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Virtual reality brings cervical cancer surgery training to physicians

Too often, women in developing countries die of cervical cancer because there aren’t enough surgeons trained to perform a lifesaving surgery.

But a low-cost surgery simulation developed by a team of SMU, UNC School of Medicine and King’s College London researchers has the potential to change that.

Using widely available technology and Oculus Rift hardware—similar to what is used in popular games like “Lone Echo”—the team created a virtual reality simulation that mirrors what a surgeon would see in real life while performing a radical hysterectomy to remove a woman’s uterus and other parts of her womb.

So surgeons in developing countries can more easily get training on the procedure, potentially saving women’s lives, said Dr. Eric G. Bing, who co-authored a study on the simulation and is a global health professor at Southern Methodist University (SMU).

Watch SMU’s Lifesaving VR video to learn more.

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New Texas dinosaur identified by SMU scientists

Discovery suggests a nesting site for dinosaurs in early Cretaceous

Convolosaurus photo courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature & Science.

DALLAS (SMU) – There’s a new Texas dinosaur on the books.

SMU postdoctoral fellow Kate Andrzejewski, with University paleontologists Dale Winkler and Louis Jacobs, have identified Convolosaurus marri from fossils collected at Proctor Lake, southwest of Fort Worth.

Remnants of several dinosaurs were first found at the Comanche County lake site in 1985, and most of the fossils had been stored for years in the Shuler Museum of Paleontology at SMU. But it wasn’t until Andrzejewski, Winkler and Jacobs examined the fossils more recently that the new dinosaur was identified.

Convolosaurus is an amazing discovery,” said Andrzejewski, whose findings were published in March in the journal PLOS ONE. “Not only because it represents a new dinosaur, but its discovery also provides unique insight into dinosaur behavior during the early Cretaceous.”

Convolosaurus marri is on view at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall as “Proctor Lake Ornithopod.” The newly identified dinosaur was named in honor of Ray H. Marr, an SMU alumnus who is president of Marr Oil & Gas LTD and a strong supporter of SMU students.

C. marri belongs to a family of herbivorous dinosaurs called ornithopods, which are known for their bird-like stance on two legs. C. marri is believed to have been an agile and fairly small creature.

“Later members of that group became much larger and would graze on all four legs earning them the nickname ‘the cows of the Cretaceous,’” Andrzejewski said.

Andrzejewski and Dale A. Winkler, senior research fellow for ISEM at SMU, and Louis L. Jacobs, professor emeritus of Earth Sciences at SMU, were able to look at fossils from 29 different individuals that were ultimately identified as C. marri. Because of the size distribution of the fossils, it is likely the dinosaurs were a mix of recently-hatched dinosaurs and older juveniles.

“This indicates individuals grouped together after hatching and may have flocked together for protection from predators, which is where this dinosaur got its name,” Andrezejewski said. “Convolosaurus means ‘flocking lizard.’”

The collection of C. marri fossils discovered together also indicate that these dinosaurs kept occupying the same spot over time.

However, almost all of the fossils found at this site represent Convolosaurus, with only one tooth belonging to a small carnivorous dinosaur and one skeleton of a small reptile, which is part of the same family as a crocodile.” 

Furthermore, none of the bones from Convolosaurus contain any indications that they were eaten or even scavenged upon,” Andrzejewski noted. “This suggests that this dinosaur found a safe haven and perhaps used it to raise their young and thrive in a world filled with challenges – from droughts to terrifying carnivorous dinosaurs.”

It has long been suspected that there was a “nesting site” at the place where the remnants of C. marri were found, although no eggshells have yet been found.

“The discovery of Convolosaurus certainly tells an interesting and incredible story of life during the early Cretaceous of Texas,” said Andrzejewski.

Economics & Statistics Feature Researcher news

Research: Migration restrictions limit long-term economic growth

SMU economist and colleagues use model to predict East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will become global productivity leaders

 DALLAS (SMU) – Relaxing migration restrictions globally could deliver a threefold increase in global GDP, according to prize-winning research by SMU economist Klaus Desmet. In contrast, areas like the United States and Europe that restrict migration will see productivity decline over the long term, according to a new economic model developed by Desmet and research colleagues.

“What we find is that the population-dense places, by virtue of having dense and large markets, will eventually start innovating. Once their productivity takes off, they will enter in a virtuous circle of innovation and density,” says Desmet, the Ruth and Kent Altshuler Centennial Interdisciplinary Professor of Economics.

