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Vandal Science News - September 2020

Dear Friends of the College of Science, 

Welcome to fall semester. U of I students are back, although campus looks and feels different this semester. Students are masked; faculty are teaching in masks or face shields; and fewer students are in our classes each time they meet. We’ve even co-opted the Pitman Center ballrooms for some larger enrollment classes to provide adequate social distancing.

College of Science department chairs and faculty worked overtime this summer to prepare for fall semester instruction. It was a difficult landscape to navigate since information on COVID-19 and best practices changed frequently. Faculty in the college banded together to share strategies for teaching online or in a HyFlex mode (meaning some students are in the classroom while others are interacting online). Getting ready for the semester was a heavy lift and I am immensely grateful to all our department chairs, faculty and staff for pulling everything together. We are ready to deliver another great semester in the college and provide our students the education they want and deserve!

For more details on the university’s fall semester plans and communications from President Green, please visit the university’s COVID-19 webpage.

Beyond face masks and social distancing, the college also has a different look. As you may have noticed, some of our departments had been working as teams over the past several years on academic and research initiatives, often sharing staff efforts, and sometimes sharing a department chair. As part of our annual program prioritization process, the State Board of Education approved several department mergers. We’re excited to have Professor Hirotachi Abo serving as chair of the newly formed Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science. We’re currently working on the selection process for the chair of the new Department of Geography and Geological Sciences. The new departments will continue to offer all degree and certificate options that the individual units offered, and our students will continue to have access to the courses they need. Through these consolidations, the units will maximize the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation in both research and teaching. We will share additional information on these mergers in follow-up communications.

College of Science success in research continues to grow. Science faculty were incredibly successful this summer in bringing in new grants and publishing their research. College COVID-19 research efforts continue to expand as Ben Ridenhour (Mathematics and Statistical Science) spearheads efforts to model coronavirus infections for the state of Idaho. Faculty in Biological Sciences are working on coronavirus treatment strategies, and one of those groups is highlighted in this month’s features. We also highlight Ashley Farre (Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences), who received a prestigious graduate fellowship from the National Institutes of Health.

While the university faces many challenges this year due to the pandemic, I remain optimistic that the college and university will emerge stronger than ever. Our faculty are creative and hardworking, and our students are here because they want the in-person college experience that includes regular interactions with faculty, staff and peers. It is our land grant mission to serve and educate the people of Idaho, and we will continue to do so by innovating and looking forward.

Go Vandals!

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

Farre Earns Predoctoral Fellowship for Photoreceptor Work

Learn about Farre's work

U of I Scientists Earn Federal Grant to Research Animals' Susceptibility to Coronavirus

Learn More

College of Science Staff Appreciation

Name: Brian Petty

Position at U of I: Scientific Instrument Maker

How did you find the U of I?

My family and I drove through Moscow on our way home from a rafting trip, and we thought it looked like a nice place to live. When I checked the job listings for the university, I was thrilled to find an opening for a scientific instrument maker and applied immediately.

How long have you been with the U of I?

I have been here almost 3 years.

Why choose to work here?

I really like the community and work environment at U of I. I love that the university is in such a nice little town, and that I can walk to work year-round.

What is your favorite part about working here?

I love that I get to build interesting and unique things for a living and contribute to research that will benefit people. I also, really enjoy the variety of work that is involved with my position.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I like to go hiking and camping with my wife, two children and our two Boston terriers. I enjoy traveling, sailing and road trips. I also, like to cook, tinker in my home shop, and spend time with friends.

