Published: Dec. 14, 2023

The year 2023 was another banner year of exploration and discovery at CU Boulder, with research shedding new light on everything from how the sun's corona gets so hot to what lies ahead for the Arctic to how to prevent, diagnose and manage disease. Here's a look at 10 stories aimed to inspire, pique your curiosity and change the way you see the world.

How animals get their stripes and spots

Engineers from CU Boulder helped to solve a pressing scientific mystery: How do leopards get their spots? What about zebras and their stripes, or boxfish and their neon purple and yellow hexagons? The answer could come down to the same physical process that removes dirt from laundry.

Image: A white-spotted yellow fish. (Credit: Alexander Schimmeck/Pexels)

Building a better ‘bionic pancreas’

Associate Professor Casey Fiesler's own experiences wiith Type 1 diabetes have inspired her to devise a way to make managing the disease easier. She and her colleagues are now working to develop a “person-centered artificial pancreas" that uses real-time cues from smart watches and mobile apps to help replicate the real thing.

Image: Associate Professors Steven Voida and Casey Fiesler. (Credit: College of Media, Communication and Information/CU Boulder)

How 1,000 undergraduates helped solve an enduring mystery about the sun

How many undergrads does it take to discover how the sun's outer atmosphere, or "corona," gets so hot? It's not a joke, but the premise behind a study that tapped CU Boulder students to conduct hands-on research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image: A flare erupts from the sun. (Credit: NASA/SDO)

Kombucha chic: How one student uses microbes, and time, to grow her own clothes

For sustainable fashion, kombucha may be the new black. ATLAS Institute researcher Fiona Bell earned her designer cred by brewing her own kombucha, then using the scum that grows on top of the fermented concoction to make faux-leather clothes and accessories.

Image: LED lights twinkle on a kombucha leather "breastplate" shirt. (Credit: Hunter Allen-Bonney)

The scientific reasons you should resolve to start gardening

Greenthumbs rejoice! The first-ever randomized trial of community gardening shows that it boosts fiber intake while decreasing stress and anxiety. It could even reduce risk of cancer and chronic illness.

Image: Professor Jill Litt (right) checks on a plant with colleague Erin Decker (left) at a community garden. (Credit: Glenn Asakawa/CU Boulder)


Store display psychology: Why you end up buying things near sale items

Consumers are drawn to flashy price promotions, such as eye-level fluorescent stickers advertising two items for the price of one. But, according to a new study, the attention of shoppers also "spills over" to nearby products.

Image: Shelves in a grocery store. (Credit: ha ha/Pexels)


What 25-million-year-old ocean sediment can teach us about our planet’s future

This summer, Arctic researcher Anne Jennings set sail for Greenland aboard the 470-foot-long research ship, the JOIDES Resolution, to collect sediments tens of millions of years old from a half-mile below the ocean. What she and her colleagues found could help scientists predict what's in store for humans.

Image: JOIDES Resolution research vessel (Credit: Integrated Ocean Drilling Program U.S. Implementing Organization)

Landmark study on history of horses in American West relies on Indigenous knowledge

A one-of-a-kind study tells what may be the most exhaustive history to date of early horses in the American West. Researchers hailed from 15 countries and multiple Native American groups, including the Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee nations.

Image: A mare named Rina with her foal at the Sacred Way Sanctuary in Alabama. (Credit: Sacred Way Sanctuary)

New laser-based breathalyzer sniffs out COVID, other diseases in real-time

A new “digital nose” created with Nobel Prize-winning technology from CU Boulder can provide COVID-19 test results in less than one hour. It could also, one day, be used for the diagnosis of cancer and lung disease.

Image: A volunteer donates a breath sample for the study of a new laser-based breathalyzer for COVID-19. (Credit: NIST)

Ralphie explained: How this bison became a buffalo

Here comes Ralphie! In this video, Brooke Neely at the Center of the American West explains that CU Boulder's beloved mascot is technically a North American bison, not a buffalo. But whatever you call them, Ralphie and her kin have come to symbolize Western American identity.

Image: Ralphie makes her second-half run during homecoming game action and ceremonies against Oregon State University on November 4, 2023. (Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa/CU Boulder)