UW News


May 15, 2024

Scientists want to know how the smells of nature benefit our health

A tree canopy in a tropical rainforest.

Spending time in nature is good for us. And knowing more about nature’s effects on our bodies could not only help our well-being, but could also improve how we care for land, preserve ecosystems and design cities, homes and parks. Many studies have focused on how seeing nature affects us. A team of scientists from around the world wants to understand what the nose knows. They are calling for more research into how odors and scents from natural settings impact our health and well-being.


April 30, 2024

Scientists solve chemical mystery at the interface of biology and technology

A University of Washington-led study has solved a mystery about organic electrochemical transistors: Why there is a lag when they are switched on. In the process paved the way to custom-tailored OECTs for a growing list of applications in biosensing, brain-inspired computation and beyond.


April 10, 2024

New report ‘braids’ Indigenous and Western knowledge for forest adaptation strategies against climate change

treated forest

Forests could also be potential bulwarks against climate change. But, increasingly severe droughts and wildfires, invasive species, and large insect outbreaks — all intensified by climate change — are straining many national forests and surrounding lands. A report by a team of 40 experts outlines a new approach to forest stewardship that “braids together” Indigenous knowledge and Western science to conserve and restore more resilient forestlands. Published March 25, the report provides foundational material to inform future work on climate-smart adaptive management practices for USDA Forest Service land managers.


April 4, 2024

Q&A: Eclipses aren’t just good for jaw-dropping views — they’re also opportunities for stellar science, says UW astronomer

white circle on black background

Eclipses past and present aren’t just opportunities for incredible sights. Generations of researchers have used them to study phenomena ranging from the sun itself to the fabric of the universe. UW News intervewed Emily Levesque, author and associate professor of astronomy, about what scientists past and present have learned by studying eclipses.


What four decades of canned salmon reveal about marine food webs

University of Washington researchers have shown that levels of anisakid worms — a common marine parasite — rose in two salmon species in the Gulf of Alaska and Bristol Bay over a 42-year period. The team discovered this by studying salmon caught, killed and canned from 1979 to 2021. Since anisakid worms have a complex life cycle involving multiple types of hosts, the researchers interpret their rising numbers as a potential sign of ecosystem recovery, possibly driven by rising numbers of marine mammals thanks to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.


February 16, 2024

Video: Bringing stars back to the sea 

A clear box suspended deep in the water holds a few sea stars and mussel shells.

Scientists at Friday Harbor Laboratories, a University of Washington facility in the San Juan Islands, are working to help sunflower stars — a type of sea star — grow and thrive once again after their populations along the West Coast were devastated by a mysterious disease called sea star wasting syndrome.


February 8, 2024

Foul fumes pose pollinator problems

Scientists at the University of Washington have discovered that nighttime air pollution — coming primarily from car exhaust and power plant emissions — is responsible for a major drop in nighttime pollinator activity. Nitrate radicals (NO3) in the air degrade the scent chemicals released by a common wildflower, drastically reducing the scent-based cues that its chief pollinators rely on to locate the flower. The findings, published Feb. 9 in Science, are the first to show how nighttime pollution creates a chain of chemical reactions that degrades scent cues, leaving flowers undetectable by smell. The researchers also determined that pollution likely has worldwide impacts on pollination.


October 26, 2023

Fruit, nectar, bugs and blood: How bat teeth and jaws evolved for a diverse dinnertime

There are more than 200 species of noctilionoid bats, mostly in the American tropics. And despite being close relatives, their jaws evolved in wildly divergent shapes and sizes to exploit different food sources. A paper published Aug. 22 in Nature Communications shows those adaptations include dramatic, but also consistent, modifications to tooth number, size, shape and position. For example, bats with short snouts lack certain teeth, presumably due to a lack of space. Species with longer jaws have room for more teeth — and, like humans, their total tooth complement is closer to what the ancestor of placental mammals had.


October 17, 2023

UW’s Briana Abrahms chosen as a Packard Fellow for 2023

Briana Abrahms, a University of Washington assistant professor of biology and researcher with the UW Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, has been named a 2023 Packard Fellow for Science and Engineering, according to an Oct. 16 announcement from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. As one of 20 new fellows across the country, Abrahms, who holds the Boersma Endowed Chair in Natural History and Conservation, will receive $875,000 over five years for her research.


August 21, 2023

REBURN: A new tool to model wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and beyond

Researchers with the University of Washington and the U.S. Forest Service have developed a new tool, REBURN, that can simulate large forest landscapes and wildfire dynamics over decades or centuries under different wildfire management strategies. The model can simulate the consequences of extinguishing all wildfires regardless of size, which was done for much of the 20th century and has contributed to a rise in large and severe wildfires, or of allowing certain fires to return to uninhabited areas to help create a more “patchwork” forest structure that can help lessen fire severity. REBURN can also simulate conditions where more benign forest landscape dynamics have fully recovered in an area.


