Bonus feature: Scroll to the bottom for the Top 5 videos of the year
The most-read BYU News stories of the year include research on internet trolling, advances in holography, the formation of the new Office of Belonging, and the many ways students and faculty have strengthened one another as they continue to persevere through a pandemic.
BYU Italian professor Marie Orton made the most of teaching classes on Zoom. With a passion to help students connect with each other, her, and the subject matter, Orton pioneered virtual cooking sessions. This pandemic-sparked creative route has continued to be the trademark of her Italian culture courses. Cooking numerous Italian recipes, students enjoyed the unique virtual opportunity to learn together as a class and even include friends and family.
As social media's prevalence continues to grow, so too has trolling – an internet practice where users intentionally draw others into oftentimes uncivil conversations. This study from BYU communication professors Pamela Brubaker and Scott Church sheds light on the motives and personality characteristics of internet trolls, finding that individuals who experience pleasure from the failures or shortcomings of others consider trolling to be acceptable online behavior.
BYU's holography research group has figured out how to make simple animations in thin air. Funded by a National Science Foundation CAREER grant, it paves the way for a reality where people can interact with holographic-like virtual objects that co-exist in their immediate space. The researchers demonstrated this by creating virtual stick figures that walk in thin air.
Most phone manufacturers have a night shift mode, claiming it helps people sleep better. This collaborative study between BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that night shift functionality on phones does not improve sleep. The study found no differences in sleep outcomes based on whether the participants used night shift or not before going to sleep.
6. Advancing mental health research and care
Several stories this year have highlighted faculty and student efforts to better understand mental health and improve lives. A 10-year study from professor Sarah Coyne found a correlation between time spent on social media and suicidal risk among teenage girls, the longest study to date on social media use and suicidality. BYU Life Sciences professors Michael Barnes and Carl Hanson created an algorithm that accurately predicts when teens are likely to have suicidal thoughts and behavior. A new game developed by BYU clinical psychologist Jon Cox teaches skills to combat common mental health symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. In addition, English professor Peter Leman shared his lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety with his students. This one adjustment to his teaching has empowered many students to reach out to him for needed help, enabling him to point toward counseling resources.
In June of 2020, BYU announced a new campus committee, the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging, appointed to examine issues on race and inequality at the school. In February of this year, the committee completed their extensive study of the campus community, released key findings, and provided recommendations about specific actions that could be taken to improve the campus community. The committees' 63-page report and 26 recommendations made can be found at race.byu.edu.
At University Conference in August, President Kevin J Worthen introduced a statement of belonging and announced the formation of a new Office of Belonging at BYU. The new office will focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus. President Worthen emphasized that the Office of Belonging will not only be core to BYU's efforts to root out racism but also to combat "prejudice of any kind, including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation."
Researchers in BYU's Biology department found new evidence on the cellular level that suggests that Alzheimer's disease could be a result of metabolic dysfunction in the brain. This is impacted by lifestyle choices and contributes to the growing evidence that diet and lifestyle are at the heart of Alzheimer's disease.
In September, BYU announced significant changes to its student housing program effective fall semester 2022. With these changes, undergraduate students will be able to live outside of BYU contracted housing after their first two semesters and will provide students with more flexibility when choosing where to live. These changes were made "in an effort to better serve our students and provide them with more options," said Julie Franklin, BYU Student Life Vice President.
Vaccine hesitancy and misconceptions closely followed the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. BYU chemistry professor, and virology expert, Dr. Josh Andersen helped explain how COVID-19 vaccines work, debunked common misconceptions surrounding vaccination, and shared his expertise on how to navigate the myths and half-truths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
Top 5 Videos of the Year
From a project using lasers to create displays of science fiction to breathtaking imagery of a volcanic eruption in Iceland, these videos represent some of the best work of the campus community during the year.