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Vandal Science News - April 2022

Dear Friends of the College of Science,

Ssssh. Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t typically use this venue to talk about my family, but I want to share a little about my son, Noah, who is a Vandal freshman majoring in mechanical engineering. Students majoring in a STEM field typically take a lot of courses in the College of Science during their freshman year, so I’ve been a secret shopper in my own home college this academic year. Noah’s first year has included a lot of mathematics and physics courses. I know we have great faculty in the college, but as a parent I wondered how everything would go for my Vandal. Well, I’m happy to report that I got nothing but glowing reports about the instructors for calculus and physics! Indeed, Noah’s favorite course was Physics 211. Of course, I wasn’t surprised. I work with these faculty and know they are dedicated instructors who care deeply about the success of each student in their classes. Now I have positive personal experience as a Vandal parent as well. We are so proud to have a son who is a Vandal, and I am proud as dean to know what our terrific colleagues have meant to my son’s growth during his freshman year. Every student at U of I has an opportunity to take a course from one of our terrific faculty, and I am immensely grateful to my colleagues for their hard work and dedication to student success.

I also want to thank our College of Science donors for your generous contributions during Vandal Giving Day. It was our biggest giving day yet and yielded over $75,400 from 100 gifts to the college. This money will be used to support the college’s on-going efforts to provide world-class research opportunities and education to students.

In this month’s stories you will find examples of how your past donations have had an impact. Enjoy learning about a Hill Undergraduate and INBRE Research Fellow, Molly Murphy, who came to U of I from North Idaho College to pursue research and position herself for a career in healthcare. We also feature College of Science Student Ambassador Nate Altenhofen who is majoring in statistics and recreation, sport and tourism management and aspires to a career in sports statistics upon graduation. These Vandals are going places! 

Go Vandals!

Ginger signature

Ginger E. Carney, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Science

Kudos, Achievements and Awards

New Grants and Fellowships

Zach Etienne (associate professor, Physics) was recently awarded a grant from NASA totaling $409,000 titled “superB: Numerical Relativity for LISA & 3G Detectors.”

Paul Rowley (assistant professor, Biological Sciences) was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER grant totaling $898,220 titled “CAREER: Cellular Mechanisms of Killer Toxin Resistance in Yeasts.”

Jack Creagh, Ph.D. student in the Paul Rowley lab in Biological Sciences, received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in the 2022 competition.

Victor Zhong, who is double majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and biotechnology, has been awarded NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium funding for $7,300 for summer 2022. 

Selected Publications

U of I microbiologist Jean-Baptiste Leducq published a paper in mBio, working with David Sneddon, James Foster, Christopher Marx, and Jack Sullivan in Biological Sciences and researchers from Montréal. They examined the effects of temperature on microbial communities living on trees in Québec, learning that strains with faster growth and high temperature optima take over through the growing season. This suggests similar replacements could occur with increasing temperatures due to climate change.

A paper in Frontiers in Microbiology led by former U of I postdoc Jessica Lee, who worked with Christopher Marx and Sergey Stolyar in Biological Sciences, shows that a group of common leaf microbes — Methylobacterium — are capable of eating toxic molecules released from lignin breakdown. Metabolizing these compounds releases formaldehyde, a toxin that overwhelms most bacteria. Because these organisms excel at eating substrates like methanol that generate formaldehyde, they offer promise for converting plant biomass into biofuels.

Alistair Smith (Geography and Geological Sciences) published a paper titled “Missing climate feedbacks in fire models: limitations and uncertainties in fuel loadings and the role of decomposition in fine fuel accumulation” in Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems.

Erika Rader (Geography and Geological Sciences) co-authored an article titled “Large-scale cryonvolcanic resurfacing on Pluto” in Nature Communications. This work was highlighted by several national news organizations, including ABC News.

Chemistry Professor Patrick Hrdlicka along with alumni Shiva Adhikari (Ph.D. ’21) and Saswata Karmakar (Ph.D. ’13) made the cover page of the Feb. 7 edition of Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry for their article titled “Nicked Invader probes: multistrand and sequence-unrestricted recognition of double-stranded DNA.”

Alumni News

Former Idaho INBRE undergraduate researchers Jenny Durrin (B.S. Biology ‘10, M.S. Plant Science ’14) and Steve Van Horn (B.S. Environmental Science ’18) were featured in  the National Institute of General Medical Sciences research blog.

