VOL. 29 | 2022 KNOWLEDGE. DISCOVERY. INNOVATION.
ROADMAP TO RESEARCH SUCCESS page 24
Creating Next-Gen Manufacturing Improving Human Health Protecting the Environment
INSTITUTES OF RESEARCH EXCELLENCE ADVANCED ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE AERI features a thriving interdisciplinary research team exploring fascinating questions about our environment and uses basic and applied research to find solutions to the complex problems that we face. The team conducts ongoing research in a wide array of areas related to local, regional, national and international environmental problems. 940-369-5555 AERI@unt.edu aeri.unt.edu 1155 Union Circle #310559 Denton, Texas 76203-5017
ADVANCED MATERIALS AND MANUFACTURING PROCESSES INSTITUTE AMMPI brings together a diverse group of faculty members who are focused on structural materials, functional materials, computational tools and advanced manufacturing processes. The strength of the institute’s members lies in designing high-performance materials for the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors. 940-369-8438 AMMPI@unt.edu ammpi.unt.edu UNT Discovery Park Annex 3940 N. Elm St. Denton, Texas 76207-7102
BIODISCOVERY INSTITUTE BDI delivers research solutions to underpin the utilization of plants and microorganisms for the sustainable production of biofuels, polymers, new materials for construction and transportation, and bioactive small molecules, with applications ranging from agriculture to health care. 940-565-2491 BDI@unt.edu bdi.unt.edu 1155 Union Circle #305220 Denton, Texas 76203-5017
JIM MCNATT INSTITUTE FOR LOGISTICS RESEARCH The institute’s multidisciplinary research team provides the capability to develop effective solutions to complex logistics and supply chain problems confronting public and private organizations. Specialties include business logistics, engineering, aviation, economics, information technology, geographic information systems, transportation and operations research. 940-565-8666 JMI@unt.edu logisticsresearch.unt.edu 1155 Union Circle #311396 Denton, Texas 76203-5017
TABLE OF CONTENTS 12 | NEXT-GEN MANUFACTURING UNT’s Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing is revolutionizing how materials are made with future-focused solutions and workforce training.
16 | GRADUATE RESEARCH SUPPORT New initiative aims to increase Ph.D. participation and diversity in science and engineering programs focusing on research relevant to human health.
36 | IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH
ROADMAP TO RESEARCH SUCCESS A host of faculty who call UNT home are navigating a veritable maze of challenges and triumphs and arriving at potential solutions to some of today’s most prevalent — and relevant — problems.
With a multidisciplinary approach, biomedical engineering researchers are creating medical devices and technology to address some of the biggest health issues of our time.
40 | PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT Researchers are working to create solutions to combat climate change, biodiversity concerns and air pollution to safeguard the planet.
44 | MEET THE DEAN College of Visual Arts and Design Dean Karen Hutzel — an advocate for experiential learning opportunities — understands the value of the arts in public higher education.
Scan this code with your camera to: • Get more content • View back issues research.unt.edu/magazine
2.. . . . . . . . . . . . . P RES IDEN T’ S LETTER 3.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . TREN D ING @ UNT 18.. . . . . . . IN N O VATO RS TO WATCH 22 . . ........... IN N O VATI VE SPACES 34. . . . . . . . . . A L U M N I INNOVATOR S
RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | UNT RESEARCH | 2022
RESEARCH OFFICE Vice President for Research and Innovation Mark McLellan Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation Aaron Roberts
Photographers Angilee Wilkerson Gary Payne Michael Clements Ahna Hubnik Writers Erin Cristales Jessica DeLeón Trista Moxley Heather Noel
Associate Vice President for Research Commercial Agreements Michael Rondelli
UBSC Vice President for University Brand Strategy and Communications Jim Berscheidt Editors Julie Elliott Payne Randena Hulstrand Amy Brundeen
Designers Nola Kemp Cliffton Caster
Online Communications Stephen McMinn Brian Kucharski Eric Vandergriff Project Traffic Erica Blount Jan Clountz
A TRANSFORMATIVE YEAR
egardless of the challenges a global pandemic presented to our faculty, staff and students, the University of North Texas had a transformative year in research — one of the most productive years in our history. The university secured its highest-ever level of external funding in fiscal year 2021 with awards up more than 25% with a record-breaking $50 million in new contracts and grants awarded to our researchers and a 20% increase in our research expenditures. Additionally, our innovative faculty filed 45 disclosures of inventions and intellectual property with commercial potential and signed a record 35 licenses for intellectual property. UNT’s growth was further bolstered this year by support from Texas’ 87th Legislature, which renewed funding for the Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing (page 12) for an additional $10 million through 2023. The legislature also authorized $113.4 million in tuition revenue bonds to build a 167,700-square-foot research facility to provide additional state-of-the-art space for faculty and student researchers. The strengthening of our research enterprise also earned UNT’s reaffirmation as a Tier One Research University by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s™ 2021 report. We continue to rise in our rankings as one of only 141 universities nationwide classified as “Doctoral Universities: Very High Research Activity,” placing us among the most elite, top-tier institutions. My sincere thanks to Mark McLellan, vice president of research and innovation, who has led our many research successes since joining UNT in 2019. As he retires this summer, we’ll be welcoming Pamela Padilla, our current dean of the College of Science, who will succeed him and carry forward our mission for research excellence. I am excited about our future and incredibly proud of the dedication and perseverance our research community has shown and their positive contributions to our state and world, reinforcing UNT’s reputation and rise toward greater national prominence.
Neal Smatresk UNT President
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | PRESIDENT’S LETTER | 2022
UNT Research is published for the Division of Research and Innovation by the Division of University Brand Strategy and Communications, University of North Texas. The research office can be reached at 1155 Union Circle #310979, Denton, Texas 76203-5017, 940-369-7487. Articles may be reprinted in their entirety with acknowledgment unless they are published in UNT Research by permission of another source. Requests for photographs or illustrations should be addressed to the editors at UBSC, University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #311070, Denton, Texas 76203-5017, 940-565-2108. The University of North Texas does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, disability, marital status, genetic information, citizenship, or veteran status in its application and admission processes, educational programs and activities, university facilities, or employment policies, procedures, and processes. The university takes active measures to prevent such conduct and immediately investigates and takes remedial action when appropriate. The university also prohibits and takes actions to prevent retaliation against individuals who report or file a charge of discrimination or harassment; participate in an investigation, or oppose any form of discrimination or harassment. Direct questions or concerns to the equal opportunity office, 940-565-2759, or the dean of students, 940-5652648. TTY access is available at 940-369-8652. AA/EOE/ADA The UNT System and the University of North Texas are the owners of all of their trademarks, service marks, trade names, slogans, graphic images and photography and they may not be used without permission. © 2022 UNT
UBSC 03/22 (22-019)
TRENDING @ UNT
MANAGING DRONE TRAFFIC
UNT EXPERTS ARE MAKING UNMANNED AIR TRANSPORTATION SAFER FOR PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES
UNT researchers from the College of Engineering are working on safer and more efficient ways to move people and cargo as the demand for using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in urban, suburban and rural areas continues to grow. Electrical Engineering Professor Kamesh Namuduri is collaborating with Hermes Autonomous Air Mobility Solutions Corporation to develop an airspace hazard identification and alerting service (AHAS) for advanced air mobility applications. Focusing on weather and obstruction hazards as well as communication
dead zones, the cloudbased system will alert the UAVs currently flying in the airspace so that they can adapt and respond accordingly to dynamic airspace hazards in real-time. The team has received seed funding from the North Texas Center for Mobility Technologies with support from the North Central Texas Council of Governments and plans to have the product developed and deployed commercially by the end of 2022. The project also is part of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign — a collaboration that began in early 2020 and is
now progressing to the next phase: flight demonstrations during 2022. UNT is leading a team of nine organizations as part of the infrastructure annex. “Ultimately, our goal as partners of NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign is to make unmanned air transportation safer, secure, efficient and affordable for people and communities. There’s no doubt that the use of drones will continue to grow,” Namuduri says. “This is the future, and it’s truly very exciting to be part of it.”
ADVANCING SOLDIER PROTECTION A team of researchers with UNT’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute received a $5.5 million grant from the Army Research Laboratory to collaboratively work on devising new materials for making bulletproof protection materials. The grant is the final part of a larger ARL-UNT collaborative agreement that awarded a team in the institute up to $20 million to be spread over five years in 2017. Rajiv Mishra, director of the institute and UNT Distinguished Research Professor of materials science and engineering, is leading the group in creating and testing new, lighter protection materials that would be able to withstand impacts for a longer time with less damage. The team is working on both metallic materials and ceramic composites. “If a vehicle or a soldier is attacked, the protection materials that they have fail in
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | TRENDING @ UNT | 2022
certain ways,” Mishra says. “How can we suppress the failure mechanism so that we protect the soldiers, either when they’re fighting by themselves or in the vehicle? If a vehicle comes under blast, not only is the vehicle damaged, but the soldiers within take the hit.” The team is looking at both vehicle protection materials and personal protection materials for military personnel and creating new compositional alloys that will have a higher strain threshold, allowing protection materials to take more impacts without failing. Mishra says much of the research interest is in the development of concepts and fundamentals that the Army Research Laboratory can use internally to develop better protection systems. Other engineering researchers working on the project include Tom Scharf, Sundeep Mukherjee, Marcus Young, Richard Reidy, Srinivasan Srivilliputhur, Yijie Jiang, Nigel Shepherd, Rajarshi Banerjee, Mike Baskes and Dwight Burford.
EARNING ‘ARAB NOBEL PRIZE’ Art History professor Nada Shabout has received the Kuwait Prize for Arts and Literature from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. The Kuwait Prize, known regionally as the “Arab Nobel Prize,” recognizes the lifetime achievements of Arab researchers. Scholars are named each year in four categories — basic sciences, applied sciences, economics and social sciences, and arts and literature. Shabout, coordinator of UNT’s Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative, was recognized for her contributions to the study and teaching of modern Arab visual art. “This is such a prestigious award that is not usually given to an art scholar, so I am very humbled by this honor,” Shabout says. “To get recognition in the Arab world is so important because it sheds light on modern art history in the region.”
