UW News

Science


June 29, 2022

‘Safety in numbers’ tactic keeps Pacific salmon safe from predators

fish swim together in a fish tank

A new University of Washington study that leverages historical data has found unique support for a “safety in numbers” hypothesis by showing that Pacific salmon in larger groups have lower risk of being eaten by predators. But for some salmon species, schooling comes at the cost of competition for food, and those fish may trade safety for a meal.


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.


June 21, 2022

New study: 2021 heat wave created ‘perfect storm’ for shellfish die-off

A pile of dead oysters with their shells open. There is water in the background.

A team led by the UW has produced the first comprehensive report of the impacts of the 2021 heat wave on shellfish.


June 16, 2022

Q&A: Healthier soil leads to more-nutritious food, argues new book by UW geomorphologist David Montgomery

book cover showing crops

David Montgomery, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, discusses soil health, food nutrients and human health. He is co-author of “What Your Food Ate,” being published this month.


Newly documented population of polar bears in Southeast Greenland sheds light on the species’ future in a warming Arctic

single polar bear on ice floe

A new population of polar bears documented on the southeast coast of Greenland use glacier ice to survive despite limited access to sea ice. This small, genetically distinct group of polar bears could be important to the future of the species in a warming world.


June 14, 2022

UW, Seattle Public Library, Seattle Public Utilities collaboration uses VR goggles to visualize sea level rise in Seattle

laser tool by riverside and aerial view of city

The Our Future Duwamish project, available to community groups through The Seattle Public Library, uses an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset to help viewers imagine rising seas from a vantage point along the South Seattle waterway.


June 13, 2022

Is there snow in that tree? Citizen science helps unpack snow’s effect on summer water supplies

Trees in a forest. The trees are blanketed by heavy snow.

To investigate what happens to snow intercepted by trees, UW researchers created a citizen science project called Snow Spotter.


June 10, 2022

Q&A: Amy Snover, outgoing director of the UW Climate Impacts Group

Amy Snover

Amy Snover, the retiring director of the UW Climate Impacts Group, reflects on her past decade of leadership and on how the groundbreaking climate preparedness group has evolved over more than a quarter century of existence.


June 9, 2022

Scientists seek to grow the field of eDNA research ‘without squelching creativity’

two researchers sample water in a stream.

A new effort at the University of Washington aims to accelerate eDNA research by supporting existing projects and building a network of practitioners to advance the nascent field.


June 6, 2022

Including all types of emissions shortens timeline to reach Paris Agreement temperature targets

Smokestacks and cooling towers for power plants

Looking beyond CO2 to include other human-generated pollutants increases the amount of warming that humans have already committed to by past emissions. Earth will continue to warm even if all emissions cease, and the planet is committed to reaching peak temperatures about five to 10 years before experiencing them.


May 31, 2022

UW-developed, cloud-based astrodynamics platform to discover and track asteroids

A novel algorithm developed by University of Washington researchers to discover asteroids in the solar system has proved its mettle. The first candidate asteroids identified by the algorithm — known as Tracklet-less Heliocentric Orbit Recovery, or THOR — have been confirmed by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, according to a May 31 announcement by the B612 Foundation.


May 12, 2022

Changes in cholesterol production lead to tragic octopus death spiral

After a mother octopus lays a clutch of eggs, she quits eating and wastes away; by the time the eggs hatch, she is dead. Some females in captivity even seem to speed up this process intentionally, mutilating themselves and twisting their arms into a tangled mess. The source of this bizarre maternal behavior seems to be the optic gland, an organ similar to the pituitary gland in mammals. For years, just how this gland triggered the gruesome death spiral was unclear. But in a new study published May 12 in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Washington, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois Chicago show that the optic gland in maternal octopuses undergoes a massive shift in cholesterol metabolism, resulting in dramatic changes in the steroid hormones produced. Alterations in cholesterol metabolism in other animals, including humans, can have serious consequences on longevity and behavior, and the team believes this reveals important similarities in the functions of these steroids across the animal kingdom — in soft-bodied cephalopods and vertebrates alike.


