Matthew Gentry: Biofuels, Epilepsy and Science Advocacy


In May, Matthew Gentry received a University Research Professorship award. He was one of 16 faculty, selected by their own colleges, who have demonstrated excellence in scholarship and creative work that addresses scientific, social, cultural and economic challenges in our region and around the world.


Gentry, a professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry in the College of Medicine, has received an NSF Faculty Career Development Award, NIH Pathway to Independence Award, three U.S. patents, and a five-year, $8.5 million NIH grant to pursue a cure for Lafora disease, a deadly congenital form of epilepsy.


His research began with a plant protein that controls the production of biofuels. It turns out mutations in a similar protein in humans result in Lafora disease. He explains, “The discoveries that we made in the plant system were directly applicable to the human system, and that led us down this road now of studying this human disease with the realistic and hopeful possibility of a therapy in the next two to five years.”


Gentry, who spends time advocating for science funding through the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, says, “We advocate that money shouldn't be set aside for specific diseases because while you're researching disease X, you can find something that impacts disease Y. And if you set that money aside, then you don't let the best science get done.”


Listen to the podcast to hear why Gentry says the breadth and depth of the research environment at UK is uniquely strong. Text Transcript.



Digital Humanities Projects by Medievalist Abigail Firey Reach Scholars Across the Globe


Abigail Firey didn’t set out to blaze trails in digital humanities. But that’s exactly what has happened in her quest to get a grasp on the enormous corpus of unpublished manuscripts that are part of her work in medieval canon law.


In this podcast Firey, the Theodore A. Hallam Professor (2017-2019) in the Department of History and a University Research Professor, recalls the chance encounter that changed her trajectory.


“In 2007 a researcher at UK in the Classics Department, Ross Scaife—deeply beloved—ran into me outside the library. And I was telling him about my work, and he said, ‘Have you considered a digital project?’ And I hadn't. And those few words really launched me into thinking about the ways that digital strategies and devices and tools might help us get at these thousands and thousands of manuscripts,” Firey said.


The first digital resource she began, the Carolingian Canon Law Project, gives scholars access to searchable texts of unpublished and unedited medieval manuscripts. Her second digital project, called Scriptorium, displays images of handwritten documents of any era in any language, so that scholars can study evidence scattered across libraries around the world.


“We built Scriptorium to support collaborative research practices. We also designed it to really facilitate rapid, good communication between scholars who may be working in different parts of the world. How do you share your work? How do you show each other the images and talk in real time about what it is you're seeing in them? How do you capture conversations and record ideas so that months, or even years, later, people can go back to them?”


Firey is quick to point out that none of this work would be possible without her collaborators, Noah Adler and Michael Paddock in the College of Arts and Sciences IT unit. She said, “I think of the coders as full collaborators and really value the generosity that they show in learning about something that they don't really need to know about—they’re very generous with their time and their talents. And I see that same generosity just running throughout the university.


“My research at UK has never been hindered or impeded. When I’ve talked to Chairs or Associate Deans of Research, the attitude they bring to those conversations is ‘how can we help you do this?’ And I think that that really shows how UK has not lost sight of the essential academic enterprise. This is a university, and we do what is done at a university, and that’s research and teaching.” Text Transcript.



Research-Based Training to Identify Substance Misuse


Even when it's your job, it's not easy to ask people about substance use. Kalea Benner's current research is based on this fact.


"I knew from my own experiences as a social work practitioner, even with a decade of experience under my belt, it was still hard for me to ask about substance use. And, in today's world, when it's prescription drugs, when a doctor has given you permission to use that medication, it's even harder," says Benner, director of undergraduate studies at the UK College of Social Work. "That was one thing I wanted to help my students do: gain confidence in asking those tough questions, know that they weren't being intrusive, and be able to understand what substance misuse looked like, what it sounded like."


With funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Benner is training UK social work students, nursing students and medical residents to use SBIRT (screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment), an evidence-based tool to identify, reduce and prevent misuse of alcohol and drugs, including prescription medications. Listen to the podcast to learn why a primary care setting might be the best place to have a conversation that can change people's lives for the better. Text transcript.



