1000 Word Event – Recap (a month later)

We hosted the 2nd annual 1000 Word Event with the Burke Museum last month March 21st, and have finally been able to get up a blog post about it.  Apologies to everyone who entered and how late this reporting is (and apologies if your photos don’t match entries).

We had just over 60 people in attendance at the event.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the Happy Hour, and then were a great audience for the event itself.  I was impressed with my colleagues and their creativity, as well as the broad showing of departments we had from all around the University.


The judges and audience at the 1000 Word Presentations

One of the things FOSEP members wanted to focus on this year was communication, and we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to try in a friendly environment.  When I was writing my entry, I was surprised at how hard it was to convey my research using the 1000 most common words, but found that it really challenged me to think about what my research means.  I was trying to use both fast and slow thinking and understand where my audience was coming from, as we had talked about earlier in the year in our book club, but I found it was hard when limited to these words.   (How do you talk about hypertension if you can’t even use the word blood pressure – blood pushing on the inside of course). 

See more, including the entries and winners after the jump…

For the following entries, the normal research description is in regular font, and the 1000 word description is in purple italics.


Dave Slager, Biology

I am reconstructing a molecular phylogeny of the Vireos (Aves: Vireonidae)

All life is made of many tiny round parts, and each part holds two long stairs that wrap around each other made of four different letters. Each kind of animal has its own set order of letters in the stairs and passes the letter order to its babies almost exactly but with a few surprise letters. Sometimes, a surprise letter kills the baby animal or at least keeps it from having babies. But often the surprise letter doesn’t matter and gets passed on to the baby’s baby anyway. Over the ages, many small changes in surprise letters add up to huge changes. Using numbers and computers, I look at these changes and figure out which kinds of animals are more like the other kinds and how long ago one kind of animal became two different kinds. I study this stuff in flying, warm-blooded, music-making animals. Right now, I am working on some small green ones that live in trees in warm, wet parts of the New World.


Another shot of the judges and audience at the 1000 Word Event




Jessica Wittman, Chemistry

Proton-coupled electron transfers (PCET) are essential to many chemical processes, from biological systems to industrial scale reactions. In many cases, long-range electron transfers are coupled to short-range proton transfer events. I have synthesized and characterized ruthenium complexes to study the effect of varying the distance between the electron and proton transfer sites on PCET reactions. In these complexes, the ruthenium center is separated from a carboxylic acid by different ligands environments that provide different distances between the ruthenium and the carboxylic acid. In reactions with hydrogen atom acceptors, an electron is transferred from the ruthenium center while proton transfer occurs at the distant carboxylic acid. Even in ruthenium complexes with 6 bonds between the ruthenium and the carboxylic acid, the electron and proton can transfer in a single kinetic step. Understanding the effect of the distance between the electron and proton transfer sites on PCET reactivity could help improve design of chemical catalysts and devices.

Inside every person, animal, tree, or TV, tiny, tiny bits that are too small to see are moving around in an ordered way. Some of them are friends who like to hang out and move around together. When a pair of tiny bits who are friends have very little space between them, and then one moves away, the other misses it very much and wants to leave, too. It’s sort of like when your best friend at work leaves and then work’s not as fun anymore. Other tiny bits start out with a lot of space and other stuff between them, so when one moves, it doesn’t matter so much to the other. This would be like if you had a friend in another state who moved to a farther away state; it doesn’t really change your day-to-day life.

I am studying how close the pairs of tiny bits have to be for one to notice when the other moves. If we know how close they have to be to notice each other, we can keep it in mind when we build our own things out of these tiny bits. In some cases, we don’t want the tiny bits to be sad and miss their friends because then they can be a real pain in the ass. In other cases, we want the tiny bits to be sad so we can push them to go to a new, better place!



