Childhood Friends Reconnect Over Home Brewing

By Justine Hofherr

BU News Service


Chris Wilson stands in front of a television screen mounted on a wall at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions at 196 Massachusetts Ave. that displays a PowerPoint about how to brew your own beer.  Wearing a button down gray shirt, jeans and a black sports watch, the dark-haired New Hampshire native also dons a boyish grin as he talks animatedly about the science behind home brewing to a gathered group of eight.

“Brewing is arguably humanity’s greatest achievement,” Wilson says with a dimpled smile, gesturing to a slide depicting the elements of beer—water, malted barley, yeast and hops. “It’s science and art working together, benefitting together.”

Ed Guild, a Boston home brewer and friend of Wilson’s with wildly curly sandy brown hair, black-rimmed glasses and a black t-shirt depicting a parody of Darwin’s “Evolution of Man”—the ape turns into a man, which turns into a robot—stands near the center of the store, showing guests what beer looks like at every stage of the brewing process.

“I just do this for fun,” Guild says, gesturing to the wide spread of beer-making essentials splayed on a metal table.

Bags of hops on display at the "Science of Brewing" event.
Bags of hops on display at the “Science of Brewing” event.

Plastic two-ounce bags stuffed with bundles of green hops lie next to a one-pound bag packed with tiny tan ovals of malt rye. Beside the bags, sits a five-gallon plastic fermenting bucket filled with happily churning brown liquid. Large blobs of cream-colored yeast swirl around the murk, some settling at the bottom of the bucket. Wilson and Guild brewed it last night.

A fermentation bucket filled with a Saison ale Guild and Wilson brewed sits on a metal table.
A fermentation bucket filled with a Saison ale Guild and Wilson brewed sits on a metal table.

“Looks pretty gross, doesn’t it?” Guild asks a woman.

“Yes!” she says, as Wilson laughs behind them.

Beer has played a significant role in Wilson’s life—not only did it introduce him to his wife, Hillary, but also it reconnected him to his childhood friend, Guild, who coordinated the event “Exploring the Art of Beer Making” with Central Bottle Wine + Provisions for the annual Cambridge Science Festival.

While Guild poured guests samples of his favorite Belgian-style Saison recipe into small plastic Dixie cups, Wilson walked the audience through the process of home brewing with the patience of a kind chemistry teacher who truly loves his discipline, pausing as he described each step to make sure his pupils “get it.”

He carefully explained how a brewer first mashes water and grains, and then boils the sugary water from the mash with hops. After cooling the hot mixture (called wort), he or she ferments the liquid by adding yeast and extra water to an airtight bucket, then adds corn sugar for sweetness, and finally, bottles and caps it, Wilson says.

“It’s important to educate the public about what’s going into your beer,” Wilson says, “why it might taste a certain way.”

Wilson and Guild, both 35, have been friends since third grade, and have always “complimented each other,” Wilson says.

“He’s an artist,” Wilson says, describing Guild. “He’s always come at things with a creative angle, and I’ve always come at things from a scientific, engineering angle. Together, that’s where you get innovation.”

Guild agrees with Wilson, and recalls playing Legos as kids—he says he would slap the blocks together haphazardly, hoping for an interesting result, while Wilson would always build structures by following the directions.

They grew up in New Hampshire, but lost touch when they left for college—Guild went to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for graphic design and Wilson went to Georgia Institute of Technology for bioengineering.

While at graduate school, Wilson got a part-time job at the Atlanta Brewing Company—now called the Red Brick Brewing Company, thanks to a friend named Hillary who he’d later marry. Working there, Wilson says, inspired him to learn how to home-brew.

“There’s lots of innovation about different ways to brew now,” Wilson says. “The lines are blurring and it’s really exciting.”

Guild eventually ended up in Boston, working first in graphic design, then the audio industry where he currently tests music software synthesizers. Wilson, after graduating from Georgia Tech, says he spent years working in bioengineering labs, but recently relocated to Boston from Michigan to work at Bioventus, a bone healing company.

A year and a half ago, Guild noticed on Facebook that Wilson would be moving nearby, so the pair reconnected and met for dinner in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Over drinks, Wilson says he told Guild about his growing passion for home brewing and suggested Guild try it, so the graphic designer did after his wife Christina bought him a starter kit for Christmas. Guild says he was instantly hooked.

“I love to cook,” Guild says, “And brewing is very much like cooking. I learned the rules and framework—then I broke the rules.” He smiles.

For Wilson, the allure of home brewing comes mostly from his background in biology and chemistry, he says. He’s fascinated by what makes beer unique—what separates a pilsner from an amber, an amber from a stout.

He points to a slide on the TV that shows a cross hybrid chart he made illustrating how four factors—aroma, taste, appearance and mouth feel—can be affected at different stages of the brewing process through slight adjustments of chemistry. For example, the proteins in the grains dominate the appearance, or color and foam, of a beer, he says.

Bags of rye used in the brewing process sit on display at the event.
Bags of rye used in the brewing process sit on display at the event.

“Taste, on the other hand, is affected by all four elements,” Wilson says. “Hops are bittering agents but have florally, citrusy notes.”

With Wilson’s pinpoint precision—he documents all their concoctions in a lab notebook, and Guild’s ingenuity—he recently recreated a Finnish beer called Sahti he liked by adding boiled juniper berries throughout the whole brewing process—the pair have come up with some pretty innovative beers, Guild says. His favorite so far has been a tomato basil beer he got the idea for when his wife canned an excess of summer tomatoes.

Guild crushed the tomatoes to remove excess water and tossed the pink mixture into a fermenting beer. For his wife’s last birthday, friends and family drank five gallons of it, enjoying the “basil aftertaste,” he says.

“It doesn’t taste like V8 juice,” Guild says, laughing. “It’s subtle, almost wine-y.”

Today, Wilson and Guild regularly meet up in each other’s garages to try out different beer recipes, Hillary Wilson said after the event.

The petite brunette, wearing a bright turquoise jacket, munched on bruschetta while talking about her husband and his friend’s home brewing pastime. She said two of their “biggest hits” have been a pumpkin beer and a cherry wheat recipe that calls for real Michigan cherry juice.

“Friends and family hope we make a business from this, but when you make your hobby your work, it becomes less fun,” Hillary Wilson says, nodding.

Home brewing has taken off in general—the American Homebrewers Association now has around 37,000 members, up from 8,700 in 2005, according to Stateline, and some brewers are trying to make a living off it. Three guys working in the Financial District who got together to brew every evening after work started Night Shift Brewery in 2011 in Everett, Mass., Guild says. They quit their banking jobs and focused on developing a brewery that offers innovative craft beers.

Wilson and Guild both say they are currently satisfied with brewing as a hobby.

“My family says, ‘Give up your day job! Brew some beer!’” Wilson says. “It’s tempting but it would be so challenging. You have to plan for four to five years of zero profit, minimal revenue.”

Guild agrees, saying that it’s very difficult to get a license to sell your brew in Massachusetts. He pauses.

“I wish there was a special bar that allowed me to sell them a keg,” Guild says, scratching his chin, looking down. He looks up. “That would be cool to have your stuff on tap. That’s a cool idea.”

Ed Guild, middle, and friend Chris Wilson, right, at the "Science of Brewing" event at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions in Cambridge.
Ed Guild, middle, and friend Chris Wilson, right, at the “Science of Brewing” event at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions in Cambridge.