John van Nagell Shares the Legacy of the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program


In his 50 years at UK, John R. van Nagell, Jr. has worked with countless patients, faculty and students, but his lasting legacy will likely be the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program at the Markey Cancer Center.


Now in its 30th year, the program has provided free screenings to more than 46,000 women, with 775 ovarian tumors and 103 malignancies found. Though the use of transvaginal ultrasound as a screening method has been controversial over the years—with critics suggesting it may lead to unnecessary surgeries—van Nagell emphasizes that newer technologies such as molecular genetic testing will help identify women with the highest risk profile who could most benefit, and the research itself has already taught physicians much about finding malignancies.


"We now know, because of this screening program, that certain ovarian cysts are always benign," he said. "We're not saying that ovarian cancer screening should be adopted nationally out of a research setting. But, what we are saying is more research needs to be done on it, and that's where the University of Kentucky, in my view, has been a leader."


Van Nagell was recently honored for his years of clinical, research and educational work on a national level, earning the Society of Gynecologic Oncology's Distinguished Service Award for 2017. Listen to the podcast to hear his reaction to this recent national recognition and learn what keeps him motivated. Text transcript.



Research Grading to Improve Education


Thomas Guskey is a professor of educational psychology in the UK College of Education. His research focuses on the way teachers grade and how they report that information to parents.


“The grading practices used in most schools today are really steeped in tradition. They are, in many cases, the longest held traditions operating in the schools today,” Guskey said. “There's probably no area in all of education where the gap between a knowledge-base and practice is greater than in the area of grading.”


Guskey said the key to improving grading is to specifically tie grading to what students have learned and what they’re able to do. “In that way, you’re more prescriptive in the information you offer parents, but then also more directive. If a child has particular strengths or weaknesses, parents know where to intervene to really help the child in better ways,” he said.


Listen to the podcast to hear how Guskey is working with Fayette County schools to improve grading practices. Text transcript.



E-Day Open House Offers Hands-on Engineering


Engineers Day, better known as E-Day, is February 25, 2017, from 9 am to 1 pm. This open house showcases the diversity of research in the UK College of Engineering. The event, sponsored by Lexmark, offers interactive displays for school-age children in six buildings across campus.


Chelsea Hansing, E-Day coordinator says, “The event targets Kindergarten through 12th-grade students with interactive and dynamic exhibits. Our goal is to show kids what kinds of things engineers do, who engineers are, what engineers look like—they might be women, they might be minorities, they might be men.”


Perennial event favorites are back this year, like the egg drop crash survivability challenge (where students submit their designs for a container that will protect an egg from a three-story drop) and the volcano challenge (where students design a volcano so that the lava will flow 18 inches from the outer edge of the volcano base). Students must preregister for these events, see more on the exhibits list (pdf). Most exhibits allow students to walk up and participate and take no more than 5 to 10 minutes.


Listen to the podcast to learn more, see photos from past E-Days on Facebook, visit the E-Day website at or search “University of Kentucky e-day” to download the mobile app. Text transcript.



Branding Research Shows Placebo Effect on Consumers


Aaron Garvey, an assistant professor of marketing in the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics, conducts research on consumer behavior. He looks at the psychology of how consumers act, think and feel. The curiosity that prompted his first research project—testing an equation for trajectory—is the same thing that drives him today. “I've always liked hearing other people’s ideas, developing my own ideas, but ultimately, I want to see it proven for myself. I want to see it tested. I want to know if it’s real,” he said.


Before working in academia, Garvey worked in product marketing and would test prototype products with consumers. Some of these industry experiences inspired his later research. “I was just amazed that you could change what price you were going to launch a product at, and you could change what brand it was, and people would have dramatically different impressions of that product. And they would tell you incredibly different things about the product: they thought it was made of different materials, they thought it weighed more or it weighed less. Really out-there stuff that, at the time, we joked about but we couldn’t explain.”


His research deals with branded and conspicuous product consumption and consumer decision making, and he just published a paper showing how brands can have placebo effects on consumers. In one example, consumers who believed that a branded product would improve their athletic performance did, measurably, perform better.


Text transcript.



Fighting Substance Abuse by Empowering Incarcerated Women


Michele Staton-Tindall grew up in rural Appalachia during a time when people felt so safe they didn’t even lock their doors at night. The ensuing drug epidemic that now ravages her former home has dramatically impacted the lives of the Appalachian people and broken that sense of security.


