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NSRI IRad 2021

"Each of these projects will allow NSRI to move toward its mission in a new way. It is our aim as a University Affiliated Research Center to not only maintain essential scientific and engineering capabilities for use by the Department of Defense, but to be constantly seeking the next solution to the next potential threat. Our NU colleagues are on the leading-edge in their fields, and we are proud to spur their creativity through this program."
— Maj. Gen., USAF (Ret.) Rick Evans
NSRI executive director

Project Details

Principal investigators for the seven projects hail from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha. Disciplines include biology, political science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, pharmacology and nursing. Each project aligns directly with a NSRI research focus area, ensuring movement toward key NSRI objectives across nuclear weapons enterprise support, chemical and biological threat detection and countermeasure development, medical countermeasures and response and threat-based training and exercise support. 

Educational strategy assessment for improving respiratory protection equipment use 

Principal Investigator

Elizabeth Beam
University of Nebraska Medical Center

Project Description

This project lays the groundwork to improve education and training of healthcare workers related to personal protective equipment. The early COVID experience in spring 2020 demonstrated that there is significant misunderstanding about how to utilize respiratory protective equipment (RPE) effectively. This study will pilot video trainings and interactive video scoring for training RPE use during a Center for Sustainment of Trauma & Readiness Skills (CSTARS) course on biocontainment care. RPE used in the training may include face coverings, surgical masks or respirators. If the interventions show promise for RPE training, they may also have applications for other critical safety behaviors. 

Phenotypic & functional characterization of newly evolved SARS-CoV-2 mutant viruses

Principal Investigator

Dr. Siddappa N.Byrareddy
University of Nebraska Medical Center

Project Description

Recent data have suggested that SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more contagious and transmissible due to the acquisition of several mutations in spike and other viral genes. To date, a total of eleven known SARS-CoV-2 variants have been reported, with delta and delta plus variants currently predominating the epidemic.  

This study aims to delineate the structural differences and phenotypic mutational profile of these emerging variants in both in vitro and in vivo studies using appropriate animal models. By studying structural and mutational differences, we will delineate how newly acquired mutations may provide SARS-CoV-2 with the ability to adapt to the host system and spread disease faster. This understanding can help scientists develop better therapeutic strategies to control the spread of the virus.

Multi-actor deterrence analysis methodology and laboratory 

Principal Investigator

Dr. Michelle Black
University of Nebraska at Omaha

Project Description

The multi-actor deterrence analysis methodology was developed and tested during the project, “Enabling Coherent Deterrence – A Multi-Actor Approach (2019-2020)” funded through NSRI by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  

Through NSRI IRAD funding, the approved and tested methodology will be updated based on feedback from NATO and additional interdisciplinary research. With a focus on automation to increase efficiency, additional innovative and complex scenarios will be developed to further test the methodology and increase the speed of analysis. 

The long-term objective is to offer a novel and comprehensive framework and methodology to aid U.S. deterrence practitioners, potentially allowing U.S. agencies to integrate decision calculi and deterrence objectives of multiple non-state and state actors.

A safe, self-administered, rapid-acting anti-infective

Principal Investigator

Dr. Paul H. Davis
University of Nebraska at Omaha

Project Description

The COVID-19 pandemic has incurred a devastating global impact, particularly in areas of the world with limited access to developed vaccines. The possibility of the rise of divergent strains of SARS-CoV-2 further compounds the concern this pandemic has on human health.  

Our team is working on an agent that can be administered either prior to or following viral exposure with the hope of preventing illness. Our project will help investigate this possibility using technology developed at the University of Nebraska.  

If successful, this agent will help reduce disease outcomes from COVID-19 in areas and/or populations that do not have adequate access to protective vaccines, such as warfighters in areas with limited access to the vaccine. It could also reduce the risk of first responders and other health care providers to new viral variants. 

Modeling and visualization of competing escalation dynamics

Principal Investigator

Qing Hui
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Project Description

The goal of this project is to propose a mathematical approach to address modeling complex escalation between nuclear superpowers and transforming such a model into something perceivable that decision makers or users can fully understand.  

The study will demonstrate how the theoretic and computational tools developed in this field can be used to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It will also raise challenging technical questions about how to evaluate the effectiveness of these tools for solving a multi-domain, complex problem to obtain a satisfactory solution. 

Ultimately, the proposed methodology should easily synthesize synthetic data from various simulation platforms in the Department of Defense to advance our fundamental understanding on couplings between informatic, cognitive and logistic processes during escalation, so that our country, warfighters and first responders are well prepared for countering WMD attacks.

Personal, wearable sensor platform for detecting & localizing WMDs

Co-Principal Investigators

Eric Markvicka, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Stephen Rennard, University of Nebraska Medical Center
Jennifer Yentes, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Project Description

This project will introduce several early generations of a sensitive surveillance system in the form of a wearable electronic nose to enable continuous monitoring and localization of air-borne chemical vapors, which is of critical importance to mitigate the effects of environmental and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Current environmental monitors typically consist of stationary or portable systems that are bulky and intrusive and cannot be comfortably worn on the body during daily activities. The new technologies created through this project will provide early generations of a gas sensors that can be directly integrated into a wearable system that is easy to use and realistic for long-term use. Such a system will extend existing environmental monitors such that each individual person will be a ‘probe’ of potential threats allowing for detailed real-time monitoring of threat status.

Ideology and risk: How neuroscience can inform nuclear security

Co-Principal Investigators

Noelle C. Troutman, M.A.
Rupal N. Mehta, Ph.D.
Ingrid J. Haas, Ph.D. 

Project Description

The nature of strategic thinking, or the ability to ‘put oneself in another’s shoes,’ has long influenced the domain of international politics—the nuclear realm is no exception. In an era of increasingly adept opponents capable of rapid technological and military innovation, the United States has an immediate interest in understanding the biological and neurological components of strategic thinking as a means to counter actors who seek to challenge the nonproliferation regime, including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.  

At first glance, these actors appear to be defined by significant institutional and cultural variation, such that developing a single framework capable of speaking to the escalation doctrines of each may be unlikely—if not impossible. We argue otherwise. Namely, we advance a theory capable of speaking to the neural and behavioral underpinnings of elite decision-making in nuclear politics.  

By leveraging fundamental physiological and neural processes to analyze and predict matters of international security, we present a novel framework capable of application across a host of adversarial contexts. We isolate the role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in strategic decision-making and test our framework with neuroimaging, namely, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), to better explore how biological and neural factors impact elite decision-making in nuclear politics and warfighting. 

“Our university research partners have risen to the challenge once again with these selected projects as well as the others that were submitted — it was a competitive field, which was exciting to see. Securing start-up funding for these types of projects at the university is exactly how we innovate toward NSRI's mission for the future.”

— Dr. Joshua Santarpia
NSRI research director for chemical and biological programs
NSRI IRAD program lead

Learn more about NSRI IRAD

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