“Many of today’s population-dense places are in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. With current migration restrictions prohibiting movement elsewhere, these will remain the densest places. Hence, eventually they will take off, and in the very long run, several centuries from now, they will become the world’s productivity leaders.

“This is already happening in some areas, such as China,” Desmet says. “In contrast, the U.S. and Europe will lose out. They can stop this reversal of fortune from happening by adopting freer migration policies.”

Desmet, David Krisztian Nagy and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg received the Robert E. Lucas Jr. Prize for this research, “The Geography of Development,” published in the Journal of Political Economy. The Lucas Prize is awarded biannually for the most interesting paper published in the Journal of Political Economy.

Most existing research has focused on the short-run effects of liberalizing migration restrictions, Desmet says.

“Our research is taking into account the long-run effects,” Desmet says. “Initially, when migrants arrive, there are adjustment and integration costs, and the benefits may be elusive. In the longer run, however, migrants contribute tremendously to productivity and innovation. Unfortunately, the current debate on migration is hopelessly focused on very short-run issues, and completely fails to take into account its long-run importance.”

The costs of limiting migration will be difficult to see over the next ten to 20 years, Desmet says. “But the world is slowly moving in the direction of a productivity reversal.”

To conduct the migration research, the team developed an economic model that looks at economic growth on a global scale, but at a fine level of geographic resolution, using income, population, land-use, roads, railroads, rivers and ocean data for the entire globe, Desmet says.

“What is innovative about the model is that it gives predictions, not just for the localities directly impacted by a particular shock, but also for the rest of the world.”

The researchers tested the model by running it backwards, 150 years in the past, then compared the predictions to actual data. They found the model compared well with actual events, lending credibility to its ability to predict the future.

For the migration study, the model predicted several centuries into the future, critical for studying migration in particular, Desmet says.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

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SMU Research with Impact

SMU’s faculty and students join forces as co-creators of knowledge that spans the arts, sciences, engineering, business and the humanities. Students become hands-on contributors to significant discoveries. In collaboration with industry, nonprofit organizations and other institutions, our researchers forge paths to results that can be applied ethically on a local, national and global scale. Powered by the vast potential of data science and high-speed computing, they unlock new insights about critical problems. SMU researchers shape these discoveries into economic opportunities, stronger communities and a better world.

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New psychological study: Teaching people to experience and recognize joy

DALLAS (SMU) – Researchers at SMU and UCLA are enrolling subjects for a five-year study of a treatment for a psychological condition known as anhedonia – the inability to find pleasure in any aspect of life. A grant of approximately $4 million from the National Institute of Mental Health will allow professors Alicia Meuret and Thomas Ritz at SMU and Michelle G. Craske at UCLA to study the effectiveness of their treatment in 168 people suffering from this very specific symptom.

Professor Alicia Meuret
Professor Alicia Meuret

“The goal of this novel therapeutic approach is to train people to develop psychological muscle memory – to learn again how to experience joy and identify that experience when it occurs,” said Meuret, professor of psychology and director of SMU’s Anxiety and Depression Research Center. “Anhedonia is an aspect of depression, but it also is a symptom that really reaches across psychiatric and non-psychiatric disorders. It’s the absence or the lack of experiencing rewards.”

People suffering from depression often report feeling down or blue, loss of appetite and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, all described generally as “negative affect.” Meuret explained that there is another other side to depression – the reduction of all that is positive. This reveals itself in someone who says he or she is not especially anxious or depressed, but nothing gives them joy anymore.

“They don’t feel motivated to do anything, and when they do things that formerly gave them pleasure, they just don’t enjoy them anymore,” Meuret said. “We call that a deficit in the reward system – a reduction to reward sensitivity.”

Historically, treatments for affective disorders such as anxiety and depression have been aimed at reducing negative affect, Meuret said.  Over the next five years, Meuret, Ritz and Craske will treat 168 people using a type of cognitive behavioral therapy aimed at teaching people to seek out and recognize the positive aspects of life – increasing their sensitivity to reward. They will compare their results with a more traditional approach of treating the negative affect side of their problems.

