The scholarship and service of the University of Virginia community extended to all corners of the globe in 2016. Wahoos from across disciplines paved the way to a better world with advances in medicine and technology, pioneering social and economic innovations, rich analyses of culture and history and a constant willingness to lend a hand to those in need.

UVA students, faculty members, staff and thousands of alumni pushed the bounds of innovation in 2016 and many are already seeing the impact of their labor. Take a look back at 16 ways that the University made the world a better place.

School of Medicine researchers determined that the immune system can directly affect creatures’ social behavior. The findings suggest that the immune system plays a role in a person’s ability to have normal social interactions and may even dictate parts of their personality.

“The brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology. And now, not only are we showing that they are closely interacting, but some of our behavior traits might have evolved because of our immune response to pathogens,” said Jonathan Kipnis, chair of UVA’s Department of Neuroscience.

For the past three years, UVA has consistently ranked among the top five medium-sized schools in sending alumni volunteers to the Peace Corps. As of the spring, 36 UVA alumni were currently volunteers, joining the 1,144 UVA alumni who have volunteered since the program began in 1961.

This year, UVA Today introduced readers to some of the recent volunteers and showed the impact they’re making in communities around the world.

The Innocence Project is a yearlong clinic for UVA law students that offers practical experience in investigation and litigation of wrongful convictions of inmates around Virginia. Students in the clinic uncovered evidence that may be key to a man’s release from prison, 25 years after he was convicted. In February, a circuit court judge ruled in favor of the project’s request to have the new forensic evidence tested.

Led by Pankaj Vir Gupta, Harry S. Shure Visiting Professor of Architecture, UVA students from multiple schools are researching India’s Yamuna River and submitting proposals to purify and revitalize it, – marking the third year that the UVA community has worked with locals in New Delhi to find new solutions for the polluted river.

They will soon compile their findings in a book that will be delivered to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian officials.

An economic impact study released in December found that UVA’s Academic Division, Health System and the College at Wise annually generate a combined $5.9 billion in economic activity for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and are directly or indirectly responsible for one in every 76 jobs in the state.

Ben Castleman, an assistant professor at the Curry School of Education, was selected to lead First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Up Next” campaign to offer students guidance about college, financial aid and loan repayment. The program’s first outreach goals were built on Castleman’s research showing that text message check-ins with students can help improve educational outcomes.

Researchers at UVA have developed a smartphone designed to interact with sensors on patients’ skin and act as an insulin-regulating artificial pancreas for diabetics.

TypeZero, an alumni-run start-up, licensed the UVA prototype and is close to bringing it to market.

Commonwealth Professor of Physics Seung-Hun Lee and his colleague Joshua J. Choi, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, are changing the field of solar power.

Together, they’re leading a team of researchers testing more durable lightweight solar cells that can function in a variety of environmental situations.

While still a student, 2016 graduate Ana Mendelson launched a program to provide autism-friendly, or sensory-friendly, performances for free to local children and their families. Her success ensured that the Autism Theatre Project continued after she graduated, with a new group of student volunteers to run it.

Thanks to UVA’s Astronomy Department, APOGEE-2, an infrared spectrograph that will allow scientists to peer into the farthest reaches of the Milky Way, is now taking up residence at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. University astronomers led construction of the sensitive device that, along with its precursor APOGEE-1, will now offer views of the galaxy from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

The UVA Health System became one of the first in the world to pioneer new focused ultrasound technology on certain brain disorders and tumors. Using high-intensity sound waves to generate heat, doctors can burn away damaged areas without the need for an incision and without damaging surrounding tissues.

Christine Mahoney, an associate professor of public policy and politics, has spent the last seven years researching the plight of the nearly 65 million people displaced by violent conflicts around the world.

This year, she proposed a new social entrepreneurship-based program to provide a long-term support structure for refugees, making recommendations to the United Nations and launching an impact-investing fund to put her ideas in motion.

UVA alumni, faculty and graduate students helped with everything from the design and construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to exhibit soundtracks, to fundraising and more.

In October, UVA Today introduced readers to seven members of the UVA community who played critical roles in the museum’s construction and early operations.

A team of current UVA students and recent alumni have developed a spray that rapidly degrades pesticides, making crop collection safer, reducing the risk of chemical runoff entering ground water and allowing farmers to have greater control over the timing of their harvests. Their product and start-up of the same name, Agrospheres, has already received national recognition and garnered significant financial backing.

Third-year engineering student Leon Yacoubian is leading an 11-person team of UVA students and faculty on the “Tuff Armenia Project.” They visited Gyumri, Armenia this summer to meet with locals and begin accessing ways to improve infrastructure and get residents into safer living conditions following the lingering damage from a 1988 earthquake.

High-speed supercomputers are only as good as the networks that connect them, and one UVA professor is improving the intricate hardware that links critical systems with scientists around the world. Malathi Veeraraghavan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is accelerating the rate of scientific discovery with her advances in computer hardware.

Important work like Veeraraghavan’s will continue to evolve and flourish alongside a new stream of University breakthroughs and outreach in 2017. As the New Year draws near, UVA is preparing for another year of big ideas shaped by Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the school:

“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Media Contact

Katie McNally

University News Associate Office of University Communications