Research news and spotlights

The University has more than 60 research centers and facilities, and dozens of state-of-the-art laboratories. Our research enterprise includes the Nevada Terawatt Facility , which houses the most powerful laser on a college campus, the Nevada Seismological Lab, one of the most sophisticated large-scale structures laboratories in the country where pioneering earthquake engineering is accomplished, and the Academy for the Environment, which focuses on issues of sustainability in the Great Basin and Lake Tahoe areas.

Winners announced for 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The Graduate School is proud to announce the following GRFP Fellows:

  • Bethany-Anne Calvert, Senior in Mechanical Engineering
  • Elijah J. Holschbach, Second-year PhD student in Biochemistry
  • Kelly Loria, PhD student in Natural Resources and Environmental Science
  • William F. Roser, PhD student in Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Pamela M. Hong, Psychology graduate and now second-year PhD student at Indiana University-Bloomington
  • Natasha K. Wesely, Ecology graduate and future Ecological and Environmental Informatics graduate student at Northern Arizona University

Learn more about their research, plans and accomplishments:

2021 GRFP Fellows

Recent research news

  • Congratulations to Ph.D. student Israel Borokini who has been awarded a prestigious and highly competitive David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship from the Society of Conservation Biology (SCB).  His compelling proposal, titled, “Conservation prioritization of the United States flora using metrics of phylodiversity, land management, and vulnerability to climate change," was one of five projects selected from an applicant pool of 197.
  • Congratulations to University postdoc Aaron Koning, Ph.D for the recent publication of "A network of grassroots reserves protects tropical river fish diversity” in the prestigious journal Nature. Koning is a postdoc with Zeb Hogan, Ph.D., and a relatively new member of the Wonders of the Mekong project. For more on the study, check out the Nevada Today article.
  • Taissa Lytchenko, a third-year graduate student in the College of Science’s Cognitive Brain Sciences graduate program, has been awarded the Next Generation Award from the Society for Neuroscience, the largest neuroscience society with nearly 37,000 members worldwide. Read more about her research and this prestigious award.
  • Congratulations to Ebenezer Yamoah, Ph.D. and his laboratory team in the Department of Physiology & Cell Biology whose image from the article,  “Altered Outer Hair Cell Mitochondrial and Subsurface Cisternae Connectomics Are Candidate Mechanisms for Hearing Loss in Mice,” is featured on the cover of the October 2020 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
  • The National Council on Family Relations has named Associate Professor Bridget A. Walsh, Ph.D., CFLE the 2020 recipient of the Margaret E. Arcus Outstanding Family Life Educator AwardCongratulations on this accomplishment!
  • Eight University students received 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards. Congratulations to all award recipients!
    • Lauren Bartels, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Ph.D
    • Lauren Benedict, Evolution and Conservation Biology Ph.D.
    • Tara Christensen, Evolution and Conservation Biology Ph.D.
    • Madeleine Lohman, Evolution and Conservation Biology Ph.D.
    • Lauren Mazurowski, Civil & Environmental Engineering Ph.D.
    • Rocio Olvera, Integrative Neuroscience Ph.D.
    • Keely Rodriguez, Evolution and Conservation Biology Ph.D.
    • Mariana Webb, Hydrologic Sciences Ph.D.
  • The Graduate School and a team of faculty from the Colleges of Education, Engineering, Science and the School of Community Health Sciences recently awarded a 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) grant to test the effectiveness of a novel recruitment, retention and career preparedness framework for increasing the representation of first-generation college students and students from historically underrepresented groups in STEM graduate education. This is the first ever NSF IGE grant awarded to the University and the state of Nevada, and Senator Jackie Rosen even took notice of this exciting opportunity!  Future graduate students, look for additional information about participating in this program on our Facebook page and website this fall. 

Graduate student research spotlight

Med students create a healthy curriculum for Washoe County high school students

Group of 10 med students standing socially distanced wearing white coats and masks

A team of medical students at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine is creating and teaching original curriculum to promote preventative care and healthy lifestyle choices among high school students in the Washoe County School District. This initiative, The Healthier Nevada Project, is powered by third-year medical students Alexa Allen, Matt Biondi, Brandon Conner, Megan Rescigno and Katie Weller; and second-year medical students Ariel Hierholzer, Erica Kim, Sydney Laughton, Justine Resnik and Kendal Warner.

