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office: Mines 321

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875 Perimeter Drive MS 3025
Moscow, ID 83844-3025

Vandal Science News


A Newsletter for Alumni and Friends February 2014

Dean's Message

Dear friends of the UI College of Science,

There is so much going on in our college right now that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Our already-talented faculty ranks are swelling with the addition of several stellar new professors. In the last issue of the Vandal Science News, we mentioned the additions of four faculty member to Biological Sciences. In Geological Sciences, we also have an excellent new faculty member in Elizabeth Castle. The quality of faculty we are attracting to Moscow is a great testament to the excellence of our research programs.

But we’re far from finished for the year! Right now we are managing several searches for new faculty members and we’re excited by the results we’re seeing. Three of the searches (for a Mathematical Biologist, a Statistical Geneticist, and a Biophysicist) are a “cluster hire” in the broad area of Systems Biology. Faculty from our Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, and Biological Sciences departments have all been contributing to the search process. It is a truly interdisciplinary effort. We also have two ongoing faculty searches in the WWAMI (medical education) program, two for Geography, and one each for Geology and Chemistry.

We’re proud of our research programs, but we’re just as proud of the educational opportunities we provide to our students. We always say that we have the perfect combination for students: a world–class faculty of research scientists and a small enough setting for our students to get personal attention and mentoring. It’s one reason our enrollments have been increasing over recent years. Our undergraduate enrollment in College of Science majors has gone up nearly 28% since 2008.

Nothing shows our commitment better than the opportunities we provide for undergraduate students to participate in research. In a recent survey of graduating students, over three–fourths of our students reported having had the opportunity to do original research as part of earning their degrees. Two–thirds of those research projects were reported as collaborations with faculty. One in four of our graduates reported that their research would likely lead to publication. We think there’s no better way for students to learn science than by doing it!

In this issue of the Vandal Science News you can read a few highlights of what our faculty and students have been doing. I hope you enjoy perusing these stories.

As always, thank you for your continued interest in and support of the College of Science.

- Dean Paul Joyce

Chemistry Graduate Cooks Up Success in the Lab

Brina Vo in the lab working with flames Chemistry graduate Brian Vo’s collegiate journey has been one filled with opportunity working in labs, publishing articles and being a teaching assistant. “I really liked the program and the research here,” says Vo. “The research experience is a big part for me, there’s some really interesting people doing interesting research.” read more »

2013 Hill Undergrad Research Fellowship Recipients

Ben Anzis in front of a chalkboard Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Brian and Gayle Hill the College of Science is able to offer several fellowships each year to support undergraduate research projects. This year 5 undergraduates were awarded the fellowship. read more »

Studying Statistics Down Under

Lucas Tate infront of the Melboure skyline Lucas Tate, a graduate student in statistical science, is spending the next several months in Melbourne, Australia. Lucas is conducting research at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), through the Australia Awards Endeavour Fellowship. “I enjoy statistics because it transcends individual disciplines and allows me to look at problems in virtually any field,” he said. read more »

Vandal Science News Puzzler

Take a square piece of paper measuring 12 inches on each side. Call the corners (in cyclic order) A, B, C, and D. Make four folds in the paper as follows:

  • Fold from the midpoint of AB to the midpoint of CD.
  • Fold from the midpoint of BC to the midpoint of DA.
  • Fold diagonally from A to C.
  • Fold from D to the midpoint of AB.

These folds should divide the square into nine regions. Find the area of the smallest of these regions.


The four folds and nine resulting regions are shown in the diagram. The area of the (pink shaded) smallest region is 3.
You can find that area lots of different ways – probably the most common approach would be to put the square on the coordinate plane with the origin at point A, find the equations of the various lines, and work it out in coordinate geometry. Here’s a different way that’s fairly simple and uses only a little geometric reasoning and elementary algebra.

  • Label all of the points as in the figure, and let x represent the area of the small triangle PQR.
  • Since the square is 12-by-12, the area of the whole is 144. The first two folds (between midpoints of sides) divide the square into four squares, each with area 36.
  • It’s clear that Q must be the midpoint of HP, so HQD is a right triangle with legs of length 3 and 6. That makes its area 9.
  • But triangle PQE is congruent to HQD, so its area must also be 9.
  • Now notice that the triangle AER is similar to PQR, but double the scale. That means its area will be four times as large as the area of PQR, so area(AER) = 4x.
  • The areas of AER and PRE must add to be 18 – half of the square AEPH. So:
    area(AER) + area(PRE) =
    4x + (9 – x) =
    3x =
    x =

solution to February 2014 Vandal Science News Puzzler

Correct Solvers

  • Kelli Anderson (BS Mathematics, BS Biochemistry, 2011)
  • Craig Beisel (BS Mathematics, 2001; MS Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, 2007)
  • Jason Evans (BS Computer Science 1996; PhD Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, 2009)
  • Tim Householder (BS Mathematics, 2002)
  • John Spence (MS Mathematics, 2001)

Unearthing the Galápagos Story

A volcano on a Galapagos island

Geology professor Dennis Geist and a team from the University of Oregon used seismic waves to gather geologic data from the Galápagos. Their research paper challenges some of the conventional explanations of how the islands formed. Geist describes the rock layer deep below the Galápagos as a “wet” sponge filled with hot magma, which challenges traditional views of it being a “dry” sponge.
read more »

Elements of Fun

Sun shining on a yellow maple leaf in the cool fall. Photo by Simon Uribe-Convers

Biology professor David Tank and an international team revealed an unexpected story behind traits that help plants survive in freezing conditions. By assembling the largest–ever time-scaled evolutionary tree of land plants (32,223 species) the team uncovered the “tempo and mode” of plant trait evolution.
read more »

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