Go Where Knowledge Leads

RESEARCHERS WHO GO WHERE KNOWLEDGE LEADS

To do whatever it takes. To follow every lead. To go to the ends of the universe in pursuit of knowledge. This is what drives the researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno – and it is this spirit that has powered the University’s rise to Carnegie® Classification R1, joining America’s top research universities.

Albert Lee, D.M.

Associate Professor of Voice
Director of Nevada Chamber Opera

“I arrived in Reno August 19, 2012 fresh off completion of the Doctor of Music in Vocal Performance from Florida State University. My summer included a world premiere opera in Cittá della Pieve, Italy that recounted the stories of black soldiers fighting in Italy during WWI titled Buffalo Soldier; a Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall Recital debut singing musical settings of Langston Hughes’ poetry, and a cross-country move. I was excited, inspired, and eager to begin the next phase of my artistic and scholarly journey in a new place. It was several years later when I discovered that my muse, Langston Hughes, temporarily lived at 521 Elko Avenue right here in Reno, where this portrait was taken. This discovery reinvigorated my passion for all things Hughes. It reoriented my creative and scholarly activity back in his direction after spending most of my creative energy on various projects including two solo appearances with the National Choral of New York City for their annual offering of Handel’s Messiah and collaborative work with Grammy® Award winning artists Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spaulding on a new opera they’re creating based on the mythological figure Iphigenia.

My fascination with Hughes began on October 7, 1997. I left the campus of the University of Connecticut where I was a senior Vocal Performance major to attend what would be one of the last solo recitals of famed American soprano Leontyne Price. As excited as I was to hear a luminary operatic figure in person, nothing could have prepared me for how that program would change the course of my journey as a performing artist and scholar. Included on a program of the great operatic and recital literature of the western music canon was one song that resonated with me in a way that would alter how I perceived myself as a classical musician.

What I heard that night in song in Margaret Bonds’ setting of Langston Hughes’ poem “Minstrel Man” set me on a path to discover not only the deeper meaning of this poem, but to also understand the context that led to its composition, the inspiration that led to a composer setting this text, and to investigate all the other ways in which Langston Hughes might be represented in American music.

My doctoral treatise, “The Poetic Voice of Langston Hughes in American Art Song,” is the foundation for my current pursuit, reimagining the American Art Song canon centering composers who set Langston Hughes’ poetry as an organizing method for a more inclusive examination of the genre. It underpins a broader project that chronicles the myriad ways in which Hughes’ writing appears in different facets of American music culture beyond classical music’s more carefully curated structures. In the spring of 2022 I will be on sabbatical to complete a solo recording project centering Hughes’ poetry. “My People,” the working title, will feature two song cycles by American composer Ricky Ian Gordon.

Although this vacant house that has fallen into disrepair may not mean much, it is a physical marker of the Harlem Renaissance spirit here in Reno. For me, it is a reminder that the value of human life and art are not easily quantified by its outward adornments. When we make intentional efforts to truly understand who we are, where we are from, and how we arrived at this moment, we are then prepared to tackle the challenges of this moment with honesty, empathy, and contrition.“

Kyra Stull, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Anthropology

 

“When standing on the summit of a mountain, the accomplishment — and in a sense, the view — gives you the ability to see the potentiality of future opportunities. At that moment, the version of your current self is inherently different from the version that started the journey. There is a comparable journey in academia. I have grown, adapted, and evolved on the trek up every mountain of research and I know that who I am today is dependent on who I was when I started and everything I experienced along the way.

The summer between my first and second years of my master’s program was spent at a medical examiner’s office where I assisted with autopsies every morning and the afternoon tasks would depend on the office’s needs. One of those needs was to organize the x-rays. This seemingly mundane task forever shaped me as an anthropologist. Biological anthropologists primarily learn about human variation in donated or cadaveric skeletal collections. I realized while organizing radiographs that the use of advanced imaging, whether it was traditional radiographs, computed tomography scans, or magnetic resonance images, could provide an opportunity that removed our dependence on skeletal collections and in actuality could expand our knowledge of human variation since not all demographics populate skeletal collections. My research is focused on better understanding the complexities of human growth and development and how it is impacted by the environment in which one lives. Using advanced images offered an opportunity to overcome the greatest obstacle to the advancement of human growth and development research in biological anthropology, which is accessibility of data.