This group distills complicated medical topics into fun activities and class discussions which are interactive and accessible to all students. The modules are designed to fulfill the Nevada Academic Content Standards for Health. In the last two years, this project has reached hundreds of students in health and biology classes at Galena High School, Reno High School and Sparks High School, with plans to expand even further in the community.

The research arm of their project aims to determine whether these lessons change students' attitudes toward doctors, as well as their willingness to discuss each topic with a doctor. The group used pre-test and post-test surveys with a Likert scale to measure responses. The preliminary analysis shows that each module was effective in changing students' attitudes. The team of medical students is now in the process of writing a manuscript, with lots of room to grow and expand over the next few years.

The Heathier Nevada Project is established as a committee at the University’s School of Medicine so that future medical students can learn to teach and volunteer at local schools.

Researching how adverse childhood experiences impact college students

Headshot of Lara Falkenstein

Lara Falkenstein, Masters student in Public Health, studies the impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on the mental and physical health of college students. Our childhood experiences shape us in many ways as college students as we evolve into young adulthood but the toxic stress from these experiences may also impact our long-term health and well-being. Early screening and connections to mental, social, and behavioral health resources in college may help to improve our short and long-term health. 

Lara’s research explores the prevalence of ACEs among college students through early intervention and timely screening which may lead to resilience, increased ability to recover from adversity, and moderate the biological impacts of toxic stress. Her research centers around the Adverse Childhood Experiences screening tool, which provides ten categories of potentially traumatic experiences that impact levels of toxic stress in our bodies leading to an increased risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease, risk of injury, food and/or housing insecurity, academic success, substance misuse, diabetes, asthma, and possible suicide risk. Lara is piloting the screening tool in a college health center and developing a toolkit for future college health providers to integrate the screening with mental health services, clinical services, wellness services, and crisis assistance services for students. 

Studying special education caseload policies

Lindsey Hogue standing next to presentation poster of her research

Lindsey Hogue, Ph.D. student in Special Education, has been reviewing special education caseload policies state by state to understand the impact of caseloads on special education teacher (SET) burnout. She recently completed a study called “A review of special education caseload policies state by state: What impact do they have?” This study, co-authored by Dr. Shanon Taylor in the College of Education, was published in the Journal of Special Education Leadership in March 2020. Dr. Taylor and I presented this research at the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (TED) conference in November 2019. Additionally, I won the Kaleidoscope Award for doctoral research at TED for this study.

A caseload is a group of students with disabilities that a SET is responsible for managing. Case management involves developing, managing, and implementing Individual Education Programs (IEPs), as well as individualizing instruction and supporting students in general education settings. In addition to these duties, SETs must communicate frequently with parents and staff for each student on their caseload.

Caseloads are important because caseload issues have emerged as a concern for SETs in several studies and there is evidence that links caseload issues to symptoms of teacher burnout. Special education is an area of critical shortage in 46 states, and burnout is an issue in the field as well. Burnout can lead to negative student outcomes, poor IEP implementation, or attrition. Caseloads are determined at the state level, and each state has different requirements regarding caseloads for SETs. Because caseload policies by state have not been examined since 2003, this study updated the literature on the current guidelines regarding SET caseloads for each state. In all, information was gathered for 48 states and specific policies about caseloads were found for 20 states.

This study found that caseload policies for each state varied widely, which demonstrates how much special education practices vary state by state. The literature connecting caseload issues to burnout highlights the importance of the issue. More research is needed to understand the specific characteristics of caseloads that contribute to burnout in SETs (e.g., size, age range, range of abilities).

Restoring sagebrush habitats after wildfires

Nevada wild sagebrush landscape

Alison Agneray, Ph.D. student in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, studies how to choose the best seed sources and mixes to restore sagebrush habitats after fires. After fire in the sagebrush steppe, many state and federal agencies plant seeds in burned areas to prevent invasion from competitive, flammable weeds. Alison’s research focuses on how to choose the best seed sources and mixes to restore these degraded habitats, and we have found some promising seed sources from the Western Great Basin.

