Research with impact

A month-by-month reflection of UND research successes throughout the 2018-19 academic year

Jonathan Geiger

UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences Jonathan Geiger shows up on our list twice and for very good reason.

UND Today would like to salute all of the dedicated researchers and creative thinkers on campus whose talents, masterworks and discoveries are driving innovation close to home and around the world. These men and women, representing nearly all schools and colleges on campus, were at it again over the 2018-19 academic year.  From Rural Heath and Communities to Autonomous Systems and almost every discipline in between, the collective efforts of these individuals are attracting more external research money, despite a challenging funding landscape, and bettering the world around them  — all the while raising the prestige of the University. Below is a month-by-month reflection of some of these successes.

Thomasine Heitkamp

Thomasine Heitkamp and colleagues have secured millions in federal funding to address mental health concerns and drug and alcohol addiction in under-served areas of North Dakota and rural America. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.


As a result of leadership in the fields of substance abuse prevention and mental health treatment, UND’s College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines was selected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration to co–administer a new Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer Center. The selection was accompanied by a five-year funding commitment of $3.8 million to oversee work in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah. Thomasine Heitkamp, newly minted Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Graduate Nursing at UND, serves as principal investigator.


Jonathan Geiger, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, was named to a multi-university, multiple principal investigator team that received a four-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, totaling more than $2.25 million. The grant award, which, in part, funds studies on controlling epileptic seizures in people, marked the first time that a faculty member at UND was the recipient of three simultaneously held R01 grants from the NIH as a principal investigator. NIH R01 grants are considered one of the most prestigious grants for which individuals can apply, and funding for these grants is extremely competitive.

Saleh Faruque, professor of electrical engineering who holds 19 patents and helped launch the wireless age, published the fifth book in his radio frequency series: Radio Frequency Multiple Access Techniques Made Easy.

The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy awarded $200,000 to the Center for Rural Health’s Lynette Dickson and Shawnda Schroeder for the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Planning to increase access to substance abuse prevention and treatment services for rural populations across the country. “The primary purpose of this one-year grant is to establish a strong consortium that will work together to identify areas of need in our rural communities and brainstorm a strong and sustainable plan for addressing those rural community needs around opioid use disorder prevention, treatment, or recovery,” said Schroeder, an assistant professor at the Center and the principal investigator for the CRH project.

Eric Burin

UND History Professor Eric Burin. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.


The Digital Press at UND announced a timely, relevant and path-breaking new publication edited by history professor Eric Burin. Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America spotlights the demonstrations associated with Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player who in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to discrimination and injustice. The book officially launched Oct. 16, the 50th anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s famed protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Amy Whitney

UND’s Center for Innovation was awarded $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to launch a new University Center for Autonomous Systems Innovation. “This funding helps the Center for Innovation springboard UAS commercialization efforts at UND and in Grand Forks,” Amy Whitney, director for the Center for Innovation, said. “We are excited to build on the foundation of excellent work already happening, and look forward to partnering with autonomous systems industry leaders in the region to ensure North Dakota’s leadership in the UAS industry.”

Marcus Weaver-Hightower, professor in the Educational Foundations and Research program, was named to the editorial board of the journal Sex Roles, the top-ranked journal internationally in women’s and gender studies. Established in 1975, it is also among the longest established academic journals in feminist and gender studies. Weaver-Hightower will serve a two-year term, providing his expertise in gender and sexuality in education, particularly for boys and men, and in qualitative research methods.

Faculty members in the Department of Biomedical Sciences were awarded important research grants for a variety of years-long research projects: Min Wu, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, received the first-year installment ($347,500) of a four-year, $1.75 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH for a project titled “Long noncoding RNAs interact with miRNAs to Regulate Inflammatory response.” Mikhail Golovko, received the first-year installment ($208,500) on a two-year $382,000 grant for his project titled “Neuronal-specific Fatty Acid Synthesis Activation as Protective Mechanism under Hypoxia.” And Alexei Tulin received a two-year cancer research award worth $100,000 from the Mary Kay Foundation for a project titled “New class of Non-NAD-like PARP-1 inhibitors: an effective strategy targeting drug-resistant breast cancer.”

Associate Dean of the College of Education & Human Development Anne Walker, along with Cheryl Hunter, chair of the Department of Teaching, Leadership & Professional Practice, secured a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to bring its first cohort of 14 students to campus to train teachers in the Lakota language and earn their degree in elementary and secondary education. Graduates will teach elementary and secondary learners at tribal and reservation schools in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Holly Brown-Borg

In recognition of her work, Brown-Borg was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science  in November for distinguished contributions to the biology of aging.


Holly Brown-Borg, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for distinguished contributions to the biology of aging. Brown-Borg is an expert on aging, endocrinology, metabolism and oxidative stress. She has dedicated her career to determining how the pathways and mechanisms that hormones utilize may suggest potential therapeutic interventions that could lead to strategies to delay aging, treat aging-related disorders, and extend life span in humans.

Surojit Gupta, associate professor of mechanical engineering, was chosen to receive the Young Leaders Professional Development Award from TMS, The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society’s Functional Materials Division. The TMS Young Leaders Professional Development Award was created to help early career professionals to more fully participate in TMS activities, become better acquainted with their peers and the Society, make important contacts with TMS leaders, and network with prominent Society members.

