Virginia Tech has challenged itself to become a top research university, in part because achieving this goal will raise the bar of leadership and scholarship for our students and will give our academic community greater opportunities to discover and share new knowledge. While the research process improves resources and opportunities for education and discovery, ultimately, it benefits society.
Today, people increasingly look to higher education for answers to their problems. Research universities, in generating new knowledge, can supply humankind with the ammunition to address its troubles. For example, Virginia Tech annually produces new patents that not only signify an important form of scholarship but can improve the lives of those around us. Last year's 24 new patents ranged from a revolutionary method for introducing toxins into cancer cells to new wheat varieties resistant to the 2003 blight that devastated East Coast crops.
Every day, Virginia Tech's seven colleges and school of veterinary medicine are researching ways to improve all aspects of our society. A few of these current projects include
Emerging centers that will advance human health research. The newly formed Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences encourages multidisciplinary studies in human health and nutrition, addressing such issues as obesity, which affects more than 60 percent of the adult population in the United States. This summer, the university's Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) received a contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to help establish a national Bioinformatics Resource Center. VBI's research focus at the center will include hepatitis A, the rabies virus, and caliciviruses, which cause many of the viral dysenteries that have been contracted on cruise ships.
Research at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, which made international headlines when Virginia Tech's revolutionary terascale computer, System X, debuted as the third-fastest supercomputer in the world. System X not only greatly enhances computational-science capabilities but also serves as a role model for building faster and more cost-efficient computers.
Continued work on alternative fuel sources, such as hydrogen-powered vehicles. Chemists and engineers at Virginia Tech have been working together for years to bring fuel cell technology closer to reality, and today's students contribute to this tradition. This year, Tech students adapted a Ford Explorer's internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen fuel instead of gasoline for FutureTruck 2004, a national competition sponsored by Ford and the U.S. Department of Energy. Chemistry professor James McGrath and Battelle scientist Bhima Vijayendran received a 2004 R&D 100 award for development of a fuel cell membrane made from a high-temperature polymer. Meanwhile, researchers in chemistry are creating molecular machines that use light energy to turn water into hydrogen fuel.
Such high-level research doesn't come cheap. Fiscal year 2002 saw the beginning of state budget cuts, and while our 2002 research expenditures of $232.6 million were higher than the previous year's $216.2 million, that growth wasn't enough to keep pace with other universities. In the 2004 National Science Foundation survey of U.S. research universities (based on fiscal year 2002 numbers), Virginia Tech was ranked 52nd, a loss of three places from the previous year. At least some of this decline can be attributed to the budget cuts, which forced the reduction of a significant number of faculty positions, translating to fewer researchers.
Budget setbacks notwithstanding, our scientists and scholars are hard at work, we are now adding faculty members and building programs, and we remain optimistic about the future. Virginia Tech continues to produce groundbreaking research and to employ some of the best and brightest researchers in their fields. With our commitment to research, support from our alumni and friends, and our goal of providing new knowledge for all facets of the community, I remain confident that we will rise to the challenge of improving the world around us.