Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Research support increases

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 37 - July 27, 1995

Sponsored activity at Virginia Tech increased 9.4 percent to $92.7 million for the year that ended June 30, 1995, according to Leonard K. Peters, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school. Sponsors provided $84.8 million for university programs the previous year.

Research dominates the grant-and-contract work received by the university, with funding from industrial sponsors up 16 percent and federal funds up 10 percent, according to Tom Hurd, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs at Virginia Tech.

Research by the faculty, staff, and students at the university provides broad benefits. For example, David Kingston in chemistry has received $542,615 from the National Institutes of Health for continuing work to discover natural anti-cancer compounds and demonstrate the value of biodiversity in tropical America.

With $128,000 from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Virginia Tech researchers in the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research have evaluated solar-energy systems at six state facilities for cost-effectiveness and reliability to help determine the feasibility for broader solar-energy use in the commonwealth.

Paul Bolstad and his colleagues in forestry at Virginia Tech received $359,972 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the natural dynamics of southern forest ecosystems, and to predict the impacts of management in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The Software Technologies Laboratory has a $9.2-million, three-year contract with the Department of Energy for the development of decision-support software to assist in long-range planning and provide information for day-to-day requests.

Plant pathologist Chester Foy has received $1.5 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop multi-pronged approaches to eliminating crop devastation by parasitic weeds.

With $250,000 from the American Water Works Association, researchers in civil engineering at Virginia Tech and the University of Kansas, and with Black and Veatch, are conducting a study throughout the United States and Canada to determine whether existing drinking-water treatment processes can be modified to meet proposed revisions to the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act. Funded by NASA, the Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center is improving a process for coating glass fibers with metal that allows fiber sensors in harsh conditions, such as extreme heat, to send information a greater distance than previously possible. David Kibler and G.V. Loganathan in civil engineering, working in partnership with the National Weather Service forecast office in Blacksburg, are developing a real-time flood forecasting model for the headwater areas of the Roanoke River, which would provide advance warning of flash flooding.

Ted Rappaport of electrical engineering is working with Grayson Electronics, Motorola, and other companies to develop the U.S. digital cellular-telephone standard. Henry W. Tieleman and Muhammad R. Hajj of engineering science and mechanics, with NSF funding, are developing new techniques to assess wind loads on low-rise structures to upgrade standards and mitigate damage from strong winds.

"Research is not a sideshow at Virginia Tech," said President Paul Torgersen. "Thanks to our distinguished faculty, research is what makes Virginia Tech a world-class university."

There are some 3,500 research projects under way at the university. Faculty members submitted 8-percent fewer proposals last year than the previous year, but received more awards and more money per award. Torgersen commended the faculty members for their commitment to expanding and applying knowledge. "University research is important to the sponsors who fund it and to the public, which reaps the benefits of new knowledge and technologies. The research mission is economically important both to the operation of the university, and to the surrounding community and state," Torgersen said. "Most importantly, faculty members conducting research offer a more relevant and stimulating classroom experience."

Sponsored research paid for $3.5 million in new equipment last year, which is used by the entire university community. For example, the equipment used in the Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center to coat fibers with metal is also part of a multidisciplinary educational experience for undergraduate students.

Research programs also support curriculum development. An undergraduate computer-science course in simulation modeling is being redesigned and taught using the Visual Simulation Environment developed in a research project from 1983 to 1995.

This research prototype enables students to describe existing or planned systems that can be experimented with in the simulation form before major commitments of dollars have to be made. Some experiments, such as hazardous waste disposition and smart road design, would not be possible except in simulation form. Sponsors provided more than $4 million in support of graduate students.

"Virginia Tech has an excellent faculty-outstanding and hard-working researchers and teachers," Peters said. "Graduate students are partners in the research effort. The quality of our graduate students is also a factor in the productivity of our programs." Undergraduates also benefit. "Thanks to research funding, undergraduates use the latest equipment in labs and receive the latest information through lectures and textbooks," Peters said.

"Finally, research is the basis of the university's land-grant mission to share new knowledge. First, we have to make the discoveries," Torgersen said.

Sponsored activity also supports instruction and extension. In addition to the $92.7 million in sponsored funding received by the university's faculty, the Waste Policy Institute, a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with Virginia Tech, was awarded a six-year, $49-million contract by the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The availability of experts at a nationally recognized research university who can serve as consultants was a factor in WPI receiving the grant, according to WPI President Dean Eyman. WPI is moving its headquarters to Blacksburg.