Brian Petty and family
Brian Petty

Kudos, Achievements and Awards

New Grants and Fellowships

  • Ashley Farre (Ph.D. student, Department of Biological Sciences, Deb Stenkamp lab) was awarded a $90,105 National Institutes of Health F31 (Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA)) from the National Eye Institute. She is the first University of Idaho student to receive an F31 fellowship.
  • Timothy Bartholomaus (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) recently received a $1,200,000 collaborative grant ($671,486 to the U of I) from the National Science Foundation to understand the connections between glacier sliding and the water and sediment underneath glaciers and ice sheets. By deploying seismometers, GPS receivers, radar, and other equipment to the glacier surface and then using computer simulations to analyze the results, Dr. Bartholomaus and his teammates will produce better understanding of the physics of glacier flow, and ultimately enable better predictions of coming sea level rise.
  • Adam Jones (Professor, Department of Biological Sciences) was awarded a $1 million grant by the National Science Foundation to study sexual selection and sexual conflict in pipefish and seahorses using comparative genomics approaches. You can read more about this work here.
  • Paul Rowley, J.T. Van Leuven and Jagdish Patel (Assistant Professors, Department of Biological Sciences) received a National Science Foundation RAPID grant for $200,000 to study animal reservoirs of SARS-CoV2.
  • Somantika Datta (Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science) received a $42,000 grant from the Simons Foundation. The proposed work will focus on various frame design issues with the goal of efficient signal representation. Frames are mathematical objects that are now standard tools in signal processing as they offer robust signal representation. Characterizing and designing frames with nice geometric properties is an important class of problems in the area of applied harmonic analysis. 
  • You Qiang (Professor, Department of Physics) is co-PI on a recently awarded Idaho NASA EPSCoR Research Initiation Grant for $41,191 entitled “Advanced Nanomaterials for Next Generation Neutron Radiation Detection Using Machine Learning Approach.” This is an inter-disciplinary project between researchers from the College of Science and College of Engineering at the University of Idaho and the Center for Nanotechnology at the NASA Ames Research Center, CA. In this project the team plans to apply machine learning tools to guide computer simulation and experiments to understand and develop nanomaterials for an advanced real-time neutron flux-detector.
  • Diana Mitchell (Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences) was recently awarded a 5-year National Institutes of Health R01 grant totaling $1,804,694 to study Macrophage Determinants of Retinal Regeneration. This award from the National Eye Institute (NEI) seeks to determine the function of immune cell populations, resident microglia and non-resident macrophages, in the regeneration of the zebrafish retina. Findings will provide foundations, that focus on immune cell factors, towards successful therapeutic strategies for human retinal damage and disease.
  • Erika Rader (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences), Renee Love (Instructor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences), and Tonia Dousay (College of Education, Health and Human Sciences) received a NASA grant for $15,256 for the project “Minecraft Field Camp: Teaching Field Geology with Virtual Reality in the Time of Coronavirus.”
  • Karen Humes (Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) was awarded $7000 from the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) to convene a workshop among researchers at CAES institutions to discuss research activities and collaborative opportunities related to hydropower systems, particularly small hydropower systems that can facilitate further integration of other renewable energy types into the electrical grid. The workshop was one activity of the CAES Energy-Water Nexus Working group, which is co-led by Dr. Humes and a faculty member at the University of Wyoming.
  • The Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation, led by Holly Wichman (Professor, Department of Biological Sciences), received a nearly $11 million National Institutes of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE)  Phase 2 award. The COBRE funds will continue to bolster U of I interdisciplinary biomedical research with new research projects studying cancer genomics, cancer imaging, and interpreting variation in the human microbiome. New projects will be added over the course of this five-year grant. This funding will allow IMCI to bring new modeling expertise to the U of I research community. The Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation also received a $492,000 supplemental award from the National Institutes of Health for covid-19 modeling for rural communities.
  • College of Science faculty Barrie Robison (co-PI and Professor, Department of Biological Sciences), Frank Gao (Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science), Felix Liao (Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) and Chao Fan (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) are contributing to a National Science Foundation EPSCoR award for $5,830,709 to Marshall Ma (College of Engineering) entitled “Leveraging Big Data to Improve Prediction of Tick-Borne Disease Patterns and Dynamics.”
  • Audrey Fu (Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science) is co-PI on a recent award of $453,263 from Genentech entitled “Interspecies Convolution and Optimization of Intrathecal Oligonucleotide Distribution.” The overarching goal of the proposed research is to develop and test a convolution method to transform and optimize nonhuman primate intrathecal dosing protocols to humans.


  • Tim Bartholomaus (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) co-authored a paper In Polar Biology entitled “Rolling stones gather moss: movement and longevity of moss balls on an Alaskan glacier,” that attracted national attention and was featured on National Public Radio.
  • Jeff Hicke (Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) co-authored a paper in Forest Ecology and Management entitled “Characterizing Recent Bark Beetle-caused Tree Mortality in the Western United States from Aerial Surveys.”
  • Sebastian Stoian (Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry) recently published four articles with members of his research group. The first is in Dalton Transactions. The second paper was published in Chemical Communications and describes a new molecule that changes its color and its magnetic properties in solution as a function of temperature. These molecules have the potential to function as sensors and as molecular switches.
  • Alex Roseborough (B.S. Chemistry 2020), a former undergraduate researcher in the Stoian lab (Department of Chemistry), published a first-author paper with Dr. Stoian in Polyhedron . Alex recently joined the chemistry Ph.D. program at Oregon State University. Alex also is a co-author on the fourth paper from the Stoian lab that was published recently in Inorg. Chem.
  • Matthew Hedman (Associate Professor, Department of Physics) co-authored a paper in The Astronomical Society of the Pacific entitled “Forecasting Rates of Volcanic Activity on Terrestrial Exoplanets and Implications for Cryovolcanic Activity on Extrasolar Ocean Worlds.”
  • Tristan Amaral (M.S. Geology 2019) and Tim Bartholomaus (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences), published an article in JGR Earth Surface in which they tested six methods to predict iceberg calving on 50 of Greenland’s glaciers that terminate in the sea. To reduce uncertainty in coastal flooding during the coming years, they identified the best way to include iceberg calving in simulations of future glacier and ice sheet loss.
  • Grant Harley (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) uses tree rings to reconstruct past climates. One study of the Oregon/Washington Blue Mountains found wildfires burned entire landscapes — even riparian zones — during droughts over the past 400 years. A second study of the Oregon/Washington Cascades found the local 2014-16 “snow drought” was unique over the past 500 years and declines in snowpack since about 1970 were most likely attributed to increased air temperatures linked to human-caused climate change.
  • An international team of conservation geneticists including Paul Hohenlohe (Associate Professor, Biological Sciences) and Fish and Wildlife Sciences’s Lisette Waits recently published in Biological Conservation. They suggest three targets to help preserve the genetic component of biological diversity under the international Convention on Biological Diversity. Genetic diversity, which is decreasing, allows for adaptation, ensures species resilience under climate change and contributes to supporting human society and the life support systems of the biosphere.
  • Scott Nuismer and Jim Bull (Professors, Department of Biological Sciences) want to use “self-disseminating” vaccines to suppress viruses that jump from animals to humans. With self-disseminating vaccines, a small portion of the population can be inoculated with the vaccine, which will then pass from host to host. In Nature Ecology and Evolution, the researchers lay out a road map for overcoming the challenges for using these vaccines including identifying high-risk emerging pathogens, vaccine design and minimizing the risk of unintended consequences.
  • Undergraduate researchers Lance Fredericks and Cooper Roslund working with Paul Rowley (Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences), Mark Lee and Angela Crabtree (research technicians in Biological Science) recently co-authored a paper in PLoS One entitled “The design and implementation of restraint devices for the injection of pathogenic microorganisms into Galleria mellonella.
  • 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.”
  • Erika Rader (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Geological Sciences) published an article on “lava bombs” in the Bulletin of Volcanology.

