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Odyssey Turns 20

Sometime this spring—nobody can remember exactly when—Odyssey will turn 20 years old. I was around for the 10th anniversary issue, and I'm excited to be a part of this celebration, too.

Odyssey 2002: Seated (left to right) Alicia P. Gregory, associate editor; Jeff Worley, editor; and Deb Weis, director of Research Communications. Standing are Teresa Shear, free-lance designer, and Lee Thomas, free-lance photographer.

Odyssey was imagined into existence in 1982 by Susan Stempel, who was in charge of producing UK's annual sponsored projects awards report. She wanted to produce a magazine oriented to the general public so that the university could showcase some of the good work being done here. Susan edited the magazine until her retirement in 1997.

Odyssey has always undertaken a particular obligation to publicize research whose aim is to improve our lives. If we have achieved this goal, it's only because hundreds of faculty and graduate students through the years have taken time to explain clearly and imaginatively what it is they do.

Personally, I feel indebted to everyone I've met in the past 15 years for the free education, for the provocative and informative conversations. I now know a little something about sensors and antennas, tree-roosting bats, global positioning systems, transgenic tobacco, human pheromones, the life cycle of stars, the history of university research, substance abuse among teenagers, the future of coal in Kentucky, membranes, aluminum research, and metal sculpture. I've seen our resident glassblower create vacuum manifolds and Schlenk flasks for the chemistry department, and I've seen how some innovative and impressive technology is helping Kentuckians with physical disabilities to more easily learn and communicate.

For a story we ran in the Summer/Fall 1993 issue, dressed head-to-toe in the requisite operating-room bunny suit, I watched UK plastic surgeon Henry Vasconez work to repair the skull of a baby whose enraged father had punched a hole in her head. Vasconez used wire mesh and fibrin glue to attach small pieces of the patient's bone over the dura matter. The baby lived and Vasconez, who has followed her progress these past nine years, tells me she has "flowered into a nice, happy child" with her adoptive parents.

In 1989, I had what is probably my most memorable assignment. I drove with our campus photographer to the Medco Center of Springfield, Kentucky, to interview Miss Lucy Powell, one of 500 Kentucky centenarians participating in a UK study on aging. Lucy, age 102, was clear-headed, engaging, and loved to talk. She'd lived her entire life in the Mackville, Kentucky, area and raised crops and livestock with her husband until his death in 1958. She was thrilled to be our cover girl of the Winter 1989 issue, but told our photographer before he went to work: "Now you do this right, sweetie. The last feller made me look like an old fish." Lucy died in 1994, at the fine, old age of 106.

The centenarian study is one of over a dozen articles on the subject of aging and age-related changes that have appeared in the magazine in the past 20 years. Odyssey has returned to UK's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging often in an attempt to keep up with new findings from center faculty on aging and age-associated diseases, especially Alzheimer's.

I admit to a very personal interest in working with faculty who were making new discoveries in this area—in particular Bill Markesbery, Allan Butterfield, and David Snowdon. My father showed the first signs of the disease in the early "90s, so I wanted to keep current on both new findings and clinical applications. My understanding of the disease helped my father, early on, to comprehend what was happening to him. As time went by, of course, Alzheimer's—an invisible and relentless thief—robbed him of memory after memory. Dad died of Alzheimer's-related causes in October 2000.

In the past five years, I've been lucky to work with a creative and talented new team—Deb Weis as director of our office (research communications) and Alicia Gregory as associate editor of the magazine and our Web guru. And it's been gratifying to see our tiny staff of three continue to move Odyssey in new directions and continue to win our share of local and regional awards for writing and magazine design.

Odyssey counts on our faculty for information and illumination, and we count equally on the support and encouragement of the UK administration, especially the Office of the Vice President for Research, which funds the magazine. And we thank our readers, all of you who continue to support us with your sustaining encouragement and good words.

Jeff Worley, Editor