Research Excellence

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is home to a diverse portfolio of research, scholarly, programmatic, entrepreneurial, and outreach activities.

UWM in the News

UWM was the recipient of three National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grants totaling $1.7 million in 2016, an unprecedented feat for the institution.These awards will support research and teaching in chemistry, biochemistry, engineering, astrophysics, physics, and medicine. The principal investigators and their projects are:

Patrick Brady, Alan Wiseman, David Kaplan, Thomas Downes, and Jolien Creighton received $874,669 to support MRI: Acquisition of a High-Capacity Data Analysis System for Gravitational-Wave Detection with Advanced LIGO.

Peter Geissinger, Deyang Qu, Graham Moran, Arsenio Pacheco, and Nicholas Silvaggi received $392,690 to support MRI: Acquisition of a 500 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer to Enhance NMR Capabilities at a Major Urban Research Institution.

Valerica Raicu, Ionel Popa, and Sergei Kuchin received $449,974 to support MRI: Development of an Advanced Micro-Spectroscope for Imaging Quaternary Structure, Trafficking, and Dynamics of Macromolecular Systems in Live Cells.

Dr. Shama Mirza, Director of the Shimadzu Laboratory for Advanced and Applied Analytical Chemistry, received a two-year, $230,076 National Institutes of Health grant to develop a rapid and non-invasive urinary test for the detection of obstructive uropathy in children. Childhood kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. Less severe disease can progress over time into various degrees of kidney failure in adolescence and adulthood. Collectively, obstructive diseases of the kidney in newborns and infants consume about a quarter of healthcare dollars in this segment of the population. Dr. Mirza and her collaborator, Dr. Hrair-George Mesrobian, MD, Professor of Urology at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, are developing a new and rapid noninvasive diagnostic test to detect obstructive uropathy in newborns and infants. The outcome of the study will help early and instantaneous detection of silent obstructive kidney disease, even in low resource settings and may save many lives worldwide.

Geosciences Assistant Professor Julie Bowles recently returned from a two-month expedition in the Indian Ocean as part of a renewed effort to drill through Earth’s outermost crust and into the mantle below—a goal that has remained elusive since it was first attempted in the 1960s. This was the first of three expeditions dedicated to this task by the International Ocean Discovery Program. The international team of scientists drilled 2,588 feet into the crust, and the recovered cores will let the team test models for how the crust is constructed and what is composed of, as well as what types of microbial life may exist deep in the Earth.

Yue Liu, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, received a five-year, $1,562,564 award from Precision Systems, Inc. to research next-generation work zone management systems and data-hub development. It is part of a national, Department of Transportation effort to promote the development of smart cities. Smart cities would fully integrate innovative technology (self-driving cars, connected vehicles, artificial intelligence and big data mining, for example) into transportation networks. Liu’s past research on predictive traffic evacuation models for the Washington D.C. area—solving outbound traffic problems in the event of a severe accident or terrorist attack, for example—was used during the 2009 inauguration of President Obama. Jie Yu, Assistant Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, will be a co-PI on this award, which also supports hiring seven to ten research assistants annually.

Erica Young, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Energy for Sustainability collaborative research grant for $391,964. This award will allow the interdisciplinary research team to examine bioenergy recovery and nutrient remediation of wastewater using microbial fuel cells enhanced by the integration of algae. The project aims to develop sustainable biological and microbial approaches to bioenergy production using wastewater through characterization of nutrient transformations, testing functional capacities and enhancements with different algal species and consortia, and developing and testing optimum system configurations for energy recovery. The project includes the algal-microbial team from UWM and engineers from Virginia Tech University, incorporating engineering advances, chemical transformations, and biological community analysis and functional metagenomics.

Professor Iris Xie and Assistant Professor Rakesh Babu at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies, along with their research team, have been awarded a $495,600 National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grant period extends from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019.

The grant will allow Drs. Xie and Babu and their research team to create digital library (DL) design guidelines on accessibility, usability and utility for blind and visually impaired (BVI) users. The guidelines will address the help-seeking situations in BVI users’ interactions with DLs, incorporating perspectives from DL stakeholders and related guidelines. BVI Americans cannot effectively use DLs due to their sight-centered design, and limitations of existing accessibility and usability guidelines do not address many of the help-seeking situations these users face when using DLs. The partners of this project include American Library Association-Office for Information Technology Policy, The Digital Public Library of America, Milwaukee Public Library and WI Talking Book & Braille Library, Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, UWM Libraries, Recollection Wisconsin, American Council of the Blind, Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Blind Service Association, Learning Ally, National Federation of the Blind-WI Chapter, and Vision Forward Association.