Professor Thomas Ritz
Professor Thomas Ritz

The monitoring of treatment success will include simple biomarkers of enjoyment. “The heart beats faster in joy, something that has been shown to be absent in anhedonia,” said Ritz, an SMU professor of psychology who specializes in studying the relationship between biology and psychology in affective disorders and chronic disease. Other measures will capture immune activity, which is important as an indicator of long-term health.

Clinical psychology graduate students working on the project are Juliet Kroll, Divya Kumar, Natalie Tunnell, Anni Hasration, Andres Roques and Rebecca Kim, a recent SMU alumna, who will coordinate the day-to-day administration of the project.

Those interested in participating in the study may phone Rebecca Kim at 214-768-2188 or fill out the pre-screen form here.

The NIMH-funded study will follow the training framework of an SMU-UCLA pilot study conducted from 2014-2018:

  • The first half of the treatments are targeted at changing behavior, using strategies where the patient learns to seek out pleasant activities that they have previously enjoyed. Scheduled “homework” records that they list their mood before and after the activity, savoring the pleasurable moments in these activities. When resuming a session, the patient recalls the activity as if experiencing it in real time, such as, “I see Amy. I feel a connection with her. We walk on the street, and I can see the leaves changing.”
  • Cognitive training provides exercises that identify the positive aspects of various activities, taking responsibility for those activities and imagining what they would feel like.
  • The last module is compassion training, helping the patient to again learn to share love and kindness with another person, cultivating gratitude and generosity and learning to generate and savor positive feelings in the moment.

“Rather than saying to our patients, ‘Let me help you feel less bad,’ we are saying, ‘Let me help you re-learn how to feel good,” Meuret said.  “It’s very rewarding as a researcher psychologist that these patients can feel again – feel something positive.  I think there’s nothing worse than losing this sense of reward.”

Energy & Matter Global Researcher news SMU In The News

SMU Physicist Honored for Dark Matter Research

Jodi Cooley named fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU physicist Jodi Cooley has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed by their peers upon the group’s members for scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Cooley is one of 416 fellows to be honored during the 2019 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Feb. 16. She is being honored for her contributions to the search for dark matter scattering with nuclei, particularly using cryogenic technologies. The nature of dark matter is unknown, but is believed to make up about 85 percent of the universe.

SMU physicist Jodi Cooley

“I feel incredibly privileged to have even been nominated for such an honor; to be further elected as a Fellow of the AAAS is humbling beyond words,” Cooley said. “I also feel an immense sense of gratitude toward all of those who supported me along this path: my family, my friends, and my mentors.”

Cooley, who joined SMU in 2009, is associate professor of experimental particle physics in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Professor Cooley is a distinguished scientist with a record of outstanding federal research support and innovative experimental design,” said Dedman College Dean Thomas DiPiero.  “In addition to her work in the lab and in the classroom, she also reaches out to the general public to explain the intricacies of particle physics in ways that are understandable and engaging.”

Cooley and her colleagues operated sophisticated detectors in the Soudan Underground Laboratory, MN. The Department of Energy and National Science Foundation announced they’ll provide funding to expand that research, so planning is now under way to move the experiment to an even deeper location, SNOLAB in Canada, to improve the search for dark matter. These detectors can distinguish between elusive dark matter particles and background particles that mimic dark matter interactions.

Cooley is a principal investigator on the SuperCDMS dark matter experiment and was principal investigator for the AARM collaboration, whose aim was to develop integrative tools for underground science. She has won numerous awards for her research, including an Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation and the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

Cooley received a B.S. degree in applied mathematics and physics from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in 1997. She earned her master’s degree in 2000 and her Ph.D. in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin – Madison for her research searching for neutrinos from diffuse astronomical sources with the AMANDA-II detector. Upon graduation she did postdoctoral studies at both MIT and Stanford University.

The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the Association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of the three sponsors are not affiliated with the nominee’s institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer. Fellows must have been continuous members of AAAS for four years by the end of the calendar year in which they are elected. AAAS Fellow’s lifetime honor comes with an expectation that recipients maintain the highest standards of professional ethics and scientific integrity.

