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Warning: This Research Might Give You Goosebumps

The season for spooks and scares is here, and faculty members across campus are contributing their share of spooky research and findings.

Two color orange horizontal divider

The season for spooks and scares is here, and faculty members across campus are contributing their share of spooky research and findings.

History of Serial Killer

Death in the Air
Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, cover photo. Image courtesy of Moody College of Communication.

The winter of 1952 was a dark and spine-chilling one for London. Seven murdered by a serial killer, and thousands killed by one of the deadliest air pollution disasters. After two years of research and interviews on the events that occurred that tragic winter, Kate Winkler Dawson, a professor at the Moody College of Communication, published “Death in the Air.” The book is a historical narrative of the Great Smog of 1952 and serial killer John Reginald Christie, who lurked in the shadows. In this interview, Dawson provides more context to the research behind her work and shares why she wrote the book.

Art of Dead Bodies

Dancing with Death
(Left) Michael Wolgemut Image of Death from The Nuremberg Chronicle,1493 Woodcut with watercolor The Karen G. and Dr. Elgin W. Ware, Jr. Collection, 2003.12. (Right) John Bell Edinburg, Scotland, 1763- Rome, Italy, 1820 Reclining Male Cadaver, from Anatomy of the Bones, Muscles, and Joints, by John Bell, 1794 Engraving and etching The Karen G. and Dr. Elgin W. Ware, Jr. Collection, 2000.4. Images courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art.

Death is being brought to life in the Blanton Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Dancing with Death.” Elizabeth Welch, the graduate student who organized this exhibit, focused on prints that animated decomposing bodies and skeletons into dancing and living figures. Through the themes that emerged in her research, Welch divided the exhibition into three principles: “The Art of Death,” “Death, Uninvited” and “Into and Out of the Grave.” This exhibition is open until Nov. 26.

Flesh-eating Beetles

Warning: the following video contains graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger viewers.

If the gory image of roadkill does not faze you, try adding some creepy crawlers into the scene. In this centuries-old technique, researchers from the Jackson School of Geosciences Skeletal Preparation Laboratory place beetles on decomposing animals to clean the flesh off the bones. This method best preserves the skeletal structure, and the bones are then used by researchers as references for studying living and extinct animals.

Zombie Ants

In an effort to combat the invasion of red imported fire ants, the fire ant research project is zombifying the pests. This zombie-like transformation is caused by the female phorid fly injecting an egg into the ant’s body, which leaves the ant disoriented and temporarily paralyzed. The process occurs in a fraction of a second, but this video created at the Brackenridge Field Lab captures everything up close.

Dead Animal Prints

Coyote Canis latrans
Coyote Canis latrans. Inked Animal’s work is represented by Art.Science.Gallery.

Art and science are combined in this eerie project to create artistic impressions of dead animals. Texas Memorial Museum researchers Adam Cohen and Ben Labay drew inspiration from Gyotaku, the Japanese art of printing fishes. The process is to apply inks, clays or paints to an animal found deceased in nature and then press papers of varying thicknesses against it to produce images. Their art collection can be found on their website Inked Animal.

The Candy Witch Project

Image from page 68 of “The history of Springfield in Massachusetts, for the young; being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden” (1921).

Although it is expected that children believe anything their parents say without question, a research study led by Jacqueline Woolley, a UT Austin professor of psychology, suggests otherwise. In this study kids were introduced to the Candy Witch, a fictional character who exchanges Halloween candy for a toy. Woolley’s research evaluates children’s ability to differentiate reality and fantasy to improve education for children and interaction with children.

Stalking Satan

As little princesses and zombies across Central Texas swarm in search of treats this Halloween, a mysterious creature may be lurking in underwater caves beneath their feet. It’s blind, has see-through-skin and spends its life in total darkness thousands of feet below the city of San Antonio. Meet the Widemouth Blindcat, a.k.a. Satan fish. No one has seen one alive since 1984. Now a team of scientists headed by Dean Hendrickson, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, are seeking funding to search for it and, along the way, monitor the health of one of the world’s most diverse subterranean ecosystems. Read more