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Vandal Science News - May 2020

Dear Friends of the College of Science, 

Our College of Science students are completing final exams this week to finish out the spring semester. Graduation looks different for our 2020 class. Spring commencement on May 16 was cancelled, and President Green recently announced that a commencement ceremony will be held Aug. 1 instead. We look forward to seeing our Vandal graduates back on campus at the end of summer for the celebration.

Although this semester’s end is necessarily different because of the coronavirus pandemic, we want to congratulate the 136 students who are earning 171 degrees and certificates from the College of Science in May 2020. To do so, faculty have created short videos to commemorate the occasion. We may make these videos a new college tradition!

Each spring the college recognizes several of our graduating students with outstanding achievement awards. Highlights include:

  • Alice Cassel (majoring in biology and microbiology) received this year’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award.
  • Sam Myers (majoring in physics and mathematics) was awarded the John B. George Award as the college’s outstanding graduating senior. Learn more about Sam below.
  • Kenetta Nunn (Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology) received the Diane Haynes Memorial Award, which is awarded to the top graduate student in the college. Kenetta’s name is likely familiar since we featured her in a recent issue of Vandal Science News.

You can see more of our award winners, including the recipients of the Dean's Awards (for outstanding undergraduate and graduate students in each of our programs), on our awards web page.

Recent faculty recognitions go to Christine Parent (Biological Sciences), who received the Presidential Mid-Career Faculty Award, and to newly promoted College of Science faculty:

  • John Abatzoglou (Full Professor, Geography)
  • Ann Abbott (Senior Instructor, Mathematics)
  • Theresa Allen (Senior Instructor, Mathematics)
  • Robert Ely (Full Professor, Mathematics)
  • Grant Harley (Associate Professor with tenure, Geography)
  • Haifeng Liao (Associate Professor with tenure, Geography)
  • Steven Radil (Associate Professor with tenure, Geography)
  • Christopher Remien (Associate Professor with tenure, Mathematics)
  • David Tank (Full Professor, Biological Sciences)
  • Andreas Vasdekis (Associate Professor with tenure, Physics)
  • Manuel Welhan (Senior Instructor, Mathematics)

Congratulations to our faculty and to our graduates. We hope to see you all for commencement on Aug. 1!

Vandal Science News will be on hiatus until fall semester. The college wishes you and your loved ones a very safe and healthy summer. 

Go Vandals!

Ginger E. Carney
Dean, College of Science

The Power of Proteins

Physics and Biological Engineering major Peik Lund uses complex protein engineering to help eliminate plastic waste.

Read Story

University of Idaho Works to Develop Cure for COVID-19

A team of researchers from across the College of Science works together to develop a cure for COVID-19.

Learn More

Outstanding Senior

Physics major Sam Myers is using techniques developed in the University of Idaho Barnes Lab to research the origin of exoplanets.

Read Story

The Vandal Science Experience Podcast

Biological Sciences graduate student Nick Hoffman’s research could help conservation hatcheries restore the dwindling Chinook population in the Pacific Northwest.

Listen Here

College of Science Staff Appreciation

Name: Deb Cissell

Position at U of I: Admin Assistant 2

How did you find the U of I?

I was doing a job search and found that U of I is the largest employer in the area.

How long have you been with the U of I?

Thirteen years.

Why choose to work here?

I liked the closeness of the campus community and friendly atmosphere.

What is your favorite part about working here?

I like that we are all a team.  I've found that U of I employees like to help each other and are always willing to answer questions or lend a hand.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My husband and I have three daughters who have given us nine grandchildren, ranging in age from 6 months to 21 years. We also have three fur-babies, Hercules the pomeranian, Charlie the pointer/ridge-back mix, and Iolaus the grumpy ginger cat. Our hearts and home are full.

We have a cabin retreat in the woods where we go to re-energize. I like to hike and pick wild edibles along the way. Free food is always good. I also pick wild medicinals for personal use.

Another of my hobbies is performing karaoke. I received a karaoke machine for Christmas 5 years ago and now I'm hooked. Two of my daughters have karaoke machines because they saw how fun it is.

