UNT Research Magazine 2024

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Innovation Fueled by AI page 22 Workforce of the Future page 12 Designing Greenspaces page 16 Transforming Therapeutics page 34 VOL. 31 | 2024 KNOWLEDGE. DISCOVERY. INNOVATION. RESEARCH.UNT.EDU



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


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


BDI delivers research solutions to underpin the use 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


The institute’s multidisciplinary research team develops 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

22 Innovation Fueled by AI

Whether it’s a data-backed tool to help patients recover after surgery or designing an autonomous car, the UNT community is harnessing the power of AI to transform a variety of industries.



UNT is preparing the creative leaders of tomorrow and helping shape a more competitive workforce for Texas and beyond.


A team of faculty and students from the Advanced Environmental Research Institute are helping the city of Lewisville expand park access.


Researchers across disciplines are exploring more efficient and sustainable drug discovery techniques and treatments for some of the world’s deadliest diseases.


The Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia celebrates six decades of exploring new frontiers in music and arts technologies.


College of Engineering Dean Paul Krueger — a pioneer in squid locomotion — values interdisciplinary research and an insatiable curiosity.



Read more research stories and see back issues of the magazine. research.unt.edu/magazine

3 .................. TRENDING @


Fiscal year 2023 was one for the record books for research at the University of North Texas, thanks to the unwavering efforts and achievements of our faculty, staff, and students.

We saw another year of consistent research growth, securing our highest-ever total of sponsored project awards with more than $86 million in funding from top national agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. National Institutes of Health, and U.S. National Science Foundation.

Texas voters approved Proposition 5, creating the Texas University Fund (TUF), which is a $3.9 billion permanent endowment to ensure sustainable funding for eligible universities — including UNT. This is a transformational investment for higher education in our state, and we’re excited for the opportunities this new fund will bring to UNT and the communities we serve.

UNT is bolstering its national reputation in research and support of students as a Tier One public research university designated a Hispanic- and MinorityServing Institution. Our researchers across disciplines are making tremendous contributions in their fields by discovering new insights, shaping the workforce of Texas, and supporting the upward social mobility of our students.

The university also forged collaborations across the North Texas region, state, and nation, including an NSF-funded effort to develop new vehicle technologies, a U.S. Department of Energy consortium on emerging semiconductors and technologies, and workforce-focused initiatives to address training gaps in health care and education as well as improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

I am proud of the amazing strides we’ve made in research. These accomplishments would not have been achieved without the dedication and persistence of our entire UNT research community. I look forward to carrying this momentum forward in 2024.



Jacob King

Eric Vandergriff

Project Management

Jan Clountz

Harsh Sangani

Student Contributors

Natasha Drake

Michael King

Katie Neumann


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.

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University of North Texas chemistry professor Shengqian Ma, a global leader in nanoporous materials research, earned the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST).

TAMEST is a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific organization dedicated to enhancing the research community in Texas. Ma, the Welch Chair in UNT’s Department of Chemistry, was one of five Texas-based researchers honored in the 2024 TAMEST awards.

Ma is the first-ever UNT recipient of this award. He was selected for his

individual contributions addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society and for how his work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness .

In addressing Earth’s growing environmental concerns, Ma’s research, sparked by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, focuses on water-related challenges. Specifically, he’s exploring solutions for removing oil from the ocean, aiming first to understand the complex environment.

Ma’s most significant contributions come in his team’s development of porous organic polymer-

based nanotraps. These nanotraps can be used for a variety of applications, such as enhanced effectiveness in cleaning up after an oil spill, removing mercury from water or treating nuclear waste. The materials also can be used to store gas molecules, like methane, hydrogen or carbon dioxide.

“He is creative and is a great mentor for our students,” says Pamela Padilla, UNT’s vice president for research and innovation. “Dr. Ma’s work exudes enthusiasm and delivers results. He is highly regarded internationally within his field, and there aren’t enough positive words for Dr. Ma and his work.”



College of Information faculty are working on research projects to advance library science and archival studies with nearly $1 million in grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which supports developing a diverse workforce of librarians to better meet the changing learning and information needs of the American public.

Ana Roeschley, assistant professor of information science, is working to close gaps on the documentary and archival needs of refugees in the U.S. She is investigating best practices and protocols in the care of vital records upon

entry into the U.S., as well as the creation and long-term preservation of refugees’ personal digital archives.

Jennifer Moore, associate professor of information science, is collaborating with researchers at the University of Kentucky on a project advancing secondary school librarians’ evidence-based practices resulting in a free and widely accessible online professional development curriculum that will equip secondary school librarians to collect, analyze, integrate and share evidence of practice.

Oksana Zavalina, professor of information science, is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators and practitioners in developing an online modular curriculum to train the next generation of


College of Education researchers received a $1.24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to address training gaps for special education teachers and speech-language pathologists working in K-12 schools.

Professors Miriam Boesch and Katsura Aoyama launched the Project Communicate master’s program in Fall 2023.Through interdisciplinary coursework, embedded field experiences and professional development opportunities, Project Communicate will develop highly qualified special education teachers and speech-language pathologists who can work

information professionals in the archiving and curating of resources that provide the means to revitalize community memory and language.

Finally, Mark Phillips, associate dean for digital libraries, and Sarah Ryan, associate professor of information science, are working with librarians at University Libraries at Virginia Tech,

collaboratively in schoolbased settings to improve outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorder.

“In recent years, there’s been a push to have professionals who support students with disabilities train more collaboratively — not just special education teachers but speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and counselors as well. It’s important for students to be trained with people from other disciplines, because that’s how they’re going to be working,” Boesch says.

University of Colorado

Boulder and Los Alamos National Lab Research Library to implement a three-year joint professional development institute to support more active and embedded interdisciplinary research collaborations among library staff across the country.



UNT is adding a one-of-akind X-ray diffraction system for its aerospace materials research with a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Office as part of its Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. Marcus Young, associate professor of materials science and engineering, is leading a project to create a new X-ray diffraction system capable of measuring phase changes during mechanical deformation at extreme temperatures, which are relevant to hypersonic applications such as future jets or rockets.

Young, along with UNT engineering professors Andrey

Voevodin and Samir Aouadi, will use the system to test various shape memory alloys, refractory alloys, ultrahigh temperature ceramics and the interface between the metals and ceramics to see if they’re suitable for hypersonic speeds, which are five times faster than supersonic speeds.

“We don’t really understand the mechanisms by which these materials break apart or, more importantly, stay together when we hit those extreme temperatures,” Young says. “With this new system, we hope we can identify some of these mechanisms of how high temperature materials interact with each other. Then we can modify them and test it again for a better result.”


As NASA looks to explore new regions of the moon full of drastic temperature shifts and dusty terrain, it needs heat transfer coatings for its autonomous space vehicles that are lighter, more energy efficient and more capable of withstanding the fluctuating environments. Assistant professor of mechanical engineering Richard Z. Zhang is leading a team — including researchers at UNT, Texas Woman’s University and NASA — in developing these advanced heat transfer coatings made up of nano/ microscale materials that could be used in future Artemis exploration missions. These coatings would be able to minimize dust collection on vehicles and control heat absorption or dissipation. Through the project, UNT

professors and their external collaborators also will focus on encouraging future STEM professionals to pursue careers in space exploration via student involvement in the research, new course development, educational workshops, scholarships and internships at NASA facilities.

“Right now, spacecraft are using bulky pumps and fluids systems to support the electronics and batteries used in space exploration,” Zhang says.“These protective nano/ microscale coatings we are exploring could eliminate the need for those pumps and fluids resulting in much lighter and more energy-efficient technology that can be resilient in varied space environments. Our research also could have application beyond aerospace for use in protective coatings on items such as the anti-reflective coating on eyeglasses and thermal barrier coating in car paint.”



Three UNT faculty members have been pursuing creative research projects as 2023-24 Institute for the Advancement of the Arts Faculty Fellows.

Quincy Davis, an associate professor of percussion, will create a new musical composition called Empathy Suite, which is influenced by the confluence of two world events in 2020 — the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd. The multi-suite work will be performed by students and faculty musicians on the UNT campus.

Priscilla Ybarra, an associate professor of English, explores Denton’s rich history by designing a public humanities project, titled “Palimpsest Denton,” with her undergraduate and graduate students. A palimpsest makes way for the new

while retaining traces of the old. Denton is a place created from many layers of stories. An exhibit with highlights from the project was on display in February at the UNT CoLab in downtown Denton.

Ana M. Lopez, an associate professor of studio art, is studying the expressive potential of the bolo tie, its history in relation to marginalized communities and current relevance as a gender-neutral form of adornment. Through her research, she created a new art piece (pictured above) and co-curated the exhibition “Everybody’s Bolos” on contemporary interpretations of the bolo tie that features works of 30 artists. It’s on display through May 10 on the UNT campus.

Read more about the “Everybody’s Bolos” exhibition.


A group comprised largely of graduate students from the College of Visual Arts and Design paired with other graduate students and faculty from across the university to learn more about their research and use it as inspiration for a variety of art — including photography, sculpture and even performance art, among other mediums.

The project was the crux of Dornith Doherty’s Art and the Environment, a studio art special topics course offered last fall that challenged students to develop creative, critical and conceptual ways of thinking in their art practice. “Scientific research needs to be synthesized and explained in different ways,” Doherty says.“What art does — through metaphor and the poetry and beauty of the visual image — is it allows people to ask questions, engage and come at the topic from a different direction.”

