George Mason University conducts research that goes beyond the desire to know and understand; we want to make a difference. Research is vital to expanding our knowledge, sparking new ideas, and developing innovative techniques that have an impact on society, the economy, and the environment. It’s a critical part of the university’s purpose and mission.
39 PhD Programs
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Professors Find Innovative Ways to Continue Research
Mason recently suspended almost all research activities conducted in its labs and facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak, but innovative researchers are finding ways to continue their work remotely. They include:
- Bioengineering's Siddhartha Sikdar, whose team is investigating a new way to operate prostheses using ultrasound waves to sense muscle activity.
- Civil Engineering's Dave Lattanzi , whose team is working on the “digital twin,” a virtual model that changes as U.S. Navy ships age to track their lifecycle.
- Electrical and Computer Engineering's Jill Nelson is studying algorithms for making intelligent decisions about how to allocate resources in sonar surveillance systems.
- Systems Engineering and Operations Research's Lance Sherry, whose team is studying air medical services, artificial intelligence, and climate change modeling.
- Bioengineering's Remi Veneziano, whose team is using DNA nanotechnology to develop vaccines that could fight viruses such as the coronavirus.
- Electrical and Computer Engineering's Feitian Zhang, whose team is creating robotic fish with sensors to collect data on algae, oxygen content, and oil in waterways.
Varied Fields Work Together to Find All-Encompassing Solutions
Mason encourages the creation of multidisciplinary teams. We know researchers in different disciplines can collaborate to find solutions more quickly, and open pathways to other possibilities. The university leverages the power of these collaborations in such areas as:
- The Institute for Biohealth Innovation takes a multidisciplinary approach to develop technologies to predict, prevent, treat and eradicate disease and improve care.
- The Institute for a Sustainable Earth conducts integrative research in the natural, social, computational, and data sciences, engineering, and humanities.
- The Institute for Digital InnovAtion will incubate new digital products and services. IDIA will be in a new 400,000-square-foot facility at the Arlington Campus.
- The Center for Adaptive Systems of Brain-Body Interaction unites scientists, engineers, and health care professionals to research ways to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.
- The Quantum Materials Center's physicists, engineers, and data scientists use artificial intelligence and machine learning to design new quantum materials.
- The Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center equips investigators with state-of-the-art expertise, methods, tools, and technologies to combat transnational crime.
Nationally Recognized Experts Lead Cutting-Edge Research
Mason is advancing knowledge across all disciplines. Our researchers' discoveries change lives and change the world. Some examples:
- Barney Bishop and Monique van Hoek created a new way to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria while spurring the body’s cells to heal cuts faster by researching the germ-fighting abilities of Komodo dragon blood. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a federal body, funded the work through a $7.57 million contract. The study's goals were to discover new bacterial infection-defeating compounds in the blood of Komodo dragons and the crocodilian family of reptiles, which includes American alligators. These reptiles eat carrion and live in bacteria-rich environments but rarely fall ill, suggesting they have strong innate immunity. The research was published in the Nature-partner journal NPJ Biofilms and Microbiomes. In August 2019, they and their collaborators released findings on sequencing the Komodo dragon genome, revealing multiple clusters of antimicrobial peptide genes that could prove instrumental in the fight against multi-drug resistant bacteria.
- Thomas Lovejoy, "the Godfather of Biodiversity," is a professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department. The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation houses the Thomas E. Lovejoy Library, and Lovejoy also serves as scientific director of Mason's Institute for a Sustainable Earth. Before coming to Mason, he held the biodiversity chair at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment and was president from 2002 to 2008. In 2016, he was selected as a U.S. science envoy by the State Department. A trip to the Amazon influenced him to establish a conservation program at the World Wildlife Fund-U.S., which he led from 1973 to 1987. He is founder of the public television series Nature. In 2009, he was appointed conservation fellow by the National Geographic Society. He has also served on the science and environmental councils under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and he currently serves as senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. In September 2019, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recognized Lovejoy's work with the Outstanding STEM Award.
- Louise I. Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC), and Naoru Koizumi, director of research within the Schar School of Policy and Government, lead multidisciplinary research teams investigating and disrupting illicit supply networks. TraCCC is the first center in the nation devoted to understanding the links among terrorism, transnational crime, and corruption. The center and its international research partners study: human smuggling and trafficking; nuclear proliferation issues; the links between crime and terrorism; money laundering and other financial crimes; the impact of organized crime and terrorism on legitimate business; and environmental crimes.
