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    Thursday April 23rd, 2015, The Environmental Arts and Humanities Program held a public, interdisciplinary panel discussion on nuclear power and the environment in remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly three quarters of a century ago. Students and faculty gathered in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center on the fifth floor of the Valley Library, and after an introduction by program director Jacob Hamblin, panelists shared their own perspectives on nuclear power, and opened the floor for public questions and discussion.

    Panelists were Laurel Kincl of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Andy Klein of the Department of Nuclear Radiation and Health Physics, political science specialist Keith Baker from the School of Public Policy, and historian of science Linda Richards from the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion.


    Dr. Mark Mills testifies before the Congressional Joint Atomic Energy Committee on the effects of radioactive fallout (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

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        Alaska Wood Frog

        “I was talking with a fisherman in a bar in Anchorage…” Thus began a lecture on “Amphibian Abnormalities and their Environmental Linkages: Observations and Musings after a Decade of Research” by ecologist Mari K. Reeves, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Reeves was speaking at Oregon State University on April 3, 2015, as part of the One Health Seminar Series that veterinarian/PhD-candidate Rhea Hanselmann has been promoting on campus ( ).

        The final talk in the series, “Tales from the Public Health Division: investigations of zoonotic disease outbreaks,” by Paul Cieslak, MD with the Oregon Department of Human Services, takes place on May 1, 2015 at ALS 4001.

        One Health is “the concept that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are directly linked, and that the condition of one can affect the health of the others.” It is a global movement endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other national and international organizations seeking to unite healthcare efforts for more comprehensive prevention and treatment of disease. Given that 70% of new and recurring human diseases are related to animal carriers or environmental stressors, it makes sense to address well-being in this more holistic way. Hanselmann, who is researching the effects of environmental change on the incidence of Hanta-virus infections, is working with Luiz Bermudez in the Department of Biomedical Sciences to develop One Health courses. They hope that OSU will begin to offer integrative classes and eventually a One Health credential program for undergraduate students.

        In Reeves’ talk, the fisherman with whom she had been talking had a surprising analogy for “Mother Nature.” He argued that nature is not a mother, but rather a baby. Babies are resilient, he pointed out, but they need a great deal of care. While they may heal from some injuries quickly, seemingly minor trauma can have long-term consequences that may not be immediately apparent. Connecting the fisherman’s insight with her One Health perspective, Reeves showed a modified graph based on C. S. Holling’s 1973 visualization demonstrating a threshold for resilience that takes into account the accumulation of stressors. While an animal, human, or ecosystem may be able to recover from an insult readily if it is already in a relatively healthy state, recovery is more difficult when stressors accumulate. Multiple stressors and low- level stressors can have significant impacts, but are very difficult to study.

        To demonstrate the effects of small, non-toxic doses of a contaminant, Reeves showed a video of an experiment in which one could see that when an uncontaminated (control) fish smells a predator, it immediately sinks to the bottom of the tank to hide. In contrast, fish exposed to minute amounts of copper seemed fine, but were not able to smell the predator signal the same way that the uncontaminated fish did. When the predator smell was released into the tank, these exposed fish did not sink to the bottom and hide, and not smelling danger, they quickly became prey.

        What does this have to do with studying frogs? When studying stressors affecting the health of frogs, it can be difficult to pinpoint relatively small changes in their environment. However, as for the fish in the experiment above, even minute stressors such as barely measurable levels of pesticides or heavy metals can have significant impacts on frog populations, especially when combined with other stressors. As advocates of the One Health perspective have argued, this is true for other creatures as well, including humans.

        Frogs have historically been a favorite creature for biological studies, because so much of their development is visible as they change from egg to tadpole to frog. Because they then migrate to totally different habitats, they are also exposed to a wider variety of environmental hazards than most other species. When a frog population starts declining rapidly, or includes many frogs with deformed or extra limbs as was noticed in the Midwest several years ago, how can one tell what is going on? Pollutants, parasites, predators, climate change – any of these could be driving the demise of a frog population. In a large-scale study published by Reeves and her colleagues in Ecological Monographs (August 2010), the researchers found that the most important factor in frog survival was where they lived. The quality of their habitat proved to be a mitigating factor for other stressors, contributing to better health and survival rates. Again, the corrolary lesson for humans seems clear: protecting our habitat is the best way to protect our health.