In addition to finding excellent populations of single species, Alison is investigating whether restoration is more successful if seeds of all species are sourced from a single plant community that may share evolutionary history. This is an innovative approach to restoration in this region. The current practice is to blend seeds from different species from multiple locations. Evidence suggests we may have more success using seeds collected from single sites that have evolved together.

Alison has conducted fifteen experiments in the last three years to determine which traits are associated with seed success and which groups of plants perform best to restore arid environments. The focus is on native grasses, shrubs, and forbs, flowering plants key to Great Basin pollinators.

This work is already translating into action in restoring damaged ecosystems. Alison presented the results of this work to the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service, who funded seed collection from our top-performing sources, despite the setbacks from COVID-19. Then in the fall of 2020, four of these sites burned in this year’s wildfires. Alison is now working to increase these seed collections and potentially restore these newly devastated lands.

Understanding the impact of mitochondria on Parkinson's disease

Confocal microscopic image of a mouse brain primary neuron showing mitochondriaRia Anana, Ph.D. student in Cell and Molecular Biology, studies Parkinson’s disease and Mitochondrial Dysfunction. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, chronic, and incurable neurodegenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects movement and leads to movement-related symptoms like tremors, rigidity, imbalance, etc. A pathological hallmark of PD is the loss of dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons from a specific area in the midbrain called as the Substantia nigra. Additionally, PD pathophysiology is linked to a loss of the function and structure of mitochondria (the powerhouses that provide energy to neurons and other cells). A proper level of mitochondria is required to maintain/protect the dendritic networks of neurons (short branches of a nerve cell) from oxidative stress and is regulated by a process termed mitochondrial trafficking.

It is vital to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying mitochondrial dysfunction in order to study their impact on dendrite pathology and neurodegeneration in PD. Therefore, our research attempts to investigate the role of two specific neuroprotective proteins that are implicated in PD: PINK1 (PTEN induced Kinase-1) which is a mitochondrial- localized protein and PKA (Protein Kinase A) which regulates mitochondrial functions and neuronal survival. Mutations in PINK1 are associated with early-onset PD and deregulated PKA signaling has also been reported in PD models. The overarching goal of Ria’s research is to unveil novel molecular mechanisms by which PINK1-PKA signaling pathway enhances dendritic mitochondrial trafficking and content, and how altered mitochondrial trafficking contributes to loss of dendrites in midbrain dopamine neurons. Therefore, achieving correct mitochondrial trafficking in dendrites would promote dendritic homeostasis and neuroprotection.

The inclusive purpose of this research will not only increase our understanding of the basic biology of these proteins but will also lay a strong foundation for development of novel neuroprotective and mitoprotective therapies for preventing the onset of neurodegeneration, reversing mitochondrial dysfunction and conferring neuroprotection in Parkinson’s disease.

Researching the impact of COVID-19 on mental health

Headshot of Sarah HartzellSarah Hartzell, Ph.D. student in Public Health, is working on a project with Sarah Friedman, Ph.D. on opioid misuse and urine drug testing. At the NPHS 2020 Annual Conference, Sarah presented a component of this work. They also recently had a manuscript published in Substance Use & Misuse entitled "Urine Drug Testing among Opioid-Naïve and Long-Term Opioid Nevada Medicaid Beneficiaries."

Sarah has been researching aspects of COVID's impact on mental health as well. She has been working with a colleague, Molly Hagen, and has collected data from University students on COVID's impact this past spring. They have already submitted a manuscript to a journal and are working on a second manuscript.

Based on existing anecdotal evidence of surges in calls to suicide hotline during COVID-19’s presence in the US, this has led to an awareness of the need for better public mental health preparedness for future disasters that, like COVID-19, have far reaching consequences to daily life. Due to this issue, Sarah submitted a research proposal to the HCCI and it was accepted to gain access to a national database of EHR data and claims records. She is going to be using this to investigate whether COVID-19 had impacted the suicide attempts resulting in ER visits in the US. This will be a large data size that will enable me to produce more generalizable results. The goal of this study is to examine an extreme and devastating way the pandemic can impact mental health, with implications for national mortality.