As humans grow, there is an adaptive response to the environment that is analogous to climbing any mountain. We never know what environments and obstacles children will be faced with, but each of these impacts the final adult phenotype. The mature form is an outcome of the journey the child has taken along their own individual mountain that is also dependent on their unique selves. I spend my time as a researcher trying to understand how children climb the mountain of growth, how obstacles impact that growth and how their growth changes if they’re at the base of the mountain or if they’re close to the summit when faced with those obstacles. With the help of my postdoctoral fellow, graduate students and international collaborators, we have developed the largest virtual repository to try and answer these complex questions about childhood growth and development.

I never imagined that my future would be forever shaped by organizing radiographs, just like I never know how a mountain will impact me. By embracing that opportunity years ago, a foundation for the research that I love was developed and a seemingly monotonous task gave me insight on how to explore the subadult skeletal system and ask and answer complex questions about growth.“

Krishna Pagilla, Ph.D.

Ralph E. and Rose A. Hoeper Engineering Professor

“Water is integral to life and the environment. My path to water is partly by chance and partly by preparation. Although I started in the engineering field for my career, I always wanted to teach. Graduate school prepared me for an academic career in environmental engineering, and personally, I began to see water in a multitude of dimensions. Water to drink, clean, play, for life and for the life around me. The ability to teach and research about water with my students has further strengthened my insights and interests in water. After arrival of my own children and seeing how much they enjoy water, the passion became very personal.

As we face the challenges of changing climate and increased variability in precipitation, water becomes more important for our planet, people, and our prosperity. Every drop of water is a resource that needs to be cared for, used, recycled, and returned to nature for future generations. In this context, my research has focused on water resource recovery for wastewater treatment, water quality protection, water reuse and ecosystem preservation. I believe we also can make important advances in water management and water resiliency for communities by addressing the demand side of the water supply-demand equation. This includes water footprint reduction of human activities, reducing water losses during supply, and finding uses for non-traditional water sources. Much of the world is living under water-deficit conditions, but often, property, ecosystem, and human life damage happens due to severe floods. Water and sanitation are so intricately linked to human health and productivity. I am excited that I am addressing all these issues in research, education and outreach to communities. The students we educate and the ideas we generate to solve the world’s water problems will continue far into the future and will be highly impactful.”

Jamie Voyles, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Biology

“My research focuses on infectious disease in wildlife. My team and I take a “One Health” perspective, recognizing that human, plant, animal, and ecosystem health are inextricably connected. To better understand infectious disease dynamics, we have focused on a highly lethal disease of amphibians (a group that includes frogs, toads, and salamanders). We have intensely studied many of the factors that can shift deadly disease systems so that hosts and pathogens can co-exist. Our findings — even if coming from a lowly toad — are hopeful, not only for wildlife threatened by disease, but also for humans because their delicate balance with the environment keeps us all healthy and thriving.

Two decades ago, I first watched a deadly pathogen do its damage. I was a graduate student with a youthful (albeit slightly naïve) enthusiasm for the conservation of tropical frogs, working in Panama. At that time, a fungal pathogen (called “chytrid”) appeared and spread through the rainforest streams. I watched helplessly as the vibrant-colored frogs and toads became sick and died. As they disappeared, the streams became silent, and my graduate research project ground to a halt. After all, no frogs means no frog research. So, my adviser, perhaps wisely, advised me to move on.

Fast-forward ten years. Although I advanced in my scientific career, I was still haunted by the loss of Panamanian amphibians. During my postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, I returned to Panama to see for myself what remained of the Panama’s jewel-like frogs. I had the idea that if the pathogen somehow became weaker, or the frogs’ immune systems became stronger, then perhaps such a change would shift the balance, and allow those amazing animals to survive. I galvanized a team of researchers and toad-enthusiasts to begin a search and a new scientific adventure.

