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Life-Saving Science

At a recent meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans, I participated in a discussion of early warning systems that give the public time to take cover from tornadoes and to prepare for hurricanes. Today, we have hours or days to get out of harm’s way. Contrast that with the hurricane in Galveston, […]

Running Clear

The Arctic Ocean, 1997. Gary Klinkhammer had strapped a water chemistry analyzer onto the hull of a retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine to measure carbon. He had come to this bleak and desolate place looking for organic matter, fertile detritus dumped into the ocean by massive rivers in Siberia and North America. “The Arctic in […]

Battling the Superbugs

This story has echoes of heroes tramping the Earth (or the galaxy) on a quest to defeat the forces of darkness. Along the way, the travelers encounter strange creatures with remarkable powers. They endure harrowing tests of mental strength and technological prowess. In the end, they prevail, bringing down the enemy and discovering a truth […]

Turncoat Proteins

It’s one of life’s little ironies. The proteins in our bodies fight infection, carry messages, ferry oxygen and build tissue. But then, like double agents in a spy novel, they can betray us. They overreact to a virus and attack our own organs. They promote cancer, help clog arteries or set up roadblocks in the […]

Business Partners

One sunny spring afternoon, friends sat together in the backyard of a Corvallis home sipping wine, bemoaning the recent hike in gas prices to $3.50 per gallon. Among them were a former product-development specialist for Hewlett-Packard and an Oregon State University chemist. Perhaps inspired by the bioethanol in their glasses, what might happen, they wondered, […]

From Wood to Watts

About a million years ago in South Africa, a Homo erectus cave dweller used fire on purpose, and some charred bones at the site suggest it may have been for cooking. Thus was born the biofuels industry — and also the first known barbecue. The name of that cave, Wonderwerk, means “miracle” in the Afrikaans […]