TREATMENTS FOR BLOOD DISORDERS Pudur Jagadeeswaran, professor of biological sciences, believes he has found a novel drug for treating potentially deadly blood clotting disorders. He has been conducting research with zebrafish to isolate proteins that could be manipulated to treat blood clotting disorders in humans more efficiently with few side effects. Through his work, he has identified a way to manipulate a protein called TFPI with a drug currently being used in cancer treatments to treat the disorders, a finding that appeared in Scientific Reports in July 2021. While there are a variety of drugs already on the market, many of them have side effects that can be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.
“It is a balance,” Jagadeeswaran says. “There is constantly a search for new drugs because of the complexity present in this particular problem.” He and his team will continue working to identify new proteins that could help treat blood clotting disorders. With the potential 2,400 different genes in the human body that could affect blood clotting, the team uses a technology developed in Jagadeeswaran’s lab that significantly shortens the time required to screen the entire genome of 25,000 genes comprehensively and identify all the possible genes involved in blood clotting. Jagadeeswaran also received an $891,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to use his zebrafish gene screening method to study Von Willebrand Disease, the most prevalent form of blood disease. He will work to identify genes that cause the disease, which could potentially lead to better methods for diagnosis, future therapeutic protocols and the development of novel drugs to treat the disease.
MORE EFFICIENT COTTON RESEARCH With one-third of total U.S. cotton production in Texas, the work of a team of three researchers at UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute could have broad applications with significant economic impact. Biological sciences professors Brian Ayre, Roisin McGarry and Jyoti Shah are working to reduce damage to cotton plants from aphids and Fusarium fungal infections with a National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture for research. Their work could considerably reduce the need for insecticides and fungicides. They hope to speed up research by bypassing the amount of tissue culture required to test important genes in the plant. “If it works for this particular issue in cotton, then it also can work for other problems,” Ayre says, adding the research also could be used for other crops. “And that could really change the way we conduct biotechnology.”
BREATH OF FRESH AIR Alexandra Ponette-González, associate professor of geography and the environment, was recently selected to serve on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, the nation’s top advisory committee informing air quality standards. Ponette-González’s research explores the impact of global environmental change on nutrient and pollutant emissions and deposition to ecosystems.
EPIGENETICS & CLIMATE CHANGE UNT biological sciences researchers Warren Burggren and Pamela Padilla are exploring a not well understood field called epigenetics, the study of how the expression of genetic traits can be altered without change to the DNA itself. They received a $1.15 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study how fish experiencing low oxygen due to climate change might — through epigenetic inheritance — pass on traits helping them adjust to warmer, less oxygenated water to their offspring. “It is common knowledge that your genetic makeup contributes to your characteristics. How that genetic makeup is expressed also can be transmitted to the next generation without any of the DNA changing,” says Padilla,
dean of the College of Science. “The question we have is how many generations can have that sort of memory.” The study is likely to have significant long-term implications for biology, but Burggren and Padilla are equally interested in the impact it will have on students. Transformative research experiences for ethnically diverse undergraduate, graduate and post-doc trainees will be fully integrated. The project will be an international collaboration with researchers and students at two universities in Mexico, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEM) and Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco (UJAT). UAEM is in Toluca, Mexico, one of the highest large cities in the world. With altitudes between 9,000 and 12,000 feet and only 70% of the oxygen levels of sea-level, it is a natural laboratory for studying low oxygen in fishes and other organisms.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | TRENDING @ UNT | 2022
Her ongoing research has shown that oak trees can capture significant quantities of airborne soot, a major climate forcing agent and air pollutant. In June, she coauthored a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on the diverse community of tiny organisms and non-living materials in precipitation that could potentially play big roles in ecosystems.
AI LEARNING TECHNOLOGY
ROCK & ROLL CREATING HALL OF FAME THE CHANGE
Rhonda Christensen, research professor of learning technologies and director of UNT’s Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning, and Gerald Knezek, Regents Professor of learning technologies, recently received an $840,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to use artificial intelligence to increase equity and inclusion and teacher efficacy in K-12 classrooms. Christensen and Knezek will use simSchool — a simulation program focused on enhancing K-12 professional development classroom experiences — to analyze teachers’ interactions with students. Modules are designed to help teachers become more effective instructors by preparing them for challenges in the classroom environment that they may not encounter during pre-service teaching or internships as well as identify implicit biases they may have. The project will roll out over the next three years with teachers in California-based Aspire Public Schools, starting with 20 participants and building to 90. Teachers will engage with each module a minimum of five times and receive feedback on their strengths and areas for growth, as well as opportunities to reflect on their performance and implicit biases. Christensen and Knezek will then analyze trends within the data.
While the electric bass has been heard in most popular music since the mid-1960s, academia has paid little attention to the instrument and its origins — until now. Brian F. Wright, assistant professor of music history, is working to detail the electric bass’ early history in his book, The Bastard Instrument. The book’s title comes from jazz bassist Monk Montgomery, one of the instrument’s early pioneers, who was initially reluctant to play it. “In many ways, it’s an apt metaphor,” Wright says. “As a combination of both a guitar and a bass, the electric bass had a murky ancestry, which meant that initially no one was really sure where it belonged or what to do with it. It also took many years before the electric bass was actually considered ‘legitimate.’” In 2021, Wright was awarded the Society for American Music’s Charles Hamm Fellowship to conduct research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives. He traveled to the archives in August, where he explored primary sources related to the history of the electric bass, such as behind-the-scenes business files, contemporary music magazines and newspapers, personal papers and more.
Eleven speakers spread their ideas and inspired the audience — in person and online — to make a difference in the world at the TEDxUNT: Create the Change event held in October. They encouraged us to be more curious, to look at old things in new ways, to follow our own call to adventure and more. Melanie Ecker, assistant professor and director of the Ecker Lab: Smart Polymers for Biomedical Applications in UNT’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, was there to persuade the audience that some plastics are smart. Ione Hunt von Herbing, associate professor and director of the Marine Conservation and Aquatic Physiological Laboratory in UNT’s Department of Biological Sciences, encouraged the audience to pursue their own adventures — just like when she knew she wanted to be a scientist when she was 3 years old.
Read more about the speakers and watch videos. tedxunt.org
TURBULENCE MOVES RESEARCH FORWARD UNT researchers have discovered young stars are dancing to a secret cosmic tune. Yuan Li, assistant professor in UNT’s Department of Physics, and doctoral student Trung Ha are researching the movement of gases in the Orion Nebula by examining the memory of turbulent motion in young stars. “This is the first time anyone has looked at stars in this way to study turbulence,” Li says. “The idea is that since the interstellar clouds are
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | TRENDING @ UNT | 2022
turbulent, stars that have just formed out of these clouds should carry the memory of that turbulent motion. We analyzed young stars in the Orion Nebula and indeed found the signature of turbulence in the motions of the stars.” Previous studies of the evolution of stars examined turbulence in interstellar gas. These studies rely on theoretical models, estimates and assumptions because many parameters (threedimensional position and movement) of interstellar gas are difficult or impossible to observe. After discovering turbulence within stars, Li and Ha are now able to collect precise, observable data using a star’s exact position and
movement, eliminating many of the uncertainties of prior research. “Our research opens up a window that allows us to look at turbulence in a new exciting way and will likely lead to many new discoveries in the future,” Li says. Li and Ha collaborated with Siyao Xu, NASA Hubble Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study; Marina Kounkel, now a postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University; and Hui Li, NASA Hubble Fellow at Columbia University. The team’s research, “Measuring Turbulence with Young Stars in the Orion Complex,” was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
FULBRIGHT AWARDS Three UNT professors have been named award winners in the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Shobhana Chelliah, Distinguished Research Professor of linguistics, is the recipient of a highly competitive Fulbright-Nehru fellowship, which will enable her to travel to India. Her proposal, “Collaborative Digital Language Archiving for Documenting the Languages of India,” explores a method of collection and custodial archiving that integrates training in language documentation and the creation of archival-quality collections. Julie Leventhal, principal lecturer in UNT’s Honors College, will travel to Romania to teach and conduct research at the University of Bucharest. Her proposal, “Anti-Human Trafficking Volunteerism in Romania: Individual, Family, and Organizational Influences,” expands her past and current research on the motivations and various external factors that help or hinder volunteerism in anti-trafficking initiatives. Dave Meder, assistant professor of jazz piano in UNT’s College of Music, recently received a Fulbright Visual and Performing Arts Award, which will take him to Egypt to explore and refine his own teaching methodology of improvisation with students at the Cairo Conservatoire. Meder, an award-winning jazz pianist and composer, also studies the development of jazz improvisation teaching methodology.
HEALTH & TEXTILE FURNISHINGS When Hae Jin Gam first became a mother five years ago, she was faced with picking furniture and linens for her baby’s nursery — decisions she hadn’t given much thought to before became shrouded in concern. How were these products made? Do these textiles contain any chemicals that might be harmful to the baby? Gam, now an associate
professor of fashion design in the College of Visual Arts and Design, thought there must be other consumers like her, and that influenced her recent study looking at how considerations about health impact consumer purchasing behavior of textile furnishings. Previous studies have analyzed how environmental consciousness could factor into purchasing decisions of textile furnishings, but there was little data about how health concerns could make a difference in what people buy.
Gam researches sustainability development in the apparel and textile industry. Gam and her collaborators analyzed data from a survey of U.S. shoppers and found that health consciousness influences consumers’ purchasing intentions of textile furnishing products such as carpets, curtains and fabric sofas. Their article in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal received a “Best Paper” award from the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
says. “When I was a faculty member back at Kent State University, one of the faculty members told me that one of his most significant accomplishments was having published at least one paper in six consecutive decades. The faculty member explained to me the accomplishment was important because first you have to work in six consecutive
decades and second that you had to stay active as a scholar in six decades. I reached that milestone in January 2021. Along the way I also have managed to publish at least one paper per year since 1979, which if I have counted correctly, corresponds to 44 consecutive years with at least one publication.”
