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Nathan Bridges

Remembered on Mars

NASA has named a rippled, linear mound of dark Martian sand “Nathan Bridges Dune” after planetary scientist and UMass Amherst geosciences alumnus Nathan Bridges ’97PhD. Bridges, who died earlier this year at age 50, was a planetary research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He was leader of the dune campaign for NASA’s Curiosity rover team and an expert on the geology of Mars, remote sensing techniques, and the role of wind-driven processes in planetary erosion.




Album cover: I Bleed Through My Soul by Steve Tracy & The Crawling Kingsnakes

I Bleed Through My Soul (CD)

Steve Tracy & The Crawling Kingsnakes

You wouldn’t think Steven C. Tracy would have to sing for his supper. After all, UMass Amherst’s Distinguished University Professor of Afro-American studies has written, edited, coedited, or provided introductions for 30 books in his academic field and contributed more than 100 essays to journals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, critical works, and textbooks. And, in fact, Tracy doesn’t have to wail on the blues harp—he just loves playing and has won big props for doing it. Now he has released I Bleed Through My Soul, a CD featuring sides made with his quintet, The Crawling Kingsnakes, and some guest musicians back in the early 1990s, as well as three newly recorded harmonica solos. 

Tracy has been studying and playing the blues since his college days, “trying,” he says, “to keep the music rich with chords and octaves and an onrush of sound that meant that playing harmonica was how I was breathing—the ins and outs of patterns and rhythms dictated by the need to inhale and exhale, the inspiration and expiration of the blues breath.” He proudly cites his inspirations—“Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tommy McClennan, Lonnie Johnson, Walter Davis, Otis Rush, Little Walter and James Cotton, both Sonny Boys.”

Does that make him just another white boy stealing the blues? He thinks not. “I try to play in a new, individual way that sounds like the blues, but my way,” he says.

“I make no claims for blues authenticity,” he adds. “The devil never tuned my harmonicas at the crossroads in exchange for my soul; I never saw Pintetop spit blood. I’m just a musician playing what he loves, hoping some others enjoy it—maybe love it—too.” 

John Sippel


Elijah Bynum's directorial debut Hot Summer Nights takes SXSW by storm

Elijah Bynum

From Amherst to Cinema

Five credits short of his bachelor’s degree, Elijah J. Bynum ’09 decided to complete his requirements with an internship at a Los Angeles movie production company. He had long yearned for a film career and as a former Minuteman football player, used to getting knocked down and rising for the next play, he was better prepared than most to rebound from Hollywood rejections. 

Bynum, now 30, grew up adjacent to Amherst in Pelham, Massachusetts, and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics through the Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) program. His move to Hollywood was validated in 2013, when two of his scripts, Hot Summer Nights and Mississippi Mud, made The Black List, an influential list of scripts not yet in production but showing great potential.

After buzz from The Black List, Hot Summer Nights, a coming-of-age story set in Cape Cod in 1991, was produced by Imperative Entertainment with Bynum making his directorial debut. The movie will be released in theaters in 2018, distributed by A24, the company becoming known for producing some of Hollywood’s most exciting independent films, including Moonlight, winner of last year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. 

Bynum, whose younger brother Ezra Bynum ’13 has a small role in Hot Summer Nights, is thrilled with his success and realistic. “This industry is very tough,” he says. “Careers are often short-lived. So I try to take it day by day.” 

Judith Cameron ’16G




FogKicker, the Springfield, Massachusetts-based UMass Amherst spin-off company, scored big on the CNBC program Adventure Capitalists in October. FogKicker snagged a $300,000 investment for its product that prevents fogging on eyeglasses, dive masks, mirrors, and other glass surfaces. It was invented in the laboratory of Kenneth R. Carter, polymer science and engineering, by Carter, Yinyong Li ’16PhD, and Marc Gammell ’17. From left, Gammell and Carter pitch to NFL player Vernon Davis, Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom, former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones, and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East. The FogKicker inventors first developed their presentation skills for the 2015 UMass Amherst Innovation Challenge, winning the top prize.