University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) annually compiles a Year-in-Review highlighting both its general and research news and feature stories across campus during the course of the calendar year. In this Research Year-in-Review, The University of New Mexico conducted a wide variety of research in many areas with worldwide impact. UNM scientists were at the forefront from solar system exploration to chimpanzee menopause to the power of plants to uranium waste solutions and the disintegration of Mayan societies.

Below is a select list based on the top 2023 news stories highlighting a number of research accomplishments. Click on the headline to read the full story for each listing. The list below is in random order. 


UNM selected as one of five new research teams for NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute
For the first time in more than 50 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will be sending astronauts to the moon - and an interdisciplinary group of experts at UNM has been selected as one of five new teams to support the scientific preparations for this momentous effort. Led by Sr. Research Scientist of the Institute of Meteoritics (IOM) and Research Professor at the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Charles “Chip” Shearer, the Center for Advanced Sample Analysis of Astromaterials from the Moon and Beyond (CASA Moon) will receive $7.5 million over the next five years to study the lunar crust through lunar sample analysis.

New study shows chimpanzees experience menopause
UNM Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Comparative Human and Primate Physiology Center Melissa Emery Thompson has worked on research that examines the aging process in chimpanzees. In many ways they resemble their closest living relatives, humans. New research titled Demographic and hormonal evidence for menopause in wild chimpanzees published recently shows that at least one group of older female chimpanzees experience menopause, a trait shared only by a small number of whale species and, of course, female humans.

Kenya research trip teaches students to use all senses
Kelly Miller, Biology professor and curator of Arthropods at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at The University of New Mexico, wants his students to use all their senses, think in new and creative ways, and examine their subjects from unusual and unexpected angles. With this philosophy of teaching in mind, Miller took a class of undergraduate students in 2022 to Kenya where they used all their senses to learn.

Thunderstorms clumping together: How understanding water vapor helps scientists predict future climate change
A team of international scientists from the USA, France, Germany, and Ethiopia recently published cutting-edge climate research on how thunderstorms can “clump” together and how that influences the Earth’s climate. This led to the discovery that this clumping, or aggregation, of clouds, can affect the Earth’s climate in multiple ways that were not previously understood. The research titled “The Influence of Convective Aggregation on the Stable Isotopic Composition of Water Vapor” was recently published in the prestigious journal AGU Advances.

Tracking local sea ice using distributed acoustic sensing and machine learning
Researchers from the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories recently created a way to track local sea ice using a telecommunications fiber optic cable, located in Alaska, combined with Machine Learning algorithms to analyze ground vibrations due to ocean waves. The research, titled “Tracking Local Sea Ice Extent in the Beaufort Sea Using Distributed Acoustic Sensing and Machine Learning,” examines a fiber optic cable positioned offshore of Oliktok Point, Alaska.

Scientists detect and validate the longest-period exoplanet found with TESS
Scientists from The University of New Mexico and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have detected and validated two of the longest-period exoplanets found by TESS to date. These long-period large exoplanets orbit a K dwarf star and belong to a class of planets known as warm Jupiter’s, which have orbital periods of 10-200 days and are at least six times Earth's radius.

The power of plants and how they are changing the way we eat and live
Plant-based eating and veganism have been around for decades, but more people are choosing plant-based diets than ever before. Plant-based eating means eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and beans while eating less or no meat, dairy or animal products. A UNM business school researcher has studied the reasons behind this trend.

Scientists investigate Grand Canyon's ancient past to predict future climate impacts
The Grand Canyon’s valleys and millions of years of rock layers spanning Earth’s history have earned it a designation as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. However, according to a new study involving scientists at UNM and UNLV, its marvels extend to vast cave systems that lie beneath the surface, which just might hold clues to better understand the future of climate change — by studying nature’s past.

Medical Cannabis patients who feel 'high' report greater symptom relief but increased negative side effects
In a new study titled, “Understanding Feeling ‘High’ and Its Role in Medical Cannabis Patient Outcomes,” published in the journal, Frontiers in Pharmacology, researchers at The University of New Mexico, in collaboration with Releaf App™ found that patients who reported feeling “High” experienced 7.7% greater symptom relief and an increase in reporting of positive side effects such as “Relaxed” and “Peaceful.” However, these benefits must be weighed against a more than 20% increase in negative side effect reporting.

