COVID-19 has captured the world’s attention for nearly a year. It’s turned our everyday way of life upside down - from work, to school, to business, to travel.
As the vaccine is distributed widely over the next few months and America’s economy continues to recover, communities can turn to their local universities as a resource for future economic and research development.
In Las Vegas, that resource is UNLV.
In the most challenging year in recent history, UNLV’s people and programs have continued to make strides in their research and contributions to economic development — contributions that have real-world applications for Nevada and its communities.
UNLV researchers in 2020 helped us understand how ancient central Nevada climate records can be a blueprint for climate change mitigation today. UNLV has shown it can be an incubation for innovations with the debut of a new gaming laboratory that will allow innovators to test ideas that can help the hospitality industry thrive now and into the future.
They’ve even made breakthroughs on a worldwide scale, with one UNLV researcher discovering the first-ever room temperature superconductor, what physicists call the “holy grail” of energy efficiency.
Below is a sampling of the ways that UNLV’s people and programs made the news in 2020 for these contributions and more.
Earth and Space
On Earth, UNLV scientists are developing plans and researching ancient climate records to ensure the planet is habitable in the decades to come. Meanwhile, another UNLV researcher is combating misinformation on everything from climate change to COVID-19, to science in general.
In space, multiple geoscientists are conducting research on Mars to determine the potential for habitation in the future, with two UNLV professors chosen for the Mars Perseverance Rover, which is currently cruising through space to reach its destination of the Red Planet.
Also in the Milky Way, UNLV astronomer Bing Zhang and colleagues are uncovering secrets about Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs - powerful, millisecond-duration radio waves coming from deep space.
- UNLV research professor Kristen Averyt discusses the state’s climate strategy plan and other climate concerns: The Nevada Independent (twice), KNPR, Reno Gazette-Journal, Wyoming Public Media
- UNLV climate scientist Matthew Lachniet links Arctic and tropical Pacific warming to ancient climate records from a cave in central Nevada: Inside Climate News, The Salt Lake Tribune, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Utah Public Radio, The Nevada Independent (twice), Reno News & Review, Wyoming Public Media
- Emma Frances Bloomfield on strategies to communicate with science skeptics: NPR, Business Insider, Well+Good, The Guardian, Grist (twice), Mic, MarketWatch, Morning Consult, Axios
- UNLV geoscientists Libby Hausrath and Arya Udry are headed to Mars, well, sort of! NASA’s Perseverance Rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021, and both Hausrath and Udry were chosen for the Mars 2020 science team. Other UNLV researchers are getting in on the action too:
- Bing Zhang explains the workings behind magnetars and FRBs: Vice, National Geographic, NewScientist, CNN, Space.com, New York Post, CBC News, Gizmodo, Popular Science
A Superconducting Society
It’s a discovery that’s been recognized by Physics World Magazine as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2020. UNLV physicist Ashkan Salamat and colleagues discovered the first ever room-temperature superconductor - what they call the “holy grail” of energy efficiency. The phenomena observed by the research team and reported as a cover story in the journal Nature has implications for how energy is stored and transmitted. It could one day change how everyday technological devices - from laptops to MRI machines - are powered, how people and goods are transported, and how the whole of society could operate years into the future. Salamat says he envisions a “complete transformation of tomorrow’s society.”
- Vice News (twice), The New York Times, Physics World, BBC, Medium, Science Mag, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lifewire, EurekAlert! (twice), Phys.Org, Scientific American, Futurism, Quanta Magazine, New Atlas, Ars Technica, SciTechDaily, KSNV-TV: News 3, Sci News, Wired, Futurity, BBC News Mundo, International Business Times, Inverse, Innovation Toronto
Innovating and Engaging
Shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut the world down, UNLV celebrated two major accomplishments in what seemed like a great start to what would be an even greater year. The university debuted Black Fire Innovation - a partnership with Caesars Entertainment to advance current trends in hospitality and gaming technology in a dynamic 43,00 square-foot space at the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park.
Also in January, UNLV received the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement, a gold standard achievement highlighting the university’s engagement practices that contribute to the public good while benefiting the university and its students.
