Volume 19 - 2010
UNT - University of North Texas - Discover the Power of Ideas

Science, Scholarship &
the Arts at the University of North Texas

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UNT Honors Faculty

To recognize faculty achievements in research, scholarship and creative activities, UNT’s Office of Research and Economic Development has begun honoring faculty members from all disciplines at an annual reception. The 2009 outstanding researchers were:

Kent Chapman, professor of biological sciences and director of UNT’s Center for Plant Lipid Research, recipient of the Research Leadership Award, recognizing a veteran faculty member who has made substantial contributions and achieved national or international recognition through research excellence and leadership. Chapman is internationally known for plant lipid metabolism research and holds two patents and four pending patents.

Gerald Knezek, Regents Professor of learning technologies and director of UNT’s Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning, recipient of the Competitive Funding Award for garnering the highest total amount of newly awarded competitive research funding during the previous fiscal year. For example, he has a National Science Foundation ITEST grant that is helping students monitor energy consumption.

Harlan Butt, Regents Professor of studio art and metalsmith artist, recipient of the Creative Impact Award, honoring the faculty member whose work in the literary or creative arts has had the greatest societal impact. Butt exhibits his work all over the world and is best known for his cloisonne vessels formed by hand, hammer and sometimes spinning lathe.

Paolo Grigolini, professor of physics, recipient of the Decker Scholar Award for outstanding research in the natural sciences, computational sciences or technology. Grigolini studies the science of complexity, a developing interdisciplinary field with applications from condensed matter to sociology, psychology and economics.

Rada Mihalcea, associate professor of computer science and engineering, recipient of the Early Career Award for Research and Creativity for having outstanding research accomplishments within her first 10 years. Mihalcea was honored by the White House with the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Angela Wilson, professor of chemistry and co-director of the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling, recipient of the Teacher Scholar Award, given to a mid-career faculty member who demonstrates excellence in research or creative productivity while also performing as an extraordinary teacher. Wilson has won multiple national and international awards, including an NSF CAREER award, and developed the first web-based graduate course in computational chemistry in the U.S.

Green Research Clusters

This image of a fiber grown by faculty member Kevin Stevens in the new plant materials research cluster was produced by graduate student Shailesh Vidhate using equipment at UNT’s Center for Advanced Research and Technology.

Courtesy of Nandika D’Souza

Two new collaborative research clusters focusing on sustainability and environmental issues will build on innovative research already under way at UNT and bring the total number of active research clusters to seven.

Faculty researchers from the materials science and engineering, biological sciences, chemistry and engineering technology departments will concentrate on the properties of plant materials and how they might be adapted to create new bioproducts. And researchers from the philosophy and religion studies, biological sciences, studio art, and library and information sciences departments will establish a long-term ecological research site in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve in Chile, building on UNT’s strength in sub-Antarctic biocultural conservation and environmental science.

UNT’s collaborative research clusters are funded through a $25 million commitment by the university announced last year as part of a long-term effort to bolster research, strengthen the state’s economy and develop technology vital to addressing today’s most pressing needs. Because of the investment, UNT has hired several new faculty members, including senior-level researchers with national and international reputations.

The initiative enhances and expands innovative research already in progress at UNT by bringing together faculty from across colleges and disciplines to work together, exchange ideas and explore solutions.

Institute for the Advancement of the Arts


Sunflowers (2009), Digital Chromogenic Lenticular photograph, 29” x 48”

From Dornith Doherty’s Archiving Eden project

Continuing its legacy of excellence as a center for artistic expression and education, UNT launched the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts in fall 2009 and welcomed artist-in-residence Guillermo Arriaga, whose films include the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning Babel. Designed to support accomplished professionals in the visual, performing and creative literary arts, the institute also opened UNT on the Square, its new home in downtown Denton.

Inaugural faculty fellows Dornith Doherty, professor of studio art, and Cindy McTee, Regents Professor of music, are working on creative projects full time this spring. Doherty, an award-winning photographer, is taking X-ray images of seeds and cloned plants at international seed banks and incorporating them into digital collages for several major exhibitions. McTee, who won the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers, is composing a piece the orchestra will perform in June and creating a transcription for UNT’s Wind Symphony.