Drones for Ducks: Researchers develop AI to measure migratory bird populations
An idea to simplify how migratory populations of ducks, geese and cranes are counted first hatched around a campfire. The project took flight in Bosque Del Apache earlier this month for its first-ever waterfowl survey. Every winter, wildlife managers are challenged to count the migratory waterfowl that fly down into refuges. Now, researchers at The University of New Mexico, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior, are working to develop a machine-learning model prototype that can count the birds using images taken by drones in a project titled Drones for Ducks.

UNM project brings together diverse team to develop solutions to uranium waste in Native communities
A new National Science Foundation-funded project is tackling a perplexing problem — that of the toxic heavy metals left behind after uranium mining in Native American communities in New Mexico — from a multifaced angle. Instead of offering a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to this problem that is contaminating water supplies — disproportionally impacting socioeconomically-challenged communities — this project is seeking solutions from a cross-disciplinary team, which includes Native Americans themselves (including several research team members) and their cultural knowledge.

Scientists revive Stone Age molecules
Breakthroughs in ancient genome reconstruction and biotechnology are now revealing the rich molecular secrets of Paleolithic microorganisms. In a transdisciplinary study, scientists are rebuilding microbial natural products up to 100,000 years old using dental calculus of humans and Neanderthals. New techniques of reconstructing bacterial genomes encased within the dental calculus, also known as tooth tartar, from Neanderthals and early forms of anatomically modern humans could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics, according to a new study.

UNM scientists examine magma accumulation beneath Yellowstone Caldera
Scientists have long been fascinated with Yellowstone National Park and the scientific playground it has provided the research community over the decades. Seismic tomography has played a key role in that research giving scientists insights into Yellowstone’s crustal magmatic system to understand the melt distribution in the subsurface and the current stage of the volcano’s life cycle.

Finding answers in the coldest place on Earth
For the past 30 years, scientists at The University of New Mexico and throughout the world have been conducting a large-scale ecological study of the coldest place on Earth in order to understand how life exists in inhospitable environments, and how climate change is affecting their survival. The work being done at the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) project in Antarctica is not only improving our understanding of this unique ecosystem but providing a blueprint for identifying the effects of past and present climate change throughout the world.  

New research from C&J professor is the bee's knees
One University of New Mexico Communication & Journalism professor is seeing what all the buzz is about–and if he can change it. Dave Keating is a purveyor of strategic communication, which entails the development of a certain message or campaign meant to reach a certain goal with the audience and the organization behind it. While his experience and past have centered on communications surrounding tough topics like tobacco use, Keating is testing a set of communications dedicated towards a smaller topic of conversation: bees.

Hotter and drier conditions limit forest recovery from wildfires
Warmer and drier climate conditions in western U.S. forests are making it less likely that trees can regenerate after wildfires, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study provides timely information to optimize new state and federal initiatives to increase the pace of ecologically based forest management across millions of acres of Western forests.

Large-scale genomic analysis documents migrations of Ice Age hunter-gatherers
With the largest dataset of prehistoric European hunter-gatherer genomes ever generated, an international research team has rewritten the genetic history of Europe’s human ancestors. This study involved an international collaboration of 125 international scientists including The University of New Mexico Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Lawrence Straus.

How social media big data helps us better understand social dynamics
If tweets are measured in characters and a picture is worth a thousand words, what do you get when you combine and examine thousands or even millions of social media posts at once? The answer is a lot of data and researchers at The University of New Mexico use it to study social dynamics and human behavior.

Research looks at origins of presence of horses in North America
Associate Professor of Anthropology Emily Lena Jones at The University of New Mexico, is beginning to refine the history of the American horse. This work, which embeds cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural research between western and traditional Indigenous science, was published recently in the journal Science.

Less predictable rainfall may have caused disintegration of early Maya societies
Reduced predictability of seasonal rainfall might have played a significant role in the disintegration of Classic Maya societies about 1,100 years ago. Decline in seasonal predictability potentially destabilized Classic Maya societies is a new study recently published in Communications Earth & Environment. University of New Mexico archaeologist Keith Prufer is among the authors, along with colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Potsdam University. The findings may have significance for populations in the region facing climate change today.

