Report on Research 2014-2015

Dan_JaffeOur scientists and scholars work in many disciplines but they are united in the common purpose of advancing knowledge. Scholarship is a vital part of The University of Texas at Austin’s mission to the people of Texas. Moreover, we believe that the undergraduate and graduate students of the university can receive an education of the first class only if the research conducted at this university is also of the first class.

Daniel Jaffe
Vice President for Research

Research Resources

Construction on the infrastructure for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is underway in the Atacama Desert, a remote spot high in the Chilean Andes. The GMT is poised to become the world’s largest telescope when it begins early operations in 2021, producing images 10 times as sharp as those delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope. The unique design of the telescope combines seven of the largest mirrors that can be manufactured, each 8.4 meters (27 feet) across, to create a single telescope effectively 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter.

Giant Magellan Telescope

The archives of Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez were acquired and opened for research at the Harry Ransom Center. The Center also acquired the works of noted British writer Kazuo Ishiguro and Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal.

A Grand Challenges Explorations prize from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help undergraduate researchers create diagnostics to test mosquitos for blood-borne pathogens such as malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya virus.

A new cyberinfrastructure effort funded by a $13.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help engineers build safer structures that can better withstand natural hazards such as earthquakes and windstorms. The Cockrell School of Engineering team will use analytics, storage, visualization and cloud technologies at the university’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to develop DesignSafe, a resource-sharing Web platform that will enable computer models and simulations of natural hazards that can be validated against real-world data.

A National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant will make many of the first books printed in the Americas available for the first time in digital full-text format, thanks to innovations in optical character recognition (OCR) technology.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) received approval from the UT System Board of Regents to expand its facilities. TACC’s facilities are home to computing, data, and visualization resources as well as expert staff that support cutting-edge scientific research on such topics as predicting hurricanes and developing new energy sources.

Innovation and Enterprise

Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), which acts as a Japanese government agency, will work with UT on using alternative energy sources to power some of its high-performance computers. Specifically, the project will install and test key components of an efficient, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) data center infrastructure and a new solar farm at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

The Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) has received a $3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to further advance the storm surge predictive simulations that have helped Texas emergency managers develop some of the country’s most successful hurricane evacuation plans.

The Texas Health Catalyst is a new initiative that will tap leading experts from throughout the region and country to ensure that the campus’s best health-focused research is transformed into new drugs, devices and health products to benefit patients, health care providers and the public.

Health

The Dell Medical School welcomes the first class in 2016 and begins to implement innovative academic programs, with the goal of creating a model healthy city and community.

Med School building rendering

UT researchers have long worked on issues related to health and wellness. Jaquelin Dudley, a professor of molecular biosciences, and her team have discovered a new way to manipulate how cells function, a finding that might help advance an experimental approach to improving public health: DNA vaccines, which could be more efficient, less expensive and easier to store than traditional vaccines.

James Booth, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, received a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the neural basis of language development in order to better identify and treat children with learning impairments.

Researchers also received $4 million to develop techniques for imaging and manipulating the activity of neurons in the brain, studies that will help scientists explore the mechanisms of addiction, obesity, fear and many other brain states and disorders.

Rehab Robot HARMONY, developed by researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering, is the first-of-its-kind; a two-armed, robotic rehabilitation exoskeleton that could provide a new method of high-quality, data-driven therapy to patients suffering from spinal and neurological injuries.

Health research isn’t limited to the lab. Amid concerns that immigrants may pose a threat to American society, a new study showed that immigrant teens are less likely to engage in violent behaviors, crime and drug use than their U.S.-born counterparts.

Medicare, already the costliest public health insurance program in the world, is costing taxpayers an excess of $2 billion annually because of a practice called “upcoding” in private Medicare Advantage plans, according to research by economics professor Michael Geruso.

Climate

Across campus and the world, researchers are engaged in the study of a changing climate and its impact: past, present and future.

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today’s environmental conditions.

A well-known period of abrupt climate change 12,000 years ago occurred rapidly in northern latitudes but much more gradually in equatorial regions, a discovery that could prove important for understanding and responding to future climate change.

A new technique to track water flowing in glaciers, pioneered by UT scientists, is an essential step to understanding the future of the world’s largest glaciers as climate changes.

At the same time, research has shown some coral populations already have genetic variants necessary to tolerate warm ocean waters, and humans can help to spread these genes.

Arts and Humanities

While William Shakespeare lived four centuries ago, new discoveries are still being made. Through the use of text-analysis software, psychology researchers identified him as the author of the long-contested play “Double Falsehood.” And a printer’s ornament on the title pages of the Bard’s earliest works suggests that from an early stage in his career, he received significant support in fashioning a unique brand.

Lady 8 ornament

Human trafficking is a hidden but global problem. The Texas Slavery Mapping Project will examine the scope of human trafficking in modern-day Texas in an effort to help prevent exploitation and to care for survivors.

Natural Sciences and Engineering

Biologists discovered that despite a billion years of evolution separating humans from the baker’s yeast in their refrigerators, hundreds of genes from an ancestor that the two species have in common live on nearly unchanged in them both.

A team of scientists and engineers identified the first sensor of the Earth’s magnetic field in an animal, finding in the brain of a tiny worm a big clue to a long-held mystery about how animals’ internal compasses work.

Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering have created the first transistors made of silicene, the world’s thinnest silicon material. Their research holds the promise of building dramatically faster, smaller and more efficient computer chips. Research advanced smarter window materials that can control light and energy.

Engineers developed a centimeter-accurate GPS positioning system that could revolutionize geolocation on virtual reality headsets, cellphones and other technologies. Researchers also developed a new energy-absorbing structure, inspired by honeycomb design, that will better withstand blunt and ballistic impact.

Awards

President Barack Obama honored the GeoFORCE Texas program, a mentoring program in the Jackson School of Geosciences, with the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

President Obama also appointed UT economics Professor Sandra E. Black to the three-member White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

Björn Engquist and George Georgiou were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for their work in mathematics and biochemistry.

A neuroscientist, a chemical engineer, a mechanical engineer, a molecular biologist and a pharmaceutical researcher were elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Andrea Alù, received the prestigious 2015 Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation. He’s the first recipient from a Texas university to receive the honor, which comes with $1 million of research funding.

Architecture student Jessica Glennie and chemical engineering student Sai Gourisankar were awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most distinguished graduate scholarships in the world

The National Science Foundation (NSF) selected 36 students from UT for the Graduate Research Fellowships Program, giving the university the 12th highest number of NSF graduate fellows in the country in 2015.

UT is ranked No. 19 in the world for high-impact science, according to the Nature Index, which tracks publication in the world’s top research journals — the latest in a series of global rankings that recognize UT Austin among the world’s elite research universities.

Funding Numbers

Research expenditures at The University of Texas at Austin have averaged $623 million over the past four years. Most of the funding comes from federal research agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.

Research expenditures

2014-2015 Research Expenditures