UW News


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.


October 31, 2019

New technique lets researchers map strain in next-gen solar cells

an image showing the surface of a solar cell, and which sections of the surface are susceptible to heat loss

Researchers from the University of Washington and the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands have developed a way to map strain in lead halide perovskite solar cells. Their approach shows that misorientation between microscopic perovskite crystals is the primary contributor to the buildup of strain within the solar cell, which creates small-scale defects in the grain structure, interrupts the transport of electrons within the solar cell, and ultimately leads to heat loss through a process known as non-radiative recombination.


October 15, 2019

UW’s Ashleigh Theberge receives Packard Fellowship for research on cell communication signals

Person looking at camera

Ashleigh Theberge, a University of Washington assistant professor of chemistry, has been named a 2019 Packard Fellow for her research on cell signaling. Every year since 1988, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has awarded Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering to early-career scientists to pursue the types of innovative projects that often fall outside…


October 4, 2019

New metasurface design can control optical fields in three dimensions

An image showing how the optical element focuses light to a specific point in 3D space above the element's surface.

A team led by scientists at the University of Washington has designed and tested a 3D-printed metamaterial that can manipulate light with nanoscale precision. As they report in a paper published Oct. 4 in the journal Science Advances, their designed optical element focuses light to discrete points in a 3D helical pattern.


September 16, 2019

KATRIN cuts the mass estimate for the elusive neutrino in half

A large piece of scientific equipment being moved through a town

An international team of scientists has announced a breakthrough in its quest to measure the mass of the neutrino, one of the most abundant, yet elusive, elementary particles in our universe. At the 2019 Topics in Astroparticle and Underground Physics conference in Toyama, Japan, leaders from the KATRIN experiment reported Sept. 13 that the estimated range for the rest mass of the neutrino is no larger than 1 electron volt, or eV.


September 10, 2019

Tides don’t always flush water out to sea, study shows

Dawn in Willapa Bay in 2015, showing oysters on a tidal flat.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Strathclyde report that, in Willapa Bay in Washington state, the water washing over the tidal flats during high tides is largely the same water that washed over the flats during the previous high tide. This “old” water has not been mixed in with “new” water from deeper parts of the bay or the open Pacific Ocean, and has different chemical and biological properties, such as lower levels of food for creatures within the tide flats.


September 9, 2019

Breakthrough Foundation honors UW researcher studying ‘exotic’ states of matter

Picture of Lukasz Fidkowski, assistant professor of physics at the University of Washington.

Lukasz Fidkowski, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Washington, is one of the winners of a 2020 New Horizons in Physics Prize from the Breakthrough Foundation. The prize to early-career scientists, announced Sept. 5, recognizes Fidkowski and his three co-recipients “for incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them.”


August 12, 2019

First cells on ancient Earth may have emerged because building blocks of proteins stabilized membranes

Scientists have discovered that the building blocks of proteins can stabilize cell membranes. This finding may explain how the first cells emerged from the primordial soup billions of years ago: The protein building blocks could have stabilized cell membranes against salt and ions that were present in ancient oceans. In addition, membranes may have been a site for these precursor molecules to co-localize, a potential mechanism to explain what brought together the ingredients for life.


August 9, 2019

Scientists can now control thermal profiles at the nanoscale

Scientists have designed and tested an experimental system that uses a near-infrared laser to actively heat two gold nanorod antennae — metal rods designed and built at the nanoscale — to different temperatures. The nanorods are so close together that they are both electromagnetically and thermally coupled. Yet the team measured temperature differences between the rods as high as 20 degrees Celsius and could change which nanorod was cooler and which was warmer, even though the rods were made of the same material.


July 18, 2019

Scientists discover how the mosquito brain integrates diverse sensory cues to locate a host to bite

A close-up image of a mosquito

A team, led by researchers at the University of Washington, has discovered how the female mosquito brain integrates visual and olfactory signals to identify, track and hone in on a potential host for her next blood meal: After the mosquito’s olfactory system detects certain chemical cues, the mosquito uses her visual system to scan her surroundings for certain shapes and fly toward them, presumably associating those shapes with potential hosts.


June 20, 2019

Mammals and their relatives thrived, diversified during so-called ‘Age of Dinosaurs,’ researchers show

Illustration of an extinct marsupial.

Old myths state that, during the time of the dinosaurs, mammals and their relatives were small and primitive. But new research shows that, during the time of the dinosaurs, mammals and their relatives actually underwent two large ecological radiations, diversifying into climbing, gliding and burrowing forms with a variety of diets.


May 20, 2019

Scientists use molecular tethers and chemical ‘light sabers’ to construct platforms for tissue engineering

In a paper published May 20 in the journal Nature Materials, a team of researchers from the University of Washington unveiled a new strategy to keep proteins intact and functional in synthetic biomaterials for tissue engineering. Their approach modifies proteins at a specific point so that they can be chemically tethered to the scaffold using light. Since the tether can also be cut by laser light, this method can create evolving patterns of signal proteins throughout a biomaterial scaffold to grow tissues made up of different types of cells.