For his ceramics piece titled “LC 50” (pictured below), M.F.A. candidate Noah Broomfield teamed with fellow graduate student and teaching assistant Cameron Emadi in associate professor Ed Mager’s environmental science lab. Broomfield learned about research Emadi has conducted on the effects of increased toxins and decreased oxygen levels in the aquatic environments of Daphnia Magna, a small, round planktonic crustacean. In response to the lack of oxygen, the organism produces hemoglobin, which causes it to appear red in color.“LC 50” refers to the “lethal concentration” of a chemical in the air or water for 50 percent of a population. Broomfield and other students displayed their work as part of the exhibition“In Symbiosis” at the Elm Fork Education Center’s Eagle Exhibit Hall in UNT’s Environmental Sciences Building.



Faculty, alumni and students have earned some prestigious awards and scholarships over the last year.

Early Career: Assistant professor of biomedical engineering Melanie Ecker earned the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program award to further her research on using smart polymers for biomedical applications. Omar Valsson, assistant professor of chemistry, was the first UNT faculty member to receive an Early Career Award from the U.S. Department of Energy, which he’ll use in developing a new method to better predict the behavior and properties of polymorphic molecular crystals. And assistant professor of physics Yuzhe Xiao (pictured) received the 2023 Young Faculty Award from the


UNT faculty are experimenting with ways to reshape the fashion industry and reduce the toll it takes on the Earth. In fashion design, Chanjuan Chen (’15 M.F.A.) is exploring how clothing could be developed on demand via 3D printers at home using modular designs. As a plant molecular biologist, Roisin McGarry’s work looks at a prime fashion textile. She’s examining how the cotton plant’s genes can be manipulated to impact the structure of the plant, making it grow more

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to boost his study on the thermal properties of nanoscale wide bandgap semiconductors like gallium nitride and silicon carbide.

Goldwater: Jathin Pranav Singaraju, a recent alum of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at UNT, was named a 2023 Goldwater Scholar in recognition of his work in the biomedical engineering lab of Huaxiao “Adam” Yang. Additionally, biology professor Jannon Fuchs became the first from UNT to win the 2023 Council on Undergraduate Research Goldwater Scholars Faculty Mentor Award. Of about 185 students she’s mentored, 10 became Goldwater Scholars.

Fulbright: UNT was once again named as a Fulbright HSI Leader by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Additionally, four faculty and staff members and three students earned awards and

efficiently using less space and water resources.

College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism Dean Jana Hawley was one of the first scholars in the country to study textile waste in the 1990s and today is a sought-after expert on textile recycling. Her CMHT colleague Iva Jestratijevic has found that a combination of strategies such as repurposing and recycling packaging could help fashion brands lessen waste.“We must work together to make sure the entire chain of operations is sustainable,” says Jestratijevic, who wrote an opensource book on sustainable business practices.

recognition from the prestigious Fulbright Program for the 2023-24 awards cycle. Those honored include faculty members Diana Berman, Saraju Mohanty and Joseph Oppong; staff member Lauren Jacobsen-Bridges; and students Odalis Alvarado, Lorelei Nichols and Garrison Gerard. National Academy of Inventors: Wonbong Choi, professor of materials science

and engineering, was inducted as a fellow in the National Academy of Inventors. Choi holds numerous patents in nanomaterials, especially their applications in rechargeable batteries, nanoelectronics and bioelectronics.



Researchers in the Department of Biological Sciences and BioDiscovery Institute earned $635,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further understanding of cotton plant development as well as purchase laser microdissection equipment to enhance research capabilities in the North Texas and Southern Oklahoma region.

College of Science faculty

Brian Ayre and Roisin McGarry are researching ways to increase the resiliency and productivity of cotton with a USDA grant they earned based on their innovative project proposal and UNT’s designations as a Hispanic- and MinorityServing Institution. Specifically, they’ll focus on cotton bast fibers, which develop in the phloem or “inner bark” of the plant’s stem. Cotton bast fibers are an underutilized part of the cotton plant that could hold immense potential for industrial applications, such as an alternative to synthetic fiber derived from fossil fuels. Knowing more

about these fibers can help cotton producers make informed decisions about the economic viability of the plant tissue and its possible applications.

A separate USDA grant funded the purchase of a laser microdissection (LMD) system to support food and agricultural research. The LMD complements existing facilities at UNT such as the Life Sciences Complex, which houses state-of-theart microscopy and histology resources for upstream tissue preparation and is wellequipped for cutting-edge downstream analyses with the UNT Genomics Center and the BioAnalytical Facility for metabolomics. Coupled with UNT’s Laboratory for Imaging Mass Spectrometry, the LMD provides a powerful technique to isolate and analyze tissues showing distinctive metabolite signatures.


College of Science researchers are working to discover why American Kestrels are disappearing from North American skies. The birds are plentiful in the North Texas region during the winter. Preliminary results have found that annual survival of American Kestrels wintering in North Texas is relatively high at 70-82%.

Biological sciences students

Brooke Prater and Maddy Kaleta along with Jim Bednarz, associate clinical professor in biological sciences, are working to understand why numbers overall are declining for this smallest of North American falcons. Their research has been previously featured in a cover story of Audubon magazine.

“We infer that kestrel survival is probably at most risk during their migrations, especially their first fall migration,” Bednarz says. “That’s why our current research emphasis is on documenting and understanding the risks that kestrels face on their migratory journeys.”



With grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,


College of Health and Public Service researchers found an improvement in blight in Dallas. A decade ago, public administration faculty members Simon Andrew and Hee Soun Jang were commissioned by Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity to identify and measure the areas of Dallas with the most blight such as properties that were abandoned, vacant or in dangerous shape. Now, they’ve released results from a followup assessment examining the change in physical aspects and socioeconomic risk factors

UNT is enhancing its food studies-related work, a growing interdisciplinary research interest at the university.

As the U.S. increases its focus on cultivating a more resilient food and fiber supply chain, a team of faculty in the

between 2011 and 2021. One of the most significant findings showed that the number of census tracts, or geographic areas, suffering from the highest levels of blight in 2011 had decreased from 51 to 31 by 2021. Their data will be useful to government and community leaders eager to help Dallas become more cohesive and economically vibrant.

College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism are working to foster future transformational leaders to work in these industries through an array of new academic offerings, events and research experiences in development.“We hope our students can contribute to the scholarship within these fields and leave UNT with the well-rounded knowledge and expertise to serve as leaders who can solve challenges found throughout the food and fiber supply chain from the farm to manufacturing, distribution and ultimately in the retail setting where consumers express their preferences,” says Jiyoung Kim, principal investigator and professor of merchandising and digital retailing.

Faculty in history and public administration are uniting on a separate research initiative. The Milpa Agricultural Placemaking Project will focus on creating an edible landscape on campus that supports new project-based and experiential learning opportunities for UNT students in food studies and allied fields.

“Using the milpa system on campus will serve as a bedrock for understanding different ways of seeing our landscape as well as fuel inquiry about the intersection of food, identity, community and environment,” says history associate professor Michael Wise, principal investigator for the project.



UNT is leading a collaborative network of regional organizations in advancing the logistics industry as an economic driver in the Texoma region, which is bordered on the south by the Dallas-Fort Worth area and north by the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

Called the Texoma Innovation Engine, the team includes UNT, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Dallas College along with

25 other participating organizations in North Central Texas and Southeastern Oklahoma. It’s among more than 40 unique teams from across the nation selected to receive one of the first-ever U.S. National Science Foundation Engines Development Awards, which aim to help partners collaborate to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions.

“Global supply chains are poised for transformative change, and our NSF Engine

will help generate the innovations needed to ensure the long-term resiliency and agility of logistics operations in the Texoma region,” says Terry Pohlen, director of UNT’s Jim McNatt Institute for Logistics Research, co-director of UNT’s Center for Integrated Intelligent Mobility Systems and principal investigator for the NSF Engines Development Award.


UNT is leading a consortium to further the science and applications of emerging semiconducting materials toward electronic, photonic and sensing technologies, along with collaborators at the University of Texas at Arlington, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and two U.S. Department of

Energy national labs.

The Consortium on Sensing, Energy-efficient Electronics, Photonics with 2D materials and Integrated Technologies (SEEP-IT) will receive $1 million annually over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear

Security Agency. PACCAR

Professor of Engineering Anupama Kaul (pictured far left) is principal investigator for the consortium. Other UNT faculty serving as co-PIs are Yuankun Lin, professor of physics, and Pamela Padilla, vice president for research and innovation.


A team of interdisciplinary researchers in the UNT Advanced Environmental Research Institute (AERI) and College of Engineering is exploring how the desalination of brackish water could make food production more sustainable.

Based on a three-year project backed by a $1 million grant from a joint funding program of the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the UNT research team is examining how brackish groundwater desalination costs could be offset by using its byproducts — desalination concentrate or brine — for profitable food production. Specifically, this project will cultivate freshwater prawn Macrobrachium rosenbergii, in brine. The team combines the expertise of electrical engineering faculty Miguel Acevedo and Xinrong Li as well as research scientist Breana Smithers, and ecotoxicology expert Ed Mager in biological sciences.



The University of North Texas performs innovative, high-impact research addressing scientific, environmental and societal problems that contributes to the region and helps the state’s economy through intellectual ca and technological advancement.

UNT’s multidisciplinary research approach fosters collaboration and brings together diverse perspectives to solve challenges and develop the workforce of tomorrow’s Texas.

