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Science Coalition features university advances

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 07 - October 8, 1998

The Science Coalition has released its annual report highlighting scientific breakthroughs realized at universities and colleges around the country. Featured in this year's report are four advances from Virginia Tech.
The report, titled "Great Advances in Scientific Discovery" was released Thursday in Washington, D.C. as part of an event hosted by the House Science Committee and attended by several Members of Congress.
Advances from Virginia Tech include:
A simulation that demonstrates how to reduce emissions, developed by Michel Van Aerde, associate director of the Center for Transportation Research, and fellow researchers. The computerized tools are presently being used in Phoenix, San Antonio, and Seattle. The tools, which are imbedded in an existing traffic-simulation model, will allow traffic engineers and transportation planners to evaluate systematically and comprehensively the expected changes in fuel consumption and emissions of HC, CO, and NOx for any traffic-network improvement. The analysis considers second-by-second changes in individual vehicle speeds and accelerations for areas the size of entire metropolitan areas.
Tobacco engineered to produce human pharmaceuticals. Carole Cramer, professor of plant pathology and physiology, university colleagues, and scientists at CropTech Corporation of Blacksburg, have introduced snippets of human DNA into the genes of tobacco that instruct the plant to produce human protein, which can then be extracted from the leaves and used to create drugs. Among their achievements so far are tobacco plants that produce human protein C, part of blood clotting/anti-clotting chemistry, and Glucocerebrosidase, a human lysosomal enzyme that may eventually be used to treat a rare but life-threatening genetic disease affecting the body's ability to break down fats. Human trials have not begun with either product.
Software that will make it possible for cell phones to have position indicators and internal maps. Ted Rappaport and fellow Virginia Tech researcher Prabhakar Kouskik have developed software for the wireless industry that predicts radio coverage. Radio signal data is tied to satellite maps, resulting in site-specific prediction of signal strength and clarity around structures and geographic features.
A sensor that detects biological warfare agents at trace levels. A novel sensor, developed by two Virginia Tech engineering faculty members, is now capable of literally identifying "a needle in a haystack," said William Velander, one of the inventors. His device produces results that are 20 times more powerful than previous sensing devices. Velander, a biochemical engineer who heads Virginia Tech's Pharmaceutical Engineering Institute, teamed with Kent Murphy, a fiber-optics expert and a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, to develop the prototype bio-sensor. They combined technology Velander invented to purify pharmaceuticals present in blood plasma at trace levels with an optical-fiber sensing device.
Virginia Tech has research expenditures of almost $170 million annually and is a leader in research related to transportation, communication, biotechnology, materials, electronics, energy and the environment.
The Science Coalition is an alliance of more than 400 organizations, institutions and individuals--including public and private universities, scientific societies, Nobel Laureates, business, voluntary health organizations, medical groups, and healthcare providers--dedicated to sustaining the federal government's historic commitment to U.S. leadership in basic research. Each year, it releases a Great Advances report designed to educate the American public on the innovations in scientific research conducted at the nation's leading research universities. The report provides a sampling of the thousands of scientific advances achieved during the 105th Congress, highlighting work from more than 50 colleges and universities in 18 different scientific fields or disciplines.
For more than 50 years, the federal government has sustained a strong, bi-partisan commitment to funding basic research, the majority of which is performed at universities such as Virginia Tech.
To view the report and the scientific breakthroughs featured from Virginia Tech, visit The Science Coalition's web site at www.sciencecoalition.com.