UNO has joined the ranks of nationally respected research institutions.
A landmark moment for the University of Nebraska at Omaha — that may be the best way to sum up news that UNO's biomechanics program has received the largest grant in the school's history.
The $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health shows how UNO, in a key scientific area, has stepped up into the ranks of nationally respected research institutions.
It shows how UNO is smartly carving out appropriate academic niches for itself, alongside other specialties such as public administration and community engagement.
The biomechanics program started out modestly almost 20 years ago as UNO researchers attached monitoring sensors to students and then recorded and studied their motion with scientific precision. Through hard work by UNO scientists such as Nicholas Stergiou (long the head researcher in the UNO program), the biomechanics program has built itself into an ambitious, topflight academic effort — and now with the NIH grant, a nationally recognized one.
The awarding of the grant also shows how well-considered private investment by Omaha donors is helping UNO lift itself to an impressive new level.
A key reason UNO was able to qualify for the grant was that private contributions paid for UNO's Biomechanics Research Building. That $6 million, 23,000-square-foot center opened last year as the world's only facility dedicated solely to biomechanics — a sign of UNO's ambition as well as its vision.
"Now, we are in the same league with other research institutions of this state," Stergiou, director of the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility, told World-Herald staff writer Kate Howard. "Everyone can look UNO in the eye now, in my opinion." Just so.
The opportunities that the five-year NIH grant opens up are encouraging. UNO researchers, in collaboration with faculty from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, will use biomechanical research to look for new and better ways to diagnose and treat four diseases: autism, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
This grant, in short, will position UNO to be in the forefront of groundbreaking, world-class research with direct benefits to public health. This is something in which UNO and Omaha as a whole can take pride.
Another benefit from this grant is that it provides an important example for the Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI), the engineering collaboration between UNO and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The official policy of the NU Board of Regents has directed PKI to pursue just this sort of major federal grant, yet two consultant reports have noted that PKI has fallen short of that goal.
The good news is that UNO and UNL now will be working together more closely at PKI as the result of a new joint agreement, and a key goal should be to secure major grants for collaborative projects such as civil engineering/data-mining. UNO's biomechanics effort has shown the way.
In so many ways, the biomechanics program is opening up important opportunities for UNO. A landmark moment, indeed.
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