Research Tracks

A publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor University

Get to know Big 12 research: University of Oklahoma


The Baylor Bears face a tough road test this weekend when they travel to Norman to take on the Oklahoma Sooners.  Of course, this game represents more than just a clash between two great college football teams.  It’s also a meeting of two universities that are leaders in research and scholarship.  In this week’s “Get to know Big 12 research” column, we hear from Jana Smith, the director of strategic communications for R&D at the University of Oklahoma, about some of the latest developments at OU.


What are the most significant strategic initiatives at the University of Oklahoma right now?

The University of Oklahoma has a 55-year history of weather research and education that laid the groundwork for the growth of the weather enterprise, and equally as important, the radar enterprise.  OU is building on years of outstanding research in this area by expanding the technology into fields outside of weather, including areas of defense, security and intelligence.

The recent dedication of the Radar Innovations Laboratory—the only one of its kind in the United States—on the OU Research Campus marked a major milestone in the development of the campus, which only a decade ago sat as an empty field south of OU’s main campus.  A $300 million investment by OU turned the OU Research Campus into an innovation hub for public and private collaboration.

The Association of University Research Campuses named the OU Research Campus as the nation’s leading research campus in 2013 for its continued growth and expansion, plus economic impact.  The OU Research Campus is home to the National Weather Center, the Stephenson Research and Technology Center, the Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center, the new Radar Innovations Laboratory and five Partners Place buildings.

The nexus of weather, water, climate and radar is a top priority at OU.  The National Weather Center, the Oklahoma Water Survey, the South Central Climate Science Center and the Advanced Radar Research Center are all located in close proximity to each other on the OU Research Campus.

These efforts are having a global impact through collaboration and technology advancement.  Growth of the OU Research Campus over the last decade has contributed to the economic development in the community and state while advancing the OU mission through the creation of a knowledge community and training for the next-generation of scientists and engineers. For more information about the University Research Campus, visit

What are a few of the most interesting research projects by University of Oklahoma faculty members?

“Tracking tornado debris” is one the most interesting projects on the OU Research Campus.  Robert Palmer, OU associate vice president for research and director of the Center for Applied Research and Development, and team are using dual-polarization radar to distinguish debris in tornadoes from precipitation to determine how debris, when lofted into the atmosphere, interacts with the tornado. Palmer and his team are studying the radar debris signature through field experiments and numerical simulations, but to better understand the radar signatures, the team is using an anechoic chamber to measure the returned radar signals for different types of debris.  Using these measurements, they employ a radar simulator to illuminate how different debris types affect the radar debris signature, then compare the simulated signatures to radar data collected by the nationwide Doppler radar network and mobile radars.  The National Science Foundation funded this project and recently worked with Palmer on a video that can be viewed at

Another very exciting and important project on the OU Research Campus is Rong Gan’s research on the exposure to high intensity sound or blast, which directly results in hearing loss that affects normal function of combatants and results in hearing disability for veterans.  Gan, professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering, is studying how the high intensity sound waves are transmitted through the ear and what specific changes occur in the ear structures/tissue following blast exposure.  Gan recently received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command for the study of biomechanical modeling and measurement of blast injury and hearing protection mechanisms.  Gan is well known for her research in the development of implantable hearing devices, which will aid those with severe hearing disabilities. For more information about this project, contact Rong Gan at or visit the Biomedical Engineering Lab at

A team of researchers from the Norman and Health Sciences Center campuses are combining robotics, machine learning and brain imaging to assist infants with cerebral palsy.  The team is creating a robotic platform that assists these infants as they learn how to crawl.  The goal is to encourage the infants to practice crawling-like movements while also exploring their surroundings, thus aiding in both their motor skill and cognitive development.  Brain imaging is used to assess how the infants’ brains respond when assisted by the robotic device.  The team includes Andrew H. Fagg, associate professor in the OU departments of Computer Science and Bioengineering; David Miller, professor in the OU departments of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering; Thubi Kolobe, professor in the department of Rehabilitative Sciences at the OU Health Sciences Center, College of Allied Health; and Lei Ding, associate professor in the OU departments of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering.

What are some of the most recent innovations by University of Oklahoma faculty?

Cylindrical Polarimetric Phased Array Radar for Weather Measurements, Drs. Zhang, Palmer, Zrnic and Doviak

In response to limitations of speed and accuracy in traditional radar installations, researchers at the University of Oklahoma’s Radar Innovations Lab have developed a radar system that incorporates the improved accuracy of polarimetry radar and the shortened data update time of phased array. A novel, patent pending, cylindrical configuration of array elements has advantages of maintaining beam width and polarization purity with axial symmetry. Additionally, the team has developed algorithms and a software package allowing for enhanced data collection and manipulation.  This complete system is currently operational and undergoing field-testing at the University of Oklahoma’s Radar Innovation Laboratory and in conjunction with the National Weather Center, National Severe Storms Laboratory, NOAA and the University is actively seeking a licensing partner for production.

