Thomas R. O'Donnell

Big scope in the deep woods: The fate of ISU’s Mather Telescope

In Uncategorized, University research on November 10, 2020 at 7:20 am
The Mather Telescope in its glory days.

The Mather Telescope in its glory days.

The approximately 45 acres of rolling woodland southwest of Boone that Aaron and Melissa Gillett bought last month are a haven for deer, wild turkeys, foxes and other wildlife.

Plus one white elephant.

After months of bureaucratic and pandemic-related delays, the Gilletts closed on a deal with the Iowa Board of Regents to buy the former Erwin W. Fick Observatory, a venerable facility where hundreds of Iowa State University students got their first taste of large-scale astronomy. The college abandoned it about five years ago. Workers stripped the steel-sided building of most electronics and metal for salvage, disposal or sale as surplus equipment.

But they left behind an enormous reminder of the observatory’s past.

The mom and the hurdler: an update

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2019 at 7:44 am
Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) uses an electric scooter to get around. Patricia Lopes-Schliep is a world-class hurdler. The women have discovered they share a rare muscle condition. For Viles, it's part of the reason she can no longer walk. For Lopes-Schliep, it's part of the reason for her dominance on the track.

Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) in 2015 and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. Image via the Toronto Star.

I’m behind the curve on this (life, you know), but I have an update on one of my most popular posts – one that still gets regular views, partially thanks to search engines, more than three years after it went up.

It’s the story of an Iowa mother who uses a scooter to get around due to a muscle-wasting condition and her strange connection to a world-class athlete.

Although the mother, Jill Viles, is still at it and busy spreading her story, the update is not all happy news.

Climatologists offer evidence – and encourage action – on climate change

In Government on August 19, 2019 at 7:27 am
An aerial view of flooding at Camp Ashland, Nebraska on March 17, 2019.

An aerial view of the flooding at the Camp Ashland, Nebraska on March 17, 2019, after a Platte River levee broke. Nebraska experienced its worst flooding ever in spring 2019, something climatologists say is likely to become more common under global climate change. Credit: Staff Sgt. Herschel Talley, Nebraska National Guard, via photopin (license).

When you want to learn about climate change, talk people who study climate.

SciLine, the science information service for journalists, did just that. As part of a science essentials boot camp for political reporters, the nonprofit (associated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science) gathered three state climatologists before a Science Center of Iowa audience earlier this month.

The climate mavens from Iowa, Nebraska and North Carolina were unequivocal in their assertion that man-made climate change is real. Doubts among the public, especially farmers, are fading as bouts of extreme weather become more common, they said.

The three experts varied somewhat, however, in their thoughts on how we should respond to the climate change threat. And it seemed to me that the discussion mostly missed the point in a substantial way.

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