UW News


August 5, 2021

Now how did that get up there? New study sheds light on development and evolution of dolphin, whale blowholes

Image of a dolphin swimming in the ocean

New research by scientists at the University of Washington and Duke University is shedding light on how the nasal passage of dolphins and whales shifts during embryonic development from emerging at the tip of the snout to emerging at the top of the head as a blowhole. The findings, published July 19 in the Journal of Anatomy, are an integrative model for this developmental transition for cetaceans.


July 29, 2021

Climate change to fuel increase in human-wildlife conflict, UW biologist says

A herd of African elephants

Climate change is further exacerbating human-wildlife conflicts by straining ecosystems and altering behaviors, both of which can deepen the contacts — and potential competition — between people and animals. In an article published July 30 in the journal Science, Briana Abrahms, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington and its Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, calls for expanding research into the many ways that climate change will impact the complex interplay between human activities and wildlife populations.


July 26, 2021

Scientists model ‘true prevalence’ of COVID-19 throughout pandemic

US map with states represented by hexagons showing COVID-19 infection fatality rate

Two University of Washington scientists have developed a statistical framework that incorporates key COVID-19 data — such as case counts and deaths due to COVID-19 — to model the true prevalence of this disease in the United States and individual states. Their approach, published the week of July 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, projects that in the U.S. as many as 60% of COVID-19 cases went undetected as of March 7, 2021, the last date for which the dataset they employed is available.


July 16, 2021

20 UW researchers elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences for 2021

Twenty scientists and engineers at the University of Washington are among the 38 new members elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences for 2021, according to a July 15 announcement. New members were chosen for “their outstanding record of scientific and technical achievement, and their willingness to work on behalf of the Academy to bring the best available science to bear on issues within the state of Washington.”


June 11, 2021

Smartphone camera can illuminate bacteria causing acne, dental plaques

Image of a smartphone that was modified for a scientific experiment.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that uses smartphone-derived images to reveal potentially harmful bacteria on skin and in oral cavities. Their approach can visually identify microbes on skin contributing to acne and slow wound healing, as well as bacteria in the oral cavity that can cause gingivitis and dental plaques.


May 27, 2021

Seabirds face dire threats from climate change, human activity — especially in Northern Hemisphere

seabird holding a fish

Many seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere are struggling to breed — and in the Southern Hemisphere, they may not be far behind. These are the conclusions of a study, published May 28 in Science, analyzing more than 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species worldwide.


May 21, 2021

Pandemic-era paleontology: A wayward skull, at-home fossil analyses and a first for Antarctic amphibians

An image showing a block of amphibian fossils from Early Triassic Antarctica

Researchers at the University of Washington and its Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture have discovered the first fossil evidence of an ancient amphibian, Micropholis stowi, from Antarctica. Micropholis lived in the Early Triassic, shortly after Earth’s largest mass extinction. It was previously known only from fossils in South Africa, and its presence in Antarctica has implications for how amphibians adapted to high-latitude regions in this dynamic period of Earth’s history.


April 29, 2021

6 UW-affiliated researchers elected to the National Academy of Sciences

The view of Mount Rainier from the UW campus in Seattle

Five faculty members and one affiliate professor at the University of Washington are among 120 new members and 30 international members elected to the National Academy of Sciences: Anna Karlin, professor of computer science and engineering; Rachel Klevit, professor of biochemistry; Randall LeVeque, professor emeritus of applied mathematics; Julie Theriot, professor of biology; Rachel Wong, professor of biological structure; and Julie Overbaugh, professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a UW affiliate professor of microbiology.


February 8, 2021

UW physicist pens math-free tour of quantum mechanics and technology

Morales has authored a seven-part series for Ars Technica on quantum mechanics for a general audience. One article in the series is rolling out each week from Jan. 10 to Feb. 21. Morales sat down with UW News to talk about the series, quantum mechanics and what he hopes the public can learn about this seemingly odd and possibly intimidating realm of science.


