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Gale Crater sits on a dry, barren, windy plain where temperatures edge into the 60s only during the summer and plummet below freezing most nights. Its mixtures of sun-baked rocks, jagged scarps and deep sands make geological research a struggle.

The fact that Gale Crater is 140 million miles away and on the surface of Mars makes things even more difficult. But what’s locked in the rocks of the windswept crater may help us understand how – and where – life could thrive in the universe.

Each morning, Western’s Melissa Rice wakes up to data fresh from the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, and gets to work. Rice, an assistant professor with dual appointments to both the Geology and Physics departments, is part of the Science Team with the six-wheeled Curiosity, sending it new instructions and plotting its course through the harsh Martian terrain. The team tells Curiosity when to gather samples and drill cores, when to take photos and conduct experiments in its on-board lab.

“Every day brings something new. Some new discovery, or question or quandary,” says Rice, a native of Sammamish. “Solving these problems and working our way around the challenges that inevitably arise as we set about to explore another planet is why I got into science in the first place. It’s just fascinating.”

Rice came to Western this year from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics at Wellesley College and earned her doctorate at Cornell, which is where she first started working on the rover teams.

Read the rest of this story on the website for Window Magazine.

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This past weekend, the Dead Parrots Society improv comedy troupe held a special show to honor its graduating seniors.

WWU Communications and Marketing intern Margaret Degman was there to capture highlights.

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Western Washington University’s Department of Theatre and Dance will perform an original play titled “/faust” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, through Saturday, June 6, with an additional show at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, at Western’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

Tickets for students are $7-12 and $12-$17 for the general public. Discounts are available for WWUfaculty and staff.

Students and faculty from the Department of Theatre and Dance collaborated with film students from the English department to create the performance. The work is inspired by Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faust.”

“/faust” follows the story of Felix and Mara, a film-making couple on the cusp of artistic success and recognition, who are also engaged to be married.  It is different from a traditional production because it has been devised by 17 theatre students, using original source material such as Christopher Marlowe's work, as well as “Goethe's Faust,” along with numerous film adaptations of the Faust myth.

The show also features novel staging. Audiences will be seated in the front section of the main stage balcony, transforming the theatre into a large projection surface.

Rich Brown, the lead devisor/lead director, won the National Award for Outstanding Lead Deviser/Director from the Kennedy Center in 2012. Brown’s last two devised works from Western have been invited to the regional American College Theatre Festival. Brown began collaborating with KavehAskari, a film studies professor in Western’s English department, in December 2013.

Film and theatre classes were scheduled with overlapping time for the students to collaborate on the work.  Theatre student performers/devisers were cast last November and performed research and creation phases during winter quarter classes. The final performance piece was developed and rehearsed during spring quarter.

“The original hunch was to track the history of the moving image through the Faust myth, to equate Faust's need for knowledge and power with the creative act of generating narratives, theatre, films,” Brown said of the basis for “/faust.” Brown said he envisioned the play finding a receptive audience in emerging adults at the crossroads of spirituality, ambition and passion.

Tickets and information are available at cfpa.wwu.edu/theatredance or at the WWU Ticket Office: 360-650-6146. For more information contact Chris Casquilho, arts manager of Marketing and Special Events, at 360-650-2829 or chris.casquilho@wwu.edu

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Periodically, Western Today is reaching out to Western Washington University faculty and staff to get their expertise on topics of interest to the community.

For today's question, we reached out to psychology professor Jeff Grimm to ask a question he's been researching for some time:

Western Today: Your research, among other things, points to the ability of sugar to be as great an addiction to humans as many hardcore drugs such as cocaine. What is it about our brains’ relationship to sugar that makes it so potentially addictive?

Jeff Grimm: “Sugar addiction” or, more generally, “food addiction” has become a fairly common term. This has been cheered by some but not by others. For example, self-proclaimed sugar or food addicts have expressed that they finally can better conceptualize their uncontrolled urges and behavior. Others, in particular some in the drug abuse research and treatment community, scoff at placing sugar along cocaine and heroin.

The truth is that both sides have reasonable arguments for and against the food addiction concept. Certainly, people develop food-related behaviors that are similar to drug addictions. Some key features include intense craving (urges), often in response to food-paired cues, impulsive consumption of food, and eating certain foods or amounts of foods despite negative health consequences. Some rat studies have also identified a physiological withdrawal state following excessive sugar consumption similar to withdrawal from heroin. On the other hand, the psychoactive effects of food do not parallel the intense high of many drugs of abuse nor the wide variety of other effects specific to some drug classes such as pain reduction (opiates) or anxiety and paranoia (psychostimulants such cocaine and the amphetamines).

It is difficult to ignore the commonalities between food and drug addiction, however. As noted above, a key feature of both is the intense craving, impulsive behavior, and intake/administration despite negative health consequences. Focusing on these core features, an answer to what is it about our brains’ relationship to sugar that makes it so potentially addictive is then that sugar (and likely highly palatable foods containing combinations of sugar, fat, and salt) and drugs of abuse affect the same brain circuitry that has been selected for through the course of evolution to impress upon an individual the importance of stimuli in the environment that will promote survival (food, water, social interaction, reproductive opportunity) and further, promote learning to facilitate future interaction of the individual with those stimuli.