Plant Defense

Jyoti Shah

Arming plants with more effective natural defenses is the aim of Jyoti Shah, who has two new grants from the National Science Foundation.

Photo by: Angilee Wilkerson

New research at UNT aims to lessen the need for costly pesticides by arming plants with more effective natural defenses. Jyoti Shah, associate professor of biology, received more than $1 million in two grants from the National Science Foundation to improve the understanding of plant responses to stress.

With one grant, researchers will study plant defense against the green peach aphid, a tiny insect that can feed on more than 50 kinds of plants, essentially stealing nutrients and reducing crop productivity. In previous research at UNT, a gene involved in the metabolism of trehalose, a sugar present in trace amounts in plants, was found to help defend against aphids. Shah will study how this gene and the metabolism of trehalose contribute to defense and whether they can be engineered to enhance resistance.

With a second grant, Shah will continue to work with researchers at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri at St. Louis to understand how the oxidation of lipids contributes to stress responses in plants. Shah is part of UNT’s signaling mechanisms in plants cluster, a seven-person group of plant science researchers exploring plant signals that control growth and defense against pathogens with the intent of developing new technologies in agriculture and medicine.

Immigrant Research

UNT faculty teamed with students

UNT faculty teamed with students from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in Toluca to gather information about microenterprises in Mexico.

Courtesy of Michael McPherson

Since 2002, UNT faculty members have received almost $3 million in external funding to support immigrant-related research. In fall 2009, the university founded the Immigrant Research and Policy Center in an effort to encourage interdisciplinary research in this field. Todd Jewell, professor of economics and director of the center, says its goal is to become a nationally recognized source and repository of immigrant-related research, examining the immigration experiences of populations in many regions of the world.

In a recent study, researchers from the center have joined with researchers from UNT’s Center for International Economic Studies and Research and the economics and geography departments to examine microenterprise performance in Mexico. Microenterprises — businesses with 30 or fewer employees — make up 95 percent of all businesses in Mexico and account for an estimated 40 percent of employment. The belief is that increasing Mexico’s standard of living through microenterprises would likely increase American exports to Mexico and reduce the pressure for Mexicans to emigrate.

The researchers — Jewell, Jose Martinez, Michael McPherson, David Molina and Jeffrey Rous from economics and Donald Lyons and Murray Rice from geography — are studying geographically clustered similar businesses to determine if they attract more customers, such as car dealerships do in the U.S., and if networking among similar businesses may help entrepreneurs become better at running their businesses.

Science Education Alliance

Freshman biology students

Courtesy of Lee Hughes

Through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance, freshman biology students isolated bacteriophage from local soil samples and extracted DNA. After sending off a sample from one of the isolated bacteriophage (below) for sequencing, the students are analyzing and annotating its genome this spring.


Photo by: David Garrett

In fall 2009, freshman biology students at UNT took part in an innovative higher education program designed to involve them in scientific discovery. UNT was the first university in Texas chosen to join the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance, which provides research and lab materials in addition to staff support. The students isolated bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, from locally collected soil samples, purified and characterized the bacteriophage and extracted its DNA.

During winter break, the purified DNA from one of these isolated bacteriophage was sent to the Joint Genome Institute at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to be sequenced. This spring, the students are using bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate their bacteriophage’s genome — a portion or all of which may be previously unknown to science.

The new approach is being incorporated into the lab components of Principles of Biology I and II, freshman-level courses taught by Lee Hughes, assistant professor, and Robert Benjamin, associate professor. The initial offering of the research laboratory section enrolled 24 students.

Modeling Glass Formation

Zhibing Hu, Regents Professor of physics, is helping to develop a new and potentially better way to model the formation of glass in his work with researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities. The November 2009 issue of Nature describes the research team’s method to enhance the basic understanding of glass formation using a suspension of soft colloids as a model. Although the methods for making glass have been known for centuries, scientists had yet to understand the principles that govern the rate at which glasses solidify.

Colloids are used to model solidifying glasses because the colloids are much larger than glass molecules, making their dynamics easier to study. Hu helped design the new colloids, composed of hydrogel materials that are soft and deformable and more closely model the behavior of glass.

