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From the College of Natural Sciences

Marc Airhart is the Communications Coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. A long time member of the National Association of Science Writers, he has written for national publications including Scientific American, Mercury, The Earth Scientist, Environmental Engineer & Scientist, and StarDate Magazine. He also spent 11 years as a writer and producer for the Earth & Sky radio series. Contact me

New Tool Helps Parents and Educators Estimate COVID-19 Infection Numbers at Their School

New Tool Helps Parents and Educators Estimate COVID-19 Infection Numbers at Their School

With COVID-19 cases hitting new highs across the country, a new online tool can help families and school leaders estimate how many infected people are likely to show up at a school on a given day anywhere in the United States. The free, interactive dashboard was produced by The University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

Treisman Receives James Bryant Conant Award from Education Commission of the States

Treisman Receives James Bryant Conant Award from Education Commission of the States

Philip 'Uri' Treisman, founder and executive director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, has dedicated his career to improving mathematics and science education on a national scale, leading to measurable gains in student performance in these subjects and improvements in course success for elementary school children through university undergraduates. Now he is the recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in American education, the 2020 James Bryant Conant Award from the Education Commission of the States.

Coronavirus Mutation May Have Made It More Contagious

Coronavirus Mutation May Have Made It More Contagious

The number of virus strains present in each zip code in Houston during the second wave of COVID-19 cases in summer 2020. Number of strains is represented by a spectrum of colors from blue (0 strains) to red (50 strains). Credit: Houston Methodist/University of Texas at Austin.

A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. According to the paper published in the peer-reviewed journal mBIO, that mutation, called D614G, is located in the spike protein that pries open our cells for viral entry. It's the largest peer-reviewed study of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences in one metropolitan region of the U.S. to date.

A Cornucopia of Newly Confirmed Gravitational Wave Detections

A Cornucopia of Newly Confirmed Gravitational Wave Detections

After months of thorough analysis, two international scientific teams, including scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, have released an updated catalog of gravitational wave detections, more than tripling the number of confirmed events. Each detection of a gravitational wave represents the discovery of a pair of extremely massive objects—black holes or neutron stars—far out in the universe smashing into each other, shaking the very fabric of space and time so much that sensitive detectors on Earth could feel them, sometimes more than a billion years later. 

Curbing COVID-19 Hospitalizations Requires Attention to Construction Workers

Curbing COVID-19 Hospitalizations Requires Attention to Construction Workers

Construction workers have a much higher risk of becoming hospitalized with the novel coronavirus than non-construction workers, according to a new study from researchers with The University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

Department of Energy Invests in High-power Laser Network, including UT Austin

Department of Energy Invests in High-power Laser Network, including UT Austin

The University of Texas at Austin with support from the U.S. Department of Energy will expand capabilities of the Texas Petawatt Laser, one of the highest-powered lasers in the world, with a broad range of applications for basic research, advanced manufacturing and medicine.

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Artificial Intelligence Revs Up Evolution’s Clock (Audio)

Artificial Intelligence Revs Up Evolution’s Clock (Audio)

Evolutionary biologists never have enough time. Some of the most mysterious behaviors in the animal kingdom—like parenting—evolved over thousands of years, if not longer. Human lifespans are just too short to sit and observe such complex behaviors evolve. But computer scientists are beginning to offer clues by using artificial intelligence to simulate the life and death of thousands of generations of animals in a matter of hours or days. It's called computational evolution.

Black Hole Swan Songs

Black Hole Swan Songs

Simulation of light emitted by a pair of supermassive black holes spiraling inward, viewed from above the plane of the disk. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

When scientists first detected gravitational waves, from the violent collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years in the past, the ripples in space-time made a distinctive chirp, followed by a signal like a ringing bell. (The signals actually had to be converted into frequencies we can hear.) Since that first detection in 2015, every black hole collision has sounded pretty much the same. But according to a new study based on computer simulations, black holes actually sing a more elaborate swan song.

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NSF-Funded Project Aims to Squeeze Larger Simulations onto Quantum Computers

NSF-Funded Project Aims to Squeeze Larger Simulations onto Quantum Computers

A trapped ion quantum computing system developed by Honeywell Quantum Solutions. Photo credit: Honeywell Quantum Solutions.

Quantum computers might someday make it possible to run simulations that are far too complex for conventional computers, enabling them for example to precisely model chemical reactions or the movement of electrons in materials, yielding better products from drugs to fertilizers to solar cells. Yet at the current pace of development, quantum computers powerful enough for these simulations may still be many years away.

Is Coronavirus Mutating Amid its Rapid U.S. Spread?

Is Coronavirus Mutating Amid its Rapid U.S. Spread?

A new study, currently awaiting peer review and involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston, finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. According to the paper posted this week to the preprint server medRxiv, that mutation, called D614G, was also implicated in an earlier study in the UK in possibly making the virus easier to spread. The Washington Post was among several outlets reporting the findings this week.