10 Things We Learned in 2015

2015 has been a productive year at the University of Oregon as investigators continue to expand the university's research footprint. Looking back over the exciting discoveries and gains in knowledge made over the past year we found the highlights cover themes as varied as mapping animal migration routes, discovering new evidence of early human occupation, and examining how the brain transforms sound.

New insights on arsenic cycling

According to University of Oregon geologist Qusheng Jin, organic arsenic levels should not be ignored. Jin initially labeled his theory "A Wild Hypothesis." Now his study of arsenic cycling in a southern Willamette Valley aquifer is splashing with potential significance for arsenic-compromised aquifers around the world.

UO InfoGraphics Lab a key partner in mapping mule deer migration

Twice a year mule deer migrate an incredible 150 miles from their winter range in Wyoming's Red Desert to their summer grounds near Jackson, Wyoming. In the process, the deer cross a checkerboard of federal, state and private lands. Researchers captured and collared deer to learn exactly where they go, what they eat and how healthy they are. The UO InfoGraphics lab has partnered with the Wyoming Migration Initiative to map this discovery of the longest mule deer migration in the world in order to help elevate awareness of this ecological phenomenon.

Oregon’s “Tantalizing” Evidence of Human Occupation

Beneath a layer of undisturbed ash from an eruption of Mt. St. Helens some 15,800 years ago, an excavation team led by UO archaeologist Patrick O'Grady uncovered a tool made of orange agate. This tantalizing early discovery is likely more than 15,800 years old, suggesting the oldest human occupation west of the Rockies.

Capturing the symmetry of movement

How do our brains allow us to smile and breathe? A recent study by UO’s Chris Doe has revealed how a special network of neurons in fruit fly larvae helps carry out essential motor functions. The discovery could eventually lead to treatments for motor-system disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and to the construction of robotic devices that compensate rapidly to changes in terrain.

Explosive volcanoes fueled by water

UO geologists studied water and other elements they pulled from surface rocks on cinder cones surrounding Mount Lassen. From their analyses, they discovered that water being released from rocks sinking into the Earth's mantle play a role in forming lava that rises into fiery volcanic eruptions in the Cascade Range. According to UO geologist Paul Wallace, "Water is a key player...the big volcanoes that we have in the Cascades — like Mount Lassen and Mount St. Helens — tend to erupt explosively, in part because they have lots of water." 

In the battle of the sexes, a single night with a New York male can be enough to kill

It turns out that living in New York really is bad for your health, particularly if you’re a female Caenorhabditis remanei, a type of nematode (worm). In the battle of the sexes, male C. remanei developed sperm that can kill their partners after 24 hours to prevent them from mating with other partners.

These scientists are preparing for killer cars.

What if your car decided that it was better for you to die than to cause an accident that might kill two other people? UO’s Azim Shariff was recently featured in a story by the Washington Post about his new study examining ethics in self-driving cars.

UO-led effort on fractal-based nerve connections receives a patent

UO’s Richard Taylor recently received a broad U.S. patent for using artificial fractal-based implants to restore sight to the blind—part of a far-reaching concept that won an innovation award this year from the White House. Fractals are objects with irregular shapes and curves, and, according to Taylor, they could help neurons bind to the electronics to exchange information.

When it comes to the brain processing sound, timing is everything

When we hear a sound, the neurons in the lower region of the brain fire in sync with the sound’s rhythm, almost exactly encoding its original structure in the timing of their spikes. That was one of the takeaways from a study co-written by UO neuroscientist Michael Wehr that appeared in the journal Neuronn. In examining how the brain transforms sound into information, Wehr and his team showed how two brain systems in mammals cooperate to code sound information. The study provides a glimpse into how circuits deep within the brain give rise to our perception of the world.

Yeah, there might be GHOST particles

An 18-member team of theoretical particle physicists, including the UO's Graham Kribs, has devised a new model of naturally stealthy dark matter that may help explain the universe's missing mass. Stealth dark matter is something we can’t see or observe and it can, in fact, be even stranger than we first thought. These particles combine with nice, friendly, everyday matter to form mysterious, nearly invisible particles that carry a small electric charge. Right now, the team is preparing for the next run of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to look for evidence of—or rule out—their theory.