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Texas Science Stories that Wowed Us in 2021

Texas Science Stories that Wowed Us in 2021

While for many 2021 may have felt like it lasted a few years, it was in fact just 12 months—and University of Texas at Austin scientists and researchers managed to pack a ton of new discoveries into that time. From the furthest reaches of the cosmos to the depths of the ocean and from the tiniest microbes to the most massive black holes, research in Texas Science covered a lot of ground, as researchers pushed boundaries, answered big questions and offered solutions to the world's problems. Here are 16 examples of how UT Austin scientists, mathematicians and technologists used 2021 to usher in new knowledge and innovations to help change the world.

Unlikely Partners: Bees and Turtles

Unlikely Partners: Bees and Turtles

An injured sea turtle has had honey from Fennessey Ranch applied to a wound to promote healing.

Honey bees and sea turtles may seem like strange bedfellows, but through two of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve's (NERR) stewardship programs – Fennessey Ranch and the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) – these two species are connected through a unique collaboration.

CNS Welcomes 16 New Faculty Members

CNS Welcomes 16 New Faculty Members

The College of Natural Sciences welcomed 16 new faculty members since April. They bring expertise in health, artificial intelligence, biochemistry, data science, coral reefs and much more. 

Reading the Tea Leaves

Reading the Tea Leaves

Kelley Savage, Research Scientist Associate with the Mission-Aransas Reserve, lays out a transect line in order to place multiple tea bag samples in the salt marsh on Mustang Island. Photo credit: Christina Marconi.

Sometimes well known, simple household objects can be the best tools to use in a science experiment. Researchers at the Mission-Aransas Reserve are part of an international experiment with the Smithsonian MarineGEO (Global Earth Observatory). Tea bags are used to determine salt marsh decomposition rates, how microbes help the decomposition and if the environment makes a difference. Tea bags it turns out are a great source for science because they are readily available throughout the globe and are similar in size, weight and composition.

Nurdle Patrol Expands into Mexico

Nurdle Patrol Expands into Mexico

Recent funding support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program will allow for expansion of Nurdle Patrol into Mexico and increased data and surveys of nurdle pollution. Map show survey locations and number of nurdles collected, as of September 2021. The basemap was created using ArcGIS® software by Esri.

PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Plastic pollution in marine environments has no border. The waters of the United States and Mexico are inextricably linked through currents of the Gulf of Mexico and with them flow marine debris. One source of marine debris of concern are plastic pellets, or nurdles. Now with new support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, the Nurdle Patrol citizen science program is expanding across the United States and into Mexico.

Announcing the 2021 Stengl-Wyer Scholars, Fellows and Grant Awardees

Announcing the 2021 Stengl-Wyer Scholars, Fellows and Grant Awardees

Funded by the Stengl-Wyer Endowment, the Stengl Wyer Postdoctoral Scholars Program provides up to three years of independent support for talented postdoctoral researchers in the broad area of the diversity of life and/or organisms in their natural environments. The endowment also supports year-long fellowships for doctoral candidates pursuing dissertation research in the same area.

Loss of Picky-Eating Fishes Threatens Coral Reef Food Webs

Loss of Picky-Eating Fishes Threatens Coral Reef Food Webs

Coral reefs all over the world, already threatened by rising temperatures brought about by climate change, also face serious challenges from the possibility of fish species extinctions. According to a paper out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the networks of predator fish and their prey found on coral reefs all over the world are remarkably similar, and those predator fish are pickier eaters than previously thought. These delicate ecosystems become even more vulnerable when these specialized hunters go extinct.

Finding the Goldilocks Zone for Fish at Oil Platforms

Finding the Goldilocks Zone for Fish at Oil Platforms

Researchers used a submersible-rotating drop-camera to capture fish images, such as vermilion and red snapper, and identify fish distribution and abundance patterns. They conducted 114 surveys at 54 platforms throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Derek Bolser.

If you are an angler looking for the best place to fish in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil platforms offshore of Louisiana's Atchafalaya River are your best bet. The most comprehensive study of fish assemblages near oil platforms, released today in the journal Fisheries, identified the area as a hotspot.

Bay Education Center is Fully Repaired and Reopened after Hurricane Harvey Damage

Bay Education Center is Fully Repaired and Reopened after Hurricane Harvey Damage

Opening May 8 is the Bay Education Center in Rockport,Texas. Credit: Eddie Seal

This May 8, 2021 the Bay Education Center, which is operated by the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, a program of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, will reopen and showcase its new exhibits. Like many museums and nature centers on the Texas coast, the Bay Education Center was struck a double blow with Hurricane Harvey and then the pandemic. 

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Climate-friendly Microbes Chomp Dead Plants Without Releasing Heat-trapping Methane

Tengchong Yunnan hot springs in China, where some of the newly described Brockarchaeota were collected. Photo credit: Jian-Yu Jiao from Sun Yat-Sen University.

The tree of life just got a little bigger: A team of scientists from the U.S. and China has identified an entirely new group of microbes quietly living in hot springs, geothermal systems and hydrothermal sediments around the world. The microbes appear to be playing an important role in the global carbon cycle by helping break down decaying plants without producing the greenhouse gas methane.