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WSU students named finalists in NFL data competition

Namrata Ray.
Jugal Marfatia.

If you’ve never watched American football, it can look like organized chaos. But for Washington State University graduate students Jugal Marfatia and Namrata Ray, looking at data snapshots of plays allowed them to find hidden data inside the chaos. That eventually lead the duo to a trip to Indianapolis later this month for the NFL’s Scouting Combine.

Marfatia, a Ph.D. student in economics and master’s student in statistics at WSU, and Ray, a Ph.D. student in sociology, entered the NFL’s 2020 Big Data Bowl competition to answer a question: when a running back takes a handoff, how many yards should we expect him to gain?

The WSU team were named among six finalists in the collegiate event, earning a trip to the combine.

“We’ll get to meet with coaches and league officials to talk about what we found when breaking down all the data,” Marfatia said.

The NFL posted the contest on Kaggle, an online community of data scientists, and over 2,000 people competed.

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WSU Insider
Daily Fly


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