Awards & Recognition

Celebrating a high-tech history: CHTM commemorates 40th anniversary
Located south of The University of New Mexico’s main campus is a powerful technology research center specializing in lasers, semiconductors, quantum research and more. The Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) has a 40-year history of studying the potential devices of tomorrow. The center celebrated its ruby anniversary on June 15 with a day of presentations, tours and events to commemorate its past and future. WATCH: CHTM celebrates 40 years

UNM announces 68th Annual Research Lectureship for Career Achievement honoree
University of New Mexico Distinguished Professor Felisa Smith has been named the honoree for the 68th Annual Research Lectureship for Career Achievement award. The ARL is one of the highest honors the University bestows on its faculty members in recognition of research and/or creative activity of exceptional merit.

The University of New Mexico announces newest Level 2 Grand Challenges
After a highly competitive process, University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes has announced the three newest multi-disciplinary teams to join the Grand Challenges program as Level 2 teams, Child Health, Just Transition to Green Energy, and Sustainable Space Research.

UNM's Earth & Planetary Sciences receives NSF grant for Grand Canyon research
University of New Mexico Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Professors Laura Crossey and Karl Karlstrom have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for Developing Partnerships Among Tribes, Geoscientists, and the National Park Service to Advance Informal Geoscience Learning at Grand Canyon.

UNM biologists part of groundbreaking whale study published in PNAS
In the article titled “Long-term stability in the circumpolar foraging range of a Southern Ocean predator between the eras of whaling and rapid climate change,” Seth Newsome, a professor of Biology and associate director of the Center for Stable Isotopes (CSI), Geraldine Busquets-Vass, a postdoctoral scientist working at CSI and the Department of Biology, along with collaborators from 14 countries conducted a truly unique study on the foraging habits of whales.

UNM student recognized by DOE's Science Graduate Student Research Program
Kylar Greene, a graduate student in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is among 60 students from across the nation selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program’s 2023 Solicitation 1 cycle. He will be hosted by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL). His research will be focusing on theoretical and computational research in high energy physics.

Researchers dive into freshwater ecosystem focused study with $2.5M DOE grant
If you travel up stream to the tip-top of the headwaters in the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies, you’ll reach the very beginning of the Rio Grande River, and what happens at the very top helps determine the quality and quantity of water that we use every single day. Those beginnings are what researchers refer to as headwater stream networks, making up nearly 80 percent of river miles on earth. However, they are also some of the most overlooked areas in research within the academy. Now, with the help of a $2.5 million grant awarded by the Department of Energy, The University of New Mexico will lead a group of researchers who will concentrate on five very different headwater stream networks spread across the U.S. continental precipitation gradient.

Earth and Planetary Sciences Ph.D. student wins first place at National Elevator Pitch competition
Olumide Adedeji, a Ph.D. candidate in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at The University of New Mexico, achieved a remarkable milestone by securing the first-place prize at the National Elevator Pitch Competition, organized by the Houston Geological Society. The annual event, in collaboration with prominent energy companies, is a pivotal platform for the intersection of industry and academia.

Tsiropoulou receives NSF award for innovations in disaster response systems
Eirini Eleni Tsiropoulou, an associate professor in the UNM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant for a project that addresses the area of public safety systems, especially during and after disasters where victims, first responders and emergency control centers must coordinate efforts for effective rescue missions.

Next Generation Very Large Array unites NRAO & UNM
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)/Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), and the University of New Mexico (UNM) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore collaborations in support of future U.S. radio astronomy initiatives.

Peter J. Fawcett professor and chair elected as Fellow of the Geological Society of America
Professor and Chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Peter J. Fawcett has been elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). This honor is bestowed by the Society Fellowship to recognize the best in their profession.

Oceanic waves represent fundamental challenges in nonlinear science
The instability of Stokes waves (steady propagating waves on the surface of an ideal fluid with infinite depth) represents a fundamental challenge in the realm of nonlinear science. A team of researchers recently identified the origin of breaking oceanic waves in a recent publication in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

UNM Engineering researcher leading Department of Energy project on quantum computing
A researcher based in The University of New Mexico School of Engineering is leading one of 15 projects across the country receiving $11 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. These projects, announced Aug. 10, are focused on exploratory research for extreme-scale science that will leverage emerging trends and advances in high-end computing, massive datasets, scientific machine learning, artificial intelligence, and novel computing architectures

UNM team takes Smart Acequias project to BioDesign Challenge
Four undergrads at The University of New Mexico have tackled the problem of water scarcity in the southwest United States by developing a project that would use radar sensors to determine the water levels of the irrigation channels and connect to an app that would let farmers know when to irrigate their farms.

