Timeline of Research Breakthroughs

Since its founding as an agricultural college in 1863, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been a hub of pioneering research and scholarship. In this virtual timeline, take a trip back through the university’s history to explore the research discoveries, innovations, and trailblazing programs that drive progress in society and make UMass Amherst a leading research powerhouse.

  • 2020s

    Black hole picture

    The image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, revealed a new view of a black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy located 55 million light-years away. It represented the first time that astronomers have been able to measure polarization, a signature of magnetic fields, this close to the edge of a black hole, and is key to explaining how the M87 galaxy is able to launch energetic jets from its core.

    Learn more about: 2021 | Professors Gopal Narayanan and Peter Schloerb were part of an international team of astronomers that captured the first-ever picture of a black hole.
  • Leonce Ndikumana

    Considered by many to be one of the best-known and most widely respected African macroeconomists of his generation, Ndikumana was the first UMass Amherst faculty member to receive the honor.

    Learn more about: 2021 | Distinguished Professor of Economics Léonce Ndikumana was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
  • Xing, consistently one of the world’s most highly cited researchers in the area of environmental and ecological sciences, has worked to improve soil health and, consequently, food safety through research on a wide variety of soil contaminants—especially those of emerging concern such as antibiotics, pharmaceutical compounds, and engineered nanoparticles.

    Learn more about: Environmental scientist Baoshan Xing conducted influential research to improve soil health and food safety.
  • Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Associate Professor of Biostatistics Nicholas Reich’s lab, renowned for flu forecasting, pivoted to coronavirus forecasting. The lab used an “ensemble approach,” unifying multiple models to produce the most accurate possible picture of the potential impacts of the virus. The lab provided access to a centralized data repository and the most reliable coronavirus forecasts in the nation to policymakers and scientists at the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as well as the general public. It is featured on the FiveThirtyEight COVID-19 Forecast tracker and the CDC website.

    Learn more about: 2020 | The COVID-19 forecasting hub began serving policymakers and scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the White House.
  • In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with PPE in critical short supply, Peltier conducted research to establish which treatments for decontaminating medical face masks, such as N95 masks, allow these protective devices to be safely reused.

  • In 2020, new interdisciplinary program, Elevating Equity Values in the Transition of the Energy system (ELEVATE), was awarded two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling $6.3 million to ensure the transformation of the electrical grid is both sustainable and benefits all members of society equitably, an aspect of energy transition not often considered in policymaking or public discourse. ELEVATE is part of the Energy Transition Institute (ETI), which brings together UMass’s research experts in energy technology and climate science, as well as world-renowned scholars in equity and social justice, to solve important technical and public policy challenges that emerge as nations shift to green energy. By convening national leaders in energy transition and equity issues, ETI is helping to set the national agenda for research on these topics.

    Learn more about: 2020 | Programs were established to promote a sustainable and equitable energy future through community-engaged research.
  • nanowires power plant air gen

    Called Air-gen, it has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy as it doesn’t require sunlight or wind and even works indoors.

    Learn more about: 2020 | Professors Jun Yao and Derek Lovley invented a generator to create electricity from moisture in the air.
  • 2010s

    Dube was appointed by former United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond to undertake a review of international evidence on the impacts of minimum wages, with implications for future minimum wage policy to end low pay in the U.K. He also conducted seminar research in bordering counties across the U.S., which produced strong evidence that raising the minimum wage does not negatively affect employment levels.

    Learn more about: Research by Professor Arindrajit Dube influenced policymaking and challenged conventional thinking about the minimum wage and its effect on employment.
  • In 2020–21, a year-long seminar course and a symposium were held to explore the life and legacy of Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, revealing the truth about U.S. government policy in Vietnam.

    Learn more about: 2019 | The Ellsberg Papers were acquired by UMass Amherst libraries.
  • Scientists at Google’s research laboratory reached a milestone they called “quantum supremacy” by performing a mathematical calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that today’s largest supercomputers could not complete in less than 10,000 years. Bardin worked with the team on integrated circuit control and measurement electronics.

    Learn more about: 2019 | Engineering Professor Joseph Bardin was part of a Google research team that reported quantum breakthrough in computing.
  • Learned-Miller, Huang, and Facebook research scientist Tamara Berg were honored with the 2019 Mark Everingham Prize from the International Conference on Computer Vision for their work on one of the most influential face datasets in the world, Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW). It has been used by companies such as Google and Facebook to test their facial recognition accuracy.

