High Impact Areas

NIU research addresses complex, real-world challenges head-on with transdisciplinary, forward-thinking research. Our efforts run the gamut from investigating and mitigating climate change, to finding ways to produce cleaner energy, to unraveling the mysteries of our universe.

Areas of focus and impact include:

Climate Science

weather system

Our meteorology scientists and students conduct research on how weather and climate extremes impact humans and our economy. They are pioneers at assessing the variability of extreme weather on climate timescales, including any potential for change in projected future climates. Advanced statistical and machine-learning techniques are used extensively by this group to accelerate the process of discovering impactful modes of climate variability and change. The group is also honing extended-range weather forecasting of severe weather, identifying patterns halfway around the globe that will heighten the probability weeks later for hail- and tornado-producing storms in the United States. Meanwhile, NIU geologists and their students have for decades conducted investigations of the polar regions of our planet, where extreme effects of climate change are already dramatically evident. NIU’s participation in large-scale research investigations in Antarctica, for example, inform us about ice sheet dynamics and potential future sea-level rise, a vital issue to coastal communities worldwide.

Accelerator and High Energy Physics

partical accelerator

Particle accelerators are used in scientific research, including exploration of the sub-atomic universe, and are wide spread in medical and industrial applications. Tens of millions of hospital patients receive accelerator-based diagnoses and therapy each year. NIU has active education and research programs in particle-beam physics, particle accelerators technology and high-energy physics. The NIU Department of Physics is home to the Northern Illinois Center for Accelerator and Detector Development (NICADD), which provides research and development opportunities nationally and internationally as well as graduate fellowships. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded two grants totaling roughly $2 million to NIU to train next-generation workers in accelerator science and technology and in computational high energy physics (HEP).

Nanoscience and Materials Science


Often in collaboration with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, NIU scientists are helping to lay the groundwork for new 21st century technologies. Our researchers and graduate and postdoctoral students are expanding scientific knowledge in such areas as quantum physics, condensed matter, materials science, quantum device development, mesoscopic superconductor development, perovskite solar cell development and design of novel nanomaterials for sensors, energy conversion, catalysis and more.

Chemistry and Biochemistry

technician placing micro chips in hand

NIU chemists and biochemists conduct research in a wide range of areas, with the aim of improving daily life in the future. These research areas include new drug design, improved ways to detect and treat disease, flavor chemistry, use of electrocatalysts to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, creation of organic electronic and optoelectronic materials, and foundational research to advance safer and longer lasting rechargeable batteries used in devices, electric vehicles and grid energy storage.

The Environment, Sustainability and Energy

hands cupped catching water

NIU is building a new $23 million Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS) to accelerate job creation and economic growth through groundbreaking education, research and discovery. The center will focus on water resources, environmental change and food systems and complement NIU’s established Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability and Energy (ESE). For more than a decade, the institute has fostered transdisciplinary research, education and community engagement related to the environment and sustainability. Diverse areas of faculty and student research include biogeography, biodiversity, ecology, public health, invasive species, environmental restoration, environmental humanities, green technology, water sciences, the economics of overfishing and overharvesting, renewable energy, complex systems, science communication, sustainability policy and politics, the cultural impacts of/on climate change and local government sustainability management.

Southeast Asian Studies

Southeast Asian Performing Arts

NIU boasts a federally funded center for studying Southeast Asian languages—including Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian and Tagalog—with faculty and students conducting research in fields ranging from history, political science, environmental studies and public health to art, music and cultural anthropology. The center provides graduate students with funding to study in the region and collaborates with institutions in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Additionally, the related Center for Burma Studies has a world-leading collection of art and manuscripts and publishes the Journal of Burma Studies.

STEM Education

Stem Research

Collaboration is key for NIU’s STEM education researchers, who study such diverse topics as faculty perceptions of teaching practices, culturally relevant pedagogy, spatial and diagrammatic reasoning, mathematical reasoning, science communication, and the factors affecting persistence in STEM. STEM education researchers employ a range of methodologies, from complex statistical models to nuanced qualitative case studies. Many projects involve faculty from multiple colleges partnering to bring their expertise to address transdisciplinary challenges. Current studies include the role of social support on sense of belonging in science, teaching assistants’ perceptions of implementing culturally responsive pedagogies, K-12 teachers’ use of mathematical pedagogies, university students’ reasoning about groundwater, and mathematics majors conceptual understanding of sameness in advanced algebra.

Other Areas of Strength

Other areas of existing or growing strength include research computing and data management; additive manufacturing research; cultural and personal narratives (oral histories); health equity; local government; language and literacypsychology; school and organizational psychology; non-profit organization leadership; blindness and visual impairment; and youth development and social change through sportstress: resilience and vulnerability research. 
Back to top