The news from field reports was grim; many amphibian species had reached the brink of extinction. Sightings of these now-rare creatures had dwindled until they were only rumors. We spent several months climbing trails with heavy packs and muddy boots. We repeatedly stumbled out of the rainforest disappointed, bug-bitten, and empty handed. Until, after months of searching, we finally found a glimmer of hope. We came across a single, male, highly-endangered Golden Frog (Atelopus varius) perched on a mossy boulder, unconcerned that a cross-continent scramble had been underway for months, just to find him and his brethren. We sat in the rain, watching him hop, and snapping pictures. We collected samples for diagnostic and genetic testing and then, somewhat reluctantly, we said good-bye and wished him well.

We were overjoyed…and here’s why: One small frog in the wild suggested that there were at least some surviving populations out there. And if there is even one small population holding on in spite of the disease, there’s hope – not just for that frog population, or even for the species, but for all wildlife confronting lethal disease. That finding launched a decade of research that has revealed many key insights into how lethal diseases work, how they subside, and how everything is interconnected.

I love what I do. I love science and the adventure of learning something new about the world. Science also offers a great deal of hope, especially as we confront all kinds of serious challenges – just as we do with the current pandemic. It is an inherently creative and hopeful process designed to find the truth. I can’t imagine doing anything else."

Sarah Bisbing, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Forest Ecosystem Science

 

“The fluttering of quaking aspen leaves in the wind. The smell of a subalpine forest at dawn. The taste of a freshly-picked huckleberry. The skin-tingling sensation of jumping into a frigid alpine lake. The awe of viewing a glacier calve. These moments bring peace and connection and breathe life into me – experiences I never imagined could be mine during my childhood in Chicago, where exposure to the natural world was a beach day on the urban shores of Lake Michigan. At 19, a trip with friends to a handful of western national parks gave me my first glimpse into both the tranquility but also the curiosity that evolves from time spent exploring natural ecosystems. I am inherently inquisitive, independent, and, as an ambitious individual, thrive when exposed to slower, quieter, calming experiences.

The natural world proved to be a perfect match for these traits and for my insatiable need to adventure, explore, and investigate. And, once introduced to the wild and rugged forests of the West, I was hooked. I have spent every possible day since exploring, learning, observing, and experimenting in forests from Alaska to California and into the Rocky Mountains. In these pursuits, I aspire to understand the processes driving the patterns we observe in forest composition and structure and to identify the fate of these patterns and processes in the face of a rapidly changing climate. I work at the intersection of theoretical and applied ecology, using well-established concepts to influence the management and conservation of forest ecosystems. We, as forest ecologists and managers, are using the knowledge gained over the last few decades of climate change and altered disturbance regimes to act, to build resilience into our forest ecosystems, and to sustain the goods and services we all so value in our forests. I may speak for the trees, but I do it for your children and mine.”

Scott Earley, Ph.D.

Professor

University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

“Is brain circulation the key to preventing strokes and dementia? My research involves studying, on a molecular level, how the human brain regulates blood flow so we can better understand — and someday possibly prevent — cerebral small vessel diseases and stroke, as well as vascular cognitive impairment and dementia.

During my doctoral studies and postdoctoral work, I came to appreciate that interesting things happen when positively or negatively charged molecules – which are called “ions” –cross biological membranes. I applied my early training in electrical engineering and molecular biology to the study of ion channels in physiological systems, including the human brain. Appropriate regulation of blood flow within the brain is necessary for learning, memory, understanding and sustaining life itself. The complex cerebral microvascular network is profoundly influenced by the brain’s ever-changing atmosphere of physical, environmental, endocrine, paracrine, metabolic and neurochemical stimuli.

