LINCOLN — Imagine a pulse-pounding video: edgy camera angles, sophisticated lighting, punched-up dialogue touting the competitive edge of Husker ... software designers? Brain researchers? Cardiologists?
That’s what you get when Husker sports works its magic on University of Nebraska-Lincoln academics.
The promotional video was part of a retreat Thursday to highlight a new collaboration between academic researchers and the UNL athletic department.
“It’s another big revolution, and it’s going to happen here,” said Brandon Rigoni, a Husker athletics trainer featured on the video.
Athletic Director Tom Osborne and Vice Chancellor of Research Prem Paul agreed that Nebraska is embarking on a venture that could put it in the forefront of brain and sports research.
“I don’t know of any school in the country undertaking anything like this,” Osborne said.
Much as the Huskers broke new ground by adopting strength training and hiring sports nutritionists, Osborne said, Nebraska could move to the forefront of research on brain injury, biomechanics and the psychological qualities that influence sports achievement, he said.
Part pep rally and part seminar, the event in the West Stadium Club at Memorial Stadium drew more than 100 researchers. They included engineers, statisticians, physicians, computer scientists, biochemists, psychologists, nutritionists, sociologists, educators and specialists in communication disorders.
Visible through the windows was construction of a $63.5 million stadium expansion that served as the catalyst for the effort. Decks built to add 6,000 seats to the east side of the stadium left room underneath for 40,000 square feet of offices and laboratories.
The space — and its $15 million total construction cost — will be shared, half by a brain research lab run by Dennis Molfese, a developmental psychologist recruited by UNL in 2010, and half by a sports research facility to be used by athletic department staff and their private sector partners.
BryanLGH Medical Center physicians, for example, will work with Husker sports to study heart problems in athletes. Nebraska Global Investment Co. is developing computer tools to analyze biometrics and track performance data — and even help faraway parents keep track of the well-being of their athlete offspring.
The academic-athletic partnership was sparked in part by Molfese’s desire to acquire a specialized magnetic resonance imaging machine to study brain activity. Athletic department officials agreed to share the $2 million cost of the MRI after realizing that it could be used to study concussions in athletes.
Molfese now coordinates an effort on behalf of the Big Ten to compile data about athletes and brain injuries. The Ivy League recently joined the effort.
He also has worked to encourage researchers from an array of disciplines — communication, ophthalmology, even political science — to gain new understanding of human consciousness and to open new areas of study in their disciplines.
Since Molfese’s arrival on campus, nearly 230 students and faculty have participated in workshops to learn the basics of his equipment. Nearly 70 have taken up to 60 hours of training to become proficient on the equipment.
Osborne said his goals are to improve athletic performance and safety; build better relationships between UNL athletics and academics; and boost recruiting and retention of star athletes.
The efforts will benefit the general public, he added.
“The thing about athletes is, you’re out there pushing the limits of human performance and endurance,” he said. “That has a lot of crossover implications.”
Molfese couldn’t resist a little sports trash talk in his closing.
“Let’s go out and kick some serious neuro-butt,” he said.
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