Research at Nebraska: April 2023 highlights

News for Researchers

Posted May 1, 2023 by Tiffany Lee

In case you missed these stories highlighting research and creative activity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Office of Research and Economic Development’s communications team has compiled a roundup of some recent top stories from 

Nebraska geophysicist studying new tectonic theory in North Atlantic 

Who: Irina Filina, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences 

What: Filina is taking a fresh look at geophysical data to evaluate a recent theory that there is an expansive continent, dubbed Icelandia, that is mostly submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean – with Iceland as its protruding tip. To explore the theory, Filina will integrate existing datasets to build a comprehensive tectonic model of the Northern Atlantic, which will shed light on the nature of the crust underlying that stretch of ocean. Filina also aims to strengthen the university’s geophysics program. The work is funded by a $746,284 grant from the National Science Foundation’s CAREER program. 

“This analysis will transform our understanding of the Northern Atlantic and will elucidate the tectonic processes responsible for breaking continents and opening new oceans,” Filina said. 

Writer: Dan Moser, Office of Research and Economic Development 

Ghashami’s CAREER award setting the stage for tomorrow’s nanoelectronics 

Who: Mohammad Ghashami, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering   

What: Ghashami is using a $630,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to study a phenomenon called near-field thermal radiation. This process creates excess heat when the tiny electronic parts and pieces are situated very close together within smartphones, laptops and other electronics. Ghashami is exploring strategies for transforming that excess heat into an asset that could generate electricity, extend battery life, improve device efficiency and more. The project marks one of the first attempts to experimentally verify the physics of radiative heat transfer in multi-body systems – to this point, the bulk of the work has focused on two-component setups.  

“If we can understand the physics of multi-body systems, we can come up with more efficient systems and chips that harness excess heat to produce electricity for the system.”  

Writer: Tiffany Lee, Office of Research and Economic Development  

Nebraska-led study first to define anxiety spiraling from national election 

Who: Kevin Smith, Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Chair and Professor of political science; Aaron Weinschenk, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; Costas Panagopoulos, Northeastern University  

What: The team published a first-of-its-kind study examining anxiety tethered to a specific political event: the 2020 presidential election, touted as the most consequential in recent history by both sides. The researchers found that overall, Americans were more anxious before the election, but those feelings subsided for most people afterward – particularly for people who voted for Donald Trump, conservatives and African Americans. Unsurprisingly, the most anxious group, before and after the election, were people more politically engaged or attentive to politics. The researchers believe the study may be a model for measuring political anxiety going forward. 

“Our measure appears to be valid,” Smith said. “We’re looking at 2024 and hoping we can replicate some of this to possibly parse out some of those effects.”  

Writer: Deann Gayman, University Communication and Marketing  

Nebraska team addressing special education teacher shortage 

Who: Amanda Witte, research assistant professor, Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools; HyeonJin Yoon, research assistant professor, Nebraska Academy for Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics; Pam Brezenski, Educational Service Unit 13 of Nebraska; Kris Elmshaeuser, Nebraska Department of Education 

What: The research team is developing Get SET Nebraska, a comprehensive mentorship and professional development program designed to support and retain Nebraska special education teachers and school administrators. Through online training modules and mentorship opportunities, the program aims to reduce teacher-reported job stress, increase job satisfaction, improve administrative support and enhance teachers’ skill and confidence. The team recently piloted Get SET in four rural Nebraska schools and is currently pursuing a larger-scale trial before statewide expansion in 2024-25. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education-Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. 

“This program helps administrators see the unique needs of their special education teachers and the importance of protecting their time and making sure their job is what they signed up for,” Witte said. 

Writer: Chuck Green, Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools  

Aich seeks innovative ways to clear “forever chemicals” from water 

Who: Nirupam Aich, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering 

What: Aich is using a $500,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to develop a filtration system for treating water contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, which are “forever chemicals” found in Teflon, non-stick cooking pans, electronics, plastic food packaging and more. PFAS are linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children, cancers, fertility issues and more. Aich’s system uses nanotechnology and nanomaterials to break the PFAs into non-toxic forms.  

“The problem with PFAS is that they are very difficult to degrade in the natural environment or by microorganisms,” Aich said. “They have strong caron fluorine bonds, and breaking them is important, which is why we are using 3D-printed nanomaterials to break these bonds.”  

Writer: Karl Vogel, College of Engineering 

Der Matossian explores genocide denialism in the 21st century  

Who: Bedross Der Matossian, professor of history and a historian of the Armenian Genocide 

What: On May 1, the University of Nebraska Press published “Denial of Genocide in the Twenty-First Century,” a book aiming to explain and combat the phenomenon of genocide denialism. Der Matossian edited the volume, which travels chronologically through the denialism of eight genocides spanning three centuries. Twelve scholars, including Der Matossian, contributed chapters. He said one purpose of the book is to illustrate how denialism revictimizes those killed and survivors, with wide-ranging unforeseen consequences. 

“Scholars argue that the last stage of a genocide is denial,” Der Matossian said. “Denial is killing the dead, killing the memory of dead, and many survivors live with the denial of their own genocide. The denial of genocides emboldens people to commit additional acts of violence and genocide in the future.” 

Writer: Deann Gayman, University Communication and Marketing 

Project affirms voices of Indigenous two-spirit youth 

Who: Katie Edwards, professor of educational psychology; Ramona Herrington, cultural outreach manager at the Interpersonal Violence Research Laboratory 

What: The team used an Office of Research and Economic Development Layman Award to identify the unique challenges and strengths of Lakota LGBTQ2S youth and identify culturally grounded initiatives to support their health and well-being. The findings suggest that while Lakota LGBTQ2S youth experience many challenges, they also possess strength and resilience, stemming in part from connections to their Indigenous culture and community belonging. The project included a retreat where researchers connected with Lakota LGBTQ2S youth through talking circles, arts-based activities, focus groups and surveys.  

“We wanted to give LGBTQ2S youth a space to feel validated and affirmed to amplify their voices,” Edwards said. “We wanted to understand the challenges they face, as well as their strengths, and discuss ideas for what they need to support and affirm them.” 

Writer: Chuck Green, Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools 

Team IDs emergence of surprising layers in nanomaterial 

Who: Lucía Fernández-Ballester, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering  

What: P3HT is unique among polymers for its ability to conduct electricity, making it a candidate material for next-gen electronics. But to this point, scientists’ ability to study how electricity and light pass through it has been challenging. This is because capturing signals from the nanoscopic, specialized polymer – P3HT is hundreds of times thinner than a human hair – during the crystallization process is challenging. To overcome this, Fernández-Ballester’s team used approaches based on light and x-rays to report the never-before-seen intricacies of P3HT as it melts and cools. Though she calls this work “extremely fundamental,” she hopes down the line it could help engineers adapt the material into a low-cost workhorse suited to certain transistors, sensors and other components.  

“I think there’s a synergy,” she said, “between the fundamental and the downstream, more applied research.” 

Writer: Scott Schrage, University Communication and Marketing 

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