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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 …

Bunny Levine. Photo Jon Rou
Winter 2013

Second Acts

Bernice “Bunny” Levine ’51 is free for lunch. She thinks. But first she has to call her agent to make sure she doesn’t have an audition.

The last time I checked in with her, the 80-something actress was on her way to shoot a Hooters commercial. Her life has gotten so much more interesting since she retired, she says. Especially now that she has moved to California and thrown herself into her lifelong dream of being an actress.

Levine grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. She had a sister whom she describes as the pretty one, but, she admits, she got the attention. “I’ve … » More …

Winter 2013

The Pear

Perhaps the most venerable of tree fruits, the pear is luscious, but can be difficult.

Maybe, say some, the Washington pear needs some new blood.

Ray Schmitten ’85 and I stand on a grassy bench above the Wenatchee River Valley, a forest of Anjou pears at our back, as he points and talks about the interplay between his family and the landscape of the valley.

In 1897, his great-grandfather had a sawmill up Brender Canyon. He started out taking the mill to the timber.

“He moved up to that ridge and logged it out. Finally in 1921, he moved the mill and everything down here … » More …

Winter 2013

Beans

“I was determined to know beans.”

—Thoreau, Walden

Having abandoned journalism and returned to her family’s farm on Whidbey Island, Georgie Smith ’93 started gardening, and one thing led to another. Smith had at least two things going for her, family land and a knack for farming. Farmer’s markets sales led to supplying restaurants, and ten years later, she’s still in business, farming 20 acres on Whidbey’s Ebey Prairie outside of Coupeville with four full-time employees and the same number of three-quarter time workers.

Even though Smith grows multifarious crops—greens, alliums, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, whatever—at the heart of her enterprise right now is a lovely … » More …

Craig Morris
Winter 2013

Of mice, men, and wheat

Although varieties abound, wheat can be more simply considered as either hard or soft, hardness being a measure of the kernel’s resistance to crushing.

 

All wheat originally was soft-kerneled. And there is, so far as we know, no evolutionary advantage to either the hard or the soft trait.

But clearly, somewhere along the line, that section of genetic material that determines the hardness of the kernel underwent a random mutation. Specifically, the Puroindoline a or Puroindoline b genes, which have long been a focus of Craig Morris’s research.

In order to understand the hard/soft divide, Morris, a plant physiologist, suggests that we consider the … » More …

Gary Chastagner. Photo Robert Hubner
Winter 2013

Ask Mr. Christmas Tree

If you’re looking for Gary Chastagner around this time of year, you would do well to put out an all-points bulletin to Wherever Christmas Trees Are Sold. He’s perused trees up and down the West Coast, as well as in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, and Texas. Just look for the cheerful fellow taking clippings, bending needles, and chatting up the owners about things like moisture content and needle retention.

 

“My family knows that if it’s Christmas time, I’m usually around looking at Christmas tree lots,” he says.

Chastagner, officially a plant pathologist with the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center, is … » More …

Winter 2013

A poor showing in children’s books

Jane Kelley pulls a picture book from a shelf in her office and, flipping through the pages, shows a story of a little girl living in a graffiti- and trash-covered apartment complex. The book, Something Beautiful, tells how the girl takes charge of her own environment and cleans up her home to make it more beautiful.

Such depictions of poverty in realistic children’s fiction are unfortunately rare, says Kelley, an associate professor in the College of Education and a scholar of children’s literature. Despite the historically high prevalence of poverty in the United States, that fact of life for many kids is underrepresented in the … » More …

Winter 2013

History develops, art stands still

An art historian journeys into the Renaissance

 

Maria Deprano meets me in Florence just outside of Santa Maria Novella, a church consecrated in the early Renaissance. While the green and white marble façade is spectacular, we’re here to look into the mysteries of the basilica’s interior frescoes.

A 2013 fellow with Harvard University’s Villa I Tatti, DePrano has traded her post in Pullman for a year in Italy to research and write a book featuring a family of fifteenth-century Florence who appear in one particular set of the church’s frescoes. The Tornabuoni were art patrons who commissioned and were featured in artworks from some … » More …

WSU tailgating
Winter 2013

Cougar encampments

On home game weekends during football season, WSU’s Pullman campus goes through a rapid and dramatic transformation. As soon as students and staff vacate their parking lots, a new community, equipped with hibachis and hot dog buns, motors in. These RV-driving Cougar fans come with their families, friends, and sometimes their cats and dogs, too. They set up outdoor living rooms, roam through campus, and share food and fun with the friends and strangers around them.

“It really is its own culture,” says Bridgette Brady, director of transportation services. “What we have here is very important to WSU. And we are unique in how many … » More …