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Vandal Science News


A Newsletter for Alumni and Friends June 2013

Dean's Message

Dear friends of the UI College of Science,

It's been an exciting spring here on campus, highlighted by the 2013 commencement exercises. We saw a great batch of science undergraduate majors earn their degrees along with outstanding Masters and PhD students, and we had the opportunity to recognize some of their achievements at our college reception on commencement day. You can read about a few of our outstanding students from this year here in this issue of the Vandal Science News.

In another story you can read more about here, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the granting of the first PhD degrees from the University of Idaho – all, as it happens, in disciplines now housed in the College of Science. It was a great experience to have four of these first recipients here in Moscow with us to mark this important anniversary in the university's history.

The end of the academic year also brings a flurry of faculty recognitions, and we're proud that College of Science faculty were included prominently. Professor Larry Forney was awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor, an honor so far bestowed on just seven faculty campus-wide (four of whom are associated with the College of Science). Additionally, Professor Patrick Hrdlicka (Chemistry) is this year's recipient of the Research or Creative Activity Excellence Award, Physics Chair David McIlroy is the winner of the Interdisciplinary or Collaborative Effort Excellence Award, and Professor Lee Fortunato (Biological Sciences) is one of a handful of faculty across campus recognized with the Presidential Mid-Career Award.

While the above-mentioned awards are all well-deserved, they by no means include all who should be recognized, nor begin to represent the extent of our faculty's achievements in research. Each year our faculty contribute to the furtherance of science in very real ways. To give just one other example of the kind of impact our faculty have, consider the work of Biological Sciences Professor Luke Harmon. Professor Harmon is a leader in the project "Arbor: Comparative Analysis Workflows for the Tree of Life", a collaborative effort between private sector companies and scientists from several universities. The aim of the project is to develop tools for scientists to access and analyze the massive amounts of data regarding the evolutionary relationships among earth's species. It's a great example of work that furthers basic science by addressing important basic questions.

We hope you enjoy this issue of the Vandal Science News. I know you'll be impressed with all that is going on here in the College of Science. Thank you for your continuing support.

- Dean Paul Joyce

John B. George Award Winner

Katie Slavens "My interests just kept going smaller and smaller," said Katie Slavens. She started as a Biology major but a research project in a Chemistry class helped to narrow down her degree choice. read more »

Sisters Share Haynes Memorial Award

Brittani McNamee and Courtney Thompson The Diane Haynes Memorial Award recognizes an outstanding graduate student completing his or her degree. This year, the deliberations for the Haynes Award resulted in a tie, with two sisters, Brittani McNamee (PhD, Geology) and Courtney Thompson (MS, Geography). read more »

Calculating Nature

Ailene MacPherson Dean's Award winner Ailene MacPherson says, "You can draw very elegant pictures with math and see things you wouldn't otherwise see." Graduating in just 3 years Aliene is entering into U-Idaho's master's degree program in bioinformatics and computational biology. read more »

50th Anniversary of Idaho's first PhDs

50th Anniversary of the first PhDs at University of Idaho The May 2013 commencement exercises took on special significance as they marked the 50th anniversary of the first Ph.D. degrees awarded by the University of Idaho. read more »

Vandal Science News Puzzler

diagram of the 30 square grid for the june 2013 Vandal Science News PuzzlerConsider the five-by-six grid of squares shown here. We'll say that the length of each square side in this grid is one. There are lots of length 11 paths in the grid that start at the green dot in the lower left corner and end at the red dot in the upper right corner – each of these paths will consist of a sequence of eleven "up" or "right" moves. What is the probability that such a path, generated at random, will pass through the purple dot?


A visual representation of the June Puzzler solutionThe probability of a path going through the purple dot will be the fraction

[# of paths passing through the purple dot] / [total number of paths from green dot to red dot]

The blue path shown above is a typical corner-to-corner path. Note that we can associate it with a sequence of “R” (right) or “U” (up) moves – 11 moves in all, of which six must be “R” and five must be “U”. So the total number of such paths is the number of ways of arranging six R’s and five U’s into a sequence. You might remember from algebra class that the answer to this is the “binomial coefficient” C(11,6). (It’s called a binomial coefficient because it would be the number in front of the x6y5 term in (x+y)11 – the 11th power of the binomial x+y.) You can find this number from the famous “Pascal’s Triangle”, or you can simply use the formula C(n,r) = n!/[r!(n-r)!]. In our case, C(11,6) = 11!/[6!5!] which comes out to be 462.

A typical path through the purple dot is shown in orange. Note that it really consists of two paths – one from green dot to purple dot and the other from purple dot to red dot. Using the same logic as we did above, the number of paths from green to purple is C(6,4) (since it corresponds to a sequence of six moves, four of which must be “R”) and the number of paths from purple to red is C(5,2). Computing these, we have C(6,4) = 6!/[4!2!] = 15 and C(5,2) = 5!/[2!3!] = 10. Each of the 15 paths from green to purple could be continued in any of the 10 ways from purple to red – so the total number of paths through the purple dot will be 15*10 = 150.

So now we can conclude that the probability of a path going through the purple dot is 150/462 = 25/77, or just slightly less than one-third.

Correct Solvers

  • Luke Edwards (Biology and English, 2006)
  • Paul Hohenlohe
  • Timothy Householder (Mathematics, 2002)
  • John Stutz (MS Physics, 1973)

Turning Opportunity into Gold(water)

Rebecca LaVerne Winzer, a sophomore in physics, is one of 271 scholars across the nation to receive 2013 Goldwater Scholarships. "The Goldwater Scholarship will definitely open doors to other scholarships and programs as well as make it more possible to get into top graduate schools," said LaVerne Winzer. The two-year scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board. "I feel like I'm set up really well for where I want to go."
read more »

A Formula for the Future

Brianna Knudtsen
An enthusiastic high-school teacher inspired Chemistry senior Brianna Knudtsen's love of chemistry. "He was enthusiastic about everything. He made it interesting," she says. A double major in chemistry and secondary education, Brianna earned the College of Science Dean's Award and the chemistry department's Excellence in Chemistry Award. This fall she will complete her teaching internship with the high school teacher who inspired her.
read more »

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