E. Kirsten Peters

Rock doc: Dashing for safety

I was minding my own business in my kitchen the other day, tossing some eggshells into the small garbage pail that sits underneath the sink. Suddenly I heard a rustle coming from the plastic lining the garbage pail. Puzzled, I looked into the cupboard more carefully. In a blur of gray, a mouse dashed up […]

Rock doc: The microscopic zoo within us

Taken together, the microbes living in you weigh a few pounds. Just for example, a 200-pound man could be carrying up to six pounds of little organisms in and on him. And even more amazingly to me, within our bodies we have more than 10,000 different species of microbes. That’s a lot of different life […]

Rock doc: What a drag

I swim laps at noon several times a week. I enjoy the water, and the gentle exercise is good for my aging joints. Like other old ladies in the pool, I’m no speed demon. Even a bucketful of performance enhancing drugs would not make me slice through the water quickly. But like all the lap […]

Rock doc: A different and very useful kind of bank

I work just a couple of blocks from a special kind of bank. It doesn’t accept money for deposit, it won’t finance a new car, and it wasn’t part of the housing bubble. This unusual kind of bank deals mostly in seeds that it preserves, sometimes propagates, and often disperses without charge to anyone who […]

Rock doc: Heat long puzzled science

Hot enough for you? I’ve been thinking about heat lately, and not just because of the nation’s mostly torrid weather. We all can easily verify that hot air rises — when you change a light bulb near the ceiling of your living room, you find the air up there is warmer than it is near […]

Rock doc: Keeping perspective with the help of geologic events

Maybe you vote red, or maybe you vote blue. One thing is certain: with the upcoming election, we Americans seem to feel what divides us more keenly than what unites us. But no matter how partisan we are likely to be from now through November, I like to think we can emphatically agree on the […]

Rock doc: An epidemic of whooping and worse

Even if you don’t have kids in your household, you could be exposed to serious diseases that often affect children. And at the moment there’s a sharp spike upward in one contagious disease that you could help protect yourself and youngsters against by getting a simple shot at the doctor’s office. Vaccines stand at the […]

Rock doc: Keeping potatoes happy and healthy

The next time you eat a baked spud you might want to think of the agricultural scientists who are hard at work trying to help the humble potato deal successfully with some significant diseases. Students of history will remember the Irish potato famine of 1845-1852. The denizens of Ireland had come to depend on potatoes […]

Rock doc: Axing a lot of nuclear power plants

Energy is the lifeblood of modern economies and there’s no more amazingly useful form of energy than electricity. That’s why I was initially startled to read the recent news that the last of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants has been shut down, a turn of events that makes Japan the first major economy of this […]

Rock doc: Ancient poop yields clues

My favorite epoch in Earth history is the Ice Age, the time in which saber tooth tigers and giant mastodons roamed the world. The Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago when – quite abruptly – the bitter temperatures of the time gave way to our present, balmy epoch. Natural history museums often have the skeletal […]

Rock doc: Courting danger everyday

  You have certainly done business on them, and you may well have lived within their boundaries. Whether you recognize it or not, and whether you are reading this in the desert West or the soggier regions of the country, floodplains are a part of the landscape around you — and they can be highly […]

Rock doc: Ancient plants make a comeback

The Ice Age is my favorite bit of Earth history, a time when mammoths, giant beavers and saber tooth tigers roamed the world. I was so impressed by the Ice Age when I was a child, reading about it in the school library, that I recognized the book I had studied decades later when I […]

Rock doc: Improving on the staff of life

About 10,000 years ago Earth’s climate lurched from bitter Ice Age conditions to the much balmier time in which we live today. We don’t fully understand what caused that great climate shift, but we know it was near the time of that great temperature transition that people started to farm. And one of the crops […]

Rock doc: New twist on natural MRSA

Twice a week I slog through some reps at the gym to keep my core muscles and arms strong enough so I can do basic outdoor tasks. I assure you, my workout regime is modest, based on small ladies weights  some of them even colored pink. But whether you use pink weights or the […]

Rock doc: Fracking waste judged to cause Ohio earthquakes

The solid earth is riddled with faults. Each fault is a plane of weakness in the rocks that make up the outer rind of the Earth. Some of those faults have been mapped by geologists, but others are unknown to even the most advanced science we have today. And now, courtesy of officials in Ohio, […]

