Print this page

Have a news item you would like featured? Fill out the request here (UW NetID Restricted).


  • Confidence Erupts from a Camp at a Volcano: Summer camp at Mount Saint Helens empowers girls with science, confidence, and fun.
    Tuesday, April 28, 2020
    GeoGirls is a 5-day, 4-night volcanology and technology summer camp run by the Mount St. Helens Institute. Featuring Elizabeth Urban and Kate Allstadt, from ESS & PNSN Read More
  • Marc Hirschmann elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    Monday, April 27, 2020
    Along with UW president Ana Mari Cauci, and a number of other prominent scientists, artists, and other leaders, experimental petrologist Marc M. Hirschmann was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for 2020. Marc teaches at the University of Minnesota. He was a graduate student in Geological Sciences (now ESS) at UW, completing his PHD in 1992. Congratulations, Marc! Read More
  • How to move 'hands on' classes online
    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    Every spring, Laura Prugh teaches a wildlife research techniques class at the University of Washington. Her students spend much of their time outside, complementing their lecture notes with actual experience. They learn to identify and properly handle animals -- frogs, salamanders and bushy-tailed woodrats, for example -- and they practice using equipment for tracking animals and estimating populations.

    A person with binoculars

    Every spring, Laura Prugh teaches a wildlife research techniques class where students learn to identify animals and practice using equipment for tracking animals and estimating populations. Here Prugh is birding in her neighborhood.Evelyn Rousmaniere

    But when the UW announced it was moving its spring quarter 2020 classes entirely online to combat the novel coronavirus, Prugh and other instructors across campus faced a new,unchartered challenge.

    “During our faculty meeting on Zoom to discuss what to do with field courses, I burst into tears, much to my surprise,” said Prugh, an associate professor of environmental and forest sciences. “I love teaching this course. It’s great getting the students out into the field and getting to know them really well.”

    Prugh initially considered canceling the class, which is a requirement for some students majoring in environmental sciences and resource management.

    “I had to go through a mourning period before I could readjust my expectations and accept that the students are going to need to learn about some of the techniques just in the lecture component,” Prugh said. “But then maybe we can come up with a plan for the rest of the content.”

    Prugh decided to mail each enrolled student a kit that includes a camera trap, an acoustic recorder, a compass and binoculars. Students will usetheir kits to complete independent research projects from home. The class will also participate in timely citizen-science projects that aim to understand how stay-at-home orders across the world have affected urban wildlife.

    Contents of a kit on a table

    Laura Prugh mailed each enrolled student a kit containing a camera trap (shown here in a camouflage lockbox), a python cable lock to lock the camera to a tree, an Audiomoth acoustic recorder, a pair of binoculars, a compass and a ziplock bag with other items such as batteries, SD cards, a card reader and usb connecting cable. Prugh included return mailers in each box so that students can easily return the equipment at the end of the quarter.Laura Prugh/University of Washington

    Prugh wasn’t the only instructor who initially felt their stomach drop when the UW announced the switch to remote instruction. Professors and lecturers across the university take pride in providing hands-on opportunities for their students, but also felt reluctant to outright cancel their courses this quarter, often citing graduation or major requirements.

    Of the approximately 7,000 courses the UW typically offers across its three campuses during spring quarter, about 400 have been canceled two weeks into the quarter -- many of which were one-on-one instruction and practical training, according to Philip Reid, UW's vice provost for academic and student affairs. In addition, about 200 classes were added to spring quarter and the enrollment caps were increased in an effort to limit impacts to student academic progress.

    See how one instructor moved his lab class online

    Watch video

    UW instructors have taken a variety of approaches to give students as close to an in-person experience as possible. Like Prugh, many have figured out ways for students to be hands on at home. But others took different approaches -- such as using online platforms to promote student engagement or having students analyze datasets from a previous quarter.

    Student enrollment also remains high. As of the start of the quarter, 52,845 students were registered for at least one course, compared to 51,884 students last spring. Two weeks into the quarter, about 930 students had withdrawn, compared to 600 at the same time last spring -- a difference of about 330.

    “It’s heartening that even in this unprecedented time, we still see the resiliency of our community through our innovative instructors and our students who are eager to learn,” Reid said.

    Labs at home

    In the move to online courses, many instructors joinedPrugh in devising ways to shift in-class projects to activities students can do at home.