Our wonderful judges before the event


Miriam Bowring, Chemistry

Unimolecular model to probe multiple-site concerted proton electron transfer

The movement of protons and electrons in proteins drives many essential processes in biology, including photosynthesis and cellular respiration. In some cases, the most efficient mechanism for transfer of one proton and one electron is concerted rather than stepwise. Surprisingly, such an energetic preference for concerted mechanisms can be observed even when the proton and electron move in different directions. For this reason, multiple-site concerted proton electron transfer (MS-CPET) is prevalent in biological systems, for instance in tyrosine oxidation in photosystem II and in hydroquinone oxidation as part of mitochondrial respiratory chains.

We have designed and synthesized a single molecule substrate to serve as a mimic for MS-CPET from tyrosine, with the aim to develop a better understanding of how the rate and mechanism of MS-CPET are controlled. This substrate and its relatives contain a phenol to release the proton and electron, a photooxidant to receive the electron, and a base to receive the proton, all covalently tethered together. The synthetic model provides an opportunity to study MS-CPET under conditions not limited by diffusion, allowing rates to be measured by fluorescence quenching of the excited photooxidant moiety of the substrate. The study of MS-CPET in unimolecular synthetic substrates will enable the development of a fundamental and intuitive understanding of MS-CPET and provide insight into essential, complex biological systems.

Everything in the world is made of very tiny bits. The very tiny bits are too small to see. They move from one place to another all the time. This allows people to live, leaves to grow, and power to work in our homes. No one knows exactly why the very tiny bits move the way they do, but I would like to find out. There are two kinds of very tiny bits that usually like to be together. When these two very tiny bits are together, and they both need to go somewhere else, they sometimes go faster by going together instead of one at a time. The funny thing is, the very tiny bits can go fast by moving together, even if they are going away from each other. Why is moving together better? I have made something to help me find out. I put the two very tiny bits in the middle, with places for the very tiny bits to go on either side. Soon I will use light to see how fast the very tiny bits go, and I will check if they are moving together and see what changes make them go slower or faster. This way, I will find out what the very tiny bits are doing, and what controls how fast they move. Since the very tiny bits make up our bodies and everything else, one day, my work might even help other people save lives!



Aiva Levins, Neurobiology and Behavior

I am developing a brain-computer-spinal interface to restore arm and hand movement after spinal cord injury-induced paralysis. I am also studying the effect of stem cell treatment on motor recovery after spinal cord injury.

Sometimes people break their backs, and then they can’t move because their brains can’t talk to their arms or legs any more. I am trying to help their brains talk to their arms again. I use computers to listen to their brains and tell their arms to move. I also add cells to try to help the brain talk to the arms on its own.


A dynamic presentation of brain injury


Other entries – Thanks so much for everyone who participated

Emily Davis, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Wildfire is an important agent of natural disturbance in aquatic ecosystems. Research has demonstrated that wildfire has lasting impacts on primary and secondary stream productivity. However, there is a general lack of basic research on wildfire impacts to stream metabolism, which limits our understanding of effects on higher trophic levels. Further, because most studies of wildfire disturbance occur at small spatial scales, an integrated, watershed-scale perspective of disturbance impacts to energy flow across a stream network is needed to assess potential scale-dependent responses to fire. This project investigates the effect of wildfire disturbance on stream metabolism in north-central Idaho’s Big Creek Watershed, part of the upper Columbia River Basin. Several large fires over the last two decades have created a “disturbance mosaic” across this watershed, providing a natural laboratory to test how fire severity, spatial scale, and time since disturbance affect stream metabolism. I approach these questions using a novel modeling framework (Bayesian Metabolic Model, or BaMM), which uses dissolved oxygen, temperature, and irradiance to model diel oxygen dynamics, from which stream metabolism can be estimated.

 My work is to think about how animals and other living things live and grow after something happened that doesn’t usually happen in their homes. I use fire as the thing that happens but it is just one kind of that thing. Other kinds are: Too much water, or part of the land moving fast and it’s a surprise.

In the summer, I go to a far away place where people don’t live. The place has many trees and animals. I walk in small waters all day to look for signs that they have been helped or hurt by fires. These are fires that people didn’t start, and they often happen during the summer here.