Slain Officer Remembered by Sister, Friends

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

On Monday, Jenn Rogers, the sister of  MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed while sitting in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. a year ago today, will be taking her place on the marathon starting line in Hopkinton, prepared to run 26.2 miles in honor of her brother’s life.

“Finishing will be a personal goal to myself,” Rogers said of crossing the finish line on Boylston Street.

Always known as the “family runner,” Rogers said it seems natural to run the 2014 Boston Marathon, which she thinks will be historic.

Rogers is running on “Team Collier Strong,” a group that includes the officer’s friends, Rogers’ friends, and her older brother, Rob. They are running for two causes: The Officer Sean Collier Self-Sponsor Scholarship, which will send awardees through the Lowell Police Academy, and The Hole in the Wall Gang, which provides enriching summer camp experiences for seriously ill children.

Just a week ago, the team passed the $40,000 mark in their fundraising, well on their way to reaching a goal of $50,000 before race day.

Collier would have wanted to be a part of this marathon, Rogers said. He would have cared about bringing the community back together and displaying Boston’s indelible strength.

“I’m also doing this for the other victims and survivors,” Rogers said. “To be a part of their support system and have them support us matters. I wanted to do something big and out-of-the-box the way Sean would do it.”

Collier, who as an auxiliary police volunteer raised money for breast cancer awareness, had a passion for doing good things for other people, Rogers said.

One MIT staff member always forgot an umbrella, so Rogers said her brother left one outside her door with a note.

He once adopted a cat he found on Craigslist named Ninja.

He thought the EMTs at MIT weren’t getting praised enough for their hard volunteer work, so he wrote to Police Chief John DiFava requesting that they receive some recognition, she said.

This past February, Collier got his wish, and the student-run ambulance service was awarded the first Collier Medal for embodying the spirit of the fallen officer.

Katherine Goldsmith, a 19-year-old Wellesley student and part-time EMT at MIT, is a part of the group of EMS volunteers who received the Collier Medal.

Not only did Collier go out of his way to praise the EMS volunteers, but Goldsmith said he went out of his way for just about anybody.

“He was really good at small talk,” Goldsmith said, describing how he introduced himself to her when she first joined EMS and didn’t know anyone. “Out of thousands of students, he always recognized me. He always remembered faces.”

Collier would hang out with the EMTs and play video games with them when they were off duty. He’d ask them about their classes, want to know about their projects, Goldsmith said. He also always went out of his way to follow the ambulance in his cruiser when EMS got calls.

The EMS ambulance was named for Collier, Goldsmith said. Her supervisor got license plate 179, his badge number.

Goldsmith said she honors Collier’s memory by simply being nicer to people — being more welcoming.

“He was so actively involved in student life in a way that was unusual,” Goldsmith said. “He wasn’t just another uniform.”

Rogers said Collier, 26, wanted to make the world a better place.

He was someone who loved to have fun, she said, but he put his job as a police officer first and foremost. He had always wanted to be a cop, she said.

“He put his heart and soul into it,” Rogers said.

Collier joined the auxiliary police as a teenager, she said, assisting the police department by patrolling the community and acting as extra “eyes and ears” for the department. At the time of his death, he had been preparing to join the Somerville Police Department—his lifelong dream. He was posthumously appointed a Somerville police officer in August, she said.

Some of her earliest memories of Collier are of him running around their front yard playing “cops and robbers,” or dressing up as a fireman. His respect for first responders was something he was born with, Rogers said, and he had a fierce love for the American flag.

“I remember him running around the yard yelling, “Stop in the name of the law!” and singing the Bad Boys theme song,” Rogers says with a laugh. “He loved the brotherhood of it all.”

Collier was also passionate about the outdoors, she said, and he joined MIT’s Outing Club during Winter School with gusto, quickly mastering the basics of mountaineering and winter hiking.

To train, he ran stairs with the club in full uniform—attracting the attention and laughs of many a passerby, Rogers said.

In the final Winter School challenge, Collier completed a grueling mid-winter climb of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast.

The outing club members also fondly mention how Collier always brought pepperoni on long hikes with him, according to their website.

“At the end of the day, he was still a goofball,” Rogers said with a laugh. “That’s how I’ll remember him.”

Though Rogers admits training for the marathon has been emotionally and physically grueling, she said her family has always stood for being able to “laugh and love” through the pain.

The family members take turns attending the many memorial events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings and the anniversary of Collier’s death so that one person does not feel overwhelmed, Rogers said. It helps that her mom used to be a grief counselor. She encourages the family to be open with their sorrow, Rogers added.

“We’re all just going to take it as we can,” Rogers said, “But I’m proud to live in this city. I’m proud to show the world that we are not going to back down because of something so awful.”

Collier, right, and his sister, Jenn Rogers, dance.
Collier, right, and his sister, Jenn Rogers, dance.

Thousands Gather to Honor MIT Police Officer Collier

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By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Thousands gathered at MIT’s North Court this morning to attend a ceremony of remembrance for MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. last April 18 by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

At the ceremony, MIT architecture professor J. Meejin Yoon revealed the design of The Collier Memorial—an “open hand” structure, to remind visitors to always choose an “open hand over a closed fist,” as Collier would.

Yoon said the granite structure would be comprised of five walls interconnected through a series of reflection gardens to evoke the absence of a central figure, creating a void, but also allowing for a unifying central space of reflection.

Engraved on the memorial, it will state, “In the line of duty, Sean Collier April 18, 2013,” Yoon said.

A second inscription will come from Collier’s brother’s eulogy, saying, “Live long, like he would. Big smiles, big heart, big service, big love.”

Many present did not know Collier personally, but came out of respect for the MIT community, or because they had heard so many stories describing Collier as an exceptionally good, kind person.

Marsha Edmunds, a long time former employee in MIT’s administration, said she came because she is forever bonded to the school community.

“He was such an innocent person to be shot down the way he was,” Edmunds said, pulling her red coat tighter against the cold wind. “I didn’t know Sean personally, but he inspired a community to come together.”

Almost every seat was filled beneath the spacious white tent erected behind the Koch Cancer Research Institute adjacent to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street where Collier was killed. Quiet music hummed and the audience spoke quietly before the ceremony started. Many donned “MIT Strong” maroon and white pins that were being handed out by event planners at the mouth of the tent.

John Wuestneck, a chaplain at MIT for the past 21 years, said he knew Collier personally.

“He was a really nice guy,” Wuestneck said. He worked directly across from MIT’s police department, so he passed Collier often. “He was really good with students, good with everybody.” Wuestneck shrugged, looking down.

“What can you say?” he said.

Under a gray, overcast sky, the ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as MIT and Cambridge police forces filed into the front of the tent. The audience stood and clapped for nearly five minutes.

The MIT Police and the Cambridge Police Joint Honor Guard then performed the presentation of the flags and Lieutenant Pauline Carter-Wells of the City of Cambridge Police Department performed the National Anthem, causing the audience to erupt in applause.

MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Israel Ruiz, welcomed the guests, most of who were from the MIT community, saying, “It is an honor and a comfort to have you with us today.”

Ruiz described Collier as a constantly smiling presence on campus—someone who talked to everyone and made an effort to get to know students and faculty. He said he met Collier unexpectedly, in a time when he was in great need of a helping hand.