Each steering group reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list. The Council is the policymaking body of the Association, chaired by the AAAS president, and consisting of the members of the board of directors, the retiring section chairs, delegates from each electorate and each regional division, and two delegates from the National Association of Academies of Science.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas.  SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

 About the AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science ( as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert! (, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS. See

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Alcohol use may increase among Hispanic Americans as they become more ‘Americanized’

SMU professor Priscilla Lui and co-author find that ‘Americanization’ of alcohol use affects women more than men

DALLAS (SMU) – Higher rates of alcohol use and drinking consequences are found among Hispanic American adolescents and adults who are more “Americanized,” according to a new study authored by Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor Priscilla Lui and her colleague, Byron Zamboanga, at Smith College.

Using scientific research accumulated over the past 40 years, Lui and Zamboanga analyzed data from over 68,000 Hispanic Americans – including first-generation immigrants and native-born individuals. Lui’s research has found that people in this group who are more “Americanized” are more likely to:

  • be drinkers,
  • consume alcohol at greater intensity,
  • experience more negative consequences associated with alcohol use, and
  • affect women more than men.

Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the United States.  Similar results were found in the Asian ethnic group, which is the fastest-growing U.S. ethnic group.  Those who are considered acculturated or “Americanized” tend to have adapted to the political, cultural, or communal influences in the mainstream America, and assimilated to its customs and institutions.

“This research means that, for Asian and Hispanic men, being more ‘Americanized’ may not be associated with substantial changes in their drinking behaviors and consequences,” said Lui. “For Asian and Hispanic women, however, cumulative data show that there’s something about the American way of life that may be making them more likely to drink, and drink more intensely and hazardously.”

According to Lui, existing research has suggested two theories: “Either people are socialized to adopt more permissive and favorable drinking culture in the U.S., or their experiences with cultural stresses, such as the pressure to become ‘American’ or racial discrimination, are making people use alcohol to cope.”

Lui is currently conducting further studies to better test these two theories, and to understand risk and protective factors of alcohol use.

Associations between alcohol use and the acculturation process are a focus of Lui’s research in her Acculturation, Diversity, and Psychopathology Team (ADAPT), where she is the principal investigator.  Lui is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department in the Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences at SMU.

The study, “A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of the Associations between Acculturation and Alcohol Use Outcomes among Hispanic Americans,” is published in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study by Lui and Zamboanga are being published just as new research from the medical journal, The BMJ, revealed that more Americans, particularly young people, are dying from liver disease and cirrhosis as a result of alcohol consumption.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty, and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities, and the world.

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NIH Funds Collaborative Study of Cognitive Impairment in Older Asthma Patients

Led by SMU psychologist and UTSW psychiatrist, Dallas Asthma Brain and Cognition Study will use brain scans to explore relationship between inflammatory lung disease and brain function in older adults

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU psychologist Thomas Ritz and UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrist Sherwood Brown will lead a $2.6 million study funded over four years by the National Institutes of Health to explore the apparent connection between asthma and diminished cognitive function in middle-to-late-age adults.

The World Health Organization estimates that 235 million people suffer from asthma worldwide.

The study will build on the work Brown and Ritz have accomplished with a core group of researchers over a period of eight years. Their pilot data, gleaned from brain imaging and analysis of chemical changes, indicates that neurons in the hippocampus of young-to-middle-age adults with asthma are not as healthy as those in the control group without asthma. The hippocampus is that portion of the brain that controls long-term memory and spatial navigation.

“In our early study, we found that there were differences between healthy control participants and young-to-middle-age asthma patients in that the latter showed a slightly lower performance in cognitive tasks,” Ritz said. “We wonder how that looks in older age. When you have asthma for a lifetime, the burden of the disease may accumulate.”

The early findings also led his group to wonder if the impact on cognition is related to the severity of the disease.

“This all makes sense, but no one has looked specifically at how that relates to brain structure,” Ritz said.  “With this grant we will look at structures – the neurons and axons, the white and gray matter of the brain, how thick they are in various places. We look at what kind of chemicals have been accumulating, which are the byproducts of neural activity. We want to know how various areas of the brain function during cognitive tasks.”

The four-year project will allow researchers to study a sample of up to 200 participants who are between the ages of 40-69. In addition to Ritz and Brown, the research group includes Denise C. Park, director of research for the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas; Changho Choi, professor of radiology at UTSW; David Khan, professor of internal medicine at UTSW; Alicia E. Meuret, professor of clinical psychology at SMU, and David Rosenfield, associate professor of psychology at SMU.  SMU graduate students working on the grant are Juliet Kroll and Hannah Nordberg.