        Unfortunately for frogs, clean habitat is hard to come by. A 2013 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that over half of U.S. streams and rivers are in poor condition. Reeves ended her talk with a call for help in cleaning up our waterways. Her descriptions of frogs inspire a deep sense of delight and wonder in these amazing creatures. Furthermore, in helping frogs, we very likely will be helping ourselves in ways we don’t yet understand.

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            16458601211_d22f15016c_zOn February 5th, 2015 a special conference on de-extinction titled, “De-extinction: Rescue or Boondoggle?” was held at the Memorial Union. Coming a few days after Elizabeth Kolbert’s visit to OSU to present on her recent publication The Sixth Extinction, the question of large-scale species loss was on the minds of those in attendance. Here two graduate students from History of Science discuss some of the talks given at the conference!


            We Have Always Been De-Extincting –Elizabeth Nielsen

            Or at least, that’s historian Luis Campos’ claim. The Oregon State University School of History, Philosophy, and Religion and the Horning Endowment for the Humanities recently hosted a symposium on the phenomenon of synthetic biology, or de-extinction. Current Horning Professor Anita Guerrini organized the well-attended and fascinating conference. Continue reading

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                On 16 January 2015, the Oregon State University School of History, Philosophy, and Religion celebrated the career of the historian of science, Horning Professor Emerita Mary Jo Nye, in a conference organized by current Horning Professor Anita Guerrini. The following blog, composed by graduate students in OSU’s Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, recounts this celebration of a life in scholarship.


                From Ambika Natarajan:

                rockeIn a talk entitled The Indifferent Hypothesis Redux: The Dilemmas of Pierre Duhem, Dr. Alan Rocke explored the philosophy of Pierre Duhem, a late 19th century physical chemist. He emphasized how politics and personal enmity had an impact on theories accepted and promoted by scientists. Dr. Rocke argued that historical, biographical and psychological details play crucial roles in the construction of scientific philosophy.

                Duhem opposed atomistic ideas in chemistry on philosophical and personal grounds. Another key opponent of the atomism in chemistry was a contemporary of Duhem, Marcellin Berthelot. Although in the same scientific camp, Duhem did not support Berthelot’s views. In fact, he opposed him due to personal animosities. On the other hand, Duhem favored one of the key proponents of the Atomistic theory at the time, Charles-Adolphe Wurtz. Although they did not agree on scientific grounds, their similar religious affiliations made Duhem an ardent follower of Wurtz. Ironically, he used some of Wurtz’s arguments in support of atomism to oppose atomism in his own papers. Wurtz’s articulation that science can never be satisfied with the fecundity of atomism in the face of the unique and universal first cause, ‘God’, was used by Duhem as an inspiration to his objection to atomism.

                In analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Duhem’s arguments, Dr. Rocke pointed to the convergent realism inherent in Duhem’s statements and concluded the lecture with the lingering thought that Duhem’s history reflects a combination of boldness and epistemic caution the prevalent 19th century France.


                From Joshua McGuffie:

                swannerIn another of the day’s papers, Dr. Leandra Swanner, one of Profesor Nye’s former students, shared her research on the history of the astronomical observatories atop Mauna Kea. Dr. Swanner is now at Arizona State University and her research focuses on the interaction between astronomers and the local communities of environmentalists and others. Her case study for the conference showed how and investigated why some native Hawaiians fought against expansion of the telescope complex on Mauna Kea. Dr. Swanner contends that this discord has forced astronomers to come down off the mountain to “meet the public” and justify their science.

                Telescopes on top of Mauna Kea date from the 1960s, when the site was identified as an optimal location for astronomical research on account of its elevation, lack of light pollution, and easy access for the American scientific community. In the 1960s, Federal environmental regulations were more lax than they are today, and the Environmental Protection Agency had yet to be created. The first telescopes on Mauna Kea were approved and constructed with a bare minimum of environmental considerations in mind. Moreover, the sacred nature of the mountain’s summit to practitioners of native Hawaiian religion was not then a decision-making factor in the project. The telescopes themselves were part of the modernist American scientific adventure, the islands were considered as a perfect location for telescopic explorations of the cosmos.

                By the 1970s, however, environmentalists began to protest what they perceived to be a cavalier attitude towards Mauna Kea’s fragile mountain ecosystems. The 1980s saw a resurgence in Hawaiian culture and religious practices, a trend that encouraged native Hawaiians to assert the sacred nature of the mountain in contrast to its scientific value. Astronomers, whose science has tended not to inspire controversy, found themselves in the middle of a conflict over how to best use the land in order to search the skies. Dr. Swanner has shown that they have attempted to align modern astronomy with the traditional Hawaiian art of navigation. She also points to their use of educational outreach tools as a means to connect with local communities. These two strategies have met with mixed success. Dr. Swanner’s research is an interesting foray into the politics of science in the age of ecology. She shows that space matters and is worth contesting, for science, for culture, and for the earth.