May 6, 2022

Model finds COVID-19 deaths among elderly may be due to genetic limit on cell division

Graphic of immune response

Your immune system’s ability to combat COVID-19, like any infection, largely depends on its ability to replicate the immune cells effective at destroying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease. These cloned immune cells cannot be infinitely created, and a key hypothesis of a new University of Washington study is that the body’s ability to…


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.


May 4, 2022

Astronomers discover a rare ’black widow’ binary, with the shortest orbit yet

The flashing of a nearby star drew the attention of a team of astronomers, who discovered that it is part of a rare and mysterious system. As they report in a paper published May 4 in Nature, the stellar oddity appears to be a “black widow binary” — a type of system consisting of a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that is circling and slowly consuming a smaller companion star, as its arachnid namesake does to its mate.


May 3, 2022

Experiments measure freezing point of extraterrestrial oceans to aid search for life

Europa Image

A planetary scientist worked with engineers to measure the physical limits of a liquid for salty water under high pressure. Results suggest where robotic missions should look for extraterrestrial life on the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan.


April 28, 2022

Unchecked global emissions on track to initiate mass extinction of marine life

If emissions from greenhouse gases continue, species losses from warming and oxygen depletion of ocean waters could eclipse all other human stressors on marine species by around 2100. Tropical waters would experience the greatest loss of biodiversity, while polar species are at the highest risk of extinction


April 26, 2022

Scientists find elusive gas from post-starburst galaxies hiding in plain sight

Scientists once thought that post-starburst galaxies scattered all of their gas and dust — the fuel required for creating new stars — in violent bursts of energy, and with extraordinary speed. Now, a team led by University of Washington postdoctoral researcher Adam Smercina reports that these galaxies don’t scatter all of their star-forming fuel after all. Instead, after their supposed end, these dormant galaxies hold onto and compress large amounts of highly concentrated, turbulent gas. But contrary to expectation, they’re not using it to form stars.


April 22, 2022

Heavens need environmental protection just like Earth, experts say

Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, argues a team of scientists. The scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space should be considered against the damaging environmental impacts posed by an influx of space debris — roughly 60 miles above Earth’s surface — fueled by the rapid growth of so-called satellite mega-constellations. In a paper published April 22 in Nature Astronomy, the authors assert that space is an important environment to preserve on behalf of professional astronomers, amateur stargazers and Indigenous peoples.


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.


April 13, 2022

Two UW faculty named fellows of Ecological Society of America

campus sign

Two University of Washington professors have been honored by the Ecological Society of America for their knowledge and contributions to the field of ecology.


Ice shards in Antarctic clouds let more solar energy reach Earth’s surface

clouds

Including the splintering of ice inside clouds around Antarctica improves high-resolution global models’ ability to simulate clouds over the Southern Ocean – and thus the models’ ability to simulate Earth’s climate.


March 29, 2022

Scientists identify overgrowth of key brain structure in babies who later develop autism

New research from the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) Network, which includes the University of Washington, finds that the amygdala, an area of the brain critical for interpreting emotions, grows too rapidly in infants who go on to develop autism.


March 28, 2022

Solar energy explains fast yearly retreat of Antarctica’s sea ice

Sea ice around Antarctica retreats more quickly than it advances, an asymmetry that has been a puzzle. New analysis shows that the Southern Hemisphere is following simple rules of physics, as peak midsummer sun causes rapid changes. In this respect, it seems, it’s Arctic sea ice that is more mysterious.


March 18, 2022

Urbanization is driving evolution of plants globally, study finds

white clover blossom with leaves

A study led by evolutionary biologists at multiple institutions, including the University of Washington, focuses on a specific plant in examining whether parallel evolution is occurring in cities all over the world.


