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Science In Utah: A Community Effort

May 1, 2020
Photo of a firebug
Waza_67 via Pixabay

Scientists face some challenges when it comes to data collection — equipment is expensive and funding isn’t always available. But museums, government agencies and other institutions are working with their communities to solve these problems across the world and right here in Utah. Citizen science uses volunteers of all ages — from school kids to retirees — to collect data.

As so many telecommuters, teachers, college students and children work and learn from home, there have been fears that the Internet wouldn't be up to the task. But so far, it seems to be largely coping with the increased traffic.


Photo of medical gloves and a mask
Yevhenii Orlov via iStock

Proper protection for health care workers is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, but supplies are running low. To learn more about the basics of personal protective equipment, KUER’s Caroline Ballard spoke with Dr. Rachael Jones, an industrial hygiene expert who teaches at the University of Utah. 

Photo of debris on sidewalk.
Sonja Hutson / KUER

Updated 5:36 p.m. MDT 3/18/2020

The 5.7 earthquake that shook Salt Lake County and the region Wednesday morning had Utahns already anxious from the coronavirus even more on edge.  

Photo of a water tower and power lines
Michael Cramer / Flickr

New Report Spotlights The Rural West’s Connectivity Gap 

A report published this week by the National Association of Counties found that more than 75% of rural counties had internet and cellular connections that fell well below minimum government standards. The problem is especially acute in the Mountain West. For the most part, only wealthy enclaves like Jackson, Wyoming, have good broadband, the study’s connectivity maps show.

Photo of mushrooms on the ground
Candace Bever / Agricultural Research Service

Wild mushroom foragers in the Mountain West may soon have a new and easy way to tell if their pickings are poisonous. 

Wildland firefighters use fire retardant — the red stuff that air tankers drop — to suppress existing blazes. But Stanford researchers have developed a gel-like fluid they say makes fire retardant last longer and could prevent wildfires from igniting in the first place if applied to ignition-prone areas.

Photo of vertebrae in plaster.
Kate Groetzinger / KUER

WHITE MESA — Just south of Blanding, researchers are excavating seven giant dinosaur vertebrae. They are part of a 70-foot-long diplodocus skeleton that will be on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Susan Lang, U. of S.C. / NSF / ROV Jason / 2018 © WHOI

Here are the basic building blocks of most life as we know it: carbon, energy, and water. But if you’re looking for signs of life in space – you need to change how you think about life itself.

Photo of race cars at salt flats.
Erik Neumann / KUER

At the starting line at the Bonneville Speedway, drivers were being strapped into sleek, bullet-shaped machines and souped-up classic cars. Engines roared as they waited in line for what they hoped would be a record-setting run.

Photo of a bollard light illuminating the main street in Ivins with a warm glow.
David Fuchs / KUER

IVINS — Around 11:30 p.m. on a recent, cloudless Monday night, Tim Povlick was hard at work measuring the brightness of the sky. 

Photo of Jim Taylor.
Kelsie Moore / KUER

July 16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. Like any adventure, those astronauts needed a map to get them there. But how do you chart a landscape 238,900 miles away? KUER’s Elaine Clark spoke with Stansbury Park resident and retired physicist Jim Taylor about how he helped map the moon.

An organization called ‘500 Women Scientists’ got its start in the Mountain West. Now, it has gone global with a database of experts who are also women.

It all started when members of the group noticed a pattern: an overabundance of something they call ‘manels.’

“They are all-male panels,” says Liz McCullagh, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado and a member of 500 Women Scientists. “And in particular in fields where we know there’s a lot of representation of women, it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Screenshot of app landing page.
Richard Medina, Emily Nicolosi

As the number of active white nationalist groups continues to rise across the country and the Mountain West, researchers at the University of Utah have unveiled a new app that lets people anonymously report hate crimes and speech.

iStock.com / manusapon kasosod

Listening to Mozart may help drastically reduce pain and inflammation, according to a new study from researchers at University of Utah Health published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Neurology.

Photo of a man behind steering wheel holding out a smartphone.
iStock.com / bernardbobo

Utah drivers could soon be able to throw their wallets out the window under a new law permitting digital driver’s licenses.

Photo of McGuire.
Judy Fahys / KUER

If your car warns when you drift into another lane or it adjusts the cruise control automatically, you’re already using self-driving vehicle technology.

Photo of data center.
iStock.com / scanrail

In what may be the first of its kind, a proposed bill in Utah’s upcoming legislative session could strengthen privacy protections for digital information stored on third-party software.

Photo of Zhan.
Broadcom MASTERS

It all started with an allergy to “brilliant blue.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife just announced they’ve discovered a species of cutthroat trout previously thought to be extinct. They also said the species was threatened again this summer.

Walking through forests across the Mountain West, you might not realize you’re walking past historical artifacts big enough to crush you. These artifacts are pine and cedar trees that have had their bark peeled off in a special way. The trees are a bit of a mystery to archaeologists, and one they’re running out of time to solve.

Green algae on top of Utah Lake.
Green algae on top of Utah Lake.

Satellite data is being used to pinpoint harmful algal blooms in Utah.

Throughout the Western U.S., water conservation is in the toilet.

And that’s a good thing.

Gorodenkoff via iStock

A new Facebook data center is coming to Eagle Mountain in western Utah County, but not everyone is excited about the plan.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for an investigation into the National Park Service, pointing to a report they say follows a "pattern" of censoring scientists who study climate change. So I checked in with the scientist who wrote the latest report and is now worried about her future.

Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat this week. He’s testifying in front of Congress about Facebook user profiles being mined without permission.  

The data breach prompted a “Delete Facebook” movement that hasn’t really gained any traction.

That’s especially true in the Native American community, where Facebook is much more than sharing cat videos or keeping in touch with friends and family.  

Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben


A geology professor from Brigham Young University in Provo is part of a team that NASA might be funding to go to space. Their proposal involves getting a sample of sand from one of Saturn’s moons.

Breakthrough Prize

Every year, mathematicians and scientists from across the country get together for an event dubbed the “Oscars of Science.” This year, a University of Utah math professor took home a big prize for his work in algebraic geometry.

Julia Ritchey / KUER

Jim Pechmann is probably one of the few remaining people in the world who wears a pager clipped to his belt. But it’s for a good reason.

Judy Fahys / KUER News

A petite potato is putting Garfield County in the scientific spotlight this week. That’s where Utah researchers say they’ve found evidence of the earliest use of wild spuds in North America.

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