                Matt McConnell, also commenting on Dr. Swanner’s presentation, observed that

                Dr. Swanner examined how social pressures have changed the narratives of the research being done there over time, from descriptions of Mauna Kea as an “ideal location,” to the “Umbilical cord to the mysteries of the Universe.” Along the way, we gain insight to the complex issues facing the scientific community when their interests, even in the pursuit of pure science, trespass on the interests of others. Finally, I would suggest that this case serves as an example of the reliance of policy changes in research on long term studies with high confidence intervals that take years to develop. This is a strategy that has been described by Oreskes (Merchants of Doubt) and others as being used by corporate political entities to prevent regulatory measures from being passed concerning their activity. Here we see the same principal at work in a decidedly “left leaning” scientific community.

                The astronomers were clearly shocked by the native assertions that the large telescopes (there are at least 12 now) are an extension of colonial domination of the island, symbolic of the rich white man’s lavish lifestyle and wanton disregard for the immediate environment. Their arguments amounts not only to an indictment of the negative aspects of this particular observatory (impeding the prayers of native religious practitioners via its presence, and destroying a rare local species) but also of astronomy writ large. Why, the natives and other protesters wonder, would someone spend so much time looking out at the stars when we can’t even take care of what we have here on earth?


                From Elizabeth Nielsen:

                gordinIn another one of the wonderful papers presented at the Mary Jo Nye Festschrift, Dr. Michael D. Gordin examined how science and philosophy developed in the career of Arnost Kolman. In drawing parallel lines between his ideas about Kolman and Mary Jo Nye’s book Michael Polanyi and His Generation: Origins of the Social Construction of Science, Gordin portrayed an East/West division in philosophical scholarship during the twentieth century, growing out of the central Hapsburg cities, such as Prague and Budapest.

                Born in Prague in 1892, Arnost Kolman grew up in a politically and culturally engaged city. After being captured by the Tsarist forces during World War I, Kolman joined with the Bolsheviks, becoming a lifelong Marxist. This influenced his career, as well. While Michael Polanyi and others turned west to expand their careers, towards Britain and Germany, Kolman turned east, moving to Moscow. Due to his interest in mathematics, his university training, and political status as a Bolshevik, Kolman contributed to the history and philosophy of science in the Soviet Union. He also strongly adhered to the ideas of dialectical materialism in his work.

                Kolman is perhaps most well known for appearing in the 1931 volume Science at the Cross Roads, next to Boris Hessen’s “Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia.” Gordin argued that Kolman played a large role as a political representative at the 1931 conference. In addition, Kolman wrote extensively about cybernetics during the infamous Lysenko affair, which demonstrated the significance of Soviet cybernetics as compared with genetics. Lysenko, it seems, was fairly insignificant in the larger picture of the development of Soviet style philosophy of science.

                Through examining Kolman, Dr. Gordin contended that the early Soviet Union thrived philosophically, as the confrontation of Marxism fostered a mutual creation of political philosophy and philosophy of science. Dr. Gordin also drew parallels between the exodus of scholars from former Hapsburg cities into the west and subsequent developments in philosophy, and Kolman’s exit into the East. These cities were important in fostering a generation of socially aware scholars interested in the philosophy of their fields. In doing so, Dr. Gordin encouraged scholars to think critically about the development of history of science.

                All of the presentations will be compiled and edited into a special issue of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences to honor Dr. Mary Jo Nye.
                We wish to thank the Chemical Heritage Foundation for co-sponsoring this celebration and to Professor Mina Carson for the use of her photographs.

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                    The capital letter “B” in a 16th century French manuscript, MS 640.
                    The capital letter “B” in a 16th century French manuscript, MS 640.

