Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 17, Number 2
Winter 1995

Around the Drillfield

Instant composting

You don't have to wait months for garbage to be converted to fertilizer at the Virginia Tech College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources' Steam Explosion Lab--the process is instant. Cafeteria leftovers are pressure-treated to become a valuable soil amendment in less than an hour. The process is fairly simple, according to Wolfgang Glasser, associate dean of research and graduate studies for the college. The biomass (garbage or whatever) is put into a steam exploder, pressurized to 300-500 pounds, and then steam is injected into the pressure cooker. When it is quickly depressurized, the resulting explosion rips the biomass into small particles, which can be used as fertilizer. "The nice thing about it is that it is simple to do, and it is inexpensive," Glasser says. "It is also applicable on a small scale." He says the college is contracting with other groups and individuals who want to use the exploder.

Virginia Tech engineer receives presidential award

President Clinton has named Yilu Liu, assistant professor of electrical engineering, as one of only 15 recipients of the 1994 Presidential Faculty Fellow Awards for engineering research. Along with the award, Liu will receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $100,000 per year for up to five years for her research on electric power systems. Since Liu joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1990, she has received other NSF grants for her research, including the prestigious NSF Young Investigator Award in 1993. Her research findings have been implemented by several power companies nationwide. As a Presidential Faculty Fellow, Liu will continue her research in electric power systems, power quality, and diagnosis. Liu said that the long-term goal of her research is to help improve the overall reliability and safety of the nation's electric power systems.

New center coming to Northern Virginia

The board of visitors has approved the university's purchase or lease of seven acres of land in Fairfax County for the construction of a new graduate and continuing education facility. Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia will administer the facility jointly. The 1994 General Assembly authorized the two universities to issue bonds for construction of the facility at a cost not to exceed $18.6 million. The 105,000-square-foot facility will be adjacent to Falls Church's George Mason Middle and High Schools in Fairfax County. Fairfax County has committed $50,000 a year for the center and will waive a $62,500 water charge. The City of Falls Church has waived approximately $225,000 in fees. The universities will lease approximately five acres of land for not more than 40 years. Ultimately, they will lease or purchase an additional two acres for $1.3 million.

Professor part of "astro-newt" team

Veterinary professor Carl Pfeiffer spent four days of his summer vacation at Cape Canaveral waiting for his Japanese newts to come back from outer space. Pfeiffer was part of a team that sent four newts, salamander-like creatures, and their progeny into space for two weeks aboard the space shuttle Columbia. The scientists hope to learn how weightlessness affects the newts and their development, from fertilized eggs to the tadpole-like stages. They would also like to study the effects of weightlessness on the development of the "astro-newt" single egg cells. Two newts died during the trip; the other two were sacrificed for testing. New eggs were laid during the trip. Pfeiffer said that detailed analysis of the tissue and cellular changes in the space newts will take about a year.

Senegal officials visit Virginia Tech

West African cabinet members and other officials visited Virginia Tech in August as an educational component of a multi-million dollar reforestation project in their country. Virginia Tech leads the project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and contracted by Senegal and the Southeast Consortium for International Development. Virginia Tech was selected to lead the project because of the capability of its faculty and the reputation of its forestry school, says Robert Youngs, Tech professor of wood science and forest products and campus coordinator for the forestation project. The visitors, high-ranking officials and Senegalese university students, were interested in enhancing the involvement of landowners and local communities in planning and managing natural resources. They seek to develop ideas, concepts, and models that can be translated to Senegalese conditions. A new project dealing with community based natural resource management began in October.

The nation's AP Top 25 Division I-A football teams in a recent poll, re-ranked by graduation rate. (Time, Sept. 12, 1994)

                       Football Team    Student Body 
Rank    School         Graduation Rate  Graduation Rate

    1   Penn State          92%         77%
    2   UCLA                85%         77%
    3   Michigan            81%         85%
    4   Stanford            76%         93%
    5   Notre Dame          73%         95%
    6   Virginia Tech       68%         73%
    7   Illinois            67%         80%
    8   North Carolina      65%         83%
    9   Tennessee           63%         51%
    10  Wisconsin           61%         72%
    11  Oklahoma            57%         43%
    12  Miami               56%         60%
    13  Florida State       53%         61%
    14  Texas               50%         62%
    15  Auburn              46%         69%
    16  Colorado            46%         64%
    17  Nebraska            46%         53%
    18  Clemson             42%         71%
    19  Southern California 42%         67%
    20  Arizona             40%         49%
    21  Alabama             39%         57%
    22  Texas A&M           38%         66%
    23  Florida             37%         63%
    24  Washington          30%         65%
    25  Ohio State          29%         59%

YMCA receives funding for Native American experience

The Virginia Tech YMCA received a two-year, $1,500 grant for its Native American Alternative Spring Break from Break Away, a national organization that promotes service experiences during spring vacation. Virginia Tech volunteers will be able to spend spring break at a Native American community learning about American Indian culture and issues and participating in community service. Forty students will go to either the Mattaponi reservation in Eastern Virginia or to a Native American community in Oklahoma. The grant funds student training, as well as supplies to take to the site. This year's Alternative Spring Break will focus specifically on the issue of alcoholism in today's American Indian society. Planning for the trip is coordinated by Virginia Tech student leaders, who work closely with tribal elders in the two communities.