Jeremy Ellis (B.S. Microbiology ‘21) will attend Johns Hopkins medical school, and Lance Fredericks (B.S. Microbiology and Molecular Biology and Biotechnology ’20) will attend the University of Washington to earn an M.D.-Ph.D. beginning in fall 2022. Both Jeremy and Lance are former undergraduate researchers and current research technicians in the Paul Rowley lab (Biological Sciences).

Patrice Burgess (B.S. Zoology ’85, M.S. Biology ’87, M.D. WWAMI)  won the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians 2022 Advocacy Award.  Dr. Burgess is a family physician and currently serves as chair of Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.  She is a member of the Idaho WWAMI Advisory Board and a past chair of the College of Science Advisory Board. 

Rebecca Bishop (B.S. Physics and Mathematics ‘96) is the PI for Aerospace Corporation on a new NASA mission to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Andrew Breshears (B.S. Chemistry ’10), principal nuclear chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory, was interviewed about his career path.

In case you missed it

Akorede Seriki, a Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences with Chris Marx, was selected as the Athena Student Excellence Award winner for 2022. The winner is selected based on a commitment to promoting access, inclusion, and the advancement of women through their course of study and/or co-curricular activities.

Scott Nuismer (Biological Sciences) was interviewed about his work on self-spreading vaccines in wildlife on episode 592 of the NPR “Day 6” podcast. Listen at 27:20 to hear more about how transmissible vaccines work, what kinds of viruses they could help protect against and progress made on these types of vaccines.

Students and faculty at Idaho’s three public research universities will soon have access to one of the nation’s fastest academic supercomputers thanks to an agreement signed in January. According to the agreement, “Having this incredible asset available for use by our universities is an invaluable addition to the collaborative research capabilities of Idaho’s public universities.”


Three friends need to cover 20 miles sharing a tandem bike. Since the bike can only hold two people, one person must walk while the other two ride. They decide on a relay scheme like this:

  • To start out, Amy and Bill ride the bike while Cindy walks.
  • After a certain distance, Bill gets off the bike and walks on while Amy rides back to pick up Cindy.
  • When Amy meets Cindy, they ride the tandem bike forward to the destination, arriving just at the same time Bill arrives on foot.

If the bike always travels at 25 miles per hour and the walkers always keep up a brisk pace of 5 miles per hour, how long does the entire trip take?

Solution to February puzzler:

The diagrams below show how to divide the solid into easy pieces.

image of cube sides

  • First, think about the volume of 3-space we get by just moving up to 1 unit perpendicular to the square -- this gives us two 1x1x1 cubes. One of these cubes is shown in yellow in the leftmost diagram, with the square shown in red. The total volume of these cubes is 2.
  • Next imagine the set of all points that are not in either of these cubes but are within distance 1 of a side of the square -- each of the four sides gives us a half of a cylinder with radius 1 and height 1. The middle two diagrams above show two such cylinders, with the corresponding square sides in red. The four half cylinders add up to two complete cylinders, so the total volume is 2(pi).
  • Finally, there are points that are not in either the cubes or the half cylinders we've listed so far, but are within distance 1 of a corner of the square. This gives us four quarter-spheres, one of which is shown in the rightmost diagram above. These add up to one complete sphere (of radius 1), so their total volume is (4/3)(pi). Putting all the pieces together, the volume of the complete solid is:

    2 + 2(pi) + (4/3)(pi) = 2 + (10/3)(pi)

Correct Solvers

First correct solution: Marianne Milander, Student (Animal and Veterinary Science, Microbiology)

Second correct solution: Greg Stenback, B.S. Geological Engineering 1984, M.S. Statistics 1987


  • Alex Blumenfeld, NMR Manager, U of I Chemistry
  • Fred Eberle, M.S. Geography 1984
  • Ruprecht Machleidt, U of I Department of Physics
  • James Schreiner, B.S. Chemistry, 1977
  • Keith and Nancy Stutler, B.S. Mathematics, 1987
  • John Stutz, M.S. Physics 1973


College of Science

Physical Address:
Mines 321

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3025
Moscow, ID 83844-3025

Phone: 208-885-6195

Fax: 208-885-6904


Web: College of Science