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Category Archives: technology

Imagine taking a deep breath of crisp Sierra Nevada forest-filtered air!

Story ran on Malibu Times blog, August 9, 2013

The human nose is miraculous. It is a complex organ of smell. In fact, one percent of human genes are devoted to olfaction; smell was central to our evolution over the past seven million years.

The main role of smell is to protect humans from decaying foods and poisons. Foods that are indigestible tend to smell woody or musky and are made up of large molecules. Edible foods, on the other hand, have low molecular weights, which can be processed by our digestive enzymes.

The primary role of scent is not about sex.

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Story ran on Malibu Times Blog March 1, 2013

An Australian interviewer recently asked me, “of all the people throughout history, who would you like to spend time with?” Here’s my answer:

Leonardo da Vinci, born in the middle of the 15th century, was the founder of modern science and an interpreter between nature and humans.

He sought to understand the nature of life two centuries before the microscope was invented. He believed the earth was a living, self-organizing and self-regulating system.

Leonardo had exceptional powers of observation and a powerful visual memory. And his “sublime left hand” (as his friend and mathematician Luca Pacioli, called it) drew in excess of 100,000 drawings in more than 13,000 pages. Some 6,000 pages were preserved as manuscripts that are now in libraries and private collections. Others were preserved in larger forms known as codices, and are held by the British Royal family and Bill and Melinda Gates.

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Beautiful spring wildflowers

Story ran on Malibu Times blog Feb 15, 2013

For thousands of years the First Peoples of Earth have known the importance of respecting all living things. There is a natural cure for every ailment that afflicts humankind; the caveat is that we must not continue to dismantle all the wild ecosystems.

One of the most amazing plants that I have come across over the past quarter of a century of studying forests is the South Pacific noni or Morinda citrifolia.

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Antonio Stradivari’s career spanned seven decades and his workshop produced almost 1,200 violas, guitars, cellos and violins. About 650 of his exquisite instruments exist today. Many of them are nearing 350 years old. How can such old instruments sound so melodious and command over $3.5 million at auction?

Violins, violas and cellos belong to the violin family. They are indisputable kings of all musical instruments. The violin has said to portray and inspire every emotion imaginable from the braying of a donkey to delivering a tune of heart rendering beauty. Only the human voice can match it. Stardivarius or “Strads” are the most famous and sought after violin family.

Andrea Amati made the first violin in 1564 in Cremona, Italy. One hundred and two years later in 1666 Stradivari made his first violin. The craftsmanship that went into building these splendid works of art is breathtaking. The violin has rightfully so been compared to the female silhouette — narrow-wasted and voluptuous.

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Story ran in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I’ve spent the past two harrowing months (May & June 2010) covering America’s worst ecological disaster. Children and adults across our nation and the Western Hemisphere want to know what can be done to address an antiquated and toxic energy source.

Humans are remarkable problem solvers. We have found cures for polio and smallpox, landed on the moon and likely within a decade humans will visit Mars. There is every reason to believe that also within the coming decade we will make a remarkable transition away from being totally dependant upon fossil fuels by entering the Age of Energy Transformation.

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Story ran in Huffington Post July 13, 2012

Ever wonder why ice cream at the bottom of the carton is chewy and filled with frost? With U.S. sales in 2010 at over $10 billion and more than 1.5 billion gallons of U.S. ice cream produced in 2011, Nestle – the world’s largest food company wants answers.

Nestle scientists are looking to nature for help in revealing exactly which mechanism within ice crystal dynamics is responsible for taking the fun and flavor away from ice cream as it ages in home-freezer’s.

If you are now wondering about ice crystals within ice cream, it turns out that one of nature’s fiercest winter events – avalanches – hold many answers to making tastier ice cream.

Avalanches kill more than 150 people a year around the globe – mostly snow mobiliers, skiers and snow boarders. Imagine a massive slab of snow breaking loose from a mountainside, shattering like broken glass, moving in excess of 80 mph within 5 seconds, and carrying 20 football fields, 10 feet deep with snow. It’s a backcountry enthusiast’s worst nightmare.

So what causes avalanches? And why exactly would Nestle food scientists be interested in them?

Snowpacks are made up of layers of accumulated winter snow. Each layer contains ice grains constantly changing from smaller to larger crystals. Larger ice crystals are weaker because they have fewer bonds compared to smaller more rounded crystals, which are packed snuggly together (just like ice cream when it’s first made and frozen).

Avalanches occur when snowstorms or rainstorms add heavy weight causing instability within existing snowpack layers. In fact, rain in the mountains acts like a lubricant facilitating layers within a snowpack to unlock and slip-slide away.

Avalanche research over the past half century has closely examined the life history and growth of ice crystals as influenced by temperature.

The Institute for Snow & Avalanche Research in Switzerland (SLF) at Davos uses the world’s only x-ray tomography machine to time lapse study ice crystals at temperatures between 32 and minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Coincidentally, most home-freezer settings are maintained at the lower end of this range.

The dynamics of ice cream crystals are in many ways similar to the ever-changing ice crystals within mountain snowpacks. So it seemed very logical that Nestle scientists in Vevey, Switzerland should partner with their SLF brethren in Davos, and that’s exactly what they did.

Ice crystals grow because temperatures fluctuate. Home-freezer’s may be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit but they, too, vary by a couple degrees on either side. Or, when you take the carton out of the freezer to get a few scoops, the ice cream is exposed to room temperature for a minute or so. When this occurs ice cream slightly melts then it refreezes. When ice cream ages the ice separates from the original ingredients of cream and sugar. Over time, ice cream becomes chewy because it looses water and air, or it becomes frosty (due to crystals growing larger similar to conditions in a snowpack) and harder to scoop.

The Nestle scientists are using the non-invasive x-ray tomography to investigate the shape and size of ice crystals and air bubbles in ice cream cartons under home-freezer conditions. By identifying the main mechanism for growth of crystals within ice cream, Nestle scientists will be able to slow it down by altering their receipt, thereby making yummier ice cream that lasts longer.

Coming soon in your favorite ice cream (and Vanilla still remains the most popular followed closely by Chocolate Chip Mint and Cookies & Cream) a tiny mouthful of nature’s avalanche.

Australia, Radio 1, National: Ockham’s Razor

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

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Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.

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California Lutheran University Climate Change student assessment of Earth Dr Reese Halter's class

Story ran in Huffington Post July 18, 2012

In 1953, DJ De Pree, the founder of Herman Miller, wrote “We will be a good corporate neighbor by being a good steward of the environment.” This core value, along with a triple bottom line, and inventive design that solves problems with excellent products, makes Herman Miller a world-class leading company.

Over the years of teaching climate change, resource management, sustainability and conservation biology, my students have made a number of in-class verbal presentations on how Herman Miller has used nature as an inspiration to both solve problems and create new products.

Since the middle of the 20th century Herman Miller has clearly understood that all pollution and waste are lost profit. They saw that many companies were taking raw materials and fuels from nature, cycling products through the economy and then generating tons of trash. That trash was, in turn, polluting the ground water.

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