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Phyllis Eide Receives Mentor Academy Award for Excellence

By Cheryl Reed

The WSU Graduate School has awarded Associate Professor Phyllis Eide the 2017 Graduate School Mentor Academy Award for Excellence for her work in mentoring graduate students. Eide has been a faculty member in the College of Nursing on the WSU Spokane campus since 2002, and a member of the Graduate School Mentor Academy since 2009.

“When I found out I had won the award, I just about fell off my chair,” said Eide. “I am gratified beyond belief. It is one of the highlights of my year.”

The Graduate Mentor Academy is a group of faculty who have volunteered to assist students during the most challenging aspects of their program, including preliminary examinations and defenses. The Graduate School established the Graduate Mentor Academy to provide students an unbiased and supportive presence during exams and defenses—someone to ensure that university policies and procedures are followed and correct protocol is observed. For example, Mentor Academy faculty will collect ballots, make sure that no committee member leaves during a defense, and assist in creating a comfortable test environment for the student.

“Logistically, taking exams and defending can be very difficult for students,” says Bill Andrefsky, dean of the Graduate School. “People in the Graduate School programs department rely on faculty mentors to step up and serve students as advocates, either upon the student’s request, or for a student’s second exam attempt. Dr. Eide is one faculty who has always willingly served graduate students over the years—which is why I established this award last year. Faculty need to be recognized for their service.”

Faculty members volunteer for the Graduate Mentor Academy upon invitation from the Graduate School, and serve for a three-year term—although their term is often renewed.

“Dr. Eide mentored nine different students on two different test retakes this year,” says Mary Stormo, academic coordinator in the Graduate School. “She also met with committees and assisted in negotiating the swirling waters around students who were taking their exams for the second time. She helped work out the exam kinks with the department to ensure that fair testing was in place.”

Eide says that her presence at exams and defenses usually has a calming effect on the student, but that is not her only purpose. She also takes care of other more concrete tasks of the exam and defense process to make sure the process is comfortable and as stress-free as possible.

“I always arrive early to coordinate with the chair,” she says. “At the last event, I contacted the IT Department to make sure that all the technology was working correctly to prepare for electronic testing.”

In spite of the time commitment, Eide says that serving the students has been an honor.

Eide is an associate professor in the WSU College of Nursing in Spokane. She has been certified by American Nurses’ Credentialing Center in advanced practice nursing as a clinical nurse specialist in community health since 1992 and holds a certificate in Decision Making for Climate Change from the University of Washington (2010). Before entering academia in 1992 at University of Hawaii/Hilo, she worked in a wide variety of community settings, including positions in public health, migrant school nurse, Associate Director of Hawaii Nurses’ Association, and vocational rehabilitation. Her primary practice and research interests are rural health, global climate change, and public health.

“It takes a village for this kind of work,” says Eide, who plans to use the Graduate Mentor Academy award to fund her new research on climate change.

Eide will receive her award at the Graduate School Evening of Excellence event on April 13. This is the second year that the Graduate School has awarded the Graduate School Mentor Academy Award for Excellence. In 2016, Lisa McIntyre of the Department of Sociology won the first annual award.

For more information about the Graduate School’s mentor policy and the role of Graduate Mentor Academy members, visit HERE.

Music is His Life

By Amir Gilmore

Although he is already a successful musician and entrepreneur, Chicago native Richard Owens has found value in putting his career on hold to get a graduate education at WSU.

Richard has already generated a lot of buzz composing music and playing his trombone for his own record label. With dedication to music, passion for knowledge, and focus on his craft, Richard has been successfully balancing life as a musician and graduate student in the Kimbrough School of Music at WSU.

Richard has been playing the trombone most of his life. His passion for music comes from his early childhood, when he recalled spending summers with his grandfather, a Korean War veteran. He would take Richard to White Castle, pull out his keyboard, and play music. Since that time, Richard knew music would always be a part of him.

On Career Day in the eighth grade, a guest artist played for the class without any sheet music. Enamored by the artist’s grace and passion for the music, Richard realized that a person could actually make a living playing music.

“For me, that was a spiritual and educational experience. Music is how he made his money. Music is how he paid his bills. Music was his life.”