Staton-Tindall, an associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky's College of Medicine, and a faculty associate at the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, has made it her mission to make a positive difference in the Appalachia, particularly for women in the criminal justice population who have fallen prey to substance abuse and high-risk behaviors. Her research focuses on intervention before release from jail to empower women to make healthier and safer choices during the transition back to the community.


As a social worker, Staton-Tindall loves the stories the women tell of their life experiences: real people, real problems, and tough choices. Their stories not only inform her research, but also fuel the passion for her work as well. At the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, Staton-Tindall works with professionals across campus who take a multidisciplinary approach to widespread problems of substance abuse.


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Power from a Partnership: UK & Weisenberger Mill


When you think about cutting-edge energy research, you probably don’t think about a flour mill, but that’s exactly what’s happening at Weisenberger Mill in Midway, Kentucky. The mill received a Department of Energy grant to pilot test the first variable-speed generator in a hydroelectric plant in the U.S. This is a technology that’s new to water power, but it has the potential—with off-the-shelf components—to help any hydroelectric plant boost their power production from 10 to 15 percent. The Weisenberger Mill saw a 96 percent increase in energy production.


In this podcast, we learn about the mill’s history directly from owner Mac Weisenberger and his son Philip, and we learn about the generator from the man who installed it, Dave Brown Kinloch of Shaker Landing Hydro Associates. He partnered with Jim Neathery, who analyzed the data, at UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER). This is just one example of how CAER works with industry and community partners to test new technologies and promote energy efficiency. See more of the Weisenberger Mill at


Text transcript.



Research on Intimate Partner Violence with Claire Renzetti


This podcast features Claire Renzetti, the Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair in the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women, and professor and chair of sociology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences.


Renzetti’s research focuses on violence against women, particularly violent victimization experiences of socially and economically marginalized groups of women, including women living in poverty and women in same-sex intimate partnerships. Her current research focuses on human trafficking, and services for trafficking victims. She also examines the effects of religiosity and religious self-regulation on intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization. Additionally, she is evaluating the potential benefits of a therapeutic horticulture program for residents of a battered women’s shelter.


Renzetti is an internationally recognized scholar on gender and crime issues, and her research and community engagement have received regional and national recognition. This includes the Saltzman Award for Contributions to Practice from the Women and Crime Division of the American Society of Criminology. The award recognizes a criminologist whose professional accomplishments have increased the quality of justice and the level of safety for women.


“Ultimately, I want to produce knowledge that’s useable to people in their everyday lives and improves their quality of life,” Renzetti says.

Text transcript.



Research Support: Export Control with John Craddock


John Craddock joined the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration (OSPA) staff, under the auspices of the Vice President for Research, with the goal of proactively streamlining compliance for UK investigators seeking funding that may be regulated by export control laws.


Craddock has worked as a principal investigator at the Center for Applied Energy Research on several export controlled projects, where he developed protocols to remain in compliance with U.S. export control laws.


Craddock explains the importance of his new role: “I think there’s a stigma that comes with export controlled research, in that it’s scary or dangerous. It’s really not, and we want to get that message out because there’s a lot of DoD, NASA funding out there. Having been in this area for eight years now, there are a lot of opportunities to bring in new and novel research and utilize the facilities and staff we have here at UK. I think it will open up doors towards funding that investigators may not have pursued in the past because now they can feel confident and comfortable that we have a plan in place to comply.”


U.S. export control laws and regulations exist to maintain national security and protect U.S. economic vitality. These regulations control the shipment of both tangible items and technical data outside the country, and prohibit access to export-controlled technical data, materials or equipment to non-U.S. persons within the United States, known as a deemed export.


Listen to the podcast to learn what types of research fall under export control, how to protect research by developing a Technology Control Plan (TCP), and how Craddock can help investigators. Text transcript.



Spinal Cord Injury Research with the Gensel Lab


John Gensel, an assistant professor in the physiology department and the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, and two members of his lab team—Bei Zhang and Taylor Otto—are featured in this podcast.


