Science & Technology

Chemist Robert Orwoll (left) raps his knuckles on a sample regolith-polymer brick
Bricks on Mars

Moses and Aaron, the Old Testament tells us, had to make bricks without straw before their people could leave Egypt and begin the journey to the Promised Land. Bob and Dick have to figure out how to make bricks from regolith before their people can leave Earth and begin colonizing Mars.

Ornithologist Dan Cristol
A surge of neurotoxin is no help

Migration is hard on a songbird. It has a commute of thousands of miles — north or south, depending on the season — a journey that often includes a nonstop flight over the Gulf of Mexico or even along nearly the entire coastline of North and South America.

Bryan Watts uses a caliber to take several measurements of an eaglet as Bart Paxton helps to steady the bird.
Leaving the nest

Shane Lawler was taking care of business in a loblolly pine, 90 feet above Gospel Spreading Farm, unfazed by the agitated bald eagles spiraling around his head. "All right!" he yelled to Bryan Watts, waiting at the base of the tree. "I've got one bird in a bag."

Inspired by fish

What if we could design industrial filters that just don’t clog? William & Mary ichthyologist Laurie Sanderson has a patent pending on a new type of filter that is designed to be clogless, or at least clog-resistant.


Computer developers work like runners in a race. One foot — software — has to keep pace with the advancement of the other foot — hardware. (And vice versa, of course).

An image from the SXS Project depicts the collision of two black holes
Black holes collide

William & Mary’s physics community squeezed into a single room the morning of Feb. 11 to hear the announcement, a group of just-from-class undergraduates finding room on the floor and in odd corners.

Sara Schad ’16, Cyril Anyetei-Anum ’16, Chancellor Professor of Biology Lizabeth Allison and M.S. student Dylan Zhang
Downtown Cell City?

Think of a cell as a city, a metropolis both constructed of and populated by proteins.

Haitao Xu reports for work on the Alibaba corporate campus in Hangzhou, China.
A digital detective

Online ratings and reviews are a helpful, if imperfect, guide for potential customers.

Faraz Rahman (left) and Jasmin Green, known collectively as “Jafar” look over the open water of Lake Matoaka with Kurt.
Going viral

Lake Matoaka has a thriving and diverse population of viruses living in its waters. And that’s good.

Larry Leemis
Big love for big data

If there is a fire hydrant in front of your home, premiums on your homeowner’s insurance will be lower than the same home without a fire hydrant in its proximity.

Comfort food

Psychologists have traditionally looked to the mind to help people living with mental health issues. But a recent study led by William & Mary researchers shows that the stomach may also play a key role.

Mathew Wawersik
One of a thousand

You have to look pretty closely to find Matthew Wawersik's name on this paper. The list of authors and their affiliations goes on for most of four pages.

Catherine Wise ’15 discusses progress on her nickel catalyst with Assistant Professor of Chemistry William McNamara
Taking a leaf from nature

William & Mary chemist William McNamara is taking a “bio-inspired” approach to the world’s energy crisis by turning to nature’s very own chemical power plant: photosynthesis.

Mary Seward, a graduate student in biology
High anxiety

A team of biologists at William & Mary has begun a long-term experiment to determine what is behind the degradation of the College Woods ecosystem.

Sonic Nets

Scarecrows have never worked, and history shows that advancements in technology haven’t worked much better when it comes to shooing birds away from ripening crops.

Gunter Lüpke (left) and Wei Zhang
It’s a small world

The surface of a metal seems smooth, but a closer look—much closer, at the atomic level—will show that the same surface resembles the surface of a beehive.

Le Mangeur de Bleuets

Over the songs of Swainson’s thrush and white-throated sparrows come the soothing calls of approaching whimbrels. Soon 24 birds in formation appear over the tree line and begin a wide circle over the blueberry field.

Rebooting algae

William & Mary scientists are rebooting their algae biofuel initiative, aiming to build on opportunities brought about by new processes, new funding and newly patented apparatus.