Since then, music has become Richard’s life. He’s made a decent living traveling around the world, and been fortunate enough to perform and be around high profile musicians like Dr. Joe Sample and Dr. Matthew Knowles. The late Joe Sample, who was a member of the original Jazz Crusaders, is Richard’s greatest inspiration.

“Much of what I learned from Dr. Sample you can’t find in a book,” said Richard. “He taught me how to be artistic in the field of music, as well as recording, engineering, producing great quality music, and overall just being passionate and a good human being.”

Richard met Knowles when he took a class from him as an undergraduate student. Knowles is a professor, talent manager, entrepreneur, and the father of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles. He taught Richard about entrepreneurship within the music industry, such as record label terminology, business terminology, album sales, and digital sales. With the help of these two men, Richard has become a successful musician.

In 2014, Richard signed to GVR Records as a part of a band called The C.I.T.Y., which released an album called #StayTuned in 2015. Richard is also a part of the jazz band the RADS Krusasders II.0, which is based off Sample’s old band, The RAD Crusaders. They released an album called In Session in 2014. Along with alumnus and former professor Horace Alexander Young, Richard is featured in Donna E. Scott’s 2015 album titled, Somehow I Knew,. Most recently, Richard was featured in an advertisement in Downbeat Magazine to promote the WSU’s Jazz Studies Program.

Growing up, Richard was told he would amount to nothing. He wanted to prove that theory wrong and set the expectation bar high for his family—so despite his commercial success, he decided to pursue higher education. Richard came to WSU because of the Graduate School’s Research Assistantships for Diverse Scholars (RADS) program. The purpose of the RADS program is to increase access and opportunities to graduate education for U.S. students from underrepresented communities and to increase graduate student diversity at WSU. The first thing Richard noticed about WSU was the family environment. To him, WSU is home.

“The faculty in the music department, everyone here is like family,” said Richard. “You can easily approach any of the faculty members here. The students are like family, too; we share our ideas with each other.”

Another thing Richard appreciates about WSU is the vast amount of resources.

“The faculty are walking resources that can guide you in the right direction,” he said. Moreover, he noted, WSU is a great place to enhance his practice as a musician with the music library and performance stage at Bryan Hall. By putting his music career on hold and focusing on his education, Richard believes he will be able to learn more than the average musician.

“To have Bryan Hall is amazing because as a performer, there will be a point in time where you will be in atmospheres like this, performing in halls like this.”

Richard is currently finishing this master’s thesis project, which includes three compositions that incorporate West African Afrobeat, Highlife music, and American Western Jazz. His compositions are a hybrid form of jazz that incorporate improvisation and exotic percussion, as well as ethno instruments. Once he finishes his master’s, Richard will continue to work on his label he created in 2010 called Legacy Music Company, operated by he and his brother out of Houston, Texas.

”We’re looking to grow the label and sign other artists,” said Richard. “Making and playing music brings joy to my heart and I want to bring that same joy to other artists, so they, too, can make a living with their music.”


Big Cats, Big Grants, Big Future

By Amir Gilmore

Graduate student Travis King

Imagine, if you can, a world with no cougars. That thought worried WSU graduate student Travis King because he understands the risk extinction would have on our ecosystem.

The extinction of big cats like cougars and jaguars could have a giant impact on our ecosystem—a worldwide risk aggravated by the degradation of the big cats’ habitat and conflict with humans. Travis took up a passion for studying animals in their natural habitat at a young age, and came to WSU as an undergrad in 2011 to focus his research interest.

Under the mentorship of his WSU advisor, Dr. Daniel Thornton, Travis has been conducting a statewide occupancy survey of the Canadian Lynx in Washington state for his master’s degree. For his Ph.D., Travis will be conducting a landscape genetic study across Honduras on jaguars, cougars and ocelots.

Thornton runs the Spatial Mammalogy Lab at WSU, working with different large animals on large scales in their natural habitat. What Travis enjoys about Dr. Thornton is the support he gives and the freedom he allows for students to create ideas.

“Dr. Thornton has been very supportive in finding opportunities for his students and allowing us to push forward and come up with our own unique ideas to fascinating,” says Travis. “And we have the potential to do amazing work in different areas of the world to answer these questions.”

Travis was an undergraduate when he first met Thornton, when looking for an opportunity to create a research project on big cats and apex predators. The mentorship began when Travis found out that he and Thornton had similar interests. Finding funding through multiple sources at WSU, Travis and Thornton spent a summer studying ocelot behavior in Costa Rica with members of Panthera – a non-governmental organization that conducts international big cat research and conservation. From that initial project, Thornton approached Travis about being a graduate student in his lab.