“This is how neuroimaging works today – it is a team sport,” Ritz said. “You cannot do it on your own. You have to strike up collaborations with various disciplines.  It’s very exciting because it is stimulating and interesting to collaborate with colleagues in different areas.”

The study, scheduled to run through May 31, 2022, will allow the research team to examine several possible factors that may impact cognition in people with asthma.

“Is it lack of oxygen?  That’s a very good question,” Ritz said. “But it cannot be the full story.  Real lack of oxygen only happens in severe asthma attacks and in most cases, people having an asthma attack are still well saturated with oxygen.

Carbon dioxide levels are often too low in asthma patients – but it is uncertain whether that is a .”

Another possibility, he said, is that the problems with disrupted sleep experienced by many people with asthma might relate to cognitive function.

“Just imagine you how you perform after lack of sleep,” Ritz said. “In the long run, we know sleep is important to the health of our brain. If over a lifetime you’ve had interruptions in sleep, it may impact your neural health.”

This research is being supported by the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant number 1R01HL142775-01.

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New Smithsonian Exhibit Reflects the Passion of SMU Professor and an Army of Student Fossil Hounds

Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas opens Nov. 9 at National Museum of Natural History

DALLAS (SMU October 15, 2018) – Once the exhibit opens, “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas” will allow visitors to visually dive into the cool waters off the coast of West Africa as they existed millions of years ago when the continents of Africa and South America were drifting apart. It’s a unique opportunity to examine fossils of ancient marine reptiles and learn about the forces that continue to mold life both in out of the ocean.

But the back story is just as fascinating: SMU Emeritus Professor of Paleontology Louis Jacobs and his SMU colleague Michael Polcyn forged a partnership with collaborators in Angola, Portugal and the Netherlands to explore and excavate Angola’s rich fossil history, while laying the groundwork for returning the fossils to the West African nation. Back in Dallas Jacobs and Polcyn, director of the University’s Digital Earth Sciences Lab, and research associate Diana Vineyard went to work over a period of 13 years with a small army of SMU students to prepare the fossils excavated by Projecto PaleoAngola.

The result is a dynamic exhibit opening Nov. 9 in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History featuring large vertebrate marine reptiles from the Cretaceous Period — mosasaurs, marine turtles and plesiosaurs. This exhibit will mark the first time Angolan fossils of colossal Cretaceous marine reptiles will be on public display.

“It turns out that Angola is the best place on the surface of the earth to see the rocks that reflect and show the opening of the South Atlantic and the split between South America and Africa,” Jacobs said. But the war of independence in Angola that began in 1961 and ended (after civil war) in 2002 effectively prevented scientists from working this rich fossil zone for nearly 40 years after continental drift and plate tectonics became accepted scientific theory.

When Jacobs and the team arrived to begin digging on the coast of Angola in 2005, they were first on the scene to record this fascinating record of sea life that existed as the South Atlantic Ocean grew between two drifting continents.

SMU students did the important, time-consuming lab work

Over the past 13 years, the fossils were shipped back to Dallas, where over 100 undergraduate students have worked in basement laboratories to painstakingly clean and preserve the fossils. Some were paleontology students, most were not – but they seem to share an appreciation for their unique role in sharing new knowledge.

“Getting fossils out of rocks is a time consuming, labor-intensive operation,” Jacobs said. “But every time a student removes a grain of sand off a fossil, they have the excitement of seeing ancient life that no one else in the world has ever seen. On top of that, these fossils are going on exhibit at the Smithsonian and then back to their own homeland. That gives our students an opportunity that they simply could not get anywhere else. And what’s not to like about that?”

The Smithsonian exhibit, made possible by the Sant Ocean Hall Endowment fund, will immerse visitors in a marine environment from the Cretaceous Period, which began about 145 million years ago and ended about 66 million years ago. It features lively animations and vivid paleoart murals of life beneath the waves courtesy of natural history artist (and longtime Jacobs collaborator) Karen Carr. The exhibit brings to life 11 authentic fossils from Angola’s ancient seas, full-size fossil reconstructions of a mosasaur and a marine turtle, as well as 3-D scanned replicas of mosasaur skulls. Photomurals and video vignettes will take visitors to field sites along Angola’s modern rugged coast, where Projecto PaleoAngola scientists unearthed the fossil remains from this lost world.