Taylor Otto, an undergraduate lab assistant in Gensel’s lab, described UK as being the full package. “We have it all here. It’s a good program to be able to come into, not really knowing what you want to exactly do in the science field, but being able to figure it out at the same time,” said Otto.


Bei Zhang, a research scientist, said that working with Gensel has motivated her to do the best science she can. “If we can work at our research project every day in generating different thoughts and prove our hypothesis, we can make a contribution to the cure for spinal cord injuries.”


The team’s objective is to determine how to harness reparative capabilities of inflammation in spinal cord injuries. “Our goal is to really find out what physiological factors regulate the reparative or pathological balance, and gain insights into developing therapies for that,” said Gensel. “The overall goal is to improve the lives of individuals with a spinal cord injury.”


Text transcript.





From clinical trials for new cancer treatments to composing and recording an album of original music, research often leads us toward answering questions we didn’t even think to ask.


At the forefront of research efforts at the University of Kentucky, is the construction of a $265 million dollar, multidisciplinary research building. Expected to be completed in 2018, the space will be dedicated to addressing health challenges and disparities in Kentucky.


In this recent "Behind the Blue" podcast, UK Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis joined Amy Jones-Timoney and Kody Kiser of UK Public Relations and Marketing to discuss the new facility and the impact it will have on innovation and collaboration. Cassis talks about her personal journey into research, bringing together viewpoints from different fields to drive new discoveries, and the importance of clinical trials through UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Text transcript.





Diana Hallman, an associate professor of musicology in the UK College of Fine Arts, is an internationally recognized scholar of French 19th-century opera.


She has published the book Opera, Liberalism, and Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France: The Politics of La Juive (Cambridge University Press) and has contributed to such notable texts as The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera (Cambridge University Press), Music, Theatre, and Cultural Transfer: Paris, 1830-1914 (University of Chicago Press), Sephardism: Spanish Jewish History in the Modern Literary Imagination (Stanford University Press), and Le Concours de Prix de Rome de musique, 1803-1968 (Symétrie).  


She has written program essays for international opera houses such as the Paris Opéra, Royal Opera House-Covent Garden, Opernhaus Zürich, and the Metropolitan Opera. Currently she is conducting research for a book, Opéra-Comique in the July Monarchy, and co-editing, with former UK graduate student César Leal, a collection of essays, Transatlantic Dialogues at the fin-de-siècle: Franco-American Exchanges and the New Internationalism in the Arts. She serves as coordinator of the UK Opera Research Alliance and was recently named a 2016-17 University Research Professor. 


About her initial research on a specific work of French grand opera, Hallman says, “I started with this simple question: Why would a work titled La Juive, The Jewess, appear on the stage of the Paris Opéra in 1835? It sounds like a silly, simple question, but what I came up with just absolutely bowled me over.” She explains that the July Monarchy (1830 to 1848) was a period in which Jews had the fullest civil rights that any Jews had in all of Europe. “Even though this is an opera, it was clearly exploring some of the big questions of the day: What should the nation of France be? Should it be a nation that embraces those that are outside of the traditional norms of the Catholic religion?”


In 2003 Hallman wrote the New York Times article on the historical and contemporary meanings of La Juive in the Met’s production of the opera. “It was a very, very important work that raised big historical/political questions. It was a timely work for its day, and I think it’s a timely work for now.”


Listen to the podcast to learn more about French grand opera as “cultural artifacts,” the lasting impact of Wagner’s anti-Semitic attacks on the genre and its composers, and why historical operas still resonate today. Text transcript.





This podcast features Joshua A. Douglas, the Robert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law at the UK College of Law. He talks about his research and his new book “Election Law Stories.”


The book, co-edited by Douglas, has 13 chapters that tell behind-the-scenes stories of major cases in the election law world. These stories highlight the litigants, the lawyers, and the lower court judges. "I think it's a good book for the general public—someone who's interested in learning where voter ID laws come from, or what actually happened in Bush v. Gore, or how the Citizens United case actually got to the Supreme Court. It does so in a way that's accessible to both law students, college students and the general public."


Douglas talked about how rewarding it is to work with the students at the UK College of Law, and how a group of students showed him how much of an impact he was making in their education. "A bunch of students came to me and said they wanted to start a new student group called the Election Law Society, where they can put on events and bring in speakers," said Douglas. "That was so rewarding for me as a professor to see the students embracing my field of scholarship, my teaching, and wanting to do more with it outside of the classroom."