Apps in the Cloud

Mike Panciera had already helped a blind man navigate the perilous fantasy worlds of video games. It made sense that the next step would be to design a mobile app to help the blind find their way through the interiors of real buildings.

The missing birds

Mercury takes a toll on the population of songbirds, even at sublethal doses.

Ubiquitous, yet elusive

Neutrinos are interesting to physicists for some of the same reasons that pottery shards are interesting to archaeologists.

At TribeHacks

H. Wade Minter, the chief technology officer at a company that provides web and mobile services to five million users, stood in Swem Library, looked out upon the frantic final minutes of William & Mary’s first 24-hour hackathon and talked about the influence of the liberal arts on computer science.

Center for Conservation Biology scientists use a variety of  indicators, including size and markings, to determine the age of eagle nestling. This chick is eight weeks old.
More eagles, more questions

The Center for Conservation Biology has begun its 2014 flights to survey nesting bald eagles and Mitchell Byrd is once again in the co-pilot seat.

Shorebird central

It is dawn near the mouth of the Pacora River in Panama and the shorebirds are beginning to break from their night roost on an offshore bar. They move out over the water in dozens of flocks, merging and splitting, folding and undulating, to make abstract sculptures between water and sky.

Ellen Stofan
It takes a field geologist

Listening to Ellen Stofan talk to a room full of geologists is like being in on a brainstorming session for a new science fiction movie.

Be there…or be 1/r²

The hyper-rational world of science has always made a bit of room to accommodate legend and William & Mary will soon be home to a living piece of one of the most well known scientific legends: a descendant of Isaac Newton’s apple tree.

A great blue mystery

In February, the great blue herons of the Chesapeake Bay region will begin their nest building or repair chores and their mating rituals—perhaps in a tree they’ve been sharing with bald eagles.

John Leckey
Finessing the weak force

The weak force is, for laymen, the least known of the quartet of interactions that run the universe as we know it.

Geology major Kat Turk ’16 and William & Mary paleontologist Rowan Lockwood
Un-beached whale

Cornwallis sank as he died, making a couple of revolutions on his way down, finally ending belly up and flippers akimbo, making a sort of “whale angel” on the ocean bottom.

Math major Robert Torrence shows off his digital “New York Times” version of the classic Lights Out puzzle.
A bigger, harder ‘Lights Out’

William & Mary math student Robert Torrence is shedding some light on a decades-old game that continues to puzzle thousands each year.

Tired of being a host

Early one morning in December, Jon Allen had decided that enough was enough.

John Delos
Breathing more easily

The premature baby’s life is well monitored, but precarious. Among the dangers that preemies face are episodes of central apnea.

A summer of sequencing

It was the summer that the freshmen ruled the sequencer. Technically, they finished their freshman year and therefore did their summer work as rising sophomores. But never mind quibbles.

Lynsey LeMay checks the program agenda between presentations

Dozens of geoscience instructors across the nation gathered at William & Mary this summer to discuss ways to enhance student success in earth-science programs at America’s two-year colleges.

a bald eagle feeding her young in a nest within Charles City County
Comeback central for eagles

There are more bald eagles than ever nesting along the James River—and it’s likely that the population is getting close to the saturation point.

Mouse and tether

The average American spends about seven hours a day looking at an electronic screen. With this much of a role in our daily lives, our electronic devices must be updated frequently with the newest technology to reflect usage patterns and make the user’s experience more efficient and safe.

Joanna Weeks ’13 drags a canvas flag over the forest floor
Yes, we have more ticks...

Collecting tick specimens is easy—you drag a white piece of canvas over the right piece of ground, then turn it over. Voila—ticks!

A tale of two cities

It was the best of times. Wahunsenacawh, also known as Chief Powhatan, had settled into a new capital town on a bay off what is now the York River.