March 10, 2022

Newest satellite data shows remarkable decline in Arctic sea ice over just three years

distant figures walking on snow-covered ice

In the past 20 years, the Arctic has lost about one-third of its winter sea ice volume, and winter sea ice in the Arctic has lost about a foot and a half of thickness over just the past three years. This thinning is largely due to loss of older, multiyear sea ice that is more resistant to melting.


March 9, 2022

More air pollution present in areas with historical redlining

Cars on a road with houses and mountains in the background

A team of researchers at the UW and UC Berkeley has found that housing discrimination practices dating from the 1930s still drive air pollution disparities in hundreds of American cities today.


March 3, 2022

Moon jellies appear to be gobbling up zooplankton in Puget Sound

pinkish-white jelly on green background

University of Washington-led research suggests moon jellies are feasting on zooplankton, the various tiny animals that drift with the currents, in the bays they inhabit. This could affect other hungry marine life, like juvenile salmon or herring — especially if predictions are correct and climate change will favor fast-growing jellyfish.


February 25, 2022

Antibiotic used on food crops affects bumblebee behavior

Scientists at the University of Washington and Emory University report that an antibiotic sprayed on orchard crops to combat bacterial diseases slows the cognition of bumblebees and reduces their foraging efficiency. The study, published Feb. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, focused on streptomycin, an antibiotic used increasingly in U.S. agriculture during the past decade.


February 24, 2022

Farms following soil-friendly practices grow healthier food, study suggests

An experiment conducted on 10 farms across the U.S. suggests that crops from farms following soil-friendly practices for at least five years have a healthier nutritional profile than the same crops grown on neighboring, conventional farms. Researchers believe soil microbes and fungi boost certain beneficial minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals in the crops.


February 23, 2022

A new upper limit on the mass of neutrinos

An international research team, including scientists from the University of Washington, has established a new upper limit on the mass of the neutrino, the lightest known subatomic particle. In a paper published Feb. 14 in Nature Physics, the collaboration — known as the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino Experiment or KATRIN — reports that the neutrino’s mass is below 0.8 electron volts, or 0.8 eV/c2. Honing in on the elusive value of the neutrino’s mass will solve a major outstanding mystery in particle physics and equip scientists with a more complete view of the fundamental forces and particles that shape ourselves, our planet and the cosmos.


February 16, 2022

Unexpected findings detailed in new portrait of HIV

Using powerful tools and techniques developed in the field of structural biology, researchers at the University of Washington and Scripps Research have discovered new details about the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. The findings bring into focus the basic architecture of the virus just above and below its surface and may help in the design and…


February 15, 2022

eDNA a useful tool for early detection of invasive green crab

green crab in the mud

As the green crab invasion in the state worsens, a new analysis method developed by University of Washington and Washington Sea Grant scientists could help contain future invasions and prevent new outbreaks using water testing and genetic analysis. The results show that the DNA-based technique works as well in detecting the presence of green crabs as setting traps to catch the live animals, which is a more laborious process. Results suggest these two methods could complement each other as approaches to learn where the species’ range is expanding.


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.


Smartphone app can vibrate a single drop of blood to determine how well it clots

Close up of a person holding a phone with a plastic attachment that holds a cup under the camera. The person is adding a red solution to the cup.

Researchers at the UW have developed a new blood-clotting test that uses a single drop of blood and a smartphone vibration motor and camera.


February 9, 2022

New IAU center to focus on solutions to satellite interference in astronomical observations

The International Astronomical Union has launched the Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference to coordinate collaborative multidisciplinary international efforts with institutions and individuals — including researchers at the University of Washington’s DiRAC Institute — to help mitigate the negative impacts of satellite constellations on ground-based optical and radio astronomy observations as well as humanity’s enjoyment of the night sky.


February 4, 2022

Planting trees in pastureland provides significant cooling in the tropics

Farmer with bananas

Farmers struggling to adapt to rising temperatures in tropical regions can unleash the benefits of natural cooling, alongside a host of other wins, simply by dotting more trees across their pasturelands. For the first time, a study led by the University of Washington puts tangible numbers to the cooling effects of this practice.



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