UW News

Science


May 5, 2021

Ice core data show why, despite lower sulfur emissions in U.S. and Western Europe, air pollution is dropping more slowly

graphic of Earth with chemical pathways

Ice core data from Greenland shows why air pollution is dropping more slowly than sulfur emissions reductions. As cloud droplets become less acidic, the chemical reaction that turns sulfur dioxide into sulfate aerosol gets more efficient. The new results can improve the models that project air quality and climate change.


FASER is born: new experiment will study particles that interact with dark matter

The newest experiment at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is now in place at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. FASER, or Forward Search Experiment, was approved by CERN’s research board in March 2019. Now installed in the LHC tunnel, this experiment, which seeks to understand particles that scientists believe may interact with dark matter, is now undergoing tests before data collection commences next year.


May 3, 2021

Earthquake early warnings launch in Washington, completing West Coast-wide ShakeAlert system

hand holding phone with alert

The U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Washington-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and state emergency managers on Tuesday, May 4, will activate the system that sends earthquake early warnings throughout Washington state. This completes the rollout of ShakeAlert, an automated system that gives people living in Washington, Oregon and California advance warning of incoming earthquakes.


Genetically engineered grass cleanses soil of toxic pollutants left by military explosives, new research shows

Grasses growing in tubes in the foreground. Two people stand behind them. Another person standing to the right.

A team, which includes researchers from the University of Washington, demonstrated that over the course of three years, a genetically engineered switchgrass could break down an explosive chemical in plots of soil at a military range.


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.


April 27, 2021

Thousands of baby sea stars born at UW lab are sign of hope for endangered species

adult sea stars eating mussels

Scientists at the University of Washington, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, are raising sunflower sea stars in captivity, with the goal of learning more about this species and exploring eventual reintroduction to the wild, if determined to be advisable.


April 21, 2021

Q&A: It’s not just social media — misinformation can spread in scientific communication too

When people think of misinformation, they often focus on popular and social media. But in a paper published April 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, University of Washington faculty members Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom write that scientific communication — both scientific papers and news articles written about papers — also has the potential to spread misinformation.


April 20, 2021

Using engineering methods to track the imperceptible movements of stony corals

A coral reef with orange fish swimming around

A new study led by UW researchers borrowed image-analysis methods from engineering to spot the minute movements of a stony coral.


April 13, 2021

Deep earthquakes within the Juan de Fuca plate produce few aftershocks

cracked pavement on highway

In the Cascadia subduction zone, medium- and large-sized “intraslab” earthquakes, in which the slip happens within the oceanic plate and below the continental plate, will likely produce only a few detectable aftershocks, according to a new study from the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey.


April 7, 2021

First results from Muon g-2 experiment strengthen evidence of new physics

A picture of the giant magnetic ring at the heart of a particle physics experiment

The first results from the Muon g-2 experiment hosted at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory show fundamental particles called muons behaving in a way not predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. These results confirm an earlier experiment of the same name performed at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Combined, the two results show strong evidence that our best theoretical model of the subatomic world is incomplete. One potential explanation would be the existence of undiscovered particles or forces.


March 31, 2021

Thicker-leaved tropical plants may flourish under climate change, which could be good news for climate

tropical forest

As carbon dioxide continues to rise, multiple changes in the leaves of tropical plants may help these ecosystems perform better under climate change than previous studies had suggested.


March 25, 2021

Tasty options as researchers tap a new forestry product

Maple syrup is being poured on a round waffle on a white plate.

Scientists from the University of Washington are testing the viability of making maple syrup in the Pacific Northwest. Long associated with Canada or Vermont, this sweet forest product that has graced many a breakfast table may be part of this region’s future.


March 22, 2021

Warming temperatures tripled Arctic lightning strikes over the past decade

Lightning strike

Lightning strikes in the Arctic tripled from 2010 to 2020, a finding University of Washington researchers attribute to rising temperatures due to human-caused climate change. The results, researchers say, suggest Arctic residents in northern Russia, Canada, Europe and Alaska need to prepare for the danger of more frequent lightning strikes.


