There’s one word that sums up New Mexico Highlands University’s professors: passion. Our professors have a passion for their fields and share that passion with their students. Many of our faculty have been recognized for their research and work by agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, NASA, and many professional organizations. And, unlike larger research universities, our professors teach at every level from freshmen to graduate courses.
Here's some exciting research some Highlands University professors are leading:
Hydrazine Abatement Technology
Highlands chemist Rudy Martinez and chemistry professor Merritt Helvenston developed a new environmentally friendly hydrazine abatement technology that has major implications for NASA and the many private sector industries that use hydrazine, from agriculture to pharmaceuticals. The chemical compound is highly flammable and carcinogenic. NASA uses hydrazine to fuel spacecraft and helped fund the professors’ research.
“Not only does our product make it safer to use highly toxic hydrazine, the decontamination chemical reaction is very fast and efficient,” Helvenston said. Martinez added, “We patented a process that has never been used before.” The university’s goal is for its technology to eventually change the emergency response protocol for hydrazine remediation.
Anacondas in Venezuelan Llanos
Internationally known wildlife biology professors Jesus Rivas and Sarah Corey-Rivas took three of their students on their latest anaconda field research expedition deep in the Venezuelan Llanos, a vast tropical grassland plain that floods seasonally.
The ultimate goal of the professors’ green anaconda molecular research is to protect the legendary species, the largest snake in the world. “Anacondas are top predators and require a pristine environment,” said Rivas, who founded the Anaconda Project in 2002. “Understanding the microhabitat needs of anacondas, what they require to live, is a big piece of our research,” Corey-Rivas said. The professors, who are married, are also studying New Mexico species of concern, like bison.
Research on Creativity
New School of Education professor Shereen Kader gained an international reputation for her research that focuses on creativity and ways it can be nurtured across the lifespan. The Cairo-born Kader was recently appointed to the editorial board for the new international journal, Thinking Skills and Creativity. At Highlands, Kader teaches courses in early childhood education, special education and literacy.
“As the volume and access to information explodes exponentially, our future depends on our ability to perceive, understand and solve problems creatively,” Kader said. “Children with special needs are uniquely creative, which must be considered when planning educational programs and services to maximize their potential.”
Paleoclimate Change Study at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge
Natural resources professor Edward Martinez is the lead investigator for a study that delves into the paleoclimate changes of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. Geology professors Jennifer Lindline and Michael Petronis are co-investigators for this NSF-funded research that analyzes sedimentary core samples from the Great Ice Age.
“Using a multidisciplinary approach is an excellent means to gauge environmental change and climate variability,” Martinez said. “This paleoclimate study will give the wildlife refuge a more detailed geologic history.” Refuge manager Rob Larranaga said the study will give new perspective and ideas for how the refuge manages water and other resources.
Computer science professor Gil Gallegos wrote software in 2010 for a state-of-the-art robotics research project at the Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque. The robot is designed for both national security and exploration in unknown environments. Jeff Thornton, one of Gallegos’ students, worked alongside his professor at Sandia as part of an innovative DOE and NSF research program.
“We wrote all the software controls for the robot,” said Gallegos, who is also a visiting faculty member at Sandia. “The robot looks like a Mars rover but is much bigger. It has twelve joints: six wheels and six shoulders.”
High Plains Aquifer Research
Geology professor Michael Petronis will drill for rock core samples deep into the Central High Plains Aquifer for a National Science Foundation-funded research study that will produce the first subsurface geologic map of the aquifer, providing vital information for future water management. Water levels are declining in this large aquifer that supplies nearly 30 percent of the groundwater in the United States.
“Groundwater is a finite, nonrenewable resource,” Petronis said. “The goal of this research is to model groundwater flow throughout the aquifer. This will give state and local agencies information to manage water resources more effectively in a sustainable manner.” Petronis is collaborating with University of Kansas geology professor Jon Smith on the study.