    A student in a lab watching a bike wheel on a track

    During fall quarter, students in Brian Johnson’s e-bike class designed and built a circuit board that could supply power to an e-bike. Shown here Cole Ballard tests a power circuit during lab in fall quarter.Ryan Hoover/University of Washington

    Brian Johnson, a UW assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been restructuring a power electronics course into a year-long series of classes where students design and build electric bikes. This school year was the first full run of the sequence. In fall 2019, students designed the electronics necessary to power an e-bike. Then, over winter quarter, they shifted gears to develop the code that would regulate the system. Spring quarter was supposed to be the “Tour de France,” where the students put the pieces together to power and control actual e-bikes that they would race at the end of the quarter.

    “I did my best to distill everything into something they can build at home,” Johnson said. “Instead of using a battery to power an e-bike motor, their circuits will transfer energy from a small power supply to resistors which will warm up slightly. It will be a great learning experience and it will require students to carefully plan their builds.”

    A TA looks at a laptop on a table. Also on the table, equipment for a kit.
    hands with gloves on them sort wires for kits
    wires divided into kits
    Students organizing materials for kits

    Introduction to Engineering Design is a hands-on course where students learn how to go from thinking of an idea to actually building something. This class normally takes place in the MILL makerspace so that students learn how to use tools such as laser cutters, 3D printers and soldering equipment. This quarter, students will build devices -- a “smart” lamp that can turn on depending on the time of day, for example -- using materials in kits that the instructors are sending home. Then students will usesoftware to design and model updated versions. Shown here are TAs for this course, Suvesha Chandrasekaran, brown shirt, and Gorkem Caylak, preparing kits to be packaged and shipped to students. Credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

    Instructors from other College of Engineering courses are having their students complete lab work at home as well. After modifying experiments so that they would be safe to perform at home, instructors prepared and sent more than 300 kits for six different courses to students across the state -- including to Spokane, Yakima, Bellingham, Chehalis and Aberdeen -- and around the globe to students in China, India, Uganda and Brazil, among other countries.

    In the College of the Environment, Jonathan Bakker, an UW professor of environmental and forest sciences, sent kits -- including seeds, pots and media -- to students so they can grow plants at homefor hisNative Plant Production course. This course also normally involves tours of local nurseries. This quarter, Bakker has invited nurseries around the state and the country to give virtual tours to the students.

    Virtual options abound

    Other instructors across the UW are taking advantage of the plethora of virtual options to try to make their previously hands-on courses more engaging.

    Terry Swanson, a principal lecturer in Earth and space sciences, teaches Introduction to Geology and Societal Impacts, a course for mostly nonscience majors. Swanson’s class typically includes labs, field trips and movie nights in addition to a lecture component.

    “This quarter, the difficult thing is trying to bring the excitement of the class -- the rocks and the hands-on, tactile feel of this -- through a screen,” Swanson said.

    Swanson has opted tolivestream his lectures on both Twitch and Zoom, saying that students learn better when he can appear more human on camera, sometimes correcting himself if he makes a mistake live.

    The class still “gathers” for movie nights, too, though this year they watched “Chasing Ice” on Zoom instead of in Kane Hall. Swanson plans to take the students on virtual field trips across the state, using an assortment of cameras to allow him to focus on the fine-grain details he wants his students to pay attention to.

    Julian Yamaura, a lecturer in civil and environmental engineering, is teaching a construction materials class this quarter. This class has a major lab component so Yamaura is filming video modules that students can watch and then discuss in an interactive Zoom class each week. This week, Yamaura is filming how to make concrete. In one of the videos, Yamaura is including mistakes that students may encounter on real job sites after they graduate.
    Credit: Kiyomi Taguchi/University of Washington

    Despite a variety of tools available for moving classes online, professors and lecturers have to be thoughtful about what their students have access to, instructors said. Sara Gonzalez, an associate professor of anthropology, is teaching a contemporary archeology course, which was supposed to have field trips around the UW and city of Seattle. Gonzalez has shifted it to a course where students will be engaging with each other and archeologists around the world through a class Twitter account, a class hashtag and public blog posts.

    “One of the initial reasons I was hesitant to move online is our students face a digital divide: I see a lot of students relying on using only their cellphones to access our course Canvas pages or to complete their work,” Gonzalez said. “I think this approach of using several different platforms gives everyone an opportunity to be able to engage regardless of whether or not they can download huge files. It’s as easy as using their cellphone to check in on the class Twitter feed and see what’s happening for the class.”

    Learning from the past

    Virtual tools, however helpful for keeping students engaged, can still fall short of replacing the full experience that many UW classes aim to offer.