Hans Christian von Baeyer
Diagnosing Schrödinger’s Cat

Hans von Baeyer says that we all can stop worrying about Schrödinger’s Cat. Science’s most famous imaginary feline may indeed be dead—or perhaps it’s alive. But it is certainly not both.

Invertebrate love

Spring is in full bloom in William & Mary’s biology labs, with more than 350 undergraduate students spawning marine invertebrates.

A sample of bacteriophage peptides are loaded into a mass spectrometer for analysis
Turning the phage

It was a hard act to follow. What could possibly be a follow-up to a group of freshmen discovering a new form of life and finding new genes in its genome?

Marc Sher
A nightmare scenario

It turns out that the Higgs boson looks exactly like Marc Sher always said it would, and now he’s a little bummed.

Bob Vold at the new Thomas Harriott Observatory atop Small Hall
Opening the shutter

The transit of Venus is, at best, a twice-in-a-lifetime event. Transits come in pairs, eight years apart, and these pairs come more than 100 years apart.

Allison Oldham ’13
Adding up CSUMS

For the past five summers, while other students were hitting the beach, William & Mary math majors had been hitting the books and the labs to conduct computational mathematics research.

The female incubates while her mate guards the nest.
Reality show

The nest sits nearly a hundred feet up in a lone loblolly pine in Richmond, where a pair of eagles makes their home along the fall line of Virginia’s longest river. An interesting story unfolds as the eagles star in their own reality show.

Yulin Ge inspects one of the vintage scientific texts from Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center
Meeting Isaac Newton

It wouldn’t look out of place in a library at Hogwarts, and indeed Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica is a work of an age in which alchemy and modern science were just beginning to diverge.

Closer to a solution

Saskia Mordijck believes that safer, more economical fusion-generated electricity is achievable, but more work—and funding—are necessary to make it a reality.

Blue crab
Nailing a crab-killer

Jeff Shields and colleagues at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science have succeeded in their 15-year effort to unravel the life history of Hematodinium.

Forested wetlands
Guarding the Bay's headwaters

Every day throughout the Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed, city and county officials make land-use decisions—approval of a new subdivision, siting of a retention pond, preservation of a green space—that ultimately impact the Bay.

Center for Conservation Biology researcher Fletcher Smith lowers his mosquito net for a quick picture with Akpik..
That’s just how whimbrels roll

Catching whimbrels on their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle is quite different from trapping those same birds in their mid-migration staging areas on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Lord Botetourt stays above the fray as Confederate raiders clash with Union occupiers of William & Mary’s campus during the Civil War
Life during wartime

Archaeologists working in the university's Brafferton Yard have uncovered evidence of a time a century and a half ago in which the normally placid Historic Campus was a Civil War battleground.

The Chickahominy look back

The tribal name, Chickahominy, translates to “coarse-ground corn people,” and indeed their language contributed the word “hominy” to English.

From the dock to your fork

Local seafood once provided a major economic and cultural link between the Chesapeake Bay and the people in its watershed. Today—with a few exceptions—the crabs, oysters and fish on your plate are more likely to come from the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean or the Far East.

AidData partners with climate change center to launch foreign-aid mapping tool

AidData, in partnership with the Strauss Center’s Climate Change and African Political Stability program (CCAPS), has launched an online data portal that enables researchers and policymakers to visualize data on climate change vulnerability, conflict, and aid, and to analyze how these issues intersect in Africa.

Heather Macdonald is a finalist for Robert Foster Cherry Award

"Why do we study geosciences?” Heather Macdonald asked her audience at the Robert Foster Cherry Lecture. She then ran down a list of timely geoscience topics, including hurricanes, earthquakes, climate change, volcanoes and petroleum and other natural resources.

Bob Vold looks for a break in the clouds from the shutter of the Thomas Herriott Observatory to view the transit of Venus
Waiting for the sun

Cheerful optimism dueled with philosophical resignation atop Small Hall as moving clouds alternately obscured and revealed the setting sun.