One frigid Friday in February 2013, when winter storm Nemo had shut down MIT’s campus and caused a traffic ban on cars and taxis, Ruiz said he found himself stranded at Boston’s South Station after a business trip to New York.

Ruiz’s colleagues, worried about his safety in the winter storm, sent an MIT cruiser to come pick him up. Shortly after, Collier pulled up and rolled down his window, smiling, Ruiz said.

“He asked me if I was a grad student,” Ruiz said, as the audience laughed heartily. “I said, “Once I was, but I don’t have a uniform.”” He smiled.

During the car ride, Ruiz said Collier mentioned his love for the MIT community. The snowy street was deserted, but Ruiz remembered Collier stopped at an intersection on their way back to campus to help a lost student.

The light was green, Ruiz said, but Collier stopped to help him anyway.

“The light then switched from red to green—a couple of times,” Ruiz said with a laugh.

Ruiz said Collier’s actions that night, just small acts of kindness, perfectly exemplified the MIT community—a community that will “always roll down the window for those who need help.”

United States Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren following Ruiz, said that terror such as last year’s events surrounding the Boston Bombings and its aftermath, can often break people’s spirits.

Boston and Cambridge, however, did not waver, she said.

“We responded with a cry of defiance, not of fear,” Warren said, and reminded the audience to hold Collier in their hearts forever.


John DiFava, MIT Police Chief, had worked closely with Collier during the officer’s 15 months at MIT’s department. Collier had been about to leave the force to join Somerville’s department.

DiFava was one of the last speakers at the ceremony, and described Collier’s immense impact on the way DiFava viewed life.

When he was a child, DiFava said he grew up with heroes like the Lone Ranger, but over time, grew cynical along with life’s many disappointments.

He lost sight of the idea that heroes still exist among men, DiFava said, but Collier taught him many life lessons that slowly changed DiFava’s hardened worldview. One thing Collier taught him was the meaning of bravery, he said.

“He was so young, but wise beyond his years,” DiFava said, looking out to the audience. “He had such insight into people, which illustrates the enormity of our loss.” His voice cracked.

While 2013 has been marked by unimaginable sadness, DiFava said he hopes 2014 will be a year with less frequent tears, a year to “turn to the sun with hope.”

As the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, donned in all black sang “Amazing Grace,” DiFava bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.

“I now know heroes still walk on our earth,” DiFava said.

Bound by Tragedy: A Restaurant and Charity Look to 2014 Boston Marathon for Closure

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Erinn Fleming, director of events and marketing at Forum, sits at a polished wooden high top in the back of the trendy restaurant located at 755 Boylston St. as she explains why she will be running the 2014 Boston Marathon Monday.

“To finish the marathon— I think it will bring closure to what happened last year,” Fleming said. “It will have made everything I’ve been through and everything my friends at Forum have been through “okay.””

The western Massachusetts native has curly brown hair pulled back into a topknot, lively blue eyes and a lean, athletic build. She smiles frequently, and has a warm, friendly voice, but her tone becomes somber as she describes April 15, 2013, the day the bombs went off—the day that made her want to run.

“I went upstairs to make sure we had all the food for dinner and at 2:50 p.m., everything just kind of stopped,” Fleming said. She pauses. “I heard it first. I probably moved more quickly than I’ve ever moved in my life. I knew something wasn’t right.”

Fleming, 44, has worked at Forum for two and a half years, and was working last year’s Boston Marathon, organizing and overseeing The Joe Andruzzi Foundation’s marathon-watching party. The nonprofit’s ticketed party was held in the front left section of Forum, facing Boylston Street.

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, started by the former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi who survived aggressive cancer in the form of non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma, had team members running for the charity.

The charity raises money to offer medical and emotional support to cancer patients and their families. Friends and families of the runners were enjoying Forum’s prime viewing location just a block west of the finish line. Some sat inside near the windows while others watched on the patio.

It had been a happy day, Fleming said. There were t-shirts, free giveaways, special menus and BBC Radio was onsite.

In the flurry of activity—she was in charge of overseeing the full staff, security, kitchen—Fleming had gone upstairs to plan for the afternoon rush of customers she expected to flood Forum after the race, which was wrapping up. The winner had crossed the finish line two hours before, but there were still 5,700 runners streaming down the course when it happened.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Fleming said of the explosion. “People were coming away from windows and running upstairs to avoid what happened out front, and I moved into hospitality mode. I knew we needed to get our customers out as safely as possible. And that’s what we did.”

Forum was ground zero for the second bombing; the second floor glass windows were shattered, gray dust covered the floor, and a smoky, metallic smell hung in the air, Fleming said.

Fleming and her staff brought all of Forum’s ice and linen out front to the wounded. They helped guide first responders to those who needed critical attention on Forum’s patio. After 15 or 20 minutes, Fleming said police told her and her co-workers to leave while they had the chance—if they didn’t now, they might not be able to later.

This day, which injured some of Fleming’s customers, co-workers and the restaurant, fueled a fire in Fleming—a fire to run for her friends, her city and herself.

“I didn’t think about it the day of,” Fleming said of running the next Boston Marathon. “And April 16 was a strange blur, a day spent in front of the television wondering, “What is going on?””

On the morning of April 17, however, Fleming said she went to the gym and met up with her personal trainer. She needed to let out the pent-up emotion she had been feeling, she said.

After a kickboxing session, Fleming said she turned to her trainer and said she was going to run the next marathon.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Fleming said. “It just came out, but it didn’t give me a choice.” She smiles.

After reaching out to the Joe Andruzzi foundation, the nonprofit gave Fleming one of their bibs—she would be running with the team she had worked so closely with the year before. But this year, there would be 47 runners compared to 21.

“I was so grateful,” Fleming said. “I’m honored.”

This year’s team, “Team JAF,” trained under a charity team umbrella, CharityTeams, which includes groups ranging from Special Olympics Massachusetts to the South Boston Neighborhood House, which organizes community programs in South Boston.

Every Saturday at 8 a.m., Fleming said the charity teams met up at Marriot Copley and ran, usually getting brunch together afterward. They became quite close.

This was Fleming’s therapy, she said.

“It feels really, really, great to be out there with selfless, motivating, supportive people,” Fleming said. “We are all out there because we want to help a foundation or a group that help people that really need it.”

Fleming said finishing the race would bring her some closure to what happened last year. Though Forum has been entirely renovated with new décor and a new layout, the race, Fleming said, will prove, “You can’t do this to me and you can’t do this to our restaurant. I’m going to go run 26 miles to prove it.”

Casey Ford, a 27-year-old from Lynnfield, Mass., handles media relations for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. Though he was not at the Forum-hosted marathon watching party last year, he said he plans on overseeing the event this year, held in the exact same place, same time.

Ford said it was important for the foundation to hold the party at Forum as a tribute to last year’s runners, the first responders and the city of Boston.

“Last year, we kept telling the team to, “Run to Forum,” Ford said. “This year, we’re saying, “Return to Forum.” It’s a carbon copy of last year. We’re finishing what we started.”

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation has had an outpouring of support from the Boston community, Ford said. Last year, the team raised roughly $170,000. This year, they’ve just reached $400,000.

Ford said the team’s “collective approach” to training is inspirational and represents the mantra of the foundation, which is to always remain upbeat.