Diagnostic, Therapeutic and Vaccine Strategies for Clostidium difficile associated disease, Jimmy Ballard, Ph.D.

Clostridium difficile is the leading cause of hospital-acquired illness in the world with a mortality rate up to 20%.  University of Oklahoma researcher Dr. Jimmy Ballard studies mechanisms through which bacterial toxins, such as Toxin B from Clostridium difficile, damage cells and tissues during disease. Understanding bacterial pathogenesis provides critical insight into therapeutic and vaccine intervention strategies.  Research in Dr. Ballard’s laboratory has resulted in several innovative technologies.  A patent has been granted for improved recombinant expression and purification methods for Clostridium difficile toxin B and associated antigenic fragments, providing an inexpensive method to generate large quantities of this critical protein.  Additional patents are pending for a toxoid vaccine of Clostridium difficile, and for key antigenic regions that are important in the immune response to Clostridium difficile associated disease. These antigenic regions can be used to design improved therapeutics and diagnostics.

Identification and Use of Novel Gastrointestinal and Pancreatic Stem Cell and Cancer Markers, Dr. Courtney Houchen

The layer of cells lining the intestine is one of the fastest renewing tissues in the body.  Stems cells located in the lining of the intestine are thought to be responsible for producing precursor cells for the multiple types of cells found in this tissue. Dr. Courtney Houchen, chief of the Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Section at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has discovered a protein, DCKL-1, that is expressed on these cancer stem cells.  He has found this protein can be used as a biomarker for cancers of the Gastro-Intestinal track and pancreas, and inhibition of the expression of this protein will inhibit the growth of tumors.  Dr. Houchen’s laboratory is continuing to examine the mechanism of DCKL-1 in producing cancer stem cells, and to target this protein for diagnosis and treatment of cancers of the GI system.

For more information about these and other innovations, contact the OU Office of Technology Development at

What was the focus of the University of Oklahoma Vice President for Research Inaugural Meeting of Big 12 Vice Presidents and Chancellors?

Advancing research for the universities in the Central and Southern Plains was the focus of the inaugural meeting of the Big 12 Vice Presidents for Research and Vice Chancellors for Research hosted by OU the Norman campus.  The meeting provided a forum for leveraging the strengths of these universities in advancing research on topics germane to the region, while emphasizing the unique regional research challenges and priorities and the manner in which combined strengths and resources can be leveraged to address them.  Attendees focused on water, energy, manufacturing and sustainability; research parks; place-based and online STEM education challenges; broadening the participation of underrepresented groups; new directions for EPSCoR; and how best to organize universities in the region.  Contact Kelvin Droegemeier, OU vice president for research—Norman campus, at for more information about the outcome of this meeting.

The area around Memorial Stadium is known for having a lot of great food and entertainment options. What are some other places in Norman that visitors should make sure to check out?

Many visitors to Oklahoma make the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History one of their destination stops. One of the leading university-based natural history museums in the world, the Sam Noble Museum houses more than 10 million objects, specimens and artifacts, and contains 195,000 square feet on 40 acres of land. The museum exhibits include the largest and smallest Apatosaurus on display in the world and the oldest work of art ever found in North America — a lightning bolt painted on an extinct bison skull. In a White House ceremony in May 2014, the Sam Noble Museum was awarded the National Medal, the nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for outstanding community service. Learn more about the Sam Noble Museum at

A prime destination for visitors to Oklahoma, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma is widely regarded as one of the finest university art museums in the United States. The museum of art houses one of the most important collections of Native American art in the United States. During the past 19 years, the museum has acquired several significant collections that have further strengthened the museum’s holdings in the areas of Native American and Southwest art. Strengths of the permanent collection include the Weitzenhoffer Collection of French Impressionism, one of the most important gifts of art ever given to a U.S. public university; the Eugene B. Adkins Collection, shared with the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa; the James T. Bialac Collection; the Dr. and Mrs. Richard L. Sandor Photography Collection; the Priscilla C. and Joseph N. Tate Collection; the Roxanne P. and William H. Thams Collection; and the Richard H. and Adeline J. Fleischaker Collection. Visit the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at

On home football game days, Norman’s Campus Corner – located adjacent to the OU campus – is the site of one of Norman’s biggest tailgate parties.  The historic site, which dates to the 1900s, features some 60 restaurants, retail shops and boutiques.  Read about Norman’s Campus Corner at

Thanks to Jana Smith, director of strategic communications for R&D at the University of Oklahoma, for participating in our “Get to know Big 12 research” series.  Learn more about OU research at, and follow them on Twitter at @OUResearch.

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