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Vandal Science News - February 2022

Dear Friends of the College of Science,

In January the Idaho State Board of Education released "The Economic Value of Idaho Public Colleges and Universities." The findings won’t be surprising to supporters of the University of Idaho and higher education. Idaho public colleges and universities have a positive impact on the state by providing an educated workforce that sustains the state economy. The report notes that the state nearly doubles its return on investment in higher education. For every tax dollar the state spends, it yields $1.80 in returns over students’ working lifetimes. The U of I has a total yearly impact to the state of over $1 billion. That is a pretty darn good ROI. Of course, much of this return is realized from U of I graduates who join the state workforce. We are pleased in the College of Science to train students for a variety of future careers in science and mathematics, including areas crucial to the state such as geology and geography, health professions, and mathematics and physical sciences.

To ensure student success in their degree programs, the college provides over $600,000 in scholarships and other support to our students each year. Some of this support comes in the form of fellowships for undergraduate research projects. The college’s most prestigious undergraduate research program is the Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which is generously supported by Dr. Brian (B.S. Chemistry, '65) and Mrs. Gayle Hill. Student applicants submit research proposals and support letters from faculty mentors, and each year we select the top proposals for funding.

We are pleased to announce the recipients of the Brian and Gayle Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowships for 2022:

  • Clara Abplanalp, "Analysis of the Roslyn Formation and Comparison of Paleocene-Eocene Floras in the Pacific Northwest" (Renee Love, mentor).
  • Cameron Seth Bowen, "Identifying the Causes of Diabetes Gastrointestinal Neuropathy and Dysmotility Using a Mouse Model " (Onesmo Balemba, mentor).
  • Molly Murphy, "Molecular Regulation of Dendrite Lamination in the Retina" (Pete Fuerst, mentor).
  • Keera Paull, "Evolving Bacteriophages to Infect Foulbrood" (JT Van Leuven, mentor).
  • Zhenhao Zhong, "Characterization of novel dsRNA found in Euglena mutabilis" (Paul Rowley, mentor).

Congratulations to these students and their mentors, and thanks to all who contribute to building opportunities for undergraduate research in the College of Science. We particularly appreciate Brian and Gayle for their continued support of undergraduate research projects.

Of course, these research projects would not be possible without our world-class faculty. For example, below you will find a feature on Eva Top (emerita professor, Biological Sciences), who was recently elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for her groundbreaking work on antibiotic resistance, which is a major health concern worldwide.

You can also read the recent Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment. Current faculty in Geography and Geological Sciences—Grant Harley, Jeff Hicke and Karen Humes—authored sections of the report. They contributed expertise in the areas of Climate, Land (Forests), and Water, respectively, and a link to the report is below.  

These projects are examples of how faculty in the College of Science are tackling real-world problems with state, national and international impact.

Thanks for all you do to support the College of Science, and mark your calendars for Vandal Giving day, which is slated for April 5-6. Keep an eye out for more information about this opportunity to support research and student success in the college.

Go Vandals!

Ginger signature

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

Fluorescent Microscope Brings Students Together

Physicists Shine Light on Cell Work

Read More

Idaho Climate- Economy Impacts Assessment

View Assessment

Eva Top Named AAAS Fellow for Work on Drug Resistant Bacteria

Learn More

College of Science Staff Appreciation

Name: Spencer McKay

Position at U of I:

I am an academic advisor in the College of Science. I cover biology, microbiology and medical sciences.

How long have you been with the U of I?

I started attending U of I as a student in Fall 2012, graduated in Spring 2016, and started working for U of I in Fall 2021. In between graduating and starting here, I remained in the area and was heavily involved with the students on campus.

How did you find the U of I?

Originally from Meridian, I knew about U of I long before I started attending school here. I grew up in a family that all went to Washington State University, but becoming Vandal made too much sense for me and I am so glad I came here!

Why choose to work here?

I choose to work at U of I because I want to see students grow and develop as best as they can. I believe that being an academic advisor allows me the opportunity to positively impact each student by assisting them to achieve their career goals.

What is your favorite part about working here?

As I talked about with my last answer, I love working with students so being able to interact with them and help them is such a privilege!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am your stereotypical extrovert and just love being with people and hearing their stories. I really am interested in an activity if it includes doing it with others. I especially love baseball; playing, watching games, reading baseball articles, etc. I also like other sports such as football, soccer, and hockey. (Sorry basketball fans, I would love to talk about it, but I just don’t follow basketball at all.) I enjoy playing the drums, playing video and board games with friends, snowboarding, and going on hikes.

Spencer McKay
Spencer McKay

Kudos, Achievements and Awards

New Grants and Fellowships

Jason Barnes (professor, Physics) was recently awarded a grant from NASA totaling $589,380 to continue work in his lab analyzing data from the Cassini Mission to Saturn.

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.”

Carolyn Bohach (university distinguished professor, Director of Idaho INBRE, College of Science), Diana Mitchell (assistant professor, Biological Sciences) and Seth Long (Lewis-Clark State College) were awarded a $152,475 INBRE Collaboration grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project titled “Quantitative image analysis to determine the function of selected microglia-expressed genes in retinal development and regeneration.”

Professor Bohach and Amy Skibiel (assistant professor, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences) were awarded an INBRE Women’s Health Supplement for $279,907 by the National Institutes of Health titled “Idaho INBRE Women's health: contribution of mammary mitochondrial dysfunction to poor milk production in diabetic mothers.”

