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WSU PhD researcher makes it back into the states

Travis King.

Travis King, a Ph.D. student and researcher in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, is back home after the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak forced him to shelter in Honduras.

“From getting to the airport in Honduras to getting out of the airport in Spokane was about 30 hours,” King explained.

King has spent the last four years living in Central America studying big cats and large mammals. When the coronavirus forced him to evacuate back to the states, he had to go through a long process before departing the country.

It wasn’t until Thursday when a commercial flight through United finally got him in the air and brought him to Houston before catching a later flight to Spokane.

With all of his traveling, he’s decided to self isolate for the next 14 days as he adjusts to being back home.
He’s unsure when he’ll be able to go back to Honduras for his research. In the meantime, he’ll focus on logistics with his network that’s still in the country.

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Showcase faculty, staff award winners announced

Eight members of CAS faculty were among faculty and staff selected for University-wide, Showcase 2020 awards, which recognize their scholarly achievements and professional acumen. They are:

Katie Cooper.Association for Faculty Women Samuel H. Smith Leadership Award
Catherine “Katie” Marguerite Cooper
School of the Environment


Donald Matteson.Emeritus Society Legacy of Excellence Award
Don Matteson
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry


Kimberly Christen.Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award
Kim Christen
Digital Technology and Culture Program/Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation


Janet Peters.
Chris Dickey.

President’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Instructors and Clinical Faculty
Janet M. Peters
Department of Psychology
Chris Dickey
School of Music

Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award – Leadership
Stephen Bollens
School of Biological Sciences and School of the Environment/Meyer’s Point Environmental Field Station


Cheryl Schulz.Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award – Outreach & Engagement
Cheryl B. Schultz
School of Biological Sciences


Greg Yasinitsky.Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award – Research, Scholarship & Arts
Gregory W. Yasinitsky
School of Music


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WSU Insider


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

Sinkholes 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.

Kurtis Wilkie.

“You can think of a sinkhole as the end of the life cycle of a cave,” Kurtis Wilkie, senior instructor of Geology at Washington State University, explained. He is very interested in how Earth’s features form over long periods of time.

Wilkie said caves often occur in rock called limestone. Limestone is made mostly of calcium carbonate (the same substance that makes up seashells!).

“We’re talking not just thousands of years, maybe millions of years. It’s not as if you start the process now and then 10 years or 100 years from now you have a cave. It takes a very long time,” Wilkie said.

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Ask Dr. Universe


In Louisville and dozens of cities east of the Mississippi, winter never really happened

Here and across much of the Eastern United States, dozens of cities experienced a “meteorological winter” — the three months from December through February — that ranked among their 10 warmest on record.

Deepti Singh.

Deepti Singh, a climate scientist in the School of the Environment at Washington State University Vancouver, said the Arctic Oscillation has been in an unusually strong positive phase this winter, which has resulted in a strong polar vortex that’s kept Arctic air trapped up north.

That’s a contrast to some recent winters, when a weaker polar vortex has allowed frigid air to descend, resulting in extremely cold days and strong snowstorms across portions of the United States, she said.

Even when there are cold air outbreaks associated with a weak polar vortex, the cold air coming from the Arctic regions over the Eastern U.S. is warmer than it was a couple of decades ago, Singh said.

Overall, with climate change, she said, spring is generally coming sooner, colder seasons are warming faster “and we are getting fewer extreme cold events.”

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Courier Journal

Life on Mars? Organic molecules discovered on the red planet by NASA Curiosity rover are ‘consistent with alien life’

Organic molecules present in truffles, coal and oil on Earth have been identified on the surface of Mars and may hint at the presence of alien life on the red planet.

These chemicals, called thiophenes, are important molecules as they contain both carbon and sulphur — two ingredients essential for life.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch.

Washington State University Dirk Schulze-Makuch, astrobiologist in the School of the Environment looked into how thiophenes came to exist on Mars.

Their findings, published in the journal Astrobiology, indicate the chemicals were likely produced by biological processes and not chemical reactions.

“We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof,” Schulze-Makuch said.

“If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher.”

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