“Because of our planet’s ever-shifting geology, Angola’s coastal cliffs contain the fossil remains of marine creatures from the prehistoric South Atlantic,” said Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History. “We are honored by the generosity of the Angolan people for sharing a window into this part of the Earth’s unfolding story with our visitors.”

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world. For more information, visit SMU on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

About the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. The museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world with approximately 7 million annual visitors from the U.S. and around the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

In the words of smu students and graduates who sorted, cleaned and preserved fossils for Projecto Paleoangola

Pictured (L to R): Yasmin Jackson, Tania Doblado Speck, Harrison Schumann and Evan Snyder

Evan Snyder (SMU 2019)

“This experience allowed me to work on a project far bigger than myself. Exhibits just like this one excited me as a young child and led to my study of science. I’d love to think that my work will have the same impact on kids today. Working on this project also taught me how to work on challenging and stressful tasks with the right balance of confidence and care to meet deadlines with quality work.”

Yasmin Jackson (SMU 2019)

“I was able to go to the Smithsonian for the first time through this project. I really liked being able to see all of the different exhibits that are currently in the museum and imagine what our exhibit will be like in the midst of all of it.”

Harrison Schuman (SMU 2019)

“Dr. Jacobs is an inspiring individual to be around. Despite being a world-class expert in paleontology, he made himself very approachable and was always personally invested in all of the students working on the project. This kind of attitude encourages students like me to pursue careers in science.”

Alexandra Lippas (SMU 2011)

“It is because of Dr. Jacobs that I was able to be a part of this project. He encouraged students from other branches of science to work on this study. I think it demonstrates that different perspectives can lead to great discovery.”

Connor Flynn (SMU 2014)

“My time in the lab will be a source of stories for years to come and a point of pride for a lifetime. Its lessons in patience, care and passion for the labor will never be forgotten. Dr. Jacobs’ words ‘There’s nothing so broken you can’t fix it,’ carried me through more lab accidents than i care to admit — both at SMU and beyond.”

Jennifer Welch (SMU 2019)

“Dr. Jacobs is so incredibly smart, I could point out any part of the vertebrae and he would tell me what it’s for, why it was there, how that impacted the life of the animal and the stories that told about the land where the animal lived.”

Stephen Tyler Armstrong (SMU 2012)

“As an engineering major, this project exposed me to areas of research and career paths I would otherwise not encountered. It was really interesting to work so closely with those conducting the research to learn about a subject outside of my realm.”

For more information about undergraduate students working in SMU’s earth sciences labs.

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Researcher news Subfeature

Letting kids shape how they learn algebra

SMU math educator Candace Walkington will use a $1 million NSF grant to help expand tool that allows kids to create and solve algebra problems related to their own interests.

Read more about Professor Walkington’s research in this Forbes article.

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SMU Engineering Profs Receive NSF Grant to Build Multi-Dimensional Drone Communication Framework

DALLAS (SMU) – Faculty and students in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering will use an $849,839 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) communications, with the potential to enable the next wave of drone applications ranging from delivery of consumer goods to supporting autonomous combat and search and rescue efforts.

The award to Joseph Camp and Dinesh Rajan in the Electrical Engineering Department begins funding their work Oct. 1, 2018 and will extend through Sept. 30, 2021. The objective is to build infrastructure for Multi-Dimensional Drone Communications Infrastructure (MuDDI) to address research issues related to three-dimensional (3-D) connectivity, distributed antennas across a drone swarm and 3-D swarm formations that optimize the transmission to intended receivers.

MuDDI will allow the SMU team to rent and equip indoor space relatively close to campus for repeatable experimentation.  “This will allow us to run our experiments in a controlled environment with the ability to precisely measure the wireless transmission characteristics,” Camp said.

The project will include:

  • Building a programmable drone platform that can dynamically switch across multiple antennas with various positions and orientations on the drone that increase signal from a particular drone to direct transmissions across the extremes of physical dimensions.
  • Experimental analysis of the various channel feedback mechanisms that have been identified but have yet to be evaluated on drones with in-flight vibrations and mobility patterns and various swarm formations.
  • Constructing and incorporating large-scale antenna arrays over the surface of the ceiling and surrounding walls in the test facility to capture various multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) transmission patterns of a single drone seeking 3-D connectivity, distributed drone swarm creating various formations, and a massive-MIMO ground station.
  • Integrating a massive-MIMO control station that can direct transmissions to, and track the mobility of, in-flight systems enabling research on the various beam widths and multi-user beam patterns that may be simultaneously allocated among large antenna arrays.

