While many want to put the pandemic in the past, unfortunately, 2022 proved that COVID‑19 is very much still here.
Washington State University’s most widely covered research of the year involved the discovery of a virus, a type of cousin to SAR-CoV-2, in Russian bats that could possibly jump to humans. This study demonstrates the impact and importance of WSU’s leading infectious disease research that hopefully, can help prevent or minimize the next viral outbreak.
Much of the WSU research that had the broadest general interest reach this year also had to do with health and wellness, ranging from the benefits of exercise to a new potential autism test to finding clues to fight diabetes from hibernating bears.
Several of the discoveries highlighted how the university realizes its land-grant mission to find real-world solutions, such as making use of disposable masks in cement and a way to help conventional thinkers be more creative.
And yet others revealed the world’s fascination with both the small things on Earth — like the spread of stink bugs — and the grandest dreams to go beyond our planet with a study envisioning how to make materials on Mars.
WSU News staff analyzed the 84 research press releases from the past year, using the Meltwater media tracking software to calculate their “potential reach.” This figure, which combines estimated readership and viewership of all media outlets where the story appeared, represents how many times the story may have been seen. It provides a rough estimate of how much public exposure WSU has earned through promoting its research.
Below are the 10 biggest from 2022, including their potential reach numbers, examples of high-impact media articles, and potential explanations for their success. Following that is the full list of research releases from last year ranked by total potential reach.
MSN, Time Magazine, Daily Mail, International Business Times, Yahoo News
It’s called Khosta‑2: a virus found in Russian bats that could potentially jump to humans, and as much as people might not want to hear about a new possible pandemic, they really did want to read about how it might be stopped. Khosta‑2 is a sarbecovirus, a class of viruses that includes the one that causes COVID‑19. This Russian bat virus isn’t a problem, yet, but that’s the point of the study led by WSU virologist Michael Letko. More than 500 media outlets carried the story, and its warning, worldwide hopefully inspiring preventative measures, such as the development of a vaccine.
BBC, The Hill, The Independent, KOMO‑TV
This story spread almost as quickly as its foul-smelling subject matter, the voracious, and too familiar, stink bugs. Many people know these insects well because they like to overwinter in human homes. Now, according to research led by Javier Gutierrez Illan, stink bugs may be on the move as climate change alters temperature and humidity of their favorite areas. More than 340 outlets carried the story, and like the bugs, more keep popping up in new places.
Daily Mail, Consumer Affairs, New Atlas, Atlanta Journal‑Constitution
Good news travels faster than a rat on a treadmill. This experiment by Travis Brown showed that intense running by rats dampened their enthusiasm for fat-heavy pellets, a finding that holds out hope for human dieters everywhere. The story found its way to over 200 outlets from big national media to small town papers.
Newsweek, TechRadar, National Science Foundation, SpaceNews.com
Amit Bandyopadhyay has done it again. In 2011, the WSU engineer’s team pioneered the use of Lunar regolith — moon dust and rocks — in 3D printing. This year, he led work using Martian regolith in 3D printing in preparation for humans someday traveling to the red planet. Being able to create tools and other materials on site will be important for any Mars mission because as Bandyopadhyay points out, if we forget or break something “we cannot come back to get it.” With the help of WSU videographers, this vision captured the imagination of people around the globe.
Seattle Times, MSN, Scribd, Hindustan Times, KHQ‑TV
A potential new test for autism that measures how eyes’ respond to light could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disorder. The work led by Georgina Lynch holds out hope that more kids with this Autism Spectrum Disorder could have interventions very early which research shows leads to better outcomes. With the rising frequency of the disorder’s diagnosis, this story earned attention from a wide variety of media outlets.
KOMO‑TV, Yahoo News, CTV News, Miami Herald
The pandemic threatened health, upended everyday life — it also left a mess. Thousands of disposable masks were filtering into the trash, and Xiaming Shi saw an opportunity. His team developed a way to use the mask material in a cement mix to make the resulting concrete more durable. The ubiquity of the masks, and perhaps the desire to be rid of them, likely fueled interest in this story of putting them into the ground beneath our feet.
WebMD, Runners World, World Economic Forum, UPI
Exercise may not change our genes, but it can change the molecules that influence how they behave — what’s known as epigenetics. This study brought together the epigenetic expertise of Michael Skinner with the twin study leadership of Glen Duncan. Studying identical twins helped the researchers separate genetic influences from the epigenetic ones. They found that the twin siblings who exercised more had lowered signs of metabolic disease both in things like waist size and body mass index as well as epigenetic changes. The good news that not all is pre-determined by birth interested fitness-seekers as well as media catering to health care workers and policy makers.
Houston Chronicle, StudyFinds, Yahoo News, Neuroscience News
Business researcher Lily Zhu showed her own ability to be creative in not only designing this study but also promoting it. Zhu’s research showed that asking conventional thinkers to try “emotional reappraisal,” such as reframing an anger-inducing situation as sad or neutral, allowed them to come up with more creative ideas on another project. The initial press release gained some good interest, but the story went even further when Zhu wrote her own article for The Conversation, a site designed to help researchers write about their own work for a general audience.* AP picked it up and since then news sites all over the world are reprinting it.
