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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

Learning Expands the Brain’s Capacity to Store Information

Learning Expands the Brain’s Capacity to Store Information

Kristen Harris and her team used an electron microscope to make 3D images of brain structures like this one to understand how learning alters the structures. They discovered that learning causes some synapses (red) to grow and others to shrink, leading to an increase in their capacity to store information. In this image, axons (green) carrying signals from multiple brain cells connect via synapses to the shaft-like input of a single brain cell, called a dendrite (yellow). Credit: Univ. of Texas at Austin.

The act of learning causes connections between brain cells, called synapses, to expand their capacity to store information, according to a new discovery from neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin, the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and The University of Otago in New Zealand.

Researchers Demonstrate How to “Freeze” Sand

Researchers Demonstrate How to “Freeze” Sand

Using a novel imaging technique, a team of U.S. and German researchers found that wiggling the walls of a box packed with sand-sized glass spheres causes the spheres to form crystal structures similar to those formed when liquids freeze. By increasing the order among grains, the grains took up less space. One possible application would be to pack sand or other granular material more densely to save on shipping costs.

How Do You Solve Gerrymandering?

How Do You Solve Gerrymandering?

The US Supreme Court is considering whether Texas legislative districts are racially discriminatory. The high court is also hearing other high profile cases about partisan gerrymandering. Amid the increased national attention on the issue, the University of Texas at Austin hosted a conference focused in part on the mathematics of gerrymandering – how it's done, how to quantify it and ways to prevent it. Andrew Blumberg, associate professor of mathematics at UT Austin, co-organized the event with Moon Duchin, a Tufts University mathematician who runs the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group.

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Tackling Science and Engineering’s Diversity Problem (Audio)

Tackling Science and Engineering’s Diversity Problem (Audio)

The STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – have real work to do in terms of diversity. Right now, women make up only about 30 percent of the STEM workforce – and people identifying as black or Hispanic make up just 11 percent.

Promise of New Antibiotics Lies with Shackling Tiny Toxic Tetherballs to Bacteria

Promise of New Antibiotics Lies with Shackling Tiny Toxic Tetherballs to Bacteria

Biologists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a method for rapidly screening hundreds of thousands of potential drugs for fighting infections, an innovation that holds promise for combating the growing scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The method involves engineering bacteria to produce and test molecules that are potentially toxic to themselves.

Building a Solid Structure: A Q&A with Molecular Biosciences Chair Dan Leahy

Building a Solid Structure: A Q&A with Molecular Biosciences Chair Dan Leahy

The Department of Molecular Biosciences was established in 2013. With the help of a recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), Dan Leahy, a structural biologist from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, became the department's first permanent chair in 2016. We sat down with Leahy to talk about his vision for the college's largest department, how its researchers are working with the Dell Medical School, the department's new facility for cryo-electron microscopy (the technique celebrated by a 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) and his own research on cancer.
Scientists Crown World’s Loudest Fish

Scientists Crown World’s Loudest Fish

Local fishermen from El Golfo de Santa Clara unload Gulf corvina from a gill net. Catches from a single boat can exceed one ton. Photo: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza.

Each spring, over a million fish migrate to a small patch of the Gulf of California to spawn. Now—thanks to new research by Brad Erisman at the University of Texas at Austin's Marine Science Institute and his colleagues published in the journal Biology Letters—we know that the Gulf corvina are the loudest known fish on the planet.

The Language Brokers (Audio)

The Language Brokers (Audio)

Millions of children in the U.S. play a vital, but often overlooked, role in their families. These children of immigrants, known as "language brokers," help their parents translate job applications, medical documents and bills into their native language. They also help them navigate a completely alien culture. Researchers like Su Yeong Kim, in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, are debating whether being a language broker is good for children, or not.

Scientists Named HHMI Professors for Innovation in Undergraduate Education

Scientists Named HHMI Professors for Innovation in Undergraduate Education

Eric Anslyn, Andrew Ellington and Julia Clarke (not pictured) have been named HHMI Professors.

Three University of Texas at Austin professors have been chosen by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to join the ranks of a select group of world-class scientist educators known as HHMI Professors. They will receive a combined $2.5 million to support their ongoing efforts to improve undergraduate education. UT Austin is the only institution to have three awardees among this year's 14 winners, selected from more than 200 applicants across the country.

Natural Sciences Faculty Members Named AAAS Fellows

Natural Sciences Faculty Members Named AAAS Fellows

Michael Krische and Philip "Uri” Treisman have been named AAAS fellows

Four University of Texas at Austin faculty members, including two based in the College of Natural Sciences, have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society. This year's AAAS fellows will be inducted at a ceremony during the AAAS Annual Meeting, which is scheduled to take place for the first time in Austin in February.