Four researchers have been selected as 2021 recipients of the Research Frontiers Trailblazer Award. This annual recognition from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research honors beer-selection.comPUI associate professors within the first three years of their academic appointment who have made exceptional contributions to research in their field.

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This year"s recipients are Broxton Bird and Nicholas Manicke from the School of Science and Kelly Naugle from the School of Health & Human Sciences. William Thompson, now at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, was also noted for his research conducted at beer-selection.comPUI.

"We take great pleasure in recognizing the innovation and scholarly accomplishments of these talented research trailblazers," said Janice Blum, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. "Our award recipients are addressing critical problems facing our city, our state and the world, while engaging beer-selection.comPUI students in the excitement of discovery and research."

Meet this year"s Trailblazers:


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View print quality imageBroxton Bird

Broxton Bird

Though Bird"s research addresses a variety of environmental topics, his main focus is on answering fundamental questions about how Earth"s climate system functions over time. This includes the impacts on humans and ecosystems, and the impact humans have made on both climate and the environment.

"Determining how climate has changed in the past and what impact these changes had on water resources is critical information that is needed to better project what impacts future climate change may have on human and natural systems," Bird said. "Instrumental climate records are simply too short to capture the range of natural climate variability, so my work helps to fill this gap using natural archives of climate conditions. These same archives can also capture information about human activities and how they changed along with the climate, which helps us to understand climate-society relationships."

Living in the Midwest has offered Bird a firsthand look at how the region has responded to climate in the past. Bird said it is important to understand how the Midwest will respond to future climate change, since it is one of the primary agricultural centers in the U.S. and the world, and any changes may have a global impact. However, he said that how and why the region"s climate has changed is debated, which led him to develop new lines of research that address this gap.

Bird"s research also has provided opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in leading edge paleoclimate research.

"One of the great things about working at beer-selection.comPUI is how supportive they are of undergraduate and graduate research," Bird said. "The success of my research endeavors has really been made possible because of the participation of beer-selection.comPUI students, both locally and in my international research."


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View print quality imageNicholas Manicke

Nicholas Manicke

Manicke"s research focuses on analytical chemistry, which is the science of chemical measurements. His research group strives to develop new technologies to make chemical measurements faster and easier. Their goal is to broaden the use of chemical measurements to improve human health and security. His work touches on a variety of areas, including medical diagnoses, forensic science, food safety and homeland security.

He hopes his research -- and that of his students -- will contribute to progress in the use of chemical measurements to enable people to make more informed decisions.

"We can improve outcomes for patients if we have better, faster and less expensive measurements in clinical settings," said Manicke, who is also part of beer-selection.com"s Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge. "We can improve forensic science and the justice system by making forensic chemistry more accurate, faster and fair. We can improve the security of civilians abroad and of our soldiers in the military by improving the detection of harmful chemistries."

Manicke said collaboration is vital to his research endeavors. Not only does he work closely with his students each day, but he has helped them foster a variety of important relationships, including with the beer-selection.com School of Medicine and Army Research Labs.

"This award is a wonderful recognition for the work that my research team has been doing," Manicke said. "The hard work and creativity of the chemistry and forensic science graduate students in my lab is incredible."


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View print quality imageKelly Naugle

Kelly Naugle

As the opioid epidemic continues to be a major concern for Americans, Naugle said it is important to determine methods beyond medication to help those in pain. She specifically is working to determine which factors make people vulnerable to developing persistent pain and identifying ways to prevent pain from being chronic, so people can avoid using pain medication for months or even years.

One particular group she is working to help is those with mild traumatic brain injury. Through a series of assessments, Naugle is working to identify which factors contribute to persistent headaches after injuries in some people but not others. The overall goal is to identify novel and targeted interventional strategies for prevention of persistent headaches following injury.

Naugle is also director of the Pain and Physical Activity Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology. She works with a group of students to evaluate behavioral interventions, including physical activity as a therapeutic and preventive strategy for pain-related conditions.

