UNLV Newsmakers 2021: Research | University of Nevada, Las Vegas – UNLV NewsCenter

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UNLV researchers made international headlines this year with their discoveries. Here’s a roundup of some of our top stories of 2021.
Scientists performing research at the UNLV School of Integrated Health Science’s Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience (Josh Hawkins/ UNLV Photo Services).
When the ongoing pandemic threatened to stall scientific exploration, UNLV student and faculty scientists across the hard sciences and humanities — in true Rebel fashion — only worked harder.
We made global headlines for carving a path to several “firsts;” embarking on literally out-of-this-world research, as well as finds scavenged from deep within the Earth’s underbelly; exploring the bounds of our minds and bodies as part of the search to eradicate disease; examining the future of technology and developing advancements that could help improve our health and economy; and closing out the year with a continuing recognition as one of the nation’s top research universities.
Below are just a few of the stories that outline UNLV contributions that brought us steps closer to understanding ourselves and our probing questions about the people, planets, and politics around us.
UNLV astrophysicist Bing Zhang was part of an international team of scientists who discovered the largest-ever observed set of mysterious Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) — finally providing a clue about the origins of the millisecond-long, cosmic explosions that each produce the energy equivalent to the sun’s annual output. The prestigious science journal Nature published researchers’ discovery of a cluster of more than 1,650 independent FRBs from a single source over the course of 47 days in 2019 via the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China. 
CNN, Scientific American, Newsweek, Vice, Salon, LiveScience, Sky & Telescope, New Atlas, Tech Explorist
In a star system 1,300 light years away from Earth, a team of UNLV astrophysicists and their colleagues may have identified the first known planet to orbit three stars. Media outlets around the globe picked up news of the out-of-this-world circumtriple orbit discovery, which was led by recent astronomy Ph.D. graduate Jeremy Smallwood and included contributions from UNLV researchers Cheng Chen, Rebecca G. Martin, and Jiaqing Bi. 
New York Times, National Geographic, CNET, New Scientist, International Business Times, Mashable, Forbes, Astronomy Magazine, EarthSky, CTV News, The Daily Beast, LiveScience, Daily Mail, Paradigm
In yet another first, UNLV geochemist Oliver Tschauner and colleagues discovered a new mineral on the surface of the Earth that — under normal circumstances — shouldn’t be able to exist here. Coined “davemaoite,” the mineral travelled from 410 miles deep within the Earth’s lower mantle, the area between the planet’s core and crust, entrapped within a diamond. It’s the first time that lower mantle minerals have ever been observed in nature because they usually fall apart before they reach the Earth’s surface, unable to retain their structure outside of a high-pressure environment, such as that provided by the diamond. 
NPR, Popular Science, CNN Indonesia, BBC News (Swahili), USA Today, CNET, NBC News, Inverse, Big Think, New Scientist, Eos National Jeweler, The Independent UK, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Saliva from 30 Las Vegans hitched a ride to space when a team of UNLV faculty from engineering and dental medicine partnered this summer with Colgate-Palmolive and NASA to send the first-ever private sector oral care experiment to the International Space Station. The experiment will help scientists learn how bacteria affect oral and overall human health on Earth versus in outer space.
Australian Broadcasting Corp., Sydney News Today, Guardian UK, MSN, Associated Press, ABC News, Los Angeles Times, Dental Tribune (twice) (thrice) (three times) (four times), Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, El Dentista Moderno, Gaceta Dental, Yahoo via KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KSNV-TV: News 3, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 Vegas, Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Daily Guardian
Coronavirus wasn’t the only health condition making prominent headlines in 2021. As news broke about the marketing of aducanumab, a new Alzheimer’s treatment, and ongoing research into the disease’s inner workings, scientists with UNLV’s Department of Brain Health were on the front lines.
Jefferson Kinney, founding chair, teamed with psychology colleague James Hyman on a study into the links between Alzheimer’s and diabetes on brain function and memory. Meanwhile, UNLV’s Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience director, Dr. Jeffrey L. Cummings, published several studies on new drug therapy funding and clinical trial pipelines, as well as pioneered the acquisition of a $3 million National Institute on Aging (NIA) award to support and expand the study of new treatments at the world’s only research observatory devoted exclusively to Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials and drug development.
As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged along for a second year, UNLV College of Urban Affairs professor Natalie Pennington released two studies documenting how the abrupt switch from face-to-face communication to online technology impacted our daily lives both at work and home. Based on futuristic TV shows and movies, you might have thought we were ready for a world with a hyperfocus on remote communication. But it turns out that newer tech options, like video chats, were linked to higher levels of stress — especially for working moms.
COVID touched many seemingly unrelated facets of our world, and the environment was no exception. As concerns flared over record-low water levels at Lake Mead, a team of UNLV economists published a study which found that COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders — and a subsequent societal shift to remote work — may be exacerbating the region’s drought problem. Lee Business School professors Nicholas Irwin, Ian McDonough, and Shawn McCoy called on government leaders to implement better infrastructure or water conservation processes to accommodate the prospect of people throughout the Las Vegas Valley and Southwest region spending more time at home. 
Associated Press, Kaiser Health News, KJZZ Radio Phoenix, Fronteras, KNPR, Nevada Current, Nevada Independent, Las Vegas Review-Journal, KVVU-TV: Fox 5 Vegas, KSNV-TV: News 3
It appears to be a matter of simple math: Gamblers are more likely to play the slots longer at casinos advertising that bettors have a higher chance of hitting the jackpot, right? Not so, according to research from UNLV hospitality professors Anthony Lucas and Ashok Singh. The team found that the house edge has little effect on how long a player will play. That is, gamblers can’t tell how much or how little casinos pay out in slot winnings — meaning that casinos are leaving literal money on the table. Gaming operators, researchers said, can work toward optimizing revenue by keeping more of gamblers’ money and focusing less on the house edge.
Published in the latest UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal, the study contradicts popular industry beliefs about how the house edge affects the slot player’s experience.
CDC Gaming Reports, Gambling 911, Gambling Insider, Travel Daily News, Phys.org
Calling all Transformers fans! A real-life version — in the form of a human-robot avatar system, through which a 5 ft. 5 in. humanoid robot can be controlled in real-time by a person using wearable technology — is under construction by students and faculty in UNLV College of Engineering professor Paul Oh’s lab. The team, nicknamed Avatar-Hubo, is one of just 15 worldwide picked to compete next fall for the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE. The worldwide competition draws top tech talent to begin work that will one day make it possible to transport the skills — and more importantly the physical presence — of scientists and medical professionals to rural and at-risk communities almost anywhere in the world without the need for practitioners to ever leave the office. 
KSNV-TV: News 3, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now
Two UNLV geoscientists continued their galactic work on NASA’s Mars mission. The Perseverance rover, which launched in 2020, landed on the Red Planet in February. The mission: Collect rock samples and seek any signs of ancient Martian life. Research professors Arya Udry and Elizabeth (Libby) Hausrath spoke to media outlets about their work with the rover and research on Martian geology.
The Washington Post, KNPR, Many Worlds, Nevada Current, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, El Tiempo, KLAS-TV: 8 News Now, KSNV-TV: News 3 (twice), KTNV-TV: ABC 13, KVVU-TV: FOX 5, RTS, Heidi.news
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