                    An antidote against the fumes when working with molten metals: “eat a piece of thin toast with butter, neither antimony nor any other vapors will harm you. Or put half a pig’s bladder in front of your face.” (079v)

                    Instructions for training a dog: “you need to keep your dog attached; when it does what you command, to win its love, give it a piece of cheese which was held under the armpit.” (085v)

                    Business advice for apothecaries: “The mortars, therefore, used for grinding are stronger and there is less danger of breaking them if they are of fine copper. And for a private home, they do not ring so much and do not make as much noise as those of metal. It is true that those that are of metal ring louder for apothecaries.” (131r)

                    In these excerpts from an anonymous c.1580 manuscript, one learns how to protect against heavy metal poisoning, how to make a dog treat particularly fragrant, and that sixteenth- century apothecaries worked noisily to drum up customers! In June 2014, I was part of a group of fifteen graduate students and scholars of early modern France who worked on translating this manuscript from middle French into modern English. We convened at Columbia University under the direction of historian Dr. Pamela Smith (U.S.) and paleographer Dr. Marc Smith (France). Roughly half of us were native French speakers, and the other half were native English speakers. We hailed from England, the U.S., France, and Canada, and came from a number of disciplinary perspectives, from art history and the history of science to musicology and geography.

                    Discussing the interpretation of a passage in MS 640.
                    Discussing the interpretation of a passage in MS 640.

                    Our task was to transcribe and translate manuscript, MS 640, from the archives at the national library of France (Bibliothéque Nationale de France, BNF), working from a high resolution digital copy. Our translations will eventually be posted in an open access digital edition online as part of the Making and Knowing project at Columbia University: The manuscript is a collection of recipes, along the lines of medieval books of secrets, in which the author, apparently from Toulouse, has set down instructions for everything from drawing to metal casting to animal husbandry. The author/compiler not only carefully titled each entry, giving detailed directions, but also wrote copious notes in the margins as he tried the different recipes.

                    After a lecture on the history of writing in France and an introduction to sixteenth-century letter forms, we set out first to decipher the words and sentences, then to transcribe, normalize, and translate each entry into English. For three weeks, we wrestled with barely legible letters, archane spellings, and obscure references. We first transcribed each page into the old French as it was written. We then “normalized” some of the more difficult to read anachronisms such as words that were run together (delaquelle became de laquelle and lespine became l’espine). Most importantly, we made comments throughout the process of the translation into English to make the process of rendering the sixteenth century French into understandable English as transparent as possible.

                    Our translation, however, was not the end of the project. One of the exciting aspects of this project is that our translations will then be taken into the labs and workshops at Columbia University where students and professors will work with lab technicians/artisan/craftsmen to recreate the processes described. In 2014, translations focused on the metal-working recipes. Next summer, pigment-making will be the focus of translation. Students and scholars interested in participating in the translation process can apply here: Applications are due February 2, 2015 for the June 1-19 workshop.

                    Students with faculty and experts in period production techniques ready to experiment with a recipe for making imitation coral from MS 640.
                    Students with faculty and experts in period production techniques ready to experiment with a recipe for making imitation coral from MS 640.









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                        Citizenship is the theme of a multi-year series at OSU commemorating World War I with the goal of thinking through the lessons of the period as well as the horror of the trenches. On Wednesday, November 4, a panel of four OSU scholars—three historians and a philosopher—shared their reflections on different aspects of the Great War. What did WWI mean for the concept of citizenship and for citizens as they experienced and later commemorated the sacrifices made?


                        Professor Christopher Nichols opened with the image of the ubiquitous red poppy that is worn in honor of WWI veterans and victims particularly in Canada and the UK. This was a tradition started in the United States but is no longer observed here as much as it is in other places in the world. The poppy reminds one of poetic lines such as “Age shall not weary them” from the ode to WWI fallen soldiers by Robert Lawrence Binyon (1869-1943) or images of “poppies …between the crosses, row on row” as described in John McCrae’s, “In Flanders Fields”. However, Professor Nichols also pointed to the way the decorative red lapel flower was used to lobby for veteran benefits such as claims for higher pensions. Such “poppy appeals,” as they were called, kept the war cause visible. Nichols asked, “Does this reify war-making? or does it commemorate a collective sacrifice?” He urged the audience to remember the global nature of WWI. The war did not take place just in Europe. Hollywood films such as On the Western Front seem to ignore the fighting that happened in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Ten percent of the population of the world died, and many millions who came home did so with injuries that could never heal. Many did not have homes to return to. The cost of “total war” for human life, as well as other impacts of “maximizing death”,  was unprecedented for both soldiers and civilians. Nichols pointed out that while it was in many ways a war fought with traditional weapons, there were many innovations—bombing with tear gas first so that soldiers would remove their gas masks, then applying chlorine gas which could then penetrate the lungs of the unmasked soldiers—was just one of the more nefarious new techniques used on the battlefield.


