Graduate student research spotlight

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.

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

Graduate researcher working with engineering equipment and wearing eye protection.Arpith Siddaiah, Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Program

"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

Graduate student research profiles

  • 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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Recent research news

  • University of Nevada, Reno awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant totaling $499,797 for STEM diversity research.
  • The National Council of Teachers of English has announced that our own Leslie Anglesey has won a 2019 CCCC Chairs’ Memorial Scholarship. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is a constituent organization within the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Anglesey is one of 4 recipients of this award! Congratulations, Leslie!
  • University receives three National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards and several honorable mentions
    • Fellows
      • David Knupp, CMB
      • Alberto Adan Nava, Biomedical Engineering
      • Aaron Unger, Chemistry
    • Honorable mentions
      • Alison Agneray, EECB
      • Salome Manska, CMB
      • Colin Morrison, Ecology undergrad headed for UT Austin
      • Manuel Retana, Engineering
      • Nicholas Winner, Materials Research
      • Heather Winslow, Geology