Learn more about innovative UNT research: research.unt.edu


UNT faculty and staff are initiating programs to ignite careers, inspire lives and invent new products.

Ahigh school graduate with disabilities who wants a good job. A teacher who can help a student going through anxiety. An engineer who is creating a groundbreaking device. The University of North Texas is making all of these careers a possibility.

Faculty and staff are leading programs to develop a more competitive Texas workforce. State and federal government agencies have contributed deep investments into these initiatives, which will match more individuals with meaningful careers while helping to solve problems in a changing global society.

For example, the UNT Workplace Inclusion and Sustainable Employment (UNT WISE) program received a $12.7 million U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration grant in 2022 that will help improve quality of life for more people with disabilities in Texas. “We are excited to continue creating better services and opportunity for people with disabilities,” says UNT WISE director Lucy Gafford. “The other goal is to learn what works and what helps make an impact on creating more job opportunities so that we can share that with other folks.”


Workers with disabilities often can find themselves in a tough spot. Many receive a sub-minimum wage if they work for employers with Section 14(c) certificates, a law established in 1938 that has been

banned in 13 states, but not in Texas. Some students with disabilities may graduate from high school and go straight into a subminimum wage or day habilitation setting.

UNT already hosts multiple transition programs for students with disabilities under the College of Health and Public Service, such as the ENGAGE program, which serves students who identify as neurodivergent and want assistance with being successful in college. UNT WISE also leads the community rehabilitation provider training project, which credentials individuals who want to work as employment specialists for the state vocational rehabilitation system. Within the same mission, UNT offers ELEVAR, the second inclusive postsecondary program in the country for students with intellectual disabilities at a Hispanic-Serving Institution. With the U.S. Department of Education grant and a collaboration with the Texas Workforce Commission, UNT WISE will craft the Texas Beacons of Excellence, a set of guidelines that creates programming or postsecondary training for individuals with disabilities so they can move into competitive employment.

By Fall 2024, UNT WISE plans to set up eight Beacons of Excellence sites — six of which will be 14(c) certificate sites and the remaining two will be school districts. UNT WISE will assess those sites and develop the plan with training and technical assistance. “We’re trying to give


these sites better and different resources,” Gafford says.

UNT WISE completed the planning in its first year of the grant and is now in the four-year implementation phase. It’s found three participants so far: Amarillo ISD and two nonprofits — Goodwill Dallas and U & I Spread the Light Dallas.

As the organizations move away from 14(c) certificate jobs, UNT WISE can point out how it can train those employees with disabilities.“We want to have a roadmap to say, ‘Here’s what you can do to continue to invest in and pursue or develop competitive, integrated employment in your community,’ and we’ll have done it in different types of communities in areas across the state,” Gafford says.


When submissions opened in Spring 2023 for a College of Education program in which Denton County educators would be trained in mental health care practices — with tuition, fees and textbooks paid for — more than 50 applicants vied for 10 spots.

The project, funded by a $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, targets local schools with high needs — in this case, Title 1 schools in Denton and Lewisville ISDs — by teaching graduate courses to those who work in either school counseling or clinical mental health counseling.

School and clinical mental health counselors have direct access to more than 26,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, says Matthew Lemberger-Truelove, professor of counseling and higher education. Their services help not only students, but their families, teachers and administrators.

Counselors also are trained to understand more in-depth issues in a culturally responsive way, adds Peggy Ceballos, professor of counseling and higher education. For example, they can learn to use translation services and respond better to the immigrant populations that they’re working with. A cohort of 10 students will be selected each year for three successive years. The program takes 3.5 years to complete.

“We are doing this high-quality training that is answering a demand currently happening in our communities and we’re doing it in a way that is targeting the needs of the workforce,” Ceballos says.

With few clinical-based counseling trials performed in schools, their work also will add research on school-based counseling practices. “We need to better understand what counseling approaches specifically work best in a school setting and studying practices in these schools as part of this grant will help us in that,” LembergerTruelove says.


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) wants to create a pipeline for young people to find career pathways to the energy sector. Fusion power is an especially attractive field, with new companies and increasing investment from

the government and private sector in research and development. Nuclear fusion can produce large amounts of energy that can be used to generate electricity without carbon emissions and nuclear waste. “It is regarded as the holy grail of energy,” says Vijay K. Vasudevan, professor and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “It’s like the energy that powers the sun.”

That’s what led the DOE’s Office of Science/Fusion Energy Services RENEW program to support UNT’s Fusion Power: Research to Enhance Materials Education of Underrepresented or Disadvantaged Engineering Students (FP: REMEDiES). Led by UNT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the grant offers students research training on refractory materials and manufacturing for fusion power in partnership with DOE labs while encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees.

“We are doing this highquality training that is answering a demand currently happening in our communities and we’re doing it in a way that is targeting the needs of the workforce.”
— Peggy Ceballos, professor of counseling and higher education in the College of Education

UNT received $1.1 million of the $1.5 million grant, sharing it with three national labs — the Ames National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The students will spend time during the summers in the national labs, where they can receive mentoring and assist with invaluable research. The project boasts support for about a dozen undergrad and graduate students every year. It also receives input from an industry advisor, Boston-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Researchers are studying the metal tungsten, which is well known for its use in light bulb filaments and cathode ray tubes, electronics, ammunition and high performance cutting and machining tools. Tungsten is a leading candidate for the first wall in fusion energy devices as well. Tungsten offers attractive properties, such as withstanding x-rays, radiation and corrosion, but it’s unclear why it behaves that way. “Tungsten is one of the most remarkable metals,” Vasudevan says. “But we need to understand more about its behavior especially how to make it more pliable or bendable while remaining strong and resistant to extreme conditions.”


Jose Martinez (’20) (pictured) is the type of student UNT wants to help excel in the workforce. He first sought research opportunities as a junior electrical engineering major. He found the perfect fit when the College of Engineering earned a $750,000 grant from a U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) program that promotes STEM engagement across the education pipeline. The program ran from 2019 to 2023 and impacted more than 1,100 students.

The program included several components such as summer camps and

field trips to UNT’s Discovery Park, the North Texas region’s largest research park, which provided K-12 students opportunities to engage with professors and explore different labs. Undergraduate and graduate students conducted research developing new types of electronic devices, including making them with additive manufacturing approaches using nanomaterials for a wide range of sensors and radio frequency electronics.

UNT’s faculty went beyond the traditional lecture delivery class by creating classes under the ONR program in which students learned the principles in action in the lab. In fact, one class designed by Anupama Kaul, PACCAR professor of

engineering and director of the PACCAR Technology Institute, allowed students enrolled in the course to gain experience working in the UNT Clean Room. Former UNT professor Ifana Mahbub also developed a new course on microwave engineering, which also is now a regular course in the electrical engineering department. “Learning by doing is a great way to engage students and reinforce the theoretical concepts,” Kaul says.

Martinez, who was mentored by Mahbub, had exposure to equipment and research he wouldn’t have otherwise in her lab. Now, he works at Elbit America in Fort Worth as a radio frequency engineer and focuses on power amplifiers for the military so vehicles and aircraft can communicate with each other. He credits his experience at UNT with helping him get the job.

“I began to really grow a passion for radio frequency engineering,” he says. “In classes, you learn all the theory and formulas. Then being in the ONR program, I was able to apply those formulas directly to different experiments and see the outcome and correlate it. That really gave me a strong foundation in beginning my career.”


From a young age, Jose Marines (’22) knew he wanted to make the world a better place. When UNT introduced its undergraduate urban policy and planning degree program in 2019, Marines was among the first to enroll. “I’ve been interested in urban planning for a long time,” Marines says. “I always knew I wanted to improve public spaces.”

As a research assistant for UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute (AERI), Marines had the opportunity to fulfill that calling. He worked on a team of AERI researchers — including faculty and other students in public administration and geography and the environment — to help plan and develop a new park for the city of Lewisville, a community about 16 miles southeast of the UNT campus in Denton. It’s one of many ways AERI research has brought environmental solutions to communities. The interdisciplinary research institute unites faculty, staff and students from across the university to work together on projects focused on mitigating environmental problems ranging from air and water quality to urban planning, public health and conservation biology.

AERI has long worked with the city on the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, a nature preserve that serves as a living lab for environmental research and offers educational opportunities to the public. At a 2020 meeting, AERI faculty and city leadership discussed a new collaboration that would help Lewisville’s


UNT researchers collaborate with city of Lewisville to provide equitable park access.

desire to improve access to greenspace and infrastructure for its residents. Plans to build a park in the high-density Triangle neighborhood quickly took shape. “It’s impressive to see how strong community relationships can snowball into collaborations,” says Lauren Fischer, an assistant professor in UNT’s Department of Public Administration who serves as AERI’s associate director. “It provides even more opportunities for our students to get out in the world and apply what they’re learning in the classroom.”

For Marines’ part, he conducted walkability studies and environmental monitoring — research that became his passion. “I was excited by the opportunity to provide baseline data on environmental conditions and look at how it progressed,” he says. “Looking at real change and tracking environmental health was interesting to me.” Marines also helped Fischer and a team of other students host community engagement events in Lewisville to gather direct input from residents on possible improvements to city parks and trails.