Deb Cissell
Deb Cissell

Kudos, Achievements and Awards 

  • Adam Jones, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Genomics of Sexual Selection in Pipefishes and Seahorses.”

  • Karen Heeter, PhD student, Department of Geological Sciences, was awarded an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement (DDRI) grant from the HEGS program (Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences). The award amount is $17,700. The purpose of DDRI grants are to recognize students who are making an early impact with their PhD projects.

  • Professor Eva Top and Thibault Stalder from the Department of Biological Sciences study pathogens with multidrug resistance. Bacteria can contain genetic material snippets called plasmids that provide drug resistance and can even be passed to other bacteria. The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, found that pathogens that evolved together were able to maintain drug-resistant plasmids even after exposure to antibiotics. The research suggests that antibiotic use may promote multidrug resistance in bacteria well after their use. Alumnus Jose Ponciano (Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology 2006, M.S. Statistics 2004), currently a professor at the University of Florida, is a co-author on the article.

  • Professor John Abatzoglou from the Department of Geography and his colleagues use modeling and tree ring data to analyze the drought in southwestern North America that has lasted through the 21st-century. Their study, published in Science, found that the 2000-2018 drought was the second driest 19-year period in the region in the last 1,200 years. Human-driven climate change explained almost 50% of the severity of the current drought, pushing a moderate drought toward being close to the worse drought in the region since 800 CE.

  • It is hard to calculate the amount of ice being dropped into the ocean — called iceberg calving — by Greenland glaciers, but it’s necessary for forecasting the change in mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Alumnus Tristan Amaral (M.S. Geology 2019) and Professor Tim Bartholomaus from the Department of Geological Sciences tested six models of iceberg calving on 50 of Greenland’s glaciers that terminate in the sea. They identified the best model for predicting what is going on at the ends of these types of glaciers on the Greenland Ice Sheet.

  • Professor Christine Parent from the Department of Biological Sciences won a University of Idaho Presidential Mid-Career Award.

  • Professor John Abatzoglou from the Department of Geography and colleagues in the Colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Natural Resources surveyed inland Pacific Northwest farmers. Their study, published in Climatic Change, found there was no relationship between changes in temperature and precipitation and the perceptions farmers have of those changes and their intentions to adapt. These findings imply it is hard for humans to perceive the long-term, gradual changes associated with climate change, which could impede support for climate action policy or implementing adaptation strategies.

  • John Phillips from the Department of Biological Sciences and colleagues published a paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution discussing the state of the postdoc workforce. The study states that postdoctoral researchers are a large part of the STEM community but are not well supported. They call for an increase in skills-based training to meet the current job markets, the importance of wellness and work-life balance, mentoring, administrative support and support from scientific societies and funding agencies.

  • Professor Eva Top, Professor Larry Forney, and Dr. Thibault Stalder from the Department of Biological Sciences and colleagues published an article on their research on plasmids in bacterial biofilms in Molecular Biology and Evolution Biofilms are difficult to eradicate with antibiotics and contribute to disease. The study has shown that bacterial variants with an improved ability to retain antibiotic resistance encoded on genetic elements, called plasmids, are more common in biofilms than in planktonic populations, underscoring the importance of biofilms in the spread and persistence of antibiotic resistance. Other authors include alums Brandon Cornwell (B.S. Microbiology 2015), Jared Lacroix (B.S. Microbiology 2018), Bethel Kohler (M.S. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology 2017, B.S. Microbiology 2015), and Seth Dixon (B.S. Microbiology 2019).

  • Assistant Professor Grant Harley from the Department of Geological Sciences published a paper in Climate Change. For the study, “A multi-century, tree-ring-derived perspective of the North Cascades (USA) 2014–2016 snow drought,” Harley performed a tree-ring reconstruction of snowpack back to 1550 CE, and found that the widely-publicized 2014-2016 “snow drought” that happened across the Washington and Oregon Cascades was unique in the context of the past ca 500 years. We also found that Cascades snowpack had normal variability up until about 1970, and since then, rapid declines in snowpack are most likely attributed to increased air temperatures linked to human-caused climate change. Harley also published an article titled, “Riparian and adjacent upland forests burned synchronously during dry years in eastern Oregon (1650–1900 CE), USA,” in the International Journal of Wildland FireThis study deals with fire frequency in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington. Harley and his team found that over the past ca 400 years, wildfires burned entire landscapes during dry years, or drought events, even riparian ecosystems.