*Researchers interested in writing an article for The Conversation are welcome to contact the WSU News team for help and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Geographic, Oregon Public Broadcasting, NPR: Science Friday, Washington Post
Bears are charismatic, and most stories related to the grizzlies at WSU Bear Center, the only facility of its kind in the U.S., make headlines. A team of researchers made a significant leap forward in identifying how the bears can get so fat, do so little, and still remain healthy, with possible implications for future treatment of human diabetes. This story, especially coupled with beautiful photos of the bears by WSU photographer Bob Hubner, made it a great fit for TV coverage and glossy magazines in addition to newspapers and radio programs.
Healthline, CNN, Discover Magazine, UPI
Cannabis research almost always sees strong media interest. This good news about cannabis legalization helping prevent poisonings from synthetic imposters like “Spice” or “K2” made many headlines. The story’s spread was also helped by the many great interviews provided by study lead author, nursing researcher Traci Klein who also serves as assistant director of the WSU’s Center for Cannabis Policy, Research and Outreach.
- Highly emotional people drawn to cats for stress relief programs
- Honey holds potential for making brain-like computer chips
- Smart pacifier developed to monitor infant health in hospitals
- Air pollution from wildfires, rising heat affected 68% of U.S. West
- Good sleep can increase women’s work ambitions
- Gender gap in leadership aspirations changed little in 60 years
- Respiratory viruses that hijack immune mechanisms may have Achilles’ heel
- Chemotherapy could increase disease susceptibility in future generations
- More spice could help seniors avoid salt
- Viagra promising as treatment for canine eating disorder
- Epigenetic biomarkers found that potentially predict preterm birth
- New way found to turn #7 plastic into valuable products
- Study identifies key protein that drives rheumatoid arthritis damage
- Nurses’ communication and driving skills suffer after 12‑hour night shifts
- Researchers improve cement with shrimp shell nanoparticles
- People prefer interacting with female robots in hotels
- Test can detect deadly genetic mutation in cats
- Wildlife crossings potentially save millions in Washington state
- Increasing evidence that bears are not carnivores
- WSU-designed, nano-engineered sealer leads to more durable concrete
- Study finds elk hoof disease may affect antlers
- About 16% of couples are divided on vaccination
- Co-occurring droughts could threaten global food security
- Viral proteins join forces to lower plants’ defense ‘shields’
- Novel waste treatment efficiently converts sewage to biogas
- Astronomers identify likely location of medium‑sized black holes
- Hydrogen production method opens up clean fuel possibilities
- Not everybody hates looking at themselves on Zoom
- Teens with COVID‑19 knowledge reported better well‑being
- Automated drones could scare birds off agricultural fields
- Food texture key to eating habits in children with Down syndrome
- Native Americans face disproportionate travel burden for cancer treatment
- AI predicts infant age, gender based on temperament
- Trust in government linked to work attitudes
- Travel desire increases COVID‑19 vaccination intention
- Core strength could help dogs avoid knee injuries
- Few Americans see race as key factor in environmental inequality
- Trapping sperm in semen’s natural gel could lead to new contraceptive
- From computer to benchtop: WSU researchers find clues to new mechanisms for coronaviruses infections
- Eco-friendly credentials not benefiting hotels financially, study says
- Nano-sized islands open possibilities for application of single-atom catalysts
- Food insecurity risk related to diabetes later in life
- Researchers find a new way to measure flying baseballs
- High protein diets could harm polar bears, shorten lifespans
- New nanoparticle-based sensors can measure residual herbicides in food
- Study challenges advice to perform different tasks at specific times
- Some nomadic birds look for social cues to stop migrating
- Washington state quinoa can make a better cookie
- Study identifies mental health disparities in rural schools
- Genetic discovery could lead to better treatments for common tumor in dogs
- Discovery could help finetune immunity to fight infections, disease
- Discovery could lead to better cancer immunotherapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps treat opioid addiction
- Drones show potential to improve salmon nest counts
- Partisan media exposure could inform COVID‑19 vaccine hesitancy
- Self‑pollinating plant shows rapid loss of genetic variation
- Home sensors can detect opioid withdrawal signs at night
- Natural gas flares likely source of respiratory illness spike
- Pandemic did not weaken student trust in higher education overall
- Four‑year college students drink more, use marijuana less than community college peers
- Chicken vaccination shows benefits for nutrition, growth in Kenyan children
- Deep economic divide found even among employed during COVID‑19
- Lignin-based jet fuel packs more power for less pollution
- Social support may lower American Indians’ risk of cardiovascular disease, death
- Trust in experts, media literacy connected to COVID‑19 vaccine intention
- Cameras reveal snowshoe hare density in forests
- Service workers’ volatile shifts linked to high‑cost debt
- Promotion doesn’t add up to gender equity at leading accounting firms
- Cash transfer proposal has downsides for child poverty
- Gift cards from politicized brands dampen recipients’ gratitude
- Washington state minorities die at younger ages from opioids than whites
- Alcohol ads can influence men and women to sexually coerce partners
- Incivility, threats doubled against ‘The Squad’ after Trump tweet
- About 27% of horse owners buy painkillers without consulting veterinarians
Have an upcoming study that might interest the general public? Email WSU Science Writer Sara Zaske at email@example.com.
Note: for WSU to promote a study with a press release, you need to be the corresponding author on a study that ideally, is about to be published in a peer-reviewed science journal or has been published within the last three months at most.