Lu Liang, a former associate professor in UNT’s Department of Geography and the Environment, assembled researchers to conduct tree canopy surveys and monitor heat and air quality across the city, including in the Triangle neighborhood. “Air pollution is always a public health concern because of population and vehicle density,” Liang says.“Everything can be intensified in a compact urban setting without access to

parks and greenspace.” The team’s research revealed moderate air pollution levels and higher than normal ambient temperatures at the park site. However, AERI determined that continued air monitoring and the introduction of native trees and plants would ultimately offset these issues. The team’s efforts led to the 2.85-acre Parque la Gloria, or Glory Park, which is currently under development in Lewisville’s Triangle neighborhood. The park will include a playground and open play space, fitness equipment, shade structures and benches as well as an onsite food market.

Impressed by AERI’s thoughtful expertise, Lewisville city leadership invited AERI faculty and students — including Marines — to collaborate on the city’s Healthy Infrastructure Plan adopted in 2023. The master plan, which has won awards from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Texas chapter of the American Planning Association and the Texas Recreation and Park Society, includes an equity index to improve infrastructure in parts of the city that need it most.

Marines’ commitment to helping others has only begun. He now works for Lewisville’s parks and recreation department while pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at UNT. “Urban planners are problem solvers. We look at situations and see how we can do better,” Marines says. “UNT gave me the tools to take on these problems.”






Sydney Schoellhorn, a chemistry doctoral student, is investigating a fungal endophyte known as Sarocladium zeae that grows naturally on corn. It appears to shield corn from other fungal pathogens that secrete mycotoxins. Schoellhorn is studying the behavior of the fungus independent of its corn host to get a better understanding of its genetic blueprint, which could have huge implications for food safety and preventing food spoilage. Her research is supported by a $180,000 predoctoral fellowship through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Schoellhorn is the first UNT student to earn this type of USDA fellowship, which focuses on agricultural-based research.


Durga Srikari, a master’s student in information science and a cybersecurity professional, is exploring whether podcasts may be an ideal learning resource for high school students, many of whom have used smartphones or tablets from a young age. In an increasingly technology-driven world, basic cybersecurity training will be an essential addition to curricula, Srikari says. She’s working alongside UNT associate professor of information science Gahangir Hossain to learn whether a podcast could be an effective medium for educating students on cybersecurity standards and practices. She’s already using the medium as a learning tool through her own podcast, Cyber Trooper, which provides updates on advancements in the field.



Ali Khan (’21), a Ph.D. student in computer science and engineering, earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2023 for his study on the union of machine learning, high performance computing and graph theory. His research centers on developing scalable neurosymbolic algorithms for network comparison. Specifically, he looks at how to quickly troubleshoot problems with software that scientists use on supercomputers. Previously, Khan helped researchers from UNT’s Center for Computational Epidemiology and Response Analysis in their development of RE-PLAN — a cloud-based computer program to help health care officials plan emergency responses for disease outbreaks.


Kaetlin Marsh, an Honors College psychology major with minors in history and biological sciences, has been interested in studying health guidelines and their dissemination since she first discovered the ambiguity of nutrition and exercise recommendations during her own search on healthy habits. At UNT, she’s used that experience to drive her interdisciplinary research including examining the effects social factors like body talk can have on exercise motivation and body image distress in women. In the future, Marsh plans to further her education in clinical health psychology with a goal to use that knowledge to educate diverse communities about positive weightrelated behaviors.


Krystal Toney, an environmental science doctoral student, has gained a deeper knowledge of nature’s interconnectedness while also discovering that access to nature isn’t always equitable. She is researching the disparities in access to conservation education and nature among Black and low socioeconomic students. Through her blog Black in Nature, Toney sheds light on inequity and quells the misconception that Black people aren’t doing environmental work. Her efforts to elevate Black voices have led to speaking engagements and two children’s books about bugs. During her time at UNT, Toney has worked with the Dallas Environmental Education Initiative. She hopes to land a full-time job in environmental science in the future.



For Julia Caswell Freund, a new media art master’s student, research is like excavation — one day she’s digging through primary texts and the next she’s curating artifacts from Ray Roberts Lake State Park. Freund creates immersive, multidisciplinary art experiences that invite viewers to reflect on their relationship to knowledge systems and the everchanging world. As a student in Art and the Environment, a special topics course led by University Distinguished Research Professor Dornith Doherty, Freund created a multimedia installation and coinciding live performance in the UNT Elm Fork Education Center inspired by archeological research and North Texas history. Her next project will explore her family’s history in South Texas.


Bernardo Vargas, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, is studying race and environmental justice for Latinx communities as part of the Crossing Latinidades Mellon Humanities Fellowship and its Climate and Environmental Justice Humanities Research Working Group. Specifically, Vargas is observing how climate change impacts low-income Latinx communities in Chicago, Los Angeles and the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as what strategies these communities use to adapt to it. His prior study on the resilience of individuals inhabiting informal housing and their utilization of joy and coping strategies from the Global South earned first place in a student research contest hosted by UNT’s Advanced Environmental Research Institute.



Daphne Lynd, an undergraduate student in early childhood education, is studying how children’s books on grief, loss and death can help children feel understood, centered and that their emotions are validated. Lynd always knew she wanted to be a librarian, but her research with Anondah Saide, assistant professor of educational psychology, has motivated her to focus on ways she can bridge communities and raise awareness around dealing with grief and loss for children and families. Lynd plans to engage the scholarly community in discussing how these books work within early childhood development and the necessity to make this literature more accessible as print and e-books for communities at large.



Chandler Cook (’21), a dual master’s student in biomedical engineering and management, is passionate about helping people. Her research focuses on developing affordable biomedical implants, prosthetics and medical devices for low-income communities.

Cook’s 3D bioprinting work with associate professor of biomedical engineering Moo-Yeal Lee helped solidify her passion, allowing her the perfect blend of in-class learning and hands-on lab experience. She has interned with the UNT Health Science Center and Abbott Laboratories, serving as the liaison to connect the diagnostic company with students seeking opportunities in the biomedical field. Cook plans to start her own biomedical engineering company to catalyze kindness in health care.


Analiese Beeler and Carter Smith, undergraduate linguistics majors, are using computational methods and statistical monitoring to compare constructed languages, such as Dothraki in Game of Thrones, with natural languages that evolved over millennia. Their research explores humans’ innate understanding of language and how it’s unconsciously applied. They also hope to draw more interest in linguistics through connecting with popular culture. The DFW Metroplex Linguistics Conference recently accepted their work for presentation. Smith looks forward to pursuing graduate studies in computational linguistics and staying involved in research. Beeler is taking a gap year to work as a proofreader and editor while she considers which way her passions will lead her.



UNT researchers are harnessing the power of AI to transform a variety of industries from health care and business to transportation and emergency management.


“At the end of the day, they’re the experts in the field, and they have the final decision. But this system is built on decades of surgical data that one person may not be able to experience in a lifetime.”
— Mark Albert, associate professor of computer science and engineering

Watch The Lab series on YouTube to learn more about Mark Albert’s research.

From ancient myths of automatons to the birth of modern artificial intelligence in the 1950s, the idea of AI has fascinated human imagination for centuries. While interest had its ups and downs, AI is seeing a resurgence with soaring investments in tech and widespread public conversations like those about the popular language model-based chatbot ChatGPT. By the end of 2024, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration expects the global AI market to be worth $300 billion.

UNT is on the forefront of the AI revolution, finding new ways to harness the technology in research labs, studios and classrooms. Many researchers are generating their own AI models, mathematical algorithms or computational structures designed to perform specific tasks. And as the first university in Texas to offer a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence, UNT is leading the way in AI education. Together, students and professors are shaping the future of AI use in multiple industries from health care to emergency management. Through their coursework and research experiences, students are growing into AI leaders better prepared for careers in a world where AI is becoming as common as using electricity.


When preparing for a surgery, doctors consider their options. They pick the procedure they think will have the fastest recovery time and best long-term outcome. If they could better predict these outcomes, they could better choose among the different surgical options. Mark Albert, UNT associate professor in computer science and engineering, wants to help medical professionals make the best predictions using not only their individual experience and training, but decades of data across many hospitals.

“You can ask a person how they’re feeling after surgery, but their answers are going to vary wildly depending on things like personality and pain tolerance,” Albert says. “If you want a clear picture of outcomes to impact medical decision

making, you don’t want to use just one measure or one data point. You want to use them all for a more holistic picture of their health.” For example, Albert’s team is working with Shriners Children’s hospital to develop the Shriners Gait Index, which uses deep learning to combine over 100 measures to more holistically represent walking quality and better inform surgical decision making.

Albert has worked with Shriners, Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and others for the past decade using AI with wearable devices to measure clinically relevant outcomes for patients with mobility impairments. Quality data on mobility is recorded and can be used to determine how therapies are administered to improve mobility. Such information can inform prediction models that can suggest therapies or variations that might lead to better outcomes. “At the end of the day, they’re the experts in the field, and they have the final decision,” Albert says. “But this system is built on decades of surgical data that one person may not be able to experience in a lifetime. The system can point out something they may not have considered, or they can dig into why the system chose a different procedure than the one they initially decided on. It’s almost like asking for a second opinion.”


A once complicated process is becoming much easier through AI and the work of a UNT team led by Yan Huang, a Regents Professor in computer science and engineering. Huang’s research involves tracking the source of signals, such as sound waves or radio waves. “The traditional way of tracking these signals is to use mathematical modeling, but this can be difficult to do because of its complexity. It’s hard to account for changing environments,” Huang says.

