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Breaking the Ice: Pedaling, working for cleaner air

Name: Gregory Pratt

Title: Research scientist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Education: B.S., botany, M.S., plant pathology, Ph.D. plant physiology, University of Minnesota

Clean air is a personal and professional passion for Gregory Pratt. His recent focus has been Minnesota Risks Screening, or MNRiskS, which models how industry, traffic and other sources affect statewide air quality.

For his part, Pratt, an avid bicyclist, estimates that he has commuted 45,000 miles on his bike since he joined the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 1984. He bicycled across the country in two-week stretches over the past four summers.

Air quality has improved in Minnesota and the United States over time, Pratt said, though concerns remain. “Lower concentrations [of emissions] than we had thought are affecting people’s health,” he said. “Even though the air is cleaner now, we still are having health effects from our air quality.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. The best way is for people to tell me something about themselves, something maybe they did or saw, some interesting thing in their life.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. I voted for George McGovern in 1972 because I did not trust Richard Nixon.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. “These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine,” by Nancy Turner, about a pioneer woman and her struggles. “Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men Who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame,” about a black cyclist, probably the best-known athlete at turn of the century, 1900, and the things he went through.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Too many people driving too many miles in too many cars. Many of them are in a hurry, they’re distracted and it’s dangerous to pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers.

I’m equally peeved about bicyclists who don’t obey the traffic laws.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I enjoy spending time with my grandkid. Bicycling, of course. Gardening. We have a big garden. Cross-country skiing. Traveling.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I like to take people to see the natural beauty of our area, the lakes and the river. St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Falls, those are spectacular. I also like to take people to Mounds Park; the view is really amazing.

Q. Has there been an event or a person who has inspired you?

A. My family was a big inspiration. My father was also a scientist. Both of my parents were committed to environmental concerns.

I also had mentors in academia: My adviser Sagar Krupa was one. Albert Frenkel. They were at the University of Minnesota. Guido Kauls, the German teacher and soccer coach at my high school, Minnehaha Academy. Eville Gorham, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Regents Professor Emeritus, and a pioneer in the field of atmosphere-biosphere interactions. I took classes from him, helped him with a field study and got my first mention in the scientific literature in one of his papers.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. People with different opinions don’t interact with one another. They don’t talk and listen, and then there’s a loss of respect because of that loss of interaction. The way to try to end that is to find ways to re-establish that communication and that respect.

Q. What the highlight or lowlight of your daily commute?

A. I cross the river on the Lake Street bridge and head down Summit Avenue. There’s a bike lane, the traffic’s not too bad and it’s a very pretty area. So that’s the highlight of my commute, bicycling down Summit Avenue.

Q. Is there someone at the Capitol who does a lot of work without getting a lot of credit?

A. That could be a very long list. One, for my money, I don’t really work with her or know her other than having met her, is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

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