Eva Top (professor emerita, Biological Sciences) and collaborators from University of Washington and Yale were awarded a National Science Foundation grant titled “Collaborative Research: Adaptive Bridge or Barrier? The Impact of Horizontal Transfer on Genetic Evolution.” The total award to U of I is $140,899.

Selected Publications

Jill Johnson (professor, Biological Sciences) co-authored two papers in Nature magazine. You can read the papers here and here. The papers demonstrate at the atomic level how molecular chaperones aid proper protein folding to produce functional proteins. This information may be used to determine how to better control chaperone function to inhibit the function of cancer-causing proteins.

Andreas Vasdekis (associate professor, physics) published a paper titled "Photo-sparse, Poisson light-sheet microscopy" in ACS Photonics. The article describes a new fluorescent microscope built by the Vasdekis lab that performs approximately 100 times better in sensitivity than modern systems in cell imaging.

Alumni News

Leah Frye (B.S. Chemistry, ‘79), who is a current member of the COS Advisory Board, was profiled in business magazine Portland Inno for her role at Schrödinger in developing cancer therapeautics.

Tanner Varrelman (B.S. Biology, ‘16, Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, ’21) is lead author on an article in PNAS titled “Quantifying the effectiveness of betaherpesvirus-vectored transmissible vaccines.” You can read a lay summary of the article here. Professor Chris Remien and postdoctoral associate Andrew Basinski (mathematics and statistical science) are co-authors in this research.

Kevin Church (B.S. microbiology, ‘06) has been promoted to executive vice president of research at Athira Pharma.

Biopharmaceutical company ImmuneID recently appointed Jeremiah Degenhardt (B.S. Zoology, ‘05) as Senior Vice President, Computational Biology.

In case you missed it

The American Physical Society named Rup Machleidt (university distinguished professor, Physics) a 2022 Outstanding Referee of the Physical Review journals.

Research by Renee Love (instructor, Geography and Geological Sciences; Ph.D. Geology, ‘11) was highlighted in a new book titled Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson. Renee’s featured research shows that climate change is not new and that fossilized remains of past life can show how organisms were able to or unable to adapt.

Research on Uranus’s rings by graduate student Joseph A’Hearn was featured in Eos by AGU. A’Hearn, who works in the laboratory of Matt Hedman (associate professor, Physics), presented his research findings at the AGU Fall Meeting in December 2021.

Jill Johnson (professor, Biological Sciences) was named to the Public Affairs Advisory Committee for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Mellisa Clemons (B.S. Biology ‘18), Ph.D. student (Biological Sciences) with Peter Fuerst (associate professor, WWAMI Medical Program), was awarded a Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research for $1005.

Former University of Idaho postdoctoral researcher Anna Sjodin from the Nuismer Lab (Biological Sciences) collaborated on a proactive modeling study identifying bat species that are likely to carry betacoronaviruses, including SARS-like viruses. This work titled “Optimising predictive models to prioritise viral discovery in zoonotic reservoirs” was published in The Lancet Microbe.

Frontline Genomics interviewed Paul Hohenlohe (associate professor, Biological Sciences) about his conservation genetic studies on Tasmanian devils.


This issue's Puzzler might stretch your 3-D thinking muscles.

Suppose that somewhere in 3-space there is a (two-dimensional) square sheet of side length 1 floating around. What is the volume of the set of all points that lie within distance 1 of this square?
Hint: Try breaking up this solid shape into more familiar pieces. For instance, think of the points whose closest point on the square is one of the corners, or maybe on one of the four sides.

Solution to May puzzler:

Suppose that the number of empty roll packages is R. Then the number of guests must be 13R + 3. (Remember, there were 10 rolls left in the last package, so 3 rolls from that package were eaten.)

Suppose also that the number of empty pie tins is P. Then counting pie slices instead of rolls, the number of guests must also have been 9P + 5. (There were 4 slices left in the last pie tin).

What we need, then, is a number between 500 and 600 that is of both of the forms 13R + 3 and 9P + 5. A little experimentation shows that the only possibility is 536 (which is both 13*41 + 3 and 9*59 + 5). We now know there were 536 guests!

The number of people seated at the last table must have been the remainder when 536 is divided by 15. Since 525 is a multiple of 15, this remainder is 11. So, there are 11 people seated at the last table.

Correct Solvers

First correct solution: Chris Marx, U of I Department of Biological Sciences

Second correct solution: June Clevy, Business Analyst, U of I Registrar's Office


  • Alex Blumenfeld, NMR Lab Manager, U of I Chemistry
  • Mark Daily, B.S. Physics 1981
  • Carey Edwards, B.S. Forest Products 2002, GIS Certificate 2010
  • Jay Hunter, B.S. Chemistry 1973, M.D. WWAMI 1977
  • Elizabeth Kang, M.S. Adult Organizational Learning and Leadership 2017
  • Ruprecht Machleidt, U of I Department of Physics
  • Marianne Milander, Student (Animal and Veterinary Science, Microbiology)
  • Brent Morris, B.S. Mathematics, 1985
  • Kim Salisbury, B.S. Zoology 1999 and Master of Accountancy 2004, U of I Academic Budget and Planning
  • Sharon Allison Schwenk, B.A. Mathematics, 1974
  • James Schreiner, B.S. Chemistry, 1977
  • 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