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Amanda Williams

Rock doc: Plants respond to sounds of insects eating leaves

Plants are not as dumb as they look. At least to me, plants have never seemed like the brightest bulb in the box. They stand around, looking green, hoping for a sunny day but not able to walk, talk or turn on the TV. However, due to a recent university press release, I’ve got to […]

Rock doc: Resurrection ecology revives ancient organism

The Michael Crichton book “Jurassic Park” and the movie based on the best-seller presented what might happen if scientists were able to clone extinct dinosaurs, bringing them back to life. While nothing like that is possible at this time — a good thing when you recall the mayhem the dinos caused in the world Crichton […]

Rock doc: To feed or not to feed?

During the winter I like to feed the birds. I have a very simple arrangement for this: pouring a mix of seeds on a flat railing outside my dining room window. I regularly attract several species of small birds to the seed. Buster Brown, my mutt from the pound, has a role to play in […]

Rock doc: Earth’s next epoch

I was raised in the Baptist church. As a grade school child, I memorized the books of the Bible. Maybe because of that personal history, when I started to study geology I didn’t resist memorizing the many pieces of the geologic time scale. The next to the last piece of geologic time is the Pleistocene […]

Rock doc: Forensic science meets nuclear chemistry

As a kid, I read the Sherlock Holmes stories and the mysteries of Agatha Christie. As an adult, I wrote four mysteries that focused on a Quaker heroine solving crimes she happened across in her religious community. (I published them using my grandmother’s name — Irene Allen — as a pseudonym.) And, as a geologist, […]

Rock doc: Fat and the year you were born

New Year’s resolutions are being put to the harshest of tests. Gone are the days of early January when all things seemed so easily possible. Now we are in the tougher phase of the year when the will to establish new patterns is being sorely tested by the tug of old habits. One of the […]

Rock doc: Better ways to clear snow and ice

As you watch the falling snow, do you marvel at the beauty of the scene or immediately dread driving to work on icy pavement? Most of our nation’s roads get at least some snow most years, and that means clearing snow and ice from pavement is big business. For highways alone, agencies in the U.S. […]

Rock doc: Let the sun shine in

My scientific training tells me that the days are getting a little bit longer now. And I do believe that. But my spirits say it remains dark awfully long into the morning and the sun surely sets early in the afternoon. Even if you aren’t affected emotionally by the short days of winter, could they […]

Rock doc: All that glitters is not (pure) gold

Recently I had the pleasure of going to the wedding celebration of my assistant at work — whom I count as a good friend — and her new husband. Theirs is an international marriage: the bride was born and raised in this country, the groom born and raised in China. The wedding celebration had elements […]

Rock doc: Harvesting energy from sunlight

What if there were a two-for-one sale on kilowatts? Your power bill would be cut in half — not a bad result for your monthly budget. Energy drives everything we produce and consume, and global energy consumption continues to grow year after year. The two-for-one image came to mind as I talked with Professor Jeanne […]

Rock doc: Keeping warm with gold fever

I own a couple of small gold nuggets. They came from the Round Mountain gold mine in Nevada, which I visited a few years ago. A tour of the open-pit mine was crowned by a visit to their foundry where the molten metal was poured into gold bars. Those bars are what’s called dorégold, that […]

Rock doc: Seas on Titan and your heating bill

Like most regions of the country, the area where I live suffered through colder than average temperatures in mid-November. If you pay for your heating bill month by month, you are now facing the sticker shock that results from those bitter times. Happy holidays. I heat my home with a natural gas furnace supplemented by […]

Rock doc: Ancient climate change

Climate is always changing. That’s one truth that stands out from the record around the world of natural samples of Earth materials, of tree rings, ice layers, and so much more. But how much has past climate change influenced human affairs? In anthropology it’s been relatively commonplace to look at the twists and turns of […]

Rock doc: How much does it hurt?

When I take my elderly mother to the emergency room, the nurse asks how much pain she is in, on a scale of 1 to 10. There is a chart with pictures of little smiley faces, neutral faces, and grimacing faces to help a person — perhaps a child — determine a number. Pain management […]

Rock doc: How ‘bout them apples?

