Academics & Research in DC

Science and Engineering Hall

As a major research institution, the George Washington University has long valued its one-of-a-kind academic, research and career opportunities for our students and faculty alike. In fact, with campus located just four blocks from the White House and short distances from several major government and non-government agencies, most of these opportunities are literally a short walk away.

GW's annual research expenditures bolster the university’s commitment to creating world-changing discoveries on everything from AIDS research to the security of nuclear technology, to the creation of the National Chimpanzee Brain Resource, which promises to reveal new insights into human neurobiology, and participating in the life saving COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. Moreover, GW’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Hall (SEH) is ushering in a new era of discovery on everything from large aerospace structures to the next generation of nanotechnology, as well as convening scientists from all over the world to share knowledge and drive the future.

In August 2022, the university launched the refreshed GW Research Magazine and website, reflecting on the GW’s commitment to its growing research enterprise. The website and magazine highlight the impact of GW’s diverse research portfolio with features on the relationship between air pollution and health equity, the fight against climate change in the Arctic and the legacy of racial discrimination in America’s homeownership gap.

The primary research website includes at-your-fingertips stats and an animated D.C. metro area map showcasing the rich research environment in which the university operates. The addition of a research news subpage helps showcase the diverse research and scholarship conducted across GW’s schools and colleges, as well as GW experts in the news. The websites provide renewed avenues to highlight the breadth, depth and impact of GW’s research enterprise. 

Below you can explore some of our research project and partnerships within the District.

GW Research Helps Closing America's Homeownership Gap

Boosting homeownership among Black people in America begins with owning up to a history of racial discrimination in the real estate and mortgage industries, say GW researchers studying the homeownership gap.

It has fueled the American Dream, inspired settlers to conquer new lands and motivated generations of young people to save a bit of each paycheck: the desire to own one’s own home. In recent years, homeownership rates have increased by record amounts, even as home prices surge faster than inflation. But not everyone is riding this wave. 

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that for nearly three-quarters of non-Hispanic white households in this country, homeownership is a reality. For Black Americans, however, it remains a dream for the majority; only 43 percent of Black households live in a home they own. This homeownership gap—a 30 percentage point difference between non-Hispanic white and Black homeownership rates—is as large as it has been in 120 years. It is also intrinsically linked to the growing wealth gap between Black and white Americans, says Vanessa Perry, a professor at the GW School of Business. White households have a median net worth at least 10 times that of Black households, according to a report she co-authored in 2020 for the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). 

“The wealth gap is really the homeownership gap,” she says. “We’re seeing young Black people who graduate from college and are able to get good jobs but are still falling behind their similarly situated white counterparts because their parents and grandparents weren’t homeowners and didn’t accumulate the same kind of wealth.”

Perry, who previously worked for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, now studies the homeownership gap. She and other researchers at GW use economic modeling, consumer research and public policy collaborations to probe the underlying causes of the gap, devise potential solutions to narrow it, and ask why—or whether—homeownership matters in the first place.

Read more about the homeownership gap research project in the news release.

GW Research Reveals COVID-19 Shutdowns Expose Racial Disparities in Exposure to Air Pollution.

A new study of COVID-19 shutdowns in the United States reveals pronounced disparities in air pollution — with disenfranchised, minority neighborhoods still experiencing more exposure to a harmful air pollutant compared to wealthier, white communities. This first-of-a-kind study published today by researchers at the George Washington University looks at how air pollution changed after schools and businesses shut down in March 2020 in attempts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

With support from NASA, the researchers used data from a recently launched satellite orbiting the earth called the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument, along with ground measurements of pollution, to estimate nitrogen dioxide levels both before and after COVID-19 shutdowns. This method allowed the researchers to zoom in and compare one neighborhood’s pollution level to another in urban areas throughout the U.S. They then used demographic data to compare how nitrogen dioxide levels changed for different population sub-groups.

While previous studies have documented the inequity in air pollution exposure using models or spatially limited networks of ground monitors, this study relied on both observational and spatially complete satellite data to reveal how these inequities persisted during the unparalleled changes in human activity during COVID-19, the authors said.

The team found that changes in human activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely less passenger vehicle traffic, resulted in lower nitrogen dioxide levels among the vast majority of urban areas. Yet even that sharp decrease was not large enough to eliminate the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in exposure to this traffic-related pollutant. Marginalized, minority communities still experienced nitrogen dioxide levels during the shutdowns that, in some cities, were 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels in the nearby highest income and mostly white communities, Kerr said.

Read more about the COVID-19 shutdown research project in the news release.

GW Nursing Research Seeks to Reduce Disparities in Maternal Mortality.

A pair of George Washington University School of Nursing researchers were recently awarded a grant to study maternal mortality, a public health crisis with stark racial disparities, in Washington, D.C. The project will focus on the fathers' role and involvement in pregnancy and postpartum care, and their impact on prenatal care, maternal and infant health.

