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Illustration of baseball as atom nucleus
Summer 2018

Physics at the bat

Today’s baseball game, brought to you by Physics Unlimited, is a blockbuster contest between the famous Mathematical Physicists and Washington State University’s own Oblique Collisions.

As the Oblique Collisions take the field, Ernest Rutherford, the renowned English physicist, is first up for the Mathematical Physicists. Better known outside physics circles for his cricketing skills, Rutherford is quite the hitter, though usually of particles much smaller than baseballs.

Indeed, in describing the collision of an alpha particle—better known as the nucleus of a helium atom, two protons and two massive neutrons—with a gold atom, Rutherford had this to say: “It was as if you fired a … » More …

Fire threatens horses in pen during California fires. Photo Eric Thayer
Summer 2018

Bug out!

A scrawled note was stuck to the door of the clinic. “All animals left here have died,” it said. “We have buried them for you. I have no way of expressing my grief.” The note was signed by the vet whose clinic was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

That note is a sad reminder that being prepared for a disaster is key to surviving storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, and whatever else might come crashing down upon us—and our animals.

That’s why Cynthia Faux says, “If I have 15 minutes to evacuate in front of a fast-moving fire, I don’t want to spend 10 of those looking … » More …

A WSU student takes a virtual trip to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo Robert Hubner
Summer 2018

Virtually yours

How do you walk through a building in Atlanta when you’re in a classroom in Pullman?

If you can’t be there physically, virtual reality can deliver a new level of engagement, whether it’s watching Shaun White’s snowboard whoosh inches from your head, or working collaboratively on construction projects with students from Georgia.

Virtual reality is also a rapidly growing business. There were an estimated seven million VR headsets in 2016, which is expected to balloon to 47 million by 2020.

That acceleration has pushed companies like Intel to ramp up their VR offerings, including the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The VR technology … » More …

Darwin's finches illustration
Summer 2018

Another look at Darwin’s finches

Darwin developed key aspects of his theory of evolution while pondering finches from the Galapagos Islands. It’s only fitting that reproductive biologist Michael Skinner would choose those same islands to propose a Lamarckian idea—that environment can directly impact inheritance of physical traits.

In this case, the process is driven by epigenetics, he says. “If we think about evolution, we can’t simply think of genetics. We also need to think about epigenetics.”

According to Skinner, epigenetic mutations occur 1,000 times more frequently than do genetic mutations and could help explain why new species emerge more often than expected.

“The reason epimutations exist might be to dramatically … » More …

Man kissing mirror
Summer 2018

Fly on the Wall

 

Podcasts by Squeak Meisel

squeakmeisel.com

 

If you can’t come to the artist, the artist will come to you, thanks to a series of podcasts produced by Washington State University Fine Arts department chair Squeak Meisel.

Called Fly on the Wall, the artists interviewed on Meisel’s podcast have shown their work at some of the biggest venues in the world, such as the Venice Biennial. They come to the Pullman campus, teach for a few days, work one-on-one with undergraduate and graduate students, and give a public lecture.

But Meisel realizes that not everyone has time or ability to … » More …

Summer 2018

Finding identity and expression at WSU

Bob Dlugosh says that he and his roommate, Al, “were always chumming around Pullman together.” Best friends, Bob figured Al for straight, but he liked the guy so much he didn’t let it bother him. Bob did wonder if Al knew he was gay. In 1968, “gay” felt like a brand new word. So it probably wasn’t the one used on the sign Al and Bob found tacked to their Stephenson Hall door: “Bob and Al are gay.”

But that’s what Robert Dlugosh ’71 recalls decades later. The noun was probably something from the much crueler vernacular of the day: They were being called faggots, … » More …

Summer 2018

Evolution evolution

In a word, Michael Skinner is tenacious. Growing up on a ranch outside Pendleton, the former Eagle Scout and college wrestler learned early on that you don’t back down from a little head-butting or controversy. It’s all just part of the game.

The trait has served Skinner ’82 PhD well over the years and enabled him to persevere through the fallout of a chance discovery in his reproductive biology lab in the 1990s. The unexpected findings threw 200 years of scientific ideology into question and initiated a paradigm shift in the understanding of inheritance and evolution. They also sparked a wave of outrage and … » More …

Satellite map showing smoke covering the entire state of Washington on September 5, 2017
Summer 2018

In the hazy days of summer

It’s no secret that wildfires are on the rise throughout the western United States. Come summer, the plumes of gray-brown smoke seem to arrive weeks earlier and often linger well into fall. The smoke irritates sinuses, clings to clothes, and despite your efforts, seeps into homes and cars like an ever-present smoldering campfire.

On those haze-filled days, people often wonder, “Is it safe for the kids to play outside? To hold a neighborhood BBQ? What about those with asthma or other respiratory problems?”

Engineers at the Washington State University Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (LAR) are helping provide answers through a powerful computer modeling system … » More …

Rainbow trout
Summer 2018

Trout

One day in a drift boat along Henry’s Fork in eastern Idaho, Kyle Smith ’07 felt the lure of the trout, fly fishing for a signature fish of the West.

“The Henry’s Fork is just about as legendary as it gets among trout fishermen,” says Smith. “I remember casting Renegades, my favorite dry fly for trout, and catching five or six rainbows in a row.”

Smith’s trip cemented itself in his memory and led him to a career in trout conservation with Trout Unlimited. It’s his unique experience, but it matches the stories of many anglers, stories of steelhead and brook trout, cutthroat and browns, … » More …

Omar Cornejo and Joanna Kelley in their WSU lab
Spring 2018

It’s in the genes

When Omar Cornejo got his genomic analysis back from 23andMe, he and his wife, fellow population geneticist Joanna Kelley, were both a bit surprised and vindicated. Venezuelan, Cornejo expected to see the alleles, or variations of a gene, from Native American, western European, and North African populations. But he was unaware that his family’s deep history also included ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa.

That just goes to show the importance of broadly sampling the genome, says Kelley. “The lesson is that if you just look at the mitochondria, you’d assume this person is from Africa. But if you look at just the Y chromosome, you’d assume … » More …