How does fire help the trees and what lives in the water? Fires take away trees which at first looks very bad, but actually lets more light and more food into the water which helps things grow. As you know, anything that is green needs light! When I work in the field, I look at small green things that live in the water and eat the sun, and small things with lots of legs that live in the water and eat the small green things. I get water in bottles to see how much food it has in it and how much air. I also see how hot or cold the water is because that tells me how fast things can grow. There are animals in the water that don’t have any legs, and you can also look at those animals to see how long they are and how much they are eating to see if their home, the water, is sick or well. I look at waters that didn’t have fires and waters that did have fires to see if they are different. Does a place where a fire happened a long time ago look different from a place where a fire happened this year? I also look to see if water that is farther away from where a fire happened was changed by that fire.

When I get back to the city, I sit in a chair for many hours. On a computer, I look at a picture of the far away place I went that shows how many fires it had, when, and how strong they were. I use this computer picture and the things I learned in the field to make a lot of crazy numbers. My head hurts. Then I take the numbers and make them into words. I put together a story about how different kinds of fires help or hurt different kinds of waters and lands.

 Why does all of this matter? Because it is interesting and a surprise to find out if something we thought was bad (fire) might actually not be so bad. We can spend less money putting fires out if we can decide which ones might help our trees and waters, and which ones might hurt people. We can also learn more about how things people do that are almost the same as fire (like taking away trees to make paper and houses) might change the land.


Sarah Nelson, Institute for Public Health Genetics

Over the past decade, advancements in genetic technologies have made it easier, cheaper, and faster than ever to obtain genetic information. Rather than target genetic assays to a limited subset of genes or variants, it is becoming increasingly common to sequence either across the entire genome or the protein-coding portion thereof, known as the “exome.” In this era of large-scale sequencing, there are more – and more complex – conversations happening around genetics in multiple realms. While there are some communication strategies in place, we need to develop refined tools that can keep up with the nuances of sequencing data. Examining how people use metaphor in discussing these topics is one way to address this knowledge gap. For many years, rhetoricians and communication experts have been studying metaphor in public discourse around genetics (reviewed below). However, there has been less investigation of how individuals use metaphor when referring to personal genetic information, such as would be generated during sequencing. In my Master’s thesis project, I am examining how people use of metaphor when discussing receiving personal genetic information, specifically in deciding on their preferences for and expectations about receiving results from whole genome or exome sequencing. The purpose of this analysis will be to harness the metaphors people use to improve communication of genetic information in the public, clinical, and research domains.

We all get things from our parents. We each have our own set of these things, half from our dad and half from our mom. The word for these things sounds like the jeans that I am wearing up here right now, but they are not jeans.

These things are part of what make us look like we do. They may also change whether we get sick or stay – not sick. Finding out what these things mean for being not sick is important to help keep bad things from happening. But these things are sort of out there and can be hard to talk about or explain. So we need to understand how people understand these things and to find better ways to talk about them. One way to talk about them is to consider how they are like other things that we might understand better.

I am looking at how people consider these less known things in light of more known things to so that we can have better conversations and keep people not sick. And full of things.

Melissa Steele-Ogus, Biology

Despite the vast diversity that is seen in eukaryotes, there are various fundamental processes that they all engage in, including cellular organization, trafficking, and cytokinesis. These processes are all actin-mediated. Giardia lamblia, an evolutionary basal eukaryote, lacks all of the canonical actin-binding proteins, yet still accomplishes all of these essential processes. Thus, Giardia is a lens through which evolutionarily deep cellular mechanisms may be seen. Additionally, Giardia is a parasite which affects over 100 million people each year. The unusual nature of Giardia’s actin cytoskeleton, in addition to its evolutionary interest,  may present a potential target for novel drugs.

There are lots of things to do to keep a clean room: moving stuff around between rooms, putting all the things in the room in the right place, and making new rooms when there’s too much stuff to keep in just one room. Old people keep their room clean using a completely different way than we do, but they still do all these same things so they can keep a clean room. How do they do it? We want to find out how they keep a clean room so we can better understand how we keep a clean room. This will also help us kill the bad old people.


