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Washington State University
College of Arts and Sciences Environment

Exo-planets may be better for life than Earth

Artist’s depiction of an Earth-size planet.Earth is not necessarily the best planet in the universe. Researchers have identified two dozen planets outside our solar system that may have conditions more suitable for life than our own. Some of these orbit stars that may be better than even our sun.

The 24 top contenders for superhabitable planets are all more than 100 light years away, but results from a recent study could help focus future observation efforts, such as from NASA’s James Web Space Telescope, the LUVIOR » More …

A world without insects?

Insect Illustration.Over the past couple of decades an increasing number of reports have warned of dramatic declines in insect populations worldwide. Faced with data sufficient to cause grave concern, WSU scientists embrace a mixture of trust in insect resilience and a determination that despair is not an option.

Referring to her efforts to restore pollinator habitat and rebuild threatened butterfly populations, WSU Vancouver conservation biologist Cheryl Schultz says, “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think there was hope.” » More …

Dr. Universe: What is a sinkhole? What causes one?

Dr. Universe: a cat in a lab coatSinkholes can be scary to think about. They don’t happen too often, but when they do, they can take people by surprise. The solid ground disappears, and a hole suddenly appears.

It might seem like sinkholes appear out of nowhere. But they actually need specific conditions to form.

To have a sinkhole, you first must have a cave. » More …

Styrofoam-eating mealworms could be safe for dinner

Mealworms in a wooden bowl.Brenden Campbell, a master’s student in the School of the Environment, won recognition from the Comparative Nutrition Society for virtually presenting research on a recently discovered ability in mealworms. In his WSU undergraduate honors research project, Campbell found that the larvae can safely eat polystyrene waste, discarded polymers better known by their trade name of Styrofoam.

At the society’s virtual conference in summer 2020, Campbell received the Best Poster Oral and Q&A Award for » More …

Bear butter: Studying tiny moths as a rich food source

Grizzly bear and cub.A team of international scientists led by a WSU graduate student are trekking the high peaks of the greater Glacier National Park ecosystem this summer to better understand a tiny but important food source for grizzly bears—the army cutworm moth.

Erik Peterson, a master’s student in the School of the Environment, partnered with WSU professor Daniel Thornton and seven colleagues to collect data, map, and model the alpine habitats where grizzlies forage on moths by the thousands, finding calorie-rich meals in » More …

Mt. St. Helens: Lessons learned

Mount St. Helens.In the days after Mount St. Helens first erupted—sending some 540 million tons of ash over an area of 22,000 square miles—WSU ecology professor Richard “Dick” Mack was already thinking of its potential research value.

“It wasn’t research that I intended to do,” Mack says, “but there was a unique opportunity and it would be remiss of me to ignore it.” He and a group of graduate students spent the summer of 1980 doing field work between Pullman and Vantage, studying the effects of the ash on vegetation—particularly native plants, such as » More …

Defending against invasive mussels

Mussels covering hydro dam equipment.So far, the Columbia River Basin, which spans an area the size of France and includes portions of seven states and parts of Canada, is the only major river basin in the United States that hasn’t been impacted by invasive quagga or zebra mussels. Researchers in the Aquatic Ecology Lab at WSU Vancouver are developing strategies to help keep it that way.

Preventing new introductions, quickly detect new arrivals, and controlling the bivalves’ spread is not an easy task: females can produce a million eggs a year and the size of larvae » More …

Crimson Spirit Award: Michelle Hendrickson

Michelle Hendrickson.Michelle Hendrickson, a fiscal analyst with the School of the Environment, received a 2020 Crimson Spirit recognition.

As one of her four nominators explained, “She is kind, tenacious, attentive to details, and displays a superior Crimson spirit. She maintains calm under pressure and exceeds all expectations, by continuously seeking knowledge to better serve the WSU community in and outside of SOE.” » More …

Mt. St. Helens: next generation of research

Mount St. Helens.When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, it leveled more than 230 square miles of forest, but it also opened a rare scientific opportunity to study how an ecosystem responds after an extreme disturbance.

WSU ecologists John Bishop and Mark Swanson have been involved in Mount St. Helens long-term research for decades and are preparing for the next generation of work. They each focus on different areas affected by the blast. No matter how severe the damage on the landscape, life has found a way to return and brought valuable » More …

Faculty recognized for teaching excellence

CAS logo on white with borderSeventeen CAS faculty members from 9 academic areas and 3 campuses are among the newest members of the WSU President’s Teaching Academy, the institution’s premier organization dedicated to teaching excellence.

Members “are all committed to delivering outstanding teaching experiences to our students and advancing the practice of great teaching,” said Clif Stratton, chair. » More …