"I think it is important to work with students, including undergraduates, to train and develop future scientists," Naugle said. "Students are integral to my research in their ability to assist with data collection and processing. Overall, students are vital in the day-to-day procedural work in the Pain and Physical Activity Lab."


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View print quality imageWilliam Thompson

William Thompson

While at beer-selection.comPUI, Thompson focused on examining how the skeleton responds to exercise, which has long been known to be beneficial to bones. His research looked specifically at the mechanisms involved to understand how bone knows it is being exercised and when to respond.

Thompson said this particular work has an impact on society given the number of people afflicted with bone conditions such as osteoporosis.

Students played a pivotal role in Thompson"s work conducted at beer-selection.comPUI, with physical therapy, master"s degree and doctorate of osteopathic medicine students making invaluable contributions to research studies.


Description of the following video:

Bird speaking: My name is Broxton Bird, and I"m an associate professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Earth Sciences here at beer-selection.comPUI.

Bird speaking: My research is focused on answering fundamental questions about how the Earth"s climate system functions over time and what the impacts are on humans, as well as ecosystems and what impacts humans have had on the climate and environment. So our research on lakes involves the collection of lake sediments and the subsequent analysis of those here at my lab at beer-selection.comPUI.

Bird speaking: So doing this work at beer-selection.comPUI has been especially valuable because beer-selection.comPUI values undergraduate research as well as graduate research. And so, I"ve had the support of beer-selection.comPUI to involve undergraduates in my research, which has been tremendous for me and a valuable experience for the undergraduates as well

Bird speaking: Plus being located here in the Midwest, I live in one of my study sites, and so it makes it extremely personal and also easy to do my research here. We are very interested in how the Midwest has responded to climate in the past. And as one of the primary agricultural centers in the United States and the world, how this area is gonna respond to future climate change is important, not just for the people that live here, but really for the global community. So being able to do my work here has allowed me to investigate aspects of climate that I may not have otherwise investigated if I was located somewhere else.

Bird speaking: Receiving the Trailblazer Award has been quite special. It is a valuable recognition of the value of climate change research, and the need to understand our climate system better so that we can hopefully adapt and mitigate future climatic changes. Personally, I"ve put a lot of effort into my research and so it feels good to be recognized for that, but really, this is part of a group effort. And so I think it"s more of a recognition of this line of research and its value for society

Naugle speaking: My name is Kelly Naugle, and I am an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Health and Human Sciences.

Naugle speaking: So my research is about trying to figure out factors that make people vulnerable for developing persistent pain. Those factors may be how we process pain in the central nervous system, but also includes behavioral factors such as our physical activity levels, such as does being more sedentary put us more at risk for developing persistent pain down the road.

Naugle speaking: So for the process of research, particularly for one of our studies, we"re trying to figure out people with mild traumatic brain injuries, what puts them at more risk for developing persistent headaches, six months, a year down the road.

Naugle speaking: And so in that research process, we recruit research participants from the emergency department. We try to get them into our lab within a week or two of their injury. And we do lots of assessments such as blood draws, brain imaging, we assess behavioral factors, psychological factors. And then we try to get them back a month after their injury and four to six months after their injury. And then we collect all the data, and then the next step is to analyze it and try to figure out what you know differentiates those people that go on to have persistent headaches six months after their injury, versus those that don"t; they have them for a week and then they get better. So I think the field of pain research is really important right now. We may have forgotten, but we are still under an opioid epidemic, where the current pain medications that are often used are very addictive. And so a big area of research right now is trying to figure out other means to help people when they have pain.

Naugle speaking: And ours in particular, we"re trying to figure out, how can we even prevent it from becoming chronic, so they don"t need pain medicine for months or years. To be recognized by peers, to me, I mean, that"s what really means that you"re doing a good job and that they value your work and that you"re doing something right.