After reading a seminal paper by Micheal Caterina, then a postdoc at UCSF working with David Julius, describing the polymodal nature of TRPV1 channels, I immediatelybecame enamored with the transient receptor potential (TRP) “superfamily” of cation channels. TRP channels act as sensors of diverse stimuli, including chemical agonists (chemicals that bind to receptors and activate receptors to produce a biological response); temperature, reactive oxygen species (a type of unstable molecule that reacts easily with other molecules in a cell), and osmolarity (the measure of solute concentration). The concept that TRP channels act as fundamental cellular sensors of the brain’s internal environment and provide criticalinput for homeostasis, adaptability, and dynamic regulation of the cerebral microvasculature provides a guiding framework for our research.

Our findings have convincingly demonstrated that an expanding group of TRP channels on cerebral microvessels have essential sensory functions which are central to cerebral vascular homeostasis and adaptability. Our research will continueto address critical gaps in our knowledge regarding how cells use TRP channels to sense and respond to complex changes in the local environment within the brain to regulate blood flow and meet this organ’s unique metabolic demands.

This research has the potential to reveal the basic mechanisms underlying cerebrovascular pathologies, including cerebral small vessel diseases and vascular cognitive impairment and dementia, which have been identified as critical research areas by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Shamik Sengupta, Ph.D.

Ralph E. & Rose A. Hoeper Professor

Executive Director, Cybersecurity Center

“When I started, I did not think about studying cybersecurity. My strong point was mathematics as my parents were very strong in math and they encouraged me to get the grasp of it in a fun, interactive way. When I was very young, though, my grandfather’s hobby was wireless radio, so I also became interested in wireless radios from a very early age. When I began my Ph.D., my natural choice was to study wireless networking where I would be able to learn all about radios. Also, at that time wireless networking just started to become part of our day-to-day lives.

My research started with, ‘how we can make a radio intelligent?’ In 1999, Joseph Mitola III and Gerald Q. Maguire Jr coined the term ‘cognitive radio’ – a radio with cognition power, so it can learn, analyze, and make decisions. I started by researching cognitive radio. The University of Central Florida where I did my Ph.D. was very big on interdisciplinary studies and had a club that only gave scholarships to those highest-grade proposals which took an interdisciplinary perspective. I started to think about cognitive radio from an interdisciplinary perspective – anthropology, human society, economics and computer science. Very quickly, I learned that when we develop something, it must have resilience. Making something intelligent is not sufficient; you need to make it resilient and secure, so it is not easily compromised. That started my interest in cybersecurity.

My first tenure-track assistant professor job was at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one of the very first colleges that started interdisciplinary cybersecurity. There, we taught cybersecurity to the students – who would eventually become law enforcement officials – from a very comprehensive perspective, teaching them technology, policy, law, ethics, psychology, and human behavior. Thus, my research in cybersecurity also started to become more interdisciplinary and I started to discover unique ways of looking into this problem.

When I came to the University of Nevada, Reno, we started an interdisciplinary group, and submitted our first NSF grant involving capacity building across five disciplines with ten faculty members. Everyone began to think about cybersecurity from an interdisciplinary perspective, and that’s true around the world today.

How does the future look? As the scope of cyberspace is becoming more complex with the emergence of new innovations and technologies, the need and significance of cybersecurity education and research across various disciplines cannot be overlooked. Cybersecurity in these areas will require well-trained proactive decision-making professionals, who are not only aware of their core disciplines but are also aware of the cybersecurity risks of their designs as well as risks from other interconnected disciplines. Moreover, with quantum computing on the horizon, cybersecurity is entering into a very interesting era and now is the time for us to recognize the potential danger and start investigating post-quantum cryptography and cybersecurity.”

Andrei Derevianko, Ph.D.

Hartman Professor of Physics

 

“I am a theoretical physicist. I am involved in both developing quantum technologies and their applications in fundamental physics and cosmology. As I look back at my nearly 20 years at the University of Nevada, Reno, the theme of atomic clocks is recurring. Atomic clocks are arguably the most accurate instruments ever built and they underpin the technology behind such ubiquitous applications as the Global Positioning System and communication networks.