Huang is leading a team including faculty members Heng Fan, Chenxi Qiu, Qing Yang and Asif Baba in computer science and engineering; and Xinrong Li, Hung Luyen, Yusheng Wei and Tom


AI models installed that can track the signals. The models can account for obstacles and situations like when waves bounce off buildings. Huang and her students are creating the model’s training dataset by using simulated maps of realworld environments. When the sensor finds itself in a new environment, it will be able to rely on the knowledge learned from previous data from the simulations to judge how best to respond to a new situation or obstacle.

“We’re developing more efficient directional communication capability in small devices, which is crucial in high mobility environments such as public safety, emergency response and many other areas,” says Xinrong Li, associate professor of electrical engineering. “Our work will help multiple agents like robots or unmanned aerial vehicles to coordinate more seamlessly together and make decisions as one.”


According to the United Nations, the scale and impact of hate speech has been amplified by online media and forums. Using AI technology that monitors language and user behavior, Lingzi Hong, an assistant professor of information science, is studying ways to contend with the rise of hate speech and misinformation online along with collaborators at the University of Arizona and Peking University in China.

“This is a good collaboration between AI and people creating an instant guide for the workers.”
— Lingzi Hong, assistant professor of information science ILLUSTRATION

Derryberry in electrical engineering. Their work is part of a $13 million multiinstitutional project funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. It is led by the Kostas Research Institute in collaboration with five universities, including UNT, Northeastern University, Northern Arizona University, University of Houston and University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Their overall goal is to further understanding of how to create a network of AI devices that can monitor and gather data from the surrounding environment.

Huang’s team will create sensors with

To start, she and her team of students train the AI model with real-world conversations happening on sites such as Facebook, X and Reddit. When feeding the interactions into the language model, they also train the AI to recognize sarcasm or key phrases and words that may seem safe on a surface level but are actually problematic in some way. Misinformation can be tricky to train the model to recognize because sometimes the posts look reliable and true. “We can then tell the model how we want it to respond in these instances. To either encourage less hate and respond with positivity or to ignore the comments and carry on the conversation with others,” Hong says.

The AI model could even go through a


user’s past posts and make a judgement faster than a human. Hong says volunteers, such as online moderators or nonprofit professionals who monitor online misbehavior, could use the AI as a guide as well. “Previously, they would need to follow a template, but not all templates work for every situation or they’re so generic it’s very impersonal. But a template that tries to respond to every situation would take too long to go through and find the response you need. This is a good collaboration between AI and people creating an instant guide for the workers.”

Hong’s team has created multiple models that can target specific instances of hate speech or are more tailored toward a certain topic. The plan is to make those models available to the public in the future.


In times of disaster, delivering timely risk information is crucial to prevent loss of life and property. With the help of AI, Tristan Wu (pictured), an associate

professor of emergency management and disaster science, is researching how people comprehend disaster risk information and how they seek and respond to such information during disasters.

Wu and his collaborators at Oklahoma State University and Jacksonville State University are placing couples in a simulation where a tornado is approaching their home. Using machine learning AI, the researchers analyze participants’ responses to alerts as well as how they gather information and discuss what actions they will take to protect themselves.

Individuals are exposed to a screen with a tornado warning alert at the top and multiple boxes of information blurred out. The AI tracks which boxes they choose to reveal, the order of the reveal, how long a person looks at an information box and how much information they chose to reveal before discussions with their partner. Additionally, the AI can judge which information had the most impact on an individual. Wu has done studies like this

over the past 20 years and says AI has been a major help to his research. “Before, we were not able to link components of this information, preference and decision making together. AI can do this for us now,” he says.

Wu’s team is working to survey couples in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but they’ve already found some interesting results from surveys in Seattle. “Couples there actually spent more time on textual rather than visual information. Things that wrote when and where the tornado would go and how much damage it could do. In the past, when we surveyed couples in the South, we found they would focus on graphical images like weather radars.”

Gaining a better understanding of how people will respond to certain information can help officials tailor their emergency updates to their community’s preferences.

“I believe prediction, planning and mitigating risks and damage will play a big part in planning efforts in the future.”

“AI is everywhere now. It would benefit not just our current students, but our future students to know what it is, what it can do and how we can use it for good.”
— Song Fu, professor of computer science and engineering


In the future, Song Fu (pictured middle) sees a world where streets are filled with electric vehicles capable of driving without a human behind the wheel. It’s not just a pipe dream. The UNT computer science and engineering professor is leading a team of researchers in developing a fully functional self-driving car powered by machine and deep learning programs.

To do this, researchers have installed multiple sensors on the car capable of taking 2D pictures and creating 3D point clouds, a series of points in a space that creates a 3D outline of an object like a car or house. The team doesn’t want the car to be solely self-reliant though. They’re also working on how autonomous cars can share their sensor data to communicate with one another. “This way multiple cars can sense an object that a single car may not have picked up on. For example, a person using a crosswalk or an upcoming accident on the side of the road,” Fu says.

Information sharing brings up another area Fu and his team are addressing — privacy. Specialized code the team is developing will allow the cars to share object information while protecting both user data and pedestrians’ appearances. For example, one code could blur pedestrians’ faces or even remove pedestrians

without affecting object detection before the vehicles share images with each other.

The third component of the project is infrastructure. Along with communication between vehicles, Fu and his team are working on ways permanent structures, such as traffic lights, can send data to vehicles. Similar to communicating with other cars, this would allow a car to know of approaching objects a traffic light camera might pick up that the car can’t.

The car research is being conducted through the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Center for Electric, Connected and Autonomous Technologies for Mobility (eCAT), a national effort to foster more collaboration in the development of emerging vehicle technologies. As the UNT lead for eCAT, Fu is working with his UNT colleagues — along with researchers at Wayne State University, Clarkson University and University of Delaware — to leverage research across academic disciplines and industry expertise to transform the future of mobility and train the next generation of the workforce in this area. “AI is everywhere now. It would benefit not just our current students, but our future students to know what it is, what it can do and how we can use it for good,” Fu says.


As some build AI, and some learn to use AI, others want to understand more about those people who are working with the technology. Such is the case in Yunhe Feng’s Responsible AI Lab, where his team is studying how people use the technology responsibly and fairly. “AI is always changing, and new technologies are being developed every day, but sometimes those inventors aren’t thinking of the responsible use of AI. That’s where we come in,” says Feng, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

Feng’s lab gathered posts people made online about code they had ChatGPT write and studied the posts from multiple angles. For the most part, they found people expressed fear about what ChatGPT wrote far more than any other emotion. At the same time, their results also revealed that the code written by the AI had many errors or went against conventional coding


practices. They also found there are still loopholes present that users can get around to make ChatGPT show implicit biases. “If we slightly change the prompt, we can easily get around policies set in place to prevent these biases. It’s fixed now, but these issues can continue to occur. We need to be more careful about creating these large language models and think about what kind of impact AI may have on people, on society and on research and education,” Feng says.

Feng’s lab collaborates with other UNT professors on incorporating AI into their research like Huaxiao “Adam” Yang in biomedical engineering, who is using AI to study human organoids, simplified, microscopic versions of organs that can mimic their functionality. “People know how powerful AI is, but how do they deploy it? With interdisciplinary research we’re looking at how we can adopt AI techniques and use them for other domain sciences,” Feng says.

Anna Sidorova is studying how others work with AI. Her research explores the point where humans and AI meet from creation to use. “We’re looking at the intersection where the technology is being shaped by its position in society and where society is being shaped by the qualities of the technology,” says Sidorova, the chair of the Department of Information Technology and Decision Sciences in the G. Brint Ryan College of Business.

Sidorova believes the intention behind AI creation will become an increasingly important facet when studying AI in the future. “Big companies want to make a point of having good intentions, but whether that translates into whatever outcome occurs when the technology is adopted is another thing.”

Specifically, she studies foundational models, the building blocks behind generative AI like ChatGPT, and the social and economic issues surrounding them. “When a machine learning model is created, to what extent does it create a social relationship that becomes the structure that governs us? Really, all of us are using AI daily whether we realize it or not. It’s best that we start thinking more critically and understand more about its functionality and intent.”


While researchers are exploring artificial intelligence’s use across a range of industries, UNT also is working to prepare its students and integrate the technology at the institutional level.

UNT is one of 19 universities across the country that has joined Ithaka S+R’s twoyear research project focused on identifying which AI technologies will have the largest impact on learning, teaching and research in higher education.

UNT’s team includes Benjamin Brand, senior director of new ventures in the Division of Digital Strategy and Innovation, assistant professor Yunhe Feng from computer science and engineering, assistant professor Regina Kaplan-Rakowski in learning technologies and associate dean for special libraries Sue Parks.

The team will first interview faculty to gauge what their concerns may be around AI and learn how they’re already using it. Then, it will develop recommendations for AI use at UNT.

On the ground level, some faculty and departments already are integrating AI in the classroom. Regents Professor Marco Buongiorno Nardelli in physics and music composition has developed two new classes, including one on machine learning and AI for scientists and another on AI’s application in music. “We need to demystify artificial intelligence in all fields,”

Buongiorno Nardelli says “Learning how to design machine learning models on our own data helps us better control the end product.”

Technical communication is developing AI courses that will debut this fall. The first will delve into the ethics of AI and teach students how to use tools like ChatGPT while thinking critically. The second will cover AI in the technical communication field specifically and its value as a content creation and management tool. Additionally, the department will offer a new certificate in AI in Professional Communication.

