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Eric Sorensen

Fall 2013

If You Don’t Snooze, You Lose

About an hour before sunrise on August 27, 2006, Comair Flight 5191 was approaching 120 miles per hour on its takeoff from the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, when co-pilot James Polehinke noticed something strange about the runway.

“That is weird,” he said in a conversation captured by the flight recorder. “No lights.”

“Yeah,” said Capt. Jeffrey Clay.

Sixteen seconds later, their 50-seat commuter jet ran out of runway. Polehinke just managed to get airborne but not enough. The plane hit an earthen berm, clipped a fence and a clump of trees, and went down in a ball of flames.

The pilots had gone … » More …

Black jacobin hummingbird
Fall 2018

Higher calling

For decades, scientists have been intrigued by a black hummingbird that appears to be singing, its throat and jaw moving in all earnestness, but without making any obvious sound. Augusto Ruschi, a naturalist who catalogued dozens of hummingbirds in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, first noticed it in 1959.

The bird, called a black Jacobin, appeared to have portions of its song that were ultrasonic, “inaudible to humans,” said Ruschi, “and while one would only perceive it with special equipment, one can notice the moment in which the bird emits it, as its guttural region makes characteristic movements, commonly observed when a bird sings.”

It would be … » More …

Modernist bread book covers
Fall 2018

Modernist Bread

Modernist bread book covers

By Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya

The Cooking Lab: 2017

 

For millennia, bread baking has been more craft than science. Even the current trend in artisan bread rejects much of what modern science has wrought: the advances of manufactured yeast, dough conditioners, added preservatives and the overall industrialization of wheat and bread production.

“The bread zeitgeist is about being ancient, primitive, natural, and pretty much anything but modern,” writes Nathan Myhrvold in his recent 2,642-page … » More …

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen twins dolls by Mattel. Staff photoillustration
Winter 2017

Seeing double

The Washington State Twin Registry is a powerful aid in promoting better health.

 

Glen Duncan is an outlier in an obesogenic environment. While he’s fit and trim, two in three Americans carry too much weight for their own good and are largely sedentary during work and leisure time. It would help if he had a twin to compare himself with. As it is, he studies other twins in the hope of teasing out why some people are drawn to healthy behavior, others not.

Duncan has long been a runner, from high school races to weekend 10Ks. For the past ten years he has practiced … » More …

Zeroing in on critical zones
Spring 2017

Zeroing in on critical zones

For almost half a century, scientists have been measuring carbon dioxide in the air two miles above sea level in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At first, Charles David Keeling counted 310 parts of carbon dioxide for every million parts of air. When he died in 2005, the number was 380. On May 9, 2013, the number topped 400, “a milepost,” wrote National Geographic’s Robert Kunzig, “on a far more rapid uphill climb toward an uncertain climate future.”

We might get wistful over the elegance of what is now known as the Keeling number: a solitary data point, like the Dow Jones industrial average, … » More …

Spring 2017

Ends of eras

Yes, Mesa Verde is the richest archaeological preserve in America. A sanctuary of cliff dwellings. Petroglyphs. Thousands of sites holding clues to an ancient civilization. But is it too much to ask for better cell phone reception?

For two days, my wife and I meandered around the park and its environs, climbing with other tourists among the 40 rooms of Balcony House, visiting dozens of kivas—rooms for religious rituals—and walking among striped pieces of broken pottery, or “sherds,” that litter the place. But it wasn’t until we retreated to the park’s Spartan lodgings, also called kivas, that we could tap the wi-fi and fill our … » More …

Winter 2016

Shock & awe

In a windowless room some 20 miles outside Chicago, five scientists in jeans and shirtsleeves are preparing to glimpse something that until now has been hidden from human view: the nearly instantaneous, atomic-level transformation of a material under intense pressure. Since the dawn of time, such changes have gone hand in hand with some of the most extreme of moments: the creation of the universe, the heat and pressure in the Earth’s core, the failures of bridges and buildings, and the business end of a bullet.

Until now, no one has seen them in such detail.

On this day at Argonne National Laboratory, Stefan … » More …

Wildfowl Decoys of California book cover
Summer 2016

Wildlife Decoys of California: Vintage Carving Traditions of the Golden State

Wildfowl Decoys of California book cover

Michael R. Miller ’68

Triple-D Book Publishing: 2015

More than 40 years ago, Michael R. Miller ’68 was passing through a Sacramento antique shop when he came upon a carved duck decoy. It was a pintail drake. Carved from a single piece of redwood, it had an elegantly pointed bill and tail and subtle shades of gray, black and off-white. Like so many of its ilk, it was just outside the ordinary … » More …

Take to the sea thumb
Winter 2015

Take to the sea

Four years ago, at a wedding in Spokane, Cathy Simon ’71 was seated across from a woman named Kay LeClair. Like Simon, LeClair was in her 60s. Unlike Simon, she had recently climbed to the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest.

It made Simon think, “I’m not done. I need to do something more.”

A sailor, she started exploring her options and lit upon the World Cruising Club’s World Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a 26,000-mile circumnavigation of the earth.  Speaking to her husband, Charles Simon ’89 MS, she said, “We’re going to need a new boat.”

This May, the couple sailed their 58-foot sailboat into Rodney … » More …