Almost as good as an outcrop

Heather Macdonald has always been eager to get her new geosciences students out of the classroom and into the field—especially if there is a handy outcrop.

Hands-on activity is a hallmark of the STEM Education Alliance summer academies.
STEM Education Alliance

“Three, two, one …” A rocket made out of a two-liter bottle shoots into the blue sky, a line of white smoke trailing behind.

Post-doctoral chemist Jaeton Glover (center) displays samples of polymers reinforced with graphene oxide.
Lighter, stronger, better

A group of researchers at the College of William & Mary have made important advances in technology combining polymers—the material of the present—with graphene—the material of the future.

Architectural rendering of Phase 3 of William & Mary's Integrated Science Center
Phase 3

Members of the Committee on Buildings and Grounds of William & Mary’s Board of Visitors were treated to an advance look at the Machine for Science and other features of Phase 3 of the College’s Integrated Science Center.

ARES will parachute down to above the surface of Mars
Airplane over the Red Planet

William & Mary might become the base for a mission to Mars. The mission is called ARES—the Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor. Joel Levine explains that the idea is to send an airplane to Mars.

Science, in 3 to 5 minutes

There are the arts, and then there are the sciences. There is literature, language and film, and then there is calculus, physics and experiments.

VIMS grad student Samuel Lake shows off his game with Kristin Kelley
PERFECT combination

Theresa Davenport was having some trouble with a football player. Davenport was explaining to a biology class at Grafton High School about some of the problems that can stem from seawater that is low in oxygen.

Diving into Colonial history

A partnership between the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Watermen’s Museum in historic Yorktown is giving students at three local schools an opportunity to dive into Colonial history—literally.

W&M School of Education
Launching Camp Launch

While William & Mary’s students are away from campus in summer, a new—and considerably younger—set of students will take their place in the dorms and in the classrooms, learning about science and cutting-edge technology.

Anne Charity Hudley
... it's also how you say it

The 30 students in a high school classroom may all speak English, but a mix of factors in each student’s background shapes how he or she speaks it. The same is true for the teacher.

Emil Davis, biology teacher at Bruton High School, gets his students Kai Brown (front) and Brittany Cordero started on a gel electrophoresis experiment as William & Mary biologist Margaret Saha looks on.
Summer updates

Every summer since 1999, a number of high school biology teachers gather in the labs and classrooms of William & Mary’s Integrated Science Center to work with and discuss the latest advances in research with the College’s biologists.

Rocking the geologists

The William & Mary Department of Geology has acquired a world-class mineral collection that geologists say will be a valuable resource in the department for many years.

Pushing their own boundaries

William & Mary students are pushing the envelope when it comes to undergraduate research. Hundreds of them put their research on display when the College hosted the 18th Annual Undergraduate Science Research Symposium.

Changing flavors

An international team of physicists has reported the first set of observations detailing important behavior of neutrino oscillation, an accomplishment that is a necessary step to additional experiments intended to answer fundamental questions about the makeup of the universe.

All about the algorithms

Sometimes the guys on Team Gold say “worlds.” Other times, they say “finals.” Both terms refer to the World Finals of the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC) to be held in May in Warsaw, Poland.

Calling citizen ornithologists

Do you have an osprey nest in your neighborhood? If so, the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) wants to hear from you—on a regular basis.

Intracellular traffic control

William & Mary molecular biologist Lizabeth Allison has received a grant of more than $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

From music to dark matter

Ari Cukierman enrolled as a freshman at William & Mary intending to major in music and philosophy. He'll graduate near the top of his class of 2012 as a physics-math double major, with at least one important peer-reviewed paper to his credit.

Geology at the half-century mark

William & Mary’s Department of Geology is celebrating its 50th birthday—not even a tick of the clock in terms of the age of the earth.

They really drank this stuff?

Geologists at William & Mary are analyzing a possible contributing cause of the deaths at Jamestown Island during the Starving Time of 1609 and 1610—bad drinking water.

