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.

Recent research news

  • 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

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.

Graduate student research profiles

  • 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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