May 3, 2019

Researchers take a bottom-up approach to synthesizing microscopic diamonds for bioimaging, quantum computing

Two people operating a laser to heat material and make nanodiamonds.

Researchers at the University of Washington, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory discovered that they can use extremely high pressure and temperature to introduce other elements into nanodiamonds, making them potentially useful in cell and tissue imaging, as well as quantum computing.


May 2, 2019

Bats evolved diverse skull shapes due to echolocation, diet

A close-up image of a California leaf-nosed bat.

In a paper published May 2 in Nature Communications, a University of Washington team reports that two major forces have shaped bat skulls over their evolutionary history — echolocation and diet — generating a huge diversity of skull shapes across 1,300 bat species today.


April 15, 2019

Synthetic peptide can inhibit toxicity, aggregation of protein in Alzheimer’s disease, researchers show

a chemical structure of a peptide

A team led by researchers at the University of Washington has developed synthetic peptides that target and inhibit the small, toxic protein aggregates that are thought to trigger Alzheimer’s disease.


April 10, 2019

David Thouless — Nobel laureate and UW professor emeritus — dies at age 84

David Thouless in 2016.

David James Thouless, Nobel laureate and a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, died in Cambridge in the U.K. on April 6, 2019. He was 84 years old.


March 21, 2019

UW, Microsoft, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory establish new Northwest Quantum Nexus for a quantum revolution in science, technology

Portraits of two people

The University of Washington, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Microsoft Quantum announced this week that they have joined forces in a new coalition, the Northwest Quantum Nexus, to bring about a revolution in quantum research and technology.


February 25, 2019

It’s all in the twist: Physicists stack 2D materials at angles to trap particles on the nanoscale, creating a unique platform to study quantum optical physics

A depiction of single-layer semiconductors.

In a paper published Feb. 25 in the journal Nature, a University of Washington-led team of physicists report that it has developed a new system to trap individual excitons — bound pairs of electrons and their associated positive charges. Their system could form the basis of a novel experimental platform for monitoring excitons with precision and potentially developing new quantum technologies.


February 13, 2019

Parents don’t pick favorites, at least if you’re a Magellanic penguin

A penguin feeding one of its chicks.

Researchers at the University of Washington wanted to know how Magellanic penguin parents in South America balance the dietary demands of multiple chicks. As they report in a paper published Jan. 23 in the journal Animal Behaviour, when a Magellanic penguin parent returns to its nest with fish, the parent tries to feed each of its two chicks equal portions of food, regardless of the youngsters’ differences in age or size.


February 7, 2019

All the data in the sky, alerted via UW eyes

An image of a galaxy.

The Zwicky Transient Facility, based at the Palomar Observatory, has identified over a thousand new objects and phenomena in the night sky, including more than 1,100 new supernovae and 50 near-Earth asteroids. University of Washington scientists are part of the ZTF team and led the development of the collaboration’s alert system, which informs science teams of possible new objects or changes to known objects in the sky.


January 10, 2019

Astronomers find signatures of a ‘messy’ star that made its companion go supernova

An image of a galaxy in outer space, with a bright supernova visible at its outer edge.

On Jan. 10 at the 2019 American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, an international team of astronomers announced that they have identified the type of companion star that made its partner in a binary system, a carbon-oxygen white dwarf star, explode. Through repeated observations of SN 2015cp, a supernova 545 million light years away, the team detected hydrogen-rich debris that the companion star had shed prior to the explosion.


January 2, 2019

The number of single male Magellanic penguins is rising at this breeding colony. Here’s why.

A curious Magellanic penguin looking into the camera lens

Female Magellanic penguins are more likely to die at sea as juveniles, which has caused a skewed sex ratio of nearly three adult males to every female, as well as population decline of more than 40 percent since 1987 at one of their largest breeding colonies — Punta Tombo in Argentina.


How economic theory and the Netflix Prize could make research funding more efficient

In a paper published Jan. 2 in PLOS Biology, two scientists at the University of Washington and North Carolina State University use the economic theory of contests to illustrate how the competitive grant-application system has made the pursuit of research funding inefficient and unsustainable — and that alternative methods, such as a partial lottery to award grants, could relieve pressure on professors and free up time for research.


December 24, 2018

New global migration estimates show rates proportionally steady since 1990, high rate of return migration

People waiting at an airport

Two University of Washington scientists have unveiled a new statistical method for estimating migration flows between countries. They show that rates of migration are higher than previously thought, but also relatively stable, fluctuating between 1.1 and 1.3 percent of global population from 1990 to 2015. In addition, since 1990 approximately 45 percent of migrants have returned to their home countries, a much higher estimate than other methods.


December 12, 2018

Teens get more sleep, show improved grades and attendance with later school start time, researchers find

In 2016, Seattle Public Schools pushed back the start times for the district’s 18 high schools by 55 minutes, from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. And as hoped, teenagers used the extra time to sleep in.