Professor Y. Tony Yang and assistant professor Sherrie Wallington, both affiliated with GW Nursing’s community of policy, populations and systems department, were awarded $359,000 for this research through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program. The program supports and expands action-oriented and community-engaged research to create healthier communities. 

Dr. Wallington and Dr. Yang have partnered on this research with the Alliance of Concerned Men, Inc., a local nonprofit that seeks to prevent youth violence and build safer communities in the D.C. area. Clayton Rosenberg, the organization’s chief of staff, said the group plans to bring together important stakeholders in the community to discuss fathers’ perceptions of their role in reducing maternal mortality and the system-level factors that promote or impede fathers’ roles in being part of the solution.

To read more about the maternal mortality disparity research project, visit GWToday.

Partnership between GW and Whitman-Walker supporting DC Clinical Trials Unit to advance HIV/AIDS clinical trials and address HIV epidemic in DC.

The District of Columbia Clinical Trials Unit (DC CTU), a collaboration between the George Washington University (GW) and Whitman Walker Institute (WWI), was selected by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as one of 35 HIV CTUs based at both U.S. and international institutions.

The $8.4 million, seven‐year NIAID award is part of a significant investment in infrastructure and expertise in support of HIV/AIDS clinical trials, and establishes the DC CTU as a regionally focused clinical research unit designed to address the HIV epidemic in the nation’s capital.

The DC CTU is led principal investigators Manya Magnus, professor and associate chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Milken Institute School of Public Health; Gary Simon, professor and vice chair of the  School of Medicine and Health Sciences Department of Medicine, and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The GW Medical Faculty Associates (GW MFA); and Sarah Henn, chief medical officer for Whitman Walker Health (WWH).

The DC CTU builds upon the success of both the GW HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) site and the WWH AIDS Clinical Trials site, as well as longstanding collaborations between the organizations through the DC Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR), which Dr. Magnus calls a “critical foundational component for much of the research we are conducting.” The collaboration between academic and community health partners will leverage an extensive history of community collaboration, as well as numerous public health and academic partnerships and contribute to trials that will eventually help end the HIV epidemic.

To read more about the HIV/AIDS research project, visit GWToday.

GW Researchers Selected for Study to Evaluate Bringing Integrated Health Services to People Suffering from Opioid Use.

A team of researchers from the George Washington University (GW) has been selected as one of five sites participating in the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) INTEGRA study (HPTN 094). The study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with funding from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, both part of the National Institutes of Health, will determine whether using mobile health units to deliver integrated health services can improve HIV and substance use outcomes among people with opioid use disorder who inject drugs.

Leading the GW research team is principal investigator Irene Kuo, PhD, MPH, associate research professor of epidemiology in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW, and co-investigator Marc Siegel, MD, associate professor of medicine at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and leader of the NIH-funded GW HPTN Clinical Research Site, which operates under the recently-funded NIH-funded District of Columbia Clinical Trials Unit.

“The study focuses on offering integrated care for substance use, HIV care or prevention, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as referrals for care of viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C,” explained Kuo. At the end of a 26-week period, Kuo added, researchers hope to see increased uptake of substance abuse treatment and medication for HIV prevention and care among study volunteers.

The study will determine whether a one-stop-shopping provision of integrated care will result in better outcomes versus a standard model of care.

Reade more about the integrated health services research project on the SMHS website.

Partnership between the GW and the D.C. Department of Health publishes dementia prevalence report and guide to services in DC.

A report estimates that about 10,000 Washington, D.C. residents 65 and older are living with dementia, a general term for a range of memory loss disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. The report also discusses risk factors for dementia and unmet needs of Washington, D.C. residents living with dementia and their care partners.

“We found that an estimated 13% of the city’s 65 and older population are living with dementia, and the prevalence was higher for women, minorities and older D.C. residents,” Melinda C. Power, ScD, director of the George Washington University Institute for Brain Health and Dementia, said. “Our report also made some recommendations that might help prevent this devastating disorder and help caregivers as well as those already living with memory loss.”

The report was produced by Power and other researchers at the GW Institute for Brain Health and Dementia, with funding from the D.C. Department of Health. The GW Institute for Brain Health and Dementia is an interdisciplinary research center that brings together faculty from across the university to promote and support research on cognitive health. 

Researchers at the institute and their partners at DC Health teamed up to conduct this assessment because no one knew how many Washington, D.C. residents were living with dementia or what kinds of unmet needs they or their caregivers may have. The research team also wanted to find out if there were certain modifiable risk factors in the district that could be targeted to help keep the brain healthy. They found that several lifestyle and risk factors linked to dementia were very common in the district.

Read more about the dementia prevalence research project in the news release.