For more on the UK College of Law's Election Law Society, visit their blog:


Text transcript.





Biologist Nicholas McLetchie, and Ph.D. students Jonathan Moore and Rose Marks, study sexual reproduction of nonvascular plants like liverworts and mosses. In these species, it’s common for females to far outnumber males, and the lab team wants to figure out how and why.


McLetchie noted a recent discovery when they manipulate the environment. “One of the things we’ve figured out is we can make both males and females reproduce within 21 days. We really don’t understand the mechanism, yet,” he said.


Moore discussed how important water is in the plant’s reproductive cycle, but how its job differs based on the sex of the plant. “Females need to get water, because they’re water fertilized and males need to lose water to disperse their gamets to the females,” said Moore, “So what makes them a good male, may also make them more likely to die.”


Marks, who just returned from field work in Trinidad with McLetchie, is working on her dissertation project investigating what genes allow plants to survive without water, a topic relevant to many areas of the world with persistent drought conditions. “We’re looking at the ecology of plants that are drought or desiccation tolerant, as well as the molecular mechanisms,” she said


Listen to this podcast to learn more about why McLetchie, Moore and Marks chose biology. Text transcript.





On October 1, 2016, the University of Kentucky Department of Biology is hosting BioBonanza, a one-day open house festival.


BioBonanza will be held at the new Academic Science Building at 680 Rose Street on Saturday, October 1 from noon to 4 pm. Free parking is available in the parking garage on Hilltop Avenue, next to the Academic Science Building.


This free event will showcase interactive displays on research taking place in biology at UK. “As soon as you walk through the doors you’ll see all sorts of activities: displays of how a human heart works, butterflies and all sorts of insects, and you can even try to catch some local insects,” said Jennifer Simkin, a postdoc in biology who helped organize the event. “The displays will target high school and middle school students, but we’re going to have activities for people of all ages, so we welcome families. Students can come see the research and interact with the researchers.”


Those researchers include grad student Cole Malloy and his mentor neurobiologist Robin Cooper. They study how the nervous system adapts to changes in the environment using fruit flies and crayfish. Malloy said, “The breadth of the field is what drew me to biology. In high school I was more a chemistry guy, like my advisor, and when I came to UK I became more interesting in biology, especially genetics and neuroscience.”


This event is part of a month-long celebration of the 150th birthday of Thomas Hunt Morgan, Lexington’s first Nobel Laureate. Listen to this podcast and visit the BioBonanza Facebook page for more information. Text transcript.





It’s been 21 years since Robin Cooper started working in the department of biology in the University of Kentucky College of Arts & sciences. It’s been 130 years since Thomas Hunt Morgan, Kentucky’s first Nobel Laureate, graduated from what is now called UK. What do they have in common? They used the same research organisms: fruit flies and crayfish.


“Thomas Hunt Morgan went on for graduate work and he was awarded the Nobel Prize, working with Drosophila [fruit flies] as a model organism. A lot of people don’t realize though, some of his first work was actually on regeneration in crustaceans,” Cooper said. “The power of genetics allows us to work with the Drosophila and do things really you can’t do with any other organism. Because of rapid development, you can manipulate genes really quickly and test out many different aspects from behavior to how the neuro circuits are formed.”


Sixty human diseases have been modeled in fruit flies. Cooper’s funded research focuses on synaptic transmission, for example, communication from a nerve to a muscle. He uses a technique called optogenetics—inserting a gene that is sensitive to light found in blue-green algae into fruit flies. “In our case, we are looking at neurons. You can shine blue light on the animal and then activate just their serotonergic neurons. Optogenetics can help us pick up on structural changes in the brain, changes in behavior of the animal, as well as developmental aspects.”


Cooper said in his 21 years at UK, his research team has had roughly 150 publications, 50 of those papers have undergraduates as first author or co-author and a handful have had high school students as authors. “Our last paper was actually with a high school student as first author. She developed a new saline that is used to keep the Drosophila heart alive.”


Listen to this podcast to learn why Cooper sent that high school student to an international conference in Poland and hear why he takes undergrads’ questions seriously. Text transcript.