Rock doc: And a little child shall lead them

Little kids are amenable to learning new habits — generally much more so than those of us who are set in our ways because this isn’t our first rodeo. That’s why it’s sometimes more effective to teach children health science information rather than to do outreach aimed directly at their parents. That’s part of the […]

March 16, 2012 | Posted in Opinion | Tagged | 1 Reply

Rock doc: Basic biology implicated in wild spending spree

It’s pretty common for us “little peanuts” to feel some envy about the wealthy and better-known citizens among us. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be a millionaire? But recently the news carried a piece about Ed Bazinet, 68, a wealthy New Yorker who went on a wild spending spree that ran into the millions […]

Rock doc: Steps forward and back for the world’s nukes

My household has no less than three nightlights that give good service to me and mine. Perhaps you have a nightlight or two yourself. And beyond those useful little devices, of course, there are the regular lights that a person may switch on in the middle of a windless night. Those basic facts highlight the […]

March 09, 2012 | Posted in Opinion | Tagged | 1 Reply

Rock doc: Powerful pressures and special waters

It does seem like there’s something magical about artesian wells. Digging down to a level in the Earth from which water then spurts unaided is like a dream come true for some. And, after all, why pay the electric company for power to run a pump if Mother Nature will do all the work herself? […]

Rock doc: Ceaseless change dominates our dynamic planet

Nothing about Earth history is static or unchanging. That’s particularly true of climate, and thereon hangs more than one interesting tale, including recent news of a scientific advance in understanding how past climate has changed. It wasn’t too long ago by my standards – about the 1830s – that naturalists started to seriously think the […]

February 03, 2012 | Posted in Opinion | Tagged | 2 Replies

Rock doc: Hitting below the belt

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to eat right and trim down, be forewarned that medical science shows your brain has it in for you and will actively promote your failure on two different fronts. That’s not good news, of course, but you should know about it so you can strengthen your resolve as […]

Rock doc: Cookie cutter science

One of the best parts of baking for me as a kid was the process of “helping” my mama roll out and cut cookie shapes for the oven. At this age I know that I actually hindered her work and she was just being kind in letting me participate, but at the time I thought […]

Rock doc: Rats are decent little souls

The more we learn about animals, the more complex and interesting is the behavior they exhibit. My faithful mutt-from-the-pound, a dog named Buster Brown, impresses me from time to time with complex behaviors aimed at getting what he wants out of me. Most people who live with animals can tell you a tale or two […]

Rock doc: Hot diggity dam

As the long season of darkness sweeps over the country, it’s a natural time to think about lighting – and how dependent we are on electricity during this dim time of year. You can heat your home with several different energy sources, including natural gas, heating oil or wood. But unless you’re living off-the-grid, the […]

January 02, 2012 | Posted in Opinion | Tagged | 1 Reply

Rock doc: Cancer detection and man’s best friend

Dogs are loyal, playful, loving and sometimes cute as a button. It’s no wonder we love them (some of us more than others, to be sure). Dogs were likely one of the very first animals we humans domesticated. They’ve been sitting around our campfires for a very long time, indeed. We train our dogs to […]

Rock doc: Stepping up to a bright idea

At first I wasn’t sure I was reading the CNN report correctly. The story hinged on special pavement that uses the impact of human feet to generate electricity. That’s right. A young man in Britain has invented a device that harvests the energy from a footfall hitting the pavement to power things like LED lights. […]

Rock doc: Gold in them thar hot springs

Twenty-five years ago I was spending my summers beside sulfur-belching hot springs in Northern California. The hot springs were not as big as Yellowstone’s. Most were just a few feet across, one or two about a dozen feet wide. None of them were truly boiling, but they were hot to the touch and gases bubbled […]

Rock doc: Doing more with less on the road

Between the debt-ceiling kerfuffle and Hurricane Irene, you may have missed two bits of summertime news that will be important for what we drive in the coming years. First, President Barack Obama announced that the administration and automakers had reached a deal to double the fuel economy of our national fleet of cars starting in […]

Rock doc: Take your best shot

When I was youngster in the 1960s I had all the shots little kids went through back in the day. And because I’m a klutz and regularly hurt myself outdoors, I’ve periodically had my tetanus immunity updated. A few years ago I underwent a series of shots for rabies after having a scary adventure with […]

