Skip to main content Skip to navigation
CAS in the Media Arts and Sciences Media Headlines

Six WSU faculty named new members of Washington State Academy of Sciences

Mechthild Tegeder.
Tahira Probst.
Jan Dasgupta.

Three members of CAS faculty are among six WSU professors recently elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences (WSAS): Nairanjana Dasgupta, in mathematics and statistics and data analytics; Tahira Probst in psychology; and Mechthild Tegeder in biological sciences.

They are part of the 29-member class of 2023 inductees who join the nonprofit organization with a mission to bring the best available science to bear on issues within the state of Washington.

“WSAS is proud to elevate these exceptional individuals for the many ways in which they have advanced scientific and engineering excellence,” said John Roll, WSAS president and WSU professor and vice dean of research at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “We look forward to engaging them in addressing complex societal challenges not only for the benefit of the citizens of Washington state but for all citizens of the world.”

Find out more

WSU Insider

How Math Has Changed the Shape of Gerrymandering

New tools make it possible to detect hidden manipulation of maps.
Until recently, gerrymandered districts tended to stick out, identifiable by their contorted tendrils. This is no longer the case. Without the telltale sign of an obviously misshapen district to go by, mathematicians have been developing increasingly powerful statistical methods for finding gerrymanders. These work by comparing a map to an ensemble of thousands or millions of possible maps. If the map results in noticeably more seats for Democrats or Republicans than would be expected from an average map, this is a sign that something fishy might have taken place.

But making such ensembles is trickier than it sounds, because it isn’t feasible to consider all possible maps — there are simply too many combinations for any supercomputer to count. A number of recent mathematical advances suggest ways to navigate this impossibly large space of possible simulations, giving mathematicians a reliable way to tell fair from unfair.

Daryl DeFord.

One advance came in 2019, when a group of researchers was working on a better way to draw a new district map for the Virginia House of Delegates. The previous year, a federal court had ruled that 11 districts in Virginia’s map were unconstitutional because they concentrated Black residents in a way that diluted their voting strength. Furthermore, Virginia has an unusually strict constraint in its redistricting process: Districts can only deviate in population by 1%. Given that there are 100 state House districts, “that’s a pretty tight bound,” said Daryl DeFord, a mathematician at Washington State University who analyzed the fairness of the Virginia map. It meant that the group couldn’t work at the level of precincts. “Some precincts were basically too big to make a valid plan,” DeFord said. Partitioning the map into smaller census block units didn’t work either. After around 10 million steps, standard flip-based MCMC algorithms “weren’t anywhere close to having representative samples from the whole space,” he said.

So DeFord and his colleagues came up with a way to move through the space more quickly. In order to speedily obtain samples from the entire space of possible maps, they needed to change the district assignment for many precincts at once in a way that preserved the contiguity of the districts. This made each step in the Markov chain more computationally expensive, but it also meant that each step brought them that much closer to the mixing time.

Find out more

Quanta Magazine

Tri-Cities to name street after Hanford cleanup advocate, community philanthropist

The Tri-Cities remembered one of its strongest champions of economic development and most generous donors to community causes, Bob Ferguson, on Thursday, July 6. Ferguson was the first chairman of the Tri-City Development Council, then called “the Tri-Cities Nuclear Industrial Council,” and was a champion for nuclear power, Hanford nuclear reservation site cleanup and economic development in the Tri-Cities.

A year before his death he donated $500,000 to Washington State University Tri-Cities to endow a faculty position in energy and environment as the first step toward launching WSU Tri-Cities Institute for Northwest Energy Futures. It is envisioned by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to become a center recognized globally for its innovation in developing clean energy sources and technology.

Ferguson said when he made the donation that he’d like to see a graduate degree offered for students studying the complex economic, political, technical and social issues of global climate change.

Previously the Ferguson family donated $100,000 to start the William R. Wiley Scholarship for WSU Tri-Cities students. The scholarship honored Ferguson’s friend Wiley, a former Pacific Northwest National Laboratory director, and is helping minority students studying science, technology, engineering, math or nursing in the Tri-Cities.

Find out more

 Tri-City Herald

WSU hosts Data Literacy Playshops program

Seven-year-old George wants to design computer games. Five-year-old Erik hopes to become a policeman. Fourteen-year-old Jaime finds archaeology and history fascinating.

These youngsters and dozens of their peers recently took an important step toward achieving their dreams by participating in the Data Literacy Playshops program hosted by Washington State University data scholars. The youth and family-oriented playshop events introduce K–8 students to ways of recognizing, synthesizing, and utilizing data as a “fourth dimension of literacy.”

Nairanjan 'Jan' Dasgupta.

“As data culture becomes the norm, data literacy needs to be part of basic education from an early age,” said Nairanjana “Jan” Dasgupta, WSU Boeing distinguished professor of science/math education who conceived and created the data playshops. “Increasing children’s level of comfort and understanding about using data helps them recognize the many ways they can and already do make data-based decisions in their daily lives.”

Engaging youth and their families in age-appropriate, data-immersive activities can start conversations, create awareness, and pique positive interest in data — before they might be affected by negative attitudes toward math, Dasgupta said.

The lighthearted and fun hands-on activities focus on storytelling, visualization, and using the word “data” frequently. Participants and their families learn ways to collect and evaluate data and how data can be both used and misused.

Find out more

WSU Insider

Gilman scholarship students heading abroad

Four WSU CAS undergraduates recently received the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship toward study abroad programs of their choice. Cougs will use the funding to study in Taiwan, Italy, Kenya, and Japan.

“The Gilman scholarship is a federally funded initiative and the top study abroad award in higher education,” said Tiffany Prizzi, senior advisor in International Programs-Global Learning. “Besides looking great on a resume, this award is an open door to international opportunities and consideration for post-graduate awards, such as the Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships.

Students receiving the award, their year in school, their major, and their intended study abroad destination are Ryan Lewis, senior, Anthropology and Chinese, one semester in Taiwan; Ramiro Lopez-Guerra, junior, Social Sciences, one month in Florence, Italy; Darya Maysam, junior, Animal Sciences and Mathematics, 6 weeks in Kenya; and Jarely Aragon Ramirez, senior, Linguistics and Political Science, one semester in Nagasaki, Japan. All the students are from Washington state.

Find out more

WSU Insider