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Around the College

Hands in water

Human dimensions of water

Four billion people live in conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month per year, while another half billion people face severe water scarcity year-round. There are few studies that show a connection between climate change and reduced rainfall, failing crop yields, loss of livelihoods, conflict and migration. Martina Caretta, assistant professor of geography at WVU, seeks to answer that question in a report she co-authored for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In the report, Caretta discusses how water scarcity leads to migration of land, while also studying how gender plays a role in the migration process.

Dillion Muhly-Alexander
Dillion Muhly-Alexander

Country roads lead to Cambridge

For the first time in WVU history, a student has been named a Gates-Cambridge Scholar. Dillon Muhly-Alexander (BA International Studies, 2017) is one of approximately 4,500 applicants from around the world to receive the prestigious scholarship. Established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this award will enable him to pursue postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and earn a Master of Philosophy degree in developmental studies. 

Caitlin Ahrens

Scratching the surface

An academic career fueled by curiosity led Caitlin Ahrens (BS Geology and Physics, 2015) to receive the 2018 Junior Chamber International Outstanding Young American and 2018 Jaycees Outstanding Young West Virginian awards for her role as a NASA solar system ambassador and advocate for young women in science. Operating telescopes for planetarium shows, developing the Pluto Simulation Laboratory at the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Science and curating the radio show “Scratching the Surface” are just a few achievements of Ahrens’ young professional career. In her role as a NASA solar system ambassador, Ahrens communicates about exciting NASA missions and research in public lectures for all ages. 

Holly Pettus
Holly Pettus

Erupting ideas

The thrill of volcanoes led WVU geology senior Holly Pettus to a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Hawaii. Through her research, Pettus is looking to discover the origin of rocks that have been ejected from the volcano’s surface after eruption. Learning the chemistry of the rocks and where they are from can help scientists better understand how magma moves within the mantle. 

Lian Li and Cheng Cen

A new wave of physics research

Just one year after arriving at WVU, physicist Lian Li is taking physics research to new frontiers. In collaboration with fellow WVU condensed matter experiment expert Cheng Cen, they are breaking the rules of classical physics in search of a solution to making computers faster than ever. Funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grant, their research team is just one of nine to receive the prestigious award.


The largest Global Medical and Dental Brigades group to ever travel from WVU worked in rural Nicaragua for nine consecutive days, serving members of a highly resource-reduced region of the world. Fifty-seven students and four faculty members traveled to Nicaragua to give medical care to the citizens of La Corona and Las Limas in spring 2018.
Kristyn Lizbinski

When science and art collide

Kristyn Lizbinski, a WVU biology PhD student, won first prize in the 2017 Neuroscience Travel Award contest, which promotes interesting art from the neuroscience field. While studying the olfactory system of a moth, Lizbinski used microscopy to make the chemicals released by neurons in the brain to glow. All the different colors in the image show chemicals being released by the neurons. “Interstellate,” a leading science art magazine that showcases what scientists observe during their research, featured the photo.
Moth on a flower

Moth men

As humans walk and talk, we sense our own movements or sounds. Yet, we can distinguish our actions from everything else in our environment that affects our senses. Though this process has been studied extensively for senses like sight and hearing, almost nothing is known about how corollary discharge functions for the sense of smell. WVU biologists Kevin Daly and Andrew Dacks and PhD candidate Phil Chapman are working to uncover this mystery. Funded by a four-year, $1.4 million Air Force grant, they are studying an animal with one of the most sensitive sense of smell — moths. This research has the potential to reveal principles of sensory motor coordination and guide the design of applications and technologies ranging from sensor systems for drones to prosthetic limbs.
Smoking barrel of a shotgun

It’s a match

A WVU researcher is uncovering how firearm evidence and latent fingerprint evidence helps solve crimes by finding the “perfect match.” If a cartridge case is found at a crime scene, the investigator will compare cartridge cases to determine if they originated from a specific firearm. Keith Morris, the Ming Hsieh Distinguished Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science, focuses on the variability in the impressions that are created on the cartridge case from a particular firearm. To understand the statistical perspective of that variability, Morris is collaborating with Casey Jelsema, an assistant professor of statistics at WVU.
2 men working at a chalkboard

Enhancing technology

Physicists at WVU have discovered a way to control a newly discovered quantum particle, potentially leading to faster computers and other electronic devices. Weyl fermions, massless quasiparticles that were predicted to exist in 1930 by mathematician H. Weyl, were first detected in solid crystals by three independent research groups in 2015. Soon after that experimental detection, WVU theoretical physicist Aldo Romero and physics PhD student Sobhit Singh proposed a way to gain control over the dynamics of these quasiparticles: by creating them in pairs. This emerging technology promises to yield much faster and more energy-efficient devices.
"the art of waste" written with trash

The art of waste

Stephanie Foote is the first WVU faculty member to be chosen for a National Humanities Center Fellowship and has been named a 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Foote is the author of “The Art of Waste: Narrative, Trash, and Contemporary Culture.” Her novel examines the role of garbage in narrating the relationship of American culture to environmental crisis.
Woman pointing at a chalkboard

Empowering women

WVU sophomore Shaniyah Jasper, a women’s and gender studies major with a minor in law and legal studies, aspires to help improve the everyday lives of women around the world. The Iselin, New Jersey, native traveled to Uganda in December 2017 to advocate for women’s rights and teach about HIV/AIDS prevention.
Emma Harrison
Emma Harrison

A passion for public service

Emma Harrison, a WVU student passionate about enriching educational opportunities and resources for imprisoned people in West Virginia, has been named WVU’s 23rd Truman Scholar, the nation’s top award for students who aspire to careers in public service. The political science and multidisciplinary studies student is also a 2018 Campus Compact Civic Fellow, the only national higher education association dedicated solely to campus-based civic engagement.
Rodney Elliot
Rodney Elliot

Chasing the cosmos

A childhood fascination with space is now a serious exploration of supermassive binary black holes for Rodney Elliot, a dual major in physics and Russian studies. Coming off of a 20-year career in the Air Force, Elliot enrolled at WVU and has gained accolades, not just from his professors, but by winning the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering — the Goldwater Scholarship.

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