In the College of Visual Arts and Design, assistant professor Chris Meerdo teaches the first class (pictured) in the college combining art and AI. Using the Stable Diffusion AI model, students learn programming languages and get initial help writing code with ChatGPT. The AI serves as a baseline tool, not a competitor, when creating their art.

“We have a responsibility as educators to teach our students these technologies because this is the world that they’re graduating into,” Meerdo says. “They’re going to be entering a workforce that’s completely saturated with AI, and they have to know how to navigate it and become experts in their fields.”



UNT scholars are making a global impact with their research.

As a Tier One public research university designated as a Hispanic- and Minority-Serving Institution, the University of North Texas takes pride in the partnerships and research collaborations built with universities and organizations worldwide. In 2023, UNT scholars traveled to 70 countries around the world to conduct research. Through globally minded programs in sustainable tourism, peace studies and biocultural conservation, as well as scholarly collaborations in everything from art and music history to family science, UNT faculty and student researchers are contributing to the global understanding within their respective fields.


TOPIC: Sustainable Tourism

How can you get businesses to think and operate more sustainably? It’s a question associate professor of hospitality and tourism management Birendra KC is working to solve in the Gulf of California, which was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger sites due to the near extinction of the vaquita, a species of porpoise endemic to the area. Overfishing and illegal fishing have decimated the vaquita population. KC is examining solutions that benefit all stakeholders such as conservation officers and tourism businesses. “We need to include all stakeholders to improve the entrepreneurship opportunities and vary sustainable tourism businesses so all can have a better outcome.”

LOCATION: Romania and Albania

TOPIC: Family Strengths

Julie Leventhal, principal lecturer in the Honors College, interviewed Romanians and Albanians about the influence values from their family of origin had on their day-to-day lives and how those values have changed across generations after the fall of communism in 1989. While many Romanian parents lived and worked abroad leaving the children to be raised by extended family members in Romania, many Albanian families relocated their entire family together,leading to pockets of intergenerational Albanian communities abroad. “We have to understand family dynamics and what potential barriers are going to exist to know how best to help them or create access to resources.”


TOPIC: Age of Revolutions Music

The Age of Revolutions from the late-18th to mid-19th centuries was a formative time for the world, including several revolutionary wars and social movements across Europe and the Americas. Music history associate professor Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden is studying how these changes impacted people’s relationship to music on individual and societal levels. From France to Delaware, she’s tracking the Du Pont family’s move to the U.S. after the French Revolution. “The collection I’m looking at has hundreds of thousands of documents and music is not always self-evident. You might pull out a couple music scores, but then once you start reading letters, diaries and sketchbooks, you start finding music everywhere.”


TOPIC: Deforestation

Assistant professor of conservation biology Andrew Gregory is monitoring overall health and biodiversity of the Kakamega rainforest in eastern Kenya. Over a million people rely on that forest for survival, but Gregory says the size of the forest has been reduced by about 30% during the last two to three decades and 60% of what’s left is highly degraded. He’s studying the efficacy of conservation and forest management programs to find ways for people to continue to symbiotically live off the forest. “We’re looking at a landscape that has provided subsistence for people for as long as there have been people, and now it’s starting to fail to be able to do that.”

LOCATION: Colombia

TOPIC: Post-Conflict Peace

Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord brought an end to 50 years of civil war between the country’s military and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP). Regents Professor James Meernik, who teaches political science and is the director of UNT’s Castleberry Peace Institute, is researching the Accord’s plan to build enduring peace by demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants into communities across Colombia. His research includes surveying former combatants about the process to evaluate its effectiveness and opportunities for improvement. “It’s a very difficult and time-consuming process, but it needs to take place if you’re going to bring people back together again.”

LOCATION: Middle East

TOPIC: Arab Art History

As a student, Nada Shabout, Regents Professor of art history, noticed her architecture and art history courses rarely, if ever, looked at art from the Middle East. Now one of the world’s leading modern Arab art scholars and the author of a prime text used in its teaching, she hopes her research helps fill that gap for future art history students, specifically when it comes to art lost or destroyed during conflicts like the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “We understand the importance of art and aesthetics not only as a way of beautifying, but also as a way of explaining our past. It is what we leave behind that will explain us as people and civilization and cultures.”






James D. Nations (’72 M.S.) is an ecological anthropologist and former director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Center for Park Research. He has dedicated his career to helping establish and protect Indigenous territories, national parks and biosphere reserves throughout Latin America and the U.S. As a Fulbright Senior Researcher, he was part of the team that established the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. His book Lacandón Maya in the Twenty-First Century: Indigenous Knowledge and Conservation in Mexico’s Tropical Rainforest is an account of his research on Maya Indigenous groups in southeastern Mexico.


Obianuju Okafor (’19 M.S., ’22 Ph.D.) learned about the importance of accessible programming from UNT computer science professor Stephanie Ludi. As a doctoral researcher in Ludi’s lab, Okafor explored ways to increase the accessibility of block-based programming environments for people with motor and visual impairments. She’s putting that research to use as a software engineer at Microsoft, working on data analytics tools and collaborating with the data visualization team to make those tools accessible to people with visual impairments. Okafor also hopes to instill a passion for building accessible software applications in future programmers through her role as a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin.



As a process development engineer and program manager at Texas Instruments, John Alptekin (’19, ’23 Ph.D.) researches packaging and integration processes related to the micro-electromechanical systems, known as ‘MEMS’, that power TI’s trademarked Digital Light Processing (DLP®) technology. Commonly found in personal electronics like digital projectors, DLP also has automotive and industrial applications. Alptekin began researching semiconductor manufacturing as an undergraduate in chemistry professor Oliver Chyan’s lab. His doctoral research in packaging reliability and thin films made him a key driver for several high-profile technology transfers, including UNT’s patented MIR-IR wafer characterization metrology, which was licensed to Intel in the largest technology transfer award in UNT history.


Dr. Stephanie Serres (’06 M.S., ’09 Ph.D.), a surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says her studies in clinical psychology at UNT, coupled with her medical training, have made her specialization in breast cancer a good fit professionally. Outside the operating room, Serres has considered a range of topics in her research, including axillary management in breast cancer patients, medicolegal issues among breast cancer surgeons, variation in care among surgical patients during COVID-19 and patientreported outcomes. Her current research focuses on the psychological toll a breast cancer diagnosis can have, which she hopes can inform better patient interactions to minimize their anxiety and trauma around the diagnosis.


David Portillo (’05 M.M.) is a tenor who was nominated for a Grammy award in 2024 for his role as a principal soloist in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s production of John Paul Corigliano’s The Lord of Cries. He also earned the Medal of Excellence from the nonprofit Sphinx Organization, which recognizes Black and Latinx classical artists who demonstrate artistic excellence, an outstanding work ethic and a commitment to leadership and their communities. He has performed at opera houses around the world, including The Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Glyndebourne Festival, Opera Australia at the Sidney Opera House and the Wiener Staatsoper, as well as the Washington National, Houston Grand and Dallas operas.



UNT researchers are exploring more efficient and sustainable drug discovery techniques and treatments.

Miniature human tissues 0.5 to 2 millimeters in diameter have been developed in Moo-Yeal Lee’s Bioprinting Lab at the University of North Texas, which may hold immense potential for the future of health care.

“Our 3D-printed tissues made from pluripotent stem cells serve as promising disease models for screening therapeutic drugs for individual patients,” says Lee (pictured left), an associate professor of biomedical engineering who has 19 issued and pending patents in South Korea and the U.S.

Lee is one of many professors from UNT’s fast-growing Department of Biomedical Engineering — and across other disciplines — who are seeking new ways to conduct drug discovery research and expanding the foundational science that could lead to new treatments for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.


Lee’s lab at UNT’s Discovery Park, the largest research park in the North Texas region, has been focused on gene editing of human cells, stem cell differentiation, 3D bioprinting and microfluidic device development to generate human tissues including brain, liver and intestine for disease modeling. By using genetically engineered human cells printed in microfluidic devices, Lee can rapidly generate normal and diseased human tissues, which can be used for modeling critical diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and improving drug screening in the future.

Health care applications for 3D bioprinting have gained momentum in both the clinical and research settings, and Lee’s work in the area could integrate the technology even

further. Unlocking the possibilities of 3D bioprinting in health care has been at the core of Lee’s research since he was a postdoctoral scientist experimenting with an early form of the technology in the 2000s. Now, he’s mentoring the next generation of researchers to push boundaries of the field.

Sunil Shrestha (pictured right) is a biomedical engineering doctoral student in Lee’s lab. Shrestha admits at first he felt a bit lost when Lee gave him the freedom to research liver organoids — a miniature liver tissue that can mimic liver function and disease — but he’s learned valuable lessons about planning and conducting his own research. “I’m not even the same person I was before I started working with Dr. Lee,” Shrestha says.“He encourages us to be openminded. If we want to try something new, he doesn’t restrict us.”

Outside of his academic lab, Lee is an accomplished biomedical entrepreneur. He served as lead scientist for Solidus Biosciences Inc., a bioprinting startup pioneer that grew out of his postdoctoral research, for nearly a decade. Then, in 2017, he founded Farmers Branch-based Bioprinting Laboratories Inc. to commercialize unique tissue culture devices (pillar/perfusion plates) and bioprinted human tissues in the device for conducting organoid-based testing of new drug candidates.

Lee and his research collaborator, Pranav Joshi, are working to generate normal and genetically engineered human liver organoids through microarray 3D bioprinting technology for use in drug discovery. They’ll use the organoids to investigate drug-induced liver injury (DILI) across various ethnic groups.

