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Vandal Science News - November 2020

Dear Friends of the College of Science, 

The holidays are upon us and we have just over a week of in-person classes prior to Thanksgiving Break. After the holiday, courses and exams will migrate fully online so the university can help reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread due to holiday travel. President Scott Green asked that students not return to campus after the break if possible.

The biggest news on campus is last week’s announcement by President Green that the university entered into an agreement with Sacyr Plenary Utility Partners Idaho LLC to lease the steam plant and utility system in a 50-year public-private partnership (P3) agreement. This partnership will yield several benefits. One of the most important is the financial impact to the university. Funds received from the agreement, which are expected to yield around $6 million per year after investment, will help support the president’s priorities of research, student success and telling our story. I’m excited to see all the publicity in local, national and educational news outlets. It is another great win for the university and President Green.

Speaking of the president’s three priorities, this month’s edition of Vandal Science News focuses on one of them- student success. We celebrate the successes of current students as well as those who’ve graduated from our college programs.

Current students across the college participated in the 16th annual Student Research Exposition on October 20-23. You can view the presentations here. Each year we give awards to each of the top two presentations in the undergraduate and graduate categories. Please join me in congratulating this year’s winners: 

Undergraduate student category

Garrison Cox (mentor: Tanya Miura), Attenuation of mouse hepatitis virus induced acute respiratory distress syndrome like disease via rhinovirus coinfection in a murine model
Madi Thurston (mentor: Margrit von Braun), Spatial analysis of soil lead exposures from lead poisoning tragedy in Nigerian mining

Graduate student category

Jonathan Erdman (mentor: Renee Love), The taxonomy and phylogenetic implications of a mammoth hybrid from southeastern Idaho
Jeremy May (mentor: Frank Cheng), Tailoring the electrochemical hypochlorite sensitivity of GUITAR with electro-amination

The U of I Alumni Office recently announced the winners of the 2020 Alumni Award for Excellence. These awards are given to senior undergraduate and graduate students who excel academically and in campus or community leadership. College of Science students and mentors are well-represented in this year’s awardees.

Undergraduate student category winners

Rachel Arnzen, Biology (mentor: Tonia Dousay)
Audrey Dingel, Medical Sciences (mentor: Butch Fealy)
Caitlin Farrell, Microbiology (mentor: Dale Graden)
McKenna Hull, Microbiology (mentor: Tanya Miura)
Natasha Maria James, Medical Sciences (mentor: Laurel Meyer)
Nicole Recla, Biology (mentor: Christine Parent)
Delany Wagers, Medical Sciences (mentor: Dan Stelck)
Savannah Wagers, Medical Sciences (mentor: Dan Stelck)
Roan Willson, Biochemistry (mentor: Jerry McMurtry)

Graduate student category winners

Emily Forsberg, Geology (mentor: Leslie Baker)
Kailash Hamal, Chemistry (mentor: I. Francis Cheng)

Monica Pedroni, a staff member in Biological Sciences, was also recognized as a student mentor.

Congratulations to all our Alumni Award winners!

Alumni from the College of Science are successful and impact the world. Three examples are featured in stories this month. I mentioned Ensheng Dong '15, '16 of coronavirus map fame in our March 2020 newsletter. This month we learn a little more about Ensheng and how his U of I degrees aided the work he is doing in his Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University to monitor coronavirus spread across the U.S. and world.

We catch up with Sarah Jacobs '18, who was recently appointed as an assistant curator of botany and Howell Chair of Western North American Botany by the California Academy of Sciences.  Sarah earned her Ph.D. under the direction of Professor Dave Tank of the Department of Biological Sciences.

If you love dogs or generally enjoy learning about animals, then this month’s article on James “Mac” McIntyre (B.S. Zoology 1976) is a must-read. Learn about Mac’s dogged quest to find New Guinea singing dogs, which were thought to be extinct in the wild. Mac and his colleagues published their research findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in Fall 2020. 

Finally, alumna Pavitra Roychoudhury '13 will be a featured guest for Cup of Joe: Conversations with Vandals at 4 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17. She and colleague Colin Fields will discuss the latest advances made in developing SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. Pavitra currently leads a team of scientists at the University of Washington Virology lab in sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 genome. She is also a research associate at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division. You can register for the online event here.

What an impressive set of alumni and future alumni! They are demonstrating that a degree from the University of Idaho College of Science provides the foundation for a bright future.

Stay safe and Go Vandals!