“We’re never going to live in fear and we’re going to keep moving forward,” Ford said. “That’s what the foundation tries to instill in patients.”

Gillian Furey, special events manager and volunteer coordinator for The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, joined this year’s marathon team when her uncle was injured in the bombing at Forum and received two bibs, which he offered Furey and her boyfriend, Eddie O’Brien.

“After my uncle got two bibs, I thought I should run in the foundation’s honor,” Furey said.

Though she has never been an avid runner, Furey said the Saturday morning runs with the other charities’ members have made her confident that she can, and will, complete the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Furey also said she now considers Fleming, her running partner, a close friend.

“She is definitely a go getter,” Furey said. “She never gives up. She had a minor injury and some people would have dropped out. She muscled through it—did 21 miles with us a few weeks later.”

When she thinks about completing the Marathon Monday, Furey said she thinks it will feel “bittersweet.”

Like Fleming, Furey said she looks forward to closure; however, she said she would miss seeing the same group of people every Saturday morning.

“We’ll still be in contact but it will be a loss,” Furey said. “But I’m looking forward to ending this past year. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.”

Geologist Looks to Earth’s Past for Hints of Earth’s Future

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

In his quest to understand earth’s history, Professor Sam Bowring has traveled to Siberia, Poland, India and China. He has been chased by a black bear for four hours through the Northwest Territories of Canada, eventually ridding himself of the beast by shooting a flare gun into its eye. He has stared into the eyes of a mountain lion all night long in the scrub brush desert of New Mexico, wielding only a small knife and hammer, eventually dozing off as his campfire cooled and awaking to the sound of the lion’s screams in the distance.

Bowring is, first and foremost, a geologist—and he has a mystery to solve.

The adventures the Indiana Jones of geology encounters, whether he’s gathering rocks in South Korea or geomapping in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, are a bonus.

“I’m interested in the origin and evolution of the Earth’s crust,” Bowring said, sitting at his office desk in MIT’s Green Building, the tallest building on the Cambridge, Mass., campus.

Bowring, with bright sapphire eyes and a thick gray beard, has a quiet, serious demeanor as he discusses his work. Behind him, three metal bookshelves span the length of the room. The shelves are full, and every single title is about geology.

“Work is my hobby,” Bowring said, pausing to adjust the collar of his gray button-down shirt. “I like being outdoors and hiking, but I think about science all the time.”

For the past 20 years, Bowring has spent every day of his life trying to understand precisely when–and why 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period, 96 percent of earth’s life disappeared.

Bowring and his colleagues traveled to a set of hills in China where there are rocks from the late Permian, early Triassic period. These rocks contain layers of fossils that show the scientists when certain species went extinct. Not only are there fossils preserved in these rocks, but there is also volcanic ash.

It is a mineral—zircon—in the volcanic ash that proves most useful to Bowring.

Bowring separates zircon, a brownish translucent mineral, from the ash because it has a special property.

When zircon forms in the newly spewed ash, the element uranium fits into the crystal structure quite nicely, he said. But lead does not—it’s radiogenic, meaning, it’s produced by radioactive decay.

“So the day that crystal forms, you have a clock,” Bowring said. “That clock is based on the decay rate of uranium to lead. By measuring that ratio, we can calculate the age of that ash quite precisely.” Bowring smiles as he makes this point.

Bowring thinks that by narrowing the time frame of this mass extinction, he and his colleagues could shed light on what factors might have caused it, possibly exposing parallels between what the environment looked like then, and now.

“Studying this is interesting because this is the largest extinction that animal life has seen on this planet,” Bowring said. “As we push to shorter and shorter time scales, it starts to be relevant to our own existence on this planet and what we’re doing to it.”

Recently, Bowring and his colleagues had a breakthrough thanks to increased precision in measuring rocks—they published a report in January for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively stating that the mass extinction took less than 60,000 years.

While 60,000 years might seem like an incredibly long time to humans, in geology, this is a blink of an eye and means the extinction took place much more rapidly than previously thought.

Bowring describes this knowledge as “sobering” because the scientists have found a clue—spikes in carbon dioxide—that correlates with this narrowed time frame.

“When you look at the fossil record, you see fossils begin to disappear based on physiology and their ability to deal with high CO2 emissions,” Bowring said.

Animals, the ones who “sat in the mud and filtered water,” were the first to go, he said. They just couldn’t handle the accelerated rate of CO2 emissions. The last animals to disappear from the fossil record were the more active organisms.

Another clue Bowring has noted is that right after the extinction, animals couldn’t precipitate shells made from calcium carbonate very easily.

“There’s a dearth of shells in the fossil record,” Bowring said.

A simple way to inhibit the precipitation of calcium carbonate is to drop the pH, or acidity, of seawater.

“Today, people are very concerned that the pH of sea water has dropped about a tenth because of high carbon emissions,” he said.

Though Bowring and other scientists have thus determined that the mass extinction correlates with high CO2 levels and low pH levels in the ocean, they still struggle to understand precisely what could have caused this.

They do know that mammoth volcanoes in Siberia called the Siberian Traps were burping lava around this time for about a million years, spewing between three and 10 million cubic kilometers of scorching lava over the earth. Between three to five million cubic kilometers is enough to put a kilometer of lava over entire the entire United States—so that’s a lot.

While volcanic eruptions, even minor ones, can be responsible for sharp spikes in CO2 emissions, Bowring is not satisfied placing blame solely on the Siberian Traps.

“Timing is crucial,” he said. “We know that the Siberian Traps overlap with the extinction, but their eruption took place over a million years. Why, then, did the extinction take only tens of thousands of years?”

This question continues to puzzle Bowring and other scientists—perhaps the extinction was the result of a combination of factors, and the eruption of the Siberian Traps pushed the majority of life’s adaptation capabilities over the edge. But the lack of certainty doesn’t mean they won’t stop trying to narrow the time frame for further clues.

After all, there are no “absolutes” in science, Bowring said.

“I suspect that in the next year we will make that time frame much smaller,” he said.

Regardless of finding the exact cause of the extinction, Bowring believes the raised levels of CO2 from the end of the Permian Period reflect Earth’s current state, but the levels have been rising at a much accelerated pace.

The driving force of climate change, the high emission of CO2 through the burning of fossil fuels, has taken a phenomenon that occurred over tens of thousands of years and has put it on a decadal time scale.

By the mid 21st century, the magnitudes of projected changes for global temperature shift will be substantially affected by the choice of emissions scenario, according to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel also noted that it is “extremely likely” (greater than 95 percent confidence) that most warming between 1951 and 2010 was human-caused.

This information is depressing, Bowring said, but what’s more depressing is that humans aren’t prepared to change their actions accordingly. Young people are taught that the only successful economies are ones that grow, and they grow at the expense of burning fossil fuels, a quick energy fix that is unsustainable.

This is largely because people only think about climate change on a very small time scale—“How can you expect people to make intelligent decisions about climate change when half the population thinks Earth is less than 10,000 years old?” he said.

In this vein, Bowring thinks a start to solving the problem involves better Earth science education at high schools and universities.

Many Earth science programs have been cut from course curriculum at public schools—even in Massachusetts, a state at the forefront of cutting-edge scientific research, he said.

Furthermore, taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, many of which are religious and teach that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, according to Politico.

