Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Research

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 …

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 …

Winter 2013

Watching the sea

The paint has barely dried at the new Salish Sea Research Center near Bellingham, but the $2.2 million facility is already in use. Student scientists dip into a freezer full of recently collected shellfish, a Zodiac boat and a collection of waders are drying in the back mud room, and several projects to study acidity in the water and the health of the aquatic organisms are already underway.

The Northwest Indian College was established in 1973 to train technicians who would work in Indian-run fish and shellfish hatcheries throughout the region. More recently it has expanded to include two- and four-year college degrees. And today … » More …

Winter 2013

Tiny seed, big prospects

As small, relatively obscure seeds go, quinoa has a lot riding on it.

It measures about 3 millimeters across, and its worldwide production is about 1/20,000th of wheat, but foodies, researchers, farmers, grocers, and food policy experts can’t get enough of it. Packed with protein, adaptable, and hardy, it’s an emerging option in the quest to improve farm incomes while feeding a growing planet with impoverished soils and warming temperatures. The United Nations General Assembly has even given it its own year: 2013, the “International Year of Quinoa.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last February said it is “truly a food for the Millennium Development Goals,” … » More …

Fall 2013

Booze, Sex, and Reality Check

Last August, before starting classes, before even really getting to explore campus, the 4,000-some members of the freshman class were required to take an hour-long clinic designed to improve their behaviors.

The Booze, Sex, and Reality Checks program came during the Week of Welcome. Amidst the moving in, concerts, picnics, and open houses, WSU’s new students ducked into cool classrooms for versions of a seminar on drinking and sex.

“We don’t normally have firsthand interaction with students,” says Leah Hyman, a human development graduate student who broke form to assist a WSU drug and alcohol counselor in the workshops. In a field rife with … » More …

Phil Marston. by Robert Hubner
Fall 2013

The tractor beam has arrived

Capt. James T. Kirk: You left spacedock without a tractor beam?

Capt. John Harriman: It doesn’t arrive until Tuesday.

—from Star Trek: Generations

Phil Marston is not a Trekkie, nor has he given much thought to the Star Trek tractor beam that can use focused beams of energy to attract and repel derelict spacecraft or, in one case, USS Enterprise Capt. James T. Kirk.

He was just intrigued by something, in this case, the way an acoustic beam is scattered by a sphere.

“Basically, it goes into the category of a problem you solve because it would be curious to see what … » More …