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Pres Perspective

Aggie Research Changes the World

By Michael K. Young

President, Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University has developed into one of the nation’s leading research institutions with annual research expenditures approaching $1 billion. Through contributions from Aggie student and faculty researchers, we are making positive impacts for our fellow Texans, the nation and the world.

Here, I highlight just five of our extraordinary Aggie researchers and their teams to exemplify the remarkable work happening at Texas A&M and our deep commitment to bettering the world through research.

Gabriel Hamer

Hamer is studying the process of insect-borne disease transmission through strapping tiny radio transmitters to the backs of bugs.
Associate Professor
Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
 

Strapping tiny radio transmitters to the backs of bugs might sound like a questionable hobby, but for Associate Professor Gabriel Hamer, this innovative approach to studying the process of insect-borne disease transmission is proving effective in tracking the movements of elusive triatomine bugs, or “kissing bugs,” which carry a disease-causing parasite.

The parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, causes Chagas disease, a tropical infection endemic throughout much of Central and South America. Although most of the more than 300,000 Americans diagnosed with Chagas disease acquired the infection in a country where it is endemic, it is possible to acquire the disease locally, mostly during outdoor activities. Chagas can cause mild symptoms to severe complications in humans and animals.

In tracking the tagged bugs, researchers can note how far they travel and where their daytime hiding places occur, which is critical to know for efficient vector control. “The emergence and re-emergence of vector-borne diseases in the U.S. is a constant reminder that we need new tools to help manage and mitigate disease,” said Hamer, whose studies span not only kissing bugs, but also mosquitoes, ticks and biting midges, all of which are common blood-feeding arthropods in Texas.

B. Don Russell

Engineering Research Chair Professor and Distinguished Professor
Department of Computer & Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering
 
Russell developed a technology called Distributed Fault Anticipation that can detect and predict electric faults in power lines.

Like many Texans, power engineer Professor B. Don Russell remembers the 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, Texas, when high winds caused trees to fall on power lines, resulting in the most damaging wildfire in the state’s history.

Working to prevent catastrophic fires as well as outages, Russell and his team developed a technology to detect and predict electric faults called “Distributed Fault Anticipation” (DFA), an autonomous distributed computing system that provides electric utility operators a way of monitoring circuits, allowing for increased reliability and a reduction in outages. The innovative technology can also help utility companies locate tree branches in contact with power lines.

“A practical benefit of using DFA is the ability to detect and repair arcing and misoperating devices that often cause wildfires,” said Russell. “Whether preventing wildfires or dangerous power lines on the ground, DFA is a new tool that improves reliability and safety.”

Jamilia Blake

Associate Professor
Department of Educational Psychology, College of Education and Human Development
 
Blake researches equity in education and healthy social development for school children.

Equity in education and healthy social development for schoolchildren are at the core of Professor Jamilia Blake’s studies.

Blake is nationally renowned for her research on race-based disparate treatment in school disciplinary practices, as well as bullying among diverse youth, including students with disabilities. Her findings have not only raised awareness of these issues, but have also been used by educators in the modification of bullying prevention programs. 

The developmental and academic success of children as they travel the education pipeline is critical for our nation, Blake said, adding that evidence-based research is key to developing solutions to ongoing problems of inequity in school-based practices. “Research can help ensure that all students have access to educational practices that promote their social development and aid them in fulfilling their educational potential,” she said.

Mark Benden

Department Head, Associate Professor & Director of the Ergonomics Center
School of Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center
 
Benden's research has been critical to understanding how standing desks can improve student cognition and classroom management.

More than 100,000 children around the world are using ergonomically-designed standing desks in their classrooms thanks to Professor Mark Benden, who won the 2018 Texas A&M Technology Commercialization Innovation Award for his work.

With a design based on ergonomic research, Benden founded Stand2Learn to produce standup classroom desks and stools. Benden’s desks are found inside schools in all 50 U.S. states and 13 other nations. “Our research found improvements in cognition, calorie expenditure, BMI trajectories and classroom management that gave this project fuel to impact child health and development through the classroom experience,” said Benden.

This year, Stand2Learn was acquired by Varidesk, a Dallas-area manufacturer of active office products. Texas A&M Technology Commercialization has licensed seven inventions Benden developed to four companies. Sales of items with his patent numbers have totaled more than $500 million, and the expected lifetime economic impact of his designs exceeds $2 billion.

Carolyn Kennedy ’17

Ph.D. candidate
Kennedy and other researchers found the remains of this schooner buried 40 feet underground in downtown Toronto.
Nautical Archaeology Program, College of Liberal Arts
 
When crews were excavating to build condos in downtown Toronto three years ago, they weren’t prepared to stumble upon a centuries-old shipwreck buried nearly 40 feet beneath them. Last summer, a team of nautical archaeologists from Texas A&M spent four weeks in Toronto’s CityPlace neighborhood documenting the wreck to understand more about this mysterious schooner.

According to Carolyn Kennedy ’17, team leader on the project, the schooner dates to at least the 1820s, a timeframe indicated by ceramic pieces discovered in the wreckage. She added that researchers found an American penny as well as artifacts marked with the British broad arrow, leading them to question whether the vessel was built by American or British hands.

Continued examination of the schooner will likely reveal more clues to its history, and by extension, the history of the settlement of the area.

Contact:

Dunae Crenwelge '15

Marketing Communications Manager/Spirit Editor