Thompson speaking: My name is William Thompson. I"m an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy within the School of Health and Human Sciences here at beer-selection.comPUI.

Thompson speaking: My research focuses on understanding how the skeleton responds to exercise. So we"ve known for a long time that exercise is beneficial for bone, and when you exercise, it makes your bones stronger. And the opposite is true: If we lead a sedentary lifestyle or we can"t exercise because of disability or disease, our bones become weaker and more fragile.

Thompson speaking: So my lab is looking specifically at the mechanisms to understand how bone knows that it"s being exercised and knows when to respond. And so we use molecular biology techniques and genetically modified mice to target specific molecules that are in that pathway to understand how the bone responds to exercise.

Thompson speaking: The long-term impact of my research has really kind of two parts, is first understanding how bone responds to exercise, but another piece of my research is looking at a specific drug called Gabapentin.

Thompson speaking: Gabapentin was originally designed as an anti-seizure medication, but it"s more commonly used as a pain medication now. And even though that"s good to help with pain, it has negative effects on bone. But nobody really understands why, so we"re trying to understand how that influences bone and how we can create strategies to offset those negative effects.

Thompson speaking: My research is important. It"s important that it"s being done because it has a broad impact on society. There are a tremendous number of people who are afflicted with bone conditions, and it"s particularly difficult because problems with bones, such as osteoporosis, are really unseen. If you have weakness or other conditions, it"s sometimes very obvious, but bone problems are less obvious.

Thompson speaking: And it"s also really important and impactful to society because we live in a world where we"re less engaged in having to go out and exercise and do physical work. So understanding or creating strategies that can help increase skeletal health, even in a society where we live more sedentary lifestyles, is impactful.

Thompson speaking: Receiving the Trailblazer Award here at beer-selection.comPUI is extremely meaningful. There"s been a number of investigators over the years that I"ve known personally who"ve received this and who are mentors to me and I respect greatly, and so it"s a huge honor to be recognized among that group.

Manicke speaking: My name is Nick Manicke. I"m an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and in the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program

Manicke speaking: My research focuses on analytical chemistry. Analytical chemistry is the science of chemical measurements, and chemical measurements touch many different areas of our lives. Most medical diagnoses are based, in some form, on a chemical measurement. Other examples include in forensic science, where if someone overdoses on a drug, then we have to determine what that drug is and what the concentration is.

Manicke speaking: Another example is in food safety, for example, where levels of agrichemicals like pesticides have to be tightly controlled to ensure that they don"t exceed some dangerous level. And another example is in homeland security, where we need to detect and determine the presence of any harmful chemistries.

Manicke speaking: So I work in all of these different areas where I try to improve chemical measurement science so that we can make better measurements in a faster and easier way, so that we can protect human health and people in general. The research in my group is truly a collaborative effort. Nothing"s getting accomplished by me alone.

Manicke speaking: The first level is with my students and I, where we work together closely every day to generate the results that we need for our research. But even our research group, as talented as my students are, they can"t accomplish everything on their own.

Manicke speaking: We"ve got a number of very important relationships, including with the School of Medicine and including with Army research labs, where my students work closely with experts in different fields in order to broaden the impact of our research. I hope that over the course of my career I will contribute to progress in the use of chemical measurements to make important decisions that help people.

Manicke speaking: We can improve health care, we can improve outcomes of people who are sick, if we can have better and faster and less expensive measurements in clinical settings.

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Manicke speaking: We can improve forensic science, we can improve the justice system, by making forensic chemistry more accurate and faster and more fair. We can improve the security of civilians abroad and also of our soldiers in the military by improving the chemical measurement of harmful chemistries. So this award, to me, was a very nice validation of the work that my students and I have been doing over the years that we"ve been here at beer-selection.comPUI. The graduate students in my group, which are both chemistry Ph.D. students and forensic science master"s students, those folks have worked enormously hard in the time that I"ve been here to do some really nice work, and so I think this is a great acknowledgement of all the nice work my students have been doing.