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Newsmakers 2016: Research & Economic Development

UNLV researchers and inventors made national headlines this year with their discoveries. Here's a round up of some of our top stories of 2016.

Research  |  Dec 28, 2016  |  By Keyonna Summers
researchers test drone

UNLV engineering professor Si Jung “SJ” Kim, undergraduate researchers Tw Lee and Martin Jaime-Viveros are developing the Flying Circus, a troupe of performing drones. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)

From drones to health and medicine, UNLV faculty and students are making new discoveries, solving critical problems, and finding ways to help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. 

Below are highlights of research and discovery at UNLV that made headlines in 2016.

Fancy Feet

You might need to literally walk a mile in someone's shoes to find the best fit, according to UNLV research out of Allied Health Sciences. Professor John Mercer and his students examined several decades' worth of styles of running shoes and found that popularity (minimalist vs. heavily-cushioned shoes) is usually based on the whims of advertisers at a given time instead of science. Turns out, there's no one-size-fits-all rule about which is best. Rather, the answer is unique to each individual, and his or her body and exercise needs. 

Placenta Pills

A research team led by UNLV medical anthropologist Daniel Benyshek found that eating encapsulated human placenta, a practice known as placentophagy, may not be as good a source of dietary iron for postpartum mothers as proponents suggest. The breakthrough placebo-controlled pilot study, the first of its kind on the increasingly popular practice, garnered headlines in dozens of publications around the world.


UNLV researchers, led by Community Health Sciences epidemiologist/biostatiscian Paulo Pinheiro, examined the effect cancer has on minorities and other people locally, nationally, and abroad. One study found that survival rates stand nearly 5 percent below the national average for Southern Nevadans and are especially low for the state's black and Filipina women. The other, which is believed to be the first of its kind to explore differences in cancer deaths between U.S.-born blacks and those born in the Caribbean, shows that birth country — rather than race alone — appears to play a major role in the types of cancer and mortality rates of black people living in America.

Student Inventions 

Driving economic development in Nevada is part of UNLV's Top Tier vision, and it can happen in many different ways. UNLV's rising drone studies minor, student technology creations, and faculty insight into new ideas all play a role in moving Southern Nevada forward.

Somewhere Out There

Using the most recent results from the Kepler space telescope, scientists from UNLV and the SETI Institute, which searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life, have identified a new kind of planetary system. UNLV astrophysicist Jason Steffen and SETI scientist Jeffrey Coughlin have shown that there must be a population of planetary systems whose formation or dynamical history are distinct from their counterparts across the galaxy. 

Wearable Technology

Smartwatches that help you track daily steps and heart rate? That’s old hat, according to UNLV researchers who have recently licensed their latest patent for a fitness tracker that makes calorie-counting as easy as taking a picture. Professors in engineering and nursing set out to up the ante in the wearable technology industry by creating a device that combines and exceeds the best of existing activity-tracking devices such as Fitbit. UNLV’s version — which will merge current fitness assessment functions with camera and scanning technology that allows users to photograph their food and find out its nutritional content, including the caloric value, based on the type of food, portion sizes and fat content — is currently in the commercial development stage under an agreement with MealCheck Technologies, Inc. 

Music & Video Games

No time or resources for formal musical training? A study released by a team of UNLV psychology professors found that people who frequently play music video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band outperform non-musicians on musical listening skills, such as the perception of melody, tuning, tempo, and rhythm. Researchers say the study was the first to suggest that musical aptitude can be higher among individuals who engage in informal music activities that do not involve playing a musical instrument. So turn on your XBox or Playstation, raise the volume, and start jamming! It might just improve your ears.