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Cherie Winner

Fall 2009

Poised for playing

Anyone who has taken music lessons has probably absorbed enough instructions about posture to feel like a raw recruit at basic training: Stand straight! Head up! Toes forward!

Leah Jordan, who is starting her senior year at Washington State University, says not to worry about forcing yourself into the “proper” position for playing an instrument. In fact, she says you’ll probably play better if you don’t—and she has the hard scientific evidence to prove it.

Jordan converted her personal experience as a trumpet player into an honors program research project that showed that most players play better if they stand the way their bodies naturally … » More …

Fall 2009

Safer skies

When Alaska’s Mount Redoubt volcano rumbled to life this past spring, images of the plume of ash rising from it probably revived terrifying memories among 240 people who survived its last eruption in 1989.

They’d been passengers on KLM flight 867, a Boeing 747 bound for Anchorage. Ten hours after the volcano erupted, the plane flew through an ordinary-looking cloud. Except it wasn’t a cloud. It was ash from the Redoubt eruption.

The plane lost all communications, radar, electronic cockpit displays—and, within the span of one minute, all four engines. It plunged almost 15,000 feet before the crew managed to restart three of the engines. … » More …

Fall 2007

Borrowing nature's designs

In Michael Knoblauch’s lab, the gap between fundamental research and practical applications is a narrow one.

Knoblauch studies the inner workings of phloem (FLOAM), the channels that transport water and nutrients throughout a plant. Research doesn’t get much more basic than that—yet one of his recent discoveries is leading him straight to the patent office.

He’s found that structures in the phloem of some plants have great potential as high-tech, microscopic valves, sensors, and motors.

Knoblauch named the structures “forisomes,” which means “gate-bodies.” He found that they keep the phloem from leaking after it’s been injured.

Phloem is comprised of parallel tubes, or sieve elements, … » More …

Fall 2007

Student of light: Recent grad transcends boundaries

“When you come to a fork in the road,” said Yogi Berra, “take it.”

Xavier Perez-Moreno has done just that.

Last spring the effusive, pony-tailed Spaniard received a Ph.D. conferred by Washington State University and The Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. WSU officials think he is the first Cougar to earn a doctoral degree jointly with a foreign institution.

Xavi (SHAH-vee), as his friends call him, clearly isn’t big on either/or choices. Besides bridging universities on two continents, his dual degree also combines different kinds of research and departments: theoretical physics here, experimental chemistry at Leuven.

But Xavi didn’t set out to break institutional … » More …

Winter 2007

Creatures from the Dark Lagoons

Cynthia Haseltine wants everyone to know that the microbes she works with are not bacteria.

They look like bacteria; each Sulfolobus is a single cell that has one circular chromosome and lacks a nucleus. But in their genes and the way they read and repair their DNA, these organisms bear a closer resemblance to us than to bacteria—and those similarities make Sulfolobus an excellent model system for learning about how our cells handle DNA, and how the process sometimes goes wrong.

Haseltine’s microbes belong to the group of organisms known as Archaea (ar-KAY-uh). Most Archaea are extremophiles, living in hot, saline, acidic, or other extreme … » More …

Winter 2007

Time will tell

Climate change is nothing new to our planet. But this time it's different. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the air through industry, vehicle emissions, and deforestation is changing the way our soil works. That in turn affects plant, animal, and eventually human life. Through their research Washington State University scientists are challenging the conventional view that more plants and forests will solve our CO2 problems. » More ...
Summer 2009

Picture this

Doerte Blume is good at explaining difficult concepts. She draws as she talks, putting into pictures what she knows about the tiniest fragments of matter. Her desk is swimming in paper, with notes and graphs and sketches of atoms lapping at the sides of her computer and spilling against a jetty of books. As a theoretical physicist, she relies heavily on high-powered math; but for her, before the math come the images.

Working solely from equations “doesn’t get me very far,” she says. “I also have to have the physical picture of, what would I expect? What do the particles do? I always try to … » More …