1,000 PUBLICATIONS One thousand and counting. Bill Acree, professor of chemistry, recently received acceptance of his 1,000th publication. Approximately 45% of his published articles were coauthored by graduate, undergraduate and high school students, including students in UNT’s Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science and participants in the Upward Bound Math and Science Program who he has mentored over the years, both at UNT and Kent State University, where he taught before joining the UNT faculty in 1988. “It has taken me more than 45 years to get to 1,000 acceptances,” Acree
HURRICANE EVACUATION AMID COVID-19 Tristan Wu, associate professor of emergency management and disaster science, is studying evacuees and the emergency response from Hurricane Laura to create new protocols for emergency managers facing mass evacuations during COVID-19. The project, funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Grant, will involve surveys and interviews with households and emergency managers in Texas and Louisiana. The household surveys ask about risk perception and decision-making, and questions for emergency managers related to how they set up shelters for social distancing, how messaging was sent and what COVID-19 protocols were followed. The researchers are analyzing the data for trends to help provide future guidelines.
DARPA YOUNG FACULTY AWARD Ifana Mahbub, assistant professor of electrical engineering, is the first UNT recipient of a prestigious Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Mahbub will use the two-year, $500,000 award to work on the development of a wireless power transfer
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH DISPARITIES Four UNT researchers are addressing health disparities by training the next generation of counselors and social workers to offer trauma-informed, bilingual mental health services to underserved communities in both behavioral health and integrated care settings. Associate professors Peggy Ceballos and Angie
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | TRENDING @ UNT | 2022
network of unmanned aircraft systems to allow drones to be charged wirelessly in the field by other drones rather than traveling to a base station to recharge. The objective of the prestigious award program is to identify and engage rising research stars with the long-term goal of developing the next generation of academic scientists and engineers to focus a portion of their career on Department of Defense and national security issues. Cartwright from the College of Education along with Dhru Mukherjee, associate professor of social work, and Chandra Carey, associate dean of the College of Health and Public Service, are collaborating on the project funded through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The project addresses the need for care for underserved populations and is part of UNT’s Center for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Health and Society (CREEHS).
FROM THE LAB TO THE MARKETPLACE
COLLABORATE WITH US UNT researchers from across disciplines are combining their expertise to fuel discoveries that are changing the shape of industries and our world. Innovative technology created here is catching the eye of companies and potential investors who are taking advantage of UNT resources and collaborating to impact our communities in positive ways. Learn how you can partner with UNT at research.unt.edu/rca.
CREATING NEXT-GEN MANUFACTURING UNT center is changing the face of manufacturing — developing advanced material components for industries ranging from biomedical and energy to defense and aerospace — with future-focused solutions and workforce training that will lead U.S. global competitiveness. TEXT: AMY BRUNDEEN PHOTOGRAPHY: MICHAEL CLEMENTS
uch of UNT’s Discovery Park was under renovation throughout 2021, as the North Texas region’s largest research park underwent various updates to make its interior as astounding as the innovative discoveries that transpire inside its walls. Some of the most inspiring research takes place in its Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing (CAAAM), which recently expanded its 5,000 square feet of existing lab space to include a 2,500-square-foot manufacturing facility. But it’s more than just a renovation — it’s an investment in the future. After CAAAM launched as an official center in 2019, the Texas Legislature saw its potential to revolutionize important emergent research areas, responding with a $10 million appropriation that has helped fund the center’s nearly $2.21 million in new custombuilt equipment. In 2021, the legislature doubled down, renewing CAAAM’s funding through 2023 with an additional $10 million — a reaffirmation of the center’s importance in positioning Texas as a leader in additive manufacturing innovation and workforce development. With its facilities fully operational, CAAAM is focused on bringing in more researchers and launching new educational programs. More than 25 faculty and
researchers — along with more than 20 graduate and undergraduate students from engineering, science, business and information science — are currently conducting interdisciplinary research through the center. CAAAM faculty members have been awarded nearly $2.4 million in externally funded research grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and have applied for research proposals totaling nearly $17.5 million. “We are poised to pave the way forward for the future of manufacturing success and to address acute shortages in the manufacturing workforce,” Narendra Dahotre, associate vice president of CAAAM, says.
One key new piece of technology in CAAAM is the MELD, which can print much faster and produce very large components — but it uses metal bars, not powders like the powder-bed fusion equipment that researchers have been using for several years. Researchers in UNT’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute are using CAAAM to design new alloys and research how the
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | CREATING NEXT-GEN MANUFACTURING | 2022
“We are poised to pave the way forward for the future of manufacturing success and to address acute shortages in the manufacturing workforce.” — Narendra Dahotre, associate vice president of UNT’s Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing (CAAAM)
process affects existing materials. 3D printing has opened up whole areas of innovation due to the ability to build one-piece components with advanced materials. The technology at CAAAM can print objects from advanced metals, ceramics and composites with extremely complex geometry. Using CAAAM facilities, UNT researchers are building prototypes of next-generation sensors and antennas that would be difficult — if not impossible — to manufacture with traditional methods. Hector Siller, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is working to develop medical implants and drones. “These are two dissimilar fields,” he says. “But what they have in common is that they require the use of lightweight structures that can only be made by additive manufacturing.” Wonbong Choi, professor of materials science and engineering, and Yijie Jiang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, are developing hybrid composite materials with embedded sensors for autonomous vehicles and wearable devices. Choi and Ifana Mahbub, assistant professor of electrical engineering, will print wireless sensors and interfaces for unmanned aerial vehicles and antennas for wireless drone charging. Mahbub also will use CAAAM facilities to fabricate prototypes of implants that will be used in the brains of rodents for medical research and wearable devices to detect falls in older adults. “3D printing makes it cheaper and faster, and we can do quality control,” Mahbub says.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | CREATING NEXT-GEN MANUFACTURING | 2022
SING DATA ANALYTICS U Looking to further leverage UNT’s strengths, CAAAM researchers contacted Song Fu in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering to help accelerate research efforts through data analytics. Researchers at CAAAM model the manufacturing process using UNT’s high-performance computing capabilities to run simulations. They send the data to Fu and his graduate students, who are using machine learning to examine different parameters in the manufacturing process to create computer models that can be used in a wide range of manufacturing applications, including aerospace. Fu says their results will help manufacturers down the road determine what materials to use without having to do their own simulations. “We’re working to improve the speed, feasibility and accuracy to allow additive manufacturing to be implemented in more industry settings — making it more agile and adaptive,” Fu says.
I MPROVING LOGISTICS While additive manufacturing has many advantages — the ability to manufacture one-off designs, use advanced materials, manufacture without waste and create onepiece parts with almost limitless possibilities of complex design — much needs to be reenvisioned, such as the supply chain process. And experts in UNT’s Jim McNatt Institute for Logistics Research are helping to find solutions. Ph.D. candidate Himali Patil
and assistant professor Suman Niranjan in the Department of Logistics and Operations Management are studying the logistics of additive manufacturing spare parts, from automotive to appliances. In the not-toodistant future, service or repair companies could actually print small spare parts in their service vehicles or locally, as long as they have the designs. Patil is collecting data from manufacturers to look at what additive manufacturing of metal parts will be practical, feasible and economically viable. “Additive manufacturing of spare parts could be a revolution,” says Arunachalam Narayanan, associate professor of information technology and decision sciences.“It’s not that the technology is not good. It’s just that people have not studied it, and there’s not enough trust in the process. CAAAM is helping to understand these things so industry can move forward.” Additive manufacturing is still coming of age, but the team assembled at CAAAM is playing a critical role in its development and future success. “We have assembled an incredibly efficient group of innovative people,” Dahotre says. “At UNT, we are ahead of the times and contributing as leaders of this new technological revolution.”
TRAINING TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE Additive manufacturing will revolutionize many industries and require a workforce trained in the engineering and technical skills of this emerging area. That’s why CAAAM has teamed with researchers in the Department of Physics to perform non-destructive testing that looks at the internal structure of 3D-printed parts created using high-end ultrasound equipment, which was purchased through the center. And doctoral students in physics and materials science have guided students from area high schools, other universities and UNT’s biomedical master’s track in a summer program to use robotics to automate the process. “Our goal is not only research, but also education — creating the workforce for the next generation,” says Narendra Dahotre, founding leader and associate vice president of CAAAM. The center established the Institute for Transformative Education in Additive Manufacturing (ITEAM), which focuses on education and workforce development. ITEAM organized a two-week camp last summer with 25 students and teachers from junior colleges in North Texas and UNT. The program included one week of in-class lectures on fundamentals of addi-
tive manufacturing followed by a oneweek session of hands-on training on CAAAM equipment. The camp’s success set a foundation for subsequent activities in training students and the workforce. CAAAM is working with industry and outside organizations to build partnerships for research and further workforce programs. Their advisory board includes Brian Rosenberger with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company and Richard Grylls at Carpenter Technology Corporation. CAAAM’s workforce development goes beyond training students to use the new technology. The center is taking a holistic approach to additive manufacturing, not just in the areas of materials science and processing methods, but looking at everything from sustainability to data science. “3D printing is not typically associated with all of the topics we are addressing — but associated with mainstream technology,” says Rajarshi Banerjee, Regents Professor and director of UNT’s Materials Research Facility. “In the future, all these aspects of 3D printing will be interconnected, and that’s what CAAAM is all about.”
Learn more and watch a video about ITEAM. caaam.unt.edu/iteam
SUPPORTING GRADUATE RESEARCH New National Institutes of Health grant helps UNT develop a diverse pool of Ph.D. scientists.