Ginger E. Carney
Dean, College of Science

Pursuing Singing Dogs

Alumnus Finds Extinct Species in New Guinea Highlands

Read About Mac

Sarah Jacobs

University of Idaho Alum named Curator at the California Academy of Sciences

Learn More

Ensheng Dong

University of Idaho Alum Tapped His Background in Statistics and Epidemiology to Build a Nationally Recognized COVID-19 Tracking Website

Read Story

College of Science Staff Appreciation

Name: Yuwei Kan

Position at UI: Laboratory Coordinator

How long have you been with the U of I?

I’ve been working here for four years.

How did you find the U of I?

My family moved to the Palouse area four years ago. I was so happy to find a job opening that matches my skill set at U of I after I moved here. I applied for the job and started working here then. 

Why choose to work here?

I love the campus life, the friendly and diverse community at the U of I.

What is your favorite part about working here?

At the U of I, my department is like my family. I love going to work just to experience the camaraderie of my colleagues. I also enjoy working with my work study employees who are full of enthusiasm for their future.

Tell us a little about yourself (family, kids, pets, hobbies, etc.).

I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Ph.D. in chemistry. My husband is also a chemist, working as an assistant professor at WSU. We have two kids, Jason (9 years old) and Kaylee (7 years old). I am a pet lover! We have a small aquarium in the house, and three fur babies: two cats and one dog. I like going hiking and fishing during weekends with my family. I also enjoy doing woodworking projects with my husband together.

Yuwei Kan and family
Yuwei Kan Family Photo

Kudos, Achievements and Awards

New Grants and Fellowships

Sebastian Stoian (Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry) was awarded a $110,000 grant by the American Chemical Society entitled “Emulating the Zeolites' Entatic State in Molecular Iron (IV)-oxo Catalysts.” 

Onesmo Balemba (Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences) is the PI on a collaborative National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for $99,000 through the Diabetes Complications Consortium of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The research will explore novel causes of diabetes neuropathy (nerve dysfunction) and dysmotility (digestive system muscle dysfunction). The study will help improve understanding of the interaction between diet, the gut’s microbiome and the host.


Jason Barnes (Professor, Department of Physics) co-authored a paper in The Astronomical Journal entitled “KELT-9 b's Asymmetric TESS Transit Caused by Rapid Stellar Rotation and Spin–Orbit Misalignment.” The research was picked up by ABC News.

Alumni News

Fatima Al-Hamlan, '12 was named chair of the global health working group of the Civil Society 20 (C20). She is a scientist in the Infection and Immunity Department at King Faisel Specialist Hospital and Research Center as well as an assistant professor at the College of Medicine at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Other Kudos

The Science Channel recently featured Tom Williams’ (Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) copper expertise on its show “Billion-Dollar Elements: Copper.” Way to go Tom!

Jennifer Johnson-Leung (Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science) and Diana Mitchell (Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences) presented at the NIH virtual IDeA PI conference in late September. You can view Jennifer’s presentation on the U of I COVID modeling team’s efforts to track and predict coronavirus spread in Idaho.


How about a simple plane geometry puzzle for this month? The red square ABCD below has side length 2. The point M is the midpoint of side AB, and the green circle passes through C, D, and M. What is the radius of that circle?

geometry puzzle image

Solution to the October Puzzler:

The length of the diagonal is 4 feet. Here’s a slick way to figure that out.

Let's let the dimensions of the box be X, Y, and Z, and let the length of the diagonal be D. Then:

  • 2XY + 2YZ + 2XZ = 20 (the surface area)
  • 4X + 4Y + 4Z = 20 (the edge lengths), thus X + Y + Z = 6
  • D2 = X2 + Y2 + Z2


(X + Y + Z)2 = 62
X2 + Y2 + Z2 + 2XY + 2YZ + 2XZ = 36
D2 + 20 = 36
D2 = 16

so D = 4.

Correct Solvers

1st correct solution: Alex Blumenfeld, NMR Manager, U of I Chemistry

2nd correct solution: Greg Stenback, B.S. Geological Engineering 1985, M.S. Statistics 1987


  • Michelle Boese-Empey, Web coordinator, U of I College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences
  • Greg Burton, B.S. Mathematics 1968
  • Momoyo Dahle, B.S. Applied Mathematics, 2000
  • Marianne Milander, Student (Animal and Veterinary Science, Microbiology)
  • Ross Miller, graduate student, U of I Physics
  • 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