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Eric Sorensen

Gary Meadows food
Fall 2014

Let food be thy medicine

Back in the ’90s, scientists for two major cancer-research organizations reviewed thousands of studies and saw armies of broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, and citrus fruits turning the tide on various cancers. Then, just a decade later, the same scientists said the evidence had since become “somewhat less impressive.”

It was a classic case of science coming off as, well, fickle. One minute, chocolate and beer are good for you. The next minute, science says “sorry” and snatches them from your hand.

“It goes back and forth,” says Gary Meadows, a Washington State University pharmacy professor with nearly four decades researching nutrition … » More …

H1N1 medicine
Fall 2014

Nasty epidemic, neat science

Dennis Garcia had good reason to be nervous.

Flu season was just a few months away, and in the summer of 2009, outbreaks of the H1N1 virus known as “swine flu” were popping up around the world. It was a novel virus, so rare that humans had yet to start developing immunity to it. A similar scenario was in place for the Spanish flu of 1918, an H1N1 outbreak more deadly than the Black Death bubonic plague.

By late August, as the first wave of students returned to Washington State University’s Pullman campus, the World Health Organization had seen the virus in scores of countries, … » More …

John Mullan
Summer 2014

Lost highway

John Mullan closed the last link of the Northwest Passage and vanished from history—until now

On a May morning in 1858, along a small creek on the northern edge of the Palouse, hundreds of warriors from several Inland Northwest Indian tribes closed in on 160 Army soldiers led by Col. Edward Steptoe. An Army retreat turned into a 10-hour running battle. Two company commanders were mortally wounded, panicking the men. At last, the troops took up defensive positions on a hillside in what is today Rosalia. As night fell, they were surrounded, outgunned, and down to two rounds of ammunition apiece.

More than a … » More …

Salmon
Summer 2014

Salmon

Back in 1991, the Snake River sockeye was the first of nearly two dozen salmon populations listed as threatened or endangered. To fishermen, scientists, and wildlife managers it seemed that salmon might soon vanish from the waters and traditions of the Pacific Northwest.

Today, many runs are coming back, while more vibrant populations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have continued bringing a steady stream of salmon to our plates through the summer, into the fall, and thanks to flash freezing, the winter. Salmon remain a major part of the region’s culture and cuisine, as five Washington State University faculty and alumni can attest in … » More …

West Nile virus chart
Summer 2014

Charting the course of a globe-trotting pathogen

For more than half a century, West Nile virus was someone else’s problem.

The mosquito-borne pathogen was first isolated from a feverish human in 1937 in northern Uganda’s West Nile district. It then lay low for a decade before emerging in an actual epidemic in Israel in 1951. With several Egyptian outbreaks in the early ’50s, researchers started to see the disease infect non-humans, particularly crows and horses. Mosquitoes of the Culex genus appeared to be its chief transmitter, or vector.

By the time the virus hit the United States, in 1999, it had taken on a more sinister character. Where before it mostly struck … » More …

Spring 2014

A true story fraught with peril

As disaster-obsessed scientists go, geologists must be near the top of the list. They deal with time scales spanning billions of years, so a set of catastrophes occurring 10 million years ago is like yesterday. Something in the last century comes close to being, well, now. 

And they see catastrophe all over the place.

Take the roadcut near the Old Moscow Road. It’s a modest pile of crumbling rock, but John Wolff and Rick Conrey can see in its surrounding rock a thick blanket of hot lava inundating southeast Washington.

“It covers an area that goes from here to Spokane to The Dalles, buried at … » More …

Psychologist Craig Parks
Spring 2014

The calculus of caring and cooperation

Shortly after the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the American Red Cross had to wrestle with an odd sort of philanthropic success. So many people donated blood, there was far more than what was needed for the entire nation, let alone the attacks’ survivors. Many people donated money, more than $500 million. And, after covering its immediate costs, the charity diverted most of it to other Red Cross needs.

Feeling they were misled, donors and families of the 9/11 victims were not happy. The head of the Red Cross resigned, but not before being called to account to Congress.

And … » More …

Dan Rottler on windmill
Winter 2013

Dan Rottler ’92—Atop towers of power

On a windy night, when some of us might worry about things going bump in the dark, Dan Rottler ’92 frets over 20-ton boxes of gears turning more than 200 feet above the ground. The gearboxes are like outsized automobile transmissions, capable of cranking the energy of the slowly turning 16-rpm blade of a wind turbine up to 1,800 rpm.

As plant manager of Puget Sound Energy’s Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, Rottler has 149 of these beasts to lose sleep over. Not to mention wildfires, lightning strikes, microbursts of changing weather, blizzards, ice-covered power lines, and even more unexpected things, like the time … » More …

Winter 2013

The Beguiling Science of Bodies in Motion

Despite its many mysteries, biomechanics serves up surprises about strained muscles and bones broken and mended.

Earlier this year, at the ripe age of 38, Bernard “Kip” Lagat ’01 became the fastest American ever to run two miles indoors. It was a feat of both speed and longevity, helped in large part by a fluid, seemingly effortless running form the New Yorker describes as “perfect.”

It was not always so. In fact, Lagat’s performance, as well as two Olympic medals and several other American records, may never have taken place without the long tutelage of James Li MS ’87 MS, ’93 PhD, who recruited … » More …