An important way the University of Nebraska is building its reputation is by specializing in worthwhile academic niches and then pursuing promising research and opportunities for students. Often, the research will open up possibilities for commercialization of products and services.
The biomechanics initiative at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, focusing on the scientific study of bodily motion, provides a key example. With about 80 projects underway, faculty and students have worked on projects including a wearable device to warn a patient of a coming COPD crisis, virtual reality systems to study posture and movement, 3D-printed prosthetic hands and assistive devices for stroke patients.
The program has resulted in an Omaha- based business startup, Avert, focusing on concussion-detection technology, developed through an innovative collaboration with Straight Shot, a local business accelerator. Avert was among 40 university startups selected for a national “demo day” presentation in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
Nicholas Stergiou, the head of the biomechanics program, has proved a strong manager and leader, promoting an ambitious research culture and helping UNO faculty understand options for commercialization.
The biomechanics program landed UNO its largest research grant yet: a $10.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, which has lifted UNO into the ranks of national research universities. UNO’s Biomechanics Research Building, completed in 2013, is the first of its kind in the world. An $11.6 million, 30,000 square-foot addition is under construction, funded by private donations, headed by Omahans Ruth and Bill Scott.
The biomechanics initiative has enabled a series of cooperative ventures between UNO and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, including the Avert project. Indeed, the two campuses have launched UNeTech, an institute to identify promising startup companies from research collaborations between the two campuses.
UNO’s biomechanics program shows the multiple benefits — for students, faculty and the public — that can arise through a sound vision and energetic teamwork.