The NIH selected Jonathan D. Geiger to serve as the chair of the HIV Co-Morbidities and Clinical Studies (HCCS) grant review study section for the institute’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR). This is the second NIH study section that Geiger has chaired. Previously, he was the chair of the NeuroAIDS and Other End-Organ Disease study section. This year, the NIH CSR reorganized all of its nine HIV/AIDS study sections into six study sections. The HCCS is a brand new study section that will review NIH grant submissions on commonly seen organ diseases.

A team of UND student researchers won the 2018 Ken Souza Memorial Student Spaceflight Research Competition, and for its efforts were awarded $1,000 grant and a free ride into space for their science project aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. The competition encourages student investigators to develop and compete original research proposals in the fields of space life and physical sciences. UND Space Studies Professor Michael Dodge was the team’s faculty advisor.

UND, working with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and private-sector partner Harris Corp., made autonomous industry history in December with the first successful test flight over specially designed UAS network for Beyond Visual Line of Sight navigation.



UND’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS), along with research partners from Harris Corporation and the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site (NPUASTS), achieved a major industry milestone on Dec. 21, with the first-ever test flights over a specially developed UAS network of technologies, opening the skies for broad commercial use of drones. Mark Askelson, interim executive director of UND’s RIAS and an expert on the use of radar technology, said the successful test flights in North Dakota are a big step toward unleashing a multi-billion-dollar industry for unmanned capabilities.

Collette Adamsen, director the National Resource Center on Native American Aging received $285,000, the first installment of a 25 ½-month, $385,000 American Association of Retired Persons award. The NRCNAA’s mission is to identify and increase awareness of Native elder health and social issues and to empower Native people to develop community-based issues. Adamsen’s many responsibilities include conducting research on health disparities among American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian elders across the country.

The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Committee on the Status of Women invited Jyotika Sharma, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, to chair a roundtable discussion on “Grant Writing for Principal Investigators” for the AAI’s meeting this month.


Paul Snyder


Australian technology startup Bee Innovative and the UND Department of Aviation signed a memorandum of understanding to partner on drone use in agriculture. The agreement outlines Bee Innovative’ s extensive experience in tracking honeybees in real time for precision pollination in Australia with UND’s global leadership in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Agriculture and honey production are an important part of North Dakota’s economy. “At UND, we are the epicenter of research and education in unmanned autonomous systems,” said Paul Snyder, director of the UAS Aviation Program at UND. “We are pleased to develop this strategic international relationship, leveraging our joint international expertise to solve real problems that directly benefit North Dakota and the entire international community.”

Faculty members in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and colleagues were awarded research grants in January: Mandi-Leigh Peterson, a senior research analyst at the Center for Rural Health received a $115,000 award from the North Dakota Department of Health for behavioral health workforce development research. At the CRH, Peterson focuses on rural health workforce and is developing a database to organize statewide information and is estimating projections as to future healthcare workforce needs in North Dakota. Saobo Lei received the first-year installment of a two-year, $695,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH for a project titled “Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Vasopressin in Anxiety.” Sarah Sletten and James Porter, and Don Warne, director of the School’s Indians into Medicine program, received the first-year installment of a $322,260 grant from the DHHS-NIH for a project titled “Indians into Medicine: Native Educator University Research Opportunity in Neuroscience.” The project will help the School develop a program for recruiting American Indian students into neuroscience research. Barry Milavetz, received the first-year installment of a two-year DHHS-NIH award worth $139,000 for a project titled “Epigenetic Regulation of the Establishment of an SV40 Infection.”


UND Petroleum Engineer Mehdi Ostadhassan, was one of five national scholars who had novel ideas for 3D printing included in a recent article in Nature magazine, titled “Five innovative ways to use 3D printing in the laboratory.” Ostadhassan explained how he uses 3D printing to create “rocks” to explore new ways to optimize oil and gas exaction from North Dakota’s porous but challenging Bakken Formation.

Pablo de León

UND Space Studies Professor Pablo de León and colleagues test out his UND-developed NDX-1 spacesuit to see if space travelers can perform various tasks in hars space environemnts, such as on the moon or Mars.  Pieces of the UND-designed spacesuit were launched into space in April to spend a year on the International Space Station undergoing rigorous tests Image courtesy of Pablo de León.


Soojung Kim

Soojung Kim

UND’s RIAS, along with research partners from Harris Corporation and the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, successfully completed initial field testing for a first-of-its kind command and control (C2) ground radio network to support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights this week. The global UAS industry is forecasted to be a $100 billion sector by 2026. Mark Askelson repeated his projection that the activation of the BVLOS C2 service moves North Dakota closer to unleashing this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Pieces of fabric from a UND-developed NDX-1 spacesuit was launched into space aboard a Northrup Grumman “NG CRS-11 Cygnus” Resupply Mission on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch took place at the Wallops Flight Facility in Greenbelt, Md. Wallops is operated by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The MISSE program provides long-term exposure of materials to the inhospitable environments of space environment, according to Pablo de León, a space studies professor at UND and primary inventor of the NDX-1 suit. All the materials are slated to remain in space for at least one year, allowing researchers to assess long-term impact of temperature extremes and radiation on their performance.

Feng Xiao and Naima Kaabouch from the College of Engineering & Mines, Xiaodong Zhang from John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, and Julia Xiaojun Zhao and Deborah Worley from the College of Education & Human Development were awarded a five-year grant of $649,791 from the National Science Foundation to support high-achieving and financially-needy STEM undergraduate students at UND.

Assistant Professor of Communication Soojung Kim received the Itterman Faculty Professional Development Award, given annually to one faculty member within the College of Arts & Sciences in recognition of their exemplary teaching, research and service.