Empowering rural communities in Tanzania

Liberatus J. Rwebugisa wearing sunglasses and leaning against a treeLiberatus J. Rwebugisa, Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership, created a qualitative case study focusing on how to effectively eliminate poverty and empower communities in rural Tanzania. Emphasizing true collaboration and partnership, Rwebugisa evaluated Self-Determination Theory as a route to effective implementation of empowerment in impoverished areas.

“When we talk about focusing on empowerment, there has to be genuine interactive participation of the poor people to recognize they have time, they have talent, they know they can catch up,” Rwebugisa said. Many larger organizations tend to create initiatives where participation from local communities is token. Rwebugisa’s approach differed by focusing on a community-led initiative, Self-Determination Theory and legitimate collaboration with local partners. The case study began with a needs assessment of a rural community in Tanzania, where participants identified critical issues, such as a lack of collaboration between teachers, parents and other community members.

By conducting interviews two years after the initial needs assessment among local partners to measure feelings of relatedness, competence and autonomy, his findings demonstrated that community members enjoyed their involvement and participated from their own volition.

Rwebugisa’s other achievements include using a grant to renovate a school building into a library and running a microfinance program that includes teaching skills like budgeting in addition to creating small loans for income-generating activities.

Increasing nutritional education skills for high school students with disabilities

Headshot of Brianna GrumstrupBrianna Grumstrup, Ph.D. student in Special Education, focuses her research on food and dietary behaviors in children and adolescents. Nutrition education in schools can provide children and adolescents with the information and skills to develop food choices and dietary behaviors that influence health and academics. An abundance of evidence suggests this is especially crucial for individuals with intellectual and multiple disabilities. One subset of nutrition education is knowledge about the five main food groups of grains, proteins, dairy, fruit, and vegetables.

Brianna’s study investigates if the system of least prompts is effective to increase a nutrition education skill for high school students with intellectual and multiple disabilities. The student is first shown a PowerPoint slide that has a group of 4 foods, each representing one of the main five groups, with a blank box indicating one missing. The student must then name the food representing the missing food group. In this manner, the participant will complete a balanced “meal” by choosing the missing food from an array of five choices at the bottom of the screen. The independent variable is the system of least prompts, a systematic teaching method whereby the student is first given the opportunity to respond independently. Upon no response or an incorrect response, the instructor is ready with pre-determined prompts to ensure the correct answer is eventually reached.

Alexis Tudor creates Python program to make the process of differential photometry faster and easier

Alexis Tutor in a fieldAlexis Tudor is a Masters student in Computer and Science Engineering and is studying the changing of stars. It may seem to us on Earth that the stars above do not change or falter. However, this is not always the case. Many stars can blow up or fade out, they are eclipsed by other stars and occasionally undergo incredible transformations. One of the best tools to measure the changing of the stars is the light curve, a graph depicting the brightness of star. The process to calculate the brightness of a star is called differential photometry, and it involves comparing a target star to four to eight other stars of known brightness. Calculating the brightness of a star takes a considerable amount of time before one even considers having to take the brightness of a star over multiple nights.

Alexis’s research centers around a Python program she created, Photometry+, that is designed to make the process of differential photometry faster and easier. Using Photometry+ she has been able capture the light curve of an exploding white dwarf as it went nova. Her research now focusses on how to combine human-computer interaction with astronomy know-how to create a work that not only completes differential photometry, but is also easy to use so that someone with no experience with differential photometry can not only use it but also learn the process through using Photometry+.

Graduate student research profiles

  • Zoe Haskell, Ph.D. student in Statistics and Data Science, won two prestigious internships!

    Headshot of Zoe HaskellZoe Haskell, Ph.D. student in Statistics and Data Science won two prestigious internships! One at Disney (Summer 2019) and the other at Zalando (summer 2020)! Zoe joined our Ph.D. program in the first cohort and is likely to be our first Ph.D. graduate. She is an excellent student, researcher and Teaching Assistant.