More audience pictures




John Benner, Education: Learning Sciences/Human Development

I study parent organizing as a vehicle for school reform especially for immigrant and marginalized communities. I seek to identify successful strategies schools can implement to encourage immigrant and marginalized parent involvement, and support strategies for schools to provide immigrant parents with the information they need to help their children succeed in American schools.

I study how lots of moms and dads who came here from all over the world can work together with teachers and heads of schools to make schools better for all families and children. I look for ways schools can change to make families from all over the world feel more at home at school. I look for ways schools can be better at showing parents who have been left out how be a part of their school. I also look for ways schools can be better at at showing parents to help their children learn.


Emily Grason, Biology

I study consumptive and non-consumptive trophic dynamics in invaded predator-prey interactions in marine ecosystems. Comparing the dynamics of these systems to co-evolved predator-prey systems can provide insight into the role of evolution in development and maintenance of trophic webs. In addition, I am interested in questions of how prey assess risk from predators. Some non-native prey can recognize predation risk in spite of the fact that they only share a short evolutionary co-history with a given predator. What information do they use? What is the relative importance of adaptation and plasticity in determining risk recognition syndromes and does the the invasion context favor generalism as an information strategy?

I study what happens when animals from here eat animals not from here – or don’t eat them, actually. When you find animals that don’t know each other in the same place, maybe they won’t know who eats who, because they just met. So who knows what will happen?! It seems like it should take a really long time to figure out who you can eat and who wants to eat you, as in tens of hundred of years long. But sometimes the new kid (the animal not from here) seems to know right away when the mean kids at the other lunch table (animals from here) want to start trouble. How do they know?! Did they figure it out real fast? Or can they tell because those mean kids look like mean kids they used to know back home? OR, are they just scared of everything? It turns out that new kids that make it in their new school are really good at staying away when they see other new kids getting beaten up, even if they don’t know who the mean kids are. So, if you are a new kid, it’s better to just hide in your locker than to try to figure out who the mean kids are.

Hollie Granato, Psychology

My research aims to examine the relationship between alcohol use at an event-level and mental health outcomes for college women, specifically if alcohol use increases risk for negative mental health outcomes during college and if these outcomes vary based on level of intoxication and severity of injury during a sexual assault. My line of research involves two phases. The objective of Phase 1 is to first examine and gather a foundational understanding of these event-level alcohol use characteristics during alcohol-involved sexual assault. The objective of Phase 2 is to then examine how these alcohol use characteristics during AIAs impact severity of the sexual assault (injury and if the assault included completed rape) as well as mental health outcomes (anxiety, depression, PTSD, and post-assault substance use) at the time of the survey.

I look at how drinking leads to f**ing that is not wanted by women in college, and how men hurt them during f**king. I am interested in if women in college feel sad after f**ing that is not wanted, and if how much they drink makes them feel sad in different ways. I also look at if a woman’s friends are mean to her or don’t believe her story about f**ing because of her drinking, and how this makes her feel more sad.


Lyndsey Moran, Psychology

My research interests involve identifying factors, both social and cognitive/emotional, that effect a child’s risk for future development of psychopathology. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how a child’s level of effortful control may interact with other temperament factors to shape his/her successful development.

I look at whether growing self control can help kids who feel lots of big fear or anger grow up without problems and whether there are things we can do to help these kids learn better self control. 


Presentations with the 1000 word poster in the background


Ande Reisman, Sociology

I study how the process of immigration, as a moment of social change, can help us understand intra-group inequality by viewing the specific actions of groups doing symbolic boundary work to maintain group identity and distinction. Existing work in migration and assimilation show how a group is perceived colors the way others react to them, ultimately impacting their chances at upward mobility. Additionally, how an arriving immigrant group is perceived affects the identity processes of the group and the way they define, enact, and negotiate symbolic boundaries. The flux of social change migration increases the likelihood groups will rely on traditional scripts about gender and the division of labor of emotional and care-oriented work, which will result in women doing significant boundary work for groups. The reliance of traditional gender scripts and models of care work for larger group processes has stratifying impacts on women’s opportunity structures and access to higher education and employment, which can affect the equality within the group and between the group and others beyond the arriving generation.