While public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design, private schools receiving public subsidies can and still do. This is fundamentally at odds with students understanding the history of Earth’s environment, and therefore prevents them from understanding the challenges faced in our current environment, Bowring said.

“Anyone who will listen about geologic time and the importance of understanding evolutionary history and applying those lessons to the hard future, that’s really important,” Bowring said. “We don’t do enough of it.”

Bowring said when he thinks about his life’s accomplishments, he’s most proud of the students he has produced who are interested in solving similar problems. He can tick off the names of five students who are now teaching geochronology at various universities around the United States.

“Your scientific achievements—they are just flashes in the pan,” Bowring said. “You’ll get a newspaper article published, but 30 years from now, no one will remember that.”

Julia Baldwin, an assistant professor at the University of Montana, is a former student of Bowring. She took his geochemistry class and he encouraged her to get involved with geochronology research in Saskatchewan, a prairie province in Canada.

When you’re in the field with Bowring, Baldwin said in a phone interview, you collect ten times more rocks than any other day. He encourages students to pull out their giant rock hammers to hack away at rocks, filling their backpacks till they weigh 50 pounds, she said with a laugh.

“He’d say, ‘You might never see this rock again!’” Baldwin said in a phone interview. “He’s just so excited about everything you see.”

Besides his passion for science, she said she was struck by how committed he was to his students.

Completely devoted to undergraduate education, Bowring goes out of his way to lead field trips to Yellowstone National Park before classes start, Baldwin said. That’s how he gets students so excited about geology, she said—he actually gets them outdoors looking at it.

“He puts a lot of responsibility in students’ hands,” Baldwin said. “He first gives you the knowledge then says, ‘Go do great things with this.’ But he doesn’t take credit for it—he just doesn’t have an ego like that.”

Like Bowring, Baldwin also thinks a greater emphasis on earth science education needs to exist, from kindergarten to college.
Students need an understanding of deep time and what it means in order to evaluate the present day climate problems, Baldwin said.

“Students should make decisions with a ‘scientific citizen’ mindset, and be able to evaluate basic science and climate change within the context of geologic time,” she said. “The more they can come into contact with this knowledge, the better.”

Like Baldwin, Professor Ethan Baxter at Boston University said Bowring is a “remarkable” individual, imparting critical earth Science knowledge to his students.

Besides citing him as “the best zircon geochronologist in the world,” Baxter calls Bowring “a good doobie in general.”

Baxter is also a geochronologist, studying the formation of earth’s crust. Instead of zircon, however, Baxter uses garnets to date time.

Fingering a garnet that sits atop his office desk in the Stone science building on BU’s campus, Baxter explains the magic of unlocking the stories that each mineral holds about earth processes—processes related to the past and present.

“Anyone that studies earth history is always thinking about how can we take our information that we have from the past over those tens, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years time scale, and then apply that to what’s happening today on the decadal time scale,” Baxter said.

Similar to Bowring’s findings in the Siberian Traps, Baxter has found evidence that links spurts of garnet growth around the world with ancient increases in CO2 emissions.

Though he acknowledges that there is still no “smoking gun” in relation to what caused the mass extinction in the Permian Period, Baxter said Bowring’s efforts to narrow the time frame have shown, increasingly, that there are great similarities between the environment then and now.

“Sam’s work with the methods they are using for zircon, he’s reached a resolution in time, which transcends everything we’ve ever dreamed of,” Baxter said.

But despite great leaps in scientific discovery, education lags behind, he said.

When you’re talking about pressing matters like climate change, resource depletion, water quality, sea level rise and the melting of the Arctic ice cap, Baxter said, you notice that comprehension starts with having a basic understanding of earth science.

“A lot of states don’t include it anymore,” Baxter said of earth science education. “It’s a real shame. I don’t think people have a disinterest—they have a lack of awareness.”

Boston Librarian Connects Jailed Teens to Reading

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Jessi Snow, coordinator of youth services at Boston Public Library, leans forward in her office chair as her brow furrows in concentration. She’s trying to decide on her favorite book.

She looks up as her face breaks into a huge dimpled grin that crinkles her eyes into small, twinkling half moons.

“The Dirt by Motley Crue,” Snow says, and then laughs. “It’s like the worst book ever, all sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It’s terrible. I love it.”

Snow says that the rougher a book is, the more she feels drawn to it. No, she has never done drugs. No, she has never experienced life on the streets. But she admits she has a fascination with the dirty and the dangerous. She wants to understand the raw underbelly of urban life.

“Like, you know, give me a book about someone that’s addicted to drugs and just gets so down deep,” Snow says.

Snow, 39, is a lean, athletic woman around 6 feet tall. She walks slowly with rolled shoulders; the embodiment of relaxation. She has curly, dirty blonde hair that is graying at the roots. She doesn’t bother coloring it and wears it in a ponytail with wispy baby hairs escaping and framing her face. She wears a maroon sweater and khaki flared pants with brown clogs protruding from the bottoms. Even though it’s winter in Boston, Snow’s makeup-free face looks sun kissed, like she just got back from an impromptu surfing trip. She seems like someone who would do that, with her slight California twang, her “Yeah, man’s,” and her deep, frequent belly laughs.

When she’s not at the library, Snow enjoys watching TV, playing board games and listening to rock stars like Nikki Sixx and Rob Halford. She watches “Parks and Recreation,” “The Simpsons” and “Arrested Development” and her favorite board games to play are Scrabble and Gin Rummy.

Her office is on the third floor of the BPL. The white walls are mostly bare, except for one hand-drawn poster that says “We Love Jessi Snow” in shaky child’s writing, accompanied by black stick figures holding hands and colorful heart shapes. Another smaller black poster says “Read Your Way to Fenway” for a summer reading and essay-writing contest—winners get three tickets to a Red Sox game, a baseball cap and a backpack. Above her desk, hundreds of young adult books with titles like “Crank,” “Dope Sick,” and “Lockdown” are neatly piled on a white shelf. More stacks sit by her computer and on the floor.

For the past three years as coordinator of youth services, Snow has been in charge of overseeing library services for children and teens in all 24 branches of the Boston Public Library system. This includes training incoming youth services librarians, running after-school homework help programs, developing the system-wide summer reading program, and fundraising through the Boston Public Library Foundation for youth program support. She also manages a partnership with the Department of Youth Services to get young adult literature to incarcerated teens at every institution in Boston.

This is a big promotion from her previous post at BPL’s Central library as teen librarian. There she focused less on administration and more on developing the collection of books for the central library’s young adult section, planning weekly programming for the teen room and helping students with bibliographic and database instruction. Even before her promotion, however, Snow was interested in outreach to foster youths and teens in group homes as well as incarcerated teens.

“I’ve always been very focused on serving the underserved,” Snow says, shrugging. “Not for charity reasons but I think that in suburban settings, that’s few and far between, same with rural settings. You know, I think in urban there’s populations that are underserved.”

Snow grew up in Newburyport, Ma, but says she spent her formative teen and young adult years-20 total-in California.

As a kid, she went to the Newburyport Public Library all the time with either her mom or her dad, “Pops.” She wouldn’t describe herself as a bookworm, someone who lived in the library, just as a kid who really loved reading good books.