TEXT: AMY BRUNDEEN PHOTOGRAPHY: AHNA HUBNIK
new grant that will increase student participation and diversity in Ph.D. science and engineering programs focusing on research relevant to human health was established at UNT this fall. The Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (G-RISE) grant from the National Institutes of Health will develop a diverse pool of Ph.D. scientists for careers in the biomedical research fields. The program provides financial and mentoring support and other professional development resources for students at UNT from historically minoritized groups in the biomedical research sciences. The $2 million grant funds student stipends, travel support and partial tuition for 20 students over five years. The program aims to increase diversity in Ph.D. science and engineering programs, not just by providing financial support, but also by expanding mentorship with faculty and staff and providing relevant career development. A key component of G-RISE is increasing support for Ph.D. students to develop
as biomedical researchers. The grant will support guest lecturers for trainees, mentors and others. Professional development focused on graduate student mentorship and training also will be provided for faculty mentors across the scientific disciplines. “NIH has a long history of supporting Ph.D. students’ training in the country,” UNT College of Science Dean Pamela Padilla says. “This program will make it less taxing on the student so that they can focus on their research. It also helps us put a lens on best practices for mentorship and training Ph.D. science students.” Students are required to be a citizen or a noncitizen national of the United States and starting a Ph.D. that supports entry into a career in a field that falls under the umbrella of the NIH mission. Participants will be selected for the program through an application process that uses contemporary best practices in recruiting underrepresented doctoral students. The program will be led by Padilla, Warren Burggren, University Distinguished
Research Professor of biological sciences, Lee Hughes, associate professor of biological sciences, and Vijay Vaidyanathan, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The faculty members say that they are expecting to make the program sustainable by providing mentoring opportunities for Ph.D. students beyond the grant. “NIH has provided us with an opportunity to give these students a leg up, helping them to get started with fewer financial barriers and a stronger support network,” Burggren says. “It will be exciting to recruit and train them, and just generally be part of this NIHUNT partnership that will increase the diversity of biomedical researchers.”
INNOVATORS TO WATCH
CREATING A CULTURE OF DISCOVERY UNT STUDENTS ARE LEARNING FIRSTHAND HOW THEIR INNOVATION CAN IMPACT ART, SCIENCE AND CULTURE.
ART MEETS SCIENCE
REGENERON SCIENCE TALENT
Phil Samson, a studio art student pursuing his Master of Fine Arts in the College of Visual Arts and Design, has poured over scientific research papers from scholars in UNT’s College of Science to shape sculptures inspired by plant science and gene modification. Samson’s readings of UNT plant research — such as that conducted by Kent Chapman, Richard Dixon and Jaime Barros-Rios in UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute — spurred striking fluorescent sculptures shaped from acrylic plastic, steel, resin and other materials. For instance, in Miracle Grow, Samson took inspiration from the model plants Brachypodium distachyon and Arabidopsis thaliana, which are used by UNT researchers in their studies. Some of his pieces are currently on loan in the BioDiscovery Institute, and his plant science-influenced sculptures will be displayed in the Eagle Exhibit Hall within the Environmental Education, Science and Technology building April 4-15.
Amy Guan, a May 2021 graduate of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at UNT, was named among the top 40 scholars in the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search. Working with mentor Thomas Cundari, professor of chemistry, Guan researched the identification of metal and ligand effects on bond acidity of methane, the primary component of natural gas, and its impact on the catalytic efficiency for the conversion of this abundant hydrocarbon resource to more valuable industrial chemicals. Guan, who is currently studying mathematical and computational science at Stanford University, was selected from a pool of 1,760 high school students who entered the Regeneron Science Talent Search. As a top 40 scholar, she received a $25,000 prize.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | INNOVATORS TO WATCH | 2022
COMPOSING IN THE WILDERNESS
COGNITION & DANCE
Garrison Gerard, a doctoral student in UNT’s music composition program, was selected for the prestigious Composing in the Wilderness program, which took place in summer 2021. The one-of-a-kind creative experience for composers allowed Gerard to explore Alaska’s Denali National Park, compose music about it and have it premiered by top performers, all in a two-week period. Gerard composed music for flute, clarinet, violin and cello. The goal of his six-minute piece was to explore the idea of perspective — such as what kind of complex sound combinations are different listeners attuned to at different moments. Gerard’s piece was performed this fall in the College of Music’s Recital Hall.
Hillary Shah, a political science and economics major who graduated in May 2021, was a winner of the 2021 Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a premier graduate scholarship from the Truman Scholarship Foundation for college students pursuing careers in public service. Shah was one of 62 students in the U.S. selected in 2021 for the scholarship, which Congress established as an official federal memorial to the nation’s 33rd president. A member of the UNT Honors College, Shah is the fourth UNT student to win the Truman Scholarship. As a Truman Scholar, she will receive a $30,000 scholarship for her graduate study, along with priority admission and supplemental financial support at some premier graduate institutions.
Madison (Sonny) Card, a senior psychology major, began a professional career in the performing arts, developing choreographic works and performance styles of dance. After attending the California Institute of Arts, she discovered the science of dance and transferred to UNT as a McNair Scholar to study psychology. As an Undergraduate Research Fellow, she has investigated individual differences in formally trained dancers’ cognitive functions to inform methods of treatment for cognitive impairment and decline. Card’s experience conducting research through the McNair Scholars program, along with the support of her mentor Anthony Ryals in UNT’s Neurocognitive Laboratory, gave her the confidence to apply for competitive graduate programs and research fellowships. After she graduates in May, she plans to pursue her Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience.
CONNECTING BRAIN & BODY
EMERGENCY CHEMICAL RESPONSE SUPPORT KINETICS
Stephanie González, a doctoral student in UNT’s educational psychology program, graduated from UNT with a bachelor’s in kinesiology in May 2021. Her experience as an undergraduate in the McNair Scholars program led to her interest in pursuing research as a career. She worked in the Pediatric Movement and Physical Activity Lab, conducting a study examining the use of virtual reality exercise and its impact on the physical and mental health of college students during the pandemic. Interested in the connection between how the body moves in connection with the brain, González is concentrating her doctoral studies on sport pedagogy and motor behavior with the goal of promoting physical activity in low-income communities.
Michael (Clay) Moore earned his bachelor’s degree from UNT in computer science in May 2020. In December 2021, he was in the first class of students to graduate with a master’s in artificial intelligence at UNT, the only university to offer such a program in Texas. His graduate work concentrated on machine learning, but as an undergraduate, his interest in modeling disease spread led Clay to the Center for Computational Epidemiology and Response Analysis (CeCERA), where he worked as a research assistant — work that continued as he pursued his master’s. In the CeCERA lab, he worked with RE-PLAN, a tool originally designed to be used by public health agencies to build response plans for anthrax or smallpox events. When the pandemic hit, RE-PLAN was extended into a COVID-19 vaccination distribution tool, which was licensed for commercial development, and Moore worked closely with the licensee to integrate the system into the company’s platform.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | INNOVATORS TO WATCH | 2022
Vincent Lowe, a junior in chemistry with a minor in biological sciences, has been working in the laboratory of Regents Professor of chemistry Paul Marshall since May 2020, two days before he graduated from high school. His research thus far has focused heavily on the key species of ammonia and its use as a potential clean, carbon-free fuel source having only nitrogen and water as the main byproducts. His research is computational, using Gaussian 16. He plans to use his research in chemical kinetics as a foundation for a future Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences with a focus on pharmacometrics, a novel science that uses mathematical and statistical models of biological, pharmacological and/or physiological process to analyze, predict and stimulate drug-patient interactions that aid in the discovery and development of therapeutic drugs.
EXTENDED REALITY TECH
DIVERSITY IN PRESERVATION
Kathryn Hays, a doctoral student in information science and a research associate in UNT’s xREZ Art + Science Lab, is currently working on research in spatial computing, segmentation 3D and human-computer interaction. Hays — who received her Bachelor of Science in psychology from UNT before earning a Master of Science in cognitive neuroscience from UT Dallas — is exploring multi-user collaboration with immersive, extended reality technologies and how embodiment mediates interaction with technology, specifically by examining how sharing eye gaze between users can promote interaction and collaboration within these contexts. By understanding emergent issues through a human-oriented perspective, she hopes her work can contribute to developing novel systems and technologies that enable human users to meaningfully interact and utilize information.
kYmberly Keeton, a library science alumna and current doctoral student in information science, was recently selected to receive the National Trust for Historic Preservation Diversity Scholarship for PastForward 2021 Online, a national preservation conference. Her research deals with African American Community Archives in Texas, and she is interested in learning more about digital preservation and how it will play a role in her doctoral research. Recently, Keeton’s article “Perspective: In the Time of COVID-19 | Still Black See” was published in What’s Emerging in the Field?: Essays from the MCN 2020 VIRTUAL Scholarship Program Recipients, and her article “23 and We: Contemporary Genealogy Services” was published in Library Journal.
EXPANDING CORE RESEARCH FACILITIES
Learn more about research in UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute on the College Tour. admissions.unt.edu/ the-college-tour
facilities, the Division of Research and Innovation has expanded its universitymanaged core facilities to capitalize on the brainpower to research, execute and commercialize new ideas. As experts in their chosen fields, The core facilities now UNT’s researchers are dedicated available for researchers on a explorers, pushing the limits to fee-for-service basis include the create discoveries and solutions. vivarium for animal researchers; Through UNT’s shared the Materials Research Facility research facilities, researchers on offering high-end materials campus and industry partners assessment instruments; the can access the latest high-tech Center for Agile and Adaptive equipment and spaces to carry Additive Manufacturing; and out the most sophisticated the new High Performance projects and analysis. To help Computing services based upon increase collaborations and the Texas Advanced Computing provide access to these useful Center (TACC) in partnership
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | INNOVATIVE SPACES | 2022
with the University of Texas at Austin. (Read more on page 33.) This year the division added three additional core facilities to UNT: the BioAnalytical Facility (pictured above), the Genomics Center and the Greenhouse Support Services Facility. The three facilities were moved from their creation and incubation in UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute to now becoming available universitywide to all UNT researchers. Learn more about facilities available to external partners at research.unt.edu/facilities.
BIOANALYTICAL FACILITY UNT’s BioAnalytical Facility offers a diverse collection of services and equipment for faculty and industry partners, including mass spectrometers with advanced capabilities for separating and quantifying small molecules and macromolecules.
GENOMICS CENTER The Genomics Center provides high-quality RNA and DNA sequence analysis using the latest technology. Services include DNA and RNA quantification, chemical and mechanical fragmentation, NextGen sequencing library preparation and normalization, whole genome de novo and resequencing, whole transcriptome sequencing (RNASeq) and whole exome sequencing.
GREENHOUSE SUPPORT SERVICES FACILITY The Greenhouse Support Services Facility includes three major greenhouses, one on the roof of the Life Sciences Complex, a second outside of the Science Research Building and a third at Discovery Park.