    Learn more about: 2019 | Professor Erik Learned-Miller and Gary Huang ’12PhD were honored for developing the gold standard for facial recognition algorithms .
  • Neuromorphic computing involves microprocessors configured more like human brains than conventional computer chips, with the goal of both building better computers and advancing our understanding of the human brain. Results were featured in the inaugural issue of Nature Electronics.

    Learn more about: 2018 | Engineers led a team of international researchers that published breakthrough results on neuromorphic computing.
  • Bliss was a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering at the time. The device uses no filters or chemicals, and can even remove metals from water. Mullen was named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30 for Science” all-stars.

    Learn more about: 2017 | Julie Bliss Mullen co-founded Aclarity, LLC, a company that produces a device which uses low levels of electricity to purify and disinfect water.
  • IALS

    Created with an investment of more than $150 million from the Massachusetts Life Science Center (MLSC) and UMass Amherst, IALS combines expertise of more than 200 faculty-led research groups from 29 academic departments with the diverse capabilities of industry and government partners in order to translate fundamental research into innovative product candidates, technologies, and services to improve human health and well-being.

    Learn more about: 2014 | The Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) was established.
  • NE CASC is one of eight regional centers established by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The climate science centers are charged with understanding how climate change and other landscape stressors could change the face of the United States, and developing tools for climate change adaptation.

    Learn more about: 2011 | UMass, a leader in regional and national climate research, was chosen to lead a consortium of seven universities and host the Northeast Climate Science Adaptation Center (NE CASC).
  • UMass Amherst was one of eight universities collaborating with IBM on the Question Answering (QA) technology behind Watson, billed as “the smartest machine on earth.” UMass researchers led by Professor James Allan contributed special expertise to the project on several fronts, including information retrieval, or text search—the first step taken when looking for text that’s most likely to contain accurate answers. The system’s deep language processing capabilities then analyze the returned information to find the actual answers within that text.

    Learn more about: 2011 | Researchers contributed to the Watson Computer.
  • 2000s

    Large Millimeter Telescope

    UMass Amherst and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) collaborated to build the Large Millimeter Telescope on the peak of Cerro La Negra, a mountain in central Mexico. It expanded the reach of astronomers to the edge of the universe by detecting electromagnetic radiation called millimeter waves that were emitted 13 billion years ago.

    Learn more about: UMass Amherst was a collaborator in building the world's largest, most sensitive radio telescope.
  • Professor of Epidemiology Lisa Chasan-Taber created the Pregnancy Physical Activity Questionnaire (PPAQ), which has since become one of the most widely used instruments for assessing physical activity in this population in 54 countries around the world. In the U.S., it is now being used as part of a $150 million National Institutes of Health-funded Child Health Outcomes pediatric cohorts program across 35 centers.

  • CASA uses a new paradigm, Distributed Collaborative Adaptive Sensing (DCAS) networks of small radars, to overcome limitations of traditional weather forecasting systems and adapt to changing atmospheric conditions in a way that meets competing end user needs.

    Learn more about: 2003 | The Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) was established, revolutionizing the mapping of storms and other weather conditions to save lives and property.
  • 1990s

    Daniela Calzetti

    Known as “Calzetti’s Law,” this tool allows astronomers to estimate how much information they are missing due to dust obscuring probes of very distant galaxies, among other things. Calzetti’s work on how galaxies are formed has become known worldwide, and she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2020, among other honors.

    Learn more about: Astronomer Daniela Calzetti developed an influential law of astronomy.
  • The Computer Vision Laboratory, directed by Ed Riseman and Al Hanson, worked with many companies, including Martin Marietta, Lockheed, General Electric, Boeing, Kollmorgen, Harris, Raytheon, and the Bigelow Laboratory. They founded Amerinex Artificial Intelligence Corporation and Dataviews Corporation (formerly VI Corporation). Riseman and Hanson's influential 1998 paper presenting new directions for knowledge-directed vision, is considered a seminal work in the computer vision field.

    Learn more about: Pioneering research was conducted on computer vision understanding systems.
  • The first issue of the Journal of Alternative Investments was published through Isenberg School of Management.

    Learn more about: 1998 | The first “blind-refereed” academic journal devoted to derivatives and other non-traditional investments was established.
  • Seymour led a team in developing screening assessments to distinguish between language variations attributable to linguistic dialect use (such as African American English, Southern American English, Cajun, and Creole) from those due to language delays or disorders.

    Learn more about: 1998 | Professor of Communication Disorders Harry Seymour and colleagues introduced widely used tools to screen for language disorders.
  • The Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, later renamed the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in 2017 after its founder, promotes and supports interdisciplinary scholarship and public-facing humanities in exploring connections between the early modern world (c. 1400–1700) and the present.