Snow’s childhood librarian, whom she only knew as “Miss Green,” knew all the neighborhood kids’ names. She always knew which books Snow would like, never shushed rambunctious youngsters and wasn’t afraid to sit on the floor for story time. Because of Miss Green, Snow always wanted to be either a child or teen librarian.

“I had three role models growing up,” Snow says. “My grandmother, my mother, and my librarian.” Belly laugh.

After getting a bachelors degree in Art History from California State Fullerton, Snow went to UCLA for her masters in Library and Information Studies.

Teens, Snow says, interest her because they are in a period of transition. They are not quite children, but they are not quite adults. She thinks they are often marginalized, or made to feel guilty, just for being teenagers.

“I swear, every teen I speak to has a bad memory of a librarian treating them like crap cause they were a teen,” Snow says. “I had this one librarian…I was a bit of a punk as a kid. I would get in trouble.”

While working in Oakland, CA, as a teen outreach librarian, Snow noticed some nearby libraries working with detention centers to get books to incarcerated teens. The idea stayed with her. When she moved back to Boston, she realized that only one of the eight detention center units in Boston had a library, and the others were not getting outside books.

After four months of working with DYS administration and receiving advice from other librarians in the American Librarians Association running similar programs, Snow and a colleague began traveling to the institutions once a month with 10 books per unit, 80 total. The two would divide up the books and give brief synopses of every paperback. The program has expanded to fourteen librarians.

The librarians hold discussions about the last books teens read and take down requests for new books and library cards. Snow lets the teens know about what is going on in the outside world, and encourages them to use day passes to come to library programs focused on career development.

“We talk about financial aid, college application workshops,” Snow says. “I want them to know I’m listening, listening to what they want and what they need.”

Carol Johnson is the Library Services Coordinator and Literacy Specialist for DYS and helped Snow organize her program. She said having Snow and other librarians from the city come visit the teens is important in reminding the teens that they are a part of a larger community.

“Some of the kids haven’t even been to a library,” Johnson said. “The fact that there’s an effort from local librarians to come out and talk to them is huge. It expresses that somebody has gone a little bit for them.”

Johnson said the librarians get the teens interested in events going on outside prison—poetry slams, manga clubs and summer reading programs and encourage them to participate. This provides them with a positive link to the outside world that they can develop after leaving DYS.

As for Snow, Johnson said everyone who meets her, loves her.

“She’s enthusiastic, she’s focused and she really cares,” Johnson said. “In everything she does, she sees a purpose and sees a positive outcome in this.”

The trips last from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Snow and her colleagues must be well prepared. She types up all of the book summations for her and her cohorts and memorizes them. She wants to excite the teens about the books. They lean toward urban fiction, gritty memoirs, and books about building entrepreneurial skills.

“We try to bring books that have redemptive qualities,” Snow says.

Pleased with the program so far, Snow says in the future she wants to focus more on evaluation. Right now, she only knows how many books they have checked out: 2,880 since the program started in 2011. She wants to create surveys that ask whether the teens’ reading habits changed while they were locked up.

Snow produces a print out of quotes she gathered from some of the DYS teens when she asked them what the program means to them. She pushes the sheet across the table.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity from the people from Boston Public Library. They are very helpful and it’s very useful. I love it every time they come.”

“I like getting all those books to read, it helps keep my mind busy at night.”

“Helps you keep your mind straight.”

One chilly day, Snow was taking a walk with her husband around East Boston. She looked up to see a bundled up man making quick strides toward her.

“And this kid said, ‘Hey, you’re my librarian from DYS! How are you?’” Snow says. She beams. “And I was like, I could care less if he knew who I was, but I’m a librarian to him and that’s what I want. I want people to walk into a library and feel like they will be greeted happily and treated well and have a great experience and that’s why he was psyched to see me. That’s what he got when the library came to him.”

Rehoboth Beach: Finding Solace in the Off Season

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Ocean waves lap Rehoboth Beach’s shoreline and laughing gulls shriek as I begin the walk down the salt-stained wooden boardwalk I’ve traversed thousands of times.

“Ha..ha!” “Ha..ha!”

Perched atop one of the white-painted wooden benches that line the boardwalk, a curious laughing gull tilts his terse black head at an older couple sharing a cup of Thrasher’s French fries. It opens its bright orange beak to cackle, hoping for either a handout or a fry fumble.

The sun is high in the sky, beginning its slow afternoon descent. An unseasonably warm breeze carries the smell of Dolle’s caramel corn mingled with salty seaweed on its breath.

The Delaware beach is blessedly empty, save for shocks of green American Beachgrass swaying in the wind. A lone beachcomber stoops to pick up a shell here, a dog frolics in the cold shallows there.

The boardwalk, originally built in 1873, is mostly unoccupied on this March day. It stretches for a mile, beginning with an abandoned white concrete restaurant called “Yesterday’s,” and ending with a few dune-clinging gaudy mansions in hues of pale yellow and baby blue on your right.

On your left, the Atlantic Ocean is a desert of deep cerulean, dotted with the occasional gray barge or white herring gull, floating atop the rise and fall of the waves like a tiny boogie boarder.

Come summer, the boardwalk and beach will be a swirl of color and activity, as the city’s seasonal population swells by 25,000 and thousands more flock to the surrounding area to vacation, according to the News Journal. Tourists will curse as they try to find parking spots. Change machines will inevitably break, and tourists will curse some more as they realize some of the older meters only take quarters (one gets you just 10 minutes).

Hostesses at the packed seafood joints like Obie’s and Claw’s will predictably mix up names and wait times, and tourists will have to wait two hours instead of one for their lobster special. (But, oops, the lobster special ended at 4 p.m.—just missed it.)

Blood pressures will rise with the heat. Children will spill Kohr’s chocolate custard-filled cones on their bathing suits. Even more children will vomit from riding the Sea Dragon after Grotto’s Pizza. Tempers will flare.

A three-foot wooden sign at the mouth of Rehoboth Avenue says “Welcome to Rehoboth Beach! Relax and slow down.” In the summer, the irony is lost on no one.

For now, however, locals tick off the spring days left on their calendars, and Rehoboth Beach is a picture of calm before the tourist-filled storm.

Retirees and residents walk beside the ocean’s edge as shop and restaurant owners along Rehoboth Avenue prepare their businesses, shelving new inventory, repairing sand-cracked glass windows or layering signs with fresh coats of paint. The avenue is home to more than 200 tax-free retail and souvenir shops, art galleries and a swath of seafood restaurants and boardwalk treats, and I’ve worked on it almost every summer since I was 14. (Five summers at a toy & kite store, one summer as a coffee shop barista, one summer as a hostess).

While I thoroughly loved the rush of working at the beach every summer—the “pings!” and “pangs!” of Funland arcade games, the laughter of children winning giant stuffed teddy bears, the “pop!” of buttery popcorn kernels bursting still create a din in my dreams—I love the beach in the off season even more.

Parking is free after Labor Day to the Friday before Memorial Day. There’s no wait at the multitude of Italian, Japanese, Mexican and Thai restaurants that stay open in the off-season. Temperatures drop. People smile.

Other locals share my off-season appreciation. As I drift down the boardwalk, I turn right onto Rehoboth Avenue and venture into Bella Luna, a small boutique that sells artisanal jewelry, quirky home goods like cow wall art and paper mâché birdhouses, cookbooks and cards.

