Raise your hand if you regularly get to walk the halls of the research universities in Arkansas.
Most of us are probably still holding onto our tablets (or the edges of this magazine). There are really important things going on in those halls and labs that you need to know about. This is why, for the last several months, this space has featured a Q&A segment with university-based scientists and engineers who are shaping the future of our state and nation.
Discovery Economics connects us to some of the state’s most talented research visionaries. It shines a spotlight on their innovation and the implications of the scientific advancements coming from our universities and federal lab. The research topics stretch across the strategic interests of multiple economic, social and geographic sectors.
The benefits accruing to the state take several forms too, from the macro to the direct. In the big-picture sense, these researchers provide better visibility for the state as a player in the knowledge economy. It also helps ensure that Arkansas has a workforce prepared for the jobs of the future. In the direct sense, research results lead to new products and services, which become new companies and jobs.
Each of the researchers profiled in Discovery Economics is a member of the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Academy of Scholars and Fellows. ARA was founded in 2008 as a public-private partnership to advance job-creating research in Arkansas, primarily through the recruitment, retention and recognition of world-class talent.
In partnership with university chancellors, ARA Scholars are recruited from outside the state, and ARA Fellows already reside at one of the ARA member-universities and are recognized for their achievements. The ARA Academy draws this group together into a community of research leaders. There are currently 32 members with more on the way.
Let’s recap the work of some of the scientific research luminaries who have been covered so far.
• Battling cardiovascular disease — the No. 1 killer worldwide and devastating for Arkansas — through engineered improvements to the performance and durability of heart valves (Morten Jensen, University of Arkansas).
• Expanding participation in research, where it becomes a routine part of everyday life, to meet health challenges of Arkansans, especially those in rural areas (Laura James, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences).
• Enhancing human productivity by building artificial intelligence (AI) techniques that span industries (Xiuzhen Huang, Arkansas State University).
• Improving ingredients that comprise the diet of the nation’s top food-fish (catfish) to make it safer and healthier (Rebecca Lochmann, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).
• Combating cyber misinformation with big data analytical tools and training (Nitin Agarwal, UA Little Rock).
• Creating the very best power electronic equipment coupled with leading cybersecurity (Alan Mantooth, UA).
• Imaging human brains to understand the organization of information processes so that therapies can be designed to better treat depression, dementia, addiction and suicide, and alleviate the suffering, death and lost potential and productivity associated with them (Clint Kilts, UAMS).
• Developing non-chemical, nano-engineering approaches to sanitize metals in industrial processes (Tansel Karabacak, UA Little Rock).
These are just for starters. There are countless discoveries underway. We hope to give a preview of what’s to come in the next column.
By virtue of this column, we are trying to let you walk in our shoes and equip you with the people and stories of how university research is transforming and touching our lives, the lives of every Arkansan. We hope you will share this vision for the research future of Arkansas. It needs true believers and champions like you. Thanks for “walking the halls” with us.
Bryan Barnhouse is CEO of the Arkansas Research Alliance. Before joining ARA, he worked with the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.