Almost like magic

All actions in nature can be expressed numerically. That’s biomathematics in a very, very small nutshell. Kiah Hardcastle has her own way to describe the concept.

Kirk Havens of VIMS appointed vice chair of Chesapeake panel

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) has appointed Kirk Havens of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, to serve as the committee’s vice chair and chair-elect.

No longer too small

Small Hall is no longer too small. “We were just bursting at the seams in terms of space,” said David Armstrong, Chancellor Professor of Physics and department chair.

Lisa Landino
Warrior against Alzheimer’s

Lisa Landino studies the chemistry behind what she calls “the big three” neurodegenerative diseases: Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

Headed for dark matter

Reinard Primulando, a Ph.D. student in the William & Mary Department of Physics, is a recipient of a Fermilab Fellowship in Theoretical Physics.

Next stop: oblivion

Sometimes you want to prevent extinction. In other cases, you want to hurry extinction along.

Seth Aubin
Cold & Ultracold

A collection of atoms in the basement of Small Hall is a million times colder than outer space. It's one of the coldest spots in the universe, but it's not cold enough. Yet.

A closer look

Matthew Wawersik spends a lot of time looking at fruit flies. His lab uses these little bugs as a model to study germ line stem cell development.

The chicks go wild

Virginia’s breeding population of red-cockaded woodpeckers reached a new high this year, with nine breeding pairs documented in late May.

On the map

David Soller ’76 is the keeper of what is possibly the world’s largest digital glove compartment.

A better & bigger Small Hall

“The building itself is always part of a physics experiment” says Keith Griffioen, professor and chair of the physics department. And in recent years, he added, Small Hall often was an unwanted part.

Bumper crop of bald eagles

The bald eagle breeding population along the James River has set a new record, with 165 breeding pairs of the birds documented in early March.

Whipping the SciClone

Combining the power of 159 computers and 475 individual processors, SciClone, William & Mary’s scientific computing complex, is an important resource for the College and a unique feature for a campus this size.

Teaching through research win

William & Mary’s first freshman phage lab has demonstrated what possibly is the straightest learning curve known to science: zero to co-authorship in a peer-reviewed journal in under three years.

A sense for sensors

They’re everywhere. Tiny sensors designed to track information.

Where the boys aren’t

A paper published in the prestigious online journal Nature Communications reveals the molecular biology behind a certain worm’s ability to break—or at least ignore—the laws of Mendelian genetics.

Early starter

When Mohima Sanyal '14 would drop a transgenic mouse into the lab’s Y-shaped maze, she had a pretty good idea of how the mouse would react.

Dreyfus Scholar

William & Mary’s Elizabeth Harbron is one of six U.S. chemists to be named Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars.

To harness the wild algae

At first glance, algae seem like ideal candidates for biofuel. After all, each algal organism has at its center a dab of energy-rich oils and sugars. If you get enough algae, you can extract the oil—or ferment the sugar into alcohol—and use it to put a sizeable dent in the world’s thousand barrel per second petroleum consumption.

International honors

Two William & Mary scientists working in the laboratory of R. A. Lukaszew recently were recognized at the 57th International Symposium of the American Vacuum Society.

Got it on eBay…

…and our transmission electron microscope is running just fine, thanks

The Starving Time

A VIMS study of 400-year-old oyster shells from the Jamestown settlement confirms that a harsh drought plagued the early years of the colony and made the James River much saltier than today.

Ghost(pot) busters!

Out-of-work commercial watermen pulled up more than 9,000 derelict so-called "ghost pots" from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries this winter.

MENU 2010
Mediating mesons

Nuclear physicists gather here to sort out the strong force.

A double mystery

Rusty blackbirds are threatened across their range--except on the William & Mary campus.

W&M receives $1.2 million for young scientists

The College of William and Mary has been awarded $1.2 million in funding by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), part of a nationwide program to help universities strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education.

Big river, big study

Steinberg-led VIMS team to join Amazon River research project by David Malmquist

Off the map

GIS data-stitching opens new research horizons.