MATERIALS RESEARCH FACILITY UNT’s Materials Research Facility, located at Discovery Park, is one of the most advanced university research facilities in the nation for materials analysis — from the atomic to macro scales. The facility offers a suite of powerful analytical instruments used for true 3D characterization and processing with an adjoining cleanroom so that materials can be synthesized, tested and controlled in close proximity.
UNT continues to make tremendous strides as a Tier One research university, as the work of innovative faculty addresses real-world problems — and paves the path to a better, brighter future. TEXT: ERIN CRISTALES PHOTOGRAPHY: MICHAEL CLEMENTS
ll Aleshia Hayes wanted was to last more than 30 seconds in a game of Ms. Pac-Man. Even at 7, she understood the importance of iteration. Her best friend — who enviably had her own Atari and therefore the luxury to hypothesize which routes (and risks) were most survivable — could play for what seemed like eons before the dreaded death spiral rang out. Hayes took a page from the preteen playbook and begged her parents for a console. They gifted her with … something else. “To my joy and chagrin, they bought me a Commodore computer. They said, ‘If you want to play games, you can make them yourself,’” says Hayes, an assistant professor in UNT’s Department of Learning Technologies and director of the SURGE XR Lab, which is dedicated to advancing research in virtual, augmented, mixed and extended realities. “I was an only child and didn’t have anything else to do, so I started messing around and making games and learning more about computer science.” That initial exposure to electronic experimentation imbued Hayes with a confidence that never left her — “If you get the sense that you can explore technology without any fear, then you can do all kinds of things,” she says. And that’s exactly what she does in her lab, where she investigates not just emerging
technologies, but human-computer interactions. One of Hayes’ biggest questions centers around user experience and design thinking: Is a particular digital tool an engaging and effective device for learning, and if not, can it be reconfigured to become one? Hers is a story that proves big ideas bloom from tiny seeds, and there are few inspirations smaller than the pixels that comprise Pac-Man. Like that pizza-shaped protagonist, Hayes and a host of other researchers who call UNT home are navigating a veritable maze of challenges and triumphs and arriving at potential solutions to some of today’s most prevalent — and relevant — problems. And while research itself can often feel like a game — more specifically, a numbers game — it’s something far deeper and more meaningful at UNT. Sure, our numbers are impressive. Take this year’s record enrollment of 42,372 students, which includes a 22% growth in graduate enrollment. Or the $85 million in research expenditures. Or the record 59 patent filings and 35 licenses, along with 45 disclosures of intellectual property and nine issued patents in FY 2021. But at the end of the day, it’s impossible to enumerate the many ways UNT’s interdisciplinary approach to inquiry is furthering how we understand the complexities of our world — and bettering it in the process. That is, after all, the Tier One way (and especially our way). As one of only 141 such institutions in the U.S. — and one of only 18 designated a HispanicServing Institution — UNT is proud to also be designated a Minority-Serving Institution and is more dedicated than ever to broadening its reputation locally, nationally and globally.
“The considerable talents and dedication of our established and up-and-coming faculty are distinguishing UNT as a worldclass institution for research and discovery,” says Mark McLellan, vice president for research and innovation. “Their combined ingenuity is invaluable as we embark on next-generation innovations and continue to grow and strengthen our research enterprise.”
EXERCISE IN EXPLORATION
For more proof of UNT’s expanding prestige, just look at this year’s three National Science Foundation Early Career Award recipients (which makes eight currently at the university). One of NSF’s most prestigious honors, the CAREER Award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. “Over the past three years, our number of faculty CAREER Awards has increased threefold, speaking to the quality of our faculty, our research and our continued growth as a college and university,” says Hanchen Huang, dean of the College of Engineering. “With three of our outstanding faculty recognized this year, I am beyond thrilled to see the impact their research will have in the classroom and within our community.” That CAREER-worthy research includes the development of a new robust approach to manufacturing mechanically stable nanoporous ceramics that could ultimately provide more precise design control of ceramic films and coatings used in everything from sensors in breathalyzers to reflective coatings — an endeavor spearheaded by Diana Berman, assistant
“The considerable talents and dedication of our established and upand-coming faculty are distinguishing UNT as a world-class institution for research and discovery.” — Mark McLellan, vice president of research and innovation
CREATING IMPACTS THROUGH COMMERCIALIZATION UNT technology transfer focuses on all of the ways the university’s applied research can be commercialized to improve communities — from financial successes to societal impacts. UNT’s technology commercialization efforts are demonstrating that the university is a leader in applied research, making impacts far and wide. UNT researchers are approaching their work in new and creative ways and producing intellectual property that is making a difference for the world. UNT technology commercialization is exceeding peer institutions across the country for its impact, faculty served and licenses executed. Michael Rondelli, associate vice president for innovation and commercialization, and his team are working to help them see ways those ideas can reach broader audiences. The Research Commercial Agreements unit in the Division of Research and Innovation, which was formed in 2020, brings together a mix of servicing all research contracts with the university’s technology transfer function. This approach has broadened the number of faculty served and spurred disclosures of intellectual property from more research disciplines.
CONTINUED SUCCESS In FY 2021, UNT created 772 contracts including a record-setting 35 technology transfer licenses and earned 45 disclosures, far exceeding industry expectations and demonstrating how valuable UNT’s applied research is to the global community.
Rondelli also emphasizes that it is important to not only measure technology transfer with licensing income, but also by the reach of the research results and how they positively improve lives and solve difficult issues. “We’re seeing research growth by leaps and bounds with impacts beyond STEM fields,” he says. “We’ve been working with faculty in music, in health and human services, and in criminal justice — all of our researchers make an impact on the community.”
SOCIETAL IMPACT While some UNT research — like advances for microchips or manufacturing processes — attracts industry partners for its commercial potential, researchers like those at the Center for Computational Epidemiology and Response Analysis (CeCERA) are working to address societal problems. Last year, CeCERA researchers adapted RE-PLAN, a cloud-based computer program originally designed at UNT to create emergency response plans for bioterrorism events involving anthrax or smallpox, into a tool to help ensure the equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. With the help of Research Commercial Agreements staff, they collaborated with Juvare, a leader in critical incident preparedness and response technology, to commercialize the program as a tool for state and local public health agencies. Other groups,
including the U.S. Army, also are interested in the program for threats beyond COVID-19. “We are proud to collaborate with UNT on bringing RE-PLAN to the market,” says Bryan Kaplan, Chief Information Officer at Juvare. “This technology provides the missing link public health agencies need to ensure all populations have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.” A recent example of a commercial license outside of STEM is Bodies in Motion, a program produced by a grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association that helps support positive body image in female college athletes. The program, developed by Trent Petrie and Dana Voelker in UNT’s Center for Sport Psychology and Athlete Mental Health, was first offered free of charge for the 2020-21 athletic season as the pandemic was shutting down athletics nationwide. Now universities are signing three-year licensing agreements to use the program. “Body dysmorphia affects many women athletes,” Rondelli says. “Our society does not spend a lot of time worrying about women’s health issues. Trying to bring equity to our entire population really fits with the mission and character of UNT. We’re an inclusive campus that cares. Everyone’s life matters here and our research is showing that.” Watch a video to learn more about RE-PLAN. research.unt.edu/re-plan
professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Hua Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, received a grant to fund his exploration into the fundamental limits of cryptography through network information theory, research that will potentially improve the security, privacy and anonymity of digital communication. And Hui Zhao, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, will use her grant to design networks-on-chips for GPU-accelerated systems, which are necessary for applications that require the processing of large amounts of data such as deep learning and streaming applications — work that will make the data communication in these systems more efficient. They are just three among the many inquisitive researchers at UNT who are investigating issues in academia, industry and everyday life — including questions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s exactly what led Jakob Vingren, professor and chair of UNT’s Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation to team up with researchers at Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at the Star in Frisco. Vingren, along with Regents Professor David Hill, applied his expertise in cardiovascular health to examine the physiological effects of cloth masks on recreational exercisers — one of the first such studies of its kind and one that was particularly pertinent as gyms across the globe instituted mask mandates. “Anecdotally, I had the experience of running through the airport wearing an N95 mask the week before we met up on this project, and I can tell you that was challenging,” says Vingren, who also is a leading researcher in the impacts of alcohol on exercise physiology, performance and recovery. “As a researcher, you’re always curious — many are working out with masks now, and how is that going to affect them during exercise?”
To measure the effects, subjects participated in the Bruce Protocol, a diagnostic test commonly used in cardiac rehabilitation, in which a treadmill incrementally grows steeper and faster until the exerciser reaches the point of fatigue. What Vingren and colleagues found is that when subjects wore cloth masks during the test, they experienced a 14% reduction in exercise duration, as well as marked decreases in oxygen uptake, ventilation, heart rate and intensity — important findings, as intensity is a significant driver in cardiovascular adaptation and improvement with exercise. “From a physical labor perspective,” Vingren says, “the study also brings up questions as to whether workers who are required to wear masks should always do the same job, or should their responsibilities be rotated so they aren’t constantly doing the work that is most physically demanding?” But those aren’t the only questions Vingren is considering. As he and the team continue to analyze the data, they hope to eventually examine the long-term impacts of masking during physical exertion, whether recreationally or occupationally. For example, what are the far-reaching effects on cognition and adaptation? “In the U.S., prior to the pandemic, masking wasn’t common, but there are certainly areas of the world where it’s very common,” says Vingren, who also is delving into research that examines nutrition, exercise and health in minoritized populations. “We want to make the best recommendations possible when it comes to health, exercise and physical activity as a whole.”
“As a researcher, you’re always curious — many are working out with masks now, and how is that going to affect them during exercise?” — Jakob Vingren, professor and chair of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation
If there’s one number that means the most to Elizabeth Skellam, it’s 200 million. It’s a figure that exemplifies how priceless originative research can truly be — a rough estimate of the number of lives saved due to the development of penicillin.