    Her Disney internship was at Disney DTCI (Direct to Consumer and International) Data Platforms/Data Science Team in Seattle. This was a full-time, paid internship for ten weeks for which she successfully competed with graduate students from MIT, UCLA, Berkeley, and other top programs in the U.S.

    Haskell’s responsibility was to propose a project, lead it and present it to Disney executives at the end of the internship. The project she proposed involved using some of her thesis work to process and categorize the emotional reactions of test audiences watching television pilots. The goal of this project was to provide a novel metric for audience segmentation, for the purpose of recommending new content to consumers. She also helped with several other projects the team was working on, including several Natural Language Processing (NLP) projects, and an auto-tagging project for the ESPN website.

    Haskell has also been awarded the first-ever Zalando Ph.D. Fellowship Program in Berlin. Zalando is Europe’s largest online fashion retailer, with a record number of over 31 million active customers.

    This is a full-time, paid internship for four months, working with one of Zalando’s many data science teams. Her job responsibilities include:

    • Modeling demand and trend forecasting,
    • Using Generative Adversarial Network modeling for e.g. garment design generation, or for displaying an item on different body types
    • Employing deep learning for “shop the look” applications;
    • Making Collaborative Filtering Recommendation for fashion items.

    Congratulations, Zoe, on earning these exciting opportunities! 

  • Walt Disney Corporation data scientist works on Ph.D. in Statistics and Data Science

    Headshot of Erick LuerkenErick Luerken joined our Ph.D. program in Statistics and Data Science in Fall 2018 to further his statistics skills. He takes classes in the Ph.D. program remotely, as he has a full time Sr. Data Scientist position at the Disney – ABC Television/Walt Disney Corp., in Seattle, WA. Erick creates data driven statistical and data science applications to support and improve Disney’s television offerings including work on market attribution and content recommendation. He created and is leading the Data Science and Machine Learning Committee at Disney, which reviews all work done his organization before deployment/delivery, runs education series and defines and implements best practices.

    We are proud to say that Erick is our own graduate. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with his MS in Mathematics- Statistics concentration in Fall 2008. His path to Disney started at the Puget Sound Energy company and included positions at DS-IQ, a marketing technology company, then Zulilly, an e-commerce company. He is now sharing his time between work at Disney and Ph.D. work with us. Disney supports Erick’s Ph.D. education and professional development.

  • Taking implicit biases in judicial behaviors into account in behavioral outcomes for juveniles

     Headshot of Victoria KnocheVictoria Knoche, Interdisciplinary Social Psychology Ph.D. Program

    "My research focuses on the interactions between judges and juveniles in the justice system. Specifically, whether the use of procedural justice elements by the judge; number and length of interactions, race match/non-match, and gender match/non-match between the judge and juvenile are associated with better short-term outcomes for the juvenile such as successful termination from probation.

    Previous research examining procedural justice in juveniles is severely limited in number and has only explored the relationship between perceived (subjective) procedural justice and youth behavioral outcomes. However, it is important to ensure that juveniles are not merely perceiving procedural justice when in reality their court processes are unfair. My research will utilize observed measures to determine if procedural justice is occurring regardless of the juveniles’ perceptions as this may better predict behavioral outcomes such as compliance with court orders.

    Additionally, because judges are human, they are susceptible to bias. When a judge is interacting with a juvenile, there is the potential for biases to influence the judge’s behaviors and ultimately the court processes as well as the juvenile’s outcomes. Taking implicit biases into consideration is important as this extra-legal factor can affect judicial behaviors and in turn, behavioral outcomes for juveniles, according to procedural justice. Other extra-legal factors which might affect judicial behaviors and juvenile behavioral outcomes as a result include judge and juvenile characteristics such as gender, race, and age which will be examined.

    Data was manually collected from case files and audio recordings of adjudication hearings at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center in Tucson, Arizona. Findings from this research can inform judicial policy and practice, court procedures, and best practices."

    This dissertation research is being supervised by Dr. Shawn Marsh.

  • Smart shoes aim to ensure safe walking conditions for non-sighted people

    Arpith Siddaiah, Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Program

    Graduate researcher working with engineering equipment and wearing eye protection.

    "A collaborative project named 'Smart-Shoe Project' aims to provide technological visual aid to sight-impaired people in our community.

