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College of Arts and Sciences Physics and Astronomy

Origins of Leap Year

Playing leap frog.With 2020 being a Leap Year—a once-every-four-years manifestation created to deal with our imprecise notion of a year being 365 days—WSU experts looked back on the development of the modern calendar.

Ancient civilizations depended on the cosmos above to guide their decisions, said Michael Allen, a senior instructor in physics and astronomy.

“We know from things like Stonehenge that ancient peoples were aware of the motion in the sky and » More …

Dr. Universe: Where does the universe end?

Dr. UniverseWhen you look up at the night sky, it can feel like the universe is a big blanket of stars above you. But unlike a blanket, the universe doesn’t have corners and edges. Far beyond what humans can see, the universe keeps going. As far as humans know, it never stops. To learn more, I went straight to my friend Michael Allen. He is a senior instructor of physics and astronomy at WSU.

The universe is bigger than the biggest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s bigger than » More …

Solar energy really gets rolling

Solar panel manufactured on a flexible roll.WSU physicist Brian Collins explores the nano structures of polymers—large molecules with many repeating units. Most of us know polymers from everyday life as plastics. Because they’re flexible, polymers can be used to make all sorts of electronic devices, such as phones—or solar panels.

Primarily made of carbon, one of the first big success stories for polymers in electronics was » More …

Former Cougar Crew members share life lessons

1973 WSU Cougar Crew on a dock.Out here, among the rolling hills of the Palouse, generations of rowers have pulled hard. They’ve learned life lessons on the Snake River, where conditions can change instantaneously and team work is essential. They’ve forged lifelong friendships. They’ve made memories.

As the Cougar Crew prepares to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversay, a few former WSU oarsmen, including three CAS alumni, shared their stories with » More …

Dr. Universe: Why does the moon have phases?

Dr. UniverseWhen astronomers looked at the night sky long ago, they also wondered about questions just like this one. You know, I was also curious about why the moon looks so different at different times of the month.

I visited with my friend Jose Vazquez, an astronomer at WSU Vancouver, to learn more about it. He said that the way the moon looks to us has to do with two other objects in » More …

Physics and Astronomy celebrates centennial with year of public events

collage of imagesFrom critical early developments in television technology to recent detection of cosmic phenomena in faraway galaxies, WSU physicists have been at the forefront of scientific education, innovation, and discovery for 100 years. This fall, the Department of Physics and Astronomy (P&A) will launch a yearlong series of free, public events to celebrate its long history of achievement and strong foundation for future success. » More …

Dr. Universe: What are shooting stars made of?

Dr. UniverseIf you are anything like me, you probably like watching for shooting stars in the night sky. A shooting star, or a meteor, is usually a small rock that falls into Earth’s atmosphere.

When I went to visit my friend Michael Allen, a senior instructor of astronomy and physics at WSU, he told me a lot of shooting stars are no bigger than a pencil eraser.

“The earth is going to pass a random pebble once in a while and that will make a streak in the sky,” he said. » More …

Four CAS faculty elected to state Academy of Sciences

College of Arts and Sciences, Washington State UniversityIn September, four CAS faculty will join the ranks of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, an organization that advances science in the state and informs public policy.

“It’s a great honor that so many WSU scientists have been recognized by the Washington State Academy of Sciences,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “They’ll be contributing their expertise to some of the most important issues we face in Washington. It’s another way » More …

CAS most-read news stories from 2018

CAS logo on white with border

Life on the moon, the decline of salmon diversity, and assessing the effects of cannabis were among the most newsworthy Washington State University research stories last year, according to a communications office analysis. Five CAS stories graced the top 10, and 19 more rounded out the top 100.

Here are the top CAS research news stories with links to the full story, potential viewership numbers, top outlets in » More …

Dark sky advocate

Night sky outside Stanley, Idaho (via WS Magazine)For billions of years, Earthly life has flourished in a reassuring 24-hour cycle of light and darkness. Over the past century, however, urban skies have grown increasingly clouded with light pollution. The excess light disrupts circadian rhythms, poses safety and health risks, wastes energy, and exacts a sad aesthetic toll as well.

For humans, the stars have long provided a primal connection to the cosmos, inspiring the imagination of artists, philosophers, and scientists throughout history. Today, residents of the Pacific Northwest remain among the few who » More …