Skip to main content

From Superbugs to Supernovas

From research about superbugs and antibiotic use to a supernova finding that solved an ancient stellar mystery, 2011 was an exciting year for NC State scientists.

Here’s a look back at some of the year’s top research stories.

Superbugs From Swine

Antibiotics are frequently used on commercial hog farms not only to fight disease but also to help pigs gain weight faster. Dr. Coby Schal collaborated on research that found common pests living on farms acquire antibiotic-resistant bacteria and have the potential to spread these bacteria throughout the farm and to residential settings.

Supernova Solved

In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers recorded a bright “guest star” in the night sky. By the 1960s, astronomers figured out that the guest star was in fact a supernova and identified the remains of the stellar explosion. And in 2011, a team of astrophysicists, including NC State postdoctoral research associate Brian J. Williams, solved the mystery of what caused this explosion and why this particular remnant is so very large.

Soft Memory

Drs. Michael Dickey and Orlin Velev led development of a memory device that is as soft as Jell-O and functions well in wet environments, opening the door to a new generation of biocompatible electronic devices.

Predicting and Preventing Genocide

Dr. Ann Ross and former graduate student Ashley Maxwell proposed a health-based approach to identifying groups at high risk of genocide, in a first-of-its-kind attempt to target international efforts to stop these mass killings before they start.

Helicopter Parents

Parental safety concerns may prevent children from getting good exercise, according to an NC State study by Drs. Myron Floyd and Jason Bocarro that examined how families use neighborhood parks.


The so-called “superstreet” traffic design results in significantly faster travel times, and leads to a drastic reduction in automobile collisions and injuries, according to the largest-ever study of superstreets and their impacts by Dr. Joe Hummer’s team and researchers from NC State’s Institute for Transporation Research.

Sniffing Out Lymphoma

Dr. Matthew Breen’s team is narrowing the search for genes involved in non-Hodgkin lymphoma—by turning dogs into humans (genomically speaking).

Self-Healing Sensors

Dr. Kara Peters and doctoral student Young Song have designed a sensor that can measure strain in structural materials and is capable of healing itself—an important advance for collecting data to help us make informed decisions about structural safety in the wake of earthquakes, explosions or other unexpected events.

Circadian Rhythm Linked To Skin Cancer

When you’re hit with that afternoon energy lull, don’t head outside to find some sunlight to brighten your day. An NC State study led by Robert C. Smart shows that the same circadian rhythm that saps your afternoon energy also appears to slow down some important cellular healing mechanisms—including one that repairs DNA damage in skin cells.

Removing Radioactive Contaminants

A combination of forest byproducts and crustacean shells may be the key to removing radioactive materials from drinking water, according to researchers Joel Pawlak and Richard Vendetti.

Kidney Disease

Effects of a particularly devastating human kidney disease may be blunted by making a certain cellular protein receptor much less receptive, according to research by NC State’s David Threadgill and a number of French universities and hospitals.

LED Efficiency

LED lightingLight-emitting diodes (LEDs) are an increasingly popular technology for use in energy-efficient lighting. Engineering researcher Salah Bedair teamed up with materials scientist Nadia El-Masry to develop a technique that reduces defects in the gallium nitride films used to create LEDs, making them more efficient.

Carbon and the Big Bang

As Star Trek is so fond of reminding us, we’re carbon-based life forms. But the event that jump-started the universe, the Big Bang, didn’t actually produce any carbon, so where the heck did it—and we—come from? Physicist Dean Lee has helped create supercomputer simulations that demonstrate how carbon is produced in stars, proving an old theory correct.

Dog-Gone Good! A Prosthetic Canine Ankle

NC State researchers designed, developed and surgically implanted a customized prosthetic ankle for a Siberian husky. NC State is the only university in the world that can manufacture custom prosthetics for veterinary patients in house, thanks to the close collaboration between veterinarians and engineers, including osseointegration pioneers Denis Marcellin-Little and Ola Harrysson.

Snakes Are Different From You and Me

Virgin motherhood by a copperhead snake. Sperm storage for more than five years by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake before fertilization and motherhood. Research associate Warren Booth is finding that reptile reproduction, to steal from Alice in Wonderland,  is getting curiouser and curiouser.