Meet the Scientists – Science Ranch 2014


Phil Plait, PhD

Phil Plait, Astronomer

Phil is an astronomer, author, lecturer, and highly sought-after public speaker. He has written two books — Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies!, both of which are popular books about astronomy written for the public. He has appeared on many television shows, from “How the Universe Works” and “National Geographic Explorer”, to his own Discovery Channel mini-series “Bad Universe”, which he co-wrote and hosted. In 2011, he gave a TEDxBoulder talk about asteroid impacts which proved so popular that it was featured on the TED conference main page.

His blog, Bad Astronomy, hosted by Slate Magazine, is one of the most popular science blogs in the world, seeing 2 million page views per month. Phil is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker and a lifelong stargazer, always ready to take his telescope out on a clear night and show people the stars.






Holly Brunkal, PhD

Holly Brunkal

Holly Brunkal was at a great vantage point, on a hill just 60 miles south, when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. A childhood spent hiking and camping around the volcanoes, lava fields, and rugged coastline of Oregon (and punctuated by an impressive eruption!) set her up for a life full of interest in rocks and geologic landscapes.

Holly studied Earth Science as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, and after some time traveling and teaching went back for a masters in Geology at CSU, Chico. After completing her master’s degree Holly moved to Colorado to be a visiting professor of Geology at Adams State College, and then became an adjunct professor at Western State College in Gunnison, CO. Knowing that a professorship was what she wanted to pursue she went back to school to get a PhD in Geological Engineering at Colorado School of Mines. Holly’s research is focused on debris flows, but she is interested in many aspects of geologic hazards (landslides, rockfall, avalanches, etc.) including the design of mitigation and protection systems for these events. She is an avid mountain biker in the summer and cross-country skier and snowboarder in the winter. Holly also enjoys hiking, especially with her two dogs, swimming, yoga and traveling. Holly has continued to seek out volcanoes in her travels including New Zealand, Hawaii, Ecuador, Italy, Alaska, Mexico, Costa Rica, and of course back in the Pacific Northwest.


John Sowell, PhD 

John Sowell, Ecologist

John is an ecologist who has studied ecological systems in the mountainous West for over 30 years. His research has primarily explored the physiology of plants and the environmental factors that determine ecosystem distribution across the landscape. John enjoys sharing the excitement of scientific discovery with others and has led numerous field experiences for students and the public alike. He is emeritus professor of biology at Western State Colorado University and the author of Desert Ecology: An Introduction to Life in the Arid Southwest. John is also an avid hiker and peak climber.
















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