Hu and the other researchers found that the rate at which the colloids solidify depends on their softness, or elasticity, indicating that elastic energy plays an important role in glass formation. The researchers say the exploration of other soft colloids could further the understanding of glass formation and lead to improvements in its design and manufacturing.

Energy Efficiency

Researchers at UNT’s Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning are addressing the shortage of technology workers in the United States. Middle Schoolers Out to Save the World is being funded by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program.

Through the program, about 600 students from seven middle schools in Louisiana, Maine, Texas and Vermont began testing the energy efficiency of digital-to-analog converter boxes and other household appliances and electrical devices in September, determining the number of watts consumed in the active and standby modes. The results will be used to build accurate models of energy consumption that can be used to develop new, greener products.

Gerald Knezek, professor of learning technologies and director of the Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning, is the principal investigator for the project, working with associate directors Tandra Tyler-Wood, associate professor of educational psychology, and Rhonda Christensen, research scientist. By giving the middle school students the task of tracking the amount of energy they use in their daily lives and determining ways to conserve energy, the UNT researchers hope to stir their interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Computer-Mediated Communication

UNT’s new Computer-Mediated Communication Laboratory, only the third at a U.S. university, provides researchers with a venue to study social and interpersonal communication that occurs through the use of two or more networked computers, including instant messages, e-mails and chat rooms. The new lab’s director is Zuoming Wang, assistant professor of communication studies, whose current research focuses on impression formation in virtual environments, online relationship development and maintenance, and decision making in virtual groups.

One of her studies of virtual interactions among college students was published in Human Communication Research, the flagship journal of the International Communication Association. She assigned students to groups that used instant messaging to allocate a state’s fictional budget resources and assigned some to display either likable or unlikable traits. The transcripts showed that interpersonal behavior was a bigger factor than group identification in determining attractiveness to others. In future research, Wang plans to investigate if the findings are similar when users are grouped by race or religion.

Career and Technical Education

Three faculty members in UNT’s Department of Learning Technologies received $1.2 million from the Texas Education Agency’s Career and Technical Education State Leadership Projects Grant Program to evaluate and increase the effectiveness of curriculum instruction in 11 of 16 career clusters in career and technical education classified by the Department of Education.

Jeff Allen, professor and interim chair of the department, will conduct research on and enhance programs in architecture and construction; manufacturing; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He also will focus on programs in business management and administration; finance; and marketing. Regents Professor Jerry Wircenski will conduct research on and enhance programs in government and public administration; health science; and public safety, corrections and security. Professor Michelle Wircenski will focus on the information technology cluster and the arts, audio/visual technology and communications cluster.

The faculty members will develop career-related course guides for schools focusing on career and technical education, including best practices in each career cluster, and will support the education of career and technical education teachers on revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum.

Bioactive Glasses

Jincheng Du is studying bioactive glasses, which can be used for bone growth and drug delivery. This model of the surface structure of bioglass was generated from molecular dynamics simulations.

Courtesy of Jincheng Du

Research by Jincheng Du, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, could help scientists improve the quality of life for millions of people, especially an aging population needing bone restoration and treatment. Du will conduct a three-year project funded by a National Science Foundation grant to study bioactive glasses, a group of biocompatible, surface reactive glasses developed in the late 1960s. Bioactive glasses are able to bond to bone and soft tissue, making them invaluable to bone growth and development. They also can act as coatings for knee and hip replacements and assist in drug delivery.

Du will use computational simulations combined with glass synthesis and subsequent neutron and X-ray diffractions to characterize the structure of these bioactive glasses and study how they dissolve in aqueous environments similar to those in the body. The work could lead to a better understanding of the origin of bioactivity and better design of new glass compositions for biomedical applications. Du will synthesize and characterize the materials using facilities at UNT’s Center for Advanced Research and Technology, a federally funded collection of high-powered microscopes and other imaging equipment.

Environmental Enforcement

The more a state spends per capita on its environmental budget — which includes budgets for commissions on environmental quality — the higher the fines given for violations associated with the Clean Water Act and the shorter the time a facility is in violation, according to a study co-written by Paul M. Collins Jr., assistant professor of political science.