July 19, 2023

Researchers put a new twist on graphite

A team led by researchers at the University of Washington reports that it is possible to imbue graphite — the bulk, 3D material found in No. 2 pencils – with physical properties similar to graphite’s 2D counterpart, graphene. Not only was this breakthrough unexpected, the team also believes its approach could be used to test whether similar types of bulk materials can also take on 2D-like properties. If so, 2D sheets won’t be the only source for scientists to fuel technological revolutions. Bulk, 3D materials could be just as useful.


June 27, 2023

Researchers make a quantum computing leap with a magnetic twist

This artistic depiction shows electron fractionalization — in which strongly interacting charges can “fractionalize” into three parts — in the fractional quantum anomalous Hall phase.

A team led by scientists and engineers at the University of Washington has announced a significant advancement in developing fault-tolerant qubits for quantum computing. In a pair of papers published June 14 in Nature and June 22 in Science, they report that, in experiments with flakes of semiconductor materials — each only a single layer of atoms thick — they detected signatures of “fractional quantum anomalous Hall” (FQAH) states. The team’s discoveries mark a first and promising step in constructing a type of fault-tolerant qubit because FQAH states can host anyons — strange “quasiparticles” that have only a fraction of an electron’s charge. Some types of anyons can be used to make what are called “topologically protected” qubits, which are stable against any small, local disturbances.


May 26, 2023

What’s in a name? Sometimes, the climate

By analyzing records from the U.S. Social Security Administration, two scientists at the University of Washington and Ohio University have discovered that the popularity of certain month and season names for girls varies by geographic region in the continental United States. The name April dominates monthly names in southern states where spring arrives early in the year. June is more popular in northern states where spring blooms later. Autumn is also more prevalent in the northern U.S., a region known for its brilliant fall foliage.


May 18, 2023

Out of the frying pan: Coyotes, bobcats move into human-inhabited areas to avoid apex predators — only to be killed by people

New research shows that in Washington state, the presence of two apex predators — wolves and cougars — does indeed help keep populations of two smaller predators in check. But by and large the apex predators were not killing and eating the smaller predators, known as mesopredators. Instead, they drove the two mesopredator species — bobcats and coyotes — into areas with higher levels of human activity. And people were finishing the job.


May 5, 2023

UW immunologist, mathematician among newly elected National Academy of Sciences members

Two University of Washington faculty members have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences for 2023: Philip Greenberg, professor of medicine and of immunology at the UW, as well as the Rona Jaffe Foundation Endowed Chair at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and head of the Program in Immunology in its Clinical Research Division; and Gunther Uhlmann, the Robert R. and Elaine F. Phelps Endowed Professor in Mathematics at the UW.


March 10, 2023

Northern and southern resident orcas hunt differently, which may help explain the decline of southern orcas

In the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, southern resident orcas have experienced no net population growth since the 1970s, with just 73 left at the most recent count. But northern resident orcas, which have a similar diet, territory and social structure, have grown steadily, now numbering more than 300. A new study led by scientists at the University of Washington and NOAA Fisheries may help explain why: The two populations differ in how they hunt for salmon, their primary and preferred food source, a key difference that conservationists will have to take into account when designing interventions to help southern residents.


February 27, 2023

Human-wildlife conflicts rising worldwide with climate change

Research led by scientists at the University of Washington’s Center for Ecosystem Sentinels reveals that a warming world is increasing human-wildlife conflicts globally. They show that climate shifts can drive conflicts by altering animal habitats, the timing of events, wildlife behaviors and resource availability. It also showed that people are changing their behaviors and locations in response to climate change in ways that increase conflicts.


February 8, 2023

Q&A: UW researcher discusses future of quantum research

Kai-Mei Fu headshot

Scientists at the University of Washington are pursuing multiple quantum research projects spanning from creating materials with never-before-seen physical properties to studying the “quantum bits” — or qubits (pronounced “kyu-bits”) — that make quantum computing possible. UW News sat down with Professor Kai-Mei Fu, one of the leaders in quantum research on campus, to talk about the potential of quantum R&D, and why it’s so important.


January 12, 2023

How did the Butterfly Nebula get its wings? It’s complicated

Something is amiss in the Butterfly Nebula. When a team led by astronomers at the University of Washington compared two exposures of this planetary nebula that had been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009 and 2020, they saw dramatic changes in the material within its “wings.” As the team will report on Jan. 12 at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, powerful winds are apparently driving complex alterations of material within the Butterfly Nebula, behavior not seen in planetary nebulae to date. The researchers want to understand how such activity is possible from what should be a “sputtering, largely moribund star with no remaining fuel.”


