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Not-So-Gross Anatomy, Cat-Walking Lizards, and Doubles Champs

A round up of news briefs from the fall 2018 issue of UNLV Magazine.

Campus News  |  Sep 3, 2018  |  By Cate Weeks

In Living Color

Traditionalists may balk — the cadaver lab is a rite of passage for doctors, they say — but the UNLV School of Medicine’s anatomy lessons are formaldehyde-free. Instead, on oversized touchscreens, students explore anatomy through 3D images of real bodies alongside their CT scans and MRIs. It offers an oddly more realistic dive into the human body, according to second-year student Sierra Kreamer-Hope. As an undergraduate at UNR, she spent hours dissecting cadavers. It’s a labor-intensive, not to mention expensive, way to learn anatomy. “If nothing else, this makes learning more streamlined,” she said, “but I think it also helps us make the connection between both form and function. In cadaveric anatomy, everything turns gray because of the formaldehyde. It all looks the same — the nerves, the veins — and tissues just fall apart. You’re not seeing them in color, you’re not seeing what you’ll actually see as a doctor.” — Cate Weeks

Three Things About … Javon Johnson

Javon Johnson, director of UNLV's African American/African diaspora studies, has been at home on stage since he began reciting speeches in church as child and then became an All-American national speech and debate champion. In grad school, he began building a fan base as a poet and spoken word/slam artist. A video of his spoken word piece “cuz he’s black” has more than 2.1 million views on YouTube.  Now the author of Killing Poetry: Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communities is helping students understand blackness in social, cultural, literary, and historical contexts.

He grew Up in Los Angeles

“It was 1980s South Central — crack infested, high gang culture. I believe there are structural impediments that don’t allow people to live their fullest and freest lives, and it creates a space that almost demands a certain kind of hostility. (But) I didn’t know it was terribly bad. I didn’t know I was poor until much later in life. Community played a major role in coming together and taking care of its children. I had a good childhood.”

He is a three-time national poetry slam champion

“Whatever success I have being booked as a poet or a speaker, it’s not overnight. It’s been a mountain of work that’s culminated into this moment and more work that will culminate into other moments. It may look like overnight because you may not have known me yesterday, but it is work. Every day I write something. Every day I read something.”

He’s not an “academic interested in art”

“I’m an artist who’s interested in academia. That trajectory is the best way to name how I came here. Now I’m here, and they pay me to teach and research about a number of things. I’m still a creative person at heart — sometimes more than the academy would like. The poetry thing was more intentional; the academic thing was more free-flowing. 

“Becoming a professor “never crossed my mind as a desire. …The textbooks named what I already knew to be true in my bones. The way in which we discuss poverty, racism, structural sexism, and all these other problematic “isms” in academic texts — these are things that I experienced.”


Doubling Down on the Awards

The La Voz law student organization at the Boyd School of Law was once again named the national law student organization of the year by the Hispanic National Bar Association. The group’s mission is to empower its members and increase diversity in the legal profession through community engagement, education, and mentorship. Its members foster mentoring among high school, college, and law students with local attorneys.

A UNLV student team won the Institute of Management Accountants national case competition. It was the second-straight year that a UNLV team was the best in demonstrating its mastery in applying classroom studies to real-world issues. UNLV’s second team in the competition also made it to the finals. The win comes on the heels of accounting major Simon Zhu taking first place in the 2018 Collegiate DECA International Career Development Conference in Washington, D.C. Zhu is the first student from Nevada to win first place internationally in the competition.

Boyd Gaming Serves Up $5 Million 

Above, sophomore Erin Davis, a Mountain West Conference scholar athlete awardee last season, plays in an August exhibition game. Rebel volleyball starts 2018 under new coach Dawn Sullivan, with a young squad to match — there’s just one junior and one senior. 

The team will get to mature under a more robust athletics department, as Boyd Gaming Corp. has chipped in with a $5 million, multi-year commitment. The investment will go toward a new video board in the Thomas & Mack Center this season and the establishment of a Student-Athlete Excellence Center inside Lied Athletic Complex dedicated to leadership, health and wellness, and outreach. The money also will be used to add a clubhouse to Eller Media Stadium for the softball team. 

Ready for My Close-up 

In life sciences professor David Lee’s comparative biomechanics lab, researchers are asking the evolutionary questions behind how animals — from this cat gecko to rodents to goats — get around. What they’re learning is informing the design and control of legged robots and robotic prosthetics on humans. 

Doctoral student Kit Knight built this “skywalk” with 3D-printed parts and GoPro cameras to compare arboreal and ground-dwelling lizards. Most lizards shimmy on their bellies or rely on forward velocity to propel themselves across a branch without falling, but some of the better tree-climbers use grip, much like humans. By sectioning the skywalk’s “branch” and attaching transducers, Knight can measure both torque and force of the lizard’s limbs individually — data that hasn’t been collected before. “I’m asking the evolutionary question of how lizards began climbing using grip,” Knight said, “but ultimately I want this to help build better robots to go where humans can’t.” He points to the Fukushima power plant explosion as an example. “With this kind of information, I’m envisioning robots that can maneuver down destroyed staircases and cave-like hallways to clean up toxic materials.”