The project will benefit approximately 20.6 million Americans with significant vision loss. Please see the official IMLS Announcement:

Vickie Moerchen, Associate Professor of Health Sciences, recently received a $784,984 award from the Health Resources and Services Administration to support and train undergraduate students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds for entry into graduate programs in maternal and child health fields. The goals of this program will be met through a comprehensive interdisciplinary program that uses a service-learning approach to provide graduates with cultural and linguistic competence, family-centeredness, and understanding of social determinants of health.

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The Digital Yiddish Theatre Project (DYTP), co-founded in 2012 by Dr. Joel Berkowitz, UWM Professor of Jewish Studies, and Debra Caplan (Baruch College, CUNY), is a consortium of fifteen scholars, librarians, and archivists dedicated to the study and preservation of Yiddish theatre, drama, and performance. The Digital Yiddish Theatre Project was formed in recognition of the linguistic, cultural, and geographic complexity of the Yiddish theatre, and of the ability of emerging digital humanities tools and methodologies to address that complexity. The DYTP blog (, launched in late 2014, provides a platform for public-facing scholarship by DYTP members and guest contributors. With seed funding from UWM’s Research Growth Initiative and another grant from the CUNY system, the DYTP is currently designing a website and interactive database, and helping digitize an important, unpublished reference work on the Yiddish stage.

For years, UWM researchers have been participating in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration funded through the National Science Foundation. Now, their work has yielded results—LIGO detected gravitational waves that emanated 1.3 billion years ago. This marks a significant discovery that confirms Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. Coverage related to this finding has appeared in both scientific and popular press, including: the National Science Foundation; National Science Board; Physical Review Letters; UWM Report; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; New York Times; The Telegraph; NPR; and CNN.

Dr. Emily Latch, Associate Professor of Biosciences, will lead a team of scientists to integrate DNA testing into breeding pair strategies at zoos and aquariums through a $454,163 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Dr. Latch will work with collaborators at the San Diego Zoo and an Implementation Team of zoo and aquarium Population Biologists. This project has several goals, including the development of protocols to use DNA testing for breed pairing; testing the protocols on certain species in order to test protocol efficacy; and developing dissemination and training strategies to professionals at facilities maintained by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The overall goal of the project is to develop better breed pairing strategies in order to support the long-term persistence of living collections maintained by the AZA.

Dr. Junhong Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has engaged private industry partners to develop the next generation of water sensors and support economic development within the region. Dr. Chen, in collaboration with industry partners A.O. Smith Corporation, Badger Meter Inc., and Baker Manufacturing, LLC, have developed the sensors to detect contaminants and heavy metals in water for use by the industry partners. This public-private partnership, supported with grant funds from the National Science Foundation and private industry, will contribute to the $500 billion a year global market for water engineering systems.

Dr. Ilya Avdeev, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Junhong Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Brian Thompson, President of the UWM Research Foundation, have received a $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation to create an Innovation Corps site. The award will allow 90 teams, each consisting of an academic, entrepreneur, and private-sector mentor, to be provided training on technology commercialization. At the end of each training period, teams will determine whether to proceed with technology commercialization—and be connected with resources in order to do so. The project will also involve collaborations with industry and with other educational institutions; Marquette University, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Concordia University will also recruit participants into the program.

Dr. Xavier Siemens, Associate Professor of Physics, will lead a five-year, $14.5 million award from the National Science Foundation to create the NanoGrav Physics Frontier Center. The Center will involve 11 institutions and 60 scientists and students from across the United States and its territories, including two of the most sensitive radio telescopes on Earth: the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The team will search for low-frequency gravitational waves to provide a better picture of the origins of the universe and confirm one of Albert Einstein’s last predictions of the theory of general relativity.

Dr. Ramin Pashaie, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, is the latest UWM recipient of a National Science Foundation Early CAREER award, the agency’s premier grant program for younger researchers.The assistant professor of electrical engineering studies the brain using optics and photonics. His primary tool is optogenetics, a technique that combines optics and molecular genetics. Using mice as a model, he genetically modifies neurons to become sensitive to light. Then he can control and manipulate the cells’ activities by exposing them to light of specific wavelengths.

Pashaie’s five-year, $506,451 grant will fund a project designed to further elucidate the role of brain cells called astrocytes. Scientists have traditionally believed that these cells’ sole purpose is to provide a support network for neurons. However, recent studies have revealed their role in data processing in the brain’s cortex and involvement in the regulation of blood flow. Pashaie proposes a new technology that will selectively manipulate and record activity of neurons and astrocytes during hemodynamic signaling.

