What do elk, nuclear reactors and quirky Utah phrases have in common? They're all in the Top 10 BYU News Stories of 2022 – BYU News

Research from BYU faculty and students made its way across the globe this year, giving a snapshot to the breadth and depth of the academic work happening on campus. The 10 feature stories below — representing nearly every college on campus — were the most viewed of 2022. Click on the title links to read more.
10. BYU researchers discover locations of ancient Maya sacred groves of cacao trees
Cacao beans were considered divine, a gift from the gods, to ancient Mayas. These beans were very valuable, and as such their production was carefully controlled by Maya leaders, and only grown in sacred groves. For the first time in modern history, researchers have located these groves. Although the climate of the peninsula where the Mayans lived is inhospitable to cacao growth, the sinkholes common to that area have micro-climates with ideal conditions, and within these sinkholes they have found bracelets, incense jars, and large staircases which tell a deeper story of this ancient civilization.
9. BYU exercise science researchers pinpoint new method to optimize personal aerobic workouts
Two people with similar fitness levels can do the same exercise for the same amount of time and get entirely different results, but BYU researchers have discovered why, and how to fix this. Instead of using Max Heart Rate to determine a personalized exercise, they have begun to use “critical power.” Critical power is defined as the highest level of our comfort zone, or the level we can exercise at before beginning to get tired. When someone exercises within their critical power their body can compensate for lost energy, resulting in effective and beneficial workouts instead of exhaustion.
8. As the U.S. obesity epidemic grows, new BYU study shows who is most likely to be part of it
The obesity epidemic is growing every year, with more than half of Americans gaining a substantial amount of weight every 10 years, and almost a fifth gaining 20% of their own body weight or more. Gender, age, and race each play a role, with women gaining about twice as much weight as men, and younger adults gaining more weight than older adults. By understanding the results of this study and knowing who is most likely to become obese, health care providers can focus on helping those at-risk individuals.
7. First known depictions of two biblical heroines uncovered in ancient Jewish synagogue
Mosaics of Jael and the prophetess Deborah, the first known depictions of these heroines from Judges 4, were unearthed in the village of Huqoq earlier this year, a major excavation project featuring a BYU professor and seven BYU students. The synagogue in which the mosaics were found contained other biblical scenes with similar themes – God delivering Israel. These mosaics could have been a powerful reminder to this Jewish community to nurture hope that God would deliver them from occupation by the Byzantine Empire.
6. BYU animation, AdLab students win Student Emmy awards
BYU students won both best animated short film and best commercial at the 2022 College Television Awards show (aka “Student Emmy’s”) put on by The Television Academy. Over 20 BYU students were involved in the creation of the winning film, Stowaway, with skills from animation, design, commercial music and computer science were required to bring the story to life. The winning BYU commercial was directed by Tyler Richardson and Asher Huskinson, with Rebekah Baker as producer and Campbell George as writer. This is the 19th time since 2003 that BYU student projects have won first place at the Student Emmy competition.
5. Would Mirabel from “Encanto” be as connected to her family if she lived in the US? BYU study says yes
In Disney’s “Encanto” Mirabel is a young girl in Colombia with very strong family relationships. If “Encanto” had been set in the modern-day United States, prior research suggests that family ties would play a much more minimal role, as many teenagers begin to pull away from family and spend more time alone or with peers. However, research from BYU professor Jocelyn Wikle reminds us that dedication and loyalty to family are core values in Latin American culture. Latino youth have very different family dynamics than youth of other ethnicities, and spend much more time with their families.
4. BYU Law leads list of BYU graduate programs moving up in U.S. News rankings
BYU Law ranked No. 23 in U.S. News 2023 Best Graduate School rankings, its highest ranking to date, and an improvement of six spots since last year. The J. Reuben Clark Law School and Marriott School of Business are in the Top-50 of their program ranks, with six other BYU graduate programs ranking in the Top-100 of their disciplines. With high placement rates and low graduate debt, many of BYU’s programs are moving up in their rankings every year.
3. Utah owes many of its most quirky expressions to pioneers, says research from BYU linguist
Utah is known for its uniqueness, so BYU professor David Eddington decided to find out just how different Utah really is. People claim expressions like “sluffing school” or terms like “potato bug” originate in Utah, but most can be traced to the early pioneers, coming from all over the world. Ancestral influence can explain the way certain towns in Utah are pronounced and the “odd” terms still common in the vocabulary of Utahns today.
2. BYU profs create new micro nuclear reactor to produce nuclear energy more safely
BYU professor and nuclear engineering expert Matthew Memmott has designed a molten salt micro-nuclear reactor, a new and safer form of energy production. He has designed a safe and affordable form of nuclear energy which also eliminates the potential for dangerous nuclear waste. Everything needed to run this reactor is designed to fit onto a 40-foot truck bed, making power accessible to even very remote places.
1. State-funded BYU study finds elk move when hunting season starts – and it’s causing problems
Elk have learned if they move off public land to private land when hunting season starts, they can’t be hunted. As soon as hunting season ends they shift back, but that is causing three major problems: hunters are frustrated because there aren’t enough elk on public land, private land owners’ crops and infrastructure are being destroyed by the elk, and the state elk population is too high. To solve this problem, the state has begun to issue limited private-land hunting permits.

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