Jennifer Drake, a 28-year-old brunette with sea glass-green eyes and a dusting of freckles across her pale nose, fiddles with an earring display inside Bella Luna. She describes the beach’s off-season pleasures as she adjusts the fringes of her chunky knit navy scarf.

“People smile, say ‘hello,’ and I see the same faces,” Drake said. “I love the solidarity and the boardwalk when it’s not crowded.”

Brought to Rehoboth as a child for ice cream indulgences and family beach days, Drake says her parents moved from Seaford, Del., to Rehoboth to expand their rental property business.

Though she dreams of getting into the Maryland Institute College of Art for glassblowing, for now, she says she still loves Rehoboth for its food, art and entertainment scene—especially in fall and winter. Drake laughs as she describes the annual Halloween Sea Witch festival that features dog costume contests, local band performances and scarecrow making. Another town event, the chocolate festival, is put on every March, and allows local chefs and bakers to showcase their favorite chocolate masterpieces.

“The winter’s much more peaceful,” Drake said, “Lots of cute little old ladies. But there’s still a ton to do. Plenty of festivals, food and shopping.”

Drake says she often warms up with Café a Go Go’s spicy Mexican hot chocolate on Rehoboth Avenue or wakes up with smoothies from Wilmington Avenue’s Greenman Juice Bar & Bistro—all without waiting in any lines.

Her hidden summer sanctuary, Lake Gerar Park, located on Lake Avenue just west of the boardwalk and adjacent to Rehoboth Avenue, is just as peaceful in winter, she says. Benches scattered amidst clusters of white pine, broom sedge and Butterfly milkweed face the banks of murky Lake Gerar, where Drake says she reads to decompress.

Many of Drake’s friends have moved away to Baltimore or Philadelphia, but she says she isn’t in such a big rush to leave the beach lifestyle, a calmer, more community-oriented existence she’s reminded of each fall when town empties out.

“Even if I leave, I know I’ll come home here,” Drake said.

After leaving Bella Luna, I head to Lake Gerar Park and admire the stillness of the brackish water. The sound of construction on a boardwalk hotel’s pool has stopped for the day.

I look out to my left and the colossal white Henlopen Hotel blocks my view of the sea. I take a few steps back. The setting sun illuminates the ocean, which sparkles like millions of glimmering diamonds—not a soul in sight.

A pink Victorian style hotel right on the boardwalk, Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, (2 Olive Ave, Ocean-front winter rooms from $74 to $329) has lobby parlor filled with antiques; heated indoor and outdoor spa; attached to Victoria’s Restaurant, which has three-tiered dining room with views of the Atlantic and offers afternoon tea daily.

Breakfast- GreenMan Juice Bar (12 Wilmington Ave, ) has crème brulee french toast for $9.95, traditional porridge with fruit for $5.95, homemade quiche for $9.95 and fresh juices and smoothies like The Elvis (banana, peanut butter and strawberry) for $5.95.

Lunch- Modern Mixture (62A Rehoboth Ave, ) has Latin American and Mediterranean fusion plates. Drake recommends the crunchy Falafel for $4.00.

Dinner- Cultured Pearl Restaurant and Sushi Bar (301 Rehoboth Ave, ) has live entertainment, Koi ponds, rooftop shaded deck. Sushi was voted “Best of Delaware” 20 years in a row. Try “The Rehoboth” roll (Yellowtail, tuna, salmon draped with avocado and roe) for $15.

Café a Go Go (102 Rehoboth Ave.) serves up a variety of different Mexican and Vietnamese coffee beverages like Vietnamese coffee (made with sweetened condensed milk) and the Aztec Mocha (steamed milk, espresso, chocolate and cinnamon) for $5.95.

Browseabout Books (133 Rehoboth Ave. ) is a local hangout and offers the latest book releases (no sales tax!). Often showcases Delaware beach authors’ work, like Kevin Fleming’s photo book “The Beach,” for $75.

As U.S. Honeybee Populations Decline, Scientists Look for Solutions

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Lena King, an intern at The Best Bees Company, grasps a wooden frame from the inside of a handmade honeybee hive and with a finger, she traces leftover honeycomb stuck to the frame. At the top of the frame is a dead worker bee, entombed in crystallized golden honey. Scattered around the gray concrete floor are more dead bees.

“There are more dying this winter because it’s very cold,” King said, at the company’s headquarters, located in the basement of Boston Body Works, a car repair shop in Boston’s South End.

While the number of honeybee colonies not surviving winter is increasing annually, honeybees in the United States are dying in general. The total number of managed honeybee colonies has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million today, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Winters from 2006 to 2011 saw an average 33 percent loss of honeybee colonies each year, with 2012’s unusually warm winter being a rare exception at 22 percent.

Both King, a 21-year-old biology major at Northeastern University studying the healing properties of honey and beeswax, and professor Noah Wilson-Rich, the founder of Best Bees, think a trifecta of disease, habitat loss, and herbicide, pesticide and fungicide use are to blame the honeybee population decline.

None of Best Bees’ some 200-honeybee colonies survived this winter.

For under $1,000, The Best Bees Company delivers, installs and manages honeybee hives for restaurants and businesses like Follow the Honey in Cambridge, hotels such as the Four Seasons in Boston, and residents around eastern Massachusetts. Customers usually either want to improve garden productivity, produce their own honey or beeswax on site, or they concerned about honeybee population decline, King said.

“They see it as a way to help,” King said. “There’s a large population of people who love bees because they’re so complicated. They have a very sophisticated way of life.”

Best Bees also keeps a bee sanctuary in the parking lot behind the South End urban beekeeping lab. The sanctuary serves as a “homeless shelter for bees,” Wilson-Rich said in a phone interview.

“Any time we get a call that there’s a swarm of honeybees in the city, we go get them,” said Wilson-Rich, who studied biology at Tuft’s University before attending The Bee School at The Essex County Beekeeper’s Association in Topsfield, Mass.

The sanctuary provides Wilson-Rich, the lab’s chief scientific officer, with a controlled environment to conduct his bee vaccine trials. He’s experimenting with levels of injections to find the one that’s most effective in preventing common bee diseases; a patent on the vaccine is pending, he said.

Honeybees pollinate over $15 billion dollars worth of U.S. crops each year, according to the USDA. Tree nuts, almonds, melons, berries, apples, cucumbers, avocadoes, blueberries, pumpkins and broccoli are just some of the food crops that rely on bees for pollination.

If indirect products like milk and beef from alfalfa or corn-fed cattle are included, the dollar amount goes up.

There are around 4,000 species of bees that are native to North America, but the common honeybee—the one we deploy to pollinate our crops and make the honey we buy in our supermarkets—is not one of them. The common honeybee is a European import, and is the only bee that’s been domesticated. The native bees are mostly solitary insects, while the honeybee lives in large social units that are easily transported to wherever crops need pollinating.

“If we don’t figure out how to make bees healthier, the cost of food will continue to rise,” Wilson-Rich said. “Almonds, for example, are only pollinated by honeybees and the price for them has gone up because the cost of renting bees has gone up.”

Honeybees eat nectar and pollen from the flowers they visit, King said. When bees enter flowers, they crawl deep inside to get the sticky liquid nectar from the flowers’ stamen.