                        From the philosophy department, Professor Joseph Orosco discussed the Anarchist movement during the period of the WWI through the lens of a leading anarchist, Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921). In 1914 Kropotkin exchanged a letter arguing with a Swedish anarchist Stephan concerning the importance of the anarchist stance against Germany in WWI. Kropotkin considered a German victory a defeat for the cause, one that would result in militarism and absolutist power (he outlined this in his Manifesto of the 16, in which he refers to Germany as a threat to human evolution itself). The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) replied to Kropotkin’s assertions by arguing that the war in Germany was fueled by ‘the war state’ (what we might term now the military industrial complex) and it was a trans-European, even Eurasian, problem, not one local to Germany. The real challenge, Malatesta claimed, was to foster revolution against the system itself: by reconfiguring power structures between industry, state, and workers. In contrast to Kropotkin’s optimism that harmony would eventually prevail, Malatesta predicted that another war would follow the end of what many were calling ‘the war to end all wars’. Orosco emphasized the unpopularity of WWI. Governments had to hide the extent of lives lost to keep up the war effort and morale. Anarchists faced long sentences simply for distributing leaflets against the war.


                        History professor, Jake Hamblin, emphasized the disillusionment provoked by WWI. Science, which through the nineteenth century had been increasingly associated with progress and hope, became seen as disturbingly implicated in maximizing death. Killing became an end in itself more than a means to win the war. Even seemingly innocuous scientific pursuits such as the study of weather became of strategic importance, as scientists learned to predict wind speed and direction to aid dispersal of poisonous gases on the front lines. WWI was widely perceived as a failure of civilization. Part of this was due to its wedding of science and warfare, and yet, we as a global society – perhaps particularly in the United States and the former Soviet Union – have shown a remarkable willingness to accept science’s role in warfare without questioning the ethical, moral, and rational dilemmas this poses. The scientist J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964), for example, defended the use of chemical warfare on the grounds that “war is wrong, not a certain kind of war.” Thus, the basic principles of total warfare were in place long before the 1940s. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) once said that science is not, ‘a drift towards something better’. Indeed, in the specialization, mobilization, and deadly effect of science in WWI, Whitehead’s worst fears were realized with the key role that science played in developing weapons of mass destruction. Hamblin concluded with a question: Is our disillusionment in the wake of WWI due to the failure of science, or the failure of humanity to question our actions? Perhaps the real failure is that we continue to expect lethal advancements in science to be treated with restraint.


                        The final panelist, Professor Kara Ritzheimer, analyzed WWI’s effects on the home front. Ritzheimer convincingly argued that the war effort had significant repercussions for notions of citizenship, increasing the expectations that citizens had about the rights to which they were entitled in exchange for the sacrifices they had made for their countries. Voting rights for women followed the war in many countries as a consequence of the important supporting role many women had played on the home front. Government benefits also increased as a result of WWI. In Germany, where one third of soldiers were husbands and/or fathers, up to half of German families received some sort of direct compensation from the government. For wives and children without husbands at home, this government paycheck was essential. Likewise, for those widows and orphans who would never see their loved one again, government death benefits were crucial to their survival. These government benefits were a continuation of voting reforms and policies from the mid-nineteenth century that had extended rights and amplified the role of the central government in individual, political, and social spheres during increasing industrialization. During WWI, Germans required welfare as never before– to aid businesses losing employees to the front, and in disability payments to wounded soldiers. However, as these social rights were granted, a reciprocal shrinkage in individual rights occurred. The Weimar Republic’s progressive programs begin this process, but the war played a fundamental role.

                        -Tamara Caulkins and Matt McConnell

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                            by Anna Dvorak*

                            Source: Wikipedia
                            Source: Wikipedia on “Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale”

                            In his lecture “Laws of nature, historical contingency, and the wolves and moose of Isle Royale,” Dr. John A. Vucetich seeks to explain a new approach to the study of ecology that he uses with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project, which is the largest, continuously running predator/prey study in the world.  In his study of population dynamics on the island, he believes that unlike other scientific fields, like chemistry or physics, ecology is not strictly law-based.  Instead it is better studied like other historical events.  He refers to this as historical contingency and he defines his process in two parts.  This process explains population dynamics through a series of disparate random events, each of which has a legacy that has effects comparable in length to the waiting time in between these events.  Each candidate event is crucial to understanding the predator/prey relationship on Isle Royale and more specifically the predation rate of the moose.  Such candidate events in his analysis include novel disease, catastrophic winter, genetic rescue by introducing new wolves to the island, and the end of positive effects from the genetic rescue.  Periods in between these candidate events are characterized as either top-down or bottom-up.  It is these individual events that can be quantifiably explained and then compared to the laws of nature. Continue reading

