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Top UT Research Stories of 2016

Our researchers were really busy this year. Here are 15 of their most popular discoveries.

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1) Lucy, our most famous ancestor, died after falling from a tree.

John Kappelman

Photo by Marsha Miller.

Lucy, the most famous fossil of a human ancestor, probably died after falling from a tree, according to UT anthropologist and professor John Kappelman. Read more about how he cracked the case and look into it yourself with 3-D files of her bones available for free online.  

2) New planet, Proxima b, may be the nearest abode for life outside our solar system. 

Promixa b artist impression

ESO/M. Kornmesser

An international team of astronomers including Michael Endl of the McDonald Observatory revealed clear evidence of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the closest star to our sun. This new world, dubbed Proxima b, orbits in the habitable zone of its star — meaning it may be the nearest possible abode for life outside our solar system.

3) UT identified oil-eating bacteria as key in cleaning up future disasters.

oil spill

Image courtesy of: Andreas Teske, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Microbiologists at UT Austin and their colleagues have cracked the genetic code of how bacteria broke down oil to help clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Learn how this can help with future disasters.  

4) Should we spank our kids? Science says no.

Crying baby

Spanking children is likely to increase anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a 50-year research study on spanking. Learn about the most complete analysis to date on spanking. 

5) Dinosaurs cooed rather than roared.

feathered dinosaur

An illustration by artist Chuang Zhao of the Zhenyuanlong, a large feathered dinosaur.

Think you know what dinosaurs sounded like? It might suprise you to learn every movie got it wrong. UT paleonologist Julia Clarke is reshaping how we think of dinosaurs today. Hear the cooes, not roars, she believes dinosaurs probably made

6) The crater that wiped out the dinos could have also sheltered new life.


Painting by Donald E. Davis.

About 66 million years ago an asteroid hit the Earth, creating a crater bigger than Hawaii. The impact wiped out all nonavian dinosaurs and most life on the planet. What researchers found tells us about how huge impacts such as this shape planets and possibly even provide habitat for the origins of new life.

7) We found an ice deposit on Mars bigger than New Mexico.


Image courtesy of NASA.

Frozen beneath a region of cracked and pitted plains on Mars lies about as much water as Lake Superior. This discovery by UT geologists may support future astronauts living on Mars. 

8) Blind catfish, never before found in U.S., discovered in a Texas cave.

Mexican blindcats - Prietella phreatophila

Danté Fenolio.

An extremely rare eyeless catfish, the Mexican blindcat, has been discovered in Texas. Biologists think it could tell us more about the water resources and the aquifers connecting Texas and Mexico. 

9) Being social helps spread beneficial gut bacteria and improve health.

Chimpanzees interact in Gombe National Park, Tanzania

Steffen Foerster, Duke University

Spending time in close contact with others often involves the risk of catching germs and getting sick. But being sociable may also help transmit beneficial microbes, finds a multi-institutional study of gut microbiomes in chimpanzees.

10) Happiness in a relationship depends on your other dating options.

Holding Hands

Image by Unsplash, Pixabay

How satisfied you are in a relationship and the amount of energy you put into it depend on how your partner compares with the competition, according to UT psychologist Daniel Conroy-Beam. His study showed happiness wasn’t about how your partner compares with your idea of the perfect mate, but rather how he or she compares with the other options in your dating pool. Learn more. 

11) From cars to doctors, artificial intelligence will be a part of our lives in 2030.

North American City Transformed by Artificial Intelligence

iStock/Askold Romanov, Mlenny & Tricia Seibold

In 2030 advances in artificial intelligence (AI) might completely change our lives, according to academic and industry leaders. Learn what they predict for the future of AI-enhanced technologies. 

12) Enzyme Starves Cancer Cells

Breast cancer cells

Malignant breast cancer cells. Peter Thomas

Researchers in molecular bioscience and chemical engineering cut off cancer’s food supply and watched the cancer cells starve to death. This new treatment may save lives by safely treating prostate and breast cancer. Read about this Trojan horse for cancer.

13) Engineers Develop First-Ever Capsule to Treat Hemophilia


Cockrell School of Engineering

In the near future, hemophiliacs could be able to treat their disease by simply swallowing a capsule ­– thanks to a breakthrough led by researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering. Find out how their micro- and nanoparticles could save lives around the world.

14) Adding Women to Boardrooms is Good for Business

business woman

Photo by Bold Content.

Firms appointing women to top management teams bettered their long-term financial performance through smarter strategic risk-taking, according to the McCombs School of Business. Read how studies show women bring unique skills to the boardroom. 

BONUS: Most Popular Alumni Research of 2016

15) The first-ever detection of gravitational waves.


NASA simulation of merging black holes radiating gravitational waves. Image courtesy of NASA.

We did it!” announced physics alumnus David Reitze to the world on Feb. 11, 2016 – breaking the news of perhaps the biggest scientific discovery of our time. Now that researchers know gravitational waves exist, it could open the door to answering some of the biggest mysteries in science, such as: How did the universe begin?