March 18, 2021

‘By-the-wind sailor’ jellies wash ashore in massive numbers after warmer winters

jellies washed on shore.

Thanks to 20 years of observations from thousands of citizen scientists, University of Washington researchers have discovered distinct patterns in the mass strandings of by-the-wind sailor jellies. Specifically, large strandings happened simultaneously from the northwest tip of Washington south to the Mendocino coast in California, and in years when winters were warmer than usual.


March 17, 2021

How five global regions could achieve a successful, equitable ‘Blue Economy’

three colored world maps

The future of an equitable and sustainable global ocean, or “Blue Economy,” depends on more than natural or technological resources. A new study finds that socioeconomic and governance conditions such as national stability, corruption and human rights greatly affect different regions’ ability to achieve a Blue Economy — one that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically viable.


March 12, 2021

Role of solvent molecules in light-driven electron transfer revealed

An artistic depiction of small molecules moving within a solvent

In a study published Feb. 15 in Nature Chemistry, a research team led by Munira Khalil, professor and chair of chemistry at the University of Washington, has captured the rapid motions of solvent molecules that impact light-driven electron transfer in a molecular complex for the first time. This  information could help researchers learn how to control energy flow in molecules, potentially leading to more efficient clean energy sources.


March 2, 2021

Rating tornado warnings charts a path to improve forecasts

funnel cloud on dark background

A new method to rate tornado warnings shows that nighttime tornadoes in the U.S. have a lower probability of detection and a higher false-alarm rate than other events. Summertime tornadoes, occurring in June, July or August, also are more likely to evade warning.


February 25, 2021

Q&A: Race, medicine and the future power of genetic ancestry

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine that they “do not believe that ignoring race will reduce health disparities” but rather that “such an approach is a form of naive ‘color blindness’ that is more likely to perpetuate and potentially exacerbate disparities,” five Black geneticists set out to explain the pitfalls of leaving race…


February 24, 2021

Record-high Arctic freshwater will flow through Canadian waters, affecting marine environment and Atlantic ocean currents

Colored map of the North Atlantic and Arctic

The Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea has increased its freshwater content by 40% over the past two decades. When conditions change this freshwater will travel to the Labrador Sea off Canada, rather than through the wider marine passageways that connect to seas in Northern Europe. This has implications for local marine environments and global ocean circulation.


Scientists describe earliest primate fossils

An artistic rendering of an ancient primate eating fruit in a tree shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs

A new study published Feb. 24 in the journal Royal Society Open Science documents the earliest-known fossil evidence of primates. These creatures lived less than 150,000 years after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event that killed off non-avian dinosaurs and saw the rise of mammals.


February 23, 2021

Logging change in Puget Sound: Researchers use UW vessel logbooks to reconstruct historical groundfish populations

historical photo of the research vessel Commando

To understand how Puget Sound has changed, we first must understand how it used to be. But unlike most major estuaries in the U.S., long-term monitoring of Puget Sound fish populations did not exist until 1990. Now researchers have discovered an unconventional method to help fill in gaps in the data: old vessel logbooks.


February 19, 2021

‘Small moon’ shapes allow DNA devices to attach in precise orientations

A black image with a white circle in the center. The circle has a hole that is slightly off center.

A team of engineers, including one at the University of Washington, has developed a technique that allows for the precise placement of molecules formed from folded DNA in not only a specific location but also in a specific orientation


Vice Provost for Research Mary Lidstrom stepping down after 15 years

portrait of mary lidstrom

After more than 15 years serving as Vice Provost for Research, Mary Lidstrom will step down from her position on Aug. 31, 2021, with plans to return full time to the faculty, concentrate on her research, and establish mentoring and diversity, equity and inclusion programs.