Collins and Victor B. Flatt, Tom and Elizabeth Taft Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, studied the budgets of 17 of the largest and most populous states, including Texas, examining relationships between environmental spending and compliance with the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. They studied Environmental Protection Agency data about pollution sources in the states — from family-owned businesses to large corporations — and the amount of the fines the states levied against the facilities.

For each $1 per capita increase in state environmental spending, the fine levied increased by about $18. They also determined that as a state’s political elite becomes more liberal, the fines for violations of the Clean Water Act decrease. However, in examining violations of the Clean Air Act, they discovered that neither state per capita environmental spending nor state elite ideology influenced the monetary penalties assessed. Increases in state environmental spending did decrease the amount of time a facility was in violation of the Clean Air Act. The research was published in the Notre Dame Law Review.

Mobile Shopping

Mobile shopping — shopping using iPhones or BlackBerry functions such as text messaging, multimedia messaging and online shopping — is popular in Japan and Korea but relatively new to the U.S. Through the research of Kiseol Yang, assistant professor in the School of Merchandising and Hospitality Management, the design of mobile shopping services based on an understanding of consumers’ perceptions of mobile shopping capabilities could impact industry. Applications include allowing product purchases through a digital wallet, providing a mobile community site through social media, and offering increased multisensory and expert recommendation features.

Yang is studying facilitators and inhibitors of consumer mobile shopping services, favorable mobile site features and functions, and the technology’s educational benefits for consumers. Her research shows that experiential aspects of mobile services — such as multidimensional product views or multisensory cues — strongly drive consumer mobile service adoption, and functionality and usability are critical factors. Yang says the recommendations of others influence consumers who have a high level of anxiety about mobile shopping to use the services.

Career Camp

UNT’s Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions offered a Career Cruisin’ Camp in collaboration with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and area school districts.

Photo by: Kara Park

Research indicates that people with disabilities are traditionally at a disadvantage for achieving successful employment. To combat this, UNT’s Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions — in collaboration with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and area school districts — offered a Career Cruisin’ Camp last summer. The department hosted three week-long day camps designed to increase confidence and help identify work preferences for almost 60 high school students with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Brandi Darensbourg, assistant professor, Martha Garber, director of UNT WISE, and Linda Holloway, department chair, are examining the effect of career interventions for youth with disabilities who attend both regular and special education. Preliminary results from their evaluation of the camp indicate it was successful in helping campers with career exploration and decision making. The Division of Blind Services will help expand the camp this year to include students who have visual impairments. In addition to enhancing previous research, the study provides hands-on experience and research opportunities for UNT’s rehabilitation counseling students. The UNT graduate rehabilitation counseling program is ranked in the top 25 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Wikis in Classrooms

Wikis, with their inter-connected web pages linked to one another and to other Internet resources, have found quick acceptance in industry, but their use in higher education has been limited. Derrick D’Souza, professor of management, Grant Miles, assistant professor of management, and doctoral student Josh Daspit are conducting research on how wikis enhance learning by testing them in a capstone business course — the first systematically monitored experiment of wikis in an undergraduate business classroom in the country.

Their findings, showing that wiki usage enhanced students’ learning experience, were presented at the Decision Sciences Institute Conference in New Orleans in November 2009. They conclude that wikis “capitalize on the affinity of the younger generations for collaborative, web-based learning and require little user ramp-up time, offering a more cost-effective alternative to existing online environments (for example, learning management systems) for shared activities.”

The researchers used Transformative Instruction Initiative funding and a Learning Enhancement grant to develop seven modules of the wiki and assess their ability to enhance student learning. The team is working with UNT’s Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign to seek funding for research on wikis in science, technology, engineering and math education and other education fields.


President's Note

"Leading the pack" for innovative changes


National research status, new senior faculty


Top engineers, chemists, Fulbright specialists

News Briefs

New clusters, plant defense, Nature research

Faculty Researchers

Experts in children’s issues, bioinformatics, interactive performing, mesoscale technology

Student Researchers

Exploring tribal archives, corporate fraud, nanoscale circuits, international politics

Faculty Books

Spanish language media, math, Arab art

End Note

Investing in research

Web page last updated or revised: January 27, 2010
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