    Learn more about: 1998 | A nationally respected center in Renaissance studies was formed.
  • Haensel taught at UMass from 1991 to 1998 after an impactful career in industry. The award recognized his development in 1947 of the “platforming” process, a revolutionary chemical engineering process that uses platinum to produce clean, inexpensive fuel and material to make plastics from petroleum. Haensel also received the National Medal of Science in 1973 from President Nixon, and was the inaugural recipient of the National Academy of Science Award for Chemistry in Service to Society in 1991 for his outstanding research in the catalytic reforming of hydrocarbons that has greatly enhanced the economic value of our petroleum natural resources.

    Learn more about: 1997 | Vladimir “Val” Haense was awarded the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) highest honor.
  • Joseph Taylor

    In 1974, Professor Taylor and Hulse discovered a pulsar comprised of two very close stars rotating around each other. They were able to demonstrate that the stars’ radiation and movements correspond with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. As predicted by the theory, Taylor confirmed in 1978 that the pulsar would emit energy in the form of gravitational waves, resulting in slowly declining intervals.

    Learn more about: 1993 | Professor Joseph Taylor and PhD alumnus Russell Hulse won the Nobel Prize in Physics for research providing evidence for a major prediction of general relativity.
  • In the early 1990s, UMass’s Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR) developed Govbot, the first federal government information portal for a one-stop search site for government information and technology across the entire federal government (all .gov and .mil sites). Using the CIIR InQuery software as their search engine, the Clinton/Gore White House was the first presidential administration to provide a web search capability for presidential speeches, press briefings, and other documents. Search software developed by CIIR was also used by the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, U.S. Library of Congress, Internal Revenue Service, Patent and Trademark Office, and many others.

    Learn more about: 1992 | One of the world’s leading research groups working in the area of information retrieval was established.
  • 1980s

    Biostatistics faculty David Hosmer and Stanley Lemeshow authored Applied Logistic Regression, now in its 3rd edition.

    Learn more about: 1989 | The single-most cited reference in all of statistics was published.
  • Associate Professor of Epidemiology Harris Pastides and colleagues published a landmark study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showing that chemicals being used in the microchip manufacturing process were causing spontaneous miscarriages among factory workers. The bombshell report—first vilified by industry, but later replicated in large studies—led directly to new federal regulations in the chip manufacturing process.

    Learn more about: 1988 | A landmark study was published on health risks posed in microchip manufacture.
  • Professor Andrew Barto and UMass Amherst alumnus Richard Sutton developed reinforcement learning (RL), a type of machine learning that relies on trial and error, allowing a system to learn from the consequences of its decisions instead of trying to replicate the decisions of human experts. It has strong connections to psychology and neuroscience, and is contributing to some of the most striking recent developments in artificial intelligence, such as DeepMind's AlphaGo program that has defeated human masters of the very challenging game of Go.

    Learn more about: 1988 | A new type of machine learning was developed, the forerunner to today’s AI.
  • The Institute for North American Trade and Economics is based at Isenberg School of Management.

    Learn more about: 1988 | A leading research and teaching institute on business relations with Canada was formed.
  • Vittum's foundational reference book was titled, Turfgrass Insects of the United States and Canada. Vittum has been honored by the United States Golf Association and the Golf Course Superintendent Association of America, among other groups, for her contributions to establishing industry standards and best management practices for turfgrass.

    Learn more about: 1987 | Turfgrass entomologist Patricia J. Vittum authored the “Bible of turfgrass entomology.”

    UMass was the first institution to use beam-forming techniques to probe the atmospheric boundary layer for investigating clear air turbulence. Practical applications of the technology include monitoring ice formations, severe storms, and ocean conditions. Since its establishment, the program has educated and awarded advanced degrees to hundreds of industrial students who work at companies such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric.

    Learn more about: 1981 | A pioneering engineering research program in microwaves and remote sensing was established by Robert E. McIntosh and Calvin T. Swift, who founded the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory (MIRSL).
  • Beal's book, Nutrition in the Life Span, served as the definitive text in the field for many years.

  • 1970s

    Introduced in the late 1970s, IPM uses targeted biological, chemical, and cultural strategies to reduce pest populations to levels below those causing economically significant harm, and aims to use the lowest possible dosage of the least disruptive pesticide in order to reduce negative impacts on the environment and human health. Prokopy published over 400 scientific papers and introduced IPM to tree fruit growers around New England.