Bright Idea
A Bright Idea

Your first fuel cell-powered car just moved a little closer.

'On the Cutting Edge'

Science honors Macdonald and colleagues for professional-development resources.

Full Circle

Hope, a whimbrel fitted with a transmitter last year, has returned to the Eastern Shore. She's the first whimbrel the Center for Conservation Biology has tracked on the migratory "full circle."

ChAP scientists comment on benefits of algal biofuel

A letter from several participants in the Chesapeake Algae Program is printed in the leading journal "Science." The writers point out several environmental benefits of using algae as biofuel feedstock.

Traffic Control

Lizabeth Allison studies nuclear transport, but her work has nothing to do with nuclear energy.

Never trust a whimbrel

These shifty, stilt-legged shorebirds continue to surprise even seasoned scientists.

Legislators learn about Chesapeake Bay issues at VIMS

Members of the Virginia House of Delegates' Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resource Committee visited the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in August to talk with researchers about issues facing the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.

ChAP: Biofuel from aquatic algae

A number of researchers converge on a way to take algae and make it into fuel on an industrial scale.

A brisk morning's walk through ISC 2

Rogers Hall has been renovated and is now part of the Integrated Science Center. The labs are working, even as unpacking continues.

Every breath you take

New research reveals a new paradigm for the neural origins of the rhythm of respiration.

Basement to ceiling

Seniors in the geology department do a whirlwind tour from the bottom of a slate quarry to the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

SCORS: The scientific approach to solar energy on campus

The idea is to harness the sun to generate electricity, but first the people in SCORS had to know which photovoltaic technology is best to use. And to determine that, they first needed to know more about the weather.

Tracking the elusive ghost particle

You can't feel them, but neutrinos are passing through your body in large numbers. They have no charge and very low mass, but their scientific value is priceless.

Integrating Sciences

ISC 1 is open and producing science. ISC 2 is under construction. Just wait until we build ISC 3.

Beginnings: From the fryer into the van

In a corner of the Keck Environmental Field Laboratory sit an old water heater, a plastic holding tank and a few pumps, set up in a purple-painted particleboard frame with the air of an eighth grade science project.

The Eagle Trappers

Aberdeen Proving Ground, up at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, is a busy place.

Mercury: It's not just in fish anymore

Songbirds feeding near the contaminated South River are showing high levels of mercury, even though they aren't eating food from the river itself.

Roberts honored for contributions to environmental sociology

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of sociology and director of William and Mary's environmental science and policy program, was recently awarded the Buttel Distinguished Contribution Award for his contribution to the field of environmental sociology.

Kinesiology students win research fellowships

Two William and Mary kinesiology students will be performing laboratory research as undergraduate fellows of the American Physiological Society during the summer of 2008.

Oceanographer named 'Outstanding Faculty'

Carl Friedrichs, an oceanographer at the School of Marine Science/Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, has received the Commonwealth's highest honor for professors.

College participates in HHMI initiative

This fall, a group of freshmen will begin their first year participating in a long-term biology research project, part of an initiative to reform science education by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Musick honored for lifetime opus

Jack Musick of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been awarded the Commonwealth's Lifetime Achievement in Science award for his work on the ecology and conservation of marine fishes and sea turtles.

VIMS scientists to study blue-crab disease

Jeffrey Shields of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science received a five-year, $2.4-million federal grant to study how fishing pressure and declines in water quality affect the emergence and spread of a blue crab disease in the seaside bays of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Are we losing terrapins to crab pots?

Megan Rook, a graduate student in William and Mary's Department of Biology, has received $20,000 in funding to allow her to continue her studies of diamondback terrapins.

Changing your spots

Optical illusions can be deceiving, but are we just fooling ourselves?

ISC update: Looking forward to spring break

We've passed the halfway point in the three-year construction process of Phase I and II of William and Mary's Integrated Science Center and progress is on track to meet the first important deadline - spring break.