A record-setting rodent, the long-sought solution to a football physics question, and mummy GI tracts providing evidence of early hospice care drew national media attention for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2020. More than 500 stories featuring the university, its faculty, staff, students, centers and programs appeared in national media outlets during the year.
During a February expedition, Jay Storz, Cather Professor of biological sciences, discovered that the yellow-rumped mouse — the world’s highest-dwelling mammal — lives higher than previously thought. Storz encountered the mouse atop the summit of a volcano on the Argentina-Chile border, at 22,110 feet, breaking the world record announced in 2019. The research is the beginning of a scientific quest to understand how these animals adapt to and survive extreme conditions. Stories on the research appeared in Forbes, National Geographic, Popular Science, Telemundo and The Week in March.
Tim Gay, Cather Professor of physics and astronomy, and colleagues recently solved a football physics conundrum: On a deep, well-thrown pass, why does the front tip of a football follow the ball’s trajectory, so that it points upward when launched but downward by the time it reaches a receiver? The answer lies in the combination of air resistance and the gyroscope effect. KLKN, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal published articles on the research in October.
Karl Reinhard, professor in the School of Natural Resources, and colleagues recently re-analyzed mummies found in Texas, Arizona and Utah and found evidence of what could be considered early hospice care, frequently in the form of distinctive foods that the individuals would have been too ill or too young to procure themselves. The research is detailed in a forthcoming chapter of “The Handbook of Mummy Studies.” Stories on the research appeared in Archaeology.org, Live Science, Phys.org and more than 25 other media outlets in December.
Inventors, innovators and trailblazers:
Xiao Cheng Zeng, Chancellor’s University and Willa Cather Professor of chemistry at Nebraska, helped explain the chemistry behind a promising new droplet-based prototype from colleagues at the City University of Hong Kong. After enough continuous droplets have struck its surface, the small electricity generator can house enough charge to power 100 LED lights. Stories on the research appeared in Popular Mechanics, SYFY Wire, Vice and several other media outlets.
Nebraska Athletics has teamed up with Opendorse to launch the Ready Now Program, a first-of-its-kind program designed to help student-athletes build their individual brands on social media. FiveThirtyEight and MSN Sports published articles on the program.
A study by Chris Bilder, professor of statistics, and colleagues was highlighted in a May 13 ABC News article on the possibility of using group testing as a way to make up for COVID-19 testing shortages. The researchers determined that five samples mixed together was the right number and said that implementing such a method would result in using 57% fewer tests on average to reach the same number of individuals. Bilder was also interviewed about group testing for stories in Live Science and the Omaha World-Herald.
A study co-authored by Philip Schwadel, Happold Professor and undergraduate chair of sociology at Nebraska, and Brandi Woodell, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, found that emerging adults with same-sex attraction are twice as likely to disaffiliate from organized religion than their heterosexual peers, but there was little change in prayer. Stories on the research appeared in Christian Century, Church Leaders, Phys.org, the Religion News Service, Science Codex and Scienmag.
James Le Sueur, Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations and chair of history, released his documentary “The Art of Dissent” in 2020. The film explores the role of dissidents before and after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Le Sueur wrote a July 11 guest column on the film for the Los Angeles Review of Books. The Boston Globe also highlighted the film in a Sept. 9 article on the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, where it screened. “The Art of Dissent” has garnered several awards, including best feature documentary at the Big Apple Film Festival.
Judy Diamond, professor and curator at the University of Nebraska State Museum; Liz VanWormer, assistant professor of veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences; and other Husker faculty are collaborating with Husker alumnus and industry veteran Bob Hall on a series of coronavirus-themed comics that aim to inform middle and high school students about the virus and help combat misconceptions among the public at large. SINC and the Lincoln Journal Star published articles on the comic series.
Mark Pegg, professor in the School of Natural Resources, and colleagues have found that pallid sturgeon stocked in a northerly segment of the Missouri River can live nearly three times longer, produce roughly 10 times as many eggs and weigh up to seven times more than specimens stocked on the Nebraska-Iowa border. Because the sturgeon at both locations came from the same genetic lineage, their disparities were likely driven almost entirely by differing characteristics of the river at the respective locations. Stories on the research appeared in the Omaha World-Herald, Science Codex, Scienmag and a few other media outlets.
“Concrete Atla(nti)s” by architecture graduate students Hannah Christy and Craig Findlay was named the student grand prize winner in Architizer’s 2020 One Drawing Challenge. The drawing offers a glimpse of recycling activities within the aging walls of a repurposed missile silo.
