1000 Word Challenge: The dynasty of the Biology Department lives on!


On April 9th the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy (FOSEP), the Young Naturalists' Society of the Pacific Northwest, and the Burke Museum hosted the 3rd Annual 1000 Word Challenge. The event challenges UW graduate students in STEM research and policy fields to explain their research using ONLY the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language, AKA no jargon. The event was a big success and Biology continued its track record of excellence.







  • 2013: Yasmeen Hussain won overall, while Jonathan Calede and Brandon Peecook won style awards
  • 2014: Dave Slager took home the gold
  • 2015: Dave Slager begins a reign of his own as returning champion! Jen Day earned 2nd place. This was also the first year awards were given out by popular vote rather than by a panel of judges made up of science communication and public outreach experts.
Biology entries below!

DAVID SLAGER (Klicka lab)

1000 Word Entry
: On a nice summer day at our school, you can enjoy having lunch outside on the red rock-covered ground next to the pretty old building for getting books. During lunch, you will see two types of big, loud, warm-blooded flying animals that like to eat pieces of left-over lunch. One kind is white and grey and black and often spends time by the water. I'm not talking about that kind. I'm talking about the smaller black ones that have bright minds and sleep in trees together in groups of hundreds. For many years now, people with nothing better to do have said that there are two different kinds of these black flying animals in our part of the world, even though the two kinds appear exactly the same. Looking at a picture of the land up on a wall, they say that one kind lives above where we are and the other kind lives under where we are. But can you see the problem? Anyone who goes outside at our school knows that there is no clear line -- the flying black animals live here too. What kind are the ones here? Are they the above kind, the under kind, or a cross between the two kinds? If the two "kinds" make babies with each other and those babies often go to other places to find love and make more babies, then can we even say there are really two "kinds" at all?

I study these questions by reading the letters on the very tiny stairs that wrap around each other inside all living things. It is actually a pair of stairs, with one coming from the mother and one from the father. The different letters on these stairs tell the baby's body what kind of grown animal to make. I read the letters from the stairs into the computer, and ask the computer to tell me the answers to all my questions. But it is a little harder than I am making it sound.

If there are really two different kinds of black flying animals, then I would expect to see signs of this in the letters on the stairs. So far, the computer is telling me that there is only one kind of black flying animal here and that the people with nothing better to do were wrong about there being two kinds, but I'm still looking at other possible things to make sure this is the right answer.

Thanks for letting me tell you about what I do. Now, next time you see a big black flying animal outside, you will have something new to wonder about.

Technical entry: A phylogenomic assessment of introgression and species limits in the American/Northwestern Crow complex.

JENNIFER DAY (Wasser lab)
1000 Word entry: Big cats are important to the world, they eat little food animals so there are not too many, which keeps trees, water, and air happy. Those are important things for humans too. Big cats move lots and do not like humans. Humans cut down trees where little food animals live, put bad things in the ground, and make lots of noise. Big cats hate that. When baby big cats grow up, they look for a home place where no other big cats live and where annoying humans are far away. If humans are in the way or there are no trees for little food animals to live in, then big cats have no home place and they die. If baby big cats do find a new home place, then they make more baby big cats. But how do we know where baby big cats go when they grow up? They are very hard to see, there aren't many of them, and they don't like us. So how do we learn about them??? We look for their shit! (We have dogs help, because they are really good at smelling cat shit) Big cat shit tells us all about their life - who their mom and dad are, what little food animals they ate, and if they are sad or scared. Using this, we can tell what humans are doing to the land that hurts big cats, and make better home places for big cats away from humans. This makes the land a better place for both big cats and humans.

Technical entry: I use molecular ecology tools to answer conservation questions. Specifically, I combine landscape genetics and endocrinology to investigate resource use and habitat connectivity of jaguars and puma in southern Mexico.

LEANDER LOVE-ANDEREGG (Hille Ris Lambers lab)
1000 Word entry: We are changing the things that a tree needs to grow. Trees die when they're dry and we're changing the rain. Some trees like it cold, and we're making it hot. What will trees do? Where will they go? How will they live and where will our children be able to find them? These are the questions I ask, because trees will need help dealing with shit that we're throwing at them. If our children and their children are to build tree houses and play in the woods after we check out, we have a lot of work to do.

Technical entry: I study the ecological impact of climate change on the forests of the western United States. Specifically, I explore how climate and species interactions constrain the geographic ranges of tree species in order to develop a mechanistic and predictive framework for understanding the ongoing restructuring of our forest communities.

JARED GRUMMER (Leaché lab)
1000 Word entry: I study love between animals with cold red water stuff inside them. When mom and dad come from very different groups and can make babies, a new animal type might be made. Babies in this new group have some body parts from mom and some from dad. But remember, mom and dad are very different from each other! I am interested to know which parts of the important group of letters inside them, that all animals share, come from the mom group, and which come from the dad group. Then, I can begin to understand which parts of the important group of letters make it so some moms can't make babies with some dads, and how types of animals with cold red water stuff inside them stay the way they are over time.

Technical entry: I am interested in understanding the evolutionary processes that occur at the boundaries between species. In hybridizing taxa, two parental species may merge into a single (hybrid) population, or species boundaries may be reinforced through natural and/or sexual selection. I use genomics to understand particular traits that may be involved in maintaining species boundaries of South American lizards.

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