Travis is working on his master’s and doctoral degrees simultaneously in natural resource sciences and wildlife ecology. To collect the data for his master’s project on the Canadian Lynx, he places trail-cams throughout the mountainous forests of Washington state to detect their movement. Trail cams are small cameras placed on trails and roads that automatically take photos when an animal moves past it. By the time the pictures are collected, there are typically thousands—including not just lynx, but also mule deer, wolves, black bears, and cougars.

Grants, Awards, and Hard Work

Since arriving at WSU, Travis has won a number of prestigious awards such as the Fulbright Fellowship for U.S. students, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP), and the Kaplan Graduate Award.

“Attending the NSF-GRFP workshop here at WSU really helped during the funding process,” says Travis. “The workshops on campus allowed me to meet and talk to past winners about the ins and outs of the process and how you should go about applying for grants.”

With his passion for international research, these funding sources are going to allow Travis to travel around the world and conduct research. So far he has been to Belize, Costa Rica, and will be going to Honduras for the next four years on his jaguar, cougar and ocelot project.

“My advice on getting funded is to be persistent,” says Travis. “The door may shut in your face along the way, but students should start going after these grants that can fund their graduate career. Being able to find even small funding sources allows you to continue to move forward that can help open doors for other sources of funding for your research.”

A North Dakota native, Travis chose WSU because of its research emphasis and great community atmosphere. He completed his undergraduate degree in zoology from WSU in 2015.

“I found that WSU had a community that allowed me to get involved with research at an early stage in my undergraduate career, but also had a support network to continue my career on into my graduate work,” says Travis

With the help of financial support through grants and awards, strong faculty mentorship, and the ability to conduct research abroad, Travis can foresee multiple options for his future.

“I can imagine staying within academia doing a postdoc, or working for a private organization to find ways to balance apex predator conservation and societal needs,” says Travis.

Whatever his choice, Travis’s journey at Washington State University has provided him a way to make a big difference in the world.

Mitigating the Impact of Sexual Violence

By Cheryl Reed


Amber Morczek could be the poster child for doing something better with your life in spite of the fetters of family history. Her work at WSU has catapulted her towards a career that looks a bit different than she originally thought.

In 2011, prompted by a father who nurtured in her a love for education, Amber uprooted herself from a New York family tree pocked with poverty, trauma, criminality, and addiction–and replanted herself at Washington State University Pullman to pursue a Ph.D. in criminal justice and criminology.

Since arriving at WSU, Amber has won a number of awards and become a gender scholar and content expert on rape culture and sexual violence. She has also been involved in correctional education at a local prison and become a sought-after speaker, receiving invitations from prominent institutions. Her dissertation examines the elements of rape culture within Internet pornography and its relationship to violence towards women. The connection between pornography and violence toward women is a topic most find thought-provoking, but few know how to approach. Amber hopes to change this by creating a safe space for dialog to make change. Her engaging and educational presentations are delivered with passion and humor.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to present information to the public in a palatable way where attendees feel comfortable discussing issues that may fall slightly outside their comfort zones,” says Amber, who has 10 speaking engagements scheduled from June, 2016 through February, 2017.

Delivering the Message

Amber was recently invited to speak at Syracuse University, not far from where she grew up—an invitation particularly meaningful to her. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in criminal justice from SUNY College at Buffalo, she had always viewed Syracuse enviously from afar.

“After growing up the way I did, it felt like a very big deal to be contacted to speak at a prominent institution like Syracuse University,” she says. Amber will be speaking at SUNY Polytechnic Institute on October 3 and Syracuse University on October 4 on pornography and normalizing the relationship between violence and sex.

Moreover, it was partially because of her history that Amber became interested in corrections and now volunteers at prisons across Washington State, presenting at places like the Washington State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. She says that her life experiences prepared her to interact well with those behind the walls.

“I often preface my presentations by telling the inmates that we probably have a lot more in common than they may think,” she says.

