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Dr. Universe: How does the moon glow?

Our moon is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. But unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn’t produce its own light.

Light can travel in lots of different ways. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon’s surface.

Julie Menard
Julie Menard

That’s what I found out from my friend Julie Menard, a geologist and researcher in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, who studies what makes up the rocky planets in our solar system.

If you look through binoculars or a telescope, you might even be able to see some lunar rays coming out of the moon’s craters, she said. These craters are places where asteroids or meteorites hit the moon long ago. The rays are formed by rocks and dust and other stuff that got blown out of the crater by a meteorite. You might also see some lighter, brighter spots on the moon, which are signs of newer impacts.

Menard also reminded me about a common object a lot of us use: mirrors. She said that during the Apollo missions, astronauts actually left behind some mirrors on the surface of the moon.

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Dr. Universe

Teaching old bears new tricks

Joy Erlenbach.
Erlenbach

Training adult grizzly bears to give blood turned out to be much easier than Joy Erlenbach imagined.

The Washington State University graduate student, along with Bear Center manager Brandon Hutzenbiler, trained the WSU Grizzly Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center’s two adult males to give blood in less than a month.

“It was surprisingly easy,” Erlenbach said. “These bears have never been touched before by people, and they’ve been at the Center for over a decade. But they just got it right away. It was awesome.”

John and Frank, the two adult male bears, came to WSU from Yellowstone, so they’re not as comfortable around people as the bears that were bottle-raised at the center.

The center has 11 bears total, and the seven bottle-raised bears have long been trained for blood draws. But until now, the four bears from the wild had to be anesthetized for their regular blood work.

“Having them trained is so much less stressful on them,” Erlenbach said. “And these regular blood checks are important for us to monitor their health and make sure they’re getting the best care possible.”

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WSU Insider

Fulbright takes environmental science professor to Brazil in search of plastics in food

Alex Fremier.
Fremier

While shocking images of floating islands of plastic trash in the world’s oceans cause widespread alarm, a more insidious threat to ecological and human health may be the nearly invisible microplastics in local waters, according to Alex Fremier, a riparian ecologist at Washington State University.

Tiny bits of plastic, measuring less than five millimeters, that enter the food chain, or web, can pose direct physical and chemical harm to numerous organisms, including humans, Fremier said.

“We need to understand more about microplastics and their potential health risks with released toxins,” he said.

In July, he will go to Belém, Brazil, through a four‑month Fulbright Global Scholar Award, to collect water, fish and sediment samples in the Lower Amazon River Basin with the aim of learning where microplastics occur in the regional web of human food.

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WSU Insider

Scientists seek DNA clues in the environment to help threatened amphibians

Helping preserve rare, threatened amphibians, scientists at Washington State University are launching a $1.4 million effort to unobtrusively find and study them through the environmental traces of their DNA.

Caren Goldberg.
Goldberg

Leading a team of researchers at WSU and partner institutions, Caren Goldberg, assistant professor in WSU’s School of the Environment, studies environmental DNA, or eDNA—genetic material sampled from soil or water rather than directly from an organism.

Supported by a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, her team is developing new eDNA techniques to reveal and understand endangered amphibians on military bases across the nation.

Drawing water from ponds and streams, Goldberg filters trace cells and tiny cellular fragments bearing DNA—genetic code from native frogs and salamanders.

Those samples not only identify the animals who live in these waters, they hold the potential to tell scientists much more—secrets that can help find and protect threatened wild species and allow wildlife and people to more easily coexist.

As predators of pest insects, and as prey themselves for other wildlife, amphibians keep our environment in balance. Compounds in their skin could hold the key for future cures for cancer and bacterial infection. However, with roughly a third of the world’s amphibian species under threat of extinction, many of these animals are becoming hard to find.

“Too often, searching for rare amphibians means that you’re turning over rocks and other parts of their habitat to look for them,” she said. “Although we move those rocks and plants back where they were, you never quite recreate that microhabitat. Using eDNA is a way to find rare species without destroying their homes.”

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WSU Insider

3 CAS faculty awarded WSU seed grants

Washington State University has awarded 10 New Faculty Seed Grants (NFSG) to encourage the development of research, scholarly, or creative programs. The program supports projects that will significantly contribute to the researchers’ long range goals by kick-starting a more complex project or idea. The seed funding to junior faculty helps build the foundation for their research programs, allowing recipients to gather preliminary data, build collaborations, or establish creative programs. The funding also effectively provides a basis for faculty to seek extramural funding as well as opportunities for professional growth.

The Office of Research, the Office of the President, and the Office of the Provost fund the NFSG program. The 10 proposals selected this year represent the range of scholarly activity taking place at WSU. The total amount of grant funding is $212,524.

Awarded faculty and their projects include:

  • Deepti Singh, School of the Environment, will analyze the influence of multiple climate factors that govern the extent, severity, and duration of the impacts wildfires have on air quality and water resources.
  • Joe Hedges, Department of Fine Arts, will create and exhibit a new body of innovative intermedia art works that combine oil painting and new media objects, such as flatscreen televisions and tablets.
  • Rock Mancini, Department of Chemistry, will develop a new type of reaction to generate synthetic-biologic hybrids, enabling the synthesis of many new biomolecule therapeutics.

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WSU Insider