Skip to content. Skip to main navigation.

Winter 2016

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.


Innovation Through Collaboration

Through collaborative innovations in cancer detection, anger management, tissue repair, and more, UTA is emerging as a leader in the life and health sciences.
by amber scott

Photograph by c.j. Burton/Corbis

The moments before the fist clenches are critical. For a domestic violence offender, a clenched fist usually accompanies a growing surge of anger and diminishing impulse control. It’s a perfect storm of firing neurons that means a physical act of aggression is likely to follow.

But if the abuser were better able to recognize those initial swells of anger, he might have enough time to employ anger management tools and diffuse the volatile situation. The storm would be diverted, the fist unclenched, and an innocent person left unharmed.

Quantifying that awareness of emotion is the goal of an interdisciplinary team at The University of Texas at Arlington. They’re trying to pinpoint the brain signals associated with anger.

“We are attempting to use a quantitative method to measure a suggestive feeling,” explains J.-C. Chiao, professor of electrical engineering and principal investigator for the project. “Once you quantify it, you can do anything with it.”

“Overall, our goal is to have a holistic continuum from beginning basic studies all the way to delivering results that impact the health of our community and society in general.”

In this case, “anything” could mean a wearable device that detects when the brainwaves associated with anger begin to increase. The device would signal to the wearer that an outburst is imminent, giving him the opportunity to exercise learned techniques to calm down or even to leave the situation.

“If we can give people tools to help control and manage their anger, I know a lot of offenders who would jump at that chance,” says co-researcher Anne Nordberg, assistant professor of social work. “It could help offenders avoid re-offending and reduce recidivism.”

Peter Lehmann, professor of social work, notes that mitigating instances of domestic violence can be extremely beneficial for society as a whole.

“Interpersonal violence is a serious social problem that impacts millions of women and children in this country on a daily basis,” he says. “It’s an incredible social problem that has psychological, emotional, and financial costs to every community in this country.”

This potentially groundbreaking project couldn’t exist without the combined insights of a variety of experts. In total, six professors are addressing the issue from social, psychological, and data-driven perspectives. In addition to Drs. Chiao, Nordberg, and Lehmann, the project includes Jodi Tommerdahl, associate professor of education; Shouyi Wang, assistant professor of industrial, manufacturing, and systems engineering; and Yuan Bo Peng, professor of psychology. Dr. Tommerdahl is an expert on electroencephalogram recording; Dr. Wang’s research focuses on the analysis of high amounts of data; and Dr. Peng is a neuroscientist studying neural pathways in the brain.

“That’s the power of a group—we plan, strategize, think, and implement—but that’s just the beginning,” Lehmann says. “We’re a long way off from anything definitive, but we all have a collective wish or aspiration to do something good. It’s pretty humbling to be in the company of such competent professionals.”

Fooling Cancer

Collaborative efforts like the anger study are a growing trend in life and health science research, as solving complex problems requires multidisciplinary perspectives and expertise. But for those issues that have persisted despite years of focused research, an innovative approach is also crucial.

Scientists have long known that the key to successfully fighting cancer is early detection. Now, electrical engineering Associate Professor Samir Iqbal has discovered a new tool in this effort: mimicry.

In an attempt to look at cancer at the cellular level, Dr. Iqbal and his team—which includes Young-tae Kim, bioengineering associate professor; students Adeel Sajid and Mohammad Raziul Hasan; and recent Ph.D. graduates Muhymin Islam and Mohammad Motasim Bellah—are developing a cancer detection tool that mimics the natural functioning of cancer cells in the body.

“The answer came in creating a nanotextured wall that fools blood samples into thinking it’s actual tissue,” Iqbal says. “We used the properties of the cell walls to create a diagnostic tool. The cancer cells behave differently as they come into contact with nanotextured walls—they dance.”

That cellular dance sends a signal to doctors that cancer cells are present. Once pinpointed, they can start treatment earlier than current technology allows.

“Dr. Iqbal and his colleagues are bringing engineering innovation to meet the challenge of early cancer detection,” says Khosrow Behbehani, professor and former dean of the College of Engineering. “His device could greatly improve cancer survival rates, which is good news for humanity.”

CAREER Engineers

UTA will bring even more innovation to the life and health sciences as it adds new faculty to its roster of world-renowned professors and researchers. Duane Dimos, vice president for research, notes that the University’s ability to attract fresh talent only increases its output of bold solutions that create a global impact.

“As I’ve spent time observing UTA’s trajectory, I’ve seen that there are many capabilities we already have in the areas of life and health science research, and we keep expanding those capabilities,” he says. “With terrific new hires joining an already stellar faculty, we have a lot of people who have great ideas and expertise. You put that together and we have the opportunity to cultivate an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to life and health science research that will be really powerful.”

An example of that stellar faculty is Yi Hong. The bioengineering assistant professor was recently awarded a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program grant for his work in synthesizing a new family of conductive biodegradable polymers. These polymers have various potential biomedical applications, including tissue repair.

“I am very interested in developing new biomaterials and new implants to solve problems in clinical applications and to answer some important, fundamental questions in biomedicine,” Dr. Hong says. “I hope that my efforts can help relieve patient pain and promote recovery from disease and injury.”

The CAREER grant is the NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty. Hong is one of four assistant professors at UTA to receive the award in 2016. Yuze “Alice” Sun (electrical engineering) won the grant for her work to create a versatile biosensing platform; Junzhou Huang (computer science and engineering) received his for developing computational tools that integrate very large, complex image-omics data into manageable files; and Ankur Jain (mechanical and aerospace engineering) was awarded for his research on how heat flows in materials within a lithium ion battery (read more about his work).

Over the last three years, five other UTA faculty members, including Iqbal, have won NSF CAREER awards.

“The prevalence of CAREER awards at UTA exemplifies the high quality, early-career faculty we have here,” Dr. Dimos says. “Their innovative thinking is how UTA researchers make a significant impact on the world around us.”

The planned Science and Engineering Innovation and Research building will encourage collaboration in the life and health sciences

Science On Display

The University’s emphasis on faculty development, collaboration, and innovation is embodied in a new development on the UTA campus, the Science and Engineering Innovation and Research (SEIR) building.

The 200,000-square-foot limestone, glass, and steel structure will house faculty and students in “neighborhoods” related to health science and biomedical engineering. The space will include large, multi-use collaborative areas, classrooms, lecture halls, and research and teaching labs. Interior glass walls around collaborative lab spaces will allow first-year students to watch the work being conducted inside.

“This ‘science on display’ aspect is designed to inspire students to become interested in research and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Dimos says. “As we continue to strengthen research at UTA, the SEIR building will be critical to boldly advancing our strategic goals in health research.”

The SEIR building, which recently had its groundbreaking, is expected to open in 2018. Research like the digitizing anger project, Iqbal’s cancer cell detection method, and Hong’s innovative polymer will find a comfortable home there—as will the many life and health science projects already underway at UTA.

Looking toward the future, Dimos expects that SEIR will help UTA emerge as a leader in the field, increase research activity, and attract more top research prospects.

“To be a great university, a university must combine outstanding teaching and instruction, community service, and excellence in generating new knowledge. This is something that UTA does very well,” he says. “Overall, our goal is to have a holistic continuum from beginning basic studies all the way to delivering results that impact the health of our community and society in general.”