Nebraska in the national news: July 2019

· 10 min read

Nebraska in the national news: July 2019

A phenotyping robot developed at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln drew national media attention in July. The stories were among 45-plus featuring the university’s faculty, students, alumni and programs during the month.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Chris Dunker reported July 6 that a team of plant scientists and biological systems engineers at Nebraska has built an automated system capable of detecting an individual corn leaf and grasping it with precision to quickly measure its temperature, cholorophyll and water content. Phenotyping is traditionally done by hand in the field, with a small set of tools, pen and notebook.

“The challenge is we need to score bigger and bigger populations as we do more and more complicated breeding tasks,” said James Schnable, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, and team member. “And the total population of students interested in spending their summers in cornfields as steam is coming out of the mud is not getting any bigger. That’s why we need more complicated technology to look at much bigger experiments across more environment.”

The robot has gone through a series of tests in Nebraska’s Greenhouse Innovation Center, with mixed results. It will soon be tested on a robotic platform that would allow for automated data collection across hundreds of field acres.

The research team also includes Abbas Atefi, doctoral candidate in biological systems engineering; and Yufeng Ge and Santosh Pitla, both associate professors of biological systems engineering.

Stories on the project appeared in at least six other Nebraska media outlets and about 70 others nationwide, including the Charlotte Observer, Houston Chronicle and Kansas City Star. The project was highlighted in USA Today’s 50-states feature on July 19.

More coverage:

Husker researchers Caleb Roberts, postdoctoral research associate; Craig Allen, School of Natural Resources; and Dirac Twidwell, agronomy and horticulture, have found evidence that multiple ecosystems in the U.S. Great Plains have moved substantially northward during the past 50 years. and Yale Environment 360 ran articles on the research.

Simanti Banerjee, agricultural economics, was interviewed for a July 1 Nova article on a new study showing that many cocoa farm workers aren’t benefiting from Fairtrade certification. She said one possible solution could involve a system in which groups of farmers monitor each other to ensure that certain labor standards, including income and working conditions, are upheld.

Christopher Gustafson, agricultural economics; and Eliana Zeballos, a researcher from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, have found that people may subconsciously underestimate the number of calories they order when dining out. ran an article on the research July 1.

A 2014 survey by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was cited in a July 1 Vice News article on a Massachusetts police officer facing 40 years in prison for allegedly raping a homeless 16-year-old. The survey found that 14.5% of adolescents experienced rape or sexual assault while living on the streets.

Land values have declined in Nebraska for the fifth-consecutive year, according to the latest Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey conducted by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Farm Journal’s AgPro published an article on the survey results July 1. Jim Jansen, Nebraska Extension, was quoted in the story.

CU Boulder Today published a July 1 article on the Targeted Observation by Radars and Unmanned Aircraft Systems of Supercells (TORUS) project. Led by Adam Houston, Earth and atmospheric sciences, the project features more than 50 scientists and students from Nebraska, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University and the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

WeatherNation published a July 23 story on the TORUS project, which ended its fieldwork June 15. The researchers spent 32 days on the road, logging more than 9,000 miles and observing 19 supercell storms and at least eight tornadoes.

Margaret Jacobs, history, was interviewed for a July 2 Time magazine article on the court battle over Native adoptions, specifically the Indian Child Welfare Act. Jacobs discussed efforts in the late 19th century and much of the 20th century to assimilate Native children by placing them with white families.

Brett Ratcliffe, entomology, named three scarab beetle species after Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons in “Game of Thrones” in 2018. The naming was mentioned in recent IFL Science and articles about a new species of bee fly named after the Night King from “Game of Thrones.”

Chigozie Obioma, English, headlined the Africa Writes festival July 7 at London’s British Library. The acclaimed author discussed his work, inspiration and publishing journey in a July 4 preview article on the Bookseller website.

Obioma also discussed how the literary classic “The Palm-Wine Drinkard” by Amos Tutuola inspired him to become a writer July 8 on BBC News’ Cultural Frontline podcast.

Obioma’s second novel, “An Orchestra of Minorities,” recently made the 2019 Man Booker Prize longlist. His debut novel, “The Fishermen,” made the prize’s shortlist in 2015. Stories on the longlist appeared in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, BBC News and The Guardian.

A recent paper on microfluidics by Stephen Morin, chemistry; Sangjin Ryu, mechanical and materials engineering; and colleagues was featured in a July 8 Advanced Science News article.

Frans von der Dunk, space law, wrote a July 20, 2018, piece for The Conversation on who owns the moon. He explained that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 established the moon as a sort of “global commons” legally accessible to all countries, but that it failed to address the commercial exploitation of natural resources on celestial bodies. The article has been picked up by 60-plus media outlets across the country, including 30-plus outlets in July 2019.

Von der Dunk also discussed the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and who owns the moon July 20 on “The Craig Silverman Show” on KNUS; what a space war might look like and questions about moon mining July 24 on The Conversation’s To the Moon and Beyond podcast; whether nations are allowed to colonize the moon in a July 24 Vice article; and issues surrounding the new space race in a July 24 Reuters story.

The New York Times recently named “Cockroaches” by Scholastique Mukasonga one of the 50 best memoirs of the past 50 years. “Cockroaches” was translated from French to English by Jordan Stump, modern languages and literatures.