“Our research is looking at ways to make ‘smarter’ nanoparticles that can carry the anti-cancer drug more directly to the tumor cells for release...”
— Neda Habibi, assistant professor of biomedical engineering

According to Lee, unexpected adverse drug responses, including DILI, are likely to arise from differences in patient-specific drug metabolism, including individual variability in levels and activities of drug metabolizing enzymes (DMEs) in hepatocytes, which are the cells in the liver that perform a wide range of biotransformation and associated drug toxicity. They’ll use genetically engineered liver organoids to overexpress and downregulate multiple DME genes to simulate different levels of drug metabolism to represent patients from different ethnic groups.


Plant-based medicine has been around for as long as humans have existed, but researchers in UNT’s BioDiscovery Institute are finding new ways to harness plants as manufacturers of medicines.

Assistant professor of chemistry Elizabeth Skellam is leading an interdisciplinary team exploring the potential to develop fungalderived pharmaceuticals like penicillin in plant hosts for more accessible and environmentally sustainable medicine. The study, supported by a $1.4 million W.M. Keck Foundation grant, is working to establish a new concept for producing valuable fungal products and may ultimately lead to medicines that can be delivered in plant seeds, eliminating downstream processing. “What we’re thinking long-term is that if plants can store medicines in seeds, you eat the seeds, and the medicine is already contained. You don’t have all these factories, you don’t need any chemicals — it’s just there and available,” says Skellam, whose research collaborators include faculty Ana Paula Alonso and Kent Chapman in plant biochemistry and Michael Carroll in economics.

Because the amount of penicillin fungi naturally produce is very small, factory production has been the industry standard since the 1940s, according to Skellam. The specialized facilities require a large amount of energy and equipment, resulting in high levels of chemical waste and irreversible environmental damage. Plants, on the other hand, produce pharmaceuticals via photosynthesis, requiring only sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and mineral nutrients — resources that are easily scalable. Skellam and her team are looking at how to reconstitute the fungal metabolic pathways for penicillin to scale up its natural production.“Penicillin is one of the handful of fungal-derived drugs where we know exactly where every enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway is located,” Skellam says.“We start with something that we know, then try and replicate it.”


Another emerging area revolutionizing therapeutics is nanotechnology, which allows researchers to alter materials on the nanoscale. Brian Meckes, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is improving nanotherapeutics for treatment of a variety of diseases. His research explores how disease-related physical changes in tissue that accompany diseases like lung cancer or epilepsy impact nanotherapeutic delivery since they have the potential to cause therapies to fail. Tissue changes alter how nanotherapeutics interact with cells while creating new opportunities for targeting diseased tissue. By learning more about tissue properties, Meckes can design novel nanoparticles that have improved targeting and trafficking in dysfunctional tissue to deliver an improved treatment outcome.


Neda Habibi, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is researching new therapeutic targets that could be used to develop treatments for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Accounting for 10-15% of all breast cancer cases, TNBC is a drugresistant type of breast cancer that does not express the estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein that are seen in other types of cancers.

Rather than focusing on these cell receptors like other cancer treatments do, Habibi and her team of students are investigating an approach using self-assembling peptides — foundational ingredients of nanostructures that aid in more efficient and targeted drug delivery within the body. Specifically, they’re designing peptide substrates of the tyrosine phosphatase enzyme in TNBC that could selectively inhibit TNBC cell growth. “Our research is looking at ways to make ‘smarter’ nanoparticles that can carry the anti-cancer drug more directly to the tumor cells for release, which could increase the drug’s effectiveness and reduce the impact on normal cells in the body,” Habibi says.

While the fundamental research underway in UNT’s labs is still years away from potential use with patients, it’s impacting the students working on the projects today. Doctoral student Emily Carney (’23) says that because of her experience working in Habibi’s lab, she knows she’d like to establish her own lab someday.

“UNT helped me realize that biomedical engineering is my calling,” Carney says. “This research we’re working on could be a jumping-off point for future scientists to create something that is a very real and helpful treatment for somebody who has breast cancer.”


UNT researchers across disciplines are studying health literacy to get a better understanding of how people receive and use information to make informed decisions about their health.

For Sara Champlin, associate professor of advertising, that work can range from analyzing medical advertising to interviewing people about how they talk about their own health.

“There’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to health communication,” Champlin says. “We need to make sure information is accessible to everyone and to do that we need to meet people where they are.”

Accessibility doesn’t only mean making a treatment more readily available to the public, as exemplified by the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter hearing aids in October 2022.

“This can become a health literacy challenge because you’re potentially equipping consumers with a medical device, but not necessarily equipping them with knowledge or confidence in using said device,” Champlin says.

Champlin, along with UNT assistant professor of audiology Sharon Miller and doctoral students Abigail Griffith, Ariel Hatley and Candice Reed, are looking at the impact of this policy change. They examined social media marketing of hearing aids by manufacturers six months before and after the FDA announcement.

“What we found is little had evolved in communications when comparing before and after the FDA announcement,” Champlin says. “It is disheartening how infrequently hearing aid brands show a hearing aid in their posts. The way this information is presented can perpetuate hearing aid stigma and is missing some health literacy messaging components, which can make it difficult to understand the new policy.”

Sarah Evans, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science, is working with Joanna Davis-McElligatt, assistant professor in the Department of English, and information science doctoral student Lacy Molina to research whether graphic novels can be used as a medium to improve health literacy among a variety of populations.

The team completed a pilot study with older adults in a rural Texas community to examine the understanding of health information by reading graphic novels including My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s and then creating their own graphic novel pages.

“It was a good proof of concept,” Evans says. “Participants were struck by how reading about someone’s health experiences was powerful and helped them understand the physical experiences with diseases in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

This spring, Evans and her team are conducting studies with adults and teens in Texas urban environments.




The University of North Texas officially opened the UNT Advanced Air Mobility testing facility this spring at Discovery Park, the largest research park in the North Texas region.

With a sprawling 36,000 square feet, the drone facility is the largest of its kind in Texas and one of the biggest nationally.

The facility stands 85 feet tall, 120 feet long and 300 feet wide allowing for the flight of multiple unmanned aerial

vehicles or UAVs while in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Drone facility researchers can analyze UAV technology, examining how specific maneuvers impact performance, exploring safety measures like collision avoidance and testing communication between UAVs and stationary receivers on the ground or autonomous ground vehicles. Given the facility’s large size, researchers can test signal strength from multiple angles, heights and distances.

“Drones and UAVs will be key in moving people and cargo much faster in our future. This

facility gives our UNT experts, external research collaborators and industry partners the opportunity to shape the advancements of air mobility technology,” says electrical engineering professor Kamesh Namuduri, who is part of the Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign Project, which unites entities including Bell Textron, Unmanned Experts, AAMTEX, Avianco, Metron, Hermes Autonomous Air Mobility Systems, Hillwood and others.

Construction of the netted drone facility began in 2022 under the guidance of faculty affiliated with UNT’s Center for

Integrated Intelligent Mobility Systems (CIIMS), an interdisciplinary endeavor paving the way for the future of transportation and mobility by creating solutions for the complexities of devices such as UAVs and autonomous cars from the programming needed to operate them to policies guiding their successful integration into everyday society.



UNT’s Center for Agile and Adaptive Additive Manufacturing (CAAAM) added several new machines in 2023 to expand its research capabilities and better serve as a testing ground for innovative materials research. An ultrasonic atomizer helps produce metal powders, the most important component in additive manufacturing. Other machines include a variable temperature micro-indenter, which can measure properties like hardness and elasticity, and a high-speed spectrograph for gathering data about molecules in materials.


UNT’s Department of Chemistry offers computational facilities for running simulations to assist in solving complex chemical problems. For research, there are high performance computing (HPC) facilities providing 160 HPC servers with a total of 4,314 central processing unit cores, 106 graphics processing units, 34 terabytes of memory and 1.73 petabytes of disk space. There also is a wide selection of computational chemistry software available. Resources for both undergraduate and graduate education include 28 All-In-One Dell OptiPlex 7460 personal computers equipped with ample processing and memory.


The UNT Greenhouse Research Facilities include three greenhouse complexes — two on the main campus and one at UNT’s Discovery Park, which enable research of myriad plants. The Discovery Park Greenhouse Complex has more than 4,000 square feet of climate-controlled greenhouse space. Each of the four cells in the complex are equipped with supplemental high-intensity discharge lighting, shade curtains, automatic irrigation to assist in meeting the desired growth needs and new evaporative cooling systems.



UNT’s Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia celebrates six decades of exploring new frontiers in music and arts technologies.

In a house on Mulberry Street in Denton, late faculty composer Merrill Ellis changed the face and future of music studies at UNT when in 1963 he established the Electronic Music Center, one of the first electronic music studios in the nation.

For years, the space served as a haven for faculty and students who created and recorded in its tape music studio, which boasted some of the most technologically advanced recording equipment available at the time. Amid the sound boards and synthesizers – including inventor Robert Moog’s first portable synthesizer, designed in collaboration with Ellis – was an eclectic assortment of lights, lasers, projectors and electronics intended to enhance the music listening — and viewing — experience.

In the six decades since its founding, the center, now housed in the Music Building on the UNT campus and renamed the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI), produced countless hours of performance-based research and gained a world-renowned reputation. Today, CEMI’s breadth of research and artistic work from faculty and students spans across disciplines from fixed-media computer music to interactive performance and mixed reality.

