Monday, August 31, 2015

Adventures in Science

Pnina in Uganda
By Chris Eboch. First published in the enchantment magazine by NMRECA, March 2013

When many people think of New Mexico – if they think of it at all – they either think of Santa Fe/Taos artists, or they imagine the Wild West. But New Mexico also has a long history in the sciences. (Most famously, the atomic bomb was developed in Los Alamos and tested near Alamogordo.) That history continues at research labs and universities around the state, especially at the small but respected New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

Many people picture a certain stereotype when they hear the word “scientist” – male, antisocial, and stuck in a lab. Pnina Miller and Mouse Reusch of Socorro, New Mexico, counteract the cliché.

Both work at IRIS PASSCAL, the short name for The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL) Instrument Center at New Mexico Tech. In layperson terms, they work with scientists studying the interior of the Earth.

While in a PhD program, Pnina researched jobs and discovered PASSCAL. She got a job with the manufacturer of some of the equipment seismologists use to record earthquakes. “I knew I wanted to get to PASSCAL, and through the manufacturer was my path.” At PASSCAL, she says, “I could go into the field and do fun research and play with the equipment. It was absolutely perfect for me. I was born to do this.”

Mouse in Tan.zania
In 2007, she met Mouse, who says, “We were similarly scientifically inclined, similar age, similar interests, fun, loved field work, and I spent many, many hours asking her about PASSCAL.” Mouse came to PASSCAL at the first opportunity.

Despite their similarities, their jobs are different. “I do a little bit of almost everything,” Pnina says. “I go to the field and support our Principal Investigators (PIs) in their research, I do logistics, which means I schedule the equipment. I do a lot of training sessions now. I supervise the two warehouse guys and count inventory. My job has changed over the nine years I’ve been there, so now I’m more of a supervisory role. The last thing that I do, and the main thing that I used to do, is evaluate the sensors and test them on our seismic testing piers.”

“I do what she doesn’t,” Mouse says. “I’m in the data group, working with the researchers that Pnina trained to collect data. They’re required by National Science Foundation guidelines to make their data publicly available. I help them archive it in a consistent and standardized format. Then it becomes available for anyone in the world to use. The place that we work really does help further seismology around the world.”

“Our PIs study a lot of different things,” Pnina explains. “We deploy in different kind of places: volcanoes, glaciers, plains, rift valleys, mountainous regions.”

Mouse adds, “They study from the upper tens of meters of the crust, things that are very shallow subsurface, to things that extend to 3000 kilometers down to the mantle and core.” One group in Africa was studying elephants, trying to determine if their stomping was random or they were sending messages. Others study why earthquakes happen, trying to better gauge hazards. “For volcanoes, they’re usually studying the interior structure,” Pnina says. “They study changes in ice sheets, which can be tied to climate change. They study how glaciers move structurally.”

Working in Antarctica
A World of Work

To support this science, PASSCAL employees may travel around the world to install or maintain instruments. Pnina’s international travel destinations include Spain, Morocco, Antarctica, Tanzania, Uganda, Jordan, Canada, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. “Through all the places, the people I work with in geosciences are very excited about it and want to learn more,” she says. “The PIs are really fun and friendly. You do the work, but afterwards, there’s some opportunity to tour around.” She worked with a local man in Morocco. “He brought me to his house with his family and we had a big dinner after a long field day. You get to see things tourist don’t necessarily get to see.”

With PASSCAL, Mouse has been to Antarctica and Botswana. For other seismic experiments, she’s been to Cameroon, Tanzania, South Africa, and Chile. “I enjoy the adventure, meeting new people, trying new foods, new cultures, frequent-flier mile status,” she says.

Understanding the Earth

Besides the excitement of travel, Mouse notes the value of the work itself. She worked on a project in Chile one month after the big 2010 earthquake. “A lot of the science that I did in grad school seemed kind of esoteric. Why do you care about the mantle structure beneath Cameroon, West Africa? But this was recording aftershocks. We were in Concepción, where the 15-story building had fallen over, the bridges were damaged, and people were displaced. It felt very meaningful, worthwhile, a reassurance of the importance of the work we do. We are contributing to this great body of knowledge and understanding of the Earth.”

Pnina advises young scientists, “If there’s something you want to explore, head in that direction. You never know what you might discover.”

Mouse adds, “There are so many mysteries out there, in the ground, above the ground, in the water, in space. You need imagination and curiosity. I have fun nearly every day.”

As these women prove, science doesn’t just take place in a lab, so there are opportunities for the most adventurous spirit.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Western History Mysteries

Author Earl Staggs has started a series of articles called “History’s Rich With Mysteries” at Kevin’s Corner (“Book Reviews and More”). These might be of interest to fans of Southwest travel and history:

The Mystery of Billy the Kid – “While some facts about Billy the Kid’s life are known, much about him is supposition, exaggeration, myth, and tales told around a campfire, leaving us with a number of mysteries surrounding his life and death. …”

Who Was Etta Place? – “She has come down to us through history as the best known female outlaw of that period and some say, the most beautiful. And the most mysterious. No one is certain where she came from before she hooked up with Butch and Sundance ….”