UNM Department of Physics and Astronomy mourns the loss of Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae
Distinguished Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae, a faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, died of complications from cancer on July 10, 2023. There are many tributes being offered in Sheik-Bahae’s memory and all touch on one essential quality - his exceptional humanity.

UNM researchers take a deep dive into our changing planet with SIMReef project
Melanie Moses, professor of computer science, is a co-principal investigator of a National Science Foundation project called “Emergence of function and dynamics from ecological interaction networks.” The $3 million project, which is a collaboration between multiple universities, is funded through Sept. 30, 2027. The team’s goal? To create a software model called SIMReef that represents millions of fish foraging for algae on coral reefs to understand how fish, coral and algae interact in a changing ocean to predict how coral can best be protected in increasingly inhospitable conditions.

Congressmembers, EPA officials attend ceremony to award UNM center $4 million
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a grant of $4 million to The University of New Mexico's Southwest Environmental Finance Center at a ceremony in July.

UNM researcher receives $1.5 million to study fetal alcohol exposure and memory
One researcher at The University of New Mexico is leading the charge to better care for and understand a diagnosis that affects dozens of babies taking their first breath. Psychology Associate Professor Benjamin Clark is studying memory loss in those affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). 

UNM Department of Biology Ph.D. candidate discovers new bird family
For nearly two centuries, researchers have speculated on the classification of two species of shrikes found in central and southern Africa. Now, because of the simple curiosity of one Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology, the longstanding mystery surrounding these birds has finally been solved thanks to modern technology and the valuable information that museums provide.

The OVPR announces 2023 Globally-Engaged Research Awards winners
The Office of the Vice President for Research, in partnership with the Global Education Office, is excited to announce the faculty and student winners of this year’s Globally-Engaged Research Awards. The awards aim to highlight the dynamic international research conducted by UNM students and faculty.

Engineering professor receives 2023 AFOSR Young Investigator Award
Sakineh Chabi, an assistant professor in the UNM Department of Mechanical Engineering, is the recipient of a 2023 Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) award. Chabi’s project was selected from over 170 proposals. She one of 58 scientists and engineers to be selected for the award, which granted about $25 million this fiscal year. 

UNM student earns prestigious ATLAS Center Fellowship
One physics student at The University of New Mexico is kicking off 2023 by contributing to the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world. Physics & Astronomy Ph.D. student Hijas Farook has been chosen for an ATLAS Center fellowship. He will spend six months at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in New York researching particle physics instrumentation. 

Neuroscience researcher Mubarak Hussain Syed awarded Sloan Research Fellowship
Mubarak Hussain Syed, an assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico, has been awarded a 2023 Sloan Research Fellowship in Neuroscience from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship that can be used flexibly to advance the fellow’s research. Syed was also named2023 Young Investigator grantee by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. This year’s funding will support 150 promising early-career scientists across the field of neuropsychiatry with innovative ideas in mental health research. The two-year grant is expected to provide up to $70,000 per recipient.

A search for answers in ethics: where animals fit in
UNM Professor Emeritus John Gluck has dedicated his life to ensuring the focus of research is not just on the end of the maze, but the rodent participant on the inside. He has made sure to ask: in the course of doing research, what do we owe to the animals for their sacrifice? It’s a question that has persisted for many he’s impacted for decades.

UNM professor Milad Marvian wins NSF CAREER Award
Milad Marvian, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a member of the Center for Quantum Information and Control (CQuIC) at The University of New Mexico, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award. The award is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of scholar-teacher, through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of research and education.

UNM Ph.D. candidate awarded NIH fellowship
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recognizing one University of New Mexico student, and is paying to have even more people recognize her. Tia Donaldson. a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology, has been awarded an NIH Travel Fellowship to attend the 2023 International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM2023).

Engineering students selected for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awards
Two students in The University of New Mexico School of Engineering have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) awards in environmental engineering. Carl Abadam and Christine Gleicher, both students of Anjali Mulchandani, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering received the fellowships.