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Virginia Tech research funded by Recovery Act exceeds $20 million, and growing


BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 27, 2009 – As of Monday, Aug. 24, Virginia Tech researchers had received 45 grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), totaling $20.3 million, for projects ranging from determining the cause of cell defects to planning for a program that will facilitate graduate study by veterans.

"In addition to building scientific capacity that strengthens the nation's competitiveness in the global arena, these funds provide many direct effects that benefit individuals, the local, community, region, and state," said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger. "More than 100 graduate students, undergraduates, and staff, all of whom are members of the local community, are receiving support or are employed full time and part time. Students gain valuable research experience, and equipment and supplies are purchased as a result of the research as well."

"It should be noted that the ARRA grants are in addition to more than $211 million in sponsored research for fiscal year 2009 (year ending June 30, 2009) – an increase of almost 6 percent, despite troubled financial times," said Robert Walters, vice president for research.

The stimulus-funded research has also resulted in National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation grants not funded by the stimulus – $1.3 million to Ge Wang, Pritchard Professor and director of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering Sciences' biomedical imaging division, for development of the next-generation nano- X-ray computed tomography (CT) system; and $2 million to Robert Clauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering and associate director of Space@VT, for development of a dynamically adaptive autonomous low-power geophysical instrument array for space science research and education.

"The university is gaining significant infrastructure and it all benefits the region in terms of money spent and in terms of our capacity to meet the regions and nation's research and development needs," said Walters.

ARRA funds include 41 NSF grants, including nine for materials research, seven for environment and energy research, and seven for life science research. For example, a three-year $330,000 grant to S. Ted Oyama, the Fred W. Bull Professor of chemical engineering, and Luke Achenie, professor of chemical engineering, supports research to create advanced membranes to separate carbon dioxide from methane, which is important for natural gas use. Clean gas production will benefit consumers directly and could lead to new technologies for energy distribution from new sources.

There are also nine grants supporting education and outreach. One project led by Mary Kasarda , associate professor of mechanical engineering, is "Veterans@VT: A Program for Recruiting, Transitioning, and Supporting Veterans to Graduate Programs in Engineering and Beyond to Civilian Careers."

Kasarda said, "This NSF engineering education award will support the planning of a program that will facilitate veterans coming to Virginia Tech to obtain graduate degrees. The program will be designed to enhance the benefits of the new GI Bill," she said. The mechanical engineering pilot program will be transferable to other departments and institutions.

"Part of the program is to enhance our existing mechanical engineering graduate program in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Graduate School's Transformative Graduate Education Program to develop ‘value-added’ components to help veterans transition to grad school and on to careers in both academia and industry. We also foresee adapting parts of the program for veterans entering college as undergraduates," Kasarda said.

"These programs contribute to workforce development in cutting-edge emerging technologies," said Beth Tranter, chief of staff with Virginia Tech's Office for Research.

There are four Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards, the NSF's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research.

A five-year $1,036,874 CAREER grant to Bingyu Zhao, assistant professor of horticulture, will support his research on host-plant resistance to control plant disease. The results could help plant breeders transfer resistance genes from model plant species into important crop plants.

A five-year $1,081,348 CAREER grant to Carla Finkielstein, assistant professor of biological sciences, supports her study of the circadian control of cell division and homeostasis, or equilibrium. Circadian mechanisms measure time on a scale of about 24 hours and adjust physiological processes to external environmental signals. The goal is to address how circadian factors sense metabolic changes and act in cell-fate decisions.

A $600,000 CAREER award to Edward Valeev, assistant professor of chemistry, will advance development of reliable computational methods to predict the properties of molecules and materials that are important in, for example, combustion and organic electronics. The award will help produce free software that will help build private capacity for innovation.

A five-year, $550,000 CAREER grant to Giti Khodaparast, assistant professor of physics, will support research and education to better understand quantum states and interactions in semiconductor materials, important to developing the next generation of devices.

All four scholars are developing educational programs. "All NSF grants actually require development of broader impact components such as education, outreach and workforce development. Some provide outreach to area high schools and students from groups that are underrepresented in particular disciplines," said Tranter.

Four of the ARRA grants are from the National Institutes for Health. "Virginia Tech is a leading research institution with terrific capacity in engineering, chemistry, [information technology], materials, energy, environment, and agricultural sciences and growing strength in the sciences that support human medicine," said Walters.

More ARRA funding is anticipated, including for buildings and equipment. "Virginia Tech researchers have been very active in pursing research funding. For instance, they submitted 3,100 proposals last year," said Walters.

A list of the ARRA funded research projects is posted online.