For example, a rat comes across a chocolate chip and consumes it. The rat will likely keep returning to that location several times seeking another chip. The same would be observed with a drug—if the rat had the opportunity to drink a solution containing morphine they would likely return to that location seeking the morphine.

In either case, the “addictive substance” (chocolate chip or morphine) is not a stimulus the brain evolved to detect and direct behavior towards. Highly sweet (and fatty and salty too) foods and drugs affect this survival circuitry in a way markedly beyond what the circuitry evolved to come into contact with, as it evolved before concentrated sweets and drugs of abuse became commonplace. This has led some researchers to suggest that highly palatable foods and drugs of abuse “hijack” the normal pro-survival circuitry in the brain. A reasonable conclusion is then that the foods and drugs just do this to a different degree. They are both addictive, but along a spectrum of addiction.

The planned upcoming renovation of the Carver Academic Facility is displacing more than just people. The landscaping around the building will be impacted by the construction, too.

In recognition of that, groundskeepers at Western are moving what they can, including this variegated tulip tree, to other spots on campus. This work took place on Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

Video by Rhys Logan / WWU

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You probably know that Western Washington University's nationally acclaimed Huxley College of the Environment is one of the oldest environmental colleges in the nation and a recognized leader in producing the next generation of environmental professionals and stewards.

But how much do you know about Western Washington University's Huxley College on the Peninsulas?

Based on Huxley College's main-campus interdisciplinary curricula, Huxley College on the Peninsulas offers students in the greater Puget Sound region the opportunity to earn either a B.A. in Environmental Policy or a B.S. in Environmental Science.

Students with an associate's degree can transfer to Western at one of three locations -- Everett, Port Angeles or Poulsbo -- to complete their bachelor’s degree through Huxley College on the Peninsulas.

This video was created by Rhys Logan for Huxley College of the Environment on the Peninsulas' 20th anniversary, which was celebrated this past fall in Port Gamble.

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Western Washington University's campus was filled with hundreds of alumni, parents, students and community members during the annual Back 2 Bellingham celebration May 15 to 17.

The event, put on each year by the Western Alumni Association, featured food, a zip line, theatrical performances, a rock climbing wall, Classes without Quizzes and many other events.

Video by Jake Parrish and Margaret Degman / WWU Communications and Marketing interns

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No matter how long we've been here, we never tire of sunsets from the PAC Plaza.

Video by Rhys Logan / WWU

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In his moving and insightful book "The Boys in the Boat," author Daniel James Brown tells the emotionally charged story of the eight-oar crew team from the University of Washington that beat the odds and won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He shares the stories of working-class boys who came from Washington state's "foggy coastal villages, damp dairy farms, and smoky lumber towns" and mastered the art of rowing and working together to become Olympic champions.

The book was selected as Western Washington University's Western Reads book for the 2014-15 school year. Western Reads is Western’s campus-wide reading program designed to promote intellectual engagement and civil discourse among members of the campus community.

As part of the events surrounding the study of that book this past year, some at Western decided to celebrate the university's own athletes in the boat, holding various celebrations of the women's and men's rowing programs at Western.

Dawn Dietrich, director of Western Reads, explains: "One of the reasons Western Reads chose 'The Boys in the Boat' this year was to highlight the importance of athletics on our campus. Through athletics, students learn about discipline, hard work, balancing course workload and training regimen, and loyalty to the team."

Western has no shortage of standout teams and excellent coaches, she said, but as a tie-in to the book, Western Reads chose to highlight the tremendous achievements of men's and women's crew.

So, Dietrich and the Western Reads team turned to students Nathan Haase and Tohn Keagle to help tell the story of Western's own rowing athletes. The two filmed and photographed a year’s worth of men's crew training regimens and competitions, in addition to interviewing the athletes on the team. The film was created with the intent to be shown at Back 2 Bellingham as the capstone event for the 2014-15 Western Reads season. In addition, it will serve as a promotional video for the men's crew program, Dietrich said.

Haase, the video's editor and director, is a design major. He took a film production course, learned the Adobe Premiere video editing program and got to work. The film was premiered in front of the department this past Tuesday and then to a crowd of 100-plus at Back 2 Bellingham on Saturday.

"What Nathan and Tohn accomplished is nothing short of remarkable," Dietrich said. Stunning cinematography, riveting pacing and rhythm, humor, succinct interview clips, and stylized editing. This film has heart, and you’ll never look at college athletics the same."

The Ethnic Student Center will put on its biggest event of the year, Culture Shock, from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday, May 14, in the Performing Arts Center on Western Washington University's Bellingham campus.

This is an opportunity for members of the ESC, students at WWU and community members to showcase their own cultures and to learn from others. Among the many performances will be spoken word, music and cultural dances.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday, May 14, in the PAC. Doors open at 7.

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