Having been invited to present more than 20 keynote addresses, webinars, and presentations since 2014, Amber’s most recent surge in invitations actually began at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington, where she participated in a Prison Debate Project. The program took WSU criminal justice undergraduate students and partnered them with students getting AA degrees at Coyote Ridge. The benefits were two-fold: WSU undergraduates were able to get hands-on experience within a prison setting, and inmate students were able to extend their education by working with those going to college on the outside.

“The impetus for the program was to help inmates learn and actually practice skills that would help them integrate back into society,” says Amber. “After all, it’s well documented that prison-based education benefits inmates both while in prison and upon release.” In June, Amber volunteered to speak to the inmates about overcoming adversity to achieve success—and has since begun filling her calendar with speaking engagements, including a recent talk here on the WSU Pullman campus for the Common Reading Program.

Serving the Local Community

On September 7, Amber presented the inaugural lecture for the Common Reading program’s year-long consideration of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir I am Malala. Her talk, titled, “The Synergistic Connection Between Rape Culture and Violence Toward Women,” garnered positive responses from students such as, “I LOVED THIS! So good. I love her, she is AMAZING. This was so great I’m glad we talked about real world issues. I wish I had classes like this.”

Karen Weathermon, co-chair of the Common Reading Program, said in a letter to Amber, “You struck a chord with the students who attended your presentation. The material you presented was excellent and an important perspective to bring to the issues of gender violence in our book—but it was your skill in presenting that pushed your presentation way above the ordinary. That you so completely engaged students around a difficult topic speaks volumes about your strengths as a presenter and teacher.”

Amber generally begins her presentations with a brief overview of the rape culture that normalizes, condones, minimizes, satirizes, and eroticizes violence toward women. Her talks are sex positive, candid, and interactive discussions on what mainstream pornography teaches about sexual violence and what we can do to mitigate the impact.

“Research indicates that viewing pornography has measurable effects on both attitudes and behaviors,” says Amber. “But unfortunately there are very few safe spaces with which to have a candid discussion about the impact – especially via a sex positive lens.”

Not only is Amber a prominent speaker, she is widely published and the recipient of numerous awards. Her research is published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Family & Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly, the International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Sexuality & Culture, and 3 front page manuscripts in The Sexual Assault Report. Her 2016 awards include the President’s Award for Leadership, the Outstanding Student Award from the Division of Student Affairs, the Arnold & Julia Greenwell Memorial Scholarship for Social Sciences and Humanities from the Graduate School, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award. Prior awards include the 2015 Outstanding Service Award from her department, the 2014 Karen P. DePauw Leadership Award from the Graduate School, the 2014 Women of Recognition Award from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award from her Department and the 2009 Morgan Graduate Award from SUNY College at Buffalo.

“Every aspect of Amber’s existence is dedicated to making the world a better place for men and women,” says Faith Lutze, associate professor in criminal justice and criminology, and Amber’s faculty advisor. “She encourages people to act when they may have turned away.”

Amber is a transplant. From a broken family to a new life with purpose planted in the rivers of education and research, she is now directed toward giving, leading, educating, and creating a better world. Amber’s research and work at Washington State University is advancing social justice and improving education, and her life is a testament to the hope that change is always possible, no matter your roots.

Find out more about graduate programs at Washington State University at

A Passion for Predators: From T-Rex to Insects

By Cheryl Reed

Doctoral student Joseph Taylor lights up when he talks about bugs.

From his undergraduate work at Washington and Lee University in Virginia to his graduate work here at Washington State University, his research on insect predators has already resulted in some substantial success, including the recent award of a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Although he is passionate about insects now, Joseph’s journey initially started with excitement over a much larger predator.

“When I was a kid I loved dinosaurs, especially the T-Rex,” he said. “I wanted to become a paleontologist until I disappointingly found out that dinosaurs were extinct. I wanted a career that involved live animals, not dead ones.”

Joseph carried his interest in animals to Washington and Lee University—but he quickly became frustrated that most of the introductory-level biology courses were pre-med focused. It wasn’t until he took a course from his advisor, Dr. Lawrence Hurd, that he gained a fascination with insects. He realized that insects are diverse and numerous and their systems operate similar to most other animals.

“I had no idea how much I would love insects,” said Joseph. “I was completely converted.”

Joseph earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in Russian language and culture from Washington and Lee. While there he conducted three years of research, which resulted in two publications with a third well underway. His research was on the praying mantis, a feisty little predator with a triangular head that pivots like a cat. The upright position and folding forearms of the insect led to its nickname, which is a bit of a misnomer for a creature known to practice cannibalism and prey on animals larger than itself.