“When you start to think about drones, the communication issues are not 2D anymore – they are 3D,” Camp said. “When we built a drone platform at SMU in Taos last summer, we put the antennas on top of the drone so they wouldn’t interfere with landing gear. What we then found out was when the drone got to a certain height, it could only communicate from side-to-side, not directly below it.”


“When drones are required to talk to other drones, the communication, by definition, can be in any direction at any point in time,” Camp said. “We make the assumption that radios are expensive in terms of power, weight, and cost and that a switching mechanism from these radios to a greater number of antennas could significantly lower the resource consumption of a drone communications platform. In addition, if carefully designed, multiple drones could team to form a large antenna array to improve communication range.”

The research being directed by Camp and Rajan could have far-reaching applications for the future of UAV communications, including increasing Internet connectivity during natural disasters as well as commercial and military applications, all of which require coordination of multiple entities across various altitudes, from in-flight to ground-based stations. Potential applications also include deploying WiFi in underserved, low-income neighborhoods.

A warehouse in close proximity to campus currently is being outfitted to the specific dimensions required for faculty and students to analyze data and applications for this project. In addition, interested students can join Camp each June at SMU’s campus in Taos, NM, where he teaches an “Introduction to Drone Communications” class where students learn the fundamentals of experimentation research for the purposes of
design novel measurement studies for drone communications.

Camp is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. He joined the SMU faculty in 2009 after receiving his Ph.D. in ECE from Rice University. He received the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2012.

Rajan is Cecil and Ida Green Endowed Professor of Engineering. He has served as professor and chair of the Electrical Engineering Department in the Lyle School, and received an NSF CAREER Award in 2006. He joined SMU in 2002 and earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Rice University.

About SMU

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

About the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering

SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, founded in 1925, is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest. The school offers eight undergraduate and 29 graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, through the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Computer Science and Engineering; Electrical Engineering; Engineering Management, Information, and Systems; and Mechanical Engineering. Lyle students participate in programs in the unique Deason Innovation Gym, providing the tools and space to work on immersion design projects and competitions to accelerate leadership development and the framework for innovation; the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, helping students develop nontechnical skills to prepare them for leadership in diverse technical fields; the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, developing new methodologies for incorporating engineering education into K-12 schools; and the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity, combining technological innovation with business expertise to address global poverty.

Energy & Matter Feature Global Learning & Education SMU In The News Technology

SMU Physicist Explains Significance of Latest Cern Discovery Related to the Higgs Boson

Stephen Sekula says observation of the Higgs particle transforming into bottom quarks confirms the 20th-century recipe for mass

DALLAS (SMU) – Scientists conducting physics experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider have announced the discovery of the Higgs boson transforming, as it decays, into subatomic particles called bottom quarks, an observation that confirms that the “Standard Model” of the universe – the 20th century recipe for everything in the known physical world – is still valid.

This new discovery is a big step forward in the quest to understand how the Higgs enables fundamental particles to acquire mass. Many scientists suspect that the Higgs could interact with particles outside the Standard Model, such as dark matter – the unseen matter that does not emit or absorb light, but may make up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe.

After several years of work experiments at both ATLAS and CMS – CERN detectors that use different types of technology to investigate a broad range of physics –have demonstrated that 60 percent of Higgs particles decay in the same way. By finding and mapping the Higgs boson interactions with known particles, scientists can simultaneously probe for new phenomena.

SMU played important roles in the analysis announced by CERN Aug. 28, including:

  • Development of the underlying analysis software framework (Stephen Sekula, SMU associate professor of physics was co-leader of the small group that included SMU graduate student Peilong Wang and post-doctoral researcher Francesco Lo Sterzo, that does this for the larger analysis for 2017-2018)
  • Studying background processes that mimic this Higgs boson decay, reducing measurement uncertainty in the final result.

“The Standard Model is the recipe for everything that surrounds us in the world today.  Sekula explained. “It has been tested to ridiculous precision. People have been trying for 30-40 years to figure out where or if the Standard Model described matter incorrectly. Like any recipe you inherit from a family member, you trust but verify. This might be grandma’s favorite recipe, but do you really need two sticks of butter? This finding shows that the Standard Model is still the best recipe for the Universe as we know it.”