Alumni News

  • Pavitra Roychoudhury (Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology 2013) co-authored a paper in Science entitled “Genomic surveillance reveals multiple introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into Northern California.”
  • Diego F. Morales Briones (Ph.D. Biology 2016), received the 2020 Grady L. and Barbara D. Webster Plant Systematics Publication Award from The American Society of Plant Taxonomists for his publication entitled "Phylogeny and Evolution of the Neotropical Radiation of Lachemilla (Rosaceae): Uncovering a History of Reticulate Evolution and Implications for Infrageneric Classification." This award recognizes the paper illustrating the most significant contribution in plant systematics from the previous two years. Diego worked with Dave Tank in the Department of Biological Sciences.
  • Alice Cassel (B.S. Biology 2019), who was an undergraduate researcher with Dave Tank (Professor, Department of Biological Sciences) co-authored a paper in the journal Science. Alice is currently a Ph.D. student at Rockefeller University.
  • Sarah Hendricks (Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology 2019) has been named an inaugural fellow in the Idaho Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (ISTPF), a collaboration among University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho State University. The ISTPF connects doctoral-level scientists and social scientists and engineers with at least three years post-master’s degree professional experience with state agencies to develop and implement solutions to some of Idaho’s most pressing challenges, including water, energy, environment, fire and health.

Other Kudos

  • The Mathematics and Statistical Science Departments hosted the 2020 U of I Data Science Competition. The top three participants in the competition were Ronald Crump, Haotian Wang and Joel Oduro-Afriyie. For this competition, participants developed a machine learning model to automatically grade 20,000 hand-written calculus quizzes. The competition took place March 12 through April 30 and was sponsored by the College of Science.
  • Thibault Stalder (Research Support Scientist, Department of Biological Sciences), Eva Top (Professor, Department of Biological Sciences), and Ben Ridenhour (Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistical Science) are collaborating with Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation to test local wastewater for SARS-CoV-2.
  • Jack Creagh and Lindsey Morey (Ph.D. students, Department of Biological Sciences) were awarded Research Assistantships from the Idaho INBRE program for the upcoming year. The assistantships provide support for students performing biomedical research. Lindsey works with Diana Mitchell and Jack is a new Ph.D. student.


Suppose I start writing the numbers from 1 on up one after another, as follows:


If I had an infinite amount of time and patience (I in fact have neither!) I could keep this string of digits going forever.

There are two parts to this month's puzzle:

  1. What is the two-millionth digit in this string of numbers?

  2. What six-digit number am I writing when I write the two-millionth digit?

Solution to May 2020 puzzler:

This was a pretty tough one -- it's tempting to get into all kinds of messy calculations. The way to keep things simple is to choose the right variables. Let's let PN, and D be the number of pennies, nickels, or dimes that Tom has over and above the numbers that Rachel has. (Then, since Tom has more of each of these kinds of coins, we know that PN, and D must all be positive integers.) Since Rachel has 4 more quarters, but Tom has 32 more coins total, we must have

P + N + D = 36 .

But also, since they each have the same amount of money, the value of Tom's extra coins must be the same as Rachel's extra 4 quarters. In other words:

P + 5N + 10D = 100 .

A little experimentation shows that the only two solutions to these two equations are

P = 20, N = 16, D = 0


P = 25, N = 7, D = 4

The first one, however, is not allowable, since D must be positive. (Tom has more dimes!) So, the second solution must be the right one, so Tom has 7 more nickels. Since Rachel has 23 nickels, Tom must have 30 nickels.

Correct Solvers:

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

2nd correct solution: Alice Buerkle, B.S. Botany 1987


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


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