January 27, 2021

On nights before a full moon, people go to bed later and sleep less, study shows

picture of the moon

Sleep cycles in people oscillate during the 29.5-day lunar cycle: In the days leading up to a full moon, people go to sleep later in the evening and sleep for shorter periods of time. The team, led by researchers at the University of Washington, observed these variations in both the time of sleep onset and the duration of sleep in urban and rural settings — from Indigenous communities in northern Argentina to college students in Seattle, a city of more than 750,000. They saw the oscillations regardless of an individual’s access to electricity, though the variations are less pronounced in individuals living in urban environments.


Purported phosphine on Venus more likely to be ordinary sulfur dioxide, new study shows

An image of the planet Venus, showing its thick atmosphere.

A University of Washington-led team has revisited and comprehensively reinterpreted the radio telescope observations underlying a widely reported 2019 claim that phosphine gas was present in the atmosphere of Venus. In a paper accepted to the Astrophysical Journal, they report that sulfur dioxide, a common gas in the atmosphere of Venus, is likely what was detected instead of phosphine.


January 18, 2021

Researchers use lasers and molecular tethers to create perfectly patterned platforms for tissue engineering

Image of a biological scaffold for tissue engineering that has had proteins tethered to it in a specific pattern, in this case the University of Washington's former logo

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a technique to modify naturally occurring biological polymers with protein-based biochemical messages that affect cell behavior. Their approach, published the week of Jan. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses a near-infrared laser to trigger chemical adhesion of protein messages to a scaffold made from biological polymers such as collagen, a connective tissue found throughout our bodies.


January 14, 2021

Astronomers document the rise and fall of a rarely observed stellar dance

An image of stars in the night sky, showing a particularly bright binary at the center called HS Hydra.

Astronomers have catalogued 126 years of changes to a binary star system called HS Hydrae. Analyzing observations from astro-photographic plates in the late 1800s to TESS observations in 2019, they show that the two stars in HS Hydrae began to eclipse each other starting around a century ago, peaking in the 1960s. The degree of eclipsing then plummeted over the course of just a half century, and will cease around February 2021.


December 3, 2020

Researchers discover how bean plants fend off famished foes

A photograph of a beet armyworm caterpillar crawling across the surface of a tobacco plant.

A team led by scientists at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego has discovered that cowpeas — a type of bean plant — harbor receptors on the surface of their cells that can detect a compound in caterpillar saliva and initiate anti-herbivore defenses.


Leaving so soon? Unusual planetary nebula fades mere decades after it arrived

An image of the Stingray Nebula taken in 2016 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope

The tiny Stingray Nebula unexpectedly appeared in the 1980s is by far the youngest planetary nebula in our sky. But a team of astronomers recently analyzed a more recent image of the nebula, taken in 2016 by Hubble, and found that it has faded significantly and changed shape over the course of just 20 years. If dimming continues at current rates, in 20 or 30 years the Stingray Nebula will be barely perceptible.


November 2, 2020

Break it up: Polymer derived from material in shrimp’s shells could deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumor sites

Mouse mammary cancer cells that are being treated with a nanoparticle that can deliver an anti-cancer drug into the cells.

A University of Washington team led by Miqin Zhang, a professor of materials science and engineering and of neurological surgery, has developed a nanoparticle-based drug delivery system that can ferry a potent anti-cancer drug through the bloodstream safely. Their nanoparticle is derived from chitin, a natural and organic polymer that, among other things, makes up the outer shells of shrimp.


October 6, 2020

All together now: Experiments with twisted 2D materials catch electrons behaving collectively

A diagram showing the overlap between the atomic layout of sheets of 2D materials

In a paper published Sept. 14 in the journal Nature Physics, a team led by the University of Washington reports that carefully constructed stacks of graphene — a 2D form of carbon — can exhibit highly correlated electron properties. The team also found evidence that this type of collective behavior likely relates to the emergence of exotic magnetic states.


September 16, 2020

Marine animals live where ocean is most ‘breathable,’ but ranges could shrink with climate change

New research shows that a wide variety of marine animals — from vertebrates to crustaceans to mollusks — already inhabit the maximum range of breathable ocean that their physiology will allow. The findings provide a warning about climate change: Since warmer waters will harbor less oxygen, some stretches of ocean that are breathable today for a given species may not be in the future.