My group has invented and contributed to developing several novel classes of atomic clocks. One of the highlights is our theoretical proposal for optical lattice clocks using ytterbium atoms. Proposed 15 years ago, now these clocks tick away at several national metrology labs around the globe. They also reached a remarkable milestone in human timekeeping: these clocks are guaranteed to neither gain nor lose a second over the age of the Universe. Considering the exquisite accuracy of atomic clocks, it is natural to ask if these quantum sensors can be used to answer open questions in physics and cosmology, such as exacting the nature of dark matter. While galactic-scale observations indicate that dark matter constitutes 85 percent of all the matter in the Universe, so far it has escaped direct detection in terrestrial experiments. With my University of Nevada, Reno colleague Geoff Blewitt and a group of talented students, we are searching for the minute effects that dark matter might have imprinted on atomic clocks aboard GPS satellites – a level of expertise and theoretical modeling that is unique to University of Nevada, Reno.”

Jacquie Snow, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Psychology

Cognitive and Brain Sciences Group

“During high school and college, I was unsure what direction to take for my career, but I loved rock climbing. Climbing is a physically and mentally challenging pursuit that demands strength and tenacity as much as focus, problem solving and perseverance. Climbing brought me a sense of clarity and perspective and underscored the importance of pursuing in life what one wants to do – which for me was tackling problems that keep me engaged and inspired.

Now, as a neuroscientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, I study human brain function. Understanding how the brain works is a complex problem that captured my interest as an undergraduate. I remember attending psychology lectures where we discussed fascinating case studies of neurological patients whose perception of the world was altered in specific ways due to localized brain damage.

Later, as a Ph.D. student and postdoc, my research focused on patient studies because it allowed a powerful reverse-engineering approach to understand brain function. The first experiments I ran with stroke patients failed. I discovered that patients with the types of lesions I was interested in were rare, and designing appropriate tasks was difficult. Now, years later, my students and I have developed innovative solutions for studying brain function in patients and neurologically healthy observers, both in the laboratory and the fMRI scanner. We are working to understand the neural mechanisms of naturalistic vision – how real-world solid objects are represented and processed in the brain, and how responses differ when we look at computerized images of objects, or as 3-D holograms using virtual reality. Our research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Like the mental chess of rock climbing, research requires perseverance, focus and problem-solving. For me, research isn’t work; it is a chance to explore and answer exciting questions at the frontier of science.”

Sarah Cowie, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Anthropology

“When working with Native American students and communities, I learn more than I teach. Maybe that’s an odd thing for a professor to say, but it’s true. My earliest interests in archaeology emerged from watching adventure movies and strolling through my rural hometown’s countryside, looking at collapsed barns and derelict bridges, and poking at old artifacts on the ground. In college, I studied anthropology, and specifically archaeology: a field that blends STEM and humanistic work to interpret the material remains of past human activities. Archaeology is invigorating in its capacity to employ various disciplines to understand the past.

As I was finishing my Ph.D. in anthropology and conducting archaeology on federally managed lands, I began working with – and learning from – Native American communities. As a non-Native person myself, I seriously began to question how archaeology should (and shouldn’t) be conducted. Now at the University of Nevada, Reno, Native students, colleagues, and elders teach me about the inseparability of past, present, and future. They explain how past processes of colonialism still have negative impacts on indigenous communities today. Many urge caution about how archaeological excavation disturbs the earth, “breaking though time,” as one elder described it to me. If we are not careful, we risk erasing or distorting Native peoples’ histories on the land; this is understood as modern-day colonialism.

When archaeologists do research on Native American heritage, we must do so with Native peoples and with indigenous values in mind, and with decolonized methods that don’t exploit people’s heritage for academic benefit. These are lessons I never learned as a student. Here at the University of Nevada, Reno, I am fortunate to work with Native American students and communities to improve archaeological research and teaching. Together, we can show that collaborative and participatory archaeology with, by, and for Native communities produces innovative, ethical, and rigorous understandings of heritage.”