Nebraska Research: 2023 highlights

Year in Review

jbrehm2, December 19, 2023

Nebraska Research: 2023 highlights

Nebraska Research: 2023 in review

2023 was an exciting year for researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, full of groundbreaking discoveries, prestigious awards and accolades, major grants and advances in economic development. View the slideshow to see the highlights.

Research enterprise sets new growth records

Nebraska set several records for research growth according to several key measures of excellence. Sponsored research awards for fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30, totaled $194 million – an all-time high and a 12% increase from 2022. UNL’s research expenditures totaled $340 million in fiscal year 2022, the most recent year for which figures are available. Total research expenditures have grown 34% over the past decade.

Aron Barbey
George Gogos

New leaders take the reins at two research centers  

Two of Nebraska’s major interdisciplinary research centers experienced leadership changes in 2023. Following a national search, Aron Barbey was selected as the director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. Barbey is an internationally recognized scientist who has made significant contributions to understanding the neural basis of human intelligence.

Longstanding Husker engineer George Gogos was named director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research. Gogos, an expert in functionalized metallic surfaces and microfluidics, is positioning the center to lead the way in the transition to renewable forms of energy.

Husker agronomist helps create first-ever corn genome map

James Schnable, with colleagues from Iowa State University and China, developed the first complete map of the corn genome. The landmark achievement paves the way for major long-term advances in crop health, resilience and productivity. Mapping the genome has been a longstanding challenge because it is large and immensely complex. Schnable said the team drew on the latest technology and the team’s combined expertise to make the breakthrough, which was published in the journal Nature Genetics.     

From left: Katrina Jagodinsky, William Thomas, Jeannette Eileen Jones, Genesis Agosto, Jessica Shoemaker, Eric Berger and Danielle Jefferis

Connecting civil rights, law and history

With a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, historians William Thomas, Katrina Jagodinsky and Jeannette Eileen Jones are partnering with College of Law scholars to launch a teaching, research and collaboration hub focused on the relationship between U.S. law and history. Through new academic programs and an open educational resource, the project helps students and the public understand how marginalized groups in American history used the law to contest and advance their rights.

Oleh Khalimonchuk (left) and Richard Wilson

Khalimonchuk, Wilson named AAAS fellows

Oleh Khalimonchuk, biochemistry, and Richard Wilson, plant pathology, were selected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society. Fellows are selected by their peers for scientifically or socially distinguished achievements that advance science or its application. Khalimonchuk was honored for his contributions to the field of mitochondrial biology. Wilson was recognized for advancing understanding of the genetic and biochemical factors governing plant-microbe interactions.

Conner advancing agricultural education research with Fulbright award

Nathan Conner from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication is using a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Port Antonio, Portland, Jamaica. He is conducting research, teaching college courses and co-designing a master’s degree in agricultural education to help high school teachers in Jamaica obtain their master’s degrees. Conner said he hopes the project will pave the way for a stronger relationship between UNL and individuals and institutions in Jamaica.

Wei Qiao (left) and Daniel Ciobanu

Ciobanu, Qiao honored by the National Academy of Inventors

Daniel Ciobanu, a world-renowned molecular geneticist, was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors. Ciobanu’s research identifies genetic variants that affect traits like viral disease susceptibility, sow fertility and meat quality, which has led to three U.S. patents and two international patents. Technologies stemming from his work are used routinely by swine genetics companies in the United States.

Wei Qiao, an internationally recognized engineer in the areas of sustainable energy and energy efficiency, was elected a senior member of NAI. The program honors early-stage innovators whose commercialization success has the potential to positively impact societal welfare. Qiao’s work focuses on developing models, software and hardware solutions, and decision-support tools that enable the most promising technologies of the future.      

CoJMC assistant professor wins faculty slam

Video game designer turned assistant professor Ryan Tan won the 2023 Faculty Research and Creative Activity Slam, extending the College of Journalism and Mass Communications’ winning streak to three years. Tan researches the cognitive and emotional effects video games have on players. He aims to design video games for good, for social change, rather than to hook players into addictive play.

