petri dish and beakers containing liquids

Newsmakers 2018: Research

In 2018, faculty and students collaborated with one another and international colleagues on scientific exploration that sought to help people make sense of themselves and the world around them.

It was a banner year for scientific exploration, with the university closing out 2018 with an announcement that UNLV is now recognized as one of the nation's top research universities — and we did it seven years ahead of schedule. 

Student and faculty researchers examined everything from the gadgets and gizmos that have infiltrated our daily lives to the prehistoric people and animals here on Earth (or those that might be waiting to be discovered on other planets). Here are just a few examples that made the headlines in 2018.


Google. Facebook. YouTube. Spotify. Apple. Living in modern society means navigating a litany of machines and the effects they unwittingly have on us. UNLV researchers this year analyzed what keeping up with the Joneses means for our physical, mental, and social well-being.  

iPads Can Be Literal Pain in the Neck

“iPad neck" — persistent pain in the neck and shoulders from slouching or bending into extreme positions while using tablet computers — is a growing problem among Americans. A study led by UNLV physical therapy researchers looked at the toll persistent tablet use can have on our bodies, who’s most susceptible to health impacts (women and young adults), and what can be done about it. Several hundred outlets reported on or picked up the story, and it continues to make the rounds today.

Technology Overload

Technology carries the promise to make our lives easier, but at what price? UNLV sociologist Simon Gottschalk argued in new research that humans need to resist “terminal” logic – our insatiable reliance on technology – as the current pace of engagement is drastically impacting our sense of self. Essentially, our “new normal” isn’t quite so normal. In fact, it could be destructive to our physical, mental, and social health. Slowing down may seem unrealistic in today's on-demand society, but Gottschalk says it's essential for creativity and innovation. A piece he wrote for The Conversation US was the second-most top read 2018 contribution from UNLV, was translated to Spanish, and was named by the site as a top four "essential read" on modern loneliness.

Face the Music

UNLV psychology researcher Joanne Ullman and professor N. Clayton Silver surveyed college students to gauge the effectiveness of music piracy warnings, and found that privacy threats are just as effective at scaring off illegal downloaders as big fines. The findings were published by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.


From the first humans on Earth to the newest, UNLV researchers shed light on the legacies we inevitably leave behind for future generations.

Societal Trends Reflected Through Grad Caps

When graduation season arrives, so does the growing tradition of students bedazzling their mortarboards with everything from sequins to funny, political, and inspirational sayings. UNLV professor Sheila Bock, a folklorist and pop culture expert, has for three years been tracking what grad cap decorations reflect about pop culture and societal trends, studying students from coast to coast who choose to wear their proverbial hearts on their hats. Bock's research gained coverage in more than 370 publications.

Bon Voyage

Modern humans may not have been the first travelers to cross the seas. Professor emeritus, anthropologist, and archaeologist Alan Simmons studied ancient peoples' voyages on the Mediterranean, and found that Stone Age mariners may have crossed the seas more than 130,000 years earlier than scientists thought — and may have even included Neanderthals. 


From the earth’s core to outer space, UNLV researchers were busy in 2018 exploring our origins and the impact on our futures.

    Volcano, a Tiny Glass Shard, and Climate Change

    Our ancestors not only survived a massive volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago, they may have flourished during the resulting climate change that occurred, a Nature study by UNLV geoscientist Eugene Smith and colleagues found. The conclusions counter previously held beliefs that the eruption of an Indonesian super volcano – called Mount Toba – and the resulting “winter” of ash and smoke spread thousands of miles and nearly wiped out humans.

    Ice, Ice Baby

    Geoscientist Oliver Tschauner and colleagues discovered the first direct evidence that water pockets may exist deep in the Earth’s mantle. The team analyzed unique impurities in diamonds pushed from deep inside the Earth and found first naturally occurring example of the mineral ice-VII. The findings were published in the journal Science.

      Somewhere Out There

      UNLV astrophysicist Jason Steffen and undergraduate student Ian Rabago published a study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society which explored the possibility of life on the moons of rogue planets—solitary planets ejected from their host star which drift through the galaxy. Steffen also weighed in NASA's mission to use the Kepler and TESS telescopes to explore distant planets, and explained the Super Blue Blood Moon.

      Martian Fossil Hunters

      UNLV research could help assess landing locations and excavation sites for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover mission that hopes to find evidence of past life in the red planet’s rocks. A team of geoscientists – including professor Libby Hausrath and former student Seth Gainey – recreated clay minerals akin to those on Mars and published their work in Nature Communications.

      Out of This World

      UNLV first-year-graduate student Shangjia Zhang and astrophysicist/professor Zhaohuan Zhu led an international team of astronomers on a study that used the powerful ALMA telescope to discover that in other parts of our Milky Way there is potentially a large population of young planets — similar in mass to Neptune or Jupiter — at wide-orbit that are not detectable by other current planet searching techniques.

      Animal Planet

      Paleontologist and longtime UNLV geology professor Steve Rowland helped student and community researchers analyze two prominent prehistoric discoveries. This summer, his lab combed over fossils from an extinct Columbian mammoth — a massive, elephant-like creature that died standing up roughly 20,000 years ago and was preserved that way as the vast wetland it once called home slowly turned to desert outside the Nye County community of Amargosa Valley. In the fall, he began investigating a 310 million-year-old fossil trackway from ancient reptilian creature that left footprints in a fallen boulder that's passed daily by hikers traversing the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park.

      After the Fire

      Disastrous megafires spread through northern California this year, devastating many communities. Wildfires are also occurring more frequently throughout the West in recent years, and Lee Business School economics professor Shawn McCoy examined the tendency of people to purchase homes in areas that have been through wildfires. 


      Achievements in the humanities, sciences, and more helped launch UNLV to the top of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education's short list, where we joined the ranks of just 130 institutions nationwide classified as “very high research activity” – or R1 – the gold standard for university research metrics. Earning the top Carnegie classification was part of UNLV's Top Tier Initiative, a campuswide strategic plan to become one of the nation’s top public universities in research, education, and community impact by 2025. 

      You Might Also Like

      tourists on Las Vegas Strip
      Research | January 11, 2019
      Eadington lecture explores how local governments around the country can balance security and hospitality in their venues.
      Linda L. Berger and Ann C. McGinley
      Research | January 4, 2019
      Boyd professors contribute to Feminist Judgments series, exploring how key legal opinions might have differed if viewed through a feminist prism.
      A portrait of George Rhee, a professor of physics and astronomy at UNLV.
      Research | January 4, 2019
      UNLV physicist developed a calculator to compute the significance of using renewables in a warming world.