Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 15, Number 4
Summer 1993


Temps' loyalty not lacking

Every day, 1.5 million temps scatter into offices and factories across the country; in fact, now the largest private U.S. employer is a temporary employment agency, according to a recent issue of Time magazine. A Virginia Tech sociologist, curious about the characteristics of these workers, has found that whether employees have been working for an organization 25 years or just 25 days, the amount of loyalty they feel differs little.

In a study of more than 400 employees at a large state-run organization, the researcher found that permanent and temporary employees differed little in the loyalty they felt for their employer. The study was conducted by Virginia Tech sociology professor William E. Snizek and Reba Rowe Lewis, an assistant professor at James Madison University.

"Surprisingly," Snizek said, "temporary workers reported slightly greater job satisfaction than did permanent workers." For both groups, a strong work ethic accounted for most of the loyalty displayed.

The study also revealed many of the reasons people choose temporary employment. Some see temporary employment as a chance to get permanent positions, while others prefer the opportunity to work with many employers.

Many temps surveyed said they would like to have a permanent employment position if such an offer was made. Snizek and Lewis' study found the temporary workers' desire for a permanent position could partially explain their attitudinal similarity to permanent workers.

According to the two researchers, unstable employment conditions partially explain the absence of any major attitudinal differences. In these times, many permanent employees as well as temporary workers are seeing their promises of job security broken.

According to the two researchers, managers are relying more and more on the availability of temps and should consider the similarity of permanent and temporary employees.

Mixing coal and fly ash may solve waste problems

When water runs over coal refuse piles, the result is often highly acid waterways laden with metals and sulfate. But when fly ash, a waste from coal combustion, is added to refuse piles, waters run clear, according to a Virginia Tech soil scientist.

W. Lee Daniels, a faculty member in the department of crop and soil environmental sciences, is evaluating the feasibility of using alkaline fly ash on coal refuse piles for acid mine drainage control. The results indicate that fly ash is a very effective treatment.

The untreated refuse produced a leachate which had a pH of 1.8 and contained more than 10,000 parts per million of iron along with high levels of manganese and sulfate. The leachates blended with alkaline fly ash have maintained pH values near neutral and have less than one part per million of iron and manganese. "The results of a year and a half of leaching show that the alkaline fly ash has continued to control acid generation from the coal refuse materials," Daniels reports.

Field studies have begun in the Virginia coal fields, sponsored by two coal companies and the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology.

A recent trend for coal-burning power companies and businesses to require coal providers to take back the fly ash residue of coal use may be a win-win situation if coal companies are able to incorporate the fly ash with coal refuse piles and solve three problems at once--disposing of two waste products and cleaning up water runoff, says Daniels.

Weeding out oil slick problems

A common North American weed could help save threatened coastlines, says a Virginia Tech clothing and textiles professor. Rinn M. Cloud has found that the floss of the milkweed plant absorbs crude oil from simulated seawater better than the synthetic fibers currently used.

Milkweed floss can absorb up to four times the amount of light crude oil as does polypropylene fiber. At colder temperatures (5 degrees C) the milkweed fiber is even more efficient, Cloud says.

The study also showed that the milkweed floss can be reused several times during the recovery process if the oil is removed from the floss by compression. Presoaking the fiber in simulated sea water did not affect the fiber's capacity for oil.

The fiber has not yet been tested in an actual spill situation, partly because it is not available in large quantities. Farmers in the Midwest are experimenting with growing milkweed as a cash crop while researchers are trying to develop commercial markets, Cloud says.

"Milkweed fiber has another advantage. It has more potential for environmental degradability than do synthetic fibers," Cloud adds. "This summer, we will be conducting studies of the fiber's degradability in an actual coastal seawater environment."

Researcher synthesizes anti-cancer agent

An anti-cancer agent synthesized by a Virginia Tech research associate may be effective in treating brain tumors.

You Xiong Wang, a research associate in chemistry, has created a substance similar to cyclophosphamide, an extensively used anti-cancer agent. Wang has created a prodrug, a substance which is inactive within the body until catalyzed by enzymes.

Wang, working under the guidance of chemistry professor Neal Castagnoli, already has made three similar prodrugs with funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Horsley Cancer Research Fund. Tests using cell cultures in laboratories at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have demonstrated the ability of these substances to kill tumor cells.

Technology developing for ceramic engines

Ceramic engines may be a step closer to the automotive assembly line with the development of an effective approach to lubricating ceramics.

Virginia Tech mechanical engineering professor Michael Furey and his colleague, Czeslaw Kajdas of the University of Radom, Poland, have perfected a process highly touted by the U.S. government's Energy Related Inventions Program (ERIP) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). ERIP recently selected the invention as one of 12 out of 600 applications to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The invention may be the best alternative for successfully lubricating highly insulated, low-heat rejection engines that make maximum use of fuel, according to the NIST. When made of ceramics, such engines can be used at high temperatures and do not require radiators or fans. This could increase efficiency and performance.

Manufacturers of ceramic engines have been unable to make them commercially available, in part because conventional lubrication processes are often ineffective with ceramics. Furey and Kajdas developed a process in which selected molecules are used to form protective films directly on the rubbing surface of the ceramic. They continuously replenish themselves, thus reducing adhesion and wear by as much as 95 percent.

Furey believes the process will significantly increase the life of the ceramic tools used by the cutting and machining industry. He sees many future uses, including advanced propulsion systems, turbines, aerospace bearings, and ceramic coatings.

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 15, Number 4 Summer 1993