I use the study of people to look at how those who arrive from other places to this land is a moment of big group change that can help us understand how groups have chances that are not even. Groups show who they are to others who see them and want to know who they are by acting different and making the edges of their group clear and without a break-point. Other work in people-studies tells us that how a group is seen can color and position the way others consider or handle them when they come from a different land. This changes their chances, after they come to this place, at finishing school, making money, and being well liked by others. Also, how a group is seen changes the way they act out their group edges and how they decide where who they are and how they show who they are to others. The way a group decides is interesting because who does the most group-edge-work can tell us about if the chances in groups are even or not and how they are not even. Usually, when a group moves to a new land area, the chances that they will use acts of group-edge making for others will raise from their home land. The group will decide who is fit to do this work by what is normal for them in their home and this new area. Usually, it is decided by if a person is a man or woman because women are expected to do more work that concerns the heart and having thought-sense and care for others. When a group moves to this place, women are expected to keep the group edges clear so everyone knows who the group is. Women do this as part of their expected heart and thought-sense work. By doing group-edge work, women do not have the same chances as men to finish school, make money, and get hard jobs outside of the family because much of the care work and group-edge work keeps them in their homes and families. This can set a course that is hard to change, which has big problems for women in groups that moved to this land-area from other land-areas that can last for many lives past when they first come.

Mario Rosasco, Pharmacology

Voltage sensitive phosphatases (VSPs) are proteins which contain a voltage sensor similar to those found in voltage-gated ion channels. While in ion channels movement of the voltage sensor couples to gating of an ion-conducting pore, in VSPs movements in the voltage sensor increase and decrease the phosphatase activity of a lipid phosphatase. My work has been to characterize the mouse voltage sensitive phosphatase with regards to its voltage sensitivity, expression and localization, and substrate specificity.

There are lots of things in cells which respond to shocks outside the cell. We already knew about some of these things, but then we found some new things! One part of the new things looks a lot like the things we already knew about, but other parts of the new things look different and do different things. Lots of animals have these new things, but the new things from different animals can do different things when they get shocked. I study one of the new things from one animal. I want to know how the new things turn on and off, where they are and where they go, how they move, and what they do when they move.

Alan Kalet, Biomedical and Health Informatics 

We are currently working on auto-generation of Bayesian networks from ontological specifications for support in decision-making, error detection, and cost-benefit analysis in the radiation oncology domain.

We use computers to make small sets of things that go together, from a larger set of things people know. We then do reasoning with these smaller sets of things to help suggest to people working in the hospital what they should do when they aren’t sure what is best way to help a given sick person.


Abbie Schindler, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (FOSEP)

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among adolescents and shows the highest liability of all abused drugs. We have previously demonstrated that voluntary consumption of alcohol by adolescent rats (20 days, 10% ethanol or control gelatin prepared with 10% glucose polymers) results in increased maladaptive risk-taking behavior and phasic dopamine release in adulthood, as assessed by a probability discounting task and fast scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) respectively. These finding suggest that adolescent alcohol exposure-induced changes in striatal dopamine release could bias choice by assigning greater value to the risky option, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. My postdoctoral research involves elucidating these underlying mechanism, with a focus on GABA(A) receptor-induced modulation of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). If successful, my results will provide unique insight into the potential role that GABAergic modulation of dopamine neurons plays in the maladaptive risk taking behavior seen following adolescent alcohol exposure and highlights new potential therapeutic targets.

Getting drunk as a kid can cause serious problems for you when you are old, like more drinking and more brain problems. Using animals, my studies have shown that when we get kid animals drunk they are not as afraid of chance when they are old, which is bad, they get less food when they act this way. My studies have also shown that stuff in the brain is changed in a bad way too. We think these brain changes are what leads to the old animals not being afraid after they get drunk when they are kids. My job is to now figure out what causes these brain changes and why. We think another type of brain stuff, which usually blocks the brain stuff we see changed after the animals get drunk, may have something to do with it.   If I can figure out the answer, it could be a first step in figuring out new ways to help old people who got drunk too much when they were kids.