The Nebraska Repertory Theatre and the St. Louis Black Repertory Company have launched a two-year partnership that aims to bring about positive social change at the university and beyond. The collaboration included two virtual events in the fall and will feature a full-scale production to be staged in Lincoln in fall 2021 and a special event in spring 2022. The Lincoln Journal Star and American Theatre published articles on the partnership.
Jay Stafstrom, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and Husker alumnus; Eileen Hebets, professor of biological sciences; and Ronald Hoy, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, co-authored a study showing that the ogre-faced spider relies on hearing, rather than its massive eyes, to catch airborne prey. CNN.com published an article on the research. The story was picked up by more than 50 media outlets.
A genetically edited form of a herpes simplex virus — rewired to keep it from taking refuge in the nervous system and eluding an immune response — has outperformed a leading vaccine candidate in a new study from the University of Cincinnati, Northwestern University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Gary Pickard and Patricia Sollars, faculty in Nebraska’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, helped develop the vaccine. Stories on the study appeared in Pharmacy Times, Precision Vaccinations, Science Codex, Scienmag, U.S. News and World Report and more than a dozen other media outlets.
Trusted experts and recognized authorities
Eric Thompson, Nelson Professor of Economics and director of the Bureau of Business Research, continued to be a highly sought-after source on local and regional economics. Among the topics he discussed in 2020 were Nebraska and other Midwestern states’ low unemployment rates compared to other states amid the pandemic (CNN.com, May 12 and June 19; Stateline, July 10; Associated Press, Nov. 2; Axios, Nov. 23); the economic impact of Husker football game days (Bloomberg Tax, June 14); the 2020 Nebraska Thriving Index (RFD-TV, Sept. 8); and Nashville, Tennessee’s top ranking in the 2020 Barometer Report (WKRN, Oct. 6).
Deirdre Cooper Owens, Wilson Professor of History and director of the Humanities in Medicine program, was featured in several national news stories on race and public health. She discussed minority health disparities and how black America is responding to the pandemic (Blog Talk Radio, May 16); how the COVID-19 crisis might be a turning point in the fight against racial disparities in health care (The Nation, June 1); the legacy of J. Marion Sims, a doctor who experimented on enslaved women who could not consent (Montgomery Advertiser, July 30); and the United States’ mixed history of treating racism as a public health issue (Quartz, Aug. 1).
Justin “Gus” Hurwitz, associate professor of law and director of the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center, provided expertise on a number of technology-related topics in 2020. He discussed courts beginning to hold Amazon liable for defective products sold by third-party merchants (The Washington Post, Aug. 29); recent efforts by politicians to strengthen antitrust laws against Big Tech companies (Salon, Oct. 20, Nov. 10 and Dec. 3); a current U.S. Supreme Court case related to the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which outlaws robocalls (guest column for The Hill, Dec. 10); how the Federal Communications Commission under President Joe Biden might affect small businesses (Inc., Dec. 17); and calls to strip social media giants of Section 230 legal immunity (Washington Times, Dec. 31).
With drought worsening across much of the United States in 2020, the university’s National Drought Mitigation Center continued to be a trusted source for national media. The center and its experts were cited in stories in the Bay Area News Group (Feb. 13), Wired (March 2), HuffPost (May 20), NBC News (Aug. 10), Forbes (Aug. 20), RFD-TV (Aug. 25) and NPR (Sept. 26).
A sampling of other university experts quoted in 2020:
Cara Burberry, Earth and atmospheric sciences, October in National Geographic, study on ancient rockfall in Scotland.
Katie Edwards, educational psychology, February in The New York Times, Harvey Weinstein sexual assault trial.
Megan Elliott, founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, October on “The Virtual Excellence Show,” how Carson Center has adjusted to pandemic, and work being done by students and faculty in virtual and augmented reality; November on the “Creative Innovators” podcast, her background, what she’s learned as director and Carson Center’s curriculum and future.
Ingrid Haas, political science, October in Scientific American, research on political neuroscience.
Harris and Glennis McClure, also Nebraska Extension, July in Midwest Messenger, resources to help farmers with pandemic-related stress.