August 31, 2020

UW receives NSF funds for investment in an interdisciplinary quantum future

A person standing smiling at the camera

The National Science Foundation has awarded $3 million to establish a NSF Research Traineeship at the University of Washington for graduate students in quantum information science and technology. The new traineeship — known as Accelerating Quantum-Enabled Technologies, or AQET — will make the UW one of just “a handful” of universities with a formal, interdisciplinary QIST curriculum.


August 27, 2020

Weathering the tough times: Fossil evidence of ‘hibernation-like’ state in 250-million-year-old Antarctic animal

An artist's rendition of an ancient vertebrate called Lystrosaurus

University of Washington scientists report evidence of a hibernation-like state in Lystrosaurus, an animal that lived in Antarctica during the Early Triassic, some 250 million years ago. The fossils are the oldest evidence of a hibernation-like state in a vertebrate, and indicate that torpor — a general term for hibernation and similar states in which animals temporarily lower their metabolic rate to get through a tough season — arose in vertebrates even before mammals and dinosaurs evolved.


July 30, 2020

National Academies publishes guide to help public officials make sense of COVID-19 data

University of Washington professor Adrian Raftery is lead author on a National Academies guide to help officials interpret and understand different COVID-19 statistics and data sources as they make decisions about opening and closing schools, businesses and community facilities.


July 16, 2020

7 University of Washington researchers elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences in 2020

Seven scientists and engineers at the University of Washington have been elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences, according to an announcement July 15 by the academy.


June 24, 2020

Study asks Washington state residents to describe food security and access during pandemic, economic downturn

a plate, knife and fork

A new online survey for Washington state residents has launched to gather data on how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn have affected food access and economic security. The Washington State Food Security Survey, which went live June 18 and runs through July 31, is open to all Washington state residents aged 18 or over.


June 23, 2020

Laser allows solid-state refrigeration of a semiconductor material

A diagram showing the set up of an experiment for solid-state refrigeration using a laser.

A team from the University of Washington used an infrared laser to cool a solid semiconductor by at least 20 degrees C, or 36 F, below room temperature, as they report in a paper published June 23 in Nature Communications.


June 11, 2020

Scientists close in on 12 billion-year-old signal from the end of the universe’s ‘dark age’

A picture of a radio telescope in a remote region of Australia.

When the universe was in its infancy, it contained no stars at all. And an international team of scientists is closer than ever to detecting, measuring and studying a signal from this era that has been traveling through the cosmos ever since that starless era ended some 13 billion years ago.


June 10, 2020

Passing crucial, challenging introductory chemistry course gives biggest boost to underrepresented students

A person at a chalkboard delivering a chemistry lecture

Researchers examined 15 years of records of student performance, education and demographics for chemistry courses at the University of Washington. They found that underrepresented students received lower grades in the general chemistry series compared to their peers and, if the grade was sufficiently low, were less likely to continue in the series and more likely to leave STEM. But if underrepresented students completed the first general chemistry course with at least the minimum grade needed to continue in the series, they were more likely than their peers to continue the general chemistry series and complete this major step toward a STEM degree.


June 4, 2020

UW guidelines helping to ramp up research safely during COVID-19

A person speaking at a lecturn

Mary Lidstrom, vice provost for research at the University of Washington, talks about the evolving picture of research at the UW in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.


April 27, 2020

Bacteria that are persistently resistant to one antibiotic are ‘primed’ to become multidrug-resistant bugs

A close-up image of E. coli bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Idaho report that, for a bacterial pathogen already resistant to an antibiotic, prolonged exposure to that antibiotic not only boosted its ability to retain its resistance gene, but also made the pathogen more readily pick up and maintain resistance to a second antibiotic and become a dangerous, multidrug-resistant strain.


April 13, 2020

UW team illustrates the adverse impact of visiting ‘just one friend’ during COVID-19 lockdown

After weeks of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, people of all ages may be asking: What could be the harm of visiting just one friend? Unfortunately, it could potentially undo the goal of social distancing, which is to give the COVID-19 virus fewer opportunities to spread. According to a website set up by researchers…


April 10, 2020

US approaching peak of ‘active’ COVID-19 cases, strain on medical resources, new modeling shows

A new data-driven mathematical model of the coronavirus pandemic predicts that the United States will peak in the number of “active” COVID-19 cases on or around April 20, marking a critical milestone on the demand for medical resources.