  • Bacterial biofilms associated with infectious diseases are notoriously difficult to eradicate with antibiotics and are an important factor that contributes to the morbidity and mortality of both chronic and acute infections. In a study published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, Thibault Stalder, Larry Forney, Ben Kerr & Eva Top from the Department of Biological Sciences have shown that bacterial variants with an improved ability to host plasmids that encode antibiotic resistance are more common in biofilms than in planktonic populations. This underscores the importance of biofilms in the spread and persistence of antibiotic resistance.

  • Leslie Baker, Professor and Chair of Geological Sciences, was selected as Athena’s Woman of the Year in the faculty category. Athena is a University of Idaho association of staff and faculty committed to promoting an inclusive and equitable climate for women.

  • Alexander Nagel, Ph.D. candidate, Geography, has earned alternate status in the 2020 Boren Fellowship competition. Boren Fellowships support research and language study proposals by U.S. graduate students in world regions critical to U.S. interests.

  • Alumna Pavitra Roychoudhury (Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology 2013), a scientist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the University of Washington, has been interviewed by the New York Times and National Public Radio for her work related to the novel coronavirus.

  • Ben Ridenhour, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics, developed the primary mathematical model that is being used by the Governor’s Coronavirus Working Group to help them make data-driven policy decisions and identify effective mitigation strategies to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on Idaho’s population. Watch an interview with Ridenhour on KTVB here or listen on Boise State Public Radio here.


Tom and Rachel each have a collection of coins consisting only of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Both collections have the same cash value, but they have different numbers of each type of coin. In particular, Rachel has four more quarters than does Tom, but Tom has more of every other type of coin. In fact, Tom has a total of 32 more coins than does Rachel. If Rachel has 23 nickels, how many nickels does Tom have?

(And, yes, you can get the answer from just this information.)

Solution to April puzzler:

The train leaves the station at 9:40.

First, notice that if the train averages 66 m.p.h. for the first 10 miles it will pass milepost 10 exactly 10/66 hours = 600/66 minutes = 100/11 minutes = 9 and 1/11 minutes after it leaves the station.

Now, suppose that when the two hands of the clock are lined up, the hour is H and it is M minutes after the hour. Let’s number the minute notches on the clock from 0 to 59, starting at the top of the clock. Then the minute hand is at position M and the hour hand is at position 5H + (1/12)M (since the hour hand begins that hour at position 5H and moves 5 notches each hour, thus 1/12 notch each minute). This gives us the equation

5H + M/12 = M
5H = (11/12)M
M = (60/11)H

relating M and H. But there are many solutions to this equation. Which do we want?

We want this moment (H hours and M minutes) to be exactly 9 and 1/11 minutes after the train leaves the station at the top of a minute. So, we want M to be some whole number of minutes plus 1/11. If you try all of the possible values for H you'll find that only H=9 gives such a value of M. So, the clock hands line up at

H = 9 and M = (60/11)H = (60/11)(9) = 49 and 1/11

or in other words, at 49 and 1/11 minutes after 9:00. Since this must be 9 and 1/11 minutes after the train leaves the station we get a departure time of 9:40.

Correct Solvers:

This was a tough puzzle, and there were only four correct solutions. As we announced last time, we’ll give special recognition to the fastest two solvers.

First solution: Duke Hughes, B.S. Chemistry 1961

Second solution: Alex Blumenfeld, NMR Lab Manager, U of I Chemistry


  • Marianne Milander, Student (Animal and Veterinary Science, Microbiology)
  • Greg Stenback, B.S. Geological Engineering 1985, M.S. Statistics 1987


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