Sarah Welling is the Ashland-Spears Distinguished Research Professor of Law and the Laramie L. Leatherman Professor of Law. Her research focuses on criminal law and she has consulted with Congress and the CIA on money laundering.


"One of my earliest and most successful publications was on money laundering," Welling says, specifically a form called "smurfing" that started at the height of the drug wars. She admits the colorful name peaked her interest.


Welling's current work focuses on jury instructions for the Federal 6th Circuit: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. "It's about the substance of what's criminal and what's not. It's taking really formal, complex, legal concepts and translating them into terms that a jury can absorb. And that's fun for me," she says, because she likes to work with language.


In this podcast, Welling talks about the engaged faculty and passionate student community at the UK College of Law and how law scholarship impacts society. Text transcript.





Mary Davis is the Stites & Harbison Professor of Law and was named a 2016-2017 University Research Professor. She has been on the UK College of Law faculty for 25 years. Her work on federal preemption of state products liability laws has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.


She says her research has a direct connection to what she does in the classroom. "I'm about to begin teaching the Torts class for first-year law students. My scholarship is in the Torts law subset of products liability. Knowing the foundational historical background, knowing the trends, knowing where the law is changing, enables me to help my students understand where we've been—because lawyers have to understand where we've been—and where we’re going," Davis says.


She describes a law professor as part anthropologist, part theorist and philosopher, and part translator. "Some of my scholarship, and most of my colleagues', is driven to help the practice of law: describing complicated areas of the law and making it clearer for lawyers and judges."


In this podcast, Davis talks about the engaged faculty and passionate student community at the College of Law and how law scholarship impacts society. Text transcript.





Richard Ausness is the Associate Dean for Faculty Research and the Everett H. Metcalf Jr. Professor of Law in the UK College of Law. He came to UK in 1973. He has published more than 60 articles on products liability, trusts and estates, environmental law and water law.


He talks about research in law as boiling down to picking out a topic in your field of specialization, doing research, writing about it and publishing law review articles. Ausness says, “In the last three years, I've been writing more in the trusts and estates area. Even though people have been writing in that area for a hundred years, there’s always a new perspective on something that’s old. One of the areas that I have written a fair amount in that area involves trust protectors, who are people that supplement the activities of a trustee and have certain powers that the trustee may not have.”


In this podcast, Ausness explains the importance of research and writing to law scholarship and practice and how the College of Law can contribute to the UK research enterprise. Text transcript.





Fifteen years ago Douglas Andres, and his team in the molecular & cellular biochemistry department in the UK College of Medicine, produced data that showed mutations in an on-off switch called RIT1 are a novel driver for human lung cancer.


He tried to get funding to delve deeper, but he was turned down. The grant reviewers came back with a very rational objection: “They said, ‘We know that cancer is a genetic disease, and we really like the data you developed, but you’ve got to show us that mutations actually occur in human cancer within this gene.’ And, at the time, that was an incredibly difficult thing to do,” Andres explains.


Fast forward to last year, his data was confirmed with gene sequencing—by a team at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Andres has a new two-year grant from the Kentucky Lung Cancer Research Fund to investigate RIT1.


The RIT1 protein is not only mutated in lung cancer, but also in a human developmental disease called Noonan's Syndrome, named for renowned UK pediatric cardiologist Jacqueline Noonan.


In this podcast, Andres talks about why he never gave up on RIT1 and what protein mutations like RIT1 mean for personalized medicine. Text transcript.





In this podcast we’ll meet two UK undergraduates who share their stories of why they got involved in research and what they gained from the experience.


The first student is Courtney McKelphin. She’s starting her senior year this fall, majoring in chemical engineering. McKelphin worked at the Center for Applied Energy Research, with faculty mentor Mark Crocker and staff mentor Edwardo Santillan-Jimenez. She built a continuous reactor and looked at ways to optimize diesel fuel production by analyzing reaction rates and kinetics. 


“Biggest takeaway: solving problems,” McKelphin says. “That’s the point of research. Figuring out how to not fall apart when things fall apart. Perseverance, persistence, solving through problems.”


The second student is Ben Childress. He’s starting his junior year this fall majoring in economics and political science. Childress worked with Eugenia Toma at the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration. His research projected where charter schools would locate if they were established in Kentucky, and what impact that would have on education in the Commonwealth.