    “Nothing out there is going to give you the same hands-on experience as being in a general chemistry lab,” said Andrea Carroll, a senior lecturer of chemistry. “Performing dilutions, trying to figure out how some of the glassware and instrumentation work, and making some of those typical mistakes students make -- that piece is going to be gone when the courses are moved online.”

    Regardless, Carroll and the general chemistry team will continue teaching labs this quarter. TAs will develop a “tour” of each lab activity that walks students through the entire procedure -- from a full explanation of lab safety to photos and videos of each of the steps, and what students would see if they were performing their own experiment.

    Then students will receive a dataset from previous quarter’s version of the lab to work through their lab report assignments.

    “It’s all real data,” Carroll said. “Some of it will have common errors that people often see in these experiments, and these students will have to explain what might have happened. We’ve tried to keep this as realistic as possible.”

    While instructors across the UW expressed relief and pride at being able to transition their classes online for this quarter, they’re already looking forward to future quarters when they can hold their classes in person again. Many instructors are using this time as an opportunity to find new ways to enhance their in-person classes. For example, Gonzalez has always been interested in having her students engage with a larger public audience around issues of archeology’s relevance -- in this case, she decided to try using Twitter.

    “Right now is the perfect opportunity to be able to demonstrate the importance of public scholarship to my students while also creating an online community for them,” Gonzalez said. “The saddest part of not being able to meet in class is that we miss out in a lot of community building. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be creative and find community in other spaces.”

    Read More
  • The hunt for hydroxyl radicals in Antarctica could reveal the secrets of our future climate
    Wednesday, April 8, 2020
    In every sense, gazing into an Antarctic time tunnel is a chilling experience. You lean over an icy entrance about the size of a dinner plate being exceptionally careful not to drop anything in. It's hard to tell how far you are seeing. Five or 50 metres? A year, a decade, a century or more? As your eyes adjust they see beyond the snap-frozen present and deeper into the decades gone by. The colour shifts from blinding white to electric blue and eventually to a darkness so unfathomable it could be a tunnel into deep space. A core barrel is lowered into the cylindrical shaft, hanging on a cable. It travels at first through layers of hard-packed snow that still retain a connection to the atmosphere above. Go deeper and those pore spaces close off under the weight of snow pushing down from above. The sheer compressive force compacts fluffy snowflakes into solid ice, trapping a tiny bubble of atmosphere from that moment. Each bubble becomes a time capsule. The drill drops through the centuries, reaching for our pre-industrial past. To solve one of the enduring climate change riddles, we're going to need a lot of air from an awful lot of these bubbles. Read More
  • Earthquake felt across inland northwest | KREM
    Wednesday, April 1, 2020
    While an earthquake in Idaho was felt far and wide, the damage should not be extensive. Paul Bodin, UW research professor of earth and space sciences and network manager of the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, is interviewed. Read More
  • 6.5 Idaho earthquake rattles Washington and 5 other states | KING 5
    Wednesday, April 1, 2020
    At 5:52 p.m. Tuesday, Idaho and states throughout the Northwest were rattled by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake, according to the USGS. Paul Bodin, UW research professor of earth and space sciences and network manager of the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, is quoted. Read More
  • UW-created podcasts: 'Crossing North' by Scandinavian Studies -- also College of Education, Information School's Joe Janes, a discussion of soil health
    Wednesday, April 1, 2020

    With faculty and staff so challenged during the coronavirus shutdowns, podcasts are a way of remotely engaging with a department or school’s work. Also, it looks like we have the time.

    Here's a look at a few podcasts being produced University of Washington departments or people -- and an appearance by a faculty member on the podcast “Undark.”

    Crossing North

    Logo for podcast "Crossng North," by UW Dept of Scandinavian StudiesThis podcast launched in January 2019 and is produced and hosted by Colin Gioia Connors with Kristian Naesby.

    Connors is a lecturer, and Naesby a visiting lecturer of Danish, both in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. With 13 completed episodes, “Crossing North” is about Nordic and Baltic society and culture, and features interviews with authors, performers and leaders from Scandinavia and the Baltic, plus faculty from Scandinavian Studies and the Baltic Studies Program.

    Episodes include “Myth & Fairytale in Frozen 2,” “The Nordic Languages of Middle Earth” and “The Bermuda Triangle of Music,” which asks: What does it mean to be a folk musician in a country with no folk instruments?

    UW Notebook asked a few questions to catch up with this podcast’s journey so far.