November 27, 2018

Threatened tropical coral reefs form complex, ancient associations with bacteria, researchers say

Fish swimming in a coral reef.

In a comprehensive study of healthy corals published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from the University of Washington Bothell, Pennsylvania State University and Oregon State University report that coral bacteria are a surprisingly diverse bunch — and that different sections of the coral body can host unique communities of bacteria.


November 7, 2018

After a bad winter in the ocean, female Magellanic penguins suffer most, study shows

A view of South America from space.

Researchers from the University of Washington have shown how Magellanic penguins fare during the winter months when they spend months at sea feeding. They have discovered that oceanographic features are more likely to negatively impact the body conditions of Magellanic penguin females, but not males, when the penguins return to their nesting grounds in spring.


October 24, 2018

UW physicist Jiun-Haw Chu named Packard Fellow for research on quantum materials

A person standing in a lab.

Jiun-Haw Chu, a University of Washington assistant professor of physics and faculty member at the UW’s Clean Energy Institute, has been named a 2018 fellow by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for his research on quantum materials — substances that exhibit novel combinations of quantum-mechanical properties that could one day transform information technology.


October 8, 2018

Awards to UW affiliate professor recognize career of conservation and research on penguins

two people standing on a stage

Pablo García Borboroglu, president of the Global Penguin Society and a UW affiliate associate professor of biology, has won the Whitley Gold Award and the National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, as well as accolades from the Argentine National Congress, for his research and advocacy for penguin conservation.


October 1, 2018

High CO2 levels cause plants to thicken their leaves, which could worsen climate change effects, researchers say

A tree canopy in a tropical rainforest.

When levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rise, most plants do something unusual: They thicken their leaves. Now two University of Washington scientists have shown that this reaction by plants will actually worsen climate change by making the global “carbon sink” contributed by plants was less productive.


September 24, 2018

Burst of morning gene activity tells plants when to flower

Arabidopsis thaliana plants flowering outside under natural light.

For angiosperms — or flowering plants — one of the most important decisions facing them each year is when to flower. It is no trivial undertaking. To flower, they must cease vegetative growth and commit to making those energetically expensive reproductive structures that will bring about the next generation. Knowledge of this process at the…


September 19, 2018

DNA testing of illegal ivory seized by law enforcement links multiple ivory shipments to same dealers

African elephants examining a bone from another elephant

The international trade in elephant ivory has been illegal since 1989, yet African elephant numbers continue to decline. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature cited ivory poaching as a primary reason for a staggering loss of about 111,000 elephants between 2005 and 2015 — leaving their total numbers at an estimated 415,000….


August 30, 2018

Climate change projected to boost insect activity and crop loss, researchers say

Image of ears of wheat

In a paper published Aug. 31 in the journal Science, a team led by scientists at the University of Washington reports that insect activity in today’s temperate, crop-growing regions will rise along with temperatures. Researchers project that this activity, in turn, will boost worldwide losses of rice, corn and wheat by 10-25 percent for each degree Celsius that global mean surface temperatures rise.


August 23, 2018

Hack week: Study supports collaborative, participant-driven approach for researchers to learn data science from their peers

Scientists working together on computer projects.

A team from the University of Washington, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley has developed an interactive workshop in data science for researchers at multiple stages of their careers. The course format, called “hack week,” blends elements from both traditional lecture-style pedagogy with participant-driven projects.


August 9, 2018

For UW physicists, the 2-D form of tungsten ditelluride is full of surprises

Two monolayers interacting

In a paper published online July 23 in the journal Nature, a UW-led research team reports that the 2-D form of tungsten ditelluride can undergo “ferroelectric switching.” Materials with ferroelectric properties can have applications in memory storage, capacitors, RFID card technologies and even medical sensors — and tungsten ditelluride is the first exfoliated 2-D material known to undergo ferroelectric switching.


August 3, 2018

UW, PNNL to host energy research center focusing on bio-inspired design and assembly

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded an expected $10.75 million, four-year grant to the University of Washington, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other partner institutions for a new interdisciplinary research center to define the enigmatic rules that govern how molecular-scale building blocks assemble into ordered structures and give rise to complex hierarchical materials.


July 25, 2018

And then there was (more) light: Researchers boost performance quality of perovskites

an image of an experimental disk

In a paper published online this spring in the journal Nature Photonics, scientists at the University of Washington report that a prototype semiconductor thin-film has performed even better than today’s best solar cell materials at emitting light.


June 27, 2018

To tell the sex of a Galápagos penguin, measure its beak, researchers say

A Galapagos penguin.

In a paper published April 5 in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists at the University of Washington announced that, for a Galápagos penguin, beak size is nearly a perfect indicator of whether a bird is male or female.


May 7, 2018

Stomata — the plant pores that give us life — arise thanks to a gene called MUTE, scientists report

A microscopy image of the surface of a plant.

New research in plants shows that a gene called MUTE is required for the formation of stomata — the tiny pores that are critical for gas exchange, including releasing the oxygen gas that we breathe.



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