firestein’s book Ignorance: How It Drives Science.   Part of the core message in the book about how science should work is wrapped up in a brief story about a physicist named Isidor Isaac Rabi. When Rabi came home from […]

Rock doc: Progress in fighting wheat rust

Scientists have been hard at work in recent years combatting a significant disease of wheat. Stem rust is caused by a group of nasty fungal organisms that can infect wheat plants and devastate yields. In some cases up to 100 percent of the crop can be lost. That’s a disaster for farmers, obviously, but it’s […]

August 22, 2013 | Posted in Opinion | 1 Reply

Rock doc: A predator after all

What are the odds? That was my thought when I read recent pieces about a very special fossil from the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. Here’s some background: if you saw the movie Jurassic Park, you may think that Tyrannosaurus rex was the biggest predator of all time. That’s certainly the way the movie portrays the […]

Rock doc: New technology for solar panels

I recently pulled some weeds in my yard. I can only do a little bit at a time, having to take it slow due to arthritic knees. But one thing about pulling weeds in August stands out even when taken in small doses: it’s hot work. With the sun beating down on us, warming the […]

Rock doc: Medieval monks recorded Ireland’s climate

Ireland enjoys a mild and stable climate. But even in Ireland there are years that stand out as unusual. Recently a team of researchers led by Harvard’s Francis Ludlow announced results of a study of Ireland’s climate based on the Irish Annals, a body of writings containing more than 40,000 entries. The Annals record events […]

Rock doc: Stalagmites speak of climate history

Caves fascinate people. I visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico as a kid when my family was on a summer vacation. Maybe that early exposure to the wonders of what geologic processes can do helped influence my decision to study natural science in college. With any luck, you’ve been in a big cave at some […]

July 17, 2013 | Posted in Opinion | 1 Reply

Sailing through stunning landscapes for science

Each year at this time thousands of tourists embark on cruises along Alaska stunning coastal waters. If they are lucky, the tourists experience dry weather, relatively calm seas, and breathtaking vistas. In some places the ships can get up close and personal to dramatic scenes of glaciers “calving” ice that breaks off and falls into […]

Rock doc: The new guy tours the Hanford site

I’m never quite sure how to respond when the focus of the national media shines briefly on the region where I live — usually described as a “remote” part of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in eastern Washington State and have lived most of my adult life here, so it hardly seems remote to […]

Rock doc: Talking with Fido

Buster Brown, my big mutt from the dog pound, is now 10 years old. Perhaps because he’s a senior citizen it took him a full week to learn how to operate the dog door I had installed last winter. He was used to going to the back door and barking to be let in or […]

Rock doc: New ice cores shed more light on past climate change

Late in the last century scientists published reams of data about Earth’s climate derived from ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctic glaciers. By drilling down into the ice with hollow bits (think of using a spinning pipe as a drill) workers were able to pull columns of ice up to the surface. The material […]

June 19, 2013 | Posted in Opinion | 1 Reply

Rock doc: A new source of natural gas

The name “natural gas” might be a puzzle. After all, how could there be such a thing as unnatural gas? The reason we call natural gas what we do has to do with history. There was a day that people made burnable gas by heating coal. The gases that came off the coal were piped […]

Rock doc: Spring birthdays and multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nasty disease that attacks the central nervous system. Various people with MS experience different symptoms, and even for one person symptoms may vary over time. Some common complaints of people with MS are numbness, coordination and balance issues, vision problems, dizziness, depression, hearing and memory problems, and fatigue. MS ain’t […]

Rock doc: Seeing the world in a grain of sand

Born in 1632 in the Netherlands, Antony van Leeuwenhoek was a self-taught man who made microscopes — ultimately producing some 500 of them. Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes could magnify objects up to two hundred times. That opened up a range of investigations to him and he took advantage of the new devices he was creating to […]

Rock doc: When the earth moves under our feet

One of the most breath-taking geologic events is a major earthquake. In just a few moments, shaking of the Earth can result in billions of dollars of damage and thousands of lives lost. Many earthquakes are related to the movement of tectonic plates, the large chunks of the Earth’s outer surface that move with respect […]

Rock doc: The smoking gun

As any child can tell you, the Mesozoic Era ends with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Most geologists think the cause of that extinction was the impact of an enormous meteorite that hit the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. As the theory goes, the impact was so large it led to global changes in the composition […]

Rock doc: Soils versus sea beds

There’s a new debate in paleontology, one that took me by surprise but that shows nicely how some science works. There’s a particular type of ancient fossil called the “Ediacara fauna” found in rocks about 550 million years old. The term Ediacara is reference to a place in Australia where the fossils were located and […]

Rock doc: Rocks from the Moon and Mars

I think the most memorable single day of all my years as a student was the afternoon I got to examine Moon rocks in graduate school. Rocks here on Earth are exposed to water throughout their existence, and water acts to break down mineral grains on a tiny scale. If you look at thin slices […]

Rock doc: Bees are buzzing on caffeine

A friend of mine recently returned to the U.S. from deployment with the National Guard in Afghanistan. One of the first things he did when he reached a military base in Texas was to buy a cup of espresso. He even took a picture of it and posted it on the Internet. Good coffee was […]

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