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Newsmakers 2017: Research

UNLV researchers made international headlines this year with their discoveries. Here's a round up of some of our top stories of 2017.

Research  |  Dec 26, 2017  |  By Keyonna Summers
Alyssa Crittenden

Alyssa Crittenden, assistant professor of anthropology at UNLV helped conduct a study on the sleep patterns of the Hadza population in Tanzania. (Courtesy Alyssa Crittenden)

From community impact to truly out-of-this-world findings, scientific exploration that helped people make sense of themselves and the world around them well positioned UNLV to achieve its goal of becoming a top research university. 

Student and faculty researchers examined everything from the food we eat to the economies of other countries to the survival of humans (or other species!) on other planets. Here are just a few examples that made the news in 2017.

Astronauts and Cancer Risk

The cancer risk for a human mission to Mars has effectively doubled following a UNLV study predicting a dramatic increase in the disease for astronauts traveling to the red planet or on long-term missions outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field. The research was led by UNLV professor Francis Cucinotta, a former NASA scientist and a leading scholar on radiation and space physics, and featured in dozens of publications around the globe.

Walking While Black

A study led by UNLV public health professor Courtney Coughenour found that motorists approaching mid-block crosswalks are less likely to yield for black pedestrians than white pedestrians. And, the pedestrian bias is apparently even worse in high-income than low-income neighborhoods. Researchers say the findings — which replicate and expand on the results of a similar study out of Portland — may help explain why people of color are disproportionately affected by fatal pedestrian crashes. The study went viral, and even inspired a skit on the Comedy Central show "Hood Adjacent."

Japanese Integrated Resorts

Entities from around the world look to UNLV's International Gaming Institute (IGI) for resources and training to help them get ahead.That cross-continental impact was seen this year when Japanese government officials and business leaders commissioned research led by IGI's Bo Bernhard, Brett Abarbanel, and Jennifer Roberts to guide their nation in launching Japan’s first integrated casino resorts. IGI's two extensive reports — which examine socioeconomic impact and ways to eliminate organized crime in casino management — offer recommendations gleaned from the Nevada's own history.

Sleep's Relation to Age and Evolution

Insomnia may be an age-old survival mechanism, according to UNLV anthropologist Alyssa Crittenden and researchers from Duke University and the University of Toronto, Mississauga. The joint study found that mismatched sleep schedules and restless nights may be an evolutionary leftover from a time many, many years ago, when a lion lurking in the shadows might try to eat you at 2 a.m. Scientists observed modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania and concluded that, for people who live in groups, differences in sleep patterns commonly associated with age help ensure that at least one person is awake at all times.


A placebo-controlled study led by UNLV anthropologist Daniel C. Benyshek and co-author Sharon Young last year found that consuming encapsulated human placenta, a growing practice known as placentophagy, as a source of dietary iron offered no benefit to postpartum mothers. New findings released in 2017 concluded that eating placenta had little to no effect on postpartum mood, maternal bonding, or fatigue. Researchers found that ingesting placenta capsules produced detectable but small changes in hormone concentrations that show up in a mother’s circulating hormone levels.

What's In a Name?

A three-part study, conducted in the U.S. and the U.K. and led by a UNLV psychology professor Rachael Robnett, found that men whose wives retain their own surnames after marriage are seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship.

Water on Mars

UNLV geoscience professors studying minerals in meteorites found that Mars and the early solar system may have had more water than previously thought.

Learn about UNLV news as it happens at UNLV In the News