As we observe the COVID-19 crisis unfold across our community, state, nation, and the world, we are continually reminded of the important role research plays in fighting and recovering from the current pandemic. WSU researchers are rising to this challenge, applying their skills and knowledge to directly respond to the coronavirus crisis. WSU faculty and staff also continue to advance knowledge across a wide range of disciplines while working under Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” declaration.

All of these activities are vital to WSU’s continued fulfillment of its land-grant mission. As we move towards recovery, it is important that you be prepared to ramp up your research, scholarly, and creative activities to help us all move forward. Planning to support full recovery of the WSU research enterprise following the pandemic has already begun.

The University is executing a system-wide response to the pandemic that matches our expertise with the areas of greatest need. In particular, Interim Provost Bryan Slinker, in collaboration with other WSU leaders, has asked researchers and scholars who can pivot their work to more directly address coronavirus related issues to do so.

Here are some recent stories of WSU researchers using their expertise to combat the coronavirus.

Lab Testing—The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) in WSU Pullman has begun limited testing of animal samples for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent for COVID-19. The test is only available for agencies and academic institutions. The current testing was not developed with, and does not use, human health testing resources. The WADDL test identifies the COVID-19 virus without cross-reacting with other common, naturally occurring respiratory viruses in dogs and cats. To date, two cats that lived in households where a human was diagnosed with COVID-19 were tested. Both tests were negative.

Media misinformation—WSU digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield’s ongoing work to identify misinformation circulating on social media is now being put to use to identify misinformation about COVID-19. Caulfield has been working with university and high school teachers across the country for the past four years to create a method called SIFT, a simple set of skills that takes about an hour to learn but as little as 30 seconds to implement when encountering information on social media. SIFT is now playing a vital role in fighting misinformation of COVID-19 and is educating the public on how to easily spot it.

Boredom—Elizabeth Weybright, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, has studied rising rates of adolescent boredom. Stay-home implementation in many states is causing a boom in boredom for kids and adults alike. As part of her research, Weybright is currently tracking the dramatic increase in COVID-19-related boredom complaints on Twitter.

Even if your research has no obvious application or need to shift the focus on COVID-19 related issues, your research is still vital to the University’s research enterprise and fulfillment of our land-grant mission. Here are a few recent stories of researchers whose non-COVID-19 related work is making an impact on society.

Food safety—Juming Tang, Regents Professor in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, has led research into better ways to protect food from pathogens and spoilage using microwaves. The technology could help eliminate the persistent safety recalls of frozen and chilled foods that happen globally every year. 915 Labs and Tata SmartFoodz Ltd., an India company, are launching Tang’s food safety technology. This new commercial partnership helps accelerate the introduction of Tang’s two new technologies, microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS) and microwave assisted pasteurization systems (MAPS) in both the US and in India.

Social justice leadership—Katherine Rodela, assistant professor in the College of Education at WSU Vancouver, is studying how Latinx educational leaders’ life experiences have shaped their understanding of social justice leadership and decision-making. Rodela is currently investigating the stories of four Latinx school administrators across three districts in the Pacific Northwest. Rodela expects that her exploration on leadership formation and social justice among underserved communities will help bring awareness to their experiences and contribute to a more just society for all.

Biological Chemistry—A research team led by Helmut Kirchhoff, professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, has developed a new tool to study how lipids interact with proteins in plants to better understand how photosynthesis happens. The new findings could one day lead to better methods for optimizing photosynthesis in crops for specific environments and eliminate excess energy waste.

Looking ahead

All research that can be safely conducted under published guidelines should continue, as well as all research currently being conducted via telework. As we look ahead to the coming weeks and months, we will continue to communicate any changes and new information regarding the conduct of research. Ensuring the health and safety of our faculty, staff, and students engaged in research remains our top priority.

Additionally, the Office of Research has developed a COVID-19 research related Questions and Answers page. New funding opportunities specific to COVID-19 research can be found at https://orap.wsu.edu/covid-19-funding/.

These are challenging times, but we will get through them by working together. Thank you for your support of our shared mission to advance, extend, and apply knowledge for the benefit of the citizens of Washington state and beyond.