FOSEP’s own Abbie presenting her work


Chris Terai, Atmospheric Sciences (FOSEP)

Five pockets of open cells (POCs) are studied using aircraft flights from the VOCALS Regional Experiment. Satellite imagery from the geostationary satellite GOES-10 is used to distinguish POC areas and measurements from the aircraft flights are used to compare cloud, aerosol, and boundary layer conditions inside and outside of POCs and conditions found across individual POC cases.

In all cases, compared to the surrounding overcast region the POC boundary layer is more decoupled, supporting both thin stratiform and deeper cumulus clouds. Although cloud-base precipitation rates are higher in the POC than the overcast region in each case, a threshold precipitation rate that differentiates POC precipitation from that in overcast precipitation does not exist. Cloud droplet number concentration is at least a factor of eight smaller in the POC clouds, and the ratio of drizzle water to cloud water in POC clouds is over an order of magnitude larger than that in overcast clouds, indicating an enhancement of collision coalescence processes in POC clouds.

Despite large variations in the accumulation-mode aerosol concentrations observed in the surrounding overcast region, the accumulation-mode aerosol concentrations observed in the subcloud layer of all five POCs exhibit a much narrower range, and cloud droplet concentrations within the cumulus updrafts originating in this layer reflect this limited variability. Above the POC subcloud layer exists an ultraclean layer with accumulation-mode aerosol concentrations of less than 5 cm-3, demonstrating that in-cloud collision coalescence processes efficiently remove aerosols. It however remains to be seen whether anthropogenic aerosol emissions are having an influence on POC formation.

When seen from space, our world is blue and green except for the areas of white flying across its skies. If we look more carefully at one of the large white areas, we notice that they are interrupted by broken areas where the blue waters can be seen. What causes these areas to form? When we fly through these areas and study what’s in them we’re finding that rain is heavy in these broken areas and the rain is eating up tiny bits. This heavy rain makes these areas the cleanest places in our world. These tiny bits are also important to form the white things in our skies. But we’re still left with many questions, like are tiny bits that humans make changing how they form?


Jaci Saunders, Oceanography (FOSEP)

I study nutrient uptake dynamics in the marine phytoplankton Prochlorococcus & Synechococcus. They are unicellular picocyanobacteria that are the most abundant photosynthetic organisms on the planet, accounting for ~ 20% of oxygen production worldwide. In particular, I study how the various global populations of the organisms mediate the toxic effects of competitive cellular uptake of arsenic in phosphate limited waters. Global populations of these organisms metabolize these arsenic compounds in different ways, producing vastly different end products which impacts the biogeochemical cycling of arsenic in the global ocean.

I work with single cells that act like trees and live in the water. They use sun light to turn air and some other stuff into their own food to grow. I study the way these cells change how the stuff that makes up their food moves through the world’s water. These tree-like cells are important for making the air we breathe; one in every five breaths you take are made by these cells.

Renee Agatsuma, Institute for Public Health Genetics (FOSEP)

I am looking at the effect of antihypertensive medications on the progression to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in a cohort of non-demented adults 65 and older in the Puget Sound area. We want to see if there is a significant difference in the decline in scores on subdomains of the CASI, a dementia screening instrument given biannually, between those that go on to develop dementia, and those that do not, and if those differences are modified by anti-hypertensive medications.

I am looking at when people who start forgetting everything. They may forget their family and friends, or how to go to work, or how to be able to live in their house without help, or who they are. This forgetting makes it hard for people to live by themselves or be trusted to be alone. It can be very hard for family and friends, and usually people who get very bad at forgetting can not go back to remembering. We do not know why some people start to forget, and why some people do not. I want to know blood pushing inside you hard makes it easier to forget, and if popping small round balls so that the blood pushing inside you is less hard will slow down the forgetting in those that start to forget all the time. Everyone is older than 65 and lives in the area. None of them had started forgetting when we started. We gave everyone a set of questions every two years and want to see if we can look at groups of these questions to see who is going to be forgetting and who is not.


Thanks so much to the Burke for hosting, for you for coming to the Happy Hour, and to all those who entered. 

We’ll see you next year.


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