Guest Opinions

University of Idaho event shows how research here and around the U.S. betters the world

Early last month, the expansive atrium in the University of Idaho’s new Integrated Research and Innovation Center rang with the voices of leading researchers, participants in the university’s biannual Short and Sweet (SAS) research presentation event. Each semester nine or 10 researchers, selected to represent the entire campus and speak to a particular theme, spend weeks developing lightning talks (20 slides, 20 seconds each slide) that seek to illuminate cutting-edge scholarship for a diverse audience of nonspecialist colleagues and members of the public.

At the state’s land-grant research university, our office seeks to recognize and encourage all forms of research: basic and applied, quantitative and qualitative, locally focused and globally significant. Researchers often perform their work with the goal of making the world a better place, though this is not always explicit. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is currently preparing a national report on the importance of encouraging Public Impact-focused Research (PIR). The University of Idaho is actively contributing to the PIR initiative.

On May 7, nine Idaho researchers gave SAS talks about their public-impact research, responding to U of I Vice President Janet Nelson’s question: How does research make the world a better place? Presentations included doctoral student Ezekiel Adekanmbi’s sketch of discoveries that may soon lead to quick, inexpensive diagnosis of babesiosis, a disease caused by tick bites, and assistant professor Stefanie Ramirez’s explanation of how proximity to state borders affects alternative financial services, such as the payday lending industry.

Distinguished university professor Ron Hardy and his team at the Aquaculture Research Institute, based in Hagerman and Moscow, are contributing to global food security by developing new varieties of fish, including trout, that can digest plant-based feed – and the team is working with industrial partners to invent this new food. Meanwhile, associate professor of English Jennifer Ladino has published a new book, “Memorials Matter,” that reveals our complex emotional responses to public monuments, such as Manzanar and Mount Rushmore.

For many researchers, the chance to present a salient introduction to an intellectual passion constitutes powerful validation and encouragement. Offices of research administration facilitate not only research funding (grants and contracts), but the sense of scholarly community that inspires researchers to energetically pursue their work to make the world a better place. The SAS event is a step in this direction. We would like to challenge you to celebrate how research has contributed to your life as well.

Scott Slovic, Ph.D., is a professor of literature and environment, professor of natural resources and society, and faculty fellow in the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Idaho. Janet E. Nelson, Ph.D., is the vice president for research and economic development at U of I. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.