“I saw a video once of a praying mantis attacking a snake,” says Joseph. “During my research, I had to raise scores of them, and they’re actually kind of like tiny kittens when they’re young.  They groom themselves like a cat, and can see you from about 20 feet away. But as adults they’re more like a T-Rex. Honestly, if I shrunk down to the size of an adult praying mantis, it would happily eat me.”

Now a doctoral student in Dr. William Snyder’s lab here at Washington State University, Joseph is studying Carabid beetles, commonly known as ground beetles. A group of formidable and ravenous predators, the ground beetles’ role in agriculture is extremely beneficial, feeding on insects that can potentially destroy crops. However, ground beetles can be very indiscriminate, consuming smaller crop-friendly beetles. Joseph is looking for ways to help these insect predators do their jobs better in order to eventually move away from broad spectrum pesticides. His NSF grant proposal focused on this research.

The Grant Proposal

During his first semester at WSU last fall, Joseph talked with his advisor about writing a proposal for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship—a program that supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields. Joseph received significant guidance from his advisor on writing the proposal, and felt confident of its strength when he mailed it off. In March he was excited when he received notification of the fellowship award.

In addition to the NSF Fellowship, Joseph was also awarded an ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) scholarship. This scholarship, supported by the ARCS Seattle Chapter, supports the best and brightest doctoral students in STEM disciplines at both WSU and the UW. Washington State University has been a member of the ARCS Foundation since 2000 and currently helps fund 36 doctoral students. Students for this scholarship are nominated by their department.

Why WSU?

In 2015, the Graduate School invited Joseph to visit WSU on its Research Assistantship for Diverse Scholars (RADS) program, which is intended to increase graduate student diversity. The RADS awards are funded through a partnership of the Graduate School and the department/program of the prospective student. Hurd, Joseph’s advisor at Washington and Lee, had been Snyder’s undergraduate advisor and was familiar with his research in the Department of Entomology at WSU. He encouraged Joseph to consider a doctoral program here. After Joseph reached out to WSU and expressed an interest, he was invited for a RADS visit based upon his prior academic achievement.

“When I arrived in Pullman for the visit, I instantly liked the campus,” said Joseph. “The people in Dr. Snyder’s laboratory were all really friendly—I was surprised that a university the size of WSU seemed like such a close community. I was also ready to do something different—to get away and trying something new.”

Although born in California, Joseph spent the majority of his life on the east coast. His mother was in the Army, which moved the family fairly regularly. He and his twin brother played football in high school and also for Washington and Lee University, where they both played safety. Because of his athletic background, Joseph enjoys being at a university and a community full of sports fans—but he also enjoys sitting in the stadium seats instead of playing on the field.

“My body is much happier. It’s nice to see someone get tackled on the field and know it won’t be me hurting the next day,” he laughed.

But to assuage his competitive drive and vigor, Joseph has taken up fencing, something he’s always been interested in. “It’s been a lot of fun and helps get rid of that excess energy,” he said.

What started as a passion for dinosaurs has evolved into an exciting career in entomology for Joseph. Ultimately, his fully funded research may help create more efficient and less invasive solutions for farmers resulting in a healthier and more reliable food supply for the world.

Joseph hopes to work for the USDA on pest management after earning his doctoral degree. Eventually, he would like to return to academia and continue to broaden his knowledge about the complex interactions between insect predators and their prey.

Research & Mentoring: A Dynamic Duo that Spells Success

By Amir Gilmore

With 13 scholarships and awards, four peer-reviewed journal articles, and 24 conference presentations to her name, Spokane local and recent doctoral graduate Chrystal Quisenberry exudes hard work, commitment, and dedication. Because of her devotion to scholarship and public service, Chrystal was recently the recipient of the Harriett B. Rigas Award, presented to outstanding doctoral students who emanate exceptional performance in their academics, teaching and mentoring, and service to the community.

As a first-year graduate student, I found Chrystal’s experience at WSU impactful. Her focus on research paired with her devotion to mentoring are characteristics that many students inspire to.

Chrystal began attending WSU for her undergraduate degree in 2008, when she met Dr. Nehal Abu-Lail, the professor who would later became her mentor. Chrystal attributes her success to Abu-Lail’s mentorship.