January 11, 2023

Old and new stars paint very different pictures of the Triangulum galaxy

On Jan. 11 at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, a team led by scientists at the University of Washington and the Center for Computational Astrophysics reported something unexpected about the distinct populations of stars that make up the Triangulum galaxy: In this satellite galaxy, a close companion of the much larger Andromeda galaxy, old and new stars occur in separate parts of the galaxy’s structure, something not seen in galaxies like our own and so far not reporter for other satellite galaxies.


January 10, 2023

The seven-year photobomb: Distant star’s dimming was likely a ‘dusty’ companion getting in the way, astronomers say

University of Washington astronomers were on the lookout for “stars behaving strangely” when an automated alert from pointed them to Gaia17bpp, a star that had gradually brightened over a 2 1/2-year period. But follow-up analyses indicated that Gaia17bpp wasn’t changing. Instead, the star is likely part of a rare type of binary system. Its apparent brightening was the end of a years-long eclipse by an unusual, “dusty” stellar companion.


January 9, 2023

Climate ‘presses’ and ‘pulses’ impact Magellanic penguins — a marine predator — with guidance for conservationists

Climate change will reshape ecosystems through two types of events: short-term, extreme events — or “pulses” — and long-term changes, or “presses.” Understanding the effects of presses and pulses is essential as conservationists and policymakers try to preserve ecosystems and safeguard biodiversity. Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered how different presses and pulses impacted Magellanic penguins — a migratory marine predator — over nearly four decades and found that, though individual presses and pulses impacted penguins in a variety of ways, both were equally important for the future survival of the penguin population. They also found that these types of climate changes, taken together, are leading to an overall population decline at their historically largest breeding site.


December 12, 2022

Trouble falling asleep at night? Chase that daytime light, study shows

A study measuring the sleep patterns of students at the University of Washington found that students fell asleep later in the evening and woke up later in the morning during winter, when daylight hours on the UW’s Seattle campus are limited and the skies are notoriously overcast. Researchers believe the students’ natural circadian clocks were being “pushed back” or delayed in winter because they were not getting enough exposure during the day to natural light, and that getting more daytime light exposure can help reverse this.


December 5, 2022

New blood test can detect ‘toxic’ protein years before Alzheimer’s symptoms emerge, study shows

stylized image of the human brain

Researchers at the University of Washington have detected “toxic” small aggregates of a particular protein in the blood of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in individuals who showed no signs of cognitive impairment at the time the blood sample was taken, but who developed it at a later date. This blood test picks up oligomers — or small, misfolded aggregates — of the amyloid beta protein, which scientists believe triggers the development of Alzheimer’s.


November 2, 2022

Permanent daylight saving time would reduce deer-vehicle collisions, study shows

University of Washington researchers found that adopting permanent daylight saving time in the United States would reduce deer-vehicle collisions and likely prevent an estimated 36,550 deer deaths, 33 human deaths, 2,054 human injuries and $1.19 billion in costs each year. Deer-vehicle collisions would decrease under permanent DST because skies would be brighter later into the evening.


October 13, 2022

Video: Finding — and keeping — the perfect fit for a prosthetic leg

University of Washington Professor Joan Sanders and her team are creating a new type of prosthetic leg: one that automatically adjusts its fit throughout the day. Their latest prototype detects in real time how well the prosthesis socket and amputation site are fitting and responds by automatically changing the size of the socket, without the need for adjustments to padding or user action.


October 12, 2022

Endangered fruit-eating animals play an outsized role in a tropical forest — losing them could have dire consequences

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington shows that losing a particular group of endangered animals — those that eat fruit and help disperse the seeds of trees and other plants — could severely disrupt seed-dispersal networks in the Atlantic Forest, a shrinking stretch of tropical forest and critical biodiversity hotspot on the coast of Brazil.


September 26, 2022

UW joins industry-academia alliance to accelerate research in neuroscience

An image of neurons under a microscope

The University of Washington has joined the Alliance for Therapies in Neuroscience (ATN), a long-term research partnership between academia and industry geared to transform the fight against brain diseases and disorders of the central nervous system. Launched in 2021 by the University of California, San Francisco, UC Berkeley, Genentech — a member of the Roche group — and Roche Holding AG, the ATN seeks to accelerate the development of new therapies for a broad range of brain and central nervous system conditions.


September 7, 2022

These female hummingbirds evolved to look like males — apparently to evade aggression

1 in 5 adult female white-necked jacobin hummingbirds look like males. New research from the University of Washington shows that this is a rare case of “deceptive mimicry” within a species: Females with male-like plumage are trying to pass themselves off as males, and as a result receive a benefit in the form of reduced aggression from males.