“Food allergies is a very interdisciplinary area of research that involves a lot of food scientists and biologists looking at the medical side. For hospitality researchers, we’re more focused on closing the links between consumer and employee behavior.” — Han Wen, assistant professor of hospitality management
“A lot of us owe the fact that we’re here to fungus,” says Skellam, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry who began studying fungi as a doctoral student at the University of Bristol. “The chemistry of fungus is just so unusual — so cutting-edge.” Cutting-edge is certainly an appropriate adjective to describe her ongoing NSFfunded research, which explores natural product biosynthetic pathway elucidation and engineering to generate and develop novel biocatalysts and bioactive molecules with potential use for the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, food and cosmetic industries. Using DNA sequencing technologies, she and her team of undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers search for genes that code enzymes in fungi — and figure out the best combinations that will change a molecule’s biological activity to make it more beneficial for society. For example, through genomic sequencing, she is working to create a fungus with the potential to protect crops — engineering molecules to inhibit the growth of
pathogenic fungi without deterring the development of helpful varieties. “These biologically active molecules in fungi have evolved over hundreds of millions of years for a specific biological target,” says Skellam, who notes that fungi have multiple ecological functions, including helping trees to communicate underground through a mycorrhizal network. “You could study one strain of fungus for the rest of your life and still find new enzymes and pathways.” Skellam’s research is gaining attention. Recently, she was one of only 24 scientists awarded a Bayer Crop Science Grants4Ag Award for her work using fungi as biocontrol agents, which will allow her to forge crucial connections with Bayer scientists. She’s also part of UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute — where she collaborates with fellow researchers in areas such as biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering — and is part of UNT’s D.C. 2021 Faculty Fellows Program cohort, which helps to facilitate faculty research goals by providing resources and awareness
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | ROADMAP TO RESEARCH SUCCESS | 2022
of opportunities offered by funding agencies. In October, due to the support of the program, she was invited to sit on an NSF panel to learn more about the funding process. These various viewpoints, she says, have proved vital. “Because we’re making such progress, we always have more questions, and the questions we’re asking are generally more difficult than the ones that have been solved,” she says. “So you need more perspectives — most research groups can’t answer these questions by themselves.”
Like Skellam, Han Wen is a researcher on the rise who was part of 2020’s D.C. Faculty Fellows cohort, joining other young faculty across UNT whose work promises to make a difference in an array of fields. An assistant professor in the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism Management, her expertise is in food allergies — more specifically, how consumers, restaurants and their employees communicate allergen
information to each other. Considering about 26 million adults and 5.6 million children in the U.S. have food allergies — and about 163 million Americans dine out each week — it’s an area that requires increased investigation to ensure customer health and safety. “Food allergies is a very interdisciplinary area of research that involves a lot of food scientists and biologists looking at the medical side. For hospitality researchers, we’re more focused on closing the links between consumer and employee behaviors,” says Wen, who is working in collaboration with researchers from other universities across the globe, including Auburn, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Fairleigh Dickinson and Hong Kong Polytechnic. “Even within this small area, we developed a lot of research topics.” Food allergy researchers, including Wen, discovered there are three major causes of allergic reactions in restaurants such as hidden allergens, where all ingredients,
especially those found in sauces, were not listed on the menu; cross-contact in food preparation and delivery processes; and miscommunication — either customers did not clearly communicate their food allergy to servers or servers did not clearly communicate that allergy information to chefs. As part of the communication piece, Wen looks at how employees perceive the risk surrounding food allergies and how they are motivated to learn more about preventing those risks, along with messageframing theory connected to what most motivates consumers to communicate their allergies to servers. The team also collects data from reviews on allergyeats. com, a website that allows customers to rate restaurants on how well they accommodate food allergy requests. The data is pulled from 10 major metropolitan areas across the U.S.
“There’s definitely a gap we’ve identified when it comes to communication surrounding food allergies,” says Wen, who also studies workplace satisfaction and wellbeing among ethnic minority employees in the hospitality and food service industries — an area that is particularly relevant considering the current shortage of workers in those areas. Additionally, she recently received a USDA grant to study what restaurant industry leaders want to see taught in university-level food safety programs. The next phase of her research into food allergy communication is sponsored by a microgrant from UNT’s Division of Research and Innovation. With support from UNT Dining Services, Wen and collaborators recruited students with food allergies from UNT’s allergen-free dining hall Kitchen West, as well as Auburn University, to participate in interviews focused on what factors impact their foodchoice behaviors.
“Factors such as age, race “We really want to understand,” Wen and gender help people says, “how campus dining services can best accommodate students with food allergies.” trust and connect with others and create a higher BUILDING A BETTER REALITY It’ s been a few decades since Hayes built level of satisfaction.” — Aleshia Hayes, assistant professor of learning technologies
her first computer game on that old Commodore, but her enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled — in fact, with entire immersive worlds just a headset away, it’s only intensified. In her lab, she’s juggling several projects that investigate the endlessly evolving field of interactive tech. One, based on the short film Greenland Melting, measures not just the educational effectiveness of virtual reality, but its capacity to change attitudes, behaviors and intentions. A collaboration between Hayes, researchers at the University of Southern California and Frontline, the study has participants first watch the 360-degree presentation on a flat screen before switching to a VR headset. Users tend to learn more facts about the potential impacts of climate change in the less awe-inspiring flat-screen environment but feel more of a sense of presence with VR. None of it makes for easy answers, Hayes says. “If you hand me a pack of flash cards, I’m going to learn the information faster than from the video,” she says. “But I think I care more from watching the video, and I think I care even more if I’ve experienced the topic in VR. But how do we define that, and how do we know for sure? We need to be able to scientifically show that behavior change.”
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | ROADMAP TO RESEARCH SUCCESS | 2022
Hayes also is addressing a lack of representation in gaming, particularly among avatars. It’s an increasingly critical area, especially as AR/VR/MR/XR technologies are more frequently incorporated into learning environments. “Factors such as age, race and gender help people trust and connect with others and create a higher level of satisfaction,” says Hayes, who also is conducting preliminary research into the effect of immersive environments on English language learning. “Who would people want as their avatar if they could choose anyone? We want to see what kind of training avatars people choose and which ones are most effective in helping them learn.” Of course, Hayes says, when researchers advocate for diversity and representation, they often are met by opposition that everything is “fine the way it is.” It’s an interesting challenge, she says, and one that has shaped her most recent outreach effort. Hayes received several grants — the largest of which came from a community action grant awarded by the American Association of University Women — to support her Girls SURGE into STEM XR Camp. The pilot program launched this summer and focuses on connecting underrepresented female students in grades 6-12 with opportunities to learn about the different kinds of STEM careers and to see women in those fields. The camp, funded through at least the next two summers, was
born from a single question: How do I give other girls what I want to give my own daughters to level the playing field so that all students have similar opportunities? “Educational attainment among women statistically is higher than men, but we’re still not seeing equivalent shifts in the pay gap or more women and people of color on the boards of companies,” Hayes says. “Corporations are saying they’re not finding the qualified people. While some of my research is exploring how to shift HR practices and stakeholders to be more inclusive, I am also working to empower young women and people of color so they can be more likely to shift these needles.” And really, shifting the needle is what research at UNT is all about — edging ever closer to a better reality for everyone. It’s a mission that grows stronger every year. “The sheer range of discoveries that our researchers accomplished this year is helping sustain the big challenges our world faces, from racial and ethnic equity to bettering materials for solider protection,” McLellan says. “I am incredibly proud of the dedication and perseverance our research community has shown and their positive contributions to our state and world.” Learn more about Aleshia Hayes’ research on virtual environments in Episode 31 on UNT Pod. anchor.fm/unt-pod
EXPANDING COMPUTING RESOURCES With a new collaboration and National Science Foundation grant, UNT creates additional high-performance computing resources to exponentially increase research potential. To support the increasing demands of advanced computing in scientific research, UNT and the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center signed a memorandum of understanding in spring 2021 to provide access to enhanced cyberinfrastructure resources for UNT researchers. “This new collaboration will have extraordinary long-term impacts for research at UNT,” says Mark McLellan, vice president of UNT’s Division of Research and Innovation. “It creates exciting opportunities for innovative and impactful research outcomes to address a range of global challenges.”
POWERFUL COMPUTING Designing, deploying and maintaining the computing systems necessary for the everincreasing range of modern research efforts is expensive, highly specialized and time intensive, which is why many organizations employ supplemental resources outside their organization. The Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT Austin has developed some of the world’s most powerful computer resources, including Frontera, the ninthfastest supercomputer in the world.
“This partnership will give our researchers access to a broad range of computational technologies that would be difficult to provide on our own,” says Chris McCoy, chief information officer for UNT and the UNT System. “As the world increasingly moves toward cloud-based solutions, this aligns well with providing reliable, secure and scalable computing.” Under the agreement, UNT faculty and students will have access to TACC’s highperformance computing systems under the same conditions as any faculty member at UT Austin.
SIGNIFICANT BOOST Additionally, an interdisciplinary team of professors in UNT’s Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling — including Oliviero Andreussi (physics), Thomas Cundari (chemistry), Jincheng Du (materials science and engineering) and Hao Yan (chemistry) — received a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant to upgrade the highperformance computing system in the Chemistry Building. This new award is the latest in a series of four major NSF grants that have helped to grow the system, which serves as a major research asset to UNT.
ALUMNI INNOVATORS @ WOR
CUTTING-EDGE RESEARCH, TRAILBLAZING CAREERS INNOVATION HAS BEEN PART OF UNT’S CULTURE SINCE 1890, AND GRADUATES HAVE CARRIED THAT SPIRIT THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AS RESEARCHERS, INNOVATORS AND LEADERS.
PRESERVING CZECH ART SONGS
FINDING TREATMENTS FOR SEIZURES
As a result of a Fulbright Research Award, Bree Nichols (’21 D.M.A.) will work to compile an anthology of Czech art songs so it will be more accessible to English-speaking singers and the community. The voice performance graduate will translate and write phonetic transcriptions for the songs, which are set to poetry and performed in recital halls and salons. The songs have been stored in libraries and archives for decades, and Nichols’ goal is to bring the songs to life through a recital series. For her doctoral dissertation, she created a similar anthology of Czech opera arias for sopranos that lack existing scholarship.