    What got this podcast started?

    Colin G. Connors: There are so many incredible stories coming out of the Nordic and Baltic countries that can help us to better understand the world abroad and here at home. We have some amazing faculty in the Department of Scandinavian Studies, and we wanted to be able to sharetheir research and what inspires them directly with the public.

    The department serves a lot of different communities: Our focus is of course on the students in our classrooms, but we also serve the public interest as well. The department sees a lot of artists, ambassadors, and business leaders visiting from Scandinavia, so we wanted to share that direct connection with the public, and especially those in the Pacific Northwest with an interest in Scandinavia.

    Other UW podcasts: In February UW Notebook profiled podcasts by UW Tacoma, architecture professor Vikram Prakash and doctoral students James Rosenthal and Charlie Kelly, “The Paper Boys.”
    Read here.

    The world is looking to the Scandinavian countries right now for inspiration on how to approach all sorts of issues,including climate change, affordable health care, effective education systems and gender equality in the workplace. We hope that the podcast is an entry point for a lot of people, and a place where listeners can hear what type of work is being done, right now, here and in Scandinavia.

    How long does it take you to record and produce a single episode?

    C.C.: I probably spend between 40 and 50 hours per episode. Many people don't realize all the skills and expertise required to make a quality podcast, but when you listen you know the difference. That’s why we put so much effort into research, editing, production value, and sound design.

    We believe “Crossing North” is a reflection of the university, and we want it to reflect the world-class education one can receive in the Department of Scandinavian Studies.

    Who is your audience? Is the podcast finding its audience?

    C.C.: Honestly, the show is for anyone who enjoys learning. All the episodes touch on relevant issues in our world. There are lessons to be learned, both good and bad, from the Nordic and Baltic countries. Sometimes those lessons come from unexpected directions because of how distant those countries are from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, but the podcast also digs into some surprisingly deep connections that reveal how close we really are.

    Colin Gioia Connors

    Different audiences have found different ways of engaging with individual episodes. A good example a recent episode, #11, which was an interview with assistant professor Tim Frandy of Western Kentucky University about sustainability, green colonialism and Indigenous ecologies. For a lot of our listeners, this episode was the first time they were exposed to the idea of treaty rights and Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the Nordic countries, but for the S?mi-American community here in Seattle (the S?mi are the Indigenous people of Scandinavia), the episode was an affirmation of their identities and experiences.

    That piece also spoke to larger conversations happening around the world and here in Washington about the rights of Indigenous peoples, so I know the episode was shared by different Indigenous advocacy groups as well. I think that’s the mark of a successful piece of work, that people are able to bring something to it and also take something new and meaningful away.

    What is your favorite episode so far? Which might be the best for a newcomer to listen to first?

    C.C.: You can’t go wrong with starting at the beginning. Episode 1, “Werewolves on Campus,” is about the power of music and explores how Latvia’s folk songs helped its people to end the Soviet occupation. The episode has some great music and folk stories.

    People might also enjoy episode 10, “Myth and Fairytale in ‘Frozen 2.'” I interviewed Marc Smith, Disney Animation’s director of story for “Frozen 2” and we talked about how their research trip to Finland, Norway, and Iceland inspired the film. The answer goes way beyond costume design, and our conversation was a once-in-a-lifetime peek behind the scenes at Disney Animation Studios.

    How many downloads have you had so far?

    C.C.: We have reached between 200 and 750 listeners with each episode. Listeners these days are more likely to binge a series than to tune in every month, so download numbers are less representative of overall appeal in podcasting than in traditional broadcasting.

    With 13 episodes, “Crossing North” is still in its infant stage right now, so we are less concerned with numbers than with continuing to produce quality content, because we know that the more episodes we publish, the more likely we are to get new listeners.

    For more information, contact Connors at colingc@uw.edu.

    * * *

    Other ongoing UW podcasts:

    Documents that Changed the World

    Produced and hosted by Joe Janes, associate professor, Information School

    Janes studies the cultural impact of documents and documentation and the future of libraries. The title phrase for his podcast came to him in 2012 and he has been producing occasional episodes ever since. In 2017, Janes published a book based on the series titled “Documents that Changed the Way We Live.” Topics across 54 episodes have included the Declaration of Independence’s deleted passage on slavery, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his nonexistent “list” of communist conspirators in government, an early map of cholera contamination and more. A recent, all-too-timely episode was about the articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Over 500,000 downloads. Read more at UW News. For more information, contact Janes at jwj@uw.edu.

