Linda Abbott has her day - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Linda Abbott has her day

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at

Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 2:55 pm | Updated: 4:46 pm, Tue May 1, 2012.

The golden retriever, Aaron Nelson explained, is named D.O.G. (pronounced d-oh-gee).

D.O.G. and Nelson are members of the team at Arizona State University Polytechnic campus in Mesa that worked on eTURD.

eTURD is short for energy-Transformation Using Reactive Digestion. eTURD is a process good for turning doggie poo into methane gas that can fuel a flame. It is also good for giggles.

The tank and mechanism for turning dog waste into methane gas is being installed at the Town of Gilbert’s Cosmo Dog Park at Ray Road and San Tan Loop 202.

Last Wednesday, the above-ground part of the project was on display at Table 19 at the Spring 2012 Innovation Showcase at the ASU College of Technology & Innovation.

While it wasn’t at that time generating a methane flame, the project was generating quite a crowd.

On display was what looked like a Dickensonian lamp post and a large pipe through which dog waste is to be dropped into an underground tank. And there was a fire hydrant shaped mechanism that dog masters and mistresses turn to stir the waste so that it will be mixed with microbes.

The mechanism was designed to look like a fire hydrant because, well, dogs and fire hydrants seem to go well together, Nelson had to explain to me.

I was a tad embarrassed that I hadn’t figured this out on my own, but it was not my day.

Nelson is an ASU senior in mechanical engineering. Working on the project gave him the opportunity to apply what he was learning to make something useful — a central mission of the college.

“The media has jumped all over it,” Nelson said proudly, because of “its sustainability and because it reduces the mess going into the landfills.”

D.O.G.’s role was essential but not as cerebral. He is the sample generator.

His “samples” fueled testing of the mechanism. He is a handsome dog and for all I know might have been a chick magnet since all but one of the members of the team are guys. I’m just sayin’.

The proverb “every dog has its day” tracks back to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But those with a catchy country tune now rattling around in their heads might be thinking of Toby Keith’s song by that name. I’m betting D.O.G. doesn’t have to sleep on the porch.

It was clear that D.O.G. and teammates had their day last Wednesday and more to come if their invention gains traction.

But no one had a better day than former Gilbert Councilwoman Linda Abbott.

“It’s her baby,” ASU Prof. Kiril D. Hristovski, senior sustainability scientist and project director, said with a nod to Abbott.

Abbott began pushing a vision of the doggie do digester before her defeat in a contentious council race nearly a year ago. She had gotten the idea from an MIT project. (The ASU team dismissed the MIT version, saying it is no longer operational and required propane gas and was an art project, not an engineering accomplishment at the same level as theirs. Go Devils!)

But when the new council majority wouldn’t come up with the $25,000 that ASU needed to fund the project, Abbott, with the help of Councilman John Sentz, forged ahead turning to private donors. Abbott also lowered her public profile for fear that her Council adversaries who had turned her out of office would put the kibosh on the town’s participation as host park for eTURD.

With the project approved for installation at Cosmo Park (Digging for the tank began Monday.), it was safe for Abbott to walk into a spotlight of accolades at the ASU Innovation Showcase and at a breakfast earlier in the day hosted by Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the college.

A relative newcomer, Montoya is positioning her college to do stuff that matters to and is in partnership with its neighbors and business, ranging from doggie do digesters in Gilbert to positioning Arizona as a drone testing site.

The breakfast was to encourage $1,000 memberships in the Dean’s Club. At the table with Abbott was councilman Sentz, Alan Fitzgerald and a sophomore and program presenter named Kayla Burkholder.

Montoya showcased Burkholder because she is a phenomenon. She has already started her own organization: Women in Science and Education. (W.I.S.E.) Remember that name. You will hear about her again.

Fitzgerald made a fortune in developing, then selling a flash memory company.

Fitzgerald is putting his earnings into downtown Gilbert at the Heritage Court Building where he has taken over the second floor with Art Intersection, a photographic arts gallery and learning center and a Parkinson treatment facility in partnership with Banner Health.

He belonged at the table.

If there were other town of Gilbert representatives at the breakfast, I didn’t recognize them. But, then, it was Abbott’s day, and these days in the town of Gilbert grace and manners in politics are in short supply.

There was no shortage of energy as Montoya fussed over Abbott and the two talked about the press and private and public sector interest in the project and the potential for licensing manufacture of eTURD. (Any licensing revenue would be split between the college and the town, Montoya told me.)

As fascinating to me as what was said was the pas de deux between these two high-energy women.

The high school teacher/community activist and the college dean/communities connector had made a connection.

Abbott may have been turned out of office, but she was having her day in the sun and there will be more to come.

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