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Vandal Science News


A Newsletter for Alumni and Friends June 2014

Dean's Message

Dear alumni and friends of the UI College of Science,

Summer is settling over the Palouse, and campus seems a bit less busy on the surface. There's still plenty going on, of course. In offices and labs all across campus, faculty are busy with their research endeavors, and students, both undergraduate and graduate, are busy working on those projects as well. There's a great group of about two dozen undergraduate students from many different schools here this summer as INBRE Fellows, most working with faculty in our college.

Commencement always brings an opportunity to recognize the excellence of our students. You can read profiles of this year's student award winners on the College of Science website. Of particular note are John B. George Award winner Connor McCormick, Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award winner Liz Brandon, and Diane Haynes Memorial Award winner Jennifer Sundararajan.

The end of the school year is also a time for recognizing excellence in our faculty and staff, and we had many notable winners this year.

  • Mickey Gunter (Chair of Geological Sciences) was awarded the title of University Distinguished Professor. The list of faculty given that recognition is very short, and we're very proud that so many of them are from the College of Science.
  • Eva Top, faculty member in Biological Sciences and director of the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology program, was given the university's Research and Creative Activity Excellence Award.
  • Cynthia Piez (Mathematics) earned one of the university's Teaching Excellence Awards.
  • Jason Barnes (Physics) earned one of the university's Presidential Mid-Career Awards.
  • Physics Department chair David McIlroy was awarded the Jean'ne M. Shreeve NSF EPSCoR Research Excellence Award.
  • The College of Science recognized two outstanding faculty as well – Tim Frazier from Geography as the winner of the college's Early Career Award, and Deb Stenkamp from Biological Sciences with this year's Distinguished Faculty Award.
  • Two of our college's staff members, Eric Bennett and Jana Joyce, received University Outstanding Staff awards this year.

Science is thriving at the University of Idaho. Commencement this year saw one of our largest college graduating classes ever. We've added many great faculty members over the year, and will welcome some excellent additions to our faculty for this coming fall. We're excited about what is going on and are glad to have the chance to share some of it with you in this newsletter.

Thank you for your continued support of the College of Science.

- Dean Paul Joyce

Problem-Solving Her Future

Courtney Creech Music and math double-major Courtney Creech turns her computational mathematics degree into exciting career opportunity with Fast Enterprise LLC. “I love figuring out the problems and finding the best way to solve them,” says Creech. read more »

A High View of Climate Change

Tents covered in snow during Vladimir and Elena Aizen's high-mountain climate and glacier water resources research Geography researchers Vladimir and Elena Aizen lend their expertise to the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, more »

2014 Jim Lyle Recipients

Kay ’68 and Sam ’69 Bacharach recipients of the 2014 Jim Lyle award Kay '69 and Sam '68 Bacharach were honored with the Jim Lyle award at a public ceremony March 11 in Arlington, Virginia. read more »

Vandal Science News Puzzler

The puzzler for this issue comes from Physics, and is appropriate to summer recreational pursuits.

Suppose you are floating on a rubber raft in a swimming pool. For some reason, you have a bowling ball sized rock with you on the raft. You decide you've had enough of holding the rock, so you put it overboard and watch it sink to the bottom of the pool. What happens to the water level of the pool?

A correct answer must include a short explanation. Have fun thinking this one through while you're poolside this summer!


As Archimedes would have known, the solution is all about displacement. The water level of the pool will drop a very small amount when the rock is thrown overboard.
The reason is this:

  • While the rock is floating with the raft, its weight is displacing an amount of water with weight equal to that of the rock.
  • Once it sinks, however, it displaces an amount of water with volume equal to that of the rock.

Now the rock is more dense that water (after all, we're told that it sinks), so the amount of water weighing the same as the rock will have a volume greater than the volume of the rock. This means more water was being displaced when the rock was in the raft, so the water level will be higher at that time. Eureka!

Correct Solvers

  • Tim Householder (BS Mathematics, 2002)
  • Mike Nickerson
  • Lee Ogren (Chemistry, 1974)
  • Laura Podratz (Geology, 2007)
  • Greg Stenback (Geological Engineering, 1985; M.S. Statistics, 1987)
  • John Stutz (MS Physics, 1972)

Examining Evolutionary Paths

University of Idaho, College of Science faculty member Chris Marx working in the lab

Associate professor Chris Marx studies evolution at the microscopic scale. "Evolution is something that happens, and happens quickly enough to be observed and quickly enough to matter," says Marx. Understanding microbial evolution allows scientists to approach some of today's most pressing issues in new ways. Marx not only studies the effects of evolution, but also develops mathematical models to predict how bacteria may change in the future.
read more »

Waves on an Alien World

A sun glint off the methane see on Staturn's moon Titan

In March 2014, associate professor Jason Barnes announced his most recent project has discovered evidence on Titan of a feature previously found only on Earth: waves. Earlier studies found hints of waves on Titan, including beach-like features that indicate liquid moved sediment around. But these early searches for waves came up empty. "We want our spacecraft to splash, not splat," says Barnes. He and his students work with researchers around the nation studying Titan through NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
read more »

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