    In this project, we aim integrate a safe 3D-navigation system and terrain sensors (such as laser sensors and inertial measurement sensors) with a smart shoe that is equipped with a micro-mechanical system. Based on the input from the sensors and smart algorithms, this micro-mechanical system embedded within the shoe-sole will be able to engage specific types of textures. These textures will provide sufficient walking friction that will help visually impaired people avoid slipping in dangerous walking conditions on walkways and footpaths. The smart shoe will be capable of not only warning the user via mobile and/or audio warning system but will also ensure safe walking conditions in snow, ice, dust, oil and water contaminated floor conditions."

    Collaborators: Ph.D. supervisor Pradeep Menezes, Luan Nguyen (from computer science department), Ph.D. supervisor Hung La

  • How do doctoral engineering teaching assistants manage their multiple roles to attain a future in academia?

    Marissa Tsugawa-Nieves, Materials Science & Engineering; Engineering Education Doctoral Student

    Graduate student smiling while working over equipment

    "Over the past two decades, multiple research and government reports call for universities to increase the retention of STEM students by improving teaching practices. Particularly, the current academic cultures in STEM fields overemphasize doing research and provide few incentives for faculty to improve their teaching. Science and mathematics fields have begun to address this research-and-teaching gap by investigating the beneficial relationship between teaching and doing research. This type of research is scant in the field of engineering even though its culture serves as an additional barrier to improving teaching practices. To continue this investigation in science and mathematics fields and initiate this research in engineering, we can conceptualize how engineering professors develop as both researchers and educators during their doctoral programs. My research focuses on the development of doctoral engineering teaching assistants (DETAs) as they engage as both researchers and educators. Particularly, the purpose of my dissertation is to explore how DETAs integrate their roles as educators and researchers to pursue their goals in academia. I plan to use a two-phase, exploratory sequential mixed-methods approach to answer my overarching research question: How do doctoral engineering teaching assistants manage their multiple roles, specifically educator and researcher, to attain a future in academia?

    I conducted an in-depth, qualitative study to explore how engineering graduate students balanced being an educator and a researcher to pursue their future goals. I interviewed four engineering graduate students who participated in a rigorous teaching fellowship alongside their graduate research. Each participant expressed passion for teaching engineering and doing research, yet three of the four participants described a difficult and unsupportive environment to be both an educator and researcher. Further, two of those three participants dropped out of their doctoral programs and abandoned their long-term goal to become a professor in academia. In the end, their preconception of what a professor is (both an educator and research) did not align with the reality these three participants experienced in academia. In contrast, the fourth participant described a supportive environment for both teaching and research and now works as a professor who embraces both roles. To further my findings on the integration and development of both educator and researcher roles, I am currently conducting a second study on the doctoral engineering teaching assistants (DETAs). In this study, I will investigate how developmental past events and future goals in academia help DETAs develop as researchers and educators in their graduate programs.

    Thus far in my Ph.D. program, I have 1 journal paper, co-authorship on 1 book chapter, 8 conference publications, and led 8 conference presentations. I also won second place two times in the GSA annual poster competition. I am currently working on two journal papers submissions."

  • Engineering in the Elementary Classroom: The Connection Between Engineering Design and Self-Efficacy

    Andrew Westby, STEM Education Masters student

    Four elementary-age children working in a classroom and smiling"As the need for a STEM-educated workforce becomes more readily acknowledged, K-12 education across the country must value engineering education as part of the overall strategy to prepare students more fully for participation in the 21st century economy. This valuing of engineering is evidenced in its specific inclusion in Next Generation Science Standards. Studies show that engineering education increases the STEM skill development process and overall competency in science.

    Teaching that includes engineering has been shown as an effective instructional delivery model, and its connections to other areas of education such as mathematics and science with emphasis on critical thinking have also been demonstrated. This mixed methods study addresses the question: How does exposure to engineering instruction, with an emphasis on using the engineering design process, improve student self-efficacy toward solving real world engineering problems? Persevering with problem solving is a best practice according to the Common Core State Standards in both mathematics and English/language arts (ELA), and improving self-efficacy improves engagement, participation, motivation, and performance.

