E. Kirsten Peters

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 […]

Rock doc: The hardest wheat turned soft by science

Eighty years ago my mother was in grade school where schoolroom paste was made by mixing a little flour and water together. Memories of that simple glue came back to her when she and I recently stood in my kitchen, mixing two small batches of flour and water. First I mixed regular “better for bread” […]

Rock doc: Famous villain back in the news

My father taught me the line when I was a child: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Those were the words William Shakespeare put into the mouth of King Richard III when he was knocked off his horse in the midst of the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Richard was killed, […]

Rock doc: Vital need

A few weeks ago I lost the use of my toilet and learned firsthand just how much I missed it when it wasn’t there. My plumbing went out of order when the pipe between my house and the city’s sewer line in the street collapsed. Pipes like that belong to the homeowner, so it was […]

Rock doc: Grapefruit + medications = potential problem

A breakfast of half a grapefruit and some peanut butter on a piece of toast sounds like it would be good for you, doesn’t it? For millions of Americans who take prescription drugs, the answer may be no. The difficulty arises because of certain effects in the compounds found in grapefruit and some other citrus […]

The rock doc: The bridge fuel

To a geologist like me, it was most notable by its absence in the political campaigns that lurched to their conclusions in November. I’m talking about an energy plan with real teeth, one that addresses everything from national security to the cost of energy to greenhouse warming of the planet. The best-known geologist in the […]

Rock doc: Too much exercise

Medical science increasingly has some evidence of a principal your mother warned you about: There really is too much of a good thing. A few folks throw themselves headlong into aerobic exercise. Most of these hard-core endurance athletes start young. Many fall by the wayside in middle age, but there are also those who keep […]

Rock doc: Progress in breast cancer research

I have an elderly aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. She was treated and remained cancer-free for years. But I also had a next-door neighbor who got the same diagnosis. She was treated, but succumbed to the disease not too long after. My experience is not unique. Those of us who […]

Rock doc: Exercise helpful in retirement

I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to sometimes come up with a reason I just can’t exercise on a given day. I tell myself that my life is too crowded with work and meetings, or that I’m too tired from sleeping poorly the night before. Mind you, if I […]

Rock doc: The vital grid

Some say it’s the most complicated machine we’ve ever built. We rely on it not just each day, but each moment of each day. It reaches into our homes, factories, offices and stores. And at times it’s surprisingly fragile and subject to massive failure. I’m talking about the electrical grid. We’ve recently seen it tested […]

November 10, 2012 | Posted in Opinion | 2 Replies

Rock doc: Sometimes Mother Nature doubles down on death

Not too long ago I rewrote my will. There’s nothing like such a project to remind me of my mortality. But imagine not just your own individual death, but the finality of the death of all the members of your species. You’ve likely heard of the mass extinction that removed the non-avian (non-bird) dinosaurs from […]

Rock doc: Eating our way into trouble

Lots of us have observed that foods that are good for us — broccoli and bean sprouts — don’t trigger intense cravings. In the late afternoon, when my energy is low, I want a cookie or a piece of chocolate, not a green pepper. Why is it we so intensely want what is likely to […]

Rock doc: Fetching for a living

My brown mutt and I went for a walk recently on an old railroad grade at the edge of a ghost-town where we sometimes stroll. Buster Brown is a Lab mix, with an emphasis on the mix. Buster likes to visit the ghost-town in part because it still has one occupied house, and friends of […]

Rock doc: Getting more out of each gallon of gasoline

It’s commonplace to observe that we live in very partisan times. Red versus blue factions dominate our public discussions, and there often seems very little room made for agreement in the middle. It’s surely not easy to get environmental groups to agree on a policy that industry endorses. And if you add organized labor, consumer […]

Rock doc: Salty tomb within an underground crystal

The next time you have a saltshaker handy, you might want to remove a few grains. If you have a simple magnifying glass, you’ll see the salt is really tiny cubes. Salt is a mineral and each grain is a well-formed crystal that breaks into cubic shapes. Salt in your saltshaker looks like a simple […]

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