“She encouraged me to work on my PhD with her on a project I had expressed interest in,” said Chrystal. “Not only is she an academic advisor, she encourages me to figure out what I want because she believes I can achieve what I want. It’s individuals like her who can really make a difference in a person’s life.”

Chrystal graduated this spring from the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. Her research aims to progress joint disease treatment by focusing on articular cartilage tissue engineering. By growing adult stem cells into cartilage cells in a bioreactor, Chrystal was able to create tissue that has the same mechanical and functional properties as native tissue. This research is crucial because of the number of people who suffer from joint disease.

“Although more than 27 million people in the U.S. suffer from the joint disease osteoarthritis, current treatments do not restore the full functions of that tissue,” Chrystal said.

As an undergraduate student, Chrystal was a Cougar of Color Ambassador, where she worked with underrepresented undergraduate prospective students. As a graduate student, she informally mentored students who expressed interest. For example, while in the laboratory Chrystal provided guidance to Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering undergraduates. Through her servant leadership, she convinced students to further their education and attend graduate school. She also volunteered for events that encouraged science and research, such as the Seattle Science Festival. She was also a judge for the Future Cities Competiton and sat on a career panel for the Cougar Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE), which is research tutorial program designed to help undergraduates pursue a career in research.

For more information about the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering click here.

About the writer
Amir Gilmore is a doctoral student in Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education and a graduate assistant in the Graduate School.

When Black Holes Collide: A graduate student’s role in the detection of gravitational waves

By Cheryl Reed

Washington State University graduate student Bernard Hall was part of a team of WSU physicists who contributed to the recent detection of gravitational waves in space, confirming a theory posed by Einstein about 100 years ago. The gravitational wave detection is significant because it provides a new window into space, telling the story of the origins of the universe and the nature of gravity. The wave is believed to be the result of two black holes, 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, which collided in the southern hemisphere about 1.3 billion years ago. The energy generated from the collision was about 50 times that of the entire universe, rippling through space and creating a blip on the radar of a Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) in both Washington and Louisiana in September of 2015.

Formed from the collapse of stars as they burn out, black holes pack immense gravitational pull, and continue to grow while consuming dust and gases from around them. Black holes range in size from small to supermassive—the ones that are believed to hang at the center of every galaxy, including the Milky Way. Although black holes are invisible because their gravitation pull is too strong for light to escape, their presence can be detected through their interaction with other matter, sometimes creating some of the most brilliant objects in the universe. Astronomers can determine the size of black holes by measuring the path of the stars orbiting around them, and have thus estimated the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way to be about 4.3 million solar masses.

When Einstein developed the theory of relativity—which basically predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform space-time to form a black hole, he believed that two black holes orbiting each other would lose energy through gravitation waves, drawing them together to finally collide. During that brief, powerful explosion, a portion of the black holes’ mass is converted to energy, creating a powerful thrust that forms gravitational waves that ripple across space.

Hall is excited to be part of the team who first detected the gravitational wave. Originally from Georgia, Bernard moved to Post Falls as a teenager and was home schooled. After graduating, he attended IT Tech and earned a bachelor’s degree in video game design. He worked in broadcast television for 12 years, then joined the Army Reserve as a medic for nine years. In 2003 he was deployed to Syria. After learning that President Obama had initiated a post-911 GI Bill for those who had been on active duty during the Gulf War, Hall decided to take advantage and study astrophysics. He attended Spokane Community College for two years, then transferred to WSU in 2012, where he began working with Dr. Sukanta Bose.

The Graduate School talked with Bernard about the gravitational wave discovery.

Graduate School: First, can you talk how you became interested in physics and why you chose to attend WSU?

Hall: There’s actually a lot of physics involved in video game design, which was my first bachelor’s degree, because you have to understand gravity and how things collide to make the games realistic. I have experience in programming languages and was really interested in the physics of how things move based on my video game design experience—but I wanted to learn more. When I researched universities that offered programs in physics, I found that WSU has one of the best.

Graduate School: How did you begin working with Dr. Sukanta Bose and his Relativity Group?