Dr. Christine Larson, Associate Professor of Psychology, recently received a five-year, $3 million award from the National Institutes of Health to explore neurobiological factors that identify individuals most at risk for long-term post-trauma and anxiety disorders. Dr. Larson will collaborate with faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin and their Level 1 trauma service, which will allow access to a large patient population. The goal of this project is to not only identify those individuals most at risk for post-trauma and anxiety disorders, but to also identify early interventions to reduce negative health outcomes such as posttraumatic stress disorder.

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The Center for International Education has received a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships award.Designated a National Resource Center for International/Global Studies, UWM‘s Center for International Education will receive $1.7 million to support curricular internationalization, K-16 outreach, and faculty professional development activities over the next four years. It also includes $195,000 per year to support undergraduates’ advanced foreign language studies through academic year and summer intensive study fellowships.

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The College of Nursing has received a National Institutes of Health award for the project Self-Management Science Center (SMSC) at UWM. This P20 Developmental Research Center grant, funded by National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), is for $1.45 million over five years.

Dr. Rachel Schiffman is the Center’s project director. The first two pilot research projects will be led by Dr. Michelle Polfuss and Dr. Bev Zabler, respectively. The purpose of this program is to support the initial enhancement of research capacity at institutions with emerging research programs. Centers are expected to lead to improved capabilities at institutions with nascent research programs, increase the number of investigators involved in interdisciplinary research of importance to NINR, and foster larger-scale research projects capable of competing for higher levels of support.

CETL Learning Photo

Academic Affairs has received a $1.48M grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a national Center for the Study of Distance Education and Technological advancement (DETA). Diane Reddy, Psychology and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Tanya Joosten, Academic Affairs and Communication, will be co-directors of the DETA Center. Grant partners include UW System, UW-Extension, MATC, and EDUCAUSE.

Dr. Michelle Bolduc, Associate Professor of French, recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations award for the project Rendez-vous with Rhetoric: New Translations and Commentary on the Writings of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. The project supports the preparation of 25 articles for publication from the New Rhetoric Project of Chaïm Perelman (1916-1984) and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca (1926-1994). These articles will be translated from French to English and annotated, then disseminated in both a print volume and an open-access Web site.

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Dr. Junhong Chen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and industry partners from A.O. Smith, Badger Meter, and NanoAffix Science LLC, have been awarded a National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation award for $800,000. The project, Enabling Low-cost, Real-time Monitoring of Heavy Metal Ions in Drinking Water, focuses on the translation and transfer of a low-cost and real-time heavy metal ion detection technology derived from industry/university research collaborations.

Dr. Nicolas Russell, Assistant Professor of French, recently received an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations for the project Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron: A New Translation and Critical Edition. Dr. Russell and his collaborator, Dr. Mary McKinley of the University of Virginia, will support the print and e-book publication of a critical edition and translation into English of the Heptameron, a 16th-century French text by Marguerite de Navarre.

Distinguished Professorships

UWM Distinguished Professors have a significant impact on their fields of study. With remarkable productivity, international reputations, and glowing testimonials from peers, UWM Distinguished Professors continue to make significant scholarly contributions to their disciplines. Of the 57 professors who have achieved this status since 1973, 31 remain on the faculty, continuing their leadership role at UWM. The Office of Research also maintains information on the selection, roles, and responsibilities of UWM Distinguished Professors, and the Historical List of Distinguished Professors.

Centers, Institutes, and Laboratories

UWM is home to more than 100 centers, institutes, and laboratories. These entities conduct research and scholarship, programs, and outreach in order to contribute to the scientific, cultural, educational, and economic conditions of the campus, region, and globe. These centers, institutes, and laboratories generate millions of dollars of extramural research awards each year in order to advance the mission of each entity and the University.

The Research Growth Initiative® (RGI)

The Research Growth Initiative® is a competitive internal seed program that supports high-quality research projects in the early stages. The program’s objective is to increase UWM‘s research productivity, scholarship, creative endeavors, collaborative projects, and external funding by investing in projects selected through an independent and objective process.

Research and Creative Activities Support Awards (RACAS)

The RACAS award (formerly known as the Faculty Research and Creative Activities Support Award [FRACAS]) provides competitive support for faculty and instructional and research academic staff across the breadth of meritorious scholarship at UWM. Supported projects are expected to result in appropriate scholarly products that will increase the national and international recognition of the awardees, their programs, and the institution.