University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) annually compiles a Year-in-Review highlighting its general and research news and feature stories across campus during the course of the calendar year. Below is a select list based on UCAM's Google Analytics of the top 2021 research stories highlighting UNM students, faculty, staff and alumni accomplishments. 

Additionally, the communications staff has also compiled its top picks from main campus and the Health Sciences Center highlighting UNM students, faculty, staff and alumni accomplishments. The top 2021 staff picks will be published on Jan. 2, 2022.


Recreational Cannabis legalization increases employment in counties with dispensaries
Researchers from The University of New Mexico and California Polytechnic University find increased employment, especially in manufacturing, following the opening of legal recreational cannabis dispensaries. They found no evidence of declines in worker productivity, suggesting that any negative effects from cannabis legalization are outweighed by the job growth these new markets create.

Ancient Maya houses show wealth inequality tied to despotic governance
Every society has some degree of wealth inequality  ̶  over history, across continents, there always seem to be some people who have more than others. But the amount of inequality differs  ̶  in some civilizations, a few powerful people have nearly all the wealth, whereas in others, it’s more spread out. In a new study in PLOS ONE, University of New Mexico alumna Amy Thompson, who graduated with a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 2019, and UNM Anthropology department professor Keith Prufer report on their findings after examining the remains of houses in ancient Maya cities and comparing them with other Mesoamerican societies.

UNM professor continues to find trove of info from El Mirón find
Around 19,000 years ago, a woman  ̶  possibly a woman of some special status  ̶  from a group of hunter-gatherers died and was buried in El Mirón Cave in northern Spain. In 1996, archaeologists started exploring the cave, finding abundant evidence of prehistoric people. In 2010 Lawrence Straus, Emeritus Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor at The University of New Mexico, and a Spanish student found the woman’s remains, including her jaw, after Straus had what he described as “a hunch” to dig in an area behind an engraved block at the back of the cave’s huge vestibule.

Feds announce historic water cuts: what does this mean?
The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage in the Colorado River Basin, announcing historic water cuts for portions of the western United States. The damning headlines are startling, but water researchers say they shouldn’t be – this is all part of a water conservation plan nearly two decades in the making.

UNM researcher awarded $2 million grant to use brain stimulation to help treat aphasia
Jessica Richardson, an associate professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at The University of New Mexico, has been awarded a five-year, $2 million grant to optimize treatment and interventions for those who acquire the language disorder known as aphasia after suffering a stroke. Richardson has worked with people with post-stroke aphasia, and other acquired cognitive or communication deficits, for more than 20 years.

UNM study: Sneeze guards could make full-capacity airplanes safer from COVID-19 spread  
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of people willing to fly due to safety concerns, and to ease fears, some airlines have opted to leave middle seats open to increase the amount of space for social distancing. But the findings of a study led by researchers from the School of Engineering at The University of New Mexico and Imperial College London suggest that nonporous plastic shields (often called “sneeze guards”) installed between seats can prevent significant amounts of COVID-19 particles from being transmitted between passengers, thus allowing for fuller airplanes, and in turn, more revenue for airlines.

Visiting Scholar seeks answers in UNM archives
The University of New Mexico's Center for Regional Studies recently selected Aimee Villarreal to participate in its Scholar-in-Residence Program as a short-term Visiting Research Scholar for the Summer 2021 term. Villarreal is working to complete final revisions to her book, Sanctuaryscapes in the New Mexico Borderlands, which traces diverse mobilizations of sanctuary in New Mexico and the Ciudad Juarez, Mexico/El Paso, intertribal forms of sanctuary place-making and notions of radical hospitality that existed previous to the formation of the United States as a nation-state. However, the thrust of her research is on contemporary sanctuary movements and immigrant rights activism.

Scientists discover new exoplanet with an atmosphere ripe for study
An international group of collaborators, including scientists Jennifer Burt from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Diana Dragomir from The University of New Mexico, have discovered a new, temperate sub-Neptune sized exoplanet with a 24-day orbital period orbiting a nearby M dwarf star. The recent discovery offers exciting research opportunities thanks to the planet’s substantial atmosphere, small star, and how fast the system is moving away from the Earth.

Traditions deeply rooted in Hispanic culture
“The Hispanic culture is rich in tradition. That’s what makes us unique – New Mexico is a perfect example of that.” The University of New Mexico Vice President for Student Affairs Eliseo "Cheo" Torres said it best, pointing to the array of traditions most clearly illustrated during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Advance announces 2021 Women in STEM award winners
Twelve faculty members at The University of New Mexico have been selected for the 2021 Women in STEM awards. Winning projects this year will look at new ways to reduce the environmental impacts of human waste; social identities of people diagnosed with celiac disease; paths to better helping communities affected by climate change and the effects of acute sugar intake including possible links to asthma.

Study: Wildfires threaten river networks in the western U.S.
A new study conducted by researchers from The University of New Mexico in the School of Engineering and Department of Biology has found that wildfires — which have been increasing in frequency, severity and extent around the globe — are one of the largest drivers of aquatic impairment in the western United States, threatening our water supply. The research, “Wildfires increasingly impact western U.S. fluvial networks,” was published recently in Nature Communications.