Our region has been in a hubbub over radiation leaks from the earthquake-ravaged Japanese power plants and, it turns out, when you need to know if and when the radiation is going to hit Washington, a local atmospheric scientist is the go-to guy and he was rapidly burning through his 15 minutes of fame the week we talked.
“I’ve spoken to about 20 reporters today,” Dan Jaffe told me the afternoon of March 16.
The UW-Bothell professor has studied pollution carried to North America from Asia for almost 15 years. This isn’t his first go-round with a big media story.
“When we first reported we could detect pollution coming from Asia…in ’98 or ’99, that was a huge story,” he says.
He was surprised by media interest at the time, but now he’s used to it, adding, “I don’t really study radiation, but I know a lot about the transport.”
Unconcerned about radiation here, he points to bigger pollution worries: “The two biggest concerns are ozone and mercury,” he says, with Asia’s cars and factories being “the largest source in the world.”
Don’t point fingers though. It’s “a global problem — it all starts at home,” and American pollution drifts over to Europe, too.
“Scientists from Europe, China and Asia get together and try to understand what’s going on out there,” he says.
Dan does his part by riding his bike to work every day from North Seattle.
Growing up in Boston, Dan went to M.I.T. and majored in environmental engineering. After a stint teaching high school he resolved to get a doctorate in order to teach college, and “get to the West Coast.” With a Ph.D. from the UW he landed a teaching job in Alaska in 1987. He moved back to Seattle in 1997 to be the first atmospheric science professor at UW-Bothell, where his lab and his research assistants are still located, working as The Jaffe Group (www.atmos.washington.edu/jaffegroup).
It appears, from photos at the site, to be an outdoorsy bunch who look like they’re having fun collecting data.
“Most of our work is [done] at field sites,” including one 9,000 feet up Mt. Bachelor, he says.
“They open the chair lift for me,” even off-season, explains Dan, who adds that he collects a lot of data while flying in aircraft.
Raised Conservative, Dan says he lost interest in religion after his Bar Mitzvah and although he has many relatives in Israel, and his wife, Barbara Bender, and their now-17-year-old twins Lena and Mac celebrated a few holidays, he did nothing religious until 12-year-old Mac asked, “when is my Bar Mitzvah?”
They are now members of Temple Beth Am, where he says the rabbis are doing a much better job of keeping Judaism relevant than when he was growing up.
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An e-mail a while back clued us into a couple of local singers making music under the appellation “Breaking Down Mechitzas.”
Reuben Antolin (friends call him Ruby) and Zach Grashin have been re-mixing current popular music and parodying those songs with original lyrics on Jewish themes. They chose their band name to be Jewish and “kind of controversial.”
A mechitza is a wall or curtain that separates men from women in Orthodox places of worship, but, Reuben says, “we meant it as breaking down mechitzas between the sects of Judaism.”
They hope listeners find their songs educational. The most-listened to one on MySpace (www.myspace.com/breakingdownmechitzas) describes a Shabbat dinner, and Reuben is working on one about Passover.
The band doesn’t perform much these days, with Reuben in the middle of his junior year at Western Washington University, and Zach living in Melbourne, Australia. They did perform at Zach’s recent wedding there, “making us an international band,” Reuben jokes, as well as on Purim with Phil “Harmonic” Gorbman stepping in to take Zach’s place at a Chabad UW event.
With a major in Political Science and an interest in Japan and international relations, Reuben, 24, still plans to study in Tokyo this fall and currently serves as a liaison to a group of Japanese exchange students who arrived at Western shortly before the recent earthquake. (All were able to contact their families.)
Studying in Japan will be a homecoming of sorts. He spent most of his early childhood there with his family. After high school he spent a year in Israel, “a blast and very eye-opening,” a couple of years pursuing music and a year teaching preschool at Congregation Beth Shalom before going to university. He has his eye on law school in the future with an interest in intellectual property law.