Kian Huat (Eric) Lim (’06), a computational biologist, earned a spot on the 40 Under 40 in Cancer list — which recognizes emerging leaders in the study and treatment of cancer. Lim’s work at Stoke Therapeutics involves analyzing and understanding severe genetic diseases, including Dravet syndrome — a progressive developmental and epileptic disease that begins in childhood and is associated with high rates of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy. Stoke believes their investigational medicine has the potential to be the first diseasemodifying therapy to address the genetic cause of Dravet syndrome. Lim also is part of the collaborative COVID-19 International Research Team that analyzes data from COVID-19 patients.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | ALUMNI INNOVATORS @ WORK | 2022
FLYING COMPUTER CLUSTER
HELPING SORGHUM RESIST APHIDS
AUTONOMOUS TECH IN AGRICULTURE
Junfei Xie’s (’13 M.S., ’16 Ph.D.) research on unmanned aerial vehicle-based networked airborne computing earned her a National Science Foundation CAREER Award. Xie, an assistant professor at San Diego State University, will use the fiveyear award to develop a flying computing cluster that benefits current UAV applications and enables new ones. The project could potentially have an impact on a broad scope, from air traffic control to computing. An electrical engineering and computer science student at UNT, she developed theoretical and applied results to allow drones to communicate with each other under the guidance of Yan Wan, now a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, and Yan Huang, the UNT computer science and engineering department chair.
Joe Louis (’11 Ph.D.) is studying how sorghum, one of the world’s most valuable crops, can resist sugarcane aphids, one of its most persistent pests. A professor of entomology and biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Louis earned a National Science Foundation CAREER grant for his research in 2018, through which he’s working to understand the sorghum innate defense mechanisms against aphids that will enable the development of novel pest management strategies. The results from his research could provide a broader framework to enhance knowledge on interactions of aphids with other significant cereal crops. While at UNT, Louis worked on molecular and biochemical aspects of plant-insect interactions under the mentorship of University Distinguished Research Professor Jyoti Shah in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Inspired by his family of farmers in India, Nagaraju Mukka (’16 M.S.) is using his expertise to improve technology in agriculture. Mukka, who earned his computer engineering major from UNT, is a senior software engineer at Raven Industries, a technology company working in precision agriculture. He works on their leading autonomous technology products: OMNiPOWER ™ and OMNiDRIVE ™. Currently, Mukka is developing remote ECU (Electronic Control Unit) programming software with the use of Raven’s Slingshot technology. He previously worked at Caterpillar as an embedded engineer and developed an object detection system using cameras and radar sensors. Eventually, he hopes to help farmers in India by designing inexpensive smart agriculture tools to increase production with less labor.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH | 2022
IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH UNT’s biomedical engineering researchers create medical devices and technology to shape people’s lives. TEXT: JESSICA DELEÓN PHOTOGRAPHY: GARY PAYNE
elanie Ecker is determined to improve people’s health. In her laboratory in the biomedical engineering department at UNT’s Discovery Park, the assistant professor is trying to find a way — with the help of polymers. She sees polymers as similar to paper clips, flexible and easy to change. And that flexibility can turn into devices that go deep into the organs to “listen” to what is ailing the body. At the TEDxUNT event in October, Ecker spoke about “smart plastics,” explaining how polymers used as plastics can save people’s lives. “We need to combine the right paper clips in the right way. We need to combine polymers in smart ways. By doing so, we can help many patients and even save lives,” she says.“The possibilities are endless.” That potential impact drives Ecker, who specialized in chemistry before she was drawn to the field of biomedical engineering. She joins others in the department whose mission is the ability to make state-of-the-art devices to transform human health. Since its inception nearly 10 years ago, the department has become one of the fastest-growing programs at the university and is ranked ninth in the nation by BestValueSchools.org — further establishing UNT’s reputation as a hub for leading innovative research. Researchers work in the 26,250-squarefoot Biomedical Engineering Building, a premier learning space that opened in 2019 at Discovery Park and boasts cutting-edge
equipment and plenty of available lab space. Top health technology companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Alcon and Zimmer Biomet seek out graduates of the program. Students are drawn to the challenge of collaborating with others from across disciplines — including biology, business, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and performing arts health services. “America’s next big field for innovation is medicine,” says Edward Sean Gates (’18, ’21 M.S.), the department’s lab manager. “Medical devices and products need levels of engineering to ensure that human interaction with technology is safe, secure and reliable. With a multidisciplinary approach, we’re working to build a better, smarter tomorrow — together.”
Ecker is investigating the use of smart polymers in the enteric nervous system, specifically the intestines or bowels, to enhance treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. “We’ve all felt butterflies in our stomach when we are in love, have pain or even digestive problems in stressful situations,” Ecker says. “We want to better understand how the brain and gut are communicating with each other.” She envisions a computer chip-like device similar to a pacemaker that is capable of stimulating the enteric nerves to reduce the burden of these disorders. Many devices are made of hard materials, such as silicon wafers, which can’t stick to the guts.
“Medical devices and products need engineering to ensure that human interaction with technology is safe, secure and reliable. With a multidisciplinary approach, we’re building a smarter, better tomorrow together.” — Edward Sean Gates (’18, ’21 M.S.),
Department of Biomedical Engineering Lab Manager
But Ecker’s polymers can change shape based on a stimulus when inserted into a body part. She and the students in her lab hope to develop materials that will stretch and conform to the guts and have electronics embedded to “listen” to the nerves in the intestines, then record and decode the electrical signals they send to the devices. “We want to have a material that is as stiff as uncooked spaghetti during the implantation but softens inside the body like the cooked version,” she says. Assistant professor Brian Meckes and his research team are exploring better ways of delivering nanoparticle therapeutics to targeted cells by taking advantage of changes in the cell membrane that occur in diseased cells. The hope is to find better treatments for cancer, osteoarthritis or fibrogenesis. His research earned him a 2021 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities. “The research shows that cancer cells that are very metastatic — the most aggressive cells — tend to be the ones that are stiffer,” Meckes says. “In targeting the nanoparticle, we can look and see if there is a difference between the membrane structure in a cell that is soft and a cell that is stiff. And now we have a potential therapeutic target.” Assistant professor Clement T. Y. Chan received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for his project, in which he and his team are trying to engineer bacteria — safe for humans to ingest — to specifically target, detect and recognize a range of pathogens Watch Ecker’s TEDxUNT talk. or toxins. The bacteria, designed to sit in patients’ guts, will generate a color pigment tedxunt.org
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH | 2022
such as red, green or yellow. The pigment then shows up in a fecal sample, allowing scientists to determine what is ailing the patient. It’s more efficient and cost effective than current methods of diagnosis and allows for treatment to begin more immediately. “What approaches can we use to tackle a problem?” Chan says. “It’s very exciting and rewarding to take a project to the next level and improve people’s health.”
When Trevor Exley (’20, ’21 M.S.) created a 3D-printed hand controlled through his own muscles at a summer program through the nonprofit The Shoulders of Giants, he knew he’d found his calling. UNT’s biomedical engineering program seemed made for him. For a project in his master’s program, Exley used machine learning to examine the data of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease as they stood on force plate sensors. The sensors determined how the individuals allocated pressure and measured such things as tremors. Such alternative tools can be especially valuable and affordable for telemedicine and remote clinics — and help health care workers in organizations such as Doctors Without Borders who don’t work in traditional hospital settings. Exley is now one of the first students in UNT’s biomedical engineering doctoral program. Under the mentorship of associate professor Amir Jafari in the Advanced Robotic Manipulators Lab and supported by the UNT G-RISE program, he is working on a novel design for thermoactive
HANDS-ON RESEARCH FOR THE FUTURE
soft actuators. The goal is for the actuator to have a compression force and speed similar to human muscles and eventually be implemented in rehabilitation strategies. “I’ll be able to innovate for medical devices to be more accessible and affordable to those in need,” Exley says. Students display enthusiasm and creativity as they collaborate with each other at the makerspace at Discovery Park. They “work” on a virtual surgery table where they “remove” organs and “transplant” prosthetics. A bio 3D printer allows them to print artificial skin. The space is filled with their projects, including a wheelchair that helps users climb stairs, a therapeutic chair to decrease pain and an inflatable airbag for senior citizens to wear to help ease a fall. As part of their capstone project, seniors are required to work together to create a device. Alexandra Teoh (’21) was part of a team that created a biomaterial that mimics the drug absorption properties of the laryngeal mucous membrane for the startup medical device company DUALAMS. The team used a UV curing system to make it, along with a compression testing machine, which tested the efficacy of their biomaterial compared to the typical testing methods — eliminating the need for animal testing. Teoh, who began studying at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston this summer, is working toward a career in both pediatrics and research. “Biomedical engineering sold me on pursuing research,” she says.“I’m dedicated to creating solutions to help others.”
UNT is primed to deliver on its mission to create degrees that prepare graduates for the rapidly changing marketplace. And with its unique approach of combining research and business skills, UNT’s biomedical engineering program is supplying this growing workforce for industry, hospitals, research institutions and entrepreneurs. The biomedical engineering field will become the fastest-growing engineering field over the next decade with job growth rates of more than 60%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “With our populations aging and our brave veterans returning from wars, there is an increasing need for qualified biomedical engineers who can alleviate problems by conceptualizing, designing, creating and validating state-of-the-art medical devices, processes and software,” says Vijay Vaidyanathan, founding chair who has guided the program to one of UNT’s fastest-growing after it started in 2014.
This fall, the program debuted its Ph.D. program where students can choose between a traditional research track or a health care startup track in collaboration with the G. Brint Ryan College of Business. And the department welcomed three new faculty members — bringing with them half a million dollars in grant money — to its staff of 11, who have won prestigious national awards and grants. Teaching laboratories include the Biomedical Instrumentation Laboratory, the Biomedical Modeling, Biomechanics and Biomaterials Laboratory, and the Senior Design Laboratory. “For me, building this program has been like creating a startup,” says Vaidyanathan, who brought invaluable experience to the program as a researcher who has worked in business and academia. “Our students — undergraduate and graduate — have the opportunity to work with outstanding faculty, who are experts in their fields, conducting innovative research in biomaterials, biomedical instrumentation, nanotechnology and biomechanics.”