“There’s this kind of scary barrier of ‘Oh, I have no idea how to do that,’” Childress says. “Sure, it takes work and practice and experience, but research is not necessarily rocket science. And with dedication, it’s something that I think is totally accessible to any student with an interest in it.”


To learn how to get involved in undergraduate research, visit Text transcript.





Kristin Ashford spent 10 years as a labor and delivery nurse. “In that role, I began to see births that weren’t so happy or healthy. And, specifically, the births I was really focused on were pre-term births, and the additional stressors that the moms and the families have to go through when they experience a pre-term birth. It really got me interested in how to help these women more,” she says.


Today, Ashford is the assistant dean of research and an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing. With funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ashford’s research focuses on pre-term birth prevention, including group prenatal care called CenteringPregnancy.


UK’s CenteringPregnancy program goes a step further than other programs across the country that simply lump women together based on due date. The UK program groups women based on their most high-risk factor for pre-term birth, like tobacco use, diabetes or opioid addiction.


To learn more about risk factor reductions with CenteringPregnancy, and Ashford’s feeling of kinship with Sarah Bennett Holmes and her surprise at winning that award this year, listen to her podcast. Text transcript.





In honor of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, this podcast features Adam Bachstetter and Danielle Lyons, a postdoctoral scholar in his lab, in the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center (SCOBIRC).


Bachstetter and Lyons are partnering on a three-year study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, which focuses on how glial cells in the brain are altered with aging.


Bachstetter explains, “We’re at the very early stages of understanding how glial cells become dysfunctional, what makes them not healthy. If we can figure out what are the processes, what are the signals, what’s the biochemistry of this, then we can start to develop ways to target those processes to develop drugs that could potentially treat people who have had a traumatic brain injury or people who are at risk for developing a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s.”


For more, see their LabTV videos: Text transcript.





Donna Arnett is the Dean of the UK College of Public Health. A prolific researcher, with a 20-year track record of NIH funding, Arnett came to UK in 2015.


The first epidemiologist to serve as president of the American Heart Association, Arnett studies how genes influence our disease risk and predict our response to treatment.


“I was born in London, Kentucky. My whole family lives in Eastern Kentucky. And I see first-hand the devastating impact of obesity, diabetes, cancer, drug abuse and drug overdoses,” Arnett said. “We at Public Health are really at the forefront of first detecting these epidemics and then finding strategies and interventions to help eliminate those disparities.”


In this podcast, Arnett talks about her first research project, why she can’t quit research, and her vision for the College of Public Health. Text transcript.





In honor of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, this podcast features Joe Abisambra, an assistant professor in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and three of his lab trainees—Sarah Fontaine, Shelby Meier and Brittani Price.


Abisambra explained the importance of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging: “This center has been a pivotal aspect of the University partly because we have Alzheimer’s Disease Center designation. There are about 30 other institutions in the country that have this designation, and we are one of the few that have had the designation from the beginning of the program in 1985 through today. We have to compete for this every five years.” The funding supports core facilities and one of the best brain banks in the world, he said.


Sarah Fontaine, a senior scientist in the Abisambra lab, said, “UK is phenomenal. It has all of the resources that you could possibly imagine from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center with the brain bank for patient samples, we can actually correlate what we’re seeing in a tube to what happened in a person. To the number of different cores, we’ve got access to top facilities, and the people that we have here are just world class.”


The lab’s main focus is tau. Abisambra said, “Tau is best known as a microtubule stabilizing protein, which is very important for neurons because it essentially forms the pillars onto which cargo is transported. And for some reason, tau falls off the microtubule and becomes pathological. It chokes the neuron. And this happens not only in Alzheimer’s, but in 20 other known diseases. So our goal is to understand these processes. How does tau become pathological?”


By 2050 if we don’t do anything to stop Alzheimer’s disease we’re going to end up spending 1.2 trillion dollars—one third of the federal budget—just on Alzheimer’s treatment, Abisambra said, “so we hope that by identifying novel therapeutic targets and being able to intervene to stop the process, we might be able to improve the quality of life of these people, have a social impact, have a health impact, and an impact on the economy.”


