2022 Catalyst Award Teams

The Office of the Chancellor and the Office of Research and Economic Development have committed up to $40 million over four years to invest in the Grand Challenges initiative. The project aligns with the university’s N2025 aims to increase the impact of research and creative activity, and to foster interdisciplinary endeavors.

Center to Prevent Sexual Violence Among Indigenous Youth

A team of more than 20 Nebraska researchers, and representatives from tribal organizations, other institutions, and community partners is establishing and evaluating an indigenous-led center dedicated to preventing sexual violence among indigenous youth. Focusing on an issue that has reached crisis levels, the center will work to reduce sexual violence in all indigenous communities nationwide. The team aims to deliver innovative, empowerment-based and culturally grounded violence prevention programs to a majority of the 1.5 million Native American youth in the U.S. by 2050. The project received a four-year, $3,210,177 grant through the Grand Challenges initiative.

Project Team

Katie Edwards (PI), Nebraska Center on Children, Youth, Family and Schools, and educational psychology
Sharon Teo-Gooding, Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film
Lorey Wheeler, CYFS
Theodore Hibbeler, Nebraska Extension; enrolled member, Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Ramona Herrington, CYFS; enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Seth Teager, CYFS
Skyler Hopfauf, CYFS

External Team Members

Lee Paiva, IMpower United
Esty Pittman, IMpower United
Bridget Diamond-Welch, University of South Dakota
Damon Leader Charge, University of South Dakota
Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs, Knife Chief Buffalo Nation; spiritual leader, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Norma Rendon, Winyan Wicanyuonihan Oyanke (Where All Women Are Honored); enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Lisa Schrader, Native Connections, and enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Pauletta Red Willow, Maggie’s House, and enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Lenny Hayes, Tate Topa Consulting, and enrolled member, Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux tribe
Jaida Grey Eagle, enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe
Donna Polk, Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition
Mona Zuffante, Winnebago Tribe
Mike Henry, Santee Sioux Nation
Gene Tyon, Oaye Luta Okolakiciye, and enrolled member, Oglala Sioux Tribe

Additional representatives will include center staff members, UNL students, programming and evaluation staff, and students from tribal colleges across the U.S.

Digital Twin Innovation Lab

Nearly every industry that deals with complex data uses digital twin technology — a simulatable computer replica of a real-world system. The team led aims to apply this concept to create a digital twin of the human immune system. No large-scale digital twin of any human biological system exists, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced recently that it would consider supplementing or replacing clinical trials with models simulated on virtual patients. The team is developing infrastructure to help visualize the complexity of the immune system using state-of-the-art computing and artificial intelligence. The project includes eight researchers and 16 additional partners and advisers. The project received a five-year, $5,039,652 grant through the Grand Challenges initiative.

Project Team

Tomas Helikar (PI), biochemistry and computer science and engineering
Jiri Adamec, biochemistry
Lindsey Crawford, biochemistry, Nebraska Center for Virology and Nebraska Center for Integrated Biomolecular Communication
Bhanwar Lal Puniya, biochemistry
Changsoo Song, sociology, and Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium
Paul Velander, biochemistry, Food Science and Technology Center and Nebraska Extension
Hongfeng Yu, School of Computing and Holland Computing Center
Sara Aghamiri, biochemistry


Megan Elliott, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts
Hongfeng Yu, Holland Computing Center
Jim Bovaird, educational psychology, and Methodology, Analytics and Psychometrics (MAP) Academy
HyeonJin Yoon, MAP Academy
Neal Woollen, National Strategic Research Institute
David Berkowitz and Dr. Kenneth W. Bayles, Nebraska Drug Discovery Pipeline
Dr. Roslyn Mannon, internal medicine, UNMC
Louise Justement, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Sumali Pandy, Minnesota State University Moorhead; Rebekah Taylor, Frostburg State, all members of the Undergraduate Immunology Education Task Force
Matt Foley, Invest Nebraska and The Combine incubator


Dr. Kenneth W. Bayles, pathology and microbiology, UNMC, and Nebraska Drug Discovery Pipeline program
David Berkowitz, chemistry, and Nebraska Drug Discovery Pipeline program
David Bolinsky, E.mersion Studios
Dr. Pamela Boyers, surgery, UNMC
Chris Connelly, Streck
CJ Musante, Pfizer, and International Society of Pharmacometrics.
Robert Tercek, General Creativity
Rob Owen, Bio Nebraska

Quantum Business, Arts and Science for Society (Q-BASS)

Science literacy is a pervasive challenge, with understanding the complexity of quantum sciences being one example. Through “Quantum Business, Arts and Science for Society” — or Q-BASS — Kees Uiterwaal will lead a team of artists, physicists and education researchers to improve science communication through mixed reality — an interactive, computer-based experience that inserts three-dimensional objects into the viewer’s field of vision. The project aims to build two physics labs outfitted with augmented reality technology and open them to students and teachers; create an interactive, immersive arts installation; and conduct research on students’ understanding of quantum phenomena. The team will explore startup potential based on the research outcomes. Five co-investigators, an external partner and an advisory board will guide the work. The project received a two-year, $629,692 award through the Grand Challenges initiative.

Project Team

Kees Uiterwaal (PI), physics and astronomy
Herman Batelaan, physics and astronomy
Jesse Fleming, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts
Jinku Kum, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts
Alena Moon, chemistry
Chris Moore, physics, UNO

Advisory Board

Megan Elliott, Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts
Marc Fleury, JBoss LLC
Zane Gernhart, NUtech Ventures
Jay Vidyarthi, entrepreneur