Vet Med adds nuclear imaging

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Alphin Radiology Center at Virginia Tech has added nuclear imaging to the growing array of diagnostic technologies offered. Nuclear imaging is a general term for a number of specific techniques that involve administering a radioactive material, then evaluating internal body structures with a special detector. The process is especially useful for evaluating lameness in horses, feline hyperthyroidism, and bone lesions in companion animals. Because it involves radioactive materials, the procedure cannot be used in agricultural animals that might make their way into the human food chain. Much of the new equipment was donated by Roanoke Memorial Hospitals.

A world collaboration

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has been designated a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Veterinary Education in Management and Public Health. The college will work directly with the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of WHO. The agreement calls for the college to provide programmatic support in three specific areas intended to promote improved public health throughout the Americas. Veterinary medicine has traditionally played an important role in public-health issues because of the role animals play in the transmission of diseases that also affect humans. Many of these developing nations need to develop better control programs for parasitic diseases transmitted from animals to people, diarrheal diseases affecting domestic livestock, and environmental pollution as it affects public health.

University wins place on highway consortium

Virginia Tech has been voted a key place on a General Motors Corp.-led consortium receiving grant funds to develop the future highways. Originally, Tech was an associate member of the $200-million National Automated Highway System Consortium. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Frederico Pena awarded the seven-year, $150-million contract to the consortium in early October. Virginia Tech could receive a $15- to $20-million share of consortium funds over the next five years. As a result of the consortium award, Gov. George Allen has promised to build the first two miles of the "smart" road that will link Blacksburg to Interstate 81. The project, which will be financed from the state's general road fund, will serve as a research lab for an automated vehicle that will take advantage of the road's technology.

Detroit's challenge to Tech: an ultra-low emissions car

Can engineers convert a Dodge Neon into an electric car that can reach 60 miles per hour in 12 seconds, run 150 miles without an electric charge from an external power source, and satisfy federal clean air laws? The Chrysler Corp. has delivered a Neon to a team of faculty and students in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and challenged them to create a hybrid-electric vehicle that out-performs traditional electric cars and meets upcoming pollutant emissions requirements. The Tech team is one of 12 groups of finalists in the national Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Challenge, sponsored annually by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, the U.S. Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada, and the Society of Automotive Engineers. The sponsors hope university researchers can help Detroit learn how to lower pollutant emissions to meet future requirements of the 1992 Clean Air Act, while maintaining high performance standards to meet the requirements of consumers. The automakers also need to meet a deadline in the California market, where 2 percent of all cars sold by 1998 must meet ultra-low emissions standards. The engineers at Tech will remove the Neon's original engine, gas tank, and muffler system and replace them with about 200 battery cells, a generator, and an electric motor donated by General Electric Corp. The on-board generator, fueled by compressed natural gas, will recharge the batteries. "One problem with most electric cars is their short range," says Doug Nelson, faculty advisor for the project. HEV Challenge specifications call for the Neon to have a range of 150 miles at 55 mph without refueling, Nelson said. The major goal of the HEV Challenge, which is in its third year, is to develop technology for mass production of ultra-low emissions vehicles. "Ultra-low doesn't mean zero emissions," Nelson says, "but it is close to zero."

Virginia Tech educates Mongolia's first M.B.A.s

Mongolia, a country synonymous with isolation, has turned to Virginia Tech for educational assistance in business, marking a noted change in the Asian country's economic outlook. Tech has educated Mongolia's first M.B.A. students and has entered into a formal institutional linkage with the country's Institute of Administration and Management Development (IAMD). Three Mongolians have recently received M.B.A. degrees here, the first ever for their country. Two Virginia Tech faculty members have been to Mongolia and have worked with the faculty of the institute in developing its curriculum in the areas of business administration and public administration. The business training is important to Mongolia. Most leaders in the old regime were educated in Russia. The changes that came about in 1990 have opened the country, providing incentive for economic development and a need for western, non-Marxist business education. Four Virginia Tech faculty members have taught at IAMD since 1993. The rector (president) and vice rector of the IAMD recently spent eight weeks on the Blacksburg campus, evaluating programs that could be transferred to Mongolia.

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 17, Number 2 Winter 1995