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT With an eye toward ensuring the world’s natural resources are sustained for the future, UNT researchers are creating solutions to combat climate change, biodiversity concerns and air pollution.
TEXT: TRISTA MOXLEY PHOTOGRAPHY: AHNA HUBNIK & MICHAEL CLEMENTS
hen environmental anthropologist Courtney Cecale moved to Dallas in August 2020 from the Peruvian Andes where she had been studying glaciers and climate change, she experienced her first triple-digit summer in North Texas. She couldn’t stop thinking about how heat might influence peoples’ everyday lives. “I saw on the dash on my car that it was 116 with the heat index, and I didn’t know how people lived here,” she says. With a long history of studying humanenvironment relationships, Cecale who joined UNT in 2020 as assistant professor, turned her curiosity into the North Texas Heat Research Project, a study looking at how extreme temperatures affect the social aspects of our lives, including living, working and playing. After gathering experiences from North Texans through surveys and interviews, she and her team will recruit residents to serve as citizen scientists to measure temperature data in their neighborhoods — data that she hopes can be used to inform policy and decisions made by local governments to better the lives of North Texans. Since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, the earth’s average surface temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, with 2016 and 2020 tying for the warmest years on record, according to the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration. The heat has increased the average temperature of the ocean, as well as melting billions of tons of ice from glaciers. While steps can be taken to help reduce or reverse the damage, they will be expensive and difficult. Suggestions like restoring natural spaces, utilizing clean energy and finding sustainable production methods for food and other products face a multitude of obstacles. But like Cecale, UNT researchers across disciplines are tackling these challenges head on to find cheaper, more sustainable and effective solutions to protect our environment. “It is important to study climate change because the effects are not located in an imaginary future. They are already here. They will continue to worsen, and more people will die if we do not strategize our efforts wisely,” she says. “I genuinely believe that we are imaginative, clever and creative enough to solve problems like climate change.”
Professor Shengqian Ma is collaborating with Northern Illinois University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory on a prototype lowcost system for capturing carbon dioxide waste from manufacturing emissions and cleanly converting it into ethanol.
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT | 2022
“It is important to study climate change because the effects are not located in an imaginary future. They are already here. They will continue to worsen, and more people will die if we do not strategize our efforts wisely ... we are imaginative, clever and creative enough to solve problems like climate change.” — Courtney Cecale, assistant professor of anthropology
The prototype will intercept carbon dioxide before it’s emitted into the atmosphere and convert it back to fuel. Ma says it’s possible they might even be able to capture more carbon dioxide from the environment than has been emitted through manufacturing processes. Ideally, they would use renewable solar and wind energy to then convert carbon dioxide into ethanol. “Our long-term vision is for a cleaner and sustainable planet,” Ma says. Calvin Henard, an assistant professor of biological sciences and a researcher at UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute, is working to convert methane to bioplastics, biofuels and other
valuable products normally derived from petroleum using microbiology. “Methanotrophic bacteria are the only organisms that are able to use atmospheric methane. They eat about 10% to 15% of methane in the atmosphere,” Henard says. Through this research, Henard learned that some methanotrophs consume carbon dioxide in addition to methane, and he speculates that these bacteria are consuming methane and carbon dioxide in the soil. “Our goal is to simultaneously utilize and mitigate greenhouse gases in a single, sustainable process,” he says. “It’s a dual route to help the planet and achieve a sustainable bioeconomy.”
SUSTAINABLE RANCH PRACTICES
Hoeinghaus’ studies on the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of the ranches’ aquatic habitats.
A collaboration between UNT researchers and the Dixon Water Foundation is helping to create sustainable ranch practices and further basic science about biodiversity. The foundation owns and operates several working cattle ranches, including two outside of Decatur, which seek to demonstrate environmentally and economically sound ways to manage rangeland. The ranches use a method called multi-paddock grazing where cattle are moved around very frequently so they don’t overgraze any particular area. They partner with local researchers to monitor how the environment responds to their stewardship and fund grants, including one that is supporting UNT biological sciences associate professor David
“His work fits our mission,” says Melissa Bookhout, North Texas Education Program Coordinator for the Dixon Water Foundation. “We’re impressed with all the research that’s been going on at UNT.” Because aquatic habitats can change drastically from season to season and year to year, Hoeinghaus and his team are working to identify the distribution of water on the ranch in terms of time and space. Additionally, UNT assistant professor of biological sciences Elinor Lichtenberg is looking at insect pollinator communities on the ranches. Both researchers are comparing the biodiversity across different variations of grazing practices,
UNT RESEARCH | RESEARCH.UNT.EDU | PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT | 2022
Heat from climate change also can affect the diversity of plants, animals and insects, as well as how different species interact with humans. According to Conservation International, bee territories for bumblebee migrations have shrunk by around 200 miles in North America and Europe over the past 110 years due to climate change. “Without these pollinators, it would be a much different world,” says Elinor Lichtenberg, assistant professor of ecology. “There would be a lot fewer flowers, and our fruits, vegetables and nuts are heavily dependent on insect pollination.”
such as the amount of time cattle spend in a particular area, beginning with a baseline inventory of aquatic species and insect species. Later they hope to broaden their scope to look at land management as a whole to determine what types of practices impact those communities. Their data will enable an assessment of how this alternate grazing management practice compares with traditional grazing management practices in terms of aquatic ecosystem condition and functioning and ultimately seek to improve best management practices for longterm sustainability of rangelands. “Understanding how these factors drive changes in the pollinator communities is really important if we want to develop data-driven land management practices,” Lichtenberg says.
In her lab, as part of UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute, Lichtenberg studies the behavior of pollinators, primarily wild bees. In addition to studying how grazing practices impact pollinators, she’s researching what other flower visitors bees use as sources of social information. Andrew Gregory, assistant professor of biological sciences, is examining a possible malaria outbreak in birds in Chile, which could lead to a better understanding of the effects of global warming on disease transmission. As climate change moves colder temperatures higher in the Chilean mountainside, bird populations are being affected with more contact with mosquitoes. This not only offers opportunities to see how wildlife disease can restructure with climate change, but also how it affects other populations, including humans, who interact with birds. He traveled to Chile in January as part of the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation program with a group of students who are chosen from universities across the country
to study the impacts of malaria and climate change on biodiversity. “We have a unique opportunity to study a novel landscape where birds are being exposed to a new threat brought about by climate change,” Gregory says.
Lu Liang, assistant professor of geography and the environment, is using citizen scientists to help test if there is a correlation between urban heat and air pollution. Through her project, she’s deploying a lowcost sensor network throughout Denton County to obtain granular measurements of heat and air pollution, particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less — tiny particles of pollution that are detrimental to human health when inhaled. The data will then be available to researchers and citizens through an online open access map that shows air quality changes wherever the sensors are installed. Temperature information will be gained through other sources. “We are trying to understand exactly what’s happening in our city and how to
better, more accurately measure exposure to heat and pollution,” Liang says. Alexandra Ponette-González, associate professor of geography and the environment, is studying the particles in the air that are transported from the atmosphere to the surface of the earth in precipitation. Every time it rains, millions of tiny particles hitchhike on the falling water droplets. This water contains a large and diverse community of organisms such as bacteria, fungi and even tardigrades along with non-living particles like dust, soot, microplastics and radioactive material. What’s in our rainwater can have major implications for how ecosystems work, from economic impacts on agricultural crop yields to environmental effects of pollutants. “We’re improving our understanding of how changes in air quality due to urban pollution, increasing wildfires and dust storms affect the ecosystems we depend on for clean air, water and well-being,” PonetteGonzález says. “We’re also interested in ways and contexts in which vegetation can mitigate urban environmental problems, including air pollution and climate warming.”
Listen to Courtney Cecale on Episode 25 of UNT Pod and Alexandra Ponette-González in Episode 30. anchor.fm/unt-pod
MEET THE DEAN KAREN HUTZEL
DEAN OF UNT’S COLLEGE OF VISUAL ARTS AND DESIGN
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MY JOB
I love supporting and advocating for the value of the arts and the value of public higher education. We live in a visual world and one that is changing rapidly. Artists and designers are able to magnify, make sense of, complicate and build human connections through mostly visual means. They are truth tellers and through their work are able to help us all tap into different ways of knowing, perceiving and experiencing life around us.
In an interview many years ago, cultural critic and author bell hooks was questioned about the accessibility of her writing. Her response was something like, “I’d rather write big ideas in small words than small ideas in big words.” My dissertation study is named for one of her books, Teaching Community.
TRENDS IN ART RESEARCH
Trends in the arts include entrepreneurship and the business of the arts, community engagement and social justice, interdisciplinarity across the arts, glocal (local + global) considerations and a return to handicraft or making. Research in these areas also reveal a renewed commitment by universities to prepare art and design students to make a living after graduation. Part of the interest in social justice includes justice for artists and designers to be paid for their work, either through a for-profit sales model, employment in businesses or nonprofits, or public support of artists to contribute to a society that values the arts as inherent to our being.
TEXT: HEATHER NOEL PHOTOGRAPHY: AHNA HUBNIK
Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial was an untraditional memorial in response to a divided country. The memorial simultaneously honors those who served and died in the controversial war while symbolically acknowledging the resulting rift of the American people.
I was a first-generation college student who started college as a mechanical engineering major. When I switched my major my sophomore year to graphic design, I did so at the contestation of my father, who believed the “starving artist” trope. I got a job right out of college as a graphic designer, but quit to join Americorps. I then lived in the Florida Keys for a year working with a high school marine biology teacher to develop artificial reef habitats as part of the students’ education. It was my introduction to education through service-learning at a local level that also had global outcomes. The students and I became certified to scuba dive, installed artificial reef balls and monitored them. That pedagogical practice made learning so real for the students and represents a model of how I view the potential for education. Some learning happens in classes, labs and studios, or online. Some learning happens outside the walls of a building in real-world environments. Young people are especially hungry for those kinds of experiential learning opportunities and the arts play a key role.
Division of Research and Innovation 1155 Union Circle #310979, Denton, Texas 76203-5017