UW Today

College of Arts & Sciences


December 5, 2016

No peeking: Humans play computer game using only direct brain stimulation

The UW researchers used a magnetic coil placed at the back of the skull to noninvasively stimulate test subjects’ brains. Players used the absence or presence of phosphenes — blobs of light that appear when researchers stimulate a specific region of the visual cortex — to guide them through a maze without actually seeing the maze.

UW researchers have published the first demonstration of humans playing a simple, two-dimensional computer game using only input from direct brain stimulation — without relying on any usual sensory cues from sight, hearing or touch.


December 1, 2016

For the first time, scientists catch water molecules passing the proton baton

water-drop-TILE

Water conducts electricity, but the process by which this familiar fluid passes along positive charges has puzzled scientists for decades. But in a paper published in the Dec. 2 in issue of the journal Science, an international team of researchers has finally caught water in the act — showing how water molecules pass along excess charges and, in the process, conduct electricity.


November 30, 2016

What makes Bach sound like Bach? New dataset teaches algorithms classical music

MusicNet is a new publicly available dataset from UW CSE and statistics researchers that “labels” each note of a classical composition in ways that can teach machine learning algorithms about the basic structure of music.

MusicNet is the first publicly available large-scale classical music dataset designed to allow machine learning algorithms to tackle everything from automated music transcription to listening recommendations based on the structure of music itself.


November 16, 2016

Large forest die-offs can have effects that ricochet to distant ecosystems

dead conifers on slope

Major forest die-offs due to drought, heat and beetle infestations or deforestation could have consequences far beyond the local landscape. Wiping out an entire forest can have significant effects on global climate patterns and alter vegetation on the other side of the world.


November 8, 2016

Clues in poached ivory yield ages and locations of origin

Elephant tusks

More than 90 percent of ivory in large, seized shipments came from elephants that died less than three years before, according to a new study from a team of scientists at the University of Utah, the University of Washington and partner institutions. They combined a new approach to radiocarbon dating of ivory samples with genetic analysis tools developed by UW biology professor Sam Wasser.


November 2, 2016

Tricking moths into revealing the computational underpinnings of sensory integration

moth

A research team led by University of Washington biology professor Tom Daniel has teased out how hawkmoths integrate signals from two sensory systems: vision and touch.


October 21, 2016

Research in complex computational problems snares Packard honors for UW’s Thomas Rothvoss

UW assistant professor Thomas Rothvoss.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has awarded a prestigious fellowship to University of Washington assistant professor Thomas Rothvoss to fuel his passion to balance precision and efficiency in complex mathematical calculations. The Packard Foundation Fellowships for Science and Engineering honor early-career academics pursuing innovative research in all fields of science and engineering. “It’s a…


October 12, 2016

In new book, UW’s Estella Leopold revisits childhood at the family shack, described in Aldo Leopold’s best-seller ‘A Sand County Almanac’

Cover for "Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited" by Estella Leopold.

Estella Leopold, a University of Washington professor emeritus of biology, has written a new memoir of her formative years, “Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited.” She describes life on the land where her father, Aldo Leopold, practiced the revolutionary conservation philosophy described in his famous book of essays “A Sand County Almanac.”


October 4, 2016

UW Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless wins Nobel Prize in physics for exploring exotic states of matter

An illustration of how “heavy water” within the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory detects neutrinos from the sun.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday that David James Thouless, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, will share the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics with two of his colleagues. Thouless splits the prize with Professor F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” according to the prize announcement from the Academy. Half the prize goes to Thouless while Haldane and Kosterlitz divide the remaining half. Thouless is the UW’s seventh Nobel laureate, and second in physics after Hans Dehmelt in 1989.


September 27, 2016

Researchers modify yeast to show how plants respond to a key hormone

a mutant plant

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a novel toolkit based on modified yeast cells to tease out how plant genes and proteins respond to auxin, the most ubiquitous plant hormone. Their system, described in a paper published Sept. 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, allowed them to decode auxin’s basic effects on the diverse family of genes that plants utilize to detect and interpret auxin-driven messages.


September 23, 2016

How natural selection acted on one penguin species over the past quarter century

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

University of Washington biologist Dee Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of data on Magellanic penguins to search for signs that natural selection — one of the main drivers of evolution — may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published Sept. 21 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work on the penguins at the Punta Tombo breeding site in Argentina.


September 22, 2016

5 UW professors among HHMI’s inaugural class of Faculty Scholars

Photo by Katherine Turner.