While the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything upside down shortly after these announcements, it didn’t stop UNLV from building on the early accomplishments of 2020 by establishing other innovative and community partnerships, too. A sampling of these stories and more:
- Black Fire Innovation: KSNV-TV: News 3 (twice), Las Vegas Review-Journal, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KLAS-TV, CDC Gaming Reports, European Gaming, TUNF, World Casino News, Gaming Today, Associated Press
- Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement: Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Reno Gazette-Journal
- UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation partners with DraftKings on a $100,000 multiyear sponsorship agreement: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, Casino.org, KLAS-TV, CDC Gaming Reports, InkedIn
- UNLV hosts Rebel Science Camp to get local fifth graders energized about science: KSNV-TV: News 3, KTNV-TV: ABC 13
- The Sierra Accelerator for Growth and Entrepreneurship program is being expanded to UNLV with support from the Knowledge Fund at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development: Pahrump Valley Times
Keeping the Brain Healthy
UNLV’s Department of Brain Health continued to advance the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders in 2020 with the announcement of a new center, continued collaboration with community partners, and new research.
- The department unveiled the Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience this summer, offering hope through scientific discovery for patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia and other brain and neurological diseases: Las Vegas Review-Journal, Philanthropy News Digest
- In 2020, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings completed a five-year review of all Alzheimer’s drugs in the pipeline and commented frequently on new developments in the treatment of the disease: NeurologyLive, Science Magazine, EurekAlert!, Yahoo!, Business Insider
- The department continued its partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health on a project to establish an "exploratory" Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Nevada. This new concept, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will help create the infrastructure needed to grow a fully functioning research center focused on the state's rural population: Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Jefferson Kinney, chair of the Department of Brain Health, discusses traumatic brain injuries and their effect on behavior: Associated Press, Bloomberg, U.S. News & World Report
Helping the Hospitality Industry Recover
UNLV's $1 million Lee Prize competition, launched in April 2020, sought to discover and fund innovative technologies that would make the hospitality, travel, casino, sports & entertainment, and food & beverage industries safer for both employees and guests.
The competition received more than 250 submissions from 32 states and nine countries, but in the end, eight winners were chosen by the Lee School Prize Committee and collected $975,000.
One of those teams — Promethium — took the top prize of $250,000. Headed up by UNLV engineering students and alumni, Promethium is a virus-capturing HVAC system that can purify up to 4,000 hotel rooms at once.
- KTNV-TV: ABC 13 (twice), KNPR, Las Vegas Sun (twice), Travel Weekly (twice), Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice), KSNV-TV: News 3, KVVU-TV: Fox 5, Hotel Business, Crunchbase News
A Milestone Moment for Academic Medicine
UNLV Medicine’s first class is set to graduate in just a few months - a milestone moment to mark a yearslong effort to bring more doctors to Southern Nevada and bolster the community’s health care system.
To support continued growth, a group of donors have stepped in to fund the construction of a new medical education building - a 2020 milestone moment for the school. In coming years, the new building - which broke ground in October - will allow UNLV Medicine double or triple the number of students per class. It’s a welcome moment, especially as applications to the school continue to surge.
- Las Vegas Sun, KTNV-TV: ABC 13, Las Vegas Review-Journal (twice) (three times), The Nevada Independent (twice) (three times), KSNV-TV: News 3
A Research Roundup
- UNLV scientist Steve Rowland first announced the discovery of the Grand Canyon's oldest fossilized footprints at an academic conference in 2018. At the time, his discovery captivated media worldwide. He did it again this year when a full study on the discovery was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One:
- UNLV Public Health researchers Courtney Coughenour, James Abelar, Jennifer Pharr, Lung-Chang Chein, and Ashok Singh found that drivers of flashy cars are less likely to yield for pedestrians: USA Today, FOX Business, Yahoo! Finance, CNN, People, DailyMail, KSNV-TV: News 3, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now
- UNLV microbiologist Brian Hedlund and UNLV biochemist Ernesto Abel-Santos found that a high-carb, low-protein, and low-fat diet may be helpful in fighting off the hospital-acquired infection Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff: NDTV Food, Med India, Science Daily, News Medical
- Assistant professor of psychology Renato (Rainier) M. Liboro explains on CTV News the importance of understanding the experiences middle-aged queer males faced during the height of HIV/AIDS.
Learn about UNLV news as it happens at UNLV In the News.