“Ellis had the vision to do something that was different than anyone else was doing at the time,” says Jon Nelson, a professor of composition who previously served as CEMI’s director.“UNT embraced his vision, realizing this was a brave new frontier for music research and innovation.”

In its 60th year, CEMI is celebrating its trailblazing legacy while continuing to explore emerging possibilities in music and arts technologies.


CEMI’s contributions to experimental music and intermedia have been recognized around the world. From hosting internationally lauded guest artists and researchers to staging music conferences and festivals, UNT has nurtured important scholarly discussions and performances to advance the disciplines. Among those were the 2000 national conference for the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, the nation’s premier electroacoustic music organization, and UNT’s own CEMIcircles Festival in 2013 and 2017 through 2019, which showcased works by alumni, students and research affiliates, including Ellis. It also hosted the International Computer Music Conference in 1981 and again in 2015.

“CEMI has been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of experimental music and intermedia,” says composition professor Panayiotis Kokoras, who has served as the center’s director since 2016. “Its commitment to innovation continues to drive these fields forward, leaving a lasting impression on how we perceive and interact with sound.”

An internationally award-winning composer and computer music innovator, Kokoras received the coveted John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 2022 — as did his UNT College of Music colleague Sungji Hong, an assistant professor of composition. Kokoras says some of the most significant research contributions CEMI has made to experimental music and intermedia most recently have been within the field of 3D spatial sound. This immersive audio technology creates a 3D soundscape around the listener by using multiple speakers to


“CEMI has been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of experimental music and intermedia. Its commitment to innovation continues to drive these fields forward, leaving a lasting impression on how we perceive and interact with sound.”

—Panayiotis Kokoras, director of UNT’s Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia

create a sense of distance and directionality for various sounds. It frequently is used to enhance the experiences of movies, music, games and other media, causing one to feel as though they’re in the middle of the action.

“The pioneering work in this area, facilitated by the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater (MEIT), has opened up new possibilities in various industries such as video games, cinema and home theater,” Kokoras says. “This advancement not only revolutionizes the auditory experience, but also has the potential to shape the future of audio technologies.”


The MEIT and CEMI’s four state-of-theart studios, serve as labs and development spaces for students, faculty and guest artists


Dozens of electronic music and intermedia performances are staged in the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater annually. Doctoral composition studies students frequently use the MEIT for researching, composing and presenting their dissertations.

Garrison Gerard (’19 M.M., ’23 Ph.D.) — a composer of electroacoustic and concert music as well as an intermedia artist — worked extensively in the MEIT while pursuing his degrees in music composition and serving as a College of Music teaching assistant. In 2023, Gerard earned the prestigious Fulbright/National Science Foundation Arctic Research Award.

in composition, electronics and related fields. “It is to a computer music composer what a Stradivarius violin is to a virtuoso. The sound quality, projection and precision here is unparalleled,” Kokoras says.

The black-box theater has undergone several significant renovation projects over the years – most recently in 2020 when an ambisonic “dome” (or hemisphere-like configuration) of 37 loudspeakers and two subwoofers was installed. It can create immersive soundscapes with tremendous precision and realism. Coupled with the MEIT’s five, 16-by-9-foot, acoustically transparent projection screens, dynamic lighting and live-automation capabilities, the theater serves as a catalyst for a variety of cutting-edge collaborations. “We now have a theater that meets the most vigorous

Since last summer, he has been conducting research with the University of Iceland capturing field sounds in natural spaces as part of a sustained ecological acoustic survey and analyzing the resulting data. It’s similar to research he previously completed in Alaska’s Denali National Park as well as in Subantarctic Chile, Patagonia, the Chihuahuan Desert and South Texas while at UNT. The recordings not only provide a map of an area’s soundscape transformation over time, but also help determine the impact of sound levels, noise pollution and other related factors on its ecosystems.

“You get a map of how the soundscape transforms throughout the day,” he explains. “Mostly it provides insight into how these places are changing. We want people to be able to enjoy these areas in a way that is sustainable.”

demands of people working in spatialized audio,” says Andrew May, an associate professor of composition who previously led CEMI for 13 years, the longest for any director thus far.

Best known for their instrumental works with live interactive computer systems, May is a composer, violinist, improvisor and computer musician. They celebrate the wide range of creative practices that come together in CEMI. “It’s not just about creating an environment in the MEIT for people to create and share computer music of various kinds,” May says.“It’s also about creating and maintaining an environment that invites people to branch out, either through collaborations or by developing a more diversified portfolio of artistic and media skills of their own in other media.”

Gerard uses the sounds he gathers to create his music compositions. He presented his doctoral recital, Resonance Ecology, last year in the MEIT. This immersive, live-generated “sonic ecosystem” wove together audio and video field recordings from Patagonia, Iceland and Texas, live instrumental performance and live interactive computer music. The musicians’ performance simultaneously transformed and responded to the intermedia environment surrounding them and the audience.

“I had an amazing space to work in with all these speakers, with these powerful computers, with these projectors,” Gerard says. “When I had an idea for a research project or my music, the possibilities weren’t limited by what I could do as an artist. It was about what I could do in the space.”



“There is a pretty deep appreciation for the space within CEMI,” says David Stout, a visual and sonic artist, composer and performer. The professor of composition studies also is affiliated with the College of Visual Arts and Design’s New Media Art program, which is focused on the relationship between technology, visual culture and performance in contemporary art. He coordinates the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts (iARTA) research network and works with faculty and students in the arts, sciences, engineering and technology.

Most years, Stout teaches the Intermedia Performance Art course, an interdisciplinary studio for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. The course concludes with a large-scale final performance staged in the MEIT. Stout and his students have created immersive installations, building environments that burst with hi-tech video, computer animation, electronic music, sculpture and other instruments and elements.

Such was the case in 2015, when the class presented nanoGalactic. It featured a type of “projection maze” that surrounded attendees with sights and sounds. These immersive environments provide important research opportunities and experiences for students as they prepare for careers in collaborative creative fields such as gaming, among others, Stout says. “It is a wonderful laboratory for exploring new technological possibilities.”

Stout is working with UNT Regents Professor Marco Buongiorno Nardelli, a composer, flutist, installation artist and computational physicist, to develop a small artificial intelligence-focused lab on campus where students may research the development of their own models of the technology to aid in the creation and performance of music compositions.

“AI is here to stay, and it is an amazing tool for creative people scientists and artists, musicians, composers and filmmakers. But we need to own the technology, not just be users of the technology,” says Buongiorno Nardelli, who is dually appointed in both the

Department of Physics and the College of Music Division of Composition Studies.


A fellow of the American Physical Society and the Institute of Physics, Buongiorno Nardelli has studied and performed music since childhood. He melds the two in his composition practice, which is based heavily on computational techniques.

During Spring 2022, Buongiorno Nardelli taught a course on data sonification, which focused on the use of data as raw materials for the music composition process. As part of the course, he and CEMI students collaborated with video artist Gábor Kitzinger of Hungary and renowned data scientist and visual artist Albert-László Bárabási, a professor at Northeastern University. The course culminated in an installation that spent two months on exhibit at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. It has since been shown at numerous other venues in Europe and the U.S.

“The collaboration exemplifies the broad, interdisciplinary approach to making music, understanding music, performing music that really is at the core of CEMI,” Buongiorno Nardelli says.“The center allows students and faculty members to experiment with ideas that you wouldn’t be able to experiment with anywhere else. It’s an environment of people. It’s an environment of interactions. Just a single question from one person can spark a line of research that may go on for months.” Or, for that matter, decades.

As CEMI looks toward its future, Kokoras says its faculty and students will continue to stand as torchbearers of Merrill Ellis’ pioneering spirit. “We uphold his legacy by relentlessly exploring uncharted territories, welcoming cutting-edge technologies and fostering connections with diverse fields of knowledge. We embrace the ever-evolving landscape of music and arts technology, driving forward into unexplored realms.”






Working with my colleagues to think about the future of the college and how we can work together to get there.


The dedication of our faculty and staff to our students and college. This is something I saw before coming here, but I continue to see it daily in various ways across the college and am inspired by it.


Engineering adapts new approaches and knowledge to solve increasingly complicated problems. For instance, through sensors on cars or those worn for health monitoring, we can better understand ourselves and navigate the world around us. Likewise, AI algorithms don’t only help process information, but also provide new approaches to solving complex analysis problems for engineering systems that current methods still struggle to tackle.


Problems that can be attacked in new ways or from a new perspective. My work reaches across disciplines or uses new approaches within a discipline. One example is the work I do with marine biologists to understand squid locomotion. Squids have a unique propulsion system that is different from most of marine nekton and our typical mechanical systems, so you gain a whole new perspective by learning from these animals.


Personal connections matter — make them, build them and nurture them. Not everything is a straight line. Learn to go beyond what you’ve been taught and seek out connections with different perspectives that help you think about problems in new ways. When starting something new, working hard at the beginning pays off later as you can draw on your experience and prior achievements. Lastly, opportunities like to hide, so take the initiative to go looking for them.


I like to keep my engineering skills sharp with projects around the home and also by designing and building things in my garage where I have some basic machine tool equipment. A few recent projects include building a Newtonian reflector telescope and adding wired internet to my home.


There’s one from Zig Ziglar that I appreciate and strive for: “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Similarly, my dad always used to say,“It’s about your attitude,” in reference to both success and happiness in spiritual and personal life.

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