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The Post Research Groundbreakers: Spotlighting Altermatt, Rorrer, Kong, Lobell, and Metz for their research work at the U

Research Groundbreakers: Spotlighting Altermatt, Rorrer, Kong, Lobell, and Metz for their research work at the U

The University of Utah has a rich research history. Thanks to its students, faculty, staff and shareholders, research at the U will only continue to grow, bringing innovations and discoveries to our society.

With this in mind, the Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR) is showcasing different researchers to spotlight our university’s studies and potential breakthroughs. Here are the U’s Research Groundbreakers.

Ellen Altermatt and Andrea Rorrer, Utah Education Policy Center – National Science Foundation AISL Program

The Utah Education Policy Center (UEPC) serves as a sub awardee for the project “Polar Literacy: A Model for Youth Engagement and Learning.” The project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program and is led Janice McDonnell from Rutgers University and Jason Cervenec from The Ohio State University.

The Polar Literacy project creates out-of-school time curricula that foster youth engagement with Polar Science. Led by Dr. Ellen Altermatt with Dr. Andrea Rorrer, the UEPC’s research and evaluation efforts examine whether the Polar Literacy curricula are effective in enhancing youths’ understanding of climate change impacts, promoting their interest in STEM subjects, and improving their skills in visualizing, analyzing, and interpreting real-world scientific data.

The UEPC conducts high-quality research and program evaluation in partnership with K12 organizations (e.g., schools, districts, and state offices of education) and programs and faculty in higher education (e.g., the University of Utah School of Medicine’s U-Power Program and NSF Career Award Faculty), including those that are funded by national, state, and local entities.


Yong Lin Kong – Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program

Dr. Yong Lin Kong, from the College of Engineering, was awarded the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program Award (ONR YIP) Established in 1985, the ONR Young Investigator Program is one of the nation’s oldest and most selective basic-research, early-career awards in science and technology, where prior academic achievement and potential for significant scientific breakthrough are key elements of the evaluation criteria.

Kong’s proposal, “Gastric Resident Electronics for Marine Mammals Health,” will provide critical resources to study the relationship between a multi-chamber stomach and gastric resident architecture, which is the first crucial step to developing a digital-based diagnosis and treatment strategy that can ultimately improve marine mammals’ health. Marine mammals play an indispensable role in the US Navy, but the diagnosis and management of marine mammals’ health remain challenging.

“My research focuses on 3D printing of electronics and ingestible systems. The award provides critical resources that can potentially enable physiological monitoring and access to blood vessels, the enteric nervous system, and gut microbiota of marine mammals.” Said Kong of his proposed work. “I am extremely grateful for the Office of Naval Research’s recognition with this prestigious award and the support from the Marine Mammal Health Program. I am extremely excited with what we can potentially accomplish together.”

Steven Lobell – Minerva Research Initiative and Office of Naval Research White Paper

A multi-university team of researchers led by Dr. Steven Lobell (PI), and funded by the Minerva Research Initiative and the Office of Naval Research, published a policy White Paper on “Defense Implications for U.S. and NATO Policy Makers and their Staffs”. Dr. Lobell is a Professor in the Department of Political Science. The team is in the process of completing a book manuscript, On The Knife’s Edge: Near Crisis in World

 Politics. This White Paper is part of a multi-year project to collect, manage, and evaluate data on near crisis prevention and management, and near crisis escalation. The team presented its findings at NATO HQ in Brussels and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization

Operations (CSO) in the U.S Department of State, at a workshop on “The Near Crisis Project: Why what you don’t know can hurt you,” hosted at the Atlantic Council, and the Scottish Council on Global Affairs and the U.S. Consul General.

“International crises in world politics are dangerous events. NATO leaders unveiled a new Strategic Concept during the Madrid Summit in June 2022. One important update to NATO’s three Core Tasks is a new focus on “crisis prevention and management,” rather than simply “crisis management.” In this White Paper, the multi-university research team argues that in an era of proliferating and increasingly complex threats, crisis prevention is more important than ever. However, the concept of “crisis” is woefully underdeveloped. To address this shortfall, the White Paper presents the concept of “near crisis,” situations that are on the knife’s edge of tipping into full-blown crisis or armed conflict. This concept and framework offer practitioners at the strategic and operational levels early warning and enhanced opportunities to initiate policy steps that could manage potential dangers before full crises or wars emerge.”


Torri Metz – Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence – National Institutes of Heath

Dr. Torri Metz and the ELEVATE Center received $14M in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to reduce maternal morbidity related to substance use disorders in Utah. The new ELEVATE Center will strive to help eliminate preventable maternal morbidity and mortality related to substance use in the U.S. “This work is incredibly important in this time when we see large disparities in maternal health outcomes, and specifically maternal morbidity and mortality,” said Metz. “Substance use is the leading cause of maternal death in Utah, and this funding will allow us to take strides towards reducing these preventable deaths”. The funding will also focus on improving health equity for Native mothers. The Elevate Center will partner with tribal leaders, the Utah MMRC, state perinatal quality care collaborative, and other healthcare organizations. For more information, visit the ELEVATE announcement on the NIH website.