- Spencer Crew worked behind the scenes as a guest curator for six years to bring an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture to life, and in June 2019, he was named interim director of the museum. He created one of the three history exhibitions for the facility, all of which chronologically tell the story of blacks in the United States — from the Middle Passage to the election of former President Barack Obama. Crew became a guest curator for the museum largely because of his past experience as a curator, historian, and director at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He created an exhibit about African American migration called “Field to Factory,” which was displayed for more than 20 years. His part of the exhibit at the African American History and Culture museum, “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876 to 1968” covers the post-Reconstruction period to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Yuntao Wu's is the lead scientist on a research team that helped identify a T cell marker that could help lead to improved treatment for HIV and cancer patients. The research focuses on cofilin, a protein that regulates cells to fight infection. In an HIV-infected patient, cofilin dysfunction is a key factor in helper T cell defects, according to the research published in the journal Science Advances. Helper T cells augment the body’s immune response by recognizing the presence of a foreign antigen, then helping the immune system mount a response. Wu and his team found that patients with HIV have “significantly lower” levels of cofilin phosphorylation than healthy patients. Their findings suggest that a lasting immune control to HIV isn’t likely to come from antiretroviral therapy alone.
Sina Gallo, a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, with Mason colleagues Margaret Jones, a kinesiology professor, and Robyn Mehlenbeck from the Department of Psychology, earned a $117,468 grant from the Potomac Health Foundation for VALÉ: A Multidisciplinary Childhood Obesity Treatment Program for Latino Communities. The multidisciplinary team aims to help decrease obesity rates among Latino children. Latinos are the fastest growing population in the United States and make up the largest minority group in the Potomac Health Foundation’s service area. This group has emerged as one in need of community health-based outreach efforts, but programs that provide tailored care for Latinos are limited. Latinos experience food insecurity at more than double the typical rate, and Latino children are disproportionately affected by obesity. At-risk children get access to a culturally adapted and comprehensive weight management program, which could help families lead healthier lifestyles.
Garry Sparks’s team is unraveling the secrets of an ancient document, the Theologia Indorum, translating it from the Mayan language of K’iche’ to English and Spanish. Their research, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, sheds light on how the first Spanish missionaries shared their faith in the New World in the 1500s. The Spanish explorers who spread through the West Indies and the mainland of the Americas were accompanied by Franciscan and Dominican missionaries equipped with sermons, catechisms, and songbooks. They translated their lessons to the languages of the people they encountered. But the Theologia Indorum, written in the 1550s by Dominican friar Domingo de Vico, goes beyond a simple translated catechism. It was initially composed in K’iche’, an indigenous language still spoken by more than a million Guatemalans, then translated into other related Mayan languages. Reading it in the context of Maya writings indicates not only how Christianity was transmitted to the native population, but how those populations received it.
An international team led by Alessandra Luchini and Lance Liotta developed a nanotechnology that can measure a sugar molecule in urine that identifies tuberculosis, setting the stage for a less-invasive test of the disease that could be the difference between life and death in underdeveloped parts of the world. In an article published in Science Translational Medicine, Luchini and Liotta reported that a sugar molecule called “LAM,” which comes from the surface of the tuberculosis bacteria, can be measured in the urine of all patients with active tuberculosis, regardless of whether they have a simultaneous infection with another pathogen (e.g. HIV). Current methods of detection – skin tests, blood tests, and chest X-rays – are often expensive and not always available in rural settings. Urine is considered an ideal body fluid for a TB test because it can be easily and noninvasively collected.
The Center for Air Transportation Systems Research received two grants from NASA to study airline accidents and accident-prevention strategies. The grants have led to the research and creation of technology that would advise pilots of potential accident situations. Lance Sherry, director of the center, and John Shortle are the primary investigators. The team developed technology that uses machine-learning algorithms to process massive amounts of flight and weather data collected about anomalies that occur during flights across the country. These data are then used to create tips or advisories for pilots to prevent them from encountering potential accident scenarios. The team is also applying these ideas to autonomous vehicles.
Cynthia Lum and Christopher Koper conduct research in such areas as technology, evidence-based crime policy, translational criminology, and assessing federal agencies' security efforts. They developed the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix (with PhD student Cody Telep) and the Matrix Demonstration Project, tools to help police incorporate research into their strategic and tactical skills. The Matrix organizes moderate to very rigorous evaluations of police interventions visually, allowing agencies and researchers to view the field of research in this area. It's updated with all qualifying studies each year. Drs. Lum and Koper have also written a book about their work, Evidence-Based Policing: Translating Research into Practice, published by Oxford University Press. On Sept. 17, 2019, Drs. Lum and Koper led the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy's presentation, “Countering Mass Shootings in the United States,” to members of Congress.