Research at Nebraska: June 2023 highlights

News for Researchers

Posted June 30, 2023 by Tiffany Lee

Husker engineer unwinding causes, solutions to bolt loosening

Who: Keegan Moore, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering

What: Moore is using a $727,410 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program to study the loosening of bolts over time and how to prevent it. Little is understood about how a structure’s dynamics influence bolt loosening during normal operation. Moore’s research, focused on rotational loosening, will help fill that gap. He is measuring the interface contact conditions – the surfaces the bolt holds together – using high-speed digital cameras that film at thousands of frames per second. The research could help with predictive maintenance of America’s aging infrastructure.

“This will hopefully give us a new window to what’s going on in the interface that we’ve never had before, and we’ll be able to measure how that changes dynamics as the bolt loosens and as the structure shakes,” Moore said.      

Writer: Dan Moser, Office of Research and Economic Development

Husker engineers earn grant to protect military bases against EV-based attacks

Who: Cody Stolle, assistant director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility and research assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering; Josh Steelman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Ronald Faller, MwRSF director and Willa Cather Research Professor of civil and environmental engineering

What: Husker engineers are teaming up with Auburn University to protect American soldiers stationed at U.S. military installations from electric vehicle-based attacks. With $3.6 million in funding from the U.S. Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center, the team is exploring how to safeguard the entry points of military bases against hostile-driven EVs. They are designing perimeters that account for the characteristics of EVs, which are much heavier, have a lower center of gravity and accelerate more rapidly than gas-powered vehicles. The team is using modeling, simulations and crash tests to devise and test their designs.

“The current study is a bedrock establishment of all the parameters necessary to ensure that (military) bases are able to handle vehicles of all types, whether gasoline or electric or even new technologies which have yet to be created,” Stolle said.

Writer: Scott Schrage, University Communication and Marketing

Shizuka addressing racial inequities in the ornithology community

Who: Dai Shizuka, associate professor of biological sciences

What: With nearly $500,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, Shizuka and Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech are teaming up with three of ornithology’s major professional societies to take steps toward diversifying the field. The team is developing identity-based “flocks,” which are affinity groups aimed at supporting members of historically excluded groups, amplifying their voices and empowering them within a culture of ornithology where they may not have always felt welcome. The flocks are aimed at bolstering members’ resilience against roadblocks and increasing retention in the profession.

“We’re trying to design a process where we lower the activation temperature, making it easier for people who want to create a community for themselves to do it and be supported – and not dictated – by the society,” Shizuka said.    

Writer: Tiffany Lee, Office of Research and Economic Development    

‘Homegrown’ program addresses need for rural mental health professionals

Who: Beth Doll, professor of educational psychology; Matthew Gormley, assistant professor of educational psychology

What: Doll and Gormley launched Prairie Nebraska, a program aimed at addressing the state’s shortage of mental health professionals by training 10 Nebraska residents using a “grow-your-own” strategy. Through the program, rural Nebraska residents take part in virtual training that leads to state certification in school psychology. The program doesn’t require trainees to relocate, strengthening the chance they’ll stay in rural communities and help rural children and youth. The project is funded by a grant from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.    

“We’re helping train those who will stay and serve children of Nebraska in a way someone moving in from elsewhere wouldn’t be able to. A model like this holds a lot of promise and could be replicated to serve other communities anywhere,” Gormley said.

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

Husker scientists closing in on long-lasting swine flu vaccine

Who: Eric Weaver, director of the Nebraska Center for Virology and associate professor of biological sciences; and Husker researchers/technicians Matt Pekarek, Cedric Wooledge, David Steffen, Nicholas Jeanjaquet, Erika Petro-Turnquist and Hiep Vu

What: Weaver’s team recently published the results of a successful long-term experiment with live hogs vaccinated with a broad-based influenza vaccine. They developed the vaccine using Epigraph, a data-based computer technique developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Epigraph algorithm enables scientists to create a vaccine “cocktail” of the three most common epitopes – the bits of viral protein that spark the immune system’s response. The study is another step toward a safe, long-lasting and potentially universal vaccine against swine flu, and could also have important implications for human health.

“The more times we do these studies, the more confident we get that this vaccine will be successful in the field,” Weaver said.

Writer: Leslie Reed, University Communication and Marketing

Refining surge protector in crops could boost yields

Who: Kasia Glowacka, assistant professor of biochemistry; James Schnable, Charles O. Gardner Professor of Agronomy; Seema Sahay, postdoctoral research associate in biochemistry; Marcin Grzybowski, UNL affiliate       

What: In plants, a process called nonphotochemical quenching, or NPQ, helps plants survive by transforming light into heat when a plant absorbs more light than it can use in photosynthesis. But when the NPQ mechanism is slow to shut off, plants cannot maximize their ability to harvest light, negatively affecting yields. Glowacka and Schnable’s team identified and measured the influence of six genes related to NPQ performance. Their findings shed light on how scientists can breed plants that best capitalize on sunlight – a key strategy in precluding global food shortages in the coming decades.  

“We can gain 22% of that yield from the crops, potentially, if we were to speed up the NPQ,” Glowacka said.

Writer: Scott Schrage, University Communication and Marketing

Congressional delegation voices support for strong ag research funding

Who: Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts; Reps. Mike Flood, Don Bacon and Adrian Smith

What: Nebraska’s congressional delegation visited UNL’s East Campus on June 19 to discuss priorities for the Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this year, and to hear presentations on Husker research initiatives in ag-related robotics, precision agriculture, plant and animal science innovations, and advances made possible through on-farm research. The lawmakers were also briefed on the importance producers place on information from the university’s National Drought Mitigation Center. Mike Boehm, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, discussed funding options that are particularly important for the university and Nebraska agriculture.      

Writer: Geitner Simmons, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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