Each week 17 western newspapers carry a column by the “Rock Doc,” a.k.a. E. Kirsten Peters of WSU’s College of Sciences.
“The column gives me 700 words to explain a technical concept, highlighting research at WSU when that’s appropriate,” Peters said. “The challenge is to write the pieces so that ordinary people eating their Cheerios at breakfast will read it through to the end.”
Translating scientific and engineering concepts into the language of daily life is a task at which Peters has worked for a number of years. She has taught geology and interdisciplinary science at WSU, where she has primarily focused on teaching non-science majors at the 100-level.
“As I like to say, I’ve taught the ‘normal’ students here at WSU, the ones who are not comfortable with differential equations and who are not going to major in organic chemistry,” she said.
In connection with her teaching, she has written several textbooks for introductory courses published by New York houses. Most recently Peters is taking her urge to explain technical information to ordinary people into the realm of newspaper columns.
“I got my start in the local paper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News,” she said. “We’ve now been able to expand the effort and the column runs in many states throughout the West. It’s gratifying to get to work on campus and have an e-mail from a reader in California or North Dakota, someone who just read the column in their local newspaper and has taken the time to write to me about it.”
The “Rock Doc” column often features WSU research. All aspects of energy — including traditional and alternative sources — are of interest to readers at this juncture of our nation’s history, Peters finds, but she also writes on topics in the life sciences, agriculture and more. Although she works for the dean of the College of Sciences, Peters is open to ideas for future columns from faculty and staff in any technical part of the university.
“I need to produce 52 columns per year, rain or shine,” she said with a laugh. “I hope faculty and staff will contact me any time of year when they see how a piece of their work relates to something that interests the general population.”