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Jenna Hatcher is taking preventive health care into the emergency department, “because for many Kentuckians that’s where they find their medical home,” she said.


“So if I go to a doctor, and the doctor says, ‘You should get a mammogram,’ I get a mammogram. If I don’t go and they don’t say it, I might wait years to get that mammogram,” Hatcher said. “So we’re hoping to catch the people who have fallen through the safety net of primary care.”


Hatcher, an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing, leads a five-year, National Cancer Institute-funded project called Sisters Educated in Emergency Departments (SEED). In this intervention, lay health providers go into emergency departments and “sit down with African American women and talk about mammograms and talk through the barriers that they had obtaining mammograms.”


Hatcher was also a co-investigator on Faith Moves Mountains, a breast and cervical cancer prevention project in Eastern Kentucky funded by the National Institutes of Health.


She is the College of Nursing's director of diversity and inclusivity, president of the local National Black Nurses Association chapter and the director of the Disparities Researchers Equalizing Access for Minorities (DREAM) Center.


In this podcast, Hatcher shared her passion for community outreach and why she’s dedicated her career to improving health disparities in Kentucky. Text transcript.






William “Brent” Seales isn’t one to think inside the box. Chair of the computer science department at UK, Seales is applying his expertise in imaging to improving medicine by enhancing surgeon’s sight as they operate and unwrapping antiquities—like the Herculaneum scrolls buried by volcanic ash—that no one else thought were salvageable.


“In terms of breakthroughs and research results, the most fulfilling moment was when I received an email from Israel telling me that we had discovered a text in a scroll that was 1500 years old. That's a moment that I don't think I'll be able to replicate in my career. It was fantastic,” said Seales.


“Through our framework there is a pathway to take a completely unknown and damaged text and then to produce, as a finding, what it contains. More and more, I'm convinced that being able to produce, and then deliver to the scholarly community, that engine for discovery is probably going to be one of my biggest findings,” he said.


“For me, computing was a completely blank slate, in a world where a lot of things were already settled. So, I think it was the unknown potential for how I could contribute, that was really what spurred me as a graduate student to go forward with research.”


Earlier this month, Seales was recognized as one of 17 University Research Professors for 2016-2017. In 2012-2013 he spent a year as a visiting scientist at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, France, and in 2014 he was named a Great Teacher by the UK Alumni Association, an award based on student nominations. In this podcast, Seales talks about his students—how the diversity of research opportunities at UK gives students space to discover their talents—and the trajectory of his research. Text transcript.






Four years ago, I was interviewing John Anthony in chemistry about his work on solar cells and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). He mentioned this crazy undergraduate student, who used to work in his lab, who constantly dyed her hair. She made bright orange and fluorescent pink LEDs that matched her “hair color of the week.” The science behind these organic compounds was intriguing, he told me, although he admitted there wasn’t much demand for those shades of LEDs in consumer electronics.


Fast forward to today, that undergrad—Susan Odom—is now an assistant professor of chemistry with her own lab. Odom tells me the exact same story—as she points out the pink hair photo that used to hang in Anthony’s lab. Odom credits that LED project as the experience that convinced her to pursue a research career.


In the Qualitative Organic Analysis Laboratory course she teaches, the undergrads make the same compounds “to match their shirts, not their hair,” Odom says with a laugh. She hopes to inspire future researchers with fun projects, but also challenge them by developing curriculum that has them do unique experiments.


“You can’t look at your neighbor to feel reassured that your outcome looks like theirs,” Odom explains. “I think it’s important for students to not have that reassurance and to feel comfortable experiencing discomfort. Being uncomfortable allows us to make changes. Being uncomfortable allows us to make significant progress and advance research.”


Listen to Odom’s podcast for more on training students, next-generation battery research, and the connection between chemistry and cooking. Text transcript.






The best part of my job is meeting the people across the University of Kentucky campus engaged in research and scholarship. They each have a personal connection to their work, and many can point to a single event that changed their career path. After a motorcycle accident left Sasha Rabchevsky paralyzed from the chest down at age 19, he pursued a career of discovery. A professor of physiology in the UK College of Medicine, Sasha is a core faculty member of the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center. I invite you to listen to his story and learn what drives him to train the next generation of researchers. Text transcript.