Hall: I looked Dr. Bose up when I arrived at WSU as an undergraduate student, and after meeting with him, he invited me to work in his lab. I was able to work with the relativity research group for two years as an undergraduate student. The team was searching for gravitational wave signals that could be present in the LIGO. I wrote my senior thesis on that research, then kept working for the group for a year after I graduated. I started the Ph.D. program just this year. Right now Dr. Bose is part of an effort to build a LIGO in India, so we communicate via Skype.

Graduate School: Tell me about the LIGO and what your role has been in the discovery of gravitational waves.

Hall: The LIGO that is located at Hanford was built in about 2002, but was eventually shut down a few years ago because nothing had been detected. We’ve been working on upgrades to it since then, to make it more sensitive. I’ve been working on developing two new tools: one that detects non-linear couplings and another that compares environmental channels. The LIGO is so sensitive that it picks up thousands of environmental channels, including its own thermal noises. Half of the job of analyzing the data is figuring what is a real signal and what is not. The tools I built help discriminate false signals from real signals by filtering out the false signals.

Graduate School: How did you feel when you heard about the gravitational wave detection at both Hanford and Louisiana last September?

Hall: I was cautiously optimistic. When I first heard, I looked to Dr. Bose to see if he was excited, and he was. But we had to keep the information secret until it was thoroughly researched. There has to be two sites that pick up the signal, otherwise it is usually considered a false reading. When the Livingston, Louisiana LIGO also detected it 2,000 miles away, we believed it could be real.

Graduate School: I’m really curious about the gravitational wave that was detected. It seems like we were lucky because we happened to have the LIGO turned on at the exact right moment in time.

Hall: That’s right. You might say we were lucky because we were actually just testing our LIGO when the wave was detected. It was functioning fully, but we were still performing an engineering run with it.

Graduate School: I read that the scientists believe the wave was created from two black holes colliding. Can you tell me about that theory and why they believe this?

Hall: In a nut shell, the wave forms look different according to the event that caused them. There have been models built based on Einstein’s theory, so we know that the wave was caused by a collision of phenomenal force.

Graduate School: I understand that the gravitational wave was actually detected in September of 2015. Why has it taken so long to be made public?

Hall: We needed to make sure that it was a real signal. There were large teams of scientists studying the data to make sure it was not a false detection. We didn’t want to make an announcement only to find out later that it was false.

Graduate School: What are the implications of this discovery?

Hall: Gravitational waves can tell us about the origins of the universe. Light emitted after the Big Bang only goes back 300,000 years, but these waves go back even further. The patterns we can study originally came from quantum fluctuations and can help us come closer to quantum theory and to identify the forces at work. It can help us bring quantum mechanics and relativity together. We can conduct a lot of science with this data—from that very small detection.

Graduate School: What is your ultimate goal after you earn your PhD in physics?

Hall: My ultimate goal is to be a scientist because I am fascinated with cosmology. I enjoy talking to my sons about science and my work in the field of gravitational wave detection.

Polymer Engineering: Creating Batteries that Keep Going

By Cheryl A. Reed

Will Wang Poster

Doctoral graduate Yu “Will” Wang believes that polymer—a ubiquitous material made from hydrocarbons and other elements bonded together—may play the most important role in our daily lives. His undergraduate degree in polymers and desire to earn a doctoral degree in the area is what drew him to travel from China to study in the Materials Science and Engineering program at Washington State University.

Natural polymers are things like tortoise shells and antlers, whereas manmade polymers, which are ever-present in our daily lives, are things like plastic, rubber, and synthetic fabrics like rayon. Polymers have increasingly taken the place of natural materials, and the polymer industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. Engineers interested in producing new polymer materials are constantly searching for ways to manipulate the molecular structure of the polymer by introducing fillers, reinforcements, and additives to expand its uses and possibilities.

“The possibilities for applications of new polymers is immense,” said Will, who has created a gum-like electrolyte for use in high-performance lithium batteries. Will works in WSU researcher Katie Zhong’s laboratory. The material, which looks like black tar, can significantly extend the life of lithium batteries, and has gained global attention. An article in the Advanced Energy Materials journal in December 2013 about the electrolyte says that rechargeable lithium ion batteries are expected to dominate the marketplace for the foreseeable future. Think electric cars, aircraft, and pacemakers—technologies that could benefit from a higher energy and safer battery.

“The material is very special,” said Will, reaching for a jar of wax beads used in the mixture. “Instead of liquid, the electrolyte is a mixture of several components that makes it sticky like gum so that it can adhere well to the other battery components.”