October 19, 2011 | Posted in Opinion | Tagged | 8 Replies

Rock doc: Fear and four lab explosions

On a couple of occasions in graduate school I stupidly miscalculated the effects of mixing strong acid and water  and then adding heat. Theres nothing like the resulting exploding acid droplets quite near your face to give you pause. The second time I managed to make the same, simple error I walked home, a […]

Rock doc: Stepping back from dam power

Just over a century ago, when William Howard Taft was president and I was a young woman, an entrepreneur named Thomas Aldwell started building a dam in the Northwest woods of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The 108-foot-high Elwha Dam became an early hydroelectric powerhouse, helping to fuel population and industrial growth related to activities […]

Rock doc: Dancing with death over the centuries

Once I had a case of influenza so bad I missed close to a month of graduate school. I ran a fever and coughed until it felt like my whole world was turned upside down. Because I’m a geologist, not a medical doctor, I nicknamed that bout of illness “the plague.” But what I experienced […]

Rock doc: Water, water, not quite everywhere

When I was a kid I was “born again,” a process that involved being fully and totally immersed in water. Much more recently I was on the home stretch of an eight-mile walk in the hot sun when the minister I was walking with kindly poured her drinking water on my hot little head. Seldom […]

Rock doc: Earth’s fragile surface

My friend Sharon Rogers lives in suburban Virginia. On Tuesday she and her husband were leaving their house to go to a late lunch when she felt something like thunder sweeping over the neighborhood. “I thought it was a military jet going over too low,” she told me on the telephone. “I said to myself, […]

Rock doc: A new and growing crop

This summer has been filled with acrimony about the federal budget, with red versus blue politicians squaring off to hurl criticisms at each other. For a lot of us, turning on the news has felt like an exercise in masochism. Imagine my pleasure, then, at going to a recent meeting where Americans from quite different […]

Rock doc: Our daily bread in 2050

These are the good times. I was driving through the country last Saturday, looking at deer happily chowing down in wheat fields. Every place is a drive-through if you’re a herbivore at this time of year. It’s a simple historical fact that wheat farming has been central to American agriculture since the country was young. […]

Rock doc: Saving labor (and lives) in the orchard

When I was younger, I used to enjoy picking a pint or two of huckleberries in the mountains in the summer. But even when you work hard, huckleberry picking doesn’t yield a lot of fruit per day. Picking raspberries goes faster because the fruit is larger and the berries grow more thickly on the plant. […]

Rock doc: Helping 1 billion bovines

You and I have our challenges and some real worries, too. There are bills to pay and doctors to visit, to say nothing of mulling over those strange sounds coming from the rear of the car. But I confess I thought the life of a cow was rather placid. Eating and sleeping, I would have […]

Rock doc: Killer mushrooms on your plate?

It’s a classic plot device of murder mysteries: an evil killer slips poisonous mushrooms into the frying pan of an unsuspecting victim who dies an agonizing death. But in real life, poisonous fungi typically sicken and occasionally kill people for quite different reasons. Recently I learned a lot about what can go wrong in the […]

Rock doc: Ready or not

As events in Japan this past March showed us, Big Ones really do happen. Richter 9 is about as large as they come, an event so enormous it takes away the breath of even a geologist like myself. It’s no comfort to think that quakes of that same general size are likely along the western […]

Roc Doc: Fear and four lab explosions

On a couple of occasions in graduate school I stupidly miscalculated the effects of mixing strong acid and water  and then adding heat. Theres nothing like the resulting exploding acid droplets quite near your face to give you pause. The second time I managed to make the same, simple error I walked home, a […]

Rock doc: Living on a different clock

It’s obvious that miners focus on the highest concentration of gold or copper they can find. And geologists like me are always on the lookout for unusually high concentrations of metals in veins and rocks. We go where the best stuff is, and make a living helping to bring it to where it’s used in […]

Rock doc: Giving you more time to eat your potatoes

One of my mother’s friends was raised decades ago on a few acres at the end of gravel road in Idaho. As she puts it, her family’s basic challenge was eating what it produced before other critters did. In other words, it was useful to consume the eggs in the henhouse before the foxes got […]

Rock doc: Reading the record of the tree rings

Scientists have studied natural climate change for quite a while. Part of what we have learned about past climates comes from tree rings, and thereon hangs an interesting tale going back more than a century. Flagstaff, Ariz., was a pretty small burg in the 1890s, without the street lamps of big cities Back East. It […]

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