Aemal Khattak, MATC director

Mid-America Transportation Center gets $15 million grant to continue work

The Mid-America Transportation Center will use a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue its role as the transportation research and workplace development hub for a four-state region. The focus includes equity issues in transportation safety, climate change and supply chain vulnerability. An expansion of MATC’s outreach and education will include a new safe driver academy in cooperation with Nebraska Indian Community College.

Heartland Regional Food Business Center to connect local food efforts

A $25 million award – among the largest ever received by UNL – will create the Heartland Regional Food Business Center. One of 12 such regional centers in the U.S., it’s led by Rural Prosperity Nebraska and aims to better connect institutions involved with local food access and distribution. The regional centers will target their efforts toward historically underinvested communities, benefiting people’s health and boosting local economies.

Otoe-Missouria, Center for Great Plains Studies earn Mellon funding

Salt Creek once was home to the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, but it was displaced in the 1800s. A $1.8 million Mellon Foundation-funded project, “Walking in the Footsteps of Our Ancestors: Re-Indigenizing Southeast Nebraska,” will build on reconciliation efforts to reconnect the tribe to the land where Lincoln now sits. The project, led by the tribe and UNL’s Center for Great Plains Studies, will include a survey of residents, an audit of current commemorations, a conference, lecture series, museum display and signage.

NU State Museum earns reaccreditation

The University of Nebraska State Museum earned reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums. Only 8% of U.S. natural history museums are accredited, which is a recognition of museums’ commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards and continued improvement. The Nebraska museum has been accredited since the 1970s.

Innovation Campus earns national kudos

The Association of University Research Parks named Nebraska Innovation Campus as the 2023 Outstanding Research Park, a prestigious honor that recognizes research parks and innovation districts and their leadership for their achievements. NIC was honored for developing an ecosystem for innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization. In 2017, NIC was recognized as AURP’s Emerging Research Park. NIC staff have earned additional honors from the organization since the campus’s inception.

From left: Sherri Jones, Brittany Duncan, Cheryl Horst, Jeewan Jyot and Brad Roth

Faculty honored at Innovator Awards celebration

Nebraska faculty and partners earned 2023 Innovator Awards from NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization arm. Individuals were recognized during Nebraska Research Days in November.

  • Emerging Innovator: Brittany Duncan, Ross McCollum Associate Professor in the School of Computing and co-director of the NIMBUS lab.
  • Creative Work Award: Global Yield Gap Atlas. Key partners are Patricio Grassini, Sunkist Distinguished Professor of Agronomy; Kenneth Cassman, professor emeritus of agronomy and horticulture; and Haishun Yan, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture.
  • Breakthrough Innovation Award: Marc Maguire, associate professor, Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction.
  • Startup Company of the Year: Thyreos Inc., founded by Gary Pickard, professor, School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Gregory Smith of Northwestern University and Ekaterina Heldwein, Tufts University.
  • Innovation Champion Award: Invest Nebraska.
  • Prem S. Paul Innovator of the Year: Thomas Elmo Clemente, Eugene W. Price Distinguished Professor of Biotechnology and director, Plant Transformation Core Research facility.

11 new projects funded through Grand Challenges initiative

Eleven interdisciplinary teams earned awards totaling $10 million through the second Grand Challenges Catalyst Competition, aimed at elevating high-priority, high-impact research areas for the benefit of society. Projects funded through the Catalyst competition include using quantum approaches to address climate resilience and sustainable energy; scaling up educational programs for at-risk Nebraska children; and making food plastics safer for consumers. A full list of funded projects is available on the Grand Challenges website.

Outstanding early-career faculty receive NSF CAREER awards

Eight Nebraska faculty received five-year Faculty Early Career Development Program awards from the National Science Foundation in 2023. Their awards, which support outstanding pre-tenure faculty, total more than $4.1 million. The latest CAREER winners are Eloísa Grifo, Irina Filina, Mona Bavarian, Hongzhi Guo, Mohammad Ghashami, Nirupam Aich, Keegan Moore and Clemencia Rojas.

Jones serving as interim vice chancellor for research, economic development

Sherri Jones became interim vice chancellor for research and economic development in October. Jones, the Velma Warren Hodder Professor, had served as dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences since 2019. She also held leadership positions as chair of the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders and director of the Barkley Memorial Center. Jones succeeds Bob Wilhelm, who stepped down after five years in the vice chancellor’s role.

Year in Review