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                                by Joshua McGuffie

                                McGuffie1 With summer drawing to a close, I took the opportunity to ride the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Albany, Oregon to Union Station in Los Angeles. I’d never taken the train for such a long trip, 28 hours each way. On such a long trip landscapes pass by, fixed in their space but transient in the rider’s experience. Each moment on the train creates a snapshot of the land. Being a rider is significantly different than being a driver on the interstate – not having to worry about truck traffic frees the mind to wander. As my mind wandered, four snapshots of human interaction with the passing terrain leapt out at me.

                                The trip starts in Albany, Oregon. Seat of Linn County (‘The Grass Seed Capital of the World’), Albany quickly gives way to the rural Willamette Valley. Sheep, hay, and grass seed accompany the rider all the way to Eugene. In Oregon’s third city the tracks turn southeast to climb the Cascades through the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. The transition from an agricultural landscape to a logging landscape is abrupt. Evergreen stands of varying ages blanket the landscape along with clearcuts and a web of logging roads. The Willamette played a part in the bitter spotted owl and old growth forest controversies. But, to a layman’s eyes on the train, the forest looks like a forest, not an historically controversial landscape. In this case, the train delves into the depths of environmental conflict but also shrouds it with the trappings of a scenic landscape. One hundred years ago, Einstein used the train to teach physicists the hidden truths of relativity. Today, as the train runs through the forest, it teaches us the often hidden truth that aesthetic beauty can obscure the extent of human alteration to an ecosystem. Continue reading

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                                    by Tamara Caulkins*
                                    Germain_5On May 20, 2014, the OSU Department of Mathematics sponsored a history lecture by Dr. David Pengelley, of New Mexico State University. Dr. Pengelley presented an animated lecture on the French mathematician, Sophie Germain (1776-1831). Dr. Pengelley’s interest in Germain was sparked by his use of primary historical sources in his teaching of mathematics. This led him to a store of Germain’s original manuscripts at the National Library of France, which had not been studied in over two hundred years. Revisiting Germain’s work as a mathematician, Dr. Pengelley found that Germain had developed a sophisticated plan for proving Fermat’s Last Theorem, making significant contributions to number theory. Until recently, her work was known only via a footnote in another mathematician’s treatise (Legendre, Essai sur la Théorie des Nombres, 1823). Particularly in an age when women were not well-educated and when they were excluded from scientific academies, Germain’s substantial achievements were indeed remarkable.

                                    Sophie Germain was only thirteen when the French Revolution broke out, forcing her to spend most of her time indoors. During that period, she turned to her father’s library. Fascinated by books on mathematics, she taught herself against her parent’s wishes (Pengelley relates that at one point they even took away her clothes and candles to prevent her from studying at night!). Germain’s father was a silk merchant so it was not through his mentorship that she developed her abilities but rather through her own effort and perseverance. At one point, Germain took on the identity of a student at the École Polytechnique who had died (Antoine-August LeBlanc). When the professor discovered that it was really a woman who was submitting such fine work under LeBlanc’s name, he was astonished. Germain eventually corresponded with Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) in Göttingen, one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the time. Pengelley recounts that upon receiving a letter from Germain, Gauss praised the way she contributed to the “charms of this sublime science,” as giving him great joy. Continue reading

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                                        by Joshua McGuffie*


                                        What images does wilderness evoke? For many, wilderness means pristine landscapes, scenic vistas, quietude, and wide open spaces. Many Americans may be surprised to know that, legally, wilderness has only been enshrined as a public reality for 50 years. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, surrounded by an unlikely coalition of elected officials and preservationists. To celebrate the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project hosted a panel discussion on 2 May to consider the Act’s genesis, life, and future.

                                        Dr. Jacob Hamblin discussed important environmental moments leading up to the act. He particularly singled out public outcry over the Bureau of Reclamation’s Echo Park Project. The Bureau planned to build a series of dams along the Colorado, including within Grand Canyon National Park. Hamblin argued that potential incursions into ‘protected’ federal lands raised popular environmental consciousness and incentivized politicians to support preservation measures. With this background in mind, he asked the question “Is it possible to have a community of sincerity without common purpose?” That the Wilderness Act passed, with a variety of definitions for ‘wilderness’ built into its text, seems to indicate that such a community did in fact coalesce in the early 1960’s. Continue reading

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