    Stand-alone engineering design promotes higher level thinking and problem solving, but when combined with mathematics and/or ELA its influence on developing the skills teachers are trying to target becomes further reaching. This study shows that engineering design in the elementary classroom has a beneficial effect on student self-efficacy and positively contributes to the elementary learning environment."

    *Image used with guardian permissions.

  • Examining perceptions of police legitimacy

    Jacqueline Kirschenbaum, Interdisciplinary Social Psychology Ph.D. program

    Jacqueline Kirschenbaum"Confrontations between police and racial minorities have received not only nationwide attention but also attention on the University’s campus. In an effort to examine diversity in perceptions of police, Alicia DeVault and I are working on a project that examines how diverse racial groups perceive police rule-bending and how this influences people's perceptions of police legitimacy.

    Generally, this project will highlight whether students of varying races deferentially experience interactions with police and whether trust in police varies by students’ race. Specifically, racial groups might differ in their tolerance of police officers who bend or break rules with good intentions (e.g., bending a rule to capture a suspect). This tolerance might influence people's trust in police and people's belief that the police are authorities that should be obeyed.

    We will interview University students about their interactions with and attitudes/beliefs toward police and examine potential themes that emerge from interviews regarding race, trust in police, and tolerance for police rule-bending and breaking."

  • How to eat a toxic newt
    Student giving a lecture motioning to two terrariums with snakes. Robert Eugene del Carlo, Cell & Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology Ph.D. program

    "Along the west coast of the United States, there are garter snakes that are able to eat newts that are so toxic that no other predators even try to eat them. The newt's toxicity comes from a very potent nerve toxin in their skin. When a predator attacks, the toxin begins to paralyze the predator, allowing the newt to literally escape the jaws of death.

    Previous studies have shown that the reason the garter snakes can survive the toxin is that they have evolved mutations in the protein the toxin normally inhibits. This protein is called a sodium channel and its job in the body is to carry the electrical signals that allow nerves to fire, muscles to contract, and hearts to beat. In the same way that blocking this channel with the toxin is devastating, you can imagine that messing around with its recipe is a pretty risky move in evolution's kitchen.

    Our team of physicists and ecologists set out to use some of the most advanced biomedical techniques on these snake sodium channels to find out exactly what kinds of tradeoffs they suffer. So far, we have found that in exchange for becoming more resistant to the toxin, these snake sodium channels forfeit a lot of electrical power. This means that the muscles relying on these sodium channels are also weaker, putting our toxin-resistant snakes at risk for being preyed upon themselves. Our next step is to reconstruct the evolutionary path that these snakes took from sodium channels that look and work like ours to the resistant mutants they have now."

    • $5,000 Service Award to the Nevada Proteomics Center
    • NSF Grant to Chris R. Feldman and Normand Leblanc
  • Do legal decisions differ when the defendant belongs to a minority group?
    Student giving a speech to a mock jury in a courtroom.Charles Edwards, Interdisciplinary Social Psychology Ph.D. Program

    "My research interests primarily focus on understanding legal decision-making, including legal decisions of both judges and jurors. This line of research also tends to focus on prejudicial decision-making and how legal decisions might differ when the defendant belongs to a minority group as compared to a non-minority defendant. 
    Currently, I am studying whether bias expressed toward religious minority defendants can be mitigated by modifying jury instructions. Specifically, the study manipulates the religion of the defendant to be either Christian or Muslim and participants receive one of four possible sets of jury instructions. It is my hope that we can use the results of this study, and future studies, to inform the legal system as to what potential modifications to the legal system might be effective in lessening prejudice toward religious minorities and minorities in general.

    We recently submitted an article examining specific outcomes associated with stress in judges. A previously proposed Model of Judicial Stress predicted that a judge's personal, job, and environmental characteristics would relate to increases in judge stress and, in turn, cause negative outcomes in the judge's personal and professional life. The study we conducted examined the outcome side of the model in that we assessed whether judges' reported levels of stress related to negative personal and professional outcomes. The results of this study suggests stress in judges significantly relates to poorer mental health, lower levels of job satisfaction and job efficacy, and poorer perceptions of safety and security."

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