    Learn more about: Faculty member Ron Prokopy pioneered the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach.
  • At the time, it was comprised of the Department of Nursing and Public Health, and led by founding dean William A. Darity Sr. He was a pioneer in the fields of public health, international inequities, and the health status of marginalized populations; a leading advocate for tobacco control; and the first Black recipient of a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Learn more about: 1976 | The School of Health Sciences became the 16th accredited school of public health in the nation.
  • Originally called the Women’s Studies Program, it grew out of feminist organizing, anti-Vietnam War activism, and other social movements of the time. On its 25th anniversary in 2009, it was renamed Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies (WGSS) in recognition of the belief that women’s experiences and oppression should be studied in relation to race, class, and sexuality.

    Learn more about: 1974 | Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies was established as one of the first academic programs of its kind in the U.S.
  • AES was created by former State Senator Stan Rosenberg to extend the cultural and educational resources of the university to stimulate cultural activity across Massachusetts. AES’s Fundamentals of Arts Management was the first publication of its kind and is now in its sixth edition. Today, AES is a leader in creating case studies and conducting research for state arts agencies, local cultural councils, and others seeking to understand the impact of their programs.

    Learn more about: 1973 | the Arts Extension Service (AES), one of the country’s leading publishers in the field of arts management, was founded.
  • Wind Turbine at UMass

    In his UMass lab, Heronemus, widely known as the “father of modern wind power,” built some of the first modern wind turbines, taught the first known wind power engineering course and, along with other faculty, conducted research on wind energy and ocean thermal energy conversion. Very few researchers worldwide were looking into these areas at the time. UMass Amherst Wind Energy Program graduates have since gone on to form the core of the U.S. wind industry, both in founding wind energy companies and staffing national agencies, principally the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In 2010, the historically significant WF-1 Wind Turbine, designed and constructed at UMass between 1973 and 1976, was donated to the Smithsonian Institute.

    Learn more about: 1972 | William Heronemus established the Energy Alternative Program and Wind Power Group, making UMass a leader in wind energy.
  • It helped establish the study of the African American experience and the Afro-Diaspora as a serious endeavor in American higher education.

    Learn more about: 1970 | The W.E.B. du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies was formed, one of the first degree-granting and tenure-conferring academic departments of its kind in the country.
  • 1960s

    Called the UMASS (Unlimited Machine Access from Scattered Sites) Time Sharing System, it allowed faculty and students to input a program in BASIC, FORTRAN, or SMALL, and receive an output on a terminal rather than via punch cards and paper.

    Learn more about: 1967 | The Research Computing Center created one of the first time-sharing operating systems.
  • Computing first came to UMass in the early 1960s to meet the needs of the chemistry department, and later became formalized as the Research Computing Center (RCC). An academic program was established to provide students with deeper knowledge of the computer. In 1965, the Board of Trustees approved an MS program in computer science.

    Learn more about: 1965 | One of the first standalone computer science programs in the U.S. was established.
  • Student in kinesiology lab

    Later re-named “kinesiology,” today the department offers an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human movement, investigating components including mechanical, neurological, biochemical, physiological, and behavioral. Graduates from the department are prominent in the health and fitness, health care, and biotechnology industries.

    Learn more about: 1965 | The nation’s first Department of Exercise Science formed.
  • Five years later, the Polymer Science and Engineering (PSE) program was founded and the first classes offered, and in 1974 the program became the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering. Today, the department is one of the largest academic centers for polymer research in the world, continually expanding the useful application of polymers to human needs.

    Learn more about: 1961 | Richard Stein, considered a founding father of polymer science research, established the Polymer Research Institute.
  • Engineering historical photo

    Engineering instruction had been offered on campus since the founding of Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863, and offerings grew and diversified as the curriculum was expanded. After the School of Engineering began operating in September 1947, about 40 percent of the surging number of veterans returning from the war chose to study engineering. To accommodate the high level of interest, engineering classes were conducted both on the Amherst campus and at Fort Devens until about 1951.

    Learn more about: 1947 | The School of Engineering (today called the College of Engineering) was established.
  • 1940s

    The purpose of the new university was defined to include all of the professional aims of a full-fledged university and to meet the need for low-cost education by increasing numbers of Massachusetts youth.

    Learn more about: 1947 | Mass State became the University of Massachusetts.
  • Named in honor of landscape architect pioneer Frank Waugh, it covers most of the UMass Amherst campus. Today it is a living laboratory for university and Five-College research in landscape architecture, botany, horticulture, forestry, ecological restoration and plant sciences, and a resource center for professionals and amateur gardeners alike. It holds a Level IV Accreditation by ArbNet for achieving high standards of professional practices.