Author Rabbi Ilene Schneider wrote about “The Life and Legend of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp – “Many years ago, read that Wyatt Earp’s wife was Jewish. … Okay, so the supposed “facts” of her birth are, at best, murky. But it is known that her parents were Jewish immigrants from Prussia….”

And from author J. Michael Orenduff, and entertaining, more recent true story from Mogollon, New Mexico: The Legend of Burro Joe – “Was Burro Joe a brilliant scientist or a man on the run after murdering his wife? J. Michael Orenduff recalls his encounter with the mysterious recluse.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Southwestern Romantic Suspense on Sale

Whispers in the Dark is on sale for $.99!

Reviewers give it a 4.3 star average: “A great read with a strong plot line & likeable characters!” 

Whispers in the Dark

Archaeology student Kylie Hafford craves adventure when she heads to the remote Puebloan ruins of Lost Valley, Colorado, to excavate. Romance isn’t in her plans, but she soon meets two sexy men: Danesh looks like a warrior from the Pueblo’s ancient past, and Sean is a charming, playful tourist. The summer heats up as Kylie uncovers mysteries, secrets, and terrors in the dark. She’ll need all her strength and wits to survive—and to save the man she’s come to love. 

Whispers in the Dark, romantic suspense set in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, will appeal to fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell. Get your copy today!

Buy or sample on Amazon

The Mad Monk’s Treasure e-book is also on sale for $.99! 

Reviewers give it a 4.4 star average: “Great balance of history, romance, and adventure. Smart romance with an "Indiana Jones" feel. Well-written with an attention to detail that allowed me to picture exactly in my head how a scene looked and played out.” - Jules R.

A heretic Spanish priest’s gold mine, made richer by the spoils of bandits and an Apache raider—the lost Victorio Peak treasure is the stuff of legends.

When Erin, a quiet history professor, uncovers a clue that may pinpoint the lost treasure cave, she prepares for adventure. But when a hit and run driver nearly kills her, she realizes she’s not the only one after the treasure. And is Drew, the handsome helicopter pilot who found her bleeding in a ditch, really a hero, or one of the enemy? Just how far will Erin go to find the treasure and discover what she’s really made of?

“The story has it all - action, romance, danger, intrigue, lost treasure, not to mention a sizzling relationship....”

Get it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance E-Books, Kobo, or Apple/iTunes:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Window to the Wild: Working with Falcons and Hawks

Ready to hunt pigeons
Two weeks ago I shared the experience of going on a “hunt” with falconer Matt Mitchell, and last week I talked about raising falcon and hawk chicks. Here’s part three of the series.

There are 70-80 falconers in New Mexico, and a few thousand falconers in the United States, most with only one or two birds. The sport requires education and dedication, and is expensive, with food, veterinary bills, and the cost of gas for daily hunting trips.

During hunting season, Matt is out with his birds twice most days. He has two falcons and a Harris hawk on his falconry hunting permit. (The other 10 birds are on a breeding permit.) “I take the two falcons out in the morning, usually before sunrise,” he says. “I’m out looking at ponds, and I get those after ducks. If I don’t find anything to hunt with the birds I take homing pigeons out.”

Homing pigeons are a challenging quarry – usually too challenging to kill, but they give the falcons a workout before flying home. “Taking a pigeon out of the bag and throwing it isn’t falconry,” Matt claims. “It’s just a training technique.” True falconry involves a trained bird hunting wild prey in nature. “But if I haven’t found anything to hunt, the pigeons give it a workout. Then in the afternoon, after work, I’ll take the Harris hawk out and fly that for an hour or so, chasing rabbits.”

It’s possible to lose a bird if it heads after distant game or decides to try migrating. Falconers use radio telemetry to track the birds, but sometimes the telemetry breaks or comes off. In other cases, it may be impossible to reach the bird. Matt had one that went into White Sands territory, and he wasn’t allowed to go after it. “I went out every day and tried to get the signal and hoped it would come off but I never got it back,” Matt says. “But a year later, the Audubon people at the Bosque del Apache saw a peregrine flying around down there with a telemetry unit on its leg. I like to think it’s mine, but for all I know it could’ve been some guy’s bird from Montana.”

Losing a bird is a reminder that these are not pets. “They’re really wild creatures that have allowed you to hunt with them,” Matt says. If the bird was raised properly, it should be able to survive on its own. Falconers have been known to get calls that their bird has been found nesting halfway across the country.

Birds can also die in accidents or animal attacks. “All the laws of the wild apply,” Matt says. “If something ever happens to them you’re heartbroken. With that in mind, you take your little warriors out every day and hope for the best.”

The chance to share a falcon or hawk’s life is worth the challenges. “In ideal conditions, you are basically seeing the bird’s natural behavior all the way,” Matt says. “With trained raptors, it’s a window onto what these birds do in the wild every day.”

This was excerpted from an article first published in the enchantment magazine by NMRECA, July 2012

What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. It features falconry as a subplot.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. In The Dead Man’s Treasure, estranged relatives compete to reach a buried treasure by following a series of complex clues. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page