Jack Beard, law, was quoted in a July 11 Agence France Press story on whether the hundreds of artifacts left on the moon from space exploration should be protected. He said creating exclusionary zones around heritage sites runs up against the basic premise of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Marilyn Stains, chemistry; and Robert Erdmann, a researcher now at the University of Minnesota Rochester, have developed Classroom as Genome, a genetics-inspired approach to better analyze and interpret the data collected from classrooms. ran an article on the approach July 12.

Laura Muñoz, history and ethnic studies, was interviewed for a July 15 Washington Post story on why many Latinos in the United States aren’t fluent in Spanish. Muñoz said English-only curriculum was the status quo in American schools in the early 20th century. She said she has seen a recommitment to Spanish among her generation.

The university’s Lewis Training Table was highlighted in a July 16 USA Today list of the best college nutrition facilities.

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln team of engineers and drillers recently used a Husker-developed hot-water drill to tap into Antarctica’s subglacial Lake Mercer. The researchers were part of the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access expedition, a United States-led, multi-institutional effort. The researchers found the carcasses of tiny crustaceans and a tardigrade preserved under the ice. E&T Magazine highlighted the expedition in a July 17 article. Dennis Duling, lead driller for the Nebraska drilling team, was interviewed for the story.

A 2016 study by Kathryn Higgins and Arthur Maerlender of Nebraska’s Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior and Robert Denney of Neuropsychologial Associates of Southwest Missouri was cited in a July 20 Psychology Today blog entry on athletes needing regular neurocognitive checkups. The researchers developed a stealth equation for identifying athletes who “sandbag” during baseline concussion tests.

Jay Storz, biological sciences, was interviewed for a July 22 National Geographic article on the yellow-rumped leaf-eared mouse, recently discovered to be the world’s highest-dwelling mammal. Storz said the species is able to survive at high altitude through “a whole suite of physiological changes,” such as slower muscle metabolism and a specialized cardiovascular system.

The Space, Cyber and Telecommunications Law program in the College of Law was mentioned in a July 22 USA Today story on space-themed jobs. Nebraska’s space law program is one of only two in the United States and four in the world.

Don Meier, a Husker alumnus and benefactor who created “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” died July 13 at age 104. KMTV, the Omaha World-Herald, Chicago Tribune and Reel Chicago published articles on the Windy City filmmaker. Barney McCoy, broadcasting and journalism, was quoted in the KMTV and World-Herald stories. McCoy was mentored by Meier and produced a documentary on him and “Wild Kingdom.”

John Hibbing, political science, was quoted in a Pacific Standard article on Robert Mueller’s July 24 congressional testimony on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The story said both Democrats and Republicans likely only heard what they wanted to hear, an effect called motivated reasoning. People “love to find information that supports their biases, and they discount information that is inconsistent with their biases,” Hibbing said.

Martha Shulski, Nebraska state climatologist and director of the Nebraska State Climate Office, was featured in the CBS News documentary “A Climate Reckoning in the Heartland,” which aired July 28. The documentary focuses on March’s record-breaking flooding in the Great Plains.

The Seattle Times published a July 28 article on Norris Haring, a University of Washington professor, pioneer of special education and disability rights advocate who died June 27 at age 95. Haring earned a master’s degree from Nebraska.

Hannah Esch, a senior animal science major who runs Oak Barn Beef in Unadilla; and recent Husker alumni Matt and Joe Brugger, who run Upstream Farms in Albion, were featured in a July 29 Christian Science Monitor article on a new generation of rural entrepreneurs staying in or returning to the Great Plains. Tom Field, director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at Nebraska, was also interviewed for the story.

BBC News published a July 29 blog entry on cryoseismologist and Husker alumna Celeste Labedz, who recently received attention on Twitter for posing as “glaciologist Princess Elsa” — donning the character’s signature blue cape with her fieldwork gear. Labedz was conducting research at Alaska’s Juneau Icefield, investigating the use of seismometers to detect earthquakes on glaciers, when she decided to have a bit of fun. The tweet has received more than 10,000 “likes” and inspired other “science princess” photos.

Xin Qiao, an assistant professor at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, was quoted in a July 29 New York Times article on an irrigation canal breach near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, that has left more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Nebraska and Wyoming without water at a critical point in the growing cycle. Qiao predicted that because of the canal failure, farmers in the affected area could harvest up to 90 percent less corn, 70 percent less edible beans and about half as many sugar beets.

Eric Berger, law, was quoted in a July 29 article in The BMJ on the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it would resume executing prisoners after a 16-year moratorium. He said the federal government might find it difficult to acquire the execution drug pentobarbital and that litigation is certain.

Kurt Geisinger, educational psychology, was quoted in a July 30 ABA Journal article on the State Bar of California providing essay question topics to those preparing to take the upcoming state bar exam. The rare move followed an email error.

Fire-starting drones developed by the university’s NIMBUS Lab were highlighted in a July 31 Athlone News column. The drones can execute controlled burns in hard-to-reach locations.

Heather Hallen-Adams, food science and technology, was interviewed for a July 31 LEO Weekly article on the growing popularity of kombucha. She said research on kombucha’s health benefits is in the early stages and not yet conclusive.

Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media are logged at
 If you have additions to this list, contact Sean Hagewood at or 402-472-8514. If you have suggestions for national news stories, contact Leslie Reed at or 402-472-2059.

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