Scientists would have been intrigued if the Standard Model had not survived this test, Sekula said, because failure would have produced new knowledge.

“When we went to the moon, we didn’t know we’d get Mylar and Tang,” Sekula said. “What we’ve achieved getting to this point is we’ve pushed the boundaries of technology in both computing and electronics just to make this observation. Technology as we know it will continue to be revolutionized by fundamental curiosity about why the universe is the way it is.

“As for what we will get from all this experimentation, the honest answer is I don’t know,” Sekula said. “But based on the history of science, it’s going to be amazing.”

About CERN

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas.  SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.

Earth & Climate Researcher news SMU In The News Subfeature

Native Bison Hunters Amplified Climate Impacts on North American Prairie Fires

Study shows hunter-gatherers used active burning to improve grazing, drive bison, long before arrival of Columbus

Blackfeet Burning Crow Buffalo Range, painting by Charles Marion Russell, 1905.
Blackfeet Burning Crow Buffalo Range, painting by Charles Marion Russell, 1905.

DALLAS (SMU) – Native American communities actively managed North American prairies for centuries before Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World, according to a new study led by Southern Methodist University (SMU) archaeologist Christopher I. Roos.

Fire was an important indigenous tool for shaping North American ecosystems, but the relative importance of indigenous burning versus climate on fire patterns remains controversial in scientific communities. The new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), documents the use of fire to manipulate bison herds in the northern Great Plains. Contrary to popular thinking, burning by indigenous hunters combined with climate variability to amplify the effects of climate on prairie fire patterns.

The relative importance of climate and human activities in shaping fire patterns is often debated and has implications for how we approach fire management today.

“While there is little doubt that climate plays an important top-down role in shaping fire patterns, it is far less clear whether human activities – including active burning – can override those climate influences,” said Roos. “Too often, if scientists see strong correlations between fire activity and climate, the role of humans is discounted.”

Anthropologists and historians have documented a wide variety of fire uses by Native peoples in the Americas but fire scientists have also documented strong fire-climate relationships spanning more than 10,000 years.

“People often think that hunter-gatherers lived lightly on the land,” said Kacy L. Hollenback, an anthropologist at SMU and co-author of the study. “Too often we assume that hunter-gatherers were passive in their interaction with their environment. On the Great Plains and elsewhere, foragers were active managers shaping the composition, structure, and productivity of their environments. This history of management has important implications for contemporary relationships between Native American and First Nations peoples and their home landscapes – of which they were ecosystem engineers.”

Working in partnership with the Blackfeet Tribe in northern Montana, Roos and colleagues combined landscape archaeology and geoarchaeology to document changes in prairie fire activity in close spatial relationship to stones piled in formations up to a mile long that were used to drive herds of bison off of cliffs to be harvested en masse. These features are known as drivelines.

“We surveyed the uplands for stone features that delineate drivelines within which bison herds would be funneled towards a jump,” said anthropologist María Nieves Zedeño of the University of Arizona, co-author of the study. “By radiocarbon dating prairie fire charcoal deposits from the landscape near the drivelines, we were able to reconstruct periods of unusually high fire activity that are spatially associated with the drivelines,” says Roos.

The overlap between peak periods of driveline use (ca. 900-1650 CE) and prairie fire activity (ca. 1100-1650 CE) suggests that fire was an important tool in the hunting strategy involving the drivelines. Roos and colleagues suggest that fire was used to freshen up the prairie near the mouth of the drivelines to attract herds of bison, who prefer to graze recently burned areas. Episodes of high fire activity also correspond to wet climate episodes, when climate would have produced abundant grass fuel for prairie fires.

The absence of deposits indicating high prairie fire activity before or after the period of driveline use, even though comparable wet climate episodes occurred, suggests that anthropogenic burning by Native hunters amplified the climate signal in prairie fire patterns during the period of intensive bison hunting.

“We need to consider that humans and climate have more complicated and interacting influences on historical fire patterns,” said Roos. “Moreover, we need to acknowledge that hunter-gatherers can be active influences in their environments, particularly through their use of fire as a landscape tool. We expect that future studies of human/climate/fire interactions will further document the complexity of these relationships. Understanding that complexity may prove important as we try to navigate the complex wildfire problems we face today.”

About SMU

SMU is a nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.