While they drink, powdery yellow pollen covers their hairy bodies and gets stored in bees’ pollen basket on their hind legs.
When bees move on to other flowers, pollen from the first set of flowers rubs onto the second set of flowers, and pollination, or the movement of male pollen to the female part of flowers occurs, forcing plants to drop their flowers and make fruit with seeds.

Plants depend on honeybees; honeybees depend on plants. This threatened symbiotic relationship, so important to the U.S. economy, has the attention of farmers, beekeepers, environmentalists and scientists.

While some researchers, like Wilson-Rich, focus on how to make honeybees healthy, others, such as professor Bryan Danforth at Cornell University are trying to understand other pollination options farmers have. Danforth’s research focuses on wild and native bees and their role in pollinating apple orchards in central New York. He said he has found that native bees play a way larger role in agricultural pollination than they are given credit for.

“We see what kind of changes we can make in agricultural settings to enhance native bee abundance,” Danforth said. “That’s not to say native bees will solve the problem.”

Danforth said that native bees will not be able to help much with industrialized agriculture in the Midwest and California, but their increased presence in eastern Massachusetts, where native bee populations are abundant and thriving, could help smaller-scale farmers.

Although Danforth agrees with King and Wilson-Rich that pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide use by farmers and gardeners has a devastating impact on honeybee and native bee populations alike, he said honeybees are unique in that they have far less resistance to disease. The domesticated bee, Danforth said, is predisposed to be loaded with viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens.

“They’re like cows,” Danforth said. “Any domesticated animal heavily burdened by parasites combined with the stresses of long-distance moving experiences pathogen overload.”

Honeybees, Danforth said, are shipped from farm to farm in flatbed trucks in incredibly large numbers, where they are fed a steady diet of corn syrup and yeast rather than their preferred honey. They often face Varroa mites and parasitic flies that kill then feed on young and adult bees with weak immune systems. The biggest colony losses have been in the migratory beekeeping operations managing 10,000 colonies or more, mostly located in the Midwest, he said.

The plight of the non-native European honeybee, Danforth said, leads him to believe that backyard beekeeping in the United States, particularly in the Northeast, is not a worthwhile pursuit.

“I don’t think it helps anything,” Danforth said. “It doesn’t reduce pesticides or pathogens, and it doesn’t service crops. It’s not the right approach to maintaining bees in the broad sense.”

Instead, Danforth said he advocates for people to be backyard naturalists who plant a diversity of native wildflowers and till dirt for ground nests, where most native bees prefer to live.

“Large-scale agriculture that we’ve created is something that’s going to be a challenge,” Danforth said. “There are some things that are just not sustainable.”

Wilson-Rich said he fully acknowledges that there are food crop pollinators other than the honeybee. Over 200,000 in America, he said, if you’re counting bats, birds and other arthropods.

In fact, he said that many farmers paying for honeybees are unaware that native bees are actually pollinating their crops. But still, native bees are not domesticated, and that makes them unpredictable and unstable for farmers to rely on.

“Honeybees will go to wildflowers if they can,” Wilson-Rich said. “Not crops.”

Despite the dismal winter, King said Best Bees has seen a steady increase in beehive installation and beekeeping sales. Last year, they managed 200 hives in suburban, urban and rural habitats. This year, they will oversee around 400.

Wilson-Rich said they have just started the spring 2014 season by beginning to build wooden hives for new customers. The bees arrive in April.

Customers are warned about the likelihood of a hive dying over winter, King said. When this happens, researchers and interns at Best Bees visit the site of the hive, look into what might have caused the collapse, offer to extract any leftover honey and extend a contract renewal to the customer.

“It’s all very natural,” King said. “Bees die.”

Taza: Making Mexican-style Chocolate

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Taza Chocolate Factory makes organic stone-ground dark chocolate following traditional Mexican practices. Watch here:

Comics Lend New Meaning to Violence, War and Trauma

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

When Professor Hillary Chute first read Maus, a graphic novel depicting author Art Spiegelman’s father’s experience as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust, she realized comics could encompass much more than American superheroes like Spiderman and Batman.

“I was really surprised when I started looking at how many different kinds of stories about world historical conflicts were in the form of comics,” Chute said at a lecture entitled “Comics as Documentary: Words, Images, and War,” at Boston University’s Photonics building Thursday evening. “It struck me that the most complicated and interesting work were works about history and trauma to some extent.”

Chute encountered Maus in 2000 while taking a historical fiction class at Rutgers University, where she got her PhD in English in 2006. She never read comics as a child, she said, but Maus, the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize, made her realize the comic form opens doors for documenting acts of war, trauma and violence in ways that news articles and photos cannot.

The combination of graphic visual images and text in artificially constructed frames invites the reader to slow down, Chute said.

“I’ve always been interested in the intersection of history, narrative and memory,” Chute said. “Comics like Maus engage the reader in imagining the unimaginable.”

 Maus, published in 1986, uses minimalist drawing style and postmodern techniques in pacing, structure and panel layouts, Chute said. Spiegelman also utilizes different types of animals to represent different human races, with mice representing Jews, cats representing Germans and pigs standing for non-Jewish Poles.

One page of Maus depicts a German Nazi cat in a Jewish ghetto gripping a Jewish mouse in one claw and forcing a gun down the mouse’s throat. The mouse narrating the events of WWII describes the ghettos, saying, “It was fences put up all around! No mouse could go out from the ghetto; No food and no medicine could go in!”

Chute said this jarring personification of mice forces the reader to see the Holocaust as a spectacle and commit the atrocities that occurred to memory.

Maus inspired Chute to bring the graphic novel into academia. Comics were long considered lowbrow, she said, but they are gaining greater esteem as teachers recognize that they often document historical truths in engaging ways.

Other groundbreaking graphic novels depicting war include “I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, A Survivor’s True Story” and “Barefoot Gen,” by Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor of the A-bomb. In these two manga comics, Chute said, Nakazawa recounts the bombing of Japan’s Hiroshima in gruesome detail, often depicting characters with flesh dripping off their arms and faces. “I Saw It” was published in 1972 and “Barefoot Gen” was published and serialized in 1973.

More recently, she said, comic journalist Joe Sacco has also paved the way for documentary-style graphic narratives with his novel, “Palestine,” which depicts Israeli-Palestinian relations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in December 1991 and January 1992.

“They opened the field for new content,” Chute said.

Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and the Arab Spring uprisings, which began in Tunisia in 2010, are just a few of the other traumatic events that have inspired comic culture, Chute said.

English professor Davida Pines, who teaches a course dedicated to the graphic narrative at Boston University, attended the lecture to learn more about the significance of hand writing in comics. She said the act of writing in an age of high technology engages the reader.

“Handwriting is like a brushstroke,” Pines said. “It puts you so close to the artist.”

Like Chute, Pines has been fascinated with comics since she encountered Maus in graduate school at Brandeis University and said she wants graphic novels to be considered literature worth studying.

“Comics help us create a memory of something so deeply subjective,” Pines said.

Chute is working on her next book about comics as a form of documentary, which will look at the post-World War II environment in which Spiegelman in America and Nakazawa in Japan established comics as a form for addressing the cultural consequences of war. The book will also investigate current graphic reportage by figures such as Sacco on the Balkans and the Middle East.

Comics are around to stay, Chute said, and should not be limited to just one format—print or online. 

“People are really interested in texts that contain multiple media,” Chute said. “Comics can be very appealing and instructive.”