Amid a decline in funding for scientific research, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Simons Foundation to launch a new Faculty Scholars program. Announced Sept. 22 by HHMI, the inaugural crop of early-career scientists includes 5 faculty members from the University of Washington.


September 19, 2016

Award for genetic tracking to rein in pangolin poaching

A pangolin in the grass.

A team of conservationists at the University of Washington is among the Grand Prize Winners of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge for a proposal to identify poaching hotspots for pangolins, one of the most trafficked group of mammals in the world.


September 12, 2016

Graduate education in clean energy due for ‘big data’ overhaul

A sunset

Jim Pfaendtner, University of Washington associate professor of chemical engineering, is leading a new endeavor funded by the National Science Foundation to bring big data to graduate education in clean energy research at the UW.


August 29, 2016

Plants’ future water use affects long-term drought estimates

farmers in field

Many popular long-term drought estimates ignore the fact that plants will be less thirsty as carbon dioxide goes up. Plants’ lower water use could roughly halve some current estimates for the extent of future drought, especially in central Africa and temperate Asia.


August 18, 2016

Follow your nose: UW’s young corpse flower relocates to Volunteer Park Conservatory for fetid first bloom

corpse flower

Visitors to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory are in for a stinking treat, courtesy of the Department of Biology at the University of Washington. The conservatory has taken in a young corpse lily, affectionately known as Dougsley, which is set to blossom this week or next.


Paleontologists with the UW’s Burke Museum discover major T. rex fossil

Paleontologists with the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the UW have discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a very complete skull. The find, which paleontologists estimate to be about 20 percent of the animal, includes vertebrae, ribs, hips and lower jaw bones.


August 15, 2016

UW research backs up ongoing efforts to protect the enigmatic Nautilus

Nautilus

University of Washington biologist Peter Ward’s body of research has helped policymakers recognize the impact nautiluses have on ocean ecosystems, as well as how they can — and cannot — replenish their numbers in the face of unrestricted, unregulated fishing. At a CITES meeting in September, Ward and his team hope nautiluses will get much-needed protections from trade and harvesting.


July 21, 2016

An engineered protein can disrupt tumor-promoting ‘messages’ in human cells

Cellular protein

A team of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Trento in Italy unveiled an engineered protein that they designed to repress a specific cancer-promoting message within cells.


July 11, 2016

UW researchers improve microscopy method to ‘swell’ cellular structures, bringing fine details into view

Proteins in a cell.

Scientists from the University of Washington recently reported a relatively simple method swell the tiny, complex structures within cells, bringing them within range of a common microscope’s resolving range.


July 6, 2016

Acid attack — can mussels hang on for much longer?

Mussels

Scientists from the University of Washington have found evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions can prevent mussels attaching themselves to rocks and other substrates, making them easy targets for predators and threatening the mussel farming industry.


June 3, 2016

Q&A: Peter Kahn on nature interaction, wildness in cities

photo of peter kahn

University of Washington professor Peter Kahn recently co-authored an opinion piece in the journal Science about the importance of interacting with nature in urban areas. UW Today asked Kahn a few more questions about the broader implications of his work.


Finding connections to nature in cities is key to healthy urban living

baby with sandy feet

The authors of a Science perspective piece discuss the growing tension between an arguably necessary role urban areas play in society and the numbing, even debilitating, aspects of cities that disconnect humans from the natural world.


May 27, 2016

UW researchers illuminate ways to heal defects in solar cells

Microscopic image of a crystal

Electrical energy fuels our modern lives, from the computer screen that keeps us up after sunset to the coffee maker that greets us at sunrise. But the electricity underlying our 21st century world, by and large, is generated at a cost — through the unsustainable expenditure of fossil fuels. For decades this demand for cheap,…


May 16, 2016

US-India collaboration finds molecular signatures of severe malaria

Malaria parasites infecting a red blood cell.

The malaria parasite can cause unusually severe cases of the eponymous disease in patients, leading to higher mortality and poorer health outcomes among survivors. But scientists have long struggled to understand why some patients develop severe malaria. The University of Washington’s International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research in South Asia — along with partners…


May 13, 2016

UW researchers unleash graphene ‘tiger’ for more efficient optoelectronics

Image of one of the graphene-based devices

In traditional light-harvesting methods, energy from one photon only excites one electron or none depending on the absorber’s energy gap, transferring just a small portion of light energy into electricity. The remaining energy is lost as heat. But in a paper released May 13 in Science Advances, Wu, UW associate professor Xiaodong Xu and colleagues at four other institutions describe one promising approach to coax photons into stimulating multiple electrons. Their method exploits some surprising quantum-level interactions to give one photon multiple potential electron partners.