Batteries work by converting chemical energy to electrical energy. There are three components to most batteries: the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. The electrolyte is the chemical medium that facilitates the flow of electrons between the cathode and the anode. Put simply, during a discharge of electricity, the chemicals from the anode and cathode make contact in the electrolyte medium, transforming chemical energy to electrical energy. Over time, the anode and cathode will stop producing electrons, and if the battery is not rechargeable, is disposed.

The electric car industry is one that could benefit from a longer-lasting battery. Some of the newest electric cars will run for about 80 miles with a charge—although some of those miles will be exchanged for cabin heat or air conditioning. The recharge time for electric car batteries ranges from 2 to 8 hours, depending on the outlet. A standard 110 volt outlet could extend recharge time to 16 hours.

“Right now electric cars are not popular because of the limited distance they can travel,” said Will. “Our gum-like electrolyte holds a charge longer than the liquid electrolyte—but we need to redesign the entire battery to maximize the storage capacity for the electrolyte. To store more energy, we will need to store more of the high-capacity material.”

In addition to longevity, safety is another major goal for the new battery electrolyte. The liquid medium in current lithium ion batteries is a strong acid that can leak and create fire or chemical burns. “People believe if we want safety, we need to replace the liquid in the battery,” said Will.

Will’s work with Professor Zhong has attracted attention and publication in Advanced Energy Materials.

Will graduated with is doctoral degree from Washington State University in the summer of 2015 and is now Assistant Research Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Polymer Science and Polymer Processing Engineering at Sichuan University in China.

“The quality of education in the U.S. is best, and Pullman is a beautiful and quiet place for students to study. It is small, but everything you want to do is here,” he said.

From Las Vegas to Cuba: Studying Life History Theory and Immune Behaviors

By Cheryl Reed

When Tiffany Alvarez studied women’s health through the lens of life history theory as an undergraduate student and McNair Scholar at UNLV, she didn’t know how far it would eventually take her. Now a doctoral student at Washington State University in evolutionary anthropology, she is planning to study in Cuba next summer with her advisor, Edward Hagen. The two will be investigating the effects of acute immune activation on components of pregnant women’s behavioral and biological immunity—or life history.

Life history theory seeks to explain aspects of an organism’s anatomy and behavior in reference to the way its life histories have been shaped by natural selection. The theory depends on principles of evolutionary biology and ecology and is widely used in other areas of science.

Alvarez explained how recent discoveries show that immunity appears to have behavioral components, often referred to as sickness behaviors, which serve to reduce exposure to pathogens and conserve energy. The features that characterize immunity are uniquely distinguished by their relationship with biological processes and also environmental contexts ranging from the socio-political to cultural and ecological. An ecological immunity perspective acknowledges that culturally mediated, class- and sex-specific patterns of activity, resource access, and reproduction are sources of significant diversity that affect immune response. She also explained that pregnancy is a reproductive state of unique immunity and a period of dynamic changes to immuno-competence.

In Cuba, Alvarez and Hagen will collect baseline levels of biological and behavior immunity from a sample of 100 pregnant women. After the data is collected, the researchers will randomize it into treatment groups that will receive different vaccines. It is predicted that the treatment group who receives the influenza vaccine will report markedly higher behavioral immunity than the groups who received the placebo.

Alvarez’s and Hagen’s research will determine if acute immune activation alters the behaviors of pregnant women in ways predicted by life history theory. Specifically, whether or not acute changes in pregnant women’s health status trigger a suite of compensatory behaviors that contribute to pathogen avoidance and mitigate energetic immune costs. These findings will contribute to larger theoretical and empirical discussions regarding context-specific variation in host-pathogen interactions and behavioral sickness symptom expression.

Alvarez is a first-generation college student from Last Vegas, Nevada. She is now on a streamline track to earn a master’s and doctoral degree in 5 years. As a McNair Alumna and teaching assistant, Alvarez has the opportunity to spread her research passion to other students.

“My work is so exciting,” says Alvarez. “My advisor is training me to be a peer, and I find that to be so valuable.”

Washington State University’s graduate degree in evolutionary anthropology has a strong record of research funding, and students are regularly involved in research and teaching from their first semester. Most students gain research experience at field and laboratory sites early in their careers.

Find out more about WSU’s graduate degree programs and where your research will take you at