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Dear Dr. Universe: Are whales smart?

Whales can learn to do all kinds of amazing things. Humpback whales learn how to blow bubbles and work together to hunt for fish. Dolphins, a kind of toothed whale, teach their babies different sounds. It’s a kind of language the young dolphin will know for life.

Enrico Pirotta.

But to find out just how smart whales really are, I asked my friend Enrico Pirotta, a Washington State University statistical ecologist who studies how blue whales make long journeys across the ocean.

Before he revealed the answer to your question, he shared a bit more about intelligence. Usually people talk about intelligence as the ability to learn something and apply what they learn, he said. It can be tricky to compare our intelligence with other animals, but it’s something some scientists think about.

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Dr. Universe

WSU Vancouver statistician to help international whale conservation effort

Leslie New.

Leslie New, a WSU Vancouver assistant professor of statistics who specializes in the impacts of humans on wildlife, has been named to a scientific panel studying endangered whales found in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Russia’s Sakhalin Island.

New will spend three years on the Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel, an independent scientific advisory body to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. She and her fellow panelists will look for ways to assess and manage the impacts of the region’s oil, gas and fishing industries, evaluate ways to monitor the whale population, and study underwater noise from seismic surveys, vessel traffic and other sources.

It’s a career moment for New, who studied the IUCN in graduate school, wondering at the time how one got involved in its research.

“The goal of my research program has always been the application of statistics to help protect wildlife populations,” she said. “I am excited about being given such a wonderful chance to really put that into practice, building the tools needed to manage an endangered population, while advancing our understanding of science at the same time. It is a wonderful place to be.”

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WSU Insider

WSU Vancouver announces 4 award recipients

Bala Krishnamoorthy.Washington State University Vancouver will present four awards at its spring commencement ceremony for advancing equity, research, student achievement and teaching. Among these recipients is Bala Krishnamoorthy, an associate professor and program leader in mathematics and statistics. He will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence.

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The Columbian

Dr. Universe: How many peas would fit in the sun?

Kimberly Vincent.

Our sun is so massive, you could fit more than one million earths inside of it. To find out how many peas would fit inside the biggest object in our solar system, I decided to ask my friend and mathematician Kimberly Vincent at Washington State University.

The volume of the sun is about 1,410,000,000,000,000 cubic kilometers, or more than 2 million Pacific Oceans.

Using a similar calculation, students estimated you could fit about 141,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 peas in the sun.

We could estimate 141 sextillion peas could fit in the sun.

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Dr. Universe

WSU Tri‑Cities professor honored with regional excellence in teaching award

A curiosity for the world and the yearning to know how it works.

Allan Felsot.

It is what brought Allan Felsot to the world of science and it is what inspired in him an interest and passion for teaching and academia at the college level. He brings this passion to his students, which is what has led to Felsot earning a regional teaching award.

Felsot, the academic director for the math and science sector of the College of Arts and Sciences at Washington State University Tri-Cities and professor of entomology, was recently announced as the recipient of the Pacific branch of the Entomological Society of America’s award for excellence in teaching.

The award honors educators at the university or community college level who have excelled through innovations in developing new courses, programs and teaching methods in the field of entomology and the sciences.

“If you were to ask me to name an instructor that has had one of the greatest impacts in my entire academic a career, I would answer Dr. Allan S. Felsot,” said alumna Yessica Carnley. “The dedication and commitment that he has to his students and to the proliferation of knowledge is one that is rarely encountered. One of the greatest lessons I learned in his courses was to question everything and to answer your own questions through proper research and testing, if possible.”

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WSU Insider