Do you have a good gut feeling about apples? Your body may — and that could be important to your overall health. Some of the components of apples survive their trip through the upper part of the human digestive tract. Non-digestible compounds, including fiber and substances called polyphenols, stand up to chewing and the effects […]

Rock doc: Bones can tell quite a story

His teeth had no cavities, but they were heavily worn. He was about my height — some 5 feet, 7 inches tall. He wasn’t petite, likely weighing around 160 pounds. Well before his death, he broke six of his ribs. Five of them never healed, but he kept going nevertheless. A recent article in “The […]

Rock doc: The start of a better trend for diabetes

“Eat right and exercise.” It’s good advice. But millions of us Americans struggle every day to live up to our hopes regarding diet and activity. Some of us are pretty good at one thing (for me, it’s exercise) but not good at the other (starch and sweets make up too much of my diet). It […]

Rock doc: A better way to shine light in a dark world

Years ago I purchased a headlamp — a small flashlight that straps around your head to light your way. It’s really useful because it leaves both your hands free as you work or walk. I used my headlamp during the dark half of the year to exercise my dog in dark pastures and an undeveloped […]

Roc doc: Triggering the ice age

From time to time I give public talks on climate change — those large scale changes geologists have been studying since the 1830s. At those talks I’m often asked a basic question about climate that, until now, has stumped scientists. Here’s the background. In the 1830s a Swiss naturalist named Louis Agassiz started promoting the […]

Rock doc: How hard is that?

A good friend of mine checks each morning on the web for the final “Jeopardy” question. It’s the last question on the taped “Jeopardy” program to be broadcast later that day. I don’t go to movies or follow sports, so I’m often at a loss when it comes to many quiz show questions. But recently […]

Rock doc: Smarter than your average bear

Alex Waroff had a fantastic summer job this year. The veterinary student at Washington State University worked with faculty members as they tested just how clever grizzly bears are. What’s at issue is the use of tools. “Besides primates, scientists know that certain birds, dolphins, elephants and some other animals use tools,” Waroff told me. […]

Rock doc: A wolf in other clothing

I was hospitalized for 10 days in late July. In August, to rebuild my strength, I took my dog on increasingly long walks around town. We went virtually every day; the exercise was good for both Buster Brown and me. Buster is such a mongrel it’s hard to be sure what breeds have contributed to […]

Rock doc: A light fast twice per week

It certainly sounded like a fad to me. A while ago I caught a program on public television about a medical doctor in Great Britain. Dr. Michael Mosley, like millions in both that country and in the U.S., found that in middle age he needed to lose weight and lower his blood sugar and cholesterol […]

Rock doc: Have a cup of joe to help your eyes?

My day starts with coffee. I’m too cheap to buy it by the cup from baristas, so I just brew my own Folgers by the pot. I have a cup or two as I settle into work each morning, and another cup – sometimes two – in the early afternoon. That may not be wise […]

Rock doc: What antibiotics may be doing to us

It’s astonishing to think about, but when my grandfather was born, tuberculosis was the No. 1 cause of death in our country. Worse still, one in five children didn’t live to see their 5th birthday, in large part due to endemic and epidemic diseases. Today that’s all changed. But although doctors can now often do […]

Rock doc: An ancient American woman buried by the sea

I need to get a cap on my front tooth redone — it has a significant chip in it. Luckily I live at a time in which dentists are in every city and town, plying their trade in ways that can help us each day. A young woman who scientists are calling Naia was not […]

July 08, 2014 | Posted in Opinion

Rock doc: Behind the hum of electrical power

Think about the most complicated machine you’ve dealt with in the past year. Was it a beeping monitor tethered to a high-tech device in an emergency room? Or was it a superfast computer you used at work? Actually, the most complicated machine you’ve interacted with was the one you used this morning when you switched […]

Rock doc: Training microbes to make biofuel

When you fill your tank, you likely see a little sticker on the pump saying part of the fuel is ethanol. Ethanol is a biofuel, which means it comes from plants like corn, rather than from fossil fuel — ancient carbon that’s been buried within the Earth for millions of years. Producing more biofuels is […]

Rock doc: A tale of two stoves

My elderly aunt recently came into some money. She decided — very generously — to send part of it to each of her nieces and nephews. This gave me the task of choosing how I wanted to spend an unexpected $1,000. I decided to buy a new range for my kitchen. I wouldn’t otherwise buy […]

Rock doc: Major shaking on the horizon

I once experienced a small earthquake when I was visiting the San Francisco Bay Area in California. The natives thought little of the temblor but I was impressed that the ground beneath my feet could suddenly and without warning start to shake. Later, when I majored in geology in college, I learned that my native […]

Rock doc: From shopping bags to diesel fuel

My household accumulates quite a number of plastic shopping bags. Most come home with me from the grocery store. I use them to line the little garbage pail that sits under the kitchen sink and the wastebasket that’s in the bathroom. I also have the joy of using them to pick up poop deposited by […]

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 […]

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