February 18, 2021

Faculty/staff honors: Polymer Physics Prize, anthropology dissertation award

The Polymer Physics Prize from the American Physical Society and a dissertation award from the Society for American Archaeology.


February 17, 2021

Q&A: ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system arriving in Pacific Northwest

scientists in orange suits with mountains in distance

After years in development, an earthquake early warning system known as ShakeAlert is on the cusp of being released in Oregon and Washington. Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, answers questions about the coming rollout.


February 10, 2021

Online tool displays Pacific Northwest mountain snow depth

colored lines sloping upward to Feb. 1

How’s the snow on Northwest mountains this year? Overall a little deeper than normal, but it depends where you look. A new collaboration between the University of Washington, the Northwest Avalanche Center lets you see how the current snow depth compares to past years for nine sites in Washington and two in Oregon.


List of 1,000 inspiring Black scientists includes seven from UW

collage of portraits

Seven University of Washington scientists are included in Cell Mentor’s list of 1,000 inspiring Black scientists, published in December 2020. Cell Mentor is a collaborative resource between Cell Press and Cell Signaling Technology.


February 9, 2021

Limiting warming to 2 C requires emissions reductions 80% above Paris Agreement targets

Even if all countries meet their Paris Agreement goals for reducing emissions, Earth has only a 5% chance of staying below 2 C warming this century, a previous study showed. But reductions about 80% more ambitious, or an average of 1.8% drop in emissions per year rather than 1% per year, would be enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.


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.


February 4, 2021

Global warming found to be culprit for flood risk in Peruvian Andes, other glacial lakes

rooftops in front of glacier

Human-caused warming is responsible for increasing the risk of a glacial outburst flood from Peru’s Lake Palcacocha, threatening the city below. This study is the first to directly link climate change with the risk of flooding from glacial lakes, which are growing in number and size worldwide.


February 1, 2021

Marine organisms use previously undiscovered receptors to detect, respond to light

magnified cells of various shapes arranged in a mosaic

Single-celled organisms in the open ocean use a diverse array of genetic tools to detect sunlight, even in tiny amounts, and respond. The discovery of these new genetic “light switches” could also aid in the field of optogenetics, in which a cell’s function can be controlled with light exposure.


January 27, 2021

In Brazil, many smaller dams disrupt fish more than large hydropower projects

small dam in Brazil

A new University of Washington paper quantifies the tradeoffs between hydroelectric generation capacity and the impacts on river connectivity for thousands of current and projected future dams across Brazil. The findings confirm that small hydropower plants are far more responsible for river fragmentation than their larger counterparts due to their prevalence and distribution.


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 22, 2021

The 7 rocky planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 may be made of similar stuff

An image showing three illustrations of potential interiors of the exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 star system.

A study accepted by the Planetary Science Journal shows that the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system share similar densities. That could mean they all contain roughly the same ratio of materials thought to be common to rocky planets, such as iron, oxygen, magnesium and silicon — though they appear to differ notably from Earth.


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.


January 12, 2021

New treatment allows some people with spinal cord injury to regain hand and arm function

A hand picking up a tiny bead

Using physical therapy combined with a noninvasive method of stimulating nerve cells in the spinal cord, University of Washington researchers helped six Seattle area participants regain some hand and arm mobility.


January 11, 2021

More management measures lead to healthier fish populations

Fish populations tend to do better in places where rigorous fisheries management practices are used, and the more measures employed, the better for fish populations and food production, according to a new paper published Jan. 11 in Nature Sustainability.


December 23, 2020

Bait and switch: Mislabeled salmon, shrimp have biggest environmental toll

pink piece of salmon

A study co-authored by UW’s Sunny Jardine finds that farmed Atlantic salmon, often labeled and sold as Pacific salmon or rainbow trout, is the second-most-consumed mislabeled seafood product in the U.S. Although not the most frequently mislabeled seafood, salmon’s popularity means it has one of the biggest environmental impacts.



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