    * * *

    College of Education podcasts on coronavirus, early learning, climate change and more

    Dustin Wunderlich, marketing and communications director for the college, produces podcasts with faculty members and students to discuss their research or publications.

    He has produced podcasts about college sports, disability studies, climate science education, culturally sustaining pedagogies and education priorities in the Washington state Legislature, and other topics. Find all of the podcasts here. The college also has published a list of its top nine most popular podcasts of 2019.

    A recent episode, released in mid-March, was an interview with Soojin Oh Park, UW assistant professor of education, about the coronavirus threatening to increase inequalities in early learning.

    For more information, contact Wunderlich at dwunder@uw.edu.

    ***

    Events and lectures as podcasts: Jackson School’s Ellison Center

    Some UW units are recording events and lectures and making them available in podcast form.

    Among these is the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies. Their most recent recording among dozens of such taped events, is about “Russian Grassroots Activism for the Environment and Beyond.”

    For more information, write to reecas@uw.edu.

    ***

    ‘Don’t disturb the soil’: UW’s David Montgomery discusses ‘regenerative farming’ on ‘Undark’

    David Montgomery, UW professor of earth and space sciences, was part of a discussion of soil health and “regenerative farming” on the podcast “Undark.” In each episode, the series explores a topic at the intersection of science and society. This episode was titled “A Reality Check on Regenerative Agriculture.”

    David Montgomery

    David Montgomery

    The discussion in January with podcast host Lydia Chain and Seattle-based journalist Eilis O’Neill focused on how regenerative farming practices can improve the health of soil on farms. Scientists, policymakers and manufacturers, they noted, not only disagree on what regenerative farming can accomplish, they even disagree on its exact meaning.

    Montgomery defined it with three central rules. First, he said, “Stop tilling, stop plowing. ...When you plow a field, it’s highly disruptive. Think, you know, if only of what it does to the worms in the soil to plow them up.”

    Second, he suggested farmers should always be growing something, to keep a living root in the soil. Finally, they should plant diverse crops, either in rotation or all at once.

    “That combination is the recipe for buildingup soil organic matter, building up life in the soil,” Montgomery said.

    His last book, on the same subject, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” was published in 2017.

    For more information, contact Montgomery at bigdirt@uw.edu.


    UW Notebook is a section of the UW News site dedicated to telling stories of the good work done by faculty and staff at the University of Washington. Read all posts here.

    Read More
  • 'Age of A.I.' documentary on YouTube features UW experts
    Tuesday, March 10, 2020

    Researchers at the University of Washington share their expertise on artificial intelligence and data science in “The Age of A.I.,” an online documentary produced and released this winter by YouTube. The series narrated by Robert Downey Jr. looks at how AI could affect everything from health care to the search for extraterrestrial life.

    Pedro Domingos, professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, is a recurring expert who offers commentary in several episodes. In 2015 Domingos published “The Master Algorithm,” a popular book about the promise of artificial intelligence.

    The seventh episode, titled “Saving the World One Algorithm at a Time,” features the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. After looking at elephant poaching and new plant-based foods, the segment looks at how seismologists are collecting and processing data to warn of incoming earthquakes along the Cascadia subduction zone. (Domingos first appears in the episode here, and the earthquake segment begins here.)

    three people stare at graph on screen

    A scene in episode seven of “The Age of A.I.” inside the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s lab on the UW campus.YouTube 'Age of A.I.'

    Harold Tobin, director of the PNSN and a professor of Earth and space sciences, strolls through downtown Seattle and discusses the challenges and prospects for long-term earthquake prediction. Paul Bodin, research professor of Earth and space scienc es, desc ribes how the UW system identifies shaking generated by seismic events, and Doug Gibbons, a field engineer and lab coordinator with the PNSN, shows off a seismic monitoring station near the Space Needle.

    The series can be streamed free with advertisements, or ad-free for YouTube subscribers. Earlier episodes have been viewed millions of times.

    Read More
  • Reducing your carbon footprint -- and your pet's carbon paw print | KUOW
    Friday, February 28, 2020
    KUOW interviews a local resident about her carbon footprint -- and her pet's carbon paw print. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is interviewed. Read More
  • Viral video researcher reveals the fascinating glacier science behind it | Inverse
    Thursday, February 20, 2020
    Apart from the strange acoustics, the video of an "ice drop," shot on a glacier in Antarctica, tells a bigger story about Earth's climate. Peter Neff, a postdoctoral researcher in Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More