Washington State University Vancouver is Southwest Washington’s only four-year research university. As a student, you can work closely with faculty experts on research of regional, national and international impact, tackling some of the most complex and difficult issues of the modern world.
Across all disciplines, progress in our community and beyond depends on the strength, innovations and independence of university research. From gender equality in the workplace to building sustainable fisheries, researchers at WSU Vancouver pave the way for future generations and help fuel economic growth in Southwest Washington.
Our living digital history
When it comes to literary history, printed books don’t tell the whole story. A recent genre, electronic literature, has emerged on electronic devices to take advantage of their interactive capabilities. “Readers” can shape the experience of consuming these works of art by clicking on links, accessing animation or multimedia content, or even contributing to the text. But electronic literature is usually created on a specific computer platform, and can’t be consumed any other way. If a platform changes or becomes obsolete, the literary work can be lost.
Enter Dene Grigar, associate professor and director of the creative media and digital culture program at Washington State University Vancouver. As part of a research project titled “Pathfinders,” she is looking for better ways to study the digital humanities. The Electronic Literature Lab’s collection of more than 28 vintage Macintosh computers helps make sure that one of the world’s largest collections of electronic literature—an important part of our recent history—remains accessible to scholars of the future.
Human nature and social research
In social research, the truth lies in the context. Yes, you can learn a lot from the data—the percentage of traffic stops involving different races; the correlation between unexcused absences from school and other problematic school behaviors; statistical increases in gang activity in an area following an increase in poverty. But unless you talk to the real people behind the numbers, you cannot know the whole story.
“You can get all the statistics you want,” said Clayton Mosher, professor of sociology at WSU Vancouver, “but if you don’t understand the people who are ‘on the ground,’ you’re not going to figure out what’s going on.” By establishing deep local connections, he has influenced public policy in subjects as diverse as the economics of private prisons, access to drugs and truant behavior.
Getting scientists to speak up
Popular doubt about scientific research—consider vaccines and climate change, for example—can stall proven benefits and maybe even make things worse. Scientists worry that if people don’t understand the science, they won’t appreciate it or believe it. By communicating their research simply and clearly and keeping the long-range perspective in sight, scientists themselves can help alleviate the problem. While few people will pay attention to whether bisphenol A destroys hair cells in zebrafish, they do want to know if there’s something they can do to preserve their hearing.
Allison Coffin is on a mission to help scientists get comfortable talking about their work. “Part of my mission is teaching scientists to communicate clearly and part is to explain to scientists why they should bother,” said coffin, an assistant professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience at WSU Vancouver.
Are these sharks endangered?
Wildlife enthusiasts around the world are following a research project by two WSU Vancouver students, Greg Harris and Dennis Jones, off the Washington coast. They have established the Northwest Shark Preservation Society in hopes of determining the size of the local sevengill shark population and developing policies supporting their conservation. These local sharks could become endangered under current state policies, which classify all shark species as bottom-fish, meaning that individuals can catch and keep up to 15 sharks per day.
To estimate the population size, Harris and Jones are using tags and DNA sampling. They hope this information will offer insight into behavioral patterns and breeding timeframes of sevengill sharks. And they are working with local aquariums and museums to build public awareness of the issue.
What bats can teach us about hearing
WSU Vancouver’s Hearing and Communication lab is popularly known as the bat lab. The resident short-tailed fruit bats are the focus of research designed to lead to better understanding of human hearing and ways to prevent hearing loss. The bats rely on sound rather than sight to create a detailed image of their surroundings, and lab director Christine Portfors is studying how they process sound. Hearing loss is a major health issue, and Portfors’s work is garnering wide recognition. Among other things, she is working on improvements to cochlear implants that help hard-of-hearing people process sounds.
Improving wind turbine blades
In the push for renewable energy, scientists are working to determine the optimal design for wind turbines to maximize efficiency while minimizing costs and impact on birds and the landscape. WSU Vancouver students are part of this solution. A new mini wind farm on campus is a real-world laboratory where students can collect data, correlate the data to the design of the turbines and look for ways to improve the design for better performance.