April 1, 2020

Jodi Sandfort named dean of the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance

Jodi Sandfort has been named the next dean of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, Provost Mark Richards announced April 1.


March 24, 2020

UW researchers to study resilience, well-being among King County residents during pandemic

An artistic rendering of a coronavirus

University of Washington researchers have launched the King County COVID-19 Community Study — or KC3S — to gather data through April 19 on how individuals and communities throughout King County are coping with the measures put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


March 9, 2020

Underrepresented college students benefit more from ‘active learning’ techniques in STEM courses

A college classroom with students seated in a lecture hall.

Students from different backgrounds in the United States enter college with equal interest in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But that equal interest does not result in equal outcomes. Six years after starting an undergraduate STEM degree, roughly twice as many white students finished it compared to African American students. A new…


Climate change at Mount Rainier expected to increase ‘mismatch’ between visitors and iconic wildflowers

A meadow filled with wildflowers in full bloom on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

The wildflowers of Mount Rainier’s subalpine meadows, which bloom once the winter snowpack melts, are a major draw for the more than 1 million visitors to this national park in Washington state each spring and summer. But by the end of this century, scientists expect that snow will melt months earlier due to climate change. New research led by the University of Washington shows that, under those conditions, many visitors would miss the flowers altogether.


March 6, 2020

Dimming Betelgeuse likely isn’t cold, just dusty, new study shows

An image of the star Betelgeuse in December 2019.

Late last year, news broke that the star Betelgeuse was fading significantly, ultimately dropping to around 40% of its usual brightness. The activity fueled popular speculation that the red supergiant would soon explode as a massive supernova. But astronomers have more benign theories to explain the star’s dimming behavior. And scientists at the University of…


March 2, 2020

New honors for scientists studying ‘ecosystem sentinels’

P. Dee Boersma, a UW professor of biology and director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, is a finalist for the 2020 Indianapolis Prize for conservation, to be awarded later this year by the Indianapolis Zoological Society. Sue Moore, a scientist with the center and a UW affiliate professor of biology and of aquatic and fishery sciences, has won the 2020 IASC Medal, also known as the Arctic Medal, from the International Arctic Science Committee.


February 14, 2020

Earth’s cousins: Upcoming missions to look for ‘biosignatures’ in the atmospheres of nearby worlds

Artist's depiction of the TRAPPIST-1 star and its seven worlds.

Victoria Meadows, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and director of the UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, talks about how upcoming missions like the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to characterize the atmospheres of potentially Earth-like exoplanets and may even detect signs of life. Meadows is delivering a talk on this subject on Feb. 15, 2020 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Seattle.


January 21, 2020

Mosquitoes are drawn to flowers as much as people — and now scientists know why

Despite their reputation as blood-suckers, mosquitoes actually spend most of their time drinking nectar from flowers. Scientists have identified the chemical cues in flowers that stimulate mosquitoes’ sense of smell and draw them in. Their findings show how cues from flowers can stimulate the mosquito brain as much as a warm-blooded host — information that could help develop less toxic repellents and better traps.


December 6, 2019

Astronomy fellowship demonstrates effective measures to dismantle bias, increase diversity in STEM

a person smiling and looking at the camera

Joyce Yen — director of the University of Washington’s ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change, an NSF-funded body to promote female STEM faculty on campus — recently worked with the Heising-Simons Foundation to dismantle bias and promote diversity in a prominent grant that the Foundation awards to postdoctoral researchers in planetary science. In this Q&A, Yen shares the many, sometimes counterintuitive ways bias can work against goals toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM fields.


November 4, 2019

Light-based ‘tractor beam’ assembles materials at the nanoscale

A diagram of an optical trap

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that could make reproducible manufacturing at the nanoscale possible. The team adapted a light-based technology employed widely in biology — known as optical traps or optical tweezers — to operate in a water-free liquid environment of carbon-rich organic solvents, thereby enabling new potential applications.



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