July 25, 2022

New study challenges old views on what’s ‘primitive’ in mammalian reproduction

Which group of mammals has the more “primitive” reproductive strategy — marsupials, with their short gestation periods, or humans and other placental mammals, which have long gestation periods? For decades, biologists viewed marsupial reproduction as “more primitive.” But University of Washington scientists have discovered that a third group of mammals, the long-extinct multituberculates, had a long gestation period like placental mammals. Since multituberculates split off from the rest of the mammalian lineage before placentals and marsupials had even evolved, these findings question the view that marsupials were “less advanced” than their placental cousins.


July 15, 2022

Seven UW faculty members elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences

Campus photo

Seven professors at the University of Washington are among 25 new members of the Washington State Academy of Sciences for 2022, according to a July 15 announcement.


June 27, 2022

Top predators could ‘trap’ themselves trying to adapt to climate change, study shows

A study led by University of Washington researchers shows that over a 30-year period, African wild dogs shifted their average birthing dates later by 22 days, an adaptation that allowed them to match the birth of new litters with the coolest temperatures in early winter. But as a result of this significant shift, fewer pups survived their most vulnerable period because temperatures during their critical post-birth “denning period” increased over the same time period, threatening the population of this already endangered species. It is the first study to show that large mammalian carnivores are making major changes to their life history in response to a changing climate.


May 6, 2022

Four UW researchers elected to the National Academy of Sciences for 2022

Four faculty members at the University of Washington have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences for 2022: Elizabeth Buffalo, professor and chair of physiology and biophysics; Joseph Mougous, professor of microbiology; Dr. Jay Shendure, professor of genome sciences; and James Truman, professor emeritus of biology.


April 21, 2022

Q&A: Making Earth-friendly electronics

A hand holding a biodegradeable circuit board in a beaker full of water. The circuit board is dissolving

Three researchers in the University of Washington College of Engineering are exploring ways to make electronics more Earth-friendly.


April 20, 2022

Lasers trigger magnetism in atomically thin quantum materials

Researchers have discovered that light — from a laser — can trigger a form of magnetism in a normally nonmagnetic material. This magnetism centers on the behavior of electrons “spins,” which have a potential applications in quantum computing. Scientists discovered that electrons within the material became oriented in the same direction when illuminated by photons from a laser. By controlling and aligning electron spins at this level of detail and accuracy, this platform could have applications in quantum computing, quantum simulation and other fields. The experiment, led by scientists at the University of Washington, the University of Hong Kong and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was published April 20 in Nature.


April 14, 2022

Historian Bailkin, astronomer Levesque receive Guggenheim Fellowships

Aerial view of UW Campus

Two University of Washington faculty members are among 180 experts in the arts, humanities, law and the sciences chosen as 2022 Guggenheim Fellows, according to an April 7 announcement from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Jordanna Bailkin, a professor in the Department of History, and Emily Levesque, an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy, are among the new class of fellows, which were selected from a pool of nearly 2,500 applicants.


February 14, 2022

DNA testing exposes tactics of international criminal networks trafficking elephant ivory

A team led by scientists at the University of Washington and special agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used genetic testing of ivory shipments seized by law enforcement to uncover the international criminal networks behind ivory trafficking out of Africa. The genetic connections across shipments that they’ve uncovered exposes an even higher degree of organization among ivory smuggling networks than previously known. The paper, published Feb. 14 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, incorporates results from DNA testing of more than 4,000 African elephant tusks from 49 different ivory seizures made in 12 African nations over a 17-year period.


February 11, 2022

Samson Jenekhe, Anna Karlin elected to National Academy of Engineering

Samson Jenehke, a University of Washington professor in both the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Anna Karlin, a UW professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, announced Feb. 9 by the academy.


February 4, 2022

Mosquitoes are seeing red: Why new findings about their vision could help you hide from these disease vectors

New research led by scientists at the University of Washington indicates that a common mosquito species — after detecting a telltale gas that we exhale — flies toward specific colors, including red, orange, black and cyan. The mosquitoes ignore other colors, such as green, purple, blue and white. The researchers believe these findings help explain how mosquitoes find hosts, since human skin, regardless of overall pigmentation, emits a strong red-orange “signal” to their eyes.


January 26, 2022

Four UW faculty members, incoming Burke Museum leader named 2021 AAAS Fellows

Four current faculty members and the incoming executive director of the UW’s Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture have been named AAAS Fellows, according to a Jan. 26 announcement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are among 564 new fellows from around the world elected in 2021, who are recognized for “their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements” in science and engineering.



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