May 11, 2016

Skull specializations allow bats to feast on their fellow vertebrates

Skull of a fish-eating bat.

Over their 52-million-year history, a few bats have evolved a taste for their fellow vertebrates. Now biologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of History and Culture are shedding light on how these so-called “carnivorous bats” adapted to the daunting task of chowing down their backboned prey.


April 20, 2016

UW experts call Paris climate agreement ‘bold,’ ‘encouraging’

Eiffel Tower with 'Paris Climate 2015'

As the U.S., China and other countries sign the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions and limit climate change, UW experts talk about the possibilities and risks in what could be a turning point for global economies.


April 14, 2016

Scientists crack secrets of the monarch butterfly’s internal compass

Monarch butterflies.

Each fall, monarch butterflies across Canada and the United States turn their orange, black and white-mottled wings toward the Rio Grande and migrate over 2,000 miles to the relative warmth of central Mexico. This journey, repeated instinctively by generations of monarchs, continues even as monarch numbers have plummeted due to loss of their sole larval food…


April 6, 2016

Marine preserve to help penguins in a ‘predictably unpredictable’ place

A Galapagos penguin.

New regulations by the government of Ecuador to protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands as a marine preserve, including main feeding areas for Galapagos penguins.


April 4, 2016

The Twittersphere does listen to the voice of reason — sometimes

WestJet tweet screenshot

In the maelstrom of information, opinion and conjecture that is Twitter, the voice of truth and reason does occasionally prevail, according to a new study from UW researchers. Tweets from “official accounts” — the government agencies, emergency responders, media or companies at the center of a fast-moving story — can slow the spread of rumors on Twitter and correct misinformation that’s taken on a life of its own.


February 23, 2016

Four UW scientists awarded Sloan Fellowships for early-career research

campus-TILE

Four faculty members at the University of Washington have been awarded early-career fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The new Sloan Fellows, announced Feb. 23, include Bingni Brunton, assistant professor of biology; Christopher Laumann, assistant professor of physics; Matthew McQuinn, assistant professor of astronomy; and Emina Torlak, assistant professor of computer science and engineering….


February 18, 2016

Three UW professors win Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Shwetak Patel, Luke Zettlemoyer, David Masiello (left to right)

Three members of the UW faculty have received the 2016 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the U.S. government to early-career scientists and engineers.


February 12, 2016

Caught in the act: UW astronomers find a rare supernova ‘impostor’ in a nearby galaxy

The galaxy NGC 300

UW astronomers Breanna Binder and Ben Williams have identified a rare type of ‘supernova impostor’ in a nearby galaxy, with implications for how scientists look at the short, complex lives of massive stars.


UW scientists create ultrathin semiconductor heterostructures for new technological applications

An illustration of the strong valley exciton interactions and transport in a 2-D semiconductor heterostructure.

University of Washington scientists have successfully combined two different ultrathin semiconductors — each just one layer of atoms thick and roughly 100,000 times thinner than a human hair — to make a new two-dimensional heterostructure with potential uses in clean energy and optically-active electronics.


February 11, 2016

Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

The LIGO facility in Hanford, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists from 15 countries make up the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.


February 8, 2016

UW biology professor is a finalist for top conservation prize

Dee Boersma

P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington professor of biology and Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science, is one of six finalists for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation. Boersma is the first UW faculty member nominated for this prize — the highest honor for animal conservationists — which has been awarded every other year since 2006.


January 15, 2016

Twenty-seven UW faculty listed among ‘world’s most influential scientific minds’ by Thomson Reuters

campus-TILE

The University of Washington is home to 26 researchers included on Thomson Reuters’ list of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” for 2015, which was released Jan. 14. The distinction, based on an analysis of over a decade of research paper citations among 21 general scientific fields, is meant to recognize scientists who are most cited by their peers.


January 8, 2016

Quiet quasar has apparently eaten its fill

quasar and spectrum

Astronomers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) announced that a distant quasar ran out of gas. Their conclusions, reported Jan. 8 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, clarify why quasar SDSS J1011+5442 changed so dramatically in the handful of years between observations.


December 15, 2015

UW conservationists celebrate new protected areas for Argentine penguins

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

On Dec. 3, the legislature for Argentina’s Chubut province established a new marine protected area off Punta Tombo, which would help preserve the feeding grounds for about 500,000 Magellanic penguins that make their home along this rocky stretch of Argentine coast. This is welcome news for the UW scientists who have studied these penguins for decades and advocated for their conservation.



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