John Hibbing, political science, March in Washington Monthly, 2012 study suggesting conservatives are more attuned to potential threats; September on CNN.com, guest column on bridging America’s political divide; October in The New York Times, his new book, “The Securitarian Personality,” featured in David Brooks column; October in Bloomberg Government, state legislative races to control Congressional redistricting; November in the Los Angeles Review of Books, review of his new book; November on Australian Broadcasting Corporation, what’s next for Trump supporters.
John Hibbing and Kevin Smith, both political science, and Matthew Hibbing, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Merced, January in USA Today and Men’s Health, November in USA Today, Upworthy and the Sandusky (Ohio) Register, 2019 study on politics making Americans sick; John Hibbing, Smith and John Alford, professor of political science at Rice University, October in Scientific American, research on political neuroscience.
Tamra Jackson-Ziems, plant pathology, and Jenny Rees, Nebraska Extension, July in Successful Farming, Southern corn rust moving into southern Nebraska.
Patrick Jones, history and ethnic studies, and Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, psychology, June in the Associated Press, George Floyd protests.
Willis-Esqueda, June in Vox, whether anger over systemic racism and police brutality would translate into action.
Brad Lubben, agricultural economics, February in Brownfield Ag News, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag Outlook Forum; April on RFD-TV, Nebraska Rural Poll; October in High Plains Journal, farm economy; November in Brownfield Ag News, impact of election results on agriculture.
Kate Lyons, biological sciences, April in Scientific American, study showing that mammalian fossils from current geologic age will consist almost entirely of humans, livestock and pets; December in Phys.org, ScienceDaily, Scienmag and more; study she co-authored suggesting that persistence of large, land-dwelling mammals in Indian Subcontinent is related to their long coexistence there with homo sapiens and other human ancestors.
Shab Mohammadi, biological sciences, July 3 in The New York Times, study showing caecilians’ mouths might be rimmed with venom-tipped teeth; September in The New York Times and Smithsonian.com, study on Australia’s stinging trees.
Chigozie Obioma, English, January in E! News, “An Orchestra of Minorities” named top-20 book to read in 2020; February in Noted, his work and home country of Nigeria; February in Literary Hub, “An Orchestra of Minorities” featured; March in Fair Observer, his career, novels and colonialism in African literature; March on ABC Radio’s “The Book Show,” how Nigerian culture influenced “An Orchestra of Minorities”; May in Quartz, “The Fishermen” and “An Orchestra of Minorities” featured; June 8 in the London Evening Standard, “An Orchestra of Minorities” featured; June in Literary Hub, his favorite children’s books; July in PEN America, Just Press Play playlist; October on Blog Talk Radio, “An Orchestra of Minorities”; November in The Atlantic, “The Fishermen” featured; December in Broadway World and the Evening Express, BBC to broadcast radio version of “The Fishermen” play; December in The Bookseller, Evening Express and more, selection as Booker Prize judge.
Josephine Potuto, law, March in The Washington Post, NCAA eligibility relief for athletes who had their seasons canceled due to pandemic; April in Education Dive, financial impact of pandemic on university athletic departments; August in the Wall Street Journal, conferences deciding whether to postpone or cancel 2020 football season.
Sue Sheridan, children, youth, families and schools, November in The Washington Post, parent-teacher relationships with distance learning.
Kevin Smith, political science, May in the Washington Examiner, October in The Hill, possibility of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District providing deciding vote in 2020 presidential election; November in USA Today, America’s “toxic political environment.”
Stephen Spomer, entomology, May 4 in National Geographic, endangered habitat of Salt Creek tiger beetles.
Frans von der Dunk, space law, January in Civilized, legality of smoking cannabis on moon; January on Spacewalks, Money Talks podcast, his work and current state of space law; June in University of Auckland’s Big Q series, guest column on NASA’s Artemis Accords; June in Publimetro, commercialization of space; September on 7NEWS, Russia’s claim to own Venus; November in Business Insider, legal aspects of SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars; November in Scientific American, Artemis Accords; December in the Independent, setting up an extraterrestrial government.
Andrea Watson, animal science, September in Live Science, why humans can’t fully digest corn kernels.
Joe Webber, journalism, December in the Miami Herald, guest column on continuing threat of Islamist terrorism.
Yiqi Yang, textiles, merchandising and fashion design, and biological systems engineering, April in the Wall Street Journal, effectiveness of face masks.
University Communication tracks faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media and reports upon them month by month. If you have additions to this list, contact Sean Hagewood, news coordinator, at email@example.com or 402-472-8514. If you have suggestions for national news stories, contact Leslie Reed, public affairs director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-472-2059.