    Learn more about: 1944 | The Frank A. Waugh Arboretum was founded.
  • 1930s

    Mass State

    The name change was intended to reflect the institution’s ever-broadening curriculum.

    Learn more about: 1931 | Massachusetts Agricultural College was renamed Massachusetts State College (“Mass State”).
  • The program quickly became a leader in the field thanks to Fellers’ efforts to attract substantial external research funding from food companies and the federal government. This type of external research funding was new to MAC, and was especially remarkable during the Great Depression and, later, World War II, when industry funding for American research universities was rare. Fellers remains a legend in the field of food science, with the field’s most prestigious prize, the Carl R. Fellers Award, named in his honor.

    Learn more about: 1930 | Professor Carl Fellers founded the Department of Food Technology’s graduate program.
  • 1910s

    The Department of Horticultural Manufactures grew out of the college’s efforts during World War I to address food shortages by engaging in food production and conservation. In addition, through the college’s extension program, faculty were mobilized to distribute information on gardening and other aspects of food production and storage as widely as possible.

    Learn more about: 1918 | The first “food science” department in the nation was formed.
  • Cranberry Station ca 1920

    Bringing together disciplines including plant pathology, weed management, water and nutrient management, plant physiology, and entomology, the station remains one of the few centers in the world for research and educational outreach on cranberry production. Its first director, Henry Franklin, is credited with making substantial contributions to the science of cranberry entomology, including pioneering the use of water management and sanding for insect control, laying the foundation for today’s insect monitoring programs, establishing economic thresholds for insect damage on cranberries, and writing the definitive guide of its time, “Cranberry Insects of Massachusetts.” He also developed a frost warning service to predict the minimum on-bog temperature every night and to indicate the temperature threshold that could be tolerated by plants based on their stage of growth and development.

    Learn more about: 1910 | The Cranberry Station was founded in East Wareham, Mass.
  • 1900s

    Frank Waugh

    Known today as the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, the program has grown substantially and developed a number of distinct instructional, research, and outreach programs.

    Learn more about: 1903 | The second-ever undergraduate landscape gardening program in the U.S. was established by Frank Waugh.
  • 1880s

    Hatch Experiment Station

    The Massachusetts Legislature created the Massachusetts State Agricultural Experiment Station on campus (East and West Experiment Stations were its original buildings). In 1887, the Hatch Experiment Station was established under the federal Hatch Act. The two stations were merged in 1894. Today, the Experiment Station receives federal funding under both the Hatch Act and McIntire-Stennis Forestry Research Act of 1962 to support faculty research in agriculture, food systems, nutrition, forestry, environment, and other topics.

    Learn more about: 1882 | Experiment stations were established on campus.
  • 1870s

    In the 1870s, early faculty members, including Levi Stockbridge, Charles A. Goessmann, and then-MAC president William S. Clark, conducted experiments in sugar beet, maple sugar, and tobacco production, which ultimately led Massachusetts’ political leaders to explore these crops’ commercial potential in the state.

    Learn more about: Early agricultural experiments led to the expansion of commercial agriculture in Massachusetts.
  • Through his study of the chemistry of soil and crops, Goessmann is credited with promoting the passage of one of the first laws requiring accurate fertilizer labeling. He later served as the State Inspector of Fertilizers.

  • Stockbridge, namesake of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, conducted experiments demonstrating that fertilizers should be specifically tailored to individual plant varieties, as opposed to being spread over fields in a generalized manner. His “Stockbridge formulas” for corn, potato, and many other crops were published in agricultural bulletins and pamphlets distributed throughout the world.

    Learn more about: Professor Levi Stockbridge developed the famous “Stockbridge formulas” for different crops.
  • Giant Squash Experiment

    President William S. Clarke conducted a famous public weight-lifting squash experiment to demonstrate the power of plant growth, which was observed by tens of thousands of visitors. A giant chili squash was planted in rich compost and fitted with a special apparatus, such that it could only expand by lifting a platform to which weights were continually added. The squash supported around 5,000 pounds—and weighed nearly 50 pounds itself, with a tough three-inch-thick rind, and over 2,000 feet of roots—before the experiment was halted.

    Learn more about: 1875 | A famous weight-lifting squash experiment demonstrated the practical benefits of agricultural research and instruction.
  • 1860s

    Mass Aggie

    Set on 310 rural